Sunday, May 31, 2009

GM Bankruptcy is Largest Manufacturing Implosion in History

The U.S. government anticipates $50 billion in taxpayer funding to get General Motors through bankruptcy. That includes $30 billion in new money. Canada will put up $9.5 billion for the restructuring.

Taxpayers will hold a 60% stake in GM. Let's hope it works better than Chrysler's $7 billion in TARP funding. Uncle Sam wrote that off when Chrysler declared Chapter 11.

Treasury held a conference call on the bankruptcy. Robert Wenzel from EPJ was on the line for those interested in his assessment. He noted what taxpayers get for their $50 billion investment:

The U.S. government will receive approximately $8.8 billion in debt and preferred stock in the new GM and approximately 60% of the equity of the new GM.
Feel better?

Redux: Frances Townsend Lands In Riyadh

On May 26, 2009 Frances Townsend met with Saudi King Abdullah. The Saudi Press release didn't reveal the nature of the meeting.

Nearly four years ago, Mrs. Townsend delivered a letter to King Abdullah on Hurricane Katrina. When Frances jumped on the plane, the last New Orleans hospital patients were evacuated from sweltering, "toxic gumbo" inundated hospitals. When Bush's Homeland Security Adviser returned from Riyadh, she completed an "investigation." Her White House Lessons Learned report omitted any mention of the hospital with the highest patient death toll. It had been purchased by The Carlyle Group, a politically connected private equity firm.

What was the nature of Fran's current trip? Was she:

1. Seeking funds for the George W. Bush library
2. Consulting with the Saudi's on risk management in her Baker Botts role
3. Working on behalf of the Carlyle Group's $500 million Middle East-North Africa fund

I certainly don't know the answer. I do wonder if she'll swing by Libya and visit the Gadhafi clan. If so, apply the aforementioned question to that meeting.

(HT-Best of Both Worlds)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

General Peter Pace: State of the Government-Industrial Monstrosity

President Dwight Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex went on a decade long steroid binge. It emerged as the Government-Industrial Monstrosity (GIM). In virus like fashion, the GIM infiltrated health care, education, energy, just about every government effort.

It did so under the guise of "modernization", which purports the private sector is more efficient and free markets are the best allocators of resources. Never mind that layers of private contractors, each with their 20-30% profit motive, can produce $400 hammers just as well as the old bureaucracy. Forget about legislated earmarks or protective measures Congress passes to aid its corporate sponsors.

But do pay attention to the influence peddlers, one of whom is General Peter Pace, former Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush. He landed several cushy part time jobs, one with SM & A, a global consulting firm. Their 2008 proxy statement had this to day of their arrangement with the General:

Mr. Pace is not obligated to work full time for the Company and may serve on the boards of, or as a consultant to, businesses that do not compete with the Company as long as he informs the Company of those outside activities and those outside activities do not materially interfere with the performance of his duties to the Company. The agreement provides for an annual base salary of $300,000. In addition, Mr. Pace is entitled to an incentive bonus equal to two percent (2%) of all revenue in excess of $12,000,000 earned by the Company from all Qualifying Projects during the Qualifying Periods applicable to such Qualifying Projects (as defined in the agreement). Mr. Pace also received a one-time cash Signing Bonus in the amount of $240,000 and was granted an option on the Effective Date of his agreement to purchase 100,000 shares of Common Stock of the Company, issued pursuant to the Company’s 2007 Equity Incentive Plan.

The target incentive for Mr. Pace under this plan is 50,000 shares of Common Stock of the Company, but the actual number of shares granted will be in accordance with the performance scale described above in this document.
Mr. Pace and his dependents are entitled to reimbursement for documented medical expenses not otherwise covered by the Company’s medical plan and disability insurance coverage and he receives other benefits as afforded other Executives and set forth elsewhere in this discussion.

Sweet! Pete not only made big money from his work, but he benefited from a buyout. His firm was purchased by Odyssey Investment Partners, a private equity underwriter (PEU) during the height of the financial implosion. Odyssey paid $119 million in cash for the General's firm. The deal closed in late December 2008.

From the largest aerospace and defense contractors, through the major software providers, to healthcare and financial/audit service providers, SM&A is the partner many companies turn to WHEN THEY MUST WIN.

General Pace's stock holdings grossed over $400,000. But the sale did something more invaluable for him, it put SM&A into private hands. Can you imagine the public's outrage when General Pace reported millions in incentive bonus for a part time job?

The Government-Industrial Monstrosity is here and Peter Pace is but a fractal.

(Don't be surprised if SM&A is advising health insurance companies in the health care reform fight. THEY MUST WIN. He could get a huge bonus for denying millions of Americans access to affordable health care.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Obama's Team Goes Bilderberging

Israeli newspapers reported Dennis Ross gave an October deadline for talks with Iran. He did so during a "Europe trip." Was it the annual Bilderberg meeting, held on a Greek Isle? It occurred May 14-17 and was covered by one mainstream journalist, from The Guardian, a British paper.

Charlie Skelton's first few posts mocked conspiracy theory paranoia. However, the super tight, heavily-armed security net surrounding the meeting eventually wore on Skelton. By the end of his trip, Charlie wrote:

I came to make a few cracks about Bilderberg and ended up getting sledgehammered in the nuts.

