Thursday, April 30, 2009

What is "Felony Stupid"?

Which of the following situations is "felony stupid" from the perspective of a Homeland Security expert?

1. Flying to Saudi Arabia days after Hurricane Katrina to deliver a Presidential letter to the Saudi Monarchy on the massive disaster.

2. Omitting any mention of the hospital with the highest patient death toll from the White House Lessons Learned report. (Memorial Medical Center lost 34 patients.)

3. Flying a plane over lower Manhattan for a presidential photo op.

All three situations involve Frances Townsend, President Bush's Homeland Security adviser. She did the first two while in office. As a CNN commenter, Fran called #3 "felony stupid."

I think they all qualify.

Update: Fran unleashed another "felony stupidity" around a Potomac River Coast Guard drill on 9-11.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama's 100 Days of Acronyms

President Obama offered public-private partnerships (PPP's) as the solution to most of America's problems. The stimulus package provided money for infrastructure PPP's. Treasury's Tim Geithner added an "I." That made financial PPP's pubic-private investment partnerships or PPIP's. Health care reform looks ripe for HCPPIP's, health care public private insurance partnerships.

The other acronym washing through the federal veins, pay for performance or P4P. Bonuses and incentive pay took down Wall Street in an orgy of greed and leverage. Expect the same impact on health care and education.

President Obama's 100 days of acronyms are bad management theory. Expect major suboptimization for the country, while teachers and doctors are incentivized to act like Wall Street CEO's. Widespread bad behavior from P4P's had a twelve year history before America's banking system imploded. It came from executive stock option compensation, with stock prices supposedly the most pure form of incentive pay. Yet, 30% of options were backdated, unethical and most times illegal under SEC rules. Few executives paid a legal price. Why does President Obama impose a system that corrupts?

It gets more twisted. The Obama administration imitates the greed and leverage boys, the ones who took down America's banking system and much of the shadow system. The applicable acronym is private equity underwriter (PEU). President Obama believes private equity is the solution. His regulatory proposals ignore PEU's. PPIP's are specifically designed for PEU participation. Only taxpayers provide the leverage for new PEU banking deals.

TALF, the Term Asset Backed Securities Loan Facility, restarts debt securitization with taxpayer money. Securitized instruments continue imploding, enough that one credit insurer defaulted this past week.

Change? What change? At least the letters are different.

Frances Townsend Confessed

Mexican Swine Flu tests America's crisis response plans, last tested in a major way by Hurricane Katrina. Bush developed a National Pandemic Flu plan in 2005-2006. It didn't come close to addressing the needs of the country, should anything similar to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic occur. WaPo reported:

In some ways, such a scenario would combine the test posed by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which occurred eight months into the administration of former president George W. Bush at a time when many key Justice Department and intelligence positions were vacant, and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, which struck just one year after a national response plan was overhauled.

"The fact is it didn't measure up," former Bush homeland security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend said in a Feb. 2006 review of the Katrina response, saying the confusing and overly bureaucratic National Response Plan "came up short."

What did Fran do during Katrina? Not much, other than return from vacation. She forwarded a few phone calls, took messages and flew to Saudi Arabia to deliver a letter on Katrina to King Abdullah. Congress asked for Fran's e-mails, along with Andy Card's, and got a stern "No" from George W.

But Mrs. Townsend did write a report. "Didn't measure up" and "came up short" describe Fran's investigative tome, aka another Bush whitewash. Memorial Medical Center lost 34 patients. Who leaves out the hospital with the highest patient death toll from a Katrina Lessons Learned report? Ms. Townsend did and Bush's friends and family benefited. She's now creating whitewashes for Baker Botts, the law firm of James A. Baker, III. Baker did a similar fluff piece on the BP Texas City explosion which killed 15 people. The Carlyle Group benefited from Fran's and James' work.

Texas Has First Swine Flu Public Death

A 23 month old child died from Mexican Swine Flu, a strain of H1N1 flu virus similar to the Spanish pandemic of 1818. The toddler died in Houston, Texas. Reports say the child came from Mexico or Brownsville. It's not clear if the child had any medical care before expiring. I blogged this days ago:

Texas dropped primary care as an essential public health service ten years ago. Illegal immigrants, many from Mexico, have limited access to health care. Are ghost citizens at greater risk for disease and invisible to state authorities?
Did any of Governor Rick Perry's anti-viral medications end up in this family's hands? Was it too late? There might be an angry firestorm that "illegals" got free medical care in the U.S. In a pandemic, the flu virus doesn't check visas or health insurance cards. All it needs is a host. H1N1 has more of those each day.

Texas, the state next to the source of the Mexican Swine Flu outbreak, is a joke in public health. We've seen the first public death. How many more? (Update: The child sickened April 8. He did receive hospital care in Brownsville. He was transferred to a Houston hospital. He died April 27. News reported the death April 29.)

Flu Spreads, Deaths Expected

Hundreds have flu like symptoms in New York. The Mexican Swine Flu spread quickly through several U.S. schools. Many teachers and relatives of sick students are now ill.

The CDC said seven days would determine the seriousness of any outbreak. They also warned to expect deaths. U.S. public health representatives never made an attempt to quarantine ill citizens. Hopefully they are tracking exposures and getting anti-viral medicines to those at risk.

Considering it took three days to discourage non-essential travel to Mexico, I'm not confident of any public health response. ABC reported:

There are fears in some quarters that cuts to public health budgets will leave many American states dangerously unprepared if the flu spreads any further.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specter of Blue Dog Corporacrats

With the conversion of Senator Arlen Specter and the installation of Al Franken, Democrats will have a veto proof margin in both houses of Congress. Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel couldn't wipe the crap eating smile off his hyper-competitive face in today's interview with John Harwood.

