Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday

Did some work outside today, then made sauce from scratch -- and watched the Yankees win. All in all a day away from the computer.

I'm sure they found more dead folks in tornado ravaged southern states. I'm sure Africa and the Middle East are still boiling. I'm also sure our famous Republican "lawmakers" have made racist, anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-LGBT, "comments" and "jokes" -- just like I'm sure some poor gay guy, lesbian, or trans person will be beaten -- maybe killed.

What else is new?

Friday, April 29, 2011

#39

Talmer Bank & Trust, Troy, Michigan, Assumes All of the Deposits of Community Central Bank, Mount Clemens, Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2011
Media Contact:
LaJuan Williams-Young
(202) 898-3876
Email: Lwilliams-young@fdic.gov

Community Central Bank, Mount Clemens, Michigan, was closed today by the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with Talmer Bank & Trust, Troy, Michigan, formerly known as First Michigan Bank, to assume all of the deposits of Community Central Bank.

The four branches of Community Central Bank will reopen on Saturday as branches of Talmer Bank & Trust. Depositors of Community Central Bank will automatically become depositors of Talmer Bank & Trust. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage up to applicable limits. Customers of Community Central Bank should continue to use their existing branch until they receive notice from Talmer Bank & Trust that it has completed systems changes to allow other Talmer Bank & Trust branches to process their accounts as well.

This evening and over the weekend, depositors of Community Central Bank can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

As of December 31, 2010, Community Central Bank had approximately $476.3 million in total assets and $385.4 million in total deposits. Talmer Bank & Trust will pay the FDIC a premium of 0.25 percent to assume all of the deposits of Community Central Bank. In addition to assuming all of the deposits of the failed bank, Talmer Bank & Trust agreed to purchase essentially all of the assets.

The FDIC and Talmer Bank & Trust entered into a loss-share transaction on $362.4 million of Community Central Bank's assets. Talmer Bank & Trust will share in the losses on the asset pools covered under the loss-share agreement. The loss-share transaction is projected to maximize returns on the assets covered by keeping them in the private sector. The transaction also is expected to minimize disruptions for loan customers. For more information on loss share, please visit: http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/lossshare/index.html.

Customers who have questions about today's transaction can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-894-6992. The phone number will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time (EDT); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., EDT; on Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., EDT; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., EDT. Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web site at http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/communitycentral.html.

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $183.2 million. Compared to other alternatives, Talmer Bank & Trust's acquisition was the least costly resolution for the FDIC's DIF. Community Central Bank is the 39th FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the second in Michigan. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Peoples State Bank, Hamtramck, on February 11, 2011.

37 & 38

Bank of the Ozarks, Little Rock, Arkansas, Acquires All the Deposits of Two Georgia Banks
First Choice Community Bank, Dallas and The Park Avenue Bank, Valdosta

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2011
Media Contact:
LaJuan Williams-Young
(202) 898-3876
Email: Lwilliams-young@fdic.gov

Bank of the Ozarks, Little Rock, Arkansas, acquired the banking operations, including all the deposits, of two Georgia-based banks. To protect depositors, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) entered into purchase and assumption agreements with Bank of the Ozarks.

First Choice Community Bank, Dallas, Georgia, and The Park Avenue Bank, Valdosta, Georgia, were closed today by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance, which appointed the FDIC as receiver.

All 19 branches of the two closed banks will reopen during their normal business hours beginning Saturday as branches of Bank of the Ozarks. Depositors of the two failed banks will automatically become depositors of Bank of the Ozarks. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage up to applicable limits. First Choice Community Bank had seven branches in Georgia; and The Park Avenue Bank had eleven branches in Georgia and one branch in Florida.

Customers of the two failed banks should continue to use their former branches until they receive notice from Bank of the Ozarks that it has completed systems changes to allow other branches of Bank of the Ozarks to process their accounts as well. Over the weekend, depositors can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

As of December 31, 2010, First Choice Community Bank had total assets of $308.5 million and total deposits of $310.0 million; and The Park Avenue Bank had total assets of $953.3 million and total deposits of $827.7 million. Besides assuming all the deposits from the two Georgia banks, Bank of the Ozarks will purchase essentially all of their assets.

The FDIC and Bank of the Ozarks entered into loss-share transactions on the failed banks' assets. The loss-share transaction for First Choice Community Bank was $260.7 million; and the loss-share transaction for The Park Avenue Bank was $514.1 million. Bank of the Ozarks will share in the losses on the asset pools covered under the loss-share agreements. The loss-share transactions are projected to maximize returns on the assets covered by keeping them in the private sector. The transactions also are expected to minimize disruptions for loan customers. For more information on loss share, please visit: http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/lossshare/index.html.

Customers who have questions about today's transactions can call the FDIC toll free: for First Choice Community Bank customers, 1-800-894-7035; and for The Park Avenue Bank customers, 1-800-894-5183. The phone numbers will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT; on Sunday from noon until 6:00 p.m. EDT; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EDT.

Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web sites: for First Choice Community Bank, http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/firstchoice.html; and for The Park Avenue Bank, http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/parkavenue_ga.html.

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) for First Choice Community Bank will be $92.4 million; and for The Park Avenue Bank, $306.1 million. Bank of the Ozarks' acquisition of all the deposits of the two institutions was the "least costly" option for the DIF compared to all alternatives.

The closings are the 37th and 38th FDIC-insured institutions to fail in the nation so far this year and the ninth and tenth in Georgia. Prior to today, the last bank closed in the state was New Horizons Bank, East Ellijay, on April 15, 2011.

35 & 36

Premier American Bank, National Association, Miami, Florida, Acquires All the Deposits of Two Florida Banks
First National Bank of Central Florida, Winter Park and Cortez Community Bank, Brooksville

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2011
Media Contact:
LaJuan Williams-Young
(202) 898-3876
Email: Lwilliams-young@fdic.gov

Premier American Bank, National Association, Miami, Florida, acquired the banking operations, including all the deposits, of two Florida-based banks. To protect depositors, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) entered into purchase and assumption agreements with Premier American Bank, N.A.

First National Bank of Central Florida, Winter Park, Florida, was closed today by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which appointed the FDIC as receiver. Cortez Community Bank, Brooksville, Florida, was closed by the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, which appointed the FDIC as receiver.

All eight branches of the two closed banks will reopen on Monday as branches of Florida Community Bank, a division of Premier American Bank, N.A. Depositors of the two failed banks will automatically become depositors of Florida Community Bank. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage up to applicable limits. First National Bank of Central Florida had six branches; and Cortez Community Bank had two branches.

Customers of the two failed banks should continue to use their former branches until they receive notice from Premier American Bank, N.A. that it has completed systems changes to allow other branches of Premier American Bank, N.A. to process their accounts as well. Over the weekend, depositors can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

As of December 31, 2010, First National Bank of Central Florida had total assets of $352.0 million and total deposits of $312.1 million; and Cortez Community Bank had total assets of $70.9 million and total deposits of $61.4 million. Besides assuming all the deposits from the two Florida banks, Florida Community Bank will purchase essentially all of their assets.

The FDIC and Premier American Bank, N.A. entered into loss-share transactions on the failed banks' assets. The loss-share transaction for First National Bank of Central Florida was $270.0 million; and the loss-share transaction for Cortez Community Bank was $51.3 million. Premier American Bank, N.A. will share in the losses on the asset pools covered under the loss-share agreements. The loss-share transactions are projected to maximize returns on the assets covered by keeping them in the private sector. The transactions also are expected to minimize disruptions for loan customers. For more information on loss share, please visit: http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/lossshare/index.html.

Customers who have questions about today's transactions can call the FDIC toll free: for First National Bank of Central Florida customers, 1-800-894-3199; and for Cortez Community Bank customers, 1-800-894-2927. The phone numbers will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT; on Sunday from noon until 6:00 p.m. EDT; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EDT.

Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web sites: for First National Bank of Central Florida, http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/fnbcf.html; and for Cortez Community Bank, http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/cortez.html.

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) for First National Bank of Central Florida will be $42.9 million; and for Cortez Community Bank, $18.6 million. Premier American Bank, N.A.'s acquisition of all the deposits of the two institutions was the "least costly" option for the DIF compared to all alternatives.