Publicity is pure poison to the world's global power elite. So we should all turn up to its next annual meeting with a few more tubs of the stuff.
Who attended from the Obama camp? A German web site said General James L. Jones and General David Petraeus joined Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Paul Volcker, Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross at the 2009 meeting. Paul Wolfowitz attended and I believe he still has State Department responsibilities. Wolfowitz had the company of fellow neocons Richard Pearle and Robert Kagan in Greece.

Recall Democratic Presidential front runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama detoured from Reagan Airport to nearby Northern Virginia suburbs during last year's Bilderberg soiree. Did they talk to hegemonic global powers gathered in Chantilly, Virginia?

Bilderberg meetings are closed to the press, participants are asked not to publicly discuss the proceedings and the attendee list is only occasionally released.

Distinguished media leaders attend every year, but they keep their silence in return for a seat at the heady world power table. WaPo's Donald Graham is a regular, but his venerable daily avoids Bilderberg. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek made this year's meeting.

How might the Obama team's help transition the IMF into a global Treasury or the WHO into global health department? Will philanthropy money pave the way? A secret meeting of billionaires was called by David Rockefeller, also a Bilderberger. On May 5, they discussed ways to continue philanthropy while many economies suffer. Will it involve giving super power to benefactors, by matching their favorite projects with U.S. taxpayer money?

How might Bilderberg let the air out of the dollar? How might Obama continue steering financial form to benefit the big money boys, like Henry Kravis of KKR, who attended Bilderberg. But those were just ideas at the 2009 gathering.

Bilderberg is a small, flexible, informal and off-the-record international forum in which different viewpoints can be expressed and mutual understanding enhanced.
Gee, that sounds great. For something that wonderful, why do they need an army, navy and air force?

A police officer told the Associated Press (on condition of anonymity): "The resort was being protected by hundreds of police, navy commandos, coast guard speedboats and two F-16 fighter planes." That's right. Two F-16 fighter planes.
Soaring rhetoric and heavy handed, greed fueled reality? No wonder President Obama was a hit at the 2008 Bilderberg meeting. They have something in common.

Health Care Reform Funding Nonsense

Tax free employer sponsored health insurance is bad as a benefit because it is regressive. That means the wealthy get more benefit than the average worker.

Congress considers a national sales tax or Value Added Tax to fund health insurance. Yet, this tax is highly regressive.

Why get rid of one "bad" regressive policy, funding reform with a "good" regressive tax? For a clue, find who wins in both scenario's. Corporations and the wealthy, sponsors of the red/blue teams in Washington, D.C.

Employers could soon dump health insurance into the lap of employees. They badly wish to do so.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Value Added Tax on Table for Health Care Reform, Emanuel's Brother Advising Orzag

While legislators discuss ways to pay for health care reform, many ideas are on the table. Taxing employer sponsored health insurance sits at the top of the list. A Value Added Tax, effectively a national sales tax, is also under consideration. WaPo reported:

A White House official said a VAT is "unlikely to be in the mix" as a means to pay for health-care reform. "While we do not want to rule any credible idea in or out as we discuss the way forward with Congress, the VAT tax, in particular, is popular with academics but highly controversial with policymakers," said Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for White House Budget Director Peter Orszag.

Still, Orszag has hired a prominent VAT advocate to advise him on health care: Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and author of the 2008 book "Health Care, Guaranteed."
All signs point to the individual footing the bill for health care reform. Business won't pay. They're shedding health insurance costs to the employee, even dumping the benefit entirely. Government is tapped out. That leaves the worker to pony up.

The Obama White House is similar to the Bush version. For-profit health care industry insiders plan health care reform and family members stand to benefit from the change. Look up William H.T. Bush, otherwise known as Uncle Bucky. Some people are Well-A-Pointed...

Taxing Employer Sponsored Health Insurance, Logic Fails Me

Leading members of Congress call the tax free status of employer provided health insurance distorting and regressive. Yet, they propose giving the same tax status to employer benefits that encourage healthy living. Why should one be taxed and not the other?

Taxing employer health insurance seems a great way to get employers to dump the benefit onto workers. I suspect that's the Government-Industrial Monstrosity's real motive. The Government-Industrial Monstrosity is Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex on $ trillions in U.S. Treasury steroids.

Earlier today, Treasury Chief Tim Geithner spoke highly of investment tax credits for community development enterprises. The program has been around since 2000. It provides a direct government benefit to people with enough disposable income to invest in corporations serving low income communities.

The New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) Program permits taxpayers to receive a credit against Federal income taxes for making qualified equity investments in designated Community Development Entities (CDEs). Substantially all of the qualified equity investment must in turn be used by the CDE to provide investments in low-income communities. The credit provided to the investor totals 39 percent of the cost of the investment and is claimed over a seven-year credit allowance period.

It seems America's tax policy is skewed toward the investment class. Benefits range from preferred taxation on carried interest to the $25 billion Obama stimulus package tax break for corporations buying back debt. Will they lower corporate tax rates in exchange for tightening loopholes? That idea is being floated.

It's yet another break for the business class. Think how executive incentive pay will soar if they dump health insurance costs to the worker and Uncle Sam cuts their tax bill. That's a double booster rocket for CEO bonus pay, and the executive won't have to do much.

