Congress and lobbyists working together to stifle debate on healthcare

May 23rd, 2009

The stars do seem aligned for much needed change in the US healthcare system. But the organizations with a vested interest in the status quo, their lavishly funded lobbyists, and their tame Congressmen are going to do their damndest to make sure it does not happen.

The Boston Globe has an interesting article today: Held hostage by the health system. The article starts out by mentioning that the Senate Finance Committee (chaired by Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley) held a hearing earlier this month on healthcare reform and did not allow any advocates of a single-payer healthcare system to testify. And it is not as if there weren’t single-payer advocates ready and willing to speak. The Physicians for a National Health Program (which represents 16,000 doctors) asked the Committee to invite Dr. Marcia Angell (a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School and a former Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine) to speak but the Committee decided to invite industry lobbyists instead.

As Dr. Angel points out, nearly every other developed country (e.g. Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, etc.) has some form of single-payer system. All pay less per capita than the US and all have better health statistics than the US. Surely, any debate on meaningful change in our healthcare system should include debate and discussion on single-payer systems. And equally surely, the only reason it isn’t being included is that it represents a financial threat to for-profit insurers, the pharmaceutical companies, and for-profit hospitals and they and their lobbyists will do whatever they can to steer debate and discussion away from single-payer options.

In addition to Dr. Angell’s Globe article (see link above), I would recommend checking out the PBS FrontLine program Sick Around the World which examines the single-payer health plans in Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Japan.

I run a small business and I currently get my healthcare through the local Chamber of Commerce. Inflation in the US has been running in the single digits for the last few years but each year the health insurance premiums go up by anything from 15% to 25%. There seems to be no real competition between the insurance companies on cost or benefits, no transparency (there are pages of fine print… “Oh, you thought you were covered”), and no real incentive on the part of the insurance companies to control cost.

The irony is that our current “free market”  healthcare system is hurting the ability of US companies to compete globally. Healthcare costs are the fastest growing costs for US firms and are growing much faster than the comparable healthcare costs for their European and Asian competitors.

My take on McCain

June 7th, 2008

It will be interesting to see how Obama matches up against McCain.

I do think McCain deserves credit for his military service and the years spent as a POW. But he was a very junior officer and the most useful thing he gained from getting beaten up in the camps was the ability to identify a bit with the prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Dick Cheney’s Gulag.

John Kerry did his bit in Vietnam too but that didn’t stop GW and his handlers from Swiftboating him… And the voters accepted that from a guy that turned National Guard service into a no-show job!

The Presidency of the United States is the most important job in the world and I am afraid the voters should be a bit ruthless in asking any candidate “What have you done for us lately?” and “What are you going to do for us in the future?”

I actually voted for McCain in the 2000 primary and I was appalled and disgusted by the dirty tricks that the GW folks used to defeat him. But I was even more disgusted when McCain then cozied up to GW for the 2004 election. McCain must despise GW… How could he stomach embracing him on stage?

I imagine the RNC must have whispered in his ear…. Gee, John, if you want support from us in 2008, you better get out there and put on a good show.

So what has McCain done for us lately?

He helped us get another 4 years of GW. He has failed to criticize the grotesquely mismanaged occupation of Iraq. He has said nothing about the rampant corruption and incompetence of the Halliburtons and Black Waters all of which has put US soldiers and marines at risk.

He has not criticized the creation of a bloated Homeland Stupidity department staffed by incompetent political cronies like FEMA’s “Helluva job Brownie.”

OK, he supported the troop surge which seems to have been having some positive effect.

But he never said a word about Rumsfeld firing General Shinseki for suggesting that we needed more troops in the first place.

He has, literally within the last week, discovered that we really are experiencing global warming and maybe we ought to do something about it. Even that sounds like a cobbled up attempt to differentiate himself from the most unpopular president in modern history.

It will be interesting to see who he picks as his running mate. Might I suggest…

McCain-Cheney ’08

Obama’s win

June 7th, 2008

I am so relieved that Obama has won the primary.

Both Bill and Hillary are brilliant, determined, and relentless politicians but it is all about their own ambitions and ego. Bill was a mediocre president… It is only the contrast with his dreadful successor that casts him as anything else.

I have, for some time, felt that the 16 years of Bill and GW will be viewed as an awful watershed in US history. Eight years of Bill’s stagnation and eight years of GW’s corrupt, disasterous incompetence.

Sixteen years of lost opportunities and wasted time that could have been spent dealing with global warming, the energy crisis, and the economic changes brought on by globalization.