Conservative Democrats will determine the success or failure of any major legislation. Blue Dog Democrats are remarkably similar to their Republican foes. The competition for corporate donations has been fierce since President Clinton turned the blue team green, not tree leaf green but the dank green color of money. Encroachment on the red team's traditional corporate franchise has been particularly irksome. Thus, Republicans upchuck angrily at every turn.

Health care reform is the next big fight. What will Blue Corporacrats do? Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) will look after their for-profit healthcare sponsors. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh's household income comes from health insurance and biotech companies. Wife Susan flipped her WellPoint stock options for nearly $1.5 million since 2004.

Mrs. Bayh must be nervous at the moment. Her 115,221 Dendreon shares (including stock options) were valued at $21.55 earlier today. That's almost $2.5 million. They fell to $11.81 before the stock was halted for news. Her holdings fell to $1.36 million, over a $1 million haircut. Where will Dendreon land when the stock reopens? How can the Bayh family profit? Those questions occupy at least one Blue Corporacrat's mind.

White House Health Czar Nancy-Ann DeParle spent eight years considering ways to profit from health care companies. She was a private equity underwriter (PEU) with CCMP Capital Partners. Ms. DeParle served on as many health care boards as Susan Bayh. Watch for Corporacrats pushing health care deform.

Impact of Layoffs & Frozen 401k Matches

The worker is increasingly on their own as employers shed jobs and freeze or cut benefits. One clue as to the magnitude of firings in the first quarter is data from several large health insurers. The WSJ reported on the drops:

United Health Group lost 900,000 covered lives
WellPoint saw 500,000 customers drop coverage
Humana had 150,000 cease commercial coverage

Aetna, Cigna and HealthNet report soon. Their numbers will be indicative of more citizen pain.

Reform is coming, only it looks like the individual will bear a greater burden of health care coverage and retirement. Neither businesses of a "fiscal hawk" government wants to do more. That leaves the worker. Pay attention to details. So far, Obama's populist rhetoric contrasts with corporatist policy. For-profit health care should win big.

Major Ripple in the Democratixx

Video of President Bush caused a critical ripple in America's Democratixx, the false fronted world where citizens believe votes and opinions matter. Before invading Iraq, President Bush issued a stern warning to Saddam Hussein.

War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, “I was just following orders.”
President Bush likely will not face consequences for his war crimes. President Obama and a complicit Congress already gave CIA interrogators a free pass. They clearly want to bury Bush level offenses and "move on."

Whhhuuunnnnhhhhh! Many noticed the ripple in the Democratixx. Citizens want investigations into torture. Where warranted, prosecutions should occur. There should be no defense to say. "I was just following orders," not with the training the Democratixx supplies its interrogators.

(HT-Think Progress)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Key Senators to Imprint Health Care Reform

Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) will have a huge say on health care reform. Both senators accept donations from for-profit health care companies with no, as in zero, facilities in their state. Max accepted over $230,000 in donations from 31 of the 32 corporate PACs, while Kent took $127,000 from 26. Three companies in the above list have ties to Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House Health Czar. She served on the board of DaVita, Triad and a company acquired by Medco. How will for-profit healthcare benefit in reform? They have key operatives watching their back.

Doctor Shortage Combined with Pay for Performance

The Obama administration found out about America's doctor shortage, which is particularly acute in primary care. How will covering 50 million uninsured Americans play out in a country with too few family practitioners, internal medicine doctors and obstetrician/gynecologists? Some people will be left out.

Who loses may be driven by Obama's other health care solution, pay for performance. President Obama wants to pay for positive outcomes, for treatments that work. My internist shared his solution. Load up his practice with healthy patients. Healthy patients show healthy outcomes from non-procedure doctor visits. By limiting the number of patients with multiple chronic conditions, my doctor can maximize his take home pay.

U.S. primary care could soon be skewed to healthy patients. It could happen without the transformation of ill patients. Some chronically ill may not have a doctor at all. Guess who will fill America's emergency rooms in such a scenario?

Doctor training has a long lead time, similar to oil & gas discovery. Obama could act right now and the impact will be felt in a decade. Even as President Bush spoke of health care supply and demand, he didn't care about doctor supply.

America's doctor panel is skewed toward retirement age. If physicians get frustrated and retire, the problem grows dramatically worse. President Obama faces a difficult mix of realities in reforming health care.

Doctor supply could be the second biggest constraint. The first is for-profit health care. From insurance companies to big pharma to proprietary hospitals, the for-profit health lobby works to shape the debate and corresponding solutions. Obama tied his hand behind his back with the selection of Nancy-Ann DeParle. She's clearly in the for-profit camp.

Watch reform closely. It could be deform.

Overspin: Must Stop Listening to President Obama

One week President Obama pressed a $787 billion stimulus package and the need to cover America's 50 million people without health insurance coverage. The next he called for fiscal restraint and passage of PAY-GO legislation. Cuts in federal spending occur alongside any new expenditures.

Obama then called for R & D spending equal to 3% of gross domestic product. He proposed a new agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E. It will seek to do "high-risk, high-reward research" in energy. Recall the impact of high risk, high reward strategies on Wall Street.

Three percent of GDP, that's an annual expense of $430 billion. PAYGO requires cutting what, Mr. President? Add Obama's stated desire to corporate chief executives and the situation becomes more bleak. The President envisioned corporate income tax rates declining over time.

I see investments, R & D and healthcare, that corporations and the wealthy don't want to pay. That leaves the common man. I hope our health lasts.