Watch closely how health care reform is structured and financed. It will be telling in light of President Obama's imitation of Bush corporafornication.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The For-Profit Health Care Reform Club

America's health care reform players know each other well. They've crisscrossed over the years, spending a dollop of time in various federal administrations. Most of their career has been in for-profit health care roles. A WaPo article mentions three members of the club:

Karen Ignagni-Chief Executive Officer, America's Health Insurance Plans which "controls" the debate on health reform. If private insurers don't win in any public plan, AHIP will bring back Harry & Louise

Chip Kahn-President of Federation of American Hospitals, the for-profit hospital chain lobby. In his prior job Chip was responsible for the Harry & Louise ads. They killed health reform in the 90's

Uwe Reinhardt-Princeton economist who consistently fails to disclose his for-profit health care conflicts of interest. Reinhardt sits on the board of insurer AmeriGroup, which does public-private insurance partnerships with states. It's the kind of program Ignagni wants in any reform bill. Uwe has over 130,000 AmeriGroup stock options. He also serves on the boards of Boston Scientific and Legacy Health Partners. He sat on the board of Triad Hospitals and made $2.3 million from the sale.

But there are more than these three. Add:

Nancy-Ann DeParle-White House Health Czar and former private equity underwriter (PEU) for CCMP Capital Partners. Ms. DeParle sat on the board of nine health care companies, making $530,000 in board compensation in 2008. Her stock holdings are worth . She holds stock options in companies that stand to do well in Obama's reform efforts. As a board member, Nancy-Ann made $1.4 million from the sale of Triad Hospitals. She's currently implementing the President's plans.

Tom Scully-General Partner with PEU Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe (WCAS). Mr. Scully is a former Medicare/Medicaid Chief under President Bush. He was the architect of a new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, but fled for big private sector money, prior to Part D implementation. Scully was President of the Federation of American Hospitals prior to Chip Kahn. Tom Sits on the board of numerous WCAS health affiliates including Solantic. In late 2008 Tom Scully had a 135,880 share interest in Universal American, a health insurer.

Rick Scott-CEO of Solantic, an affiliate of WCAS. Scott is the former CEO of Columbia/HCA, a powerhouse in the Federation of American Hospitals under Tom Scully's leadership. Rick's Conservatives for Patients' Rights stands as the Harry & Louise to date in the current health reform debate. Where were patients' rights when Scott's Columbia/HCA fraudulently overbilled them? Scott resigned in disgrace. Later Columbia/HCA paid a $1.7 billion fine. Scott currently answers to Solantic's board, which includes Tom Scully.

Denny Shelton-CEO of Legacy Health Partners, former CEO of Triad Hospitals. The Triad board included Nancy-Ann DeParle and Uwe Reinhardt. Denny tried to sell Triad to CCMP Capital Partners (Nancy-Ann's PEU), but Community Health Systems offered more. Mr. Shelton made over $40 million from the sale of his company. He took a Peter G. Peterson approach to his windfall. Rather than pay more taxes to cover uninsured children, Denny thought he should pay for his Medicare coverage. Denny went on to start Legacy Hospital Partners, which targets nonprofit community hospitals needing joint venture access to capital. He recruited Nancy-Ann DeParle and Uwe Reinhardt for the Legacy board. CCMP Capital Partners lists Legacy as a PEU affiliate.

Gail Wilensky-former Bush 41 Medicare/Medicare chief. Ms. Wilensky recently testified before the Senate Finance Committee on financing health reform. She failed to disclose her conflicts of interest. Gail sat on six for-profit health care boards. She received $1.2 million in 2008 board compensation. Her stock holdings are valued at over $20 million. She has $9 million in UnitedHealth stock from serving on the board of the huge health insurer. That makes it easier to recommend taxing nonprofit community hospitals, currently under financial distress. If Gail gets her wish, safety net hospitals will pay taxes while Rick Scott's CPR and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth remain tax free.

The club wants to tilt the deck in favor of for-profit health care. They have people in place and the right Senate Finance Committee Chair to deliver. Long time Dirty Max Baucus will certainly accommodate health care deform. I'm sure Senator Evan Bayh will do his part.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Speculation Returning to Oil Supply & Demand?

I recently noticed parallels between last summer's gasoline moves and the current trend. The Algerian Energy Minister did likewise. He warned "recent price rises were being driven by speculation and a weak dollar rather than fundamentals."

Americans continue driving fewer miles, even at much lower gas prices than last year. What will the future hold? Boatloads of ka-ching? My guess is rising profits for big oil and Goldman Sachs, which specializes in oil speculation.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Obama Adds Preventive Detention to Summary Executions

The Obama administration continued one Bush tactic in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), formerly known as The War on Terror. President Obama summarily executes people in sovereign countries, just like George W. Unfortunately, innocent people die in these operations, upsetting the hearts and minds of locals. The TimesUK reported on Obama's use of drone fired missile justice:

America has stepped up the covert targeted killing policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan despite the concern of security experts about its effectiveness and complaints by human rights groups about civilian casualties.

The CIA is said to have carried out at least 16 Predator strikes in Pakistan during the first four months of this year, compared with 36 strikes in the whole of 2008. These have killed about 161 people since President Obama’s inauguration, according to news reports in Pakistan.

The Obama administration likes the results, according to CIA Chief Leon Panetta. It will continue summary executions. However, President Obama added a new wrinkle to America's OCO strategy, preventive detentions. Under this scenario, dangerous people can be held inperpetuity. No admissable evidence is needed, just the inadmissable kind gotten from torture!

Bush's Unitary Executive (UE) brought America preventive war and torture. The power didn't go away. Obama's UE offers preventive detention, while keeping torture and rendition as future options.