The closings are the 35th and 36th FDIC-insured institutions to fail in the nation so far this year and the third and fourth in Florida. Prior to today, the last bank closed in the state was Sunshine State Community Bank, Port Orange, on February 11, 2011.

some more Friday "good news"

Now we make a visit to "Some Assembly Required" -- follow link to original, etc., etc., etc.
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Words At Work: The good news hidden in today's job numbers is that there is even more work for the spin doctors. In the past year at least 1 million unemployed have fallen off the unemployment benefits gravy train. But they've still got food stamps, at least until the GOP passes the Paul Ryan budget or someone slips up and lets Ron Paul win in 2012

Happy Days... US 1Q GDP grew at an annualized 1.8%, a big decrease following last quarter's reported 3.1%. If inventory builds are ignored, the growth was an anemic 0.8%. But it was better than the UK, where for the last six month there has been zero GDP growth; thanks to their austerity program that was going to revive the economy. Good times just around the corner?

We have forgotten the lessons from the Great Depression.

Campaign Stopper: Ron Paul, in a bid for the youth vote, says that if he is elected he would kill both Medicare and Social Security. And a lot of the elderly, soon thereafter.

Teaching Point: Our goal should be to get everyone out of abject poverty, even if it necessitates some income redistribution. Because we have way overstepped sustainable levels, the greatest challenge will be in redesigning lifestyles to emphasize quality of life while quantitatively reducing our demand levels.

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Now, don't forget to go there -- then click on HIS LINKS, go to those originals. If we all do that, we might just learn something -- before we allow the Republican-Corporate-Overlords to take over and destroy what is left of The United States Of America --- with our "blessings", it appears.

The Health of Nations

Ezra Klein on healthcare - from The American Prospect. Please follow link to original.
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The Health of Nations

How Europe, Canada, and our own VA do health care better.
Ezra Klein | May 7, 2007

Medicine may be hard, but health insurance is simple. The rest of the world's industrialized nations have already figured it out, and done so without leaving 45 million of their countrymen uninsured and 16 million or so underinsured, and without letting costs spiral into the stratosphere and severely threaten their national economies.

Even better, these successes are not secret, and the mechanisms not unknown. Ask health researchers what should be done, and they will sigh and suggest something akin to what France or Germany does. Ask them what they think can be done, and their desperation to evade the opposition of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry and conservatives and manufacturers and all the rest will leave them stammering out buzzwords and workarounds, regional purchasing alliances and health savings accounts. The subject's famed complexity is a function of the forces protecting the status quo, not the issue itself.

So let us, in these pages, shut out the political world for a moment, cease worrying about what Aetna, Pfizer, and Grover Norquist will say or do, and ask, simply: What should be done? To help answer that question, we will examine the best health- care systems in the world: those of Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany, and the U.S. Veterans Health Administration (VHA), whose inclusion I'll justify shortly.

Putting aside the VHA, America's annual per person health expenditures are about twice what anyone else spends. That actually understates the difference, as our 45 million uninsured citizens have radically restricted access to care, and so the spending on the median insured American is actually quite a bit higher. Canada, France, Great Britain, and Germany all cover their entire populations, and they do so for far less money than we spend. Indeed, Canada, whose system is the most costly of the group, spends only 52 percent per capita what we do.

While comparing outcomes is difficult because of various lifestyle and demographic differences in the populations served, none of the systems mentioned betray any detectable disadvantage in outcomes when compared with the United States, and a strong case can be made that they in fact perform better. Here, however, I largely restrict myself to comparisons of efficiency and equity. With that said, off we go.

Oh, Canada!

As described by the American press, Canada's health-care system takes the form of one long queue. The line begins on the westernmost edge of Vancouver, stretches all the way to Ottawa, and the overflow are encouraged to wait in Port Huron, Michigan, while sneering at the boorish habits of Americans. Nobody gets to sit.

Sadly for those invested in this odd knock against the Canadian system, the wait times are largely hype. A 2003 study found that the median wait time for elective surgeries in Canada was a little more than four weeks, while diagnostic tests took about three (with no wait times to speak of for emergency surgeries). By contrast, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data from 2001 found that 32 percent of American patients waited more than a month for elective surgery, and 5 percent waited more than four months. That, of course, doesn't count the millions of Americans who never seek surgery, or even the basic care necessary for a diagnosis, because they lack health coverage. If you can't see a doctor in the first place, you never have to wait for treatment.

Canada's is a single-payer, rather than a socialized, system. That means the government is the primary purchaser of services, but the providers themselves are private. (In a socialized system, the physicians, nurses, and so forth are employed by the government.) The virtue of both the single-payer and the socialized systems, as compared with a largely private system, is that the government can wield its market share to bargain down prices -- which, in all of our model systems, including the VHA, it does.

A particularly high-profile example of how this works is Canadian drug reimportation. The drugs being bought in Canada and smuggled over the border by hordes of lawbreaking American seniors are the very same pharmaceuticals, made in the very same factories, that we buy domestically. The Canadian provinces, however, bargain down the prices (Medicare is barred from doing the same) until we pay 60 percent more than they do.

Single-payer systems are also better at holding down administrative costs. A 2003 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the United States spends 345 percent more per capita on health administration than our neighbors up north. This is largely because the Canadian system doesn't have to employ insurance salespeople, or billing specialists in every doctor's office, or underwriters. Physicians don't have to negotiate different prices with dozens of insurance plans or fight with insurers for payment. Instead, they simply bill the government and are reimbursed.

The downside of a single-payer system in the Canadian style is that it constructs a system with a high floor and a low ceiling. If you don't like the government's care options, there's no real alternative. In this, Canada is rare. As we'll see with both France and Germany, other countries are able to preserve a largely nationalized system with universal access while allowing private options at the upper levels.

France

It's a common lament among health-policy wonks that the world's best health-care system resides in a country Americans are particularly loath to learn from. Yet France's system is hard to beat. Where Canada's system has a high floor and a low ceiling, France's has a high floor and no ceiling. The government provides basic insurance for all citizens, albeit with relatively robust co-pays, and then encourages the population to also purchase supplementary insurance -- which 86 percent do, most of them through employers, with the poor being subsidized by the state. This allows for as high a level of care as an individual is willing to pay for, and may help explain why waiting lines are nearly unknown in France.

France's system is further prized for its high level of choice and responsiveness -- attributes that led the World Health Organization to rank it the finest in the world (America's system came in at No. 37, between Costa Rica and Slovenia). The French can see any doctor or specialist they want, at any time they want, as many times as they want, no referrals or permissions needed. The French hospital system is similarly open. About 65 percent of the nation's hospital beds are public, but individuals can seek care at any hospital they want, public or private, and receive the same reimbursement rate no matter its status. Given all this, the French utilize more care than Americans do, averaging six physician visits a year to our 2.8, and they spend more time in the hospital as well. Yet they still manage to spend half per capita than we do, largely due to lower prices and a focus on preventive care.

That focus is abetted by the French system's innovative response to one of the trickier problems bedeviling health-policy experts: an economic concept called "moral hazard." Moral hazard describes people's tendency to overuse goods or services that offer more marginal benefit without a proportionate marginal cost. Translated into English, you eat more at a buffet because the refills are free, and you use more health care because insurers generally make you pay up front in premiums, rather than at the point of care. The obvious solution is to shift more of the cost away from premiums and into co-pays or deductibles, thus increasing the sensitivity of consumers to the real cost of each unit of care they purchase.

This has been the preferred solution of the right, which has argued for a move toward high-deductible care, in which individuals bear more financial risk and vulnerability. As the thinking goes, this increased exposure to the economic consequences of purchasing care will create savvier health-care consumers, and individuals will use less unnecessary care and demand better prices for what they do use.

Problem is, studies show that individuals are pretty bad at distinguishing necessary care from unnecessary care, and so they tend to cut down on mundane-but-important things like hypertension medicine, which leads to far costlier complications. Moreover, many health problems don't lend themselves to bargain shopping. It's a little tricky to try to negotiate prices from an ambulance gurney.

A wiser approach is to seek to separate cost-effective care from unproven treatments, and align the financial incentives to encourage the former and discourage the latter. The French have addressed this by creating what amounts to a tiered system for treatment reimbursement. As Jonathan Cohn explains in his new book, Sick:

In order to prevent cost sharing from penalizing people with serious medical problems -- the way Health Savings Accounts threaten to do -- the [French] government limits every individual's out-of-pocket expenses. In addition, the government has identified thirty chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, for which there is usually no cost sharing, in order to make sure people don't skimp on preventive care that might head off future complications.