Blue Lobbying Goes Green: Podesta Group Grows Revenues 45%

From 2007 to 2008 The Podesta Group's lobbying income grew from $11 million to nearly $16 million. Ten pharmaceutical/biotech companies paid Podesta over $2.2 million in 2008. Three for-profit health care groups forked over $940,000 for lobbying services.

One of those firms, DaVita, had Nancy-Ann DeParle on their board of directors. Nancy-Ann is the White House Health Czar, fresh off a long stint in private equity. She served on eight for-profit health care corporate boards.

The Blue team corporafornicates almost as well as the Reds. Watch health care reform closely. The for-profit side is pouring money into our governmental sinkhole on the Potomac. Today's Washington Post did its part by framing the desire to have a public plan as part of health care reform "bizarre and counterproductive." How is it bizarre and counterproductive to want a non-greed inspired group to insure Americans? WellPoint once predicted 15% annual returns as far as the eye could see.

Set aside the Washington Post's obvious framing. WaPo paid Podesta Group $80.000 for lobbying services in 2008. It's a small world after all.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Obama's Greeter Died a Week Later, Not Next Day

According to El Norte, a Mexican newspaper, Felipe Solis sickened the day after greeting President Obama during his Mexico City visit on April 16. Within a week, the noted anthropologist died of flu like symptoms. Other news reports had Mr. Solis dying the day after the President's visit.

How was Felipe exposed to the virus? Was he contagious when he met with President Obama? That may explain the White House press noting Obama's golf game today. But I bet he had Tamiflu coursing through his veins.

(HT-Economic Policy Journal)

Mike Conaway's Earmarks

At an Angelo State University open house Representative Mike Conaway refused to list his earmarks on his web site. He remains true to his word. In 2008 Mike requested 18 earmarks, totalling nearly $20 million. They are:

1. $5.8 million Addition to Goodfellow AFB Fitness Center
2. $2.4 million Compact Pulse Power Initiative (defense)-Texas Tech
3. $2 million for Center for Hetero-functional Materials-Angelo State
4. $1.7 million for efficient irrigation-Texas A&M and New Mexico State University
5. $1.6 million for Maritime Intelligence Surveillance System-Global Delta
6. $1.6 million for Enhanced Holographic Imaging Program (defense)-Zebra Imaging Inc.
7. $1.2 million for efficient irrigation
8. $1 million for Center for Food Industry Excellence
9. $527,000 for West Texas Center for Influenza Research, Education & Treatment-Texas Tech
10. $490,000 FM3503 Relocation Improvements
11. $439,000 Lower Colorado River Basin
12. $245,000 Concho Valley Multi-Modal Terminal Building
13. $235,000 Midland
14. $219,000 Wool Research MT, TX, WY
15. $192,000 Teacher Training Initiative-Angelo State University
16. $143,000 Midland College's Advanced Technology Center
17. $117,000 Odessa
18. $0 O.C. Fisher Lake

Number 5 Global Delta was the subject of a Seattle newspaper story. I bird dogged it further.

Since Representative Conaway won't put this information on his website, it's posted here. The public has a right to know.

Update: 2010 Election year politics has the House eschewing earmarks.

U.S. Declares Public Health Emergency for Swine Flu, Perry Cancels Secession for Flu Meds

Government leaders compare the flu state of emergency to a hurricane warning. The pandemic flu storm formed late in the season. It began in Mexico and spread quickly to other parts of the world.

How many U.S. Presidents fly into the eye of a tropical storm while it strengthens offshore? The outbreak bloomed while President Obama visited Mexico City. The U.S. President met with a noted anthropologist, Felipe Solis. Mr. Solis died of flu like symptoms the day after giving Barack Obama a tour of his museum.

American authorities appeared a day late and a dollar short. The U.S. finally caught up with the World Health Organization by issuing a warning. U.S. public health will be tested, as will our "have/have not" health care system.

President Bush's pandemic flu plan called for federal and state stockpiles of flu shots and anti-virals. Which states set aside flu medications? Texas Governor recanted his call for secession, asking the federales for over 37,000 doses of Tamiflu. Did Rick spend any Texas dollars on a state stockpile or did he veto that bill in his shotgun blast last session?

How will Perry's government distribute medications? Texas dropped primary care as an essential public health service ten years ago. Illegal immigrants, many from Mexico, have limited access to health care. Are ghost citizens at greater risk for disease and invisible to state authorities?

America will learn from this situation. The specific lessons remain to be seen.

Iranian Ship Sinks after Missile Strike

There may be more than one Iranian arms ship crisis. YNET News reported:

Egyptian newspaper El-Aosboa reported that an Iranian ship carrying arms designated for Palestinian terrorists in Gaza was recently sunk off the coast of Sudan in the Red Sea.

The newspaper quoted an anonymous source in Khartoum as saying that that an unidentified vessel, "perhaps Israeli or American," fired missiles and the Iranian ship.
Unidentified vessel? U.S. or Israeli black ops? It's the kind of act that starts a major war. Unmarked Israeli planes and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty during the Johnson administration.

Do pirates have access to missiles? Likely no. Pirates don't sink a ship full of arms. (The Jerusalem Post indicates Israel to be the likely perpetrator)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

President Obama Exposed to Mexican Swine Flu?

The Mexican swine flu outbreak started three days before President Barack Obama visited Mexico City. The first death was April 12. On April 16 President Obama met archaeologist Felipe Solis at the Mexico City Anthropology Museum. Solis died the next day with symptoms similar to flu. His specific disease has not been confirmed. Was the American President exposed to the unusual flu, a combination of swine, bird, and human flu virus?