The court system needs to weigh in ASAP. Power head leaders need constraints. A weak kneed Congress won't supply any. Bring cases! It's the only option left to constrain a run amok Unitary Executive.

New NASA General: Sign of the Times

Retired military men find cushy spots as lobbyists and corporate board members in Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex (MIC). Never mind Dwight's MIC morphed into the Government-Industrial Monstrosity, thanks to trillions in federal spending steroids.

NASA's new leader is a Marine General and former space shuttle astronaut. I'm sure he's a great person and highly qualified, but Gen. Charles Bolden starts his new job with an ethics waiver. It's needed from his time as a lobbyist for ATK and board member for Gencorp, Inc.

The other sign unspoken sign is the militarization of space. America has clear plans and black box programs in this arena. The Obama team undertook a review of space policies. Reuters reported:

The new administration would work through the complex military space issues during a defense review to be completed by September, and as part of a space report due in December.
Depending on how the report turns out, it doesn't hurt to have a military man in charge of NASA.

Update 2-3-10 NASA announced it would privatize human space flight. Charles Bolden paraded a host of private contractors as the new face of space exploration. Gencorp was not among the initial winners, but give Gen. Bolden time. He'll come up with a plan.

Ex-Mayor J.W. Lown Goes National

It started in the San Angelo Standard Times and grew. Yesterday the Houston Chronicle ran the story of Mayor Lown's "illegal alien, gay lover" inspired resignation. Today, it's on the Associated Press, compete with J.W.'s smiling face.

Funny, several years ago Standard Times Managing Editor Tim Archuletta said there was little chance San Angelo would break a story with national implications. Since his profound prediction, our city had the FLDS child abuse mess, with media trucks camped out for weeks in front of the Tom Green County Courthouse. Now, we have the popular "gay mayor" resigning for his Latin lover.

It made the venerable Wall Street Journal.

(For those who don't know San Angelo's fine ex-mayor, J.W. Lown is the man with the blue shirt, on the far right in the above picture.)

Update 11-16-23:  I am sad to share the news of J.W.'s untimely death at his home in Mexico.  Lown was 47.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Health Care Deform Predictions

Politicians think citizens are stupid. America's uninsured problem isn't going away anytime soon, despite the Obama team's promises. Corporations and the government want to do less in the way of coverage. That leaves the individual to pay. To the extent citizens are financially strained, this becomes problematic. Thus, changes will be implemented over time, while implementers hope like mad for a financial recovery. Tea leaves to date point to:

1. Undocumented residents being left out of any plans. This leaves 9 to 12 million uninsureds for the safety net to address in perpetuity.

2. Any public plan being privately administered. From our hallowed halls of government to corporate executive suites, general contracting is their forte. The question is how many layers of "profit maximizing" private sector corporations sit between the public plan and the insured?

3. Taxing employer health insurance benefits as a revenue source. This is a ruse. When coverage becomes taxable for the business and deductible for the individual, corporations will shed that pesky health insurance benefit like a used condom. The benefit savings will fuel another engorgement of CEO incentive pay.

4. Taxing nonprofit community hospitals, i.e. safety net providers. This is another revenue source idea floated by Senator Chuck Grassley and Gail Wilensky. They suggested with all Americans having coverage, this tax break would no longer be needed. Yet, huge holes will remain in the safety net from the lengthy phase in and undocumented residents. Taxing safety net providers would implode those already in financial distress. The for-profit health care sector, which grandly supports Max Baucus and the aforementioned tax proponents, could ride in and pick up distressed assets on the cheap. It's the same game plan private equity underwriters (PEU's) have for buying bad banks. Will Uncle Sam finance HCA's purchase of your nonprofit community hospital, like it does for The Carlyle Group's buying of BankUnited?

5. What won't get taxed are 527 nonprofit political organizations. Ex-Columbia/HCA CEO Rick Scott can use tax free money for ads distorting health care reform efforts. Conservatives for Patients' Rights and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth may soon have greater tax benefits than a safety net provider.

Corporate sponsored health care reform is coming. The Obama team uses Chamber of Commerce lingo in their call for change. If you liked the massive corporafornication after Wall Street's implosion, you'll love health care deform. It's coming.

Update 2-22-13:  Taxing health insurance plans are a big part of health reform.

Update 5-17-18:  Healthcare bankruptcies more than triple in 2017.

Update 3-23-19:   Medical bills contributed to 60% of bankruptcies.  

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Employees to Shoulder Burden of Health Care Reform

Senator Max Baucus leads Americans in shoulder strengthening exercises. "There will be more burdens for employees to bear. Buck up, people! "

Employers plan to share more health insurance costs with employees or eliminate the benefit altogether. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee seriously considers taxing employer provided health insurance as income. That a double shot in the wallet for individuals. Cracking down on tax havens to fund health insurance is but a bargaining chip. Congress wouldn't have the wealthy pay more.

Corporations clearly want to dump the health insurance benefit. The government won't step up in a major way. It's sharpening the knife on entitlements.

Workers, lucky enough to have a job, will shoulder a greater burden for health insurance and retirement. The race to the lowest global common denominator on worker pay/benefits is on. Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans will deliver health care deform for their corporate sponsors. WaPo reported:

Speaking at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, Senator Max Baucus said he expects his committee to draft a comprehensive plan to overhaul the health care system by mid-June and that chances for a bipartisan compromise are "very, very high."