The French do the same for pharmaceuticals, which are grouped into one of three classes and reimbursed at 35 percent, 65 percent, or 100 percent of cost, depending on whether data show their use to be cost effective. It's a wise straddle of a tricky problem, and one that other nations would do well to emulate.

Great Britain

I include Great Britain not because its health system is very good but because its health system is very cheap. Per capita spending in Great Britain hovers around 40 percent what it is in the United States, and outcomes aren't noticeably worse. The absolute disparity between what we pay and what they get illuminates a troublesome finding in the health-care literature: Much of the health care we receive appears to do very little good, but we don't yet know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Purchasing less of it, however, doesn't appear to do much damage.

What's interesting is that many of the trade-offs that our health-care system downplays, the English system emphasizes. Where our medical culture encourages near-infinite amounts of care, theirs subtly dissuades lavish health spending, preferring to direct finite funds to other priorities.

This sort of national prioritizing is made easier because Great Britain has a socialized system, wherein the government directly employs most of the providers. Great Britain contains costs in part by paying doctors through capitation, which gives doctors a flat monthly sum for every patient in their practice. Since most patients don't need care in a given month, the payments for the healthy subsidize the needs of the sick. Crucially, though, the fixed pool of monthly money means doctors make more for offering less treatment. With traditional fee-for-service arrangements, like ours, doctors gain by treating more. The British system, by contrast, lowers total costs by lowering the quantity of prescribed care. As University of San Francisco professors Thomas Bodenheimer and Kevin Grumbach write, "British physicians simply do less of nearly everything -- perform fewer surgeries, prescribe fewer medications, and order fewer x-rays."

That may sound strange, but it also means that society pays for fewer of those surgeries, fewer of those medications, and fewer of those X-rays -- and as far as we can tell, the English aren't suffering for it. Indeed, a 2006 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that, on average, English people are much healthier than Americans are; they suffer from lower rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, lung disease, and cancer. According to the study's press release, the differences are vast enough that "those in the top education and income level in the U.S. had similar rates of diabetes and heart disease as those in the bottom education and income level in Great Britain."

Great Britain's example proves that it is possible to make economy a guiding virtue of a health system. We could do that on the supply side, through policies like capitation that would change the incentives for doctors, or on the demand side, by making patients pay more up front -- or both, or neither. Americans may not want that system, in the same way that the owner of a Range Rover may not want a Corolla, but we should at least recognize that we have chosen to make health care a costly priority, and were we to decide to prioritize differently, we could.

Germany

The German system offers a possible model for those who want to retain the insurance industry but end its ability to profit by pricing out the sick and shifting financial risk onto individuals. The German system's insurers are 300 or so different "sickness funds" that act both as both payers and purchasers for their members' care. Originally, each fund covered only a particular region, profession, or company, but now each one has open enrollment. All, however, are heavily regulated, not for profit, and neither fully private nor publicly owned. The funds can't charge different prices based on age or health status, and they must continue covering members even when the members lose the job or status that got them into the fund in the first place. The equivalent would be if you could retain membership in your company's health-care plan after leaving the company.

The move toward open enrollment was an admission that interfund competition could have some positive effects. The fear, however, was that the funds would begin competing for the healthiest enrollees and maneuvering to avoid the sickest, creating the sort of adverse selection problems that bedevil American insurance. To avoid such a spiral, the government has instituted exactly the opposite sort of risk profiling that we have in the United States. Rather than identifying the unhealthy to charge them higher rates, as our insurers do, the government compels sickness funds with particularly healthy applicants to pay into a central fund; the government then redistributes those dollars to the funds with less-healthy enrollees. In other words, the government pays higher rates to sickness funds with unhealthy enrollees in order to level the playing field and make the funds compete on grounds of price and efficiency. In this way, the incentive to dump the sick and capture the well is completely erased. The burdens of bad luck and ill health are spread across the populace, rather than remaining confined to unlucky individuals.

The system works well enough that even though Germans are allowed to opt-out of the sickness funds, they largely don't. Those with incomes of more than $60,000 a year are not required to join a sickness fund; about 10 percent of these citizens purchase private insurance and .02 percent choose to eschew coverage entirely. The retention of a private insurance option ensures that Germans have an escape hatch if the sickness funds cease providing responsive and comprehensive coverage; it also clears a channel for experimentation and the rapid introduction of new technologies. And the mix of private-public competition works to spur innovation: By 2005, Germany had spent $21.20 per capita wiring its system with health-information technology; America, meanwhile, had spent a mere 43 cents per capita, and most U.S. hospitals still have no systems to speak of.

What the German system has managed to achieve is competition without cruelty, deploying market forces without unleashing capitalism's natural capriciousness. They have not brought the provision of health care completely under the government's control, but neither have they allowed the private market, with its attendant and natural focus on profits, to have its way with their health system. It's a balance the United States has been unable to strike.

The Veterans Health Administration

The mistreatment and poor conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center were a front-page story recently, and they were rather conclusive in showing the system's inadequacy. But don't be confused: Walter Reed is a military hospital, not a VHA hospital. Poor reporting inaccurately smeared the quietly remarkable reputation of the best medical system in America.

Over the last decade or two, the VHA system has become a worldwide leader in both the adoption and the invention of health-information technology, and it has leveraged its innovations into quantifiable gains in quality of care. As Harvard's Kennedy School noted when awarding the VHA its prestigious Innovations in American Government prize:

[The] VHA's complete adoption of electronic health records and performance measures have resulted in high-quality, low-cost health care with high patient satisfaction. A recent RAND study found that VHA outperforms all other sectors of American health care across the spectrum of 294 measures of quality in disease prevention and treatment. For six straight years, VHA has led private-sector health care in the independent American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Indeed, the VHA's lead in care quality isn't disputed. A New England Journal of Medicine study from 2003 compared the VHA with fee-for-service Medicare on 11 measures of quality. The VHA came out "significantly better" on every single one. The Annals of Internal Medicine pitted the VHA against an array of managed-care systems to see which offered the best treatment for diabetics. The VHA triumphed in all seven of the tested metrics. The National Committee for Quality Assurance, meanwhile, ranks health plans on 17 different care metrics, from hypertension treatment to adherence to evidence-based treatments. As Phillip Longman, the author of Best Care Anywhere, a book chronicling the VHA's remarkable transformation, explains: "Winning NCQA's seal of approval is the gold standard in the health-care industry. And who do you suppose is the highest ranking health care system? Johns Hopkins? Mayo Clinic? Massachusetts General? Nope. In every single category, the veterans health care system outperforms the highest-rated non-VHA hospitals."

What makes this such an explosive story is that the VHA is a truly socialized medical system. The unquestioned leader in American health care is a government agency that employs 198,000 federal workers from five different unions, and nonetheless maintains short wait times and high consumer satisfaction. Eighty-three percent of VHA hospital patients say they are satisfied with their care, 69 percent report being seen within 20 minutes of scheduled appointments, and 93 percent see a specialist within 30 days.

Critics will say that the VHA is not significantly cheaper than other American health care, but that's misleading. In fact, the VHA is also proving far better than the private sector at controlling costs. As Longman explains, "Veterans enrolled in [the VHA] are, as a group, older, sicker, poorer, and more prone to mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse than the population as a whole. Half of all VHA enrollees are over age 65. More than a third smoke. One in five veterans has diabetes, compared with one in 14 U.S. residents in general." Yet the VHA's spending per patient in 2004 was $540 less than the national average, and the average American is healthier and younger (the nation includes children; the VHA doesn't).

The VHA's advantages come in part from its development of the health-information software VistA, which was created at taxpayer expense and is now distributed for free to any health systems that wish to use it. It's a remarkably adaptive program that helps in virtually every element of care delivery, greatly aiding efforts to analyze symptoms and patient reactions in order to improve diagnoses and treatments, reduce mistaken interventions, and eliminate all sorts of care redundancies.

The VHA also benefits from the relative freedoms of being a public, socialized system. It's a sad reality that in the American medical system, doctors make money treating the sick, not keeping patients well. Thus, we encourage intervention-based, rather than prevention-based, medicine. It's telling, for instance, that hospital emergency rooms, where we handle traumas, are legally required to treat the poor, but general practitioners, who can manage conditions and catch illnesses early and cheaply, can turn away the destitute.

Moreover, patients are transient, so early investments in their long-term health will offer financial rewards to other providers. And which HMO wants to be known as the one that's really good at treating diabetes? Signing up a bunch of diabetes patients is no way to turn a profit.