Eighty percent of Americans feel the country is going in the wrong direction.

Hillary was never going to be the candidate of change. She is the epitome of what we all despise about Washington DC. The schmoozing with lobbyists, the trading Presidential pardons for contributions to her Senatorial campaign, trading Senate bills for campaign contributions.

And God knows what Bill would get up to if we let him loose in the White House for another four or, I shudder, eight years.

What did he actually do to earn the $109 million dollars he has received since he was last in office? Who are the secret donors that paid for his Presidential library…

And Hillary’s latest performance… “I won’t concede and endorse you unless you offer me the VP slot?”

And all this crap about winning the popular vote if you count Michigan and Florida?

Bill and Hillary have been the two most powerful Democratic politicians for the last 20 years. If they didn’t like the way the primaries were structured or the rules by which the nomination was decided, they had lots of time and certainly the clout to have changes made. They had no problem with any of the rules or procedures… Until they found that Hillary was going to lose according to those rules and procedures. And then suddenly they are weeping over the disenfranchised voters of Florida and Michigan.

This isn’t Al Gore having the election stolen by a bunch of Bush Supreme Court appointees. This was rules and procedures that were created and interpreted by other Democrats.

Hillary is tough. Hillary is intelligent. Hillary is determined. But she is also totally self serving, lacks any integrity, and will do anything to win whatever contest she is in.

I am sorry for the many decent well meaning people who became so invested in her candidacy. Quite bluntly, she is, and always was, unworthy of their support. I can only hope that her churlish behavior of the last few days will make them realize that and that they will come to recognize that they will actually have a much better candidate in Obama come November.

A Losing Year for Countrywide

April 26th, 2008

Another little tidbit buried in the business section of the New York Times (“A Losing Year for Countrywide, but not for Chief“, NYTimes 4/25/08 page: C3). It describes the compensation package for Angelo R. Mozilo, the CEO for Countrywide, during a year when Countrywide lost $704 million dollars and lost 79% of its share value. This was the first time in more than 30 years that Countrywide lost money.

Before we review what this business genius made in the last year of his tenure, let’s see what the consequences of his decisions were… As already stated, the company lost $704 million and share holders lost a huge amount of share value, Countrywide was then bought at firesale prices by Bank of America… Oh, and 11,000 rank and file employees lost their jobs. And the Countrywide meltdown was a major contributor to the current national and international credit crisis.

Mr. Mozilo, on the other hand, made:

  • $121.5 million from exercising Countrywide stock options
  • $20 million from additional stock and option awards
  • 1.9 million in salary
  • $176,513 in “other compensation”
  • $44,454 in usage of corporate aircraft for personal use
  • $8,581 for country club dues
  • $23,755 in usage of company cars

He was also “entitled” to $37.5 million in severance pay ($3,409 for each of the 11,000 employees laid off) but was shamed into turning it down.

Just another example of why this country is in decline. We have a whole class of executives who are in their positions, not out of merit, because they know how to work their connections, select a board of directors full of cronies, and engineer obscene compensation packages. These guys through their incompetence and corruption have done immense harm to their employees, their investors, their customers, the tax payers, and the entire country but are themselves totally shielded from the consequences of their actions.

Crooked Lawyers… And a Judge

March 24th, 2007

Another fascinating article on the front page of today’s New York Times (24 March 2007): Fraud Inquiry Looks at Lawyers in Diet-Drug Case. In what experts are describing as one of the biggest and most brazen frauds in legal history, the lawyers who settled the fenphen diet-drug lawsuit on behalf of 440 clients for $200 millions kept most of the money for themselves. The three lawyers involved are William J. Gallion, Shirley A. Cunningham, and Melbourne Mills, Jr. Mr. Mills lawyer said that he denies any criminal wrong-doing… “He may be liable for a little money if he was overpaid.”

Given the original agreement between the three lawyers and their clients, the clients should have received $135 million dollars from the settlement. Instead they only received $74 million. $106 million went to the lawyers and $20 million went to a “charitable fund.”

But wait, you say… Settlements have to be approved by the judge. Why did he approve this bogus settlement? Well that’s where the “charitable fund” came in…. It turns out that the judge, the “honorable” Joseph F. Bamberger ended up as a director of the “charitable fund” and was paid $5,000 a month for all his hard work on its behalf.

I suppose we have all become rather numb to rampant greed but I’d like to point out that these lawyers could have perfectly legally divided $65 million between themselves… Unless my calculator’s broken that’s nearly $22 million each.