It will soon be time to vote out incumbents, regardless of party. Hopefully, third party alternatives will be available. The red and blue teams offer horrific leadership.

Senator Baucus received $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies in the last two election cycles.

Guess who remains left out of health care coverage?

"It's too politically explosive," Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said of covering immigrants who are in the country illegally. He declined to say how that edict would be implemented, saying: "I'm just saying they're not covered."

Wait until 9 to 12 million undocumented uninsureds get swine flu. Your safety will depend on a public health care safety net with huge holes.

Dirty Max Baucus won't pay the political cost of covering all American, exposing citizens to greater public health crises. Make sure members of Congress doesn't get their flu shot until all residents are innoculated. It's called leadership by example. Learn about it, Max.

Gasoline Pattern Returns: Demand Falls, Prices Go Up

Americans cut back driving in spring and summer of 2008., as gasoline soared to over $4 a gallon. One might expect cheaper gas to get people moving in 2009. It didn't. DOT statistics show:

December miles driven went down 3.8 billion miles, 1.6% from a year earlier.
January miles driven fell 7 billion miles or 3.1%
February dropped 1.9 billion miles or almost 1%
March fell 3.1 billion miles or 1.2%

What about gas prices during the same period?

December prices fell 20 cents, an 11% decline
January prices rose 20 cents, a 12% increase
February prices remained stable, virtually unchanged
March prices rose 16 cents, am 8.5% increase

With 15 billion fewer miles driven, prices still rose. This is before gas went up 60 cents in a matter of weeks in West Texas. Southern California noticed the change.

Apparently gasoline has an inelastic demand curve, similar to health care. It's driven by factors other than price. Funny, last summer saw a weak dollar and money fleeing to safe haven commodities. Deja vu?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

That Truth Telling CIA?

What's the CIA cooking up to bamboozle President Obama? Iran hates America because of CIA tampering with its democracy in the 1950’s.

Kennedy got taken by the CIA with the Bay of Pigs invasion,which failed miserably due to CIA incompetence. Intelligence failed to note a Cuban manned lighthouse. America had switched to unmanned lighthouses and didn’t give the Cuban one a single thought. Lighthouse staff radioed that U.S. destroyers escorting tramp steamers were on their way to Cuba. The tramp steamers held CIA trained Cuban exiles. Cubans stood ready to cut down the invaders. And they did.*

Guess who was the envoy to Israeli PM Netanyahu, the one delivering the warning not to attack Iran? CIA Chief Leon Panetta. Why Leon? Isn't that George Mitchell's or Dennis Ross' turf?

Obama formed a high level work group between the U.S. and Israel on Iran. What mischief might they hatch? Will it be undone for a simple error in preparation or calculation?

Something stinks and it smells like CIA tampering. Will America ever learn? Will President Obama get bamboozled like JFK? Time will tell, but question the truth telling of America's premier intelligence service. They'll lie in a heartbeat to further an objective.

*(A retired Navy man, now living in Irion County, Texas relayed his story at a star gazing party. This version is extremely condensed. The Miami Herald has a slightly different story.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama's NeoCon: Dennis Ross' Big Payday from Pro-Israel Groups

Federal disclosure statements show Dennis Ross, Obama's Special Envoy for the Persian Gulf, received $214,605 in speech money from Israel and Jewish groups in 2008. He also received $230,000 from Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank.

Dennis' total income was $818,000. His Fox News pay is not included in the total. USA Today reported:

Ross declined to disclose appearance fees paid to him by Fox News, saying they were subject to a confidentiality agreement.

Who knew a corporate contract nullified U.S. financial disclosure law? Welcome to the Corporatocracy! Evidence? Dennis spoke at various corporate events:

Deutsche Bank-Washington, DC $12,000

Goldman Sachs-Bluffton, South Carolina $10,000

Stanford Financial Group-Washington, DC $18,000

PIRA Energy Group-New York City $10,000

TransAtlantic Institute-Brussels, Belgium $20,000

Tudor Investments-Miami, Florida $10,000

Fox News-June-December 2008 *Fees not reported per confidential agreement

Will Dennis have to give back his $18,000 fee from ponzi scheme Stanford Financial? Ross also provided geopolitical analysis for PIRA Energy Group ($15,000) and SAC Capital Advisers ($17,500).

Dennis is Chairman of the Board of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.

Is this the background America needs to solve its thorny problem with Iran?

U.S. Swine Flu Goes from Zero to 100,000 in Five Weeks

U.S. Health authorities have several concerns about the new Swine flu as it spreads. Reuters reported:

The new influenza strain circulating around most of the United States is putting a worrying number of young adults and children into the hospital and hitting more schools than usual, U.S. health officials said on Monday

CDC officials say around 100,000 people are likely infected with the new flu strain in the United States and Schuchat said the 5,123 confirmed and probable cases and six deaths in the United States were "the tip of the iceberg."

From zero to 100,000 in a month? So much for containment. It's now at the anti-viral and inoculation stage.

Hubble Repair Completed, Spirit of Joe Oberheuser to Come Home

Judie Oberheuser told the San Angelo Writers' Club of her late husband's journey. Joe Oberheuser designed or had his hand in nearly every satellite NASA launched before 2005. He was a major force in the Hubble Space Telescope. Judie knew Joe would want to be involved in its repair. She asked if he could fly the Atlantis mission.