As Longman details, the VHA suffers from none of these problems. Its patients are patients for life, so investing early and often in their long-term health is cost-effective; the system was set up to deal with the sick, so the emphasis is on learning how to best manage diseases rather than avoid the diseased; and the doctors are salaried, so they have no incentives to either over- or undertreat patients. Moreover, the VHA is not only empowered to bargain down drug costs; it also uses formularies (lists of covered drugs), and so is actually empowered to walk away from a pharmaceutical company that won't meet its offer.

The results have been clear. "Between 1999 and 2003," writes Longman, "the number of patients enrolled in the VHA system increased by 70 percent, yet funding (not adjusted for inflation) increased by only 41 percent. So the VHA has not only become the health-care industry's best quality performer, it has done so while spending less and less on each patient." Pretty good for socialized medicine.

The goal of health care is to get everyone covered, at the lowest possible cost, with the highest possible quality. But in the United States, there is another element in the equation that mucks up the outcome: Our system seeks to get everyone covered, at the lowest possible cost, with the highest possible quality, while generating the maximum possible profits. Within that context, the trade-offs and outcomes all seem to benefit the last goal, and so we tolerate 45 million uninsured Americans, unbelievably high prices, and a fractured system that lacks the proper incentives to deliver high-quality care.

This makes it hard to move toward a preventive system, as Canada has, because preventive medicine pays less. It makes it hard to address moral-hazard issues wisely, as the French have, because it's unprofitable to insure diabetics, and less profitable still to make their care essentially free. It makes it hard to institute the cost savings that Great Britain has, because with less money flowing into the system, there would be far less profit to be made. It makes it hard to harness market forces while protecting against individual risk, as Germany has, because insurer business models are predicated on shifting risk to employers and individuals, and profits are made when insurers can keep that risk from being shifted back onto them. And it is impossible to implement the practices that have so improved the VHA, because doing so would require a single, coherent health system that stuck with its members through their life cycles rather than an endlessly fractured structure in which insurers pawn off their members as they grow old, ill, or unemployed.

That's not to say that there's no room for profit within the American health-care system, but that it's time the discussion stopped focusing on how to preserve the interests of moneyed stakeholders and started asking how to deliver the best care, for the lowest cost, at the highest quality -- to every American. Such a system will probably still have private insurers (at least at the high end of care), pay enough to encourage pharmaceutical innovation, and allow for choice and competition and market pressures. But it will take as its guiding principle the health of the populace, rather than that of the providers. That, in the end, is what all the model health-care systems have in common. Except ours

Good Old Republicans -- how can anyone be so clueless?

This from Ted Rall - please follow link to original


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Saw this on Joe.My.God. -- thought it worth reposting -- needs more exposure (though I don't know what my few viewers will mean for its popularity) -- anyway ...........


Let’s Take a Hike

This from Professor Krugman - makes sense to read something rational for a change. Please follow link to original --
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Let’s Take a Hike - By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: April 24, 2011

When I listen to current discussions of the federal budget, the message I hear sounds like this: We’re in crisis! We must take drastic action immediately! And we must keep taxes low, if not actually cut them further

You have to wonder: If things are that serious, shouldn’t we be raising taxes, not cutting them?

My description of the budget debate is in no way an exaggeration. Consider the Ryan budget proposal, which all the Very Serious People assured us was courageous and important. That proposal begins by warning that “a major debt crisis is inevitable” unless we confront the deficit. It then calls, not for tax increases, but for tax cuts, with taxes on the wealthy falling to their lowest level since 1931.

And because of those large tax cuts, the only way the Ryan proposal can even claim to reduce the deficit is through savage cuts in spending, mainly falling on the poor and vulnerable. (A realistic assessment suggests that the proposal would actually increase the deficit.)

President Obama’s proposal is a lot better. At least it calls for raising taxes on high incomes back to Clinton-era levels. But it preserves the rest of the Bush tax cuts — cuts that were originally sold as a way to dispose of a large budget surplus. And, as a result, it still relies heavily on spending cuts, even as it falls short of actually balancing the budget.

So why isn’t someone offering a proposal reflecting the reality that the Bush tax cuts were a huge mistake, and suggesting that increased revenue play a major role in deficit reduction? Actually, someone is — and I’ll get to that in a moment. First, though, let’s talk about the current state of American taxes.

From the tone of much budget discussion, you might think that we were groaning under crushing, unprecedented levels of taxation. The reality is that effective federal tax rates at every level of income have fallen significantly over the past 30 years, especially at the top. And, over all, U.S. taxes are much lower as a percentage of national income than taxes in most other wealthy nations.

The point is that we aren’t that heavily taxed, either by historical standards or in comparison with other nations. So if you’re truly horrified by the budget deficit, why not propose tax increases as part of the solution?

Wait, there’s more. The core of the Ryan proposal is a plan to privatize and defund Medicare. Yet this would do nothing to reduce the deficit over the next 10 years, which is why all the near-term deficit reduction comes from brutal reductions in aid to the needy and unspecified cuts in discretionary spending. Tax increases, by contrast, can be fast-acting remedies for red ink.

And that’s why the only major budget proposal out there offering a plausible path to balancing the budget is the one that includes significant tax increases: the “People’s Budget” from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which — unlike the Ryan plan, which was just right-wing orthodoxy with an added dose of magical thinking — is genuinely courageous because it calls for shared sacrifice.

True, it increases revenue partly by imposing substantially higher taxes on the wealthy, which is popular everywhere except inside the Beltway. But it also calls for a rise in the Social Security cap, significantly raising taxes on around 6 percent of workers. And, by rescinding many of the Bush tax cuts, not just those affecting top incomes, it would modestly raise taxes even on middle-income families.

All of this, combined with spending cuts mostly focused on defense, is projected to yield a balanced budget by 2021. And the proposal achieves this without dismantling the legacy of the New Deal, which gave us Social Security, and the Great Society, which gave us Medicare and Medicaid.

But if the progressive proposal has all these virtues, why isn’t it getting anywhere near as much attention as the much less serious Ryan proposal? It’s true that it has no chance of becoming law anytime soon. But that’s equally true of the Ryan proposal.

The answer, I’m sorry to say, is the insincerity of many if not most self-proclaimed deficit hawks. To the extent that they care about the deficit at all, it takes second place to their desire to do precisely what the People’s Budget avoids doing, namely, tear up our current social contract, turning the clock back 80 years under the guise of necessity. They don’t want to be told that such a radical turn to the right is not, in fact, necessary.

But, it isn’t, as the progressive budget proposal shows. We do need to bring the deficit down, although we aren’t facing an immediate crisis. How we go about stemming the tide of red ink is, however, a choice — and by making tax increases part of the solution, we can avoid savaging the poor and undermining the security of the middle class.

McDonalds Hires 62,000, Turns Away Over 938,000 Applicants For Minimum Wage, Part-Time Jobs

This direct from "Zero Hedge" - please follow link to original.

I don't think any comments are necessary -- this is what our "Galtian Overlords"
have reduced us to -- first it was getting "accustomed" to homeless people, now they want to "weaken" child labor laws, next it will be about getting "accustomed" to multitudes of beggars, followed by watching folks starve to death on the streets.

Thank G%d I'm 72 and not 32. Hey, all you 32 year olds -- wait until you're 55 and have been "downsized" -- can't find another job, run through your "retirement account", can't afford to send your kids through college, and discover your "middle class" lifestyle is a sham. I'm sure you will hold on AS LONG AS your health holds out -- then -- GOOD LUCK. Talk to me about Ayn Rand then, you mean spirited A##^&*(#!!
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McDonalds Hires 62,000, Turns Away Over 938,000 Applicants For Minimum Wage, Part-Time Jobs

This is what the US economy has been reduced to: McDonalds reports that as part of its employment event to hire 50,000 minimum wage, part-time (mostly) workers, subsequently raised to 62,000 it received a whopping 1 million applications, or a Tim Geithner jealousy inducing 6.2% hit rate (h/t X. Kurt. OSis). Alas, the US economy is now so pathetic that the bulk of the population will settle for anything. Literally anything. And the saddest part: over 938,000 applicants were turned away. Here's hoping to Burger King needs a few million janitors in the immediate future too. And yes, aside from reality, things in America are really recovering quite nicely.

From Bloomberg:

McDonald’s and its franchisees hired 62,000 people in the U.S. after receiving more than one million applications, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company said today in an e-mailed statement. Previously, it said it planned to hire 50,000.