The Mexican flu is a variant of H1N1 flu. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was also H1N1. During the Bush administration, researchers played with Spanish flu RNA. Was the President unlucky or in some one's sights? I bet this gets investigated.

(HT-Economic Policy Journal)

Pandemic Flu a Distinct Possiblity for Common Masses

The new combined swine/bird/human flu virus killed many young, healthy people in Mexico. The CDC already threw up its hands on containment. The World Health Organization may act in place of the CDC. While America's public health arm dithered, Wall Street noted the money making implications of a flu pandemic. Funny, I wrote on this topic nearly a year ago.

While scientist Craig Venter intelligently designs new organisms by creating DNA, the Bush administration wants to provide guidance to health care decision makers who should live and die in a health care crisis. The assumption is a scarcity of medical resources will require providers to prioritize who receives care and who is left untreated.

With 47 million Americans without health insurance, a projected shortage of up to 238,000 physicians by 2025, emergency rooms already stretched to their limit and little excess hospital capacity, it won't take much of an outbreak to tax the system. The stockpile of bird flu vaccines is rather paltry for our nation of 300 million people. The federal plan calls for stockpiling drugs (like Tamiflu) to treat 44 million Americans, only 15% of the population. States were encouraged to do likewise. By taking advantage of federal subsidies an additional 31 million could be covered. That brings the total to 75 million, only 25% of the population. That leaves 75% or 225 million citizens on their own.

Think about that while the flu spreads (hopefully very slowly). Public health in Texas is a joke for illegal immigrants. The very people left out of the care system might be carrying or spreading disease.

America's number of uninsureds is closer to 50 million with the economic implosion. Want to bet TARP recipients make the high priority for inoculation list? America has trillions invested in big money sector. Those CEO's might want to check who's emptying their trash. That uninsured contractor might not be up to date on their flu shot or have access to anti-viral medication.

Big Transportation Bill Needs More Investment Dollars

Congress may authorize nearly $500 billion in a transportation infrastructure bill. The six year plan will worm its way through Congress in May and June. WaPo reported:

"It is clear we need more revenue in the system, more investment dollars..."-Rep. Oberstar, Chair House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee

More revenue? The federal Highway Trust Fund suffers from declining receipts. With driver's logging fewer miles, gasoline taxes are down. Last fall Congress refilled the trust-fund tank from general revenue. It will do so again this summer.

The Obama administration says raising the gas tax is off the table. More infrastructure spending with no additional tax revenue? I smell a PEU, private equity underwriter. The PEU boys are itching to put investment dollars into transportation public-private partnerships. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will let them.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Evening Breaking News: Military Arm Said Bush Plans Were Torture

The reds and blues are annoyed the public continues to call for accountability on Bush administration torture. Fictions offered thus far include:

1. The CIA didn't know the history of waterboarding. America prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding during WWII.

2. Waterboarding worked. It's not clear if Kalid Sheik Mohammad broke in 2 minutes or on his 183rd session.

3. America does not torture, using the highly parsed definition pushed by senior Bush officials.

The latest volley in the firefight over torture came from a Friday evening story. WaPo reported:

The military agency that helped to devise harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as "torture" in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon's chief lawyer and warned that it would produce "unreliable information."

This warrants a serious investigation, not a series of news drips. Congress is not the group. Public hearings, where questions are limited to 3-5 minutes, would be a justice joke.

The Obama Justice Department continues shuffling its feet, as the President repeats his mantra of "move on." A special prosecutor is needed. A credible investigation will produce evidence that will guide any next steps. The red and blue teams avoid this necessary step, exposing the public to whatever the media can dig up. They save the meatiest stories for Friday evening, 5:22 pm.

Right of an Attorney May Disappear Under Obama

The Bush administration led a widespread assault on individual rights. The Obama team continues many of Bush's legal maneuvers that favor the power of the state. The AP reported on President Obama's latest Bush-like move:

The Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to overrule a 23 year-old decision that stopped police from initiating questions unless a defendant's lawyer is present, the latest stance that has disappointed civil rights and civil liberties groups.

President Obama offers rhetoric on controlling abuses of the state. Actual policy is frequently different:

Since taking office, Obama has drawn criticism for backing the continued imprisonment of enemy combatants in Afghanistan without trial, invoking the "state secrets" privilege to avoid releasing information in lawsuits and limiting the rights of prisoners to test genetic evidence used to convict them.

Don't forget the ramped up use of summary execution via drone fired missiles. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blair's War on Militant Islam or Obama's Contingency Overseas Operation?

Now that Bush's War on Terror is gone, what will replace it? The Obama administration offered contingency overseas operation. Quartet Envoy Tony Blair said the world needed to wage war on militant Islam. Consider his words:

"In the use of hard power, we have to understand one very simple thing: where we are called upon to fight, we have to do it. If we are defeated anywhere, we are at risk of being defeated everywhere."

That sounds like the kind of blanket tripe that sells books and books speeches.

Tax Free Status Distorts Health Insurance but Not Nonprofit Political Organizations?

Senator Max Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, spoke for taxing employer-sponsored health insurance benefits. Baucus used the words "aggressive" and "skewing" while citing the distorting impact of the longstanding tax free benefit.

Never mind that employer-provided insurance is way down. It once covered 70% of Americans. It's down to 58% and imploding. Those who kept the benefit asked employees to pay more of the premium.

What else is tax free and distorting? Many churches, community hospitals, social service organizations, and nonprofit political organizations. "Swift Boaters for Truth" may soon have better tax benefits than employers wanting to provide a health insurance benefit.