NASA lacked an appropriate space container for Joe's ashes. They did the next best thing, inviting the spirit of Joe to Mission Control. Minutes ago, the shuttle arm freed a repaired Hubble space telescope. Hubble will never touch human hands again. It was another successful mission for the spirit of Joe Oberheuser.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mike Conaway Called Twice

Rep. Conaway left another message on my answering machine. He said it was a 45 second constituent survey. I looked at his website. Using the word survey is rather charitable. Mike uses questions to push his political views. It's not close to being an impartial survey of problems citizens face.


Where was Mike when oil was over $140 a barrel? What was the annual "tax hike", using President Bush's words, from increased gas prices?

Mike's "survey" has confusing language:


Remember, you only have 45 seconds. Conaway's robo call was not a survey. It was as welcome as a car warranty telemarketer. Can't Congress do something about it?

Robo Called by Rep, Mike Conaway?

The phone number was (202) 461-3460. A voice like Mike Conaway's asked a question about President Obama's spending. I hung up and searched the caller, CAMPRES09. It's a political robo call number.

Curious, I went to Rep. Conaway's website. He has an online survey with a similar first question.


Where do I indicate I want leaders in our hallowed halls of government, not bought and paid for corporacrats? When I find that question, I'll answer it.

Another Good Ole Frances Townsend Cursing Story!

I ran across this story. It brought back memories of Frances Townsend, President Bush's Homeland Security Adviser. Fran now works for Baker Botts as head of corporate risk management consulting.

Let me set the stage. It's mid September 2005 and Hurricane Rita is boiling in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast three weeks earlier. President Bush still looks like a deer in headlights. Fran returned from delivering a letter to the Saudis on the unprecedented disaster and got the Katrina investigation assignment. GQ reported:

(Frances) Townsend had received a promotion—to assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism—yet was still unable to command Rumsfeld’s respect. In the midst of Hurricane Rita, Townsend learned that Texas governor Rick Perry had signaled his willingness to cede control of the National Guard to the federal government. She called Rumsfeld’s aide and was told, “The secretary and Mrs. Rumsfeld are at an event.”

Townsend knew that. The event was an ambassadors’ ball; she was supposed to be there but was instead dealing with the crisis. “Put me in to his detail,” she ordered.

A minute later, Townsend was on the phone with Rumsfeld’s security agent, who then spoke to the SecDef. “The secretary will talk to you after the event,” she was told.

Later in the evening, her phone rang. It was Chief of Staff Andy Card. “Rumsfeld just called,” said Card. “What is it you need?”

Livid, Townsend said, “I want to know if the president knows what a fucking asshole Don Rumsfeld is.”

What forking arsehole writes an investigative report omitting the hospital with the highest patient death toll after Hurricane Katrina? Frances Townsend

What forking arseholes hide their e-mails on Katrina from Congress? Frances Townsend & Andy Card

What forking arses can't respond competently to a natural disaster or conduct a basic investigation? The Bush team.

Two days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans—and the same day that Bush viewed the damage on a flyover from his Crawford, Texas, retreat back to Washington—a White House advance team toured the devastation in an Air Force helicopter. Noticing that their chopper was outfitted with a search-and-rescue lift, one of the advance men said to the pilot, “We’re not taking you away from grabbing people off of rooftops, are we?”

“No, sir,” said the pilot. He explained that he was from Florida’s Hurlburt Field Air Force base—roughly 200 miles from New Orleans—which contained an entire fleet of search-and-rescue helicopters. “I’m just here because you’re here,” the pilot added. “My whole unit’s sitting back at Hurlburt, wondering why we’re not being used.”

The search-and-rescue helicopters were not being used because Donald Rumsfeld had not yet approved their deployment—even though, as Lieutenant General Russ HonorĂ©, the cigar-chomping commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, would later tell me, “that Wednesday, we needed to evacuate people. The few helicopters we had in there were busy, and we were trying to deploy more.”

Only when Bush ordered, “Don, do it,” did he acquiesce and send in the troops—a full five days after landfall.

Despite her prior incompetence and intransigence, Frances Townsend now advises companies on government investigations. Did she cover for the right folks in just the right way as Bush's Homeland Security Adviser?

Out of Pocket Health Care Expenses

Gold plated health insurance plans, the ones President(Bush talked about, are few and far between in America. They're down to executive teams and a handful of lucky employees. Employee out of pocket health care costs rose 14.7 % last year. They now eat up 14% of annual household income. Reuters reported:

Employers still pay the lion's share of healthcare costs, with an average contribution of $9,947 per worker. Employees paid an average of $4,004 in payroll deductions and an additional $2,820 in out-of-pocket expenses, the report found.

That's $6,824. Get ready to pay more. Corporations don't want to and government can't afford it.

Step Away from the HIgh Ground, Mr. President!

A White House adviser called out, "Step away from the high ground, President Obama. They're getting ready to remove it." The West Virginia Gazette reported:

The Obama administration has cleared more than three-dozen new mountaintop removal permits for issuance by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, drawing quick criticism from environmental groups who had hoped the new president would halt the controversial practice.

More change like:

1. Telecom Immunity
2. Gaza silence (while H, Clinton & Gen. Jones knew of war plan)
3. Torture foot dragging
4. Military tribunals
5. DADT--"Not going away anytime soon"
6. Record amounts spent on lobbying
7. Pay for performance (what helped implode Wall Street)
8. Public private partnerships (where public makes 20-25% ROI)
9. Treasury's ceaseless big money boy bailout (now at insurance companies. Are manufacturers, pensions and private equity next?)