The April 19 national hiring day was the company’s first, said Danya Proud, a McDonald’s spokeswoman. She declined to disclose how many of the jobs were full- versus part-time. McDonald’s employed 400,000 workers worldwide at company-owned stores at the end of 2010, according to a company filing.

Earlier this month, McDonald’s said sales at stores open at least 13 months climbed 2.9 percent in the U.S. after it attracted more diners with items such as beverages and the Chipotle BBQ Bacon Angus burger. The fast-food chain has about 14,000 stores in the U.S. and more than 18,000 abroad. About 80 percent of all McDonald’s stores are franchised

The USA Needs Universal, Single Payer Healthcare

Here's a post from Al Stefanelli from his blog of the same name -- please follow link to original.

I think our "Galtian Overlords", the Rand Pauls, and other heartless @77$*%#^, those rich folks who CURRENTLY do not have to worry about healthcare, food, or shelter, are overstepping their bounds.

It's time to TRY to become America again - if that's still possible
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Why I don’t care about your money

I am not an economist, I am not a political scientist. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know that on October 1941, the UK Minister of Health Ernest Brown announced that the Government proposed to ensure that there was a comprehensive hospital service available to everyone in need of it, and that local authorities would be responsible for providing it. This was the birth of the NHS in the UK. It was not popular at first, but if you ask almost anyone in the UK about their NHS, they will tell you that they wouldn’t give it up for all the tea in China. The claims by the GOP that the NHS is some horrible program that is bankrupting the UK and that most people don’t get the care they need is total and complete bullshit propaganda. I know enough people in the UK that love their NHS.

The thing is, dear readers, every time I make a comment about universal, single-payer healthcare for the USA, the very first responses I hear from the GOP, members of the Tea Party Movement, Libertarians and the like are always about money. Either we can’t afford it or that it is robbing the rich to pay for the poor. I find this morally reprehensible.

Until we make a decision to put the health of human beings over the almighty dollar we will never conquer this problem. I am not making my comments from a political point of view, from a religious point of view or from an economic point of view. I am making my comments out of my basic, evolutionary instinct for survival. Like many people in our country, my illnesses are incurable and degenerative. As well, like many people in my country, if I had access to proper medical care, my life expectancy would span about another twenty years. Without it, I will not see fifty, and I will be 48 next week.

Facing a painful, slow death does not engender in me one ounce of sympathy for those who would put money ahead of my life. I cannot bring myself to give a flying fuck through a rolling donut about someone who is making a six-figure salary bitching about another 10% added to their taxes to pay for universal healthcare.

When those of you who are healthy and financially secure end up sick with no cure for what you have, unable to work, facing a year before you can get Social Security benefits, two years plus before you can get Medicare (which is shit), making steady trips to the pawn shop selling everything you own just to eat and keep your lights on, watching the repo man put your only means of transportation on their tow truck and have to tell your children there will be no birthday presents and end up staring in the face of a very uncertain future that includes not being able to afford the medication that will allow you to live, then I will very interested in what your take on an NHS for the USA is.

Those of you who put a dollar ahead of the health and life of one of your fellow human beings cannot imagine the immensity of the fuck I do not give about your wallet.

The Corporate State Wins Again

This is the latest from Chris Hedges by way of TruthDig - please follow link to original -- oh yeah, buy his books.
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The Corporate State Wins Again

By Chris Hedges

When did our democracy die? When did it irrevocably transform itself into a lifeless farce and absurd political theater? When did the press, labor, universities and the Democratic Party—which once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible—wither and atrophy? When did reform through electoral politics become a form of magical thinking? When did the dead hand of the corporate state become unassailable?

The body politic was mortally wounded during the long, slow strangulation of ideas and priorities during the Red Scare and the Cold War. Its bastard child, the war on terror, inherited the iconography and language of permanent war and fear. The battle against internal and external enemies became the excuse to funnel trillions in taxpayer funds and government resources to the war industry, curtail civil liberties and abandon social welfare. Skeptics, critics and dissenters were ridiculed and ignored. The FBI, Homeland Security and the CIA enforced ideological conformity. Debate over the expansion of empire became taboo. Secrecy, the anointing of specialized elites to run our affairs and the steady intrusion of the state into the private lives of citizens conditioned us to totalitarian practices. Sheldon Wolin points out in “Democracy Incorporated” that this configuration of corporate power, which he calls “inverted totalitarianism,” is not like “Mein Kampf” or “The Communist Manifesto,” the result of a premeditated plot. It grew, Wolin writes, from “a set of effects produced by actions or practices undertaken in ignorance of their lasting consequences.”

Corporate capitalism—because it was trumpeted throughout the Cold War as a bulwark against communism—expanded with fewer and fewer government regulations and legal impediments. Capitalism was seen as an unalloyed good. It was not required to be socially responsible. Any impediment to its growth, whether in the form of trust-busting, union activity or regulation, was condemned as a step toward socialism and capitulation. Every corporation is a despotic fiefdom, a mini-dictatorship. And by the end Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs had grafted their totalitarian structures onto the state.

The Cold War also bequeathed to us the species of the neoliberal. The neoliberal enthusiastically embraces “national security” as the highest good. The neoliberal—composed of the gullible and cynical careerists—parrots back the mantra of endless war and corporate capitalism as an inevitable form of human progress. Globalization, the neoliberal assures us, is the route to a worldwide utopia. Empire and war are vehicles for lofty human values. Greg Mortenson, the disgraced author of “Three Cups of Tea,” tapped into this formula. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq or Afghanistan are ignored or dismissed as the cost of progress. We are bringing democracy to Iraq, liberating the women of Afghanistan, defying the evil clerics in Iran, ridding the world of terrorists and protecting Israel. Those who oppose us do not have legitimate grievances. They need to be educated. It is a fantasy. But to name our own evil is to be banished.

We continue to talk about personalities—Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—although the heads of state or elected officials in Congress have become largely irrelevant. Lobbyists write the bills. Lobbyists get them passed. Lobbyists make sure you get the money to be elected. And lobbyists employ you when you get out of office. Those who hold actual power are the tiny elite who manage the corporations. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, in their book “Winner-Take-All Politics,” point out that the share of national income of the top 0.1 percent of Americans since 1974 has grown from 2.7 to 12.3 percent. One in six American workers may be without a job. Some 40 million Americans may live in poverty, with tens of millions more living in a category called “near poverty.” Six million people may be forced from their homes because of foreclosures and bank repossessions. But while the masses suffer, Goldman Sachs, one of the financial firms most responsible for the evaporation of $17 trillion in wages, savings and wealth of small investors and shareholders, is giddily handing out $17.5 billion in compensation to its managers, including $12.6 million to its CEO, Lloyd Blankfein.

The massive redistribution of wealth, as Hacker and Pierson write, happened because lawmakers and public officials were, in essence, hired to permit it to happen. It was not a conspiracy. The process was transparent. It did not require the formation of a new political party or movement. It was the result of inertia by our political and intellectual class, which in the face of expanding corporate power found it personally profitable to facilitate it or look the other way. The armies of lobbyists, who write the legislation, bankroll political campaigns and disseminate propaganda, have been able to short-circuit the electorate. Hacker and Pierson pinpoint the administration of Jimmy Carter as the start of our descent, but I think it began long before with Woodrow Wilson, the ideology of permanent war and the capacity by public relations to manufacture consent. Empires die over such long stretches of time that the exact moment when terminal decline becomes irreversible is probably impossible to document. That we are at the end, however, is beyond dispute.

The rhetoric of the Democratic Party and the neoliberals sustains the illusion of participatory democracy. The Democrats and their liberal apologists offer minor palliatives and a feel-your-pain language to mask the cruelty and goals of the corporate state. The reconfiguration of American society into a form of neofeudalism will be cemented into place whether it is delivered by Democrats, who are pushing us there at 60 miles an hour, or Republicans, who are barreling toward it at 100 miles an hour. Wolin writes, “By fostering an illusion among the powerless classes” that it can make their interests a priority, the Democratic Party “pacifies and thereby defines the style of an opposition party in an inverted totalitarian system.” The Democrats are always able to offer up a least-worst alternative while, in fact, doing little or nothing to thwart the march toward corporate collectivism.

The systems of information, owned or dominated by corporations, keep the public entranced with celebrity meltdowns, gossip, trivia and entertainment. There are no national news or intellectual forums for genuine political discussion and debate. The talking heads on Fox or MSNBC or CNN spin and riff on the same inane statements by Sarah Palin or Donald Trump. They give us lavish updates on the foibles of a Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen. And they provide venues for the powerful to speak directly to the masses. It is burlesque.

It is not that the public does not want a good health care system, programs that provide employment, quality public education or an end to Wall Street’s looting of the U.S. Treasury. Most polls suggest Americans do. But it has become impossible for most citizens to find out what is happening in the centers of power. Television news celebrities dutifully present two opposing sides to every issue, although each side is usually lying. The viewer can believe whatever he or she wants to believe. Nothing is actually elucidated or explained. The sound bites by Republicans or Democrats are accepted at face value. And once the television lights are turned off, the politicians go back to the business of serving business.

We live in a fragmented society. We are ignorant of what is being done to us. We are diverted by the absurd and political theater. We are afraid of terrorism, of losing our job and of carrying out acts of dissent. We are politically demobilized and paralyzed. We do not question the state religion of patriotic virtue, the war on terror or the military and security state. We are herded like sheep through airports by Homeland Security and, once we get through the metal detectors and body scanners, spontaneously applaud our men and women in uniform. As we become more insecure and afraid, we become more anxious. We are driven by fiercer and fiercer competition. We yearn for stability and protection. This is the genius of all systems of totalitarianism. The citizen’s highest hope finally becomes to be secure and left alone.

Human history, rather than a chronicle of freedom and democracy, is characterized by ruthless domination. Our elites have done what all elites do. They have found sophisticated mechanisms to thwart popular aspirations, disenfranchise the working and increasingly the middle class, keep us passive and make us serve their interests. The brief democratic opening in our society in the early 20th century, made possible by radical movements, unions and a vigorous press, has again been shut tight. We were mesmerized by political charades, cheap consumerism and virtual hallucinations as we were ruthlessly stripped of power.

The game is over. We lost. The corporate state will continue its inexorable advance until two-thirds of the nation is locked into a desperate, permanent underclass. Most Americans will struggle to make a living while the Blankfeins and our political elites wallow in the decadence and greed of the Forbidden City and Versailles. These elites do not have a vision. They know only one word—more. They will continue to exploit the nation, the global economy and the ecosystem. And they will use their money to hide in gated compounds when it all implodes. Do not expect them to take care of us when it starts to unravel. We will have to take care of ourselves. We will have to create small, monastic communities where we can sustain and feed ourselves. It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and culture values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out. It is either that or become drones and serfs in a global, corporate dystopia. It is not much of a choice. But at least we still have one.


To read more of Chris Hedges’ writing on the themes from this column, check out his books “Death of the Liberal Class” and “The World As it Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Road to Romneycare

This from Paul Krugman - one of the voices of reason and logic. Follow link etc., etc.
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April 25, 2011, 1:03 pm
The Road to Romneycare

Yglesias looks at calls for a return to something like the McCain health plan — subsidies for individuals to buy insurance on the open market — and gets it exactly right: once you think seriously about how this would work, you end up with something that looks very much like the health reform we have.

Suppose we give people help buying insurance. This doesn’t help people with pre-existing conditions, who won’t be able to get insurance anyway. So we add community rating: insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history.

But this leads to a problem with adverse selection: healthy young people will drop coverage, leaving behind a bad risk pool and high costs. So we add a mandate, requiring that everyone get coverage.

But some people can’t afford to do this. So we add means-tested subsidies to help lower-income citizens.

And you’ve just described the Massachusetts health reform, aka Romneycare, which in turn is basically the same as Obamacare.

There are no more conservative alternatives — not unless you give up on the whole idea that everyone should have coverage. There are alternatives to the left — single-payer, VA-style government provision — but Obamacare is already as conservative as a plan to make health insurance more or less universal can be.

What's The Point Of Austerity Again?

This from "Business Insider" - once again, the "Very Serious People" are PROVEN to be FRAUDS. It seems the only purpose of "austerity" is to PUNISH the POOR! To punish those who actually work, who are old, who are students - but, not RICH students, and various minorities who can use some sort of assistance to help them along, to help them "integrate" into society. (Hasn't anyone else noticed that folks "assimilate" when they are doing well enough to have some security, when they have a stake in society?) Please follow link to original
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What's The Point Of Austerity Again?

So now we know: Not only does austerity not help the economy, it doesn't even help governments get out of debt, as Greece's and Spain's latest horrific numbers confirm.

The governments have been cutting spending, and deficits have gotten worse.

So, what's the point of austerity again?

If the point is to improve a country's fiscal situation it's an obvious failure.

Up next: we all pretend to be shocked when UK deficits come in higher than expected.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/whats-the-point-of-austerity-again-2011-4#ixzz1KkcF8VIE

We’re not Broke. We’ve been Robbed!

This from "New Deal 2.0" - please follow link to original --
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We’re not Broke. We’ve been Robbed!

Blame the thieves who are wrecking our economy and ruining our democracy.

We’re not broke. We’ve been robbed by the super-rich and big corporations who are raking in the cash and running up the deficit. Our economy is still more than twice as large as any other country in the world. With 4% of the world’s population, we generate 24% of its wealth. We spend more on our military than almost all other nations combined and more than twice as much per person on health care as other developed countries. But over the past three decades, the rich have gotten richer while their tax rates have plummeted. While the income of the richest 400 Americans quadrupled — they now have more wealth than the 155 million Americans on the other end — their effective tax rates were cut almost in half.

One thing is for sure: corporate America is not broke. Sitting on some two trillion in cash, fattened every quarter by record profits, corporate taxes are at an historic low in terms of the economy and share of federal revenues. And that includes Wall Street, which was rewarded with bailouts, bonuses and bonanza profits for igniting the deepest recession in three-quarters of a century.

We’re not broke, but the wealth grab is wrecking our economy. The rich can’t spend enough to keep the economy going. The engine that drives it is a strong middle class. The problem isn’t that we haven’t generated wealth, it’s that we’ve stopped sharing the wealth we’ve generated. If wages had kept up with productivity over the past 30 years, the median wage would be 60% higher than it is now. If income had increased at the same rate for everyone from 1979 to 2006, the average family would make about $10,000 more a year, but the top 1% would make $700,000 less.

We’re not broke, but the power grab of the greedy is ruining our democracy. None of this happened by accident, nor is it the inevitable result of globalization and technological change. While the rich gobbled up a bigger chunk of the United States’ economy, that hasn’t been true in other developed countries — including Germany, France and Japan — that face the same economic pressures. Our politicians have been bought off with campaign contributions and wined and dined by lobbyists, many of whom used to work for or serve in Congress. Democracy is increasingly a myth; politicians respond to the policy preferences of the richest 10% and ignore the choices of the rest of us. The result has been tax, spending, financial and trade policies that have resulted in huge deficits and a crumbling middle class.

It’s free! Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s key headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

The middle class is not only the engine of our economy, it’s the glue of our democracy. A bigger middle class leads to higher voting rates and lower levels of public corruption. When we believe that the system is stacked against us, we’re more likely to drop out or cheat.

It’s no wonder that despite elite celebration of economic recovery, Americans are deeply pessimistic about the future. Much of the public believes that our best days are behind us. And unless we build a movement for change, they will be right.

Building a movement for change requires both anger and hope. The story I’ve just told gets people angry. To turn that anger into positive change we need the rest of the story, how we can write a happy ending if we rally together. The fact is, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make other choices that will lead to shared prosperity, opportunity and security for all and a brighter future for our children.

We can create good jobs for everyone in America. There is more than enough vital work to be done and Americans stand ready and eager to do it. We can create tens of millions of jobs, jobs for a green economy and energy independence, jobs to rebuild our infrastructure and create a new one for the information age, jobs to educate our children and take care of our seniors. We can assure that every job — private and public — pays enough to support a family, with decent wages, health and retirement benefits and family-friendly leave policies. We can create good jobs in America with the right trade, tax, purchasing and financial policies. Each of these are political choices, within our control.

We can tame the deficit without sacrificing our future by creating good jobs, increasing taxes on the wealthy and closing corporate tax loopholes, cutting unneeded military spending and controlling health care spending through a system that puts quality ahead of quantity and stops overpayments to drug and health insurance companies. There are real budget proposals in Congress that do all that.

We can take our democracy back from the super-wealthy and big corporations if we create a real movement for change. We need to embed the reforms necessary for restoring our democracy — public financing of elections, slamming the revolving door shut between Congress and corporate lobbyists, a Supreme Court that has the common sense to see that money is not speech and corporations are not people — in the movement to create shared prosperity and opportunity for all.

We’re not broke, but we have been impoverished by an “on-your-own” ideology that denies the best in us. At the end, this is a question of what we believe. When you stood in school and took the pledge of allegiance, was it a pledge for liberty and justice for the few, for the super-rich? Or was it a pledge for liberty and justice for all? That’s the pledge I remember taking: liberty and justice in an America that works for all.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, whose book on the campaign to win reform will be published in 2012. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

India bank termites eat piles of cash

Tell me more about the vaunted "Wisdom Of The East" -- a class ridden society where the well to do are accustomed to having either SLAVES or VIRTUAL SLAVES, where it is not uncommon to look down, down, down, upon those "beneath" you -- the "wisdom" of the caste system -- anyway, keep your money in an old sock.
(please follow link to original)
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India bank termites eat piles of cash

Staff at an Indian bank have been blamed for allowing termites to eat their way through banknotes worth millions of rupees.

Staff at the bank, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, are reported to have been found guilty of "laxity".

The insects are believed to have chewed their way through notes worth some 10 million rupees ($225,000/£137,000).

A similar incident happened in 2008, when termites in Bihar state ate a trader's savings stored in his bank.

The State Bank of India says an enquiry into the latest incident has been held.
Replaced

"The branch management has been found guilty of laxity due to which the notes were damaged by termites in the Fatehpur branch of Barabanki district," State Bank of India Chief General Manager Abhay Singh told the Press Trust of India.
Termites The State Bank of India has warned staff to be alert for money-grubbers

"Action will be taken against those responsible in the matter.

"At it was the bank's fault, it will bear the loss caused due to termites... there will be no loss to the public."

Ms Singh said that identity numbers on the majority of the notes were still intact, which meant that they could be replaced.

Bank officials discovered that the notes - which were kept in a strongroom - had been damaged by termites earlier this month.

Ms Singh said that directives had now been issued to all branches that stored currency in strongrooms to ensure that the condition of the cash is checked every two months.

Reports say that the branch where the money was stored was old, seldom properly cleaned and known to be a haven for termites.

"It was earlier brought to the notice of the management that termites were damaging files and furniture. Efforts are on to relocate the bank at some other place," Ms Singh said.

In the incident in Bihar in 2008, trader Dwarika Prasad lost his life savings after termites infested his bank's safe deposit boxes and ate them up.

Mr Prasad deposited currency notes and investment papers worth hundreds of thousands of rupees in a bank safe in the state capital Patna.

The bank said at the time that it had put up a notice warning customers of the termites.

France Telecom employee sets self on fire at Merignac

I guess it's not just the USA that's getting ready to make some changes ---------
(please follow link to original)
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France Telecom employee sets self on fire at Merignac

A France Telecom worker has committed suicide by setting himself on fire in a work car park, management and unions have said.

The 57-year-old employee, who had four children, had worked for the company for over 30 years.

He is reported to have had several transfers within the firm in recent years, which he was unhappy about.

There were more than 30 reported suicides in 2008 and 2009 at the company which employs 100,000 people.

The suicide took place at France Telecom premises at Merignac, near Bordeaux, in southwestern France.

'Overwhelmed'

"The whole staff is completely overwhelmed with emotion," trade union representative Sebastien Crozier told AFP. "All of Bordeaux is in tears."

Another union representative said the man was local and had set himself alight on arriving at work.

France Telecom is one of the country's biggest employers and also runs the major mobile provider Orange.

Unions had blamed restructuring and work pressure at the firm for the deaths in 2008 and 2009, saying that some staff were being left behind in the firm's transformation from a government agency to a private company.

But France Telecom says the rate of suicides is statistically not unusual for a company with such a large workforce.

Criticism about the way the company handled the suicide crisis led to the resignation of its deputy CEO in October 2009.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Something to ponder

This one from "Some Assembly Required" -- go there, read all the rest.
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Undo It Yourself: Republicans, at the behest of their hyper-rich supporters, are set on destroying all of the social gains of the last 100 years and more. They are working to destroy unions in order to cut the pay and diminish the influence of teachers, police and firefighters. The want to abolish the social safety nets of Medicare and Social Security or at least privatize them for the profit of their controllers. Their mantra is the survival of the fittest (for which read richest, greediest) and the elimination of all regulations that prevent complete destruction of the commons and the commoners. Do they think we joined the NRA just for the neat logo?
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Always remember, "self defense" takes many forms, means many things.

Clifton Chenier - Bon Ton Roulet

With CJ Chenier on sax, Cleveland Chenier on rubboard, and the late Harry Hypolite on guitar.

Clifton Chenier (1925-1987) Louisiana Shuffle/Do the Zydeco

Zydeco Sont Pas Salés

Zydeco Sont Pas Salés
(Snapbeans Ain't Salty)


Howlin' Wolf Smokestack Lightning

Howlin' Wolf (with Willie Dixon and Hubert Sumlin) performs Smokestack Lightning

Sonny Boy Williamson - Nine below zero

Big Mama Thornton ft. Buddy Guy - Hound Dog

Bessie Smith - Yellowdog Blues

Louis Armstrong - Black and Blue (live recording)

"Miss Otis Regrets" (Ethel Waters, 1934)

The Jimmy Giuffre 3 ~ The Train And The River

Shorty Rogers and His Giants 1953

Personnel: Shorty Rogers (trumpet, arrange, conduct), Milt Bernhart (trombone), John Graas (french horn), Gene Englund (tuba), Art Pepper (alto sax), Jimmy Giuffre (tenor sax), Hampton Hawes (piano), Joe Mondragon (bass), Shelly Manne (drums)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

9/11 First Responders To Be Run Through FBI Terrorism Watch List Before Getting Health Care Benefits

We ARE insane!! (please follow link to original)
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9/11 First Responders To Be Run Through FBI Terrorism Watch List Before Getting Health Care Benefits

Medical providers will soon inform 9/11 first responders about a provision in the James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation law that requires them to be run through the FBI's terrorism watch list before they can receive health care benefits.

According to a letter obtained by Michael McAuliff of the Huffington Post, Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is instructing health care providers to tell their patients about the provision before they can begin to receive benefits in July.

The provision was tacked on by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) during the contentious fight over the bill in December, which was blocked by Republicans at the time. Stearns' amendment adds a paragraph stipulating the "disqualification of individuals on the terrorist watch list," and requiring each potential beneficiary to be run through the list.

McAuliff reports participants "will soon be told that their names, places of birth, addresses, government ID numbers and other personal data will be provided to the FBI to ensure they are not terrorists."

"Although neither we nor [the Centers for Disease Control]/NIOSH anticipate the name of any individual in the current Programs will be on the list, CDC/NIOSH is expressly required by law to implement this particular requirement of the Act," Howard's letter says.

The Zardoga health care bill passed by a vote of 206-60 in December after some controversy, thanks to a little help from Jon Stewart, who drew mass attention to the fight through his show.

Stearns said in a statement that "this amendment was adopted in the full Energy and Commerce Committee without opposition and it merely requires that the names of those receiving health benefits be cross-checked with the terrorist watch list to ensure that no terrorists get these benefits.

Easter

Today is Easter Sunday among the Christians. Some of their loudest apologists have made some rather strange claims -- "Fox’s Hannity accuses Lady Gaga, Ricky Gervais of “War on Easter”."



Now, today is Easter Sunday, "the most solemn day, etc., etc., etc." -- except -- the Television Machine is broadcasting Baseball, Soccer, Hockey, Basketball, and every other sport they possibly can.

Isn't that more of a "War On Easter" than a song?

How does damn near everything being broadcast this Sunday not constitute a "War On Easter"? There are sit-coms, various "reality shows", movies, drama, in addition to sports.

As an example the HBO series "Game of Thrones" (rather violent - not "spiritual"), Treme (about New Orleans - quite good), and the showtime series "The Borgias", all play tonight.

Where is the "spirituality"? Where is the "proper respect" for "The Resurrection Of Jesus"?

Why no OUTCRY about the quest for MONEY -- especially from all the pious FRAUDS of Fox News?

Or, do folks understand they can attack anyone, or anything they call "liberal" without any real blowback -- but -- if you take away the spectacle -- any part of the spectacle -- from all those "pious" folks, or speak of the reality of Jesus -- you will be disowned, stoned, and taken off the air.

We are shameful frauds -- everyone of us.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Looniness on Domestic Oil Production, Will the Post Print Anything

This from "The Center For Economic And Policy Research" -- Over the last few years a number of TRULY "serious people" have complained about the quality of "journalism" at The Washington Post -- I'm beginning to think it might be as bad as, if not worse than, The New York Post.
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The Washington Post printed an oped column from Alsaska Senator Lisa Murkowski arguing for increased domestic oil production. The column directly confuses short-term economic weakness with the impact of long-term oil prices.

It cites Harvard professor and former AIG director Martin Feldstein as supporting the claim that "that if prices remain high, economic growth will languish." In fact, the quote from Feldstein explicitly refers to economic growth this year. There is nothing that the government can do that will in any significant way affect the amount of oil that the U.S. produces this year. Therefore, Feldstein's statement is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

As far as the longer term question, higher oil prices would have a modest impact in slowing growth in most economic forecasting models. However even large increases in domestic production would have little impact on world oil prices (the relevant variable) and therefore have little effect on economic growth. A serious newspaper would not have allowed a columnist to make such misleading assertions.

RadarLogic home prices hit lowest level since 2003

Gee-golly -- everything is just peachy-keen ---- right?

I guess, the housing "problems" are all solved -- right?

Then again, maybe not. This from "Housing Wire" - please follow link to original'
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Home prices nationwide appear to have reached a seasonal trough in February, after falling to the lowest level since March 2003.

The RadarLogic RPX Composite index, which tracks home prices in 25 metropolitan areas, fell to $178.12 per square foot, down 4.3% compared to February 2010 and down 36% from the index's all time high in June 2007.

RadarLogic said that both supply and demand factors in the housing market are contributing to price depreciation.

"The foreclosure process remains bogged down after investigations launched late last year prompted temporary halts by some mortgage servicers and created a bottleneck as paperwork was re-filed," the report said. "Housing demand is also constrained."

March existing home sales posted 3.7% above February sales, yet 6.3% below sales in March 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors.

On a regional basis, the largest declines in home price occurred in the South, according to RadarLogic, down 4.3% compared to January and down 9.7% compared to the year ago period.

In Atlanta prices plummeted 16.3% compared to 2010. Prices fell 13.6% in Jacksonville, Fla. and 13.1% in Miami.

RadarLogic mentioned that more home purchases are being made by corporate investors and all-cash buyers. Recent data suggest this trend will continue, the research firm said, as these purchases "have tended to be at large discounts.

Who Debased the Dollar?

This from Paul Krugman's blog ------
Follow link, etc., etc., etc.
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Who Debased the Dollar?

Barry Ritholtz makes an obvious but strangely unnoticed point: right now we have all these people hysterical about the debasement of the dollar, but where were they when the real devaluation was taking place?



Funny how we didn’t hear all this hysteria between 2001 and 2007. For the record: while I had plenty of complaints about the Bush economy, the declining dollar was never among them.

Friday, April 22, 2011

No Banks Eaten

No banks failed today -- at least not so far. It's now 11:26 CDT, I don't think the FDIC is working quite this late. Wait till next week.

Why are we (the people) so dense?

Why, oh why don't we even begin to understand?

So, Hows that recovery thingy treating you? Think the "make the rich much richer Republicans" will do better after they GUT all social services? Does seeing more tent cities, and old folks dying on the street REALLY help the economy?

This from Brad Delongs blog - please follow link to his blog. Bookmark, read -- repeat.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

“Bipartisan = bought and paid for.” Yves Smith

Once again, if "Some Assembly Required" in not a part of your daily routine -- it SHOULD be!

here are a few choice morsels from today's blog. Of course, you must follow the link to the original -- then follow his links to THE originals (more or less).

As was said by a once famous TV comedian -- "Away we go!".
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License, Registration, Cell Phone: Michigan police are using the CelleBrite UFED, a device that can grab all of the photos and videos along with call history, texts, address book and geolocation from a driver's cell phone in less than 2 minutes. Without being physically attached to it. Search warrant? We don't need no stinking search warrant...

Birther of A Nation: Donald Trump is a proud birther, which means he thinks that 50 years ago a massive conspiracy began that included state officials, doctors, Honolulu newspapers and various civil servants and resulted in a Kenyan Socialist from Chicago... etc. Okay, that's hard to imagine. So is Trump as president.

Strategy: When the Republican plan to substitute vouchers for traditional Medicare is explained clearly, more than 80% of Americans oppose the idea. The Republicans will come up with a misleading name and a dishonest story and try to cram it down our throats so the insurance companies can reap the rewards. Business as usual.

Non-sequitur: Yes, of course Homeland Security is out of control. Why do you ask?
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CELL PHONES -- Self Incrimination, AND Brain Cancer -- 2, yes 2 for 1!!

The Most Overlooked Part of the Easter Narrative

This from "No Gods Allowed", by way of "Pharyngula" - please follow link to original. Gee, I wonder why that is not a featured part of "The Easter Miracle"?
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The Most Overlooked Part of the Easter Narrative

ZOMBIES!!!! We all know the Zombie Jesus story, but a whole crapload of dead people were reanimated just after Jesus H. kicked the can. They took two days fighting their way out of their tombs before running amok within Jerusalem. It’s right there in Matthew 27.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

Zombie mini-apocalypses must happen often enough in that part of the world that they’re not even worth recording. Come on! No one else even mentions it! I gotta hand it to whoever wrote the book of Matthew for having the foresight to include this enlightening event in the most infallible book ever written. If it hadn’t been for him, we’d only have one zombie stumbling around on Easter Sunday.

We’re not given a lot here, so let’s see if I got this straight.

Friday.

Jesus yells and dies
An atomic bomb of Jesus Juice rips through Jerusalem, causing an earthquake and a fucking curtain to be torn. OH. MY. GOD.
Zombies with halos wake up and start scratching at the walls of their damaged tombs

Saturday.

Zombies still trying to get out
Those that are out are wreaking havoc en route to Jerusalem
No one can repel zombies because it’s the fucking Sabbath

Sunday.

Ta-da! Zombie Jesus is back playing hide-and-seek and cooking fish at a campfire
Hordes of zombies, awake since Friday and undoubtedly hungry, finally descend upon Jerusalem

It took most of those zombies two days stuck inside their half smashed tombs before they could get out. Two days! While Jesus is out on holiday playing the last level of Doom III, a whole bunch of generally nice undead are stuck inside their graves scratching and moaning and breaking fingernails just trying to get a breath of fresh air. And brains.

This couldn’t have gone unnoticed. There have got to be a bunch of freaked out caretakers scared shitless because half their crop is trying to escape through damaged tombs. Did it make any difference that these zombies were holier than others? My guess is no. By the way, how could they even be holy if they haven’t accepted Jesus as their own personal savior? Something is amiss.

Back to the point. It’s Friday and you’re a caretaker of one of these graveyards. You’ve got a ton of cleanup to do after the earthquake and to make matters worse, a bunch of smug, holier-than-thou zombies are further damaging your tombs in their escape efforts. What do you do? Shit, they didn’t even have shotguns back then! I, for one, know when to get the hell out of town. I’d high-tail it out of Jerusalem, shrieking like a little girl all the way.

But, I have to assume that the general population of Jerusalem was more manly than me. These people get so pissed off at little things like someone having to work on the weekend, that they’ll fucking throw stones at you UNTIL YOU DIE. No, these people didn’t run. The caretakers are dutifully stuck to their job cleaning up the mess wrought by the explosion of the atomic J-bomb.

I don’t know how they’re defending against the zombies. We do know that none of the undead made it to the city until Sunday, so the graveyard workers must have been doing something right. My guess is they were busy throwing rocks like they were correcting a crowd of gays. It probably works pretty well for a while. These Jews have good throwing arms. But it can’t last long. They soon have a little bullshit called Sabbath that they can’t get around.

Good, observant Jews can only repel the undead until sundown on Friday night and then they have to twiddle their thumbs for a whole day, praying that the zombies are as holy as they say they are. Holy enough to remember the Sabbath.

What happens on Saturday is anyone’s guess. From my experience, the undead don’t have much concept of time. They’ve been underground or in caves for weeks and months, rotting and decomposing. How are they going to know what day it is when they wake up? I don’t want to question their dedication to their religion, but I’m guessing they don’t give a shit about this particular Sabbath. I bet they kept on clawing through the rubble of their broken tombs and digging out of their graves. It’s the caretakers of the graveyards I’m concerned with