I suggest America tax political nonprofits first. Those groups are much more aggressive and skewing than dwindling employer-sponsored health insurance.

Dirty Max won't reveal the real motivation behind taxing health insurance. It's presented as a revenue strategy. In reality, corporations know how to manage their tax burden. If the individual can deduct health insurance costs, but businesses can't, guess who'll pay for health insurance? Corporations will shed the benefit, yet another burden for employees.

Defined benefit plans turned into 401(k)'s and 403(b)'s. When times got tough, the employer match disappeared. This means employees fund their retirement. Expect a similar move in health insurance. CEO incentive pay needs another leg up. It will happen on the employee's back, once again. When will it break?

Torture Leaders & Approvers

Instead of a confidential investigation, torture details play out in the new media. America's sordid decline came under orders from National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney. Complicit members of Congress include:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi D-CA
Rep. Porter Goss R-FL
Senator Bob Graham D-FL
Senator Richard Shelby R-AL

Note that two people in the torture chain switched jobs. Condoleeza Rice became Secretary of State, while Porter Goss headed the CIA, the group that carried out torture tactics.

The list of people to depose grows longer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

CIA Ignorance of Waterboarding History is Appalling

A former CIA agent called the race to waterboard "a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm." The story line: Director George Tenet, who claimed the CIA thoroughly researched its proposals, didn't research the history of waterboarding.

It's either fake, which means they knew the history and did it anyway. Or they're cretins and can't do basic research. Either is sad for "public servants."

Ignorance is no defense against breaking the law. An investigation is needed, not public hearings before a complicit Congress.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama's Odd Word Choices

The practical, pragmatic, realistic President Obama chose odd words in his remarks. Consider his words on Israel-Palestinian peace:

"Unfortunately, right now what we've seen not just in Israel, but within the Palestinian territories, among the Arab states, worldwide, is a profound cynicism about the possibility of any progress being made whatsoever."
Profound cynicism? Hmmm, might that be a pragmatic response to Israel's seven year period of ignoring the Arab League Peace Plan? Might it be a realistic response to the election of a heavy handed Prime Minister and Benjamin Netanyahu's appointment of an avowed racist as Foreign Minister?

Consider Obama's words on torture:
With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that.

Prejudge what? All I want is a simple investigation up and down the torture chain, one done quietly by talented investigators. Their findings determine any next steps.

Avoid political whitewashes, like Frances Townsend's White House Katrina Lessons Learned report and James A. Baker, III's misplaced BP Texas City Explosion report, where 15 people died. Surely the dead deserved something better.

President Obama's word choices are puzzling. Whatever he wants is practical, what he doesn't is cynical or a reactionary rush to judgment. They sound remarkably Bush like.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bush vs. Obama's Unitary Executive on Torture

Senior members of President Obama's staff said Bushies who crafted the legal basis for torture will not be held accountable. Rahm Emanuel said it yesterday. Robert Gibbs repeated the free pass offer today.

This is all about the unitary executive. Obama banned the technique that Bush implemented. The court system is nowhere to be found. That’s a huge mistake. Americans are at the whim of a good king or bad king.

This is patently bad governance in a functioning democracy. Rulings are needed to control our elected officials. Who knows what the next President will do?

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Bush proved it with his torture decree. Obama proves it with his free pass for treaty and law violators. Yet, the unitary executive remains unchallenged. Either Congress or the court system needs to intervene.

Dr. Uwe Reinhardt Offers Magic Health Care Solution to WH Nancy-Ann DeParle

Six years passed since a health care summit with Princeton health economist Uwe Reinhardt, Medicare/Medicaid Chief Tom Scully and CCMP Capital Partners Nancy Ann-DeParle. They hinted at something innovative, but the Bush team never delivered.

Fast forward to early 2009. All three players are integral to health care reform. Nancy-Ann DeParle is the White House Health Care Czar. Tom Scully is a private equity underwriter (PEU) with Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. WCAS specializes in buying and selling for-profit health care companies. He recently defended Ms. DeParle's reform effort.

Dr. Uwe Reinhardt continues to advise elected leaders on health care reform. In 2005 he invoked the image of a horse pooping to highlight our two tiered health care system. "The have's" can buy oats before the horse eats them. "Have nots" must take the digested version. I believe they're known as road apples.

Uwe can afford to buy oats pre-digestion with his appointments to various for-profit health care corporate boards. Reinhardt sat on the Triad Hospitals board alongside Nancy-Ann DeParle. He made $2.3 million from the sale of Triad, while Nancy-Ann got $1.4 million.

Reinhardt currently sits on three boards Boston Scientific, AmeriGroup and Legacy Hospital Partners. Ms. DeParle sits alongside Uwe on the Legacy and Boston Scientific boards. (Nancy-Ann's complete list of board slots can be found here.)

Enough history, Mr. Reinhardt proposed a hybrid public-private insurance option, one based on state insurance plans. Ms. DeParle expressed an interest in such a compromise. Who wins under such a plan? Reinhardt's AmeriGroup, which partners with states and the federal government. AmeriGroup offers Medicaid, CHIP, Medicaid expansion and Medicare Advantage plans in 11 states.

Why would he prefer a scenario where AmeriGroup benefits? Uwe Reinhardt’s holdings in AmeriGroup includes 144,558 beneficially owned shares. Most are stock options, but he holds restricted and unrestricted stock as well. His 2008 board compensation was $226,531. That doesn’t include pay from Boston Scientific or Legacy Hospital Partners.

Uwe's solution brings us back to public-private partnerships (PPP), the mantra of the Obama administration. AmeriGroup can play in PPP efforts to cover more people. Mr. Reinhardt's obvious conflict of interest should be disclosed and taken into account by America's elected officials. But many public servants are tied to for-profit healthcare like Uwe. Nancy-Ann DeParle, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Evan Bayh ... the list isn't pretty.

I smell a PEU partnering with the government to PPP. Why does it steam like a fresh road apple?

U.S. Contracts out Torture Justice to Spain

The Obama administration determined not to investigate or charge CIA operatives with torture. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel spread the immunity blanket to Justice Department authors of torture memos.

"It's not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back" out of "any sense of anger and retribution," Emanuel said on ABC's "This Week."
Don't you love Rahm's "anger and retribution" framing. How about out of any sense of America's international treaty obligations or the rule of law? David Axelrod cited the President's belief in "the law." How about a simple, thorough dispassionate investigation with no anger and no retribution? Such an investigation will point to next steps.

President Obama visits the CIA today. He will reiterate his holding no one accountable for torture and abuse.

Now Change means No Change from W., at least in the "Just Us" Department. At the moment, Spain is the world's only chance for justice.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Sickening Spin from White House on Torture

Bush Torture memos hit the public airwaves. One memo called into question the version of a "two minute" breaking of Khalid Sheik Mohammad. It indicated Khalid was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003. The legal basis for torture came a year later in March 2004.

For all this, the Obama team promised no investigations of CIA personnel. It even said the Justice Department would defend any agents charged.

Instead of Justice, Americans are to go forward. Horse Hockey! Consider the drivel offered by Obama's senior staffers:

"..the president of the United States does not believe that this is a contest between our values and our security. He thinks we can honor both and execute both. And that's what he's going to do.''-David Axelrod

Notice Axelrod left out justice for war crimes, for violating international treaties and obligations. Anybody else weigh in?

''The notion that somehow this all of a sudden is a game changer doesn't take cognizance of the fact that it's already in the system and in the public domain,'' said Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

As a result of Obama's decision, he said, ''we've enhanced America's image abroad. These were tools used by terrorists, propaganda tools, to recruit new terrorists. And the fact is, having changed America's image does have an impact on our security and safety and makes us stronger.''

Not in the public domain was the depth and breadth of Bush's waterboarding. 183 times in one month, a year before the quicksand legal foundation was laid?

As for enhancing America's image abroad, that would require holding the authors, approvers and implementers accountable. A decent administration would at least conduct a credible investigation.

The Obama team is chickenshit. Release a few memos, get people angered at the Bush cabal and move on. Practically, that makes America a joke abroad.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Quality Nightmare is More than "Inadvertent Neglect"

The Veterans Administration exposed over 10,000 patients to other patients' blood and body fluids. The problem arose in cleaning endoscopic parts. The VA characterized the problems as:

"inadvertently neglecting to appropriately reprocess a specific auxiliary water tube."
Horse hockey! It's a quality nightmare. Over twenty five patients now have Hepatitis B, C, or AIDS.

When the VA system purchased the equipment from Olympus American Inc., the vendor should have trained hospital staff on proper cleaning. Did the Olympus trainer not cover the information adequately?

Olympus left maintenance and upkeep information with the hospital. Was the documentation clear as to what hospital staff needed to do to keep patients safe from exposure?

Was the water tube specified as a disposable or reusable device? If the VA wanted to save money, they might reuse a disposable item, especially if it could increase their incentive bonuses.

Three VA sites failed patients, Murfreesboro, TN, Augusta, GA and Miami, FL. How did incentive pay impact multi-site, multi-year periods of "inadvertent neglect"?

The AP obtained information on the exposure from the VA system. Their e-mail stated:

"tubing attached to the endoscopic equipment was cleaned at the end of each day, rather than immediately after each patient—a violation of the manufacturer's instructions."

The question is why? Why did the VA allow blood and body fluid exposure to over 10,000 patients? It's management's job to know.

"Inadvertent harm" is spin for management's failure to lead on quality. It belongs in the same place as Katrina's "unprecedented event." They both cover government nightmares for thousands of patients.

Friday, April 17, 2009

State of Risk Management Consulting: Patently Laughable

While the Bush administration allowed financial terrorists to implode citizen's retirement accounts, a subset trained their eyes on non-Wall Street terror threats. Homeland Security leaders included Michael Chertoff and Frances Townsend. Both made major private sector moves.

Michael Chertoff started The Chertoff Group in an alliance with Burson-Marsteller, a bipartisan opinion influencer, a.k.a influence peddler. The Burson-Marsteller stable includes blue Mark Penn alongside red Karen Hughes and newly landed Dana Perino. Hughes was charged with improving America's standing in the Muslim world. For failing miserably, Karen got a high dollar private sector slot. Dana was hired for playing dumb during every crisis, but especially for her cluelessness in the Wall Street implosion.

Most new start consulting firms can't immediately hire expensive talent. Did Burson bankroll The Chertoff Group's hiring Michael Hayden and two of Chertoff's former Homeland Security Deputies? What about clients? The ones needing advise on "a range of security concerns, including cyber security, terrorism, fraud, border protection and supply-chain security. Chertoff Group also plans to offer consulting services on mergers and acquisitions in the security field, as well as due diligence support."

Chertoff will have competition from Baker Botts new consulting arm. James A. Baker, III's law firm hired Frances Fragos Townsend as partner. She'll head a new practice group called Global Security and Corporate Risk Counseling. Fran will advise Baker Botts clients on government investigations. The news broke on April 1st, surely a cruel joke considering the whitewashes Mr. Baker and Ms. Townsend foisted on the American public.

Baker covered for Lord John Browne of BP-Texas City explosion fame. Browne not only avoided direct responsibility for 15 deaths, he landed a cush job at Riverstone Holdings, a Carlyle Group joint venture.

Fran omitted Memorial Medical Center from her Hurricane Katrina Lessons Learned report. That move left out Tenet Health's 10 deaths and LifeCare Hospitals' 24 deaths. LifeCare was acquired by The Carlyle Group weeks before landfall. I'm sure President George W. Bush's tenure as board member in the mid 1990's for Carlyle affiliate CaterAir never arose.

James A. Baker, III and Frances Fragos Townsend offered two whitewashes with curious links to The Carlyle Group. Carlyle Co-founder David Rubenstein is dancing hard to minimize the risk of regulation for private equity underwriters. Will he hire the Chertoff or Baker Botts? David knows how to purchase influence.

Update 8-14-13:  General Michael Hayden remains unaccountable for his role in turning the U.S. into a pervasive surveillance state.  How much did his net worth increase since he ceased "public service?"  As for declaring financial conflicts of interest, that's so passe. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama's Torture Logic Trap

President Obama released Bush administration memos justifying the legal basis for torture. While documents got Justice Department review, they never went before a court. Every legal case has been stifled by the same DOJ under "national security" and "state secrets."

Congress was appraised on Bush's rough interrogation methods. Thus, they are complicit in any crimes. America's Executive Branch made torture as an acceptable practice, Congress acquiesced, and the Judicial branch never weighed in with a legal ruling.

What happens now? Likely nothing. The Obama administration said it would defend anyone charged with torture, as long as they tortured in "good faith". How twisted is that?

Interrogators had training, which included international commitments and the legal lines for prisoner treatment. How many people knew those lines were crossed by the Bush cabal's reliance on sadistic violence? We won't find out.

Assitant Attorney General James Comey knew Bush pushed beyond the legal limits in domestic spying. Surely someone in the detainee interrogation bureaucracy sensed the Bush memos were illegal. But CIA Chief Leon Panetta said "no investigations, no charges" and President Obama reiterated that stance.

Might another country do America's oversight for us? Spain looked promising, but after communication with the Obama people, it dropped the case. Here's the Spanish Attorney General's logic:

Spain can't charge the higher ups who designed the torture program, because the big cheeses didn't do the torturing.

Add the Panetta/Obama logic:

Interrogators can't be investigated, much less charged, because they were simply following orders.

The Obama administration set a logic trap. It adds up to everyone getting off, Scott Free! It's Bush level twisted. One thing won't occur, an investigation. That's the first step needed.

American bleedership is front and center. Greedership can't be far behind. We endure with an appalling lack of leadership.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

South Rides Again

Which Generals will lead the rebirth of the Republican party? Jeb Bush ditched his sword and horse for high paying corporate positions. That leaves Texas Governor Rick Perry. He spoke of secession at Austin's Tea Party. Forget the Boston Harbor irony. The Dallas Morning News reported:

Gov. Rick Perry told an anti-tax "tea party" Wednesday the federal government is "rampaging through the halls of Congress" with big-spending programs and only states' rights can stop it.

Perry told reporters following his speech that Texans might get so frustrated with the government they would want to secede from the union.

"There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

Perry dismissed characterizations that those attending Wednesday's "tea party" rallies in Texas and around the country are "a bunch of right-wing extremists." "But if you are, I'm with you," he said.

Self admitted right wing extremist calling for secession? It seems Rick has a revolution to lead, or a primary to win. When will the government tap Perry's phone and root through his e-mails? They clearly have probable cause.

General Perry is ready to ride north from Austin. If Rick's hunting communists, he may want to empty a Tom Green County jail cell. Who knew taxes at the rate of President Ronald Reagan qualified as Marxist? Tea party organizers qualify as Machiavellian manipulators.

The blue team is almost as bad, modernizing things in a huge corporafornication bonanza. But I already did that post! A pox on the red and blue houses, full of greedership and bleedership. Substitute leadership.

Obama's Promise and Tax Day

Presidential candidate Barack Obama called for "legislation that would allow withdrawals of 15% up to $10,000 from retirement accounts without penalty (although subject to the normal taxes). This would apply to withdrawals in 2008 (including retroactively) and 2009."

That didn't happen. However, the Stimulus Package had $25 billion in tax breaks for corporations buying back debt on the cheap. Let's review:

Struggling citizen dipping into retirement to save a home-No break

Cash engorged private equity firms buying back affiliate debt for pennies on the dollar-Billions in tax breaks

This is an indication of who has the ear of America's elected officials. Struggling citizens don't count. That includes the uninsured, who have no collective power.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Obama the Front Man

The 2009 Business Olympics are on! Participants compete to advance the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's policy positions. The first event is the marathon, where America pursues the lowest global common denominator on worker pay and benefits. CEO's, lobbyists and government officials, especially those accepting money for placement, are exempt from this event.

Corporate runners are halfway through the marathon. They lightened their load by dropping heavy cotton defined benefit pension plans, substituting sweat wicking 401(k)'s and 403(b)'s. When they tired in a stiff economic headwind, many sponsors dropped 401(k) matches.

A rocky mountain looms ahead, the ever steepening hill of health care costs. Corporations would love to drop that pesky benefit. The Chamber line is "health care costs make American goods uncompetitive" in a global economy. President Obama's team will facilitate the shedding of the health insurance benefit from corporate payrolls. Individual responsibility means workers fund their retirement and health care.

But isn't President Obama planning to ensure everyone has health care coverage? The fight is over who pays. Businesses don't want to pay their current taxes, much less pony up more. CEO incentive pay needs another easy accelerator. Dumping health insurance to the worker will optimize executive take home pay. With a hundred applications for every job opening, what's the down side for a CEO? Any potential CEO hostage takers should note the recent piracy resolution. That could easily apply to employees wanting justice, but with so few options.

Business clearly wants to do less on health care coverge. That leaves the government or individual to pony up more. President Obama plans to address entitlement spending in the near future. That's a euphemism for cutting government sponsored retirement, disability and health care programs.

Fiscal hawkishness is vogue, thanks to Pete Peterson, the Blackstone Group billionaire. Pete took his massive windfall, aided by George W. Bush's lower capital gains rate, and started a foundation. It's aim is to educate people on America's unsustainable financial track.

Treasury Chief Tim Geithner admitted fiscal doves were extinct in his talk at the Council on Foreign Relations. He gave a big shout out to Pete Peterson, who was in attendance. (Fed Board member Pete Peterson picked Geithner for the New York Fed job.)

Of course the track is unsustainable, but keeping higher taxes off the table is absurd. I knew I'd been fooled by the Obama campaign montage as I read a WSJ piece. Obama said he was interested in lowering corporate tax rates over time.

That's the second race. The steeplechase is a race to the lowest global common denominator on taxes, specifically corporate and capital gains taxes. Private equity underwriters (PEU's) know how to work the system to their advantage. They frequently threaten to move their toys to other low cost areas of the global economy.

The Carlyle Group is full of ex-red and blue government insiders. Co-founder William Conway hates a level playing field, so he stacks it at every opportunity. Which leads us to the last change, having few officials on the track to monitor the race.

The big money boys want powder puff financial regulation. It looks like the hedge fund pit will gain an official, but not the PEU pole vault area or the foreign sovereign wealth fund (SWF) shot put zone. Obama's top economic adviser Larry Summers flip flopped on SWF oversight once he began "serving the public" again.

So far the race shows the big money boys winning in all three areas:

1. Driving down worker pay/benefits
2. Decreasing taxes
3. Offering up milk toast regulation

President Obama is a shill, a much more eloquent shill, but a shill just the same.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Add Drywall to Long List of Dangerous Chinese Products

Two countries have no clue about quality, buying America and producing China. The latest toxic product from Asia is sulphur infused sheet rock. Home builders widely used Chinese drywall from 2004 to 2008, a time when domestic supplies were short. Unsuspecting new home buyers find themselves with walls reeking of rotten eggs. Emissions can blacken a shiny copper pipe in a matter of months. The Associated Press reported on the Chinese response:

The Chinese ministries of commerce, construction and industry and the Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Chinese news reports have said AQSIQ, which enforces product quality standards, was investigating the complaints but people in the agency's press office said they could not confirm that.

The cheap dollar extender blows up yet again. Bad ingredients in drywall can ruin the value of a whole house, maybe 100,000 of them. It's similar to tainted heparin destroying a cardiac surgery procedure, even killing the patient.

Food borne illnesses are up, according to the CDC. One factor is the internationalization of the food supply, the rise in imports. Count me as one who wants no Chinese ingredients in my food or medicine. But I don't get information to make proper choices. Corporations and the U.S. government won't insure quality products enter our country.

Management theory in America and China works against producing quality products. Both substitute less expensive ingredients to grow profits and maximize executive incentive compensation. Both drive in fear, when not bribing people.

How many U.S. jobs went to China? Over 2 million during the Bush years. That was the first order of substitution. The second order came from Chinese innovators. Only their profit driven ingenuity killed and sickened people. The list of dangerous products includes tires, toothpaste, children's toys, pet food, milk, infant formula, heparin, cough syrup, toothpaste and drywall.

Transformation of management is needed. Abysmal leadership, ranging from our hallowed halls of government to corporate board rooms, is responsible. Until that changes, it's buyer beware. The Obama administration is as clueless as the Chinese AQSIQ. President Obama wants to spread the management toxin of "pay for performance" to education and healthcare. Expect more dangerous substitutions.

Update: In toxic drywall lawsuits "Chinese entities who were sued never responded in U.S. court." Global manufacturers are unaccountable for their dangerous products.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Texas Offers Symbolic Fine on Bankrupt Peanut Company

Texas health officials closed the barn door long after the cows got out. They fined Plainview Peanut Company $14.6 million for unsanitary production lines. The company's salmonella tainted peanut products sickened 691 and killed 11.

Actually the number sickened is 692. Standard Times columnist Ross McSwain was hospitalized after eating peanut butter crackers, later recalled for contamination. He spent a week in the hospital. Being the gentleman he is, Ross wants no recourse.

That's good as Plainview peanut's corporate owner declared bankruptcy. Management indicated Plainview's filing to be imminent. The Fort Worth Star Telegram provided more interesting tidbits:

1. Plainview Peanut accepted corporate welfare in the form of $1 million in local tax incentives
2. The plant operated for four years without a Texas food manufacturer's license.
3. Texas Agriculture Department inspected the plant 3 times. Health authorities found out about the plant through news reports.
4. Company President Steven Parnell ordered salmonella tainted peanut butter shipped to customers.

He ignored test results, for what? Did Mr. Parnell have an incentive compensation package? What role did productivity and profit incentives have in his order to ship bad product?

Texas was a day late and a dollar short at every turn on the Plainview Peanut case. It almost cost West Texas a chronicler of history. Maybe, Ross will do a story on the window dressing record fine on a bankrupt company.