Obama is a politician. His advisers find high ground words to cover his political decisions, those made in reference to supporters and donors.

Watch health care closely. Private for-profit health care dominates the table. They and their lobbyists are fully capable of moving mountains.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

America's Uninsured to Get Partial Solution

The Congressional Budget Office predicts 25 to 33% of America's uninsured will remain without health coverage under reform proposals. How many people is that?

With over 51 million people without coverage, it's 13 to 17 million people.

(Note: The latest Census figures showed 47 million without coverage. Add 1.1 million for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate. From April '08 to April '09, unemployment increase 3.8%. Add 4.2 million to 47 million and total exceeds 51 million.)

President Obama has no plans to provide coverage for illegal immigrants. They are part of ten to twenty million without coverage. The other part will include noncomplying citizens.

Texas has a liability insurance requirement for drivers, yet 20% of drivers in San Angelo don't carry the required coverage. Why would health care be different, especially if the citizen does most of the paying? Details are yet to come, but they bear close scrutiny.

Political expediency, also known as pragmatism, means changes will favor entrenched interests. They'll be layered under David Axelrod "shining city on the hill" framing. Health care reform is likely to be deform, half done and expensive for the individual citizen. Congress' owners want it that way. The pragmatic Obama team is poised to deliver.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Joe Oberheuser Back at Mission Control for Hubble Repair Mission

Joseph Oberheuser died in 2005 in a Fort Wayne, Indiana hospital after a short illness. He was cremated and an obituary prepared. It stated, "the world sees better because of Joseph H. Oberheuser. Whether you're a photographer peering through the viewfinder of a film camera, a movie buff watching a big screen picture, a meteorologist studying satellite weather photos or an astronomer gazing into the depths of space, Mr. Obersheuser had a hand in enhancing your visual experience."

Joe designed the optical system of the Hubble Space Telescope. His wife Judie Oberheuser wrote:

"A couple of years ago, Joe watched a PBS program on all of the astronomical telescopes ever launched (24 + of them). When it was over, he remarked that he outright designed or worked on all but three of them."

Judie told the San Angelo Writers' Club of her efforts to get Joe's ashes on the Space Shuttle performing the Hubble repair. Tears held up the storytelling, but she assured club members "It's a good thing." NASA didn't have time to work up a space appropriate container to meet her wish. But they did the next best thing, they invited Joe's spirit to NASA's mission control. Joe Oberheuser, the Hubble expert, would be with the NASA team.

Fellow club members encouraged Judie to share her story with the Standard Times. She graciously declined.

When you read about the Hubble Repair mission, rest assured that NASA has fine scientists and technicians. Add to that a good heart and deep gratitude for people who paved the way. Raise a toast to the spirit of Joe Oberheuser and his widow Judie, now a San Angelo resident. Judie diligently writes the monthly newsletter for the San Angelo Writers' Club. Our heart is with her.

Today, Joe is back at Mission Control, overseeing the Hubble Repair. It's a story that deserves telling.

Latest Ruse: Wordsmithing Health Reform

The battle is on to frame health care reform. Despite President Obama's use of U.S. Chamber of Commerce lingo, Republicans and Democrats volley during the day. After strategizing, they dream how best to use the words. Take the Republican Luntz vs. Democratic Axelrod skirmish. The NYT reported:

Mr. Axelrod had offered suggestions on how to communicate, using “words that work” and avoiding “words that don’t work.”

Ignore the words of Repugnican't Frank Lutzz and Damnocrat David Axelrod. Here's the deal. America's corporate sponsored government is racing to the lowest global common denominator on worker pay/benefits and big money boy taxes. Worker benefits include health insurance and retirement plans. As a general rule, corporate executives are exempt from the race.

Health care reform means citizens will pay more for health insurance and medical expenses. Business clearly wants to fund less in health insurance and retirement benefits.

Executive incentive compensation needs its next boost. Will it come from shedding health insurance benefits to employees, freezing or eliminating what little retirement benefits remain, or from an Uncle Sam tax reduction? The race is on.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tom Green County to Step Up for County Indigent?

The San Angelo Standard Times reported Tom Green County Commissioners joined a prescription drug discount program benefiting county residents. A discount card can save 20% off retail drug prices. The county spent $1,453 to join the National Association of Counties. Next year dues rise to $2,179 to participate.

The program will be helpful to some people needing prescriptions, but Tom Green County has nearly 30% of citizens with no health insurance coverage. With unemployment around 5%, it's not that people aren't working. They have jobs without insurance coverage or cannot afford the premium. A 20% price break is appreciated, but expensive medications could remain unaffordable for the near poor.

Tom Green County has an Indigent Health Care Program, which covers medical care for people below 21% of the federal poverty level. That's $4,600 in income for a family of four. The program helps the poorest of the poor. Apparently, Tom Green County had a lot of those folks from 1998-2000. The program regularly ran out of funds in late spring or early summer. Representative Rob Junell would ride into Austin and produce the money to get the program through September 1, to the start of the new budget year. During this period TGC IHP spent an average of $1.7 million a year on care for the poor.

San Angelo's Health Access Coalition, a community coalition made up of local health system stakeholders, consulted with Indigent Health to spend their money more effectively. The HAC hoped any savings could be used to cover more people, at a higher FPL cutoff. Savings happened galore, over $750,000 a year relative to budget.

The HAC lasted through 2003, when providers decided to collaborate more informally. Savings to the TGC IHP were significant. Three year savings amounted to $1.7 million, a year's worth of pre-HAC spending.

The County did not expand the eligibility criteria from 2004-2007. It saved another $3.3 million relative to budget. In total, Tom Green County saw $5 million dollars go from the Indigent Health budget to the general revenue fund. The County acted. They spent $1,453 to help citizens get cheaper drugs.

But there's more. Area providers are cooperating with the County to leverage federal Medicaid money. President Bush put the program on hold, but that moratorium has been lifted. I don't have specifics on any coverage expansion or how much the County will spend to leverage federal dollars. Hopefully, it's coming soon. Need has not gone down in the last decade.

Galveston County announced it would consider an expansion of their Indigent Health Care Program. They may cover people up to 50% of FPL, $11,025 for a family of four. They see it as a first step to creating a hospital district, one that would work as an insurance system for the poor.

Trusting that Tom Green County, Shannon Medical Center and Community Hospital of San Angelo would do likewise, I e-mailed a friend at a local hospital. That person said there are no plans to change the 21% eligibility figure. How disappointing...

NY Times Leaves Out Taxing Nonprofit Community Hospitals

The Senate Finance Committee's health reform hearing kicked off with nurse and physician protests. Once clinicians were arrested or escorted from the room, the topic shifted to nonprofit community hospitals and their tax exempt status. Senator Chuck Grassley and Gail Wilensky believe community hospitals should pay taxes, as health reform would eliminate the burden of the uninsured. This topic did not make the NY Times story on the hearing.

Yet, Gail also stressed reducing public expectations and phasing in solutions over a long period. If nonprofit community hospitals lose 501c(3) status and disproportionate share reimbursement early on, how many will fail or have to sell out on the cheap to their for-profit brethren? Many safety net hospitals are already stressed.

How have other insurance requirements worked? Texas has a mandatory auto liability insurance law. 20% of San Angelo drivers have no auto liability coverage, i.e. are not compliant with the law. In Tom Green County roughly 30% of citizens are without health insurance. If 20% of residents have no health coverage post reform, area hospitals still face a substantial care burden.

Why would Chuck Grassley and Gail Wilensky push hard for removal of nonprofit hospital tax-exempt status? They're in the for-profit health care camp. This isn't the first time Chuck pushed the unfair tax advantage button. It seems annually he raises the Federation of American Hospitals' position. FAH is the for-profit hospital lobby. Grassley's campaign received $9,000 from HCA and $5,000 from Triad Hospitals. It's odd, as neither HCA or Triad had hospitals in Iowa.

Gail sits on six boards of directors, garnering $1.2 million in board compensation in 2008 from for-profit health care firms. She holds $20.3 million in stock those firms. In late 2007, she sold stock in two firms for $2.5 million. Wilensky has $24 million of skin in the game. Were these conflicts of interest revealed in public testimony? No.

Guess who doesn't pay taxes? Conservatives for Patient's Rights, the Rick Scott led group trying to block health care reform. It's a nonprofit and cares for nobody. Why should 527 political groups keep nonprofit status, while safety net hospitals pony up to the tax bar? The world's gone flippy floppy and America's leaders are supplying the spin.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gail Wilensky's For-Profit Health Care Conflicts

Gail Wilensky testified before the Senate Finance Committee considering health care reform. Her board directorship list rivals White House Health Czar Nancy-Ann DeParle and Mrs. Evan Bayh. Here's the scorecard:

Gail Wilensky- 6 boards
Nancy Ann DeParle-9 boards
Susan Bayh-7 boards

Mrs. Wilensky's Health Care Board positions include:

UnitedHealth-a huge health insurer

Gentiva Health Services-comprehensive home health care

Quest Diagnostics-clinical lab services

SRA International-services include health consulting for global clients, public & private

Cephalon-Pharmaecutical manufacturer

ManorCare-long term care company (since acquired by The Carlyle Group)

The early discussion didn't lay out coverage solutions, but how to tax community hospitals. Mrs. Wilensky stated nonprofit hospitals no longer deserve their preferred tax status, in light of health care reform proposals. I wondered how the for-profit sector would stress safety net hospitals, forcing them to sell out on the cheap. This may be the method. How skewed is Gail's perspective?

Mrs. Wilensky's 2008 Board Compensation

United Health- $253,678
Gentiva- $152,606
Quest- $291,644
SRA- $179,659
Cephalon- $339,812
Total- $1,217,399

Add her stock holdings in those same companies and Mrs. Wilensky has serious skin in the game of health reform.

United Health-335,890 shares @ $27 = $9 million
Gentiva- 35,558 @$19 = $675,000
Quest- 116,891 @ $52 = $6 million
SRA- 20,000 @ $16.50 = $330,000
Cephalon- 65,000 @ $66.50 = $4.3 million

Total = $20.3 million

In addition Gail flipped 25,000 stock options for a net gain of $1.1 million in December 2007. When the Carlyle Group purchased ManorCare, Gail got another $1.4 million. That was one Merry Christmas!

Annual pay of $1.2 million, stock holdings of $20.3 million & 2007 stock sales of $2.5 million? That's $24 million, serious skin in the for-profit health care game. No wonder she dissed nonprofit community hospitals.

Did Mrs. Wilensky reveal her conflicts of interest during her public testimony? Not a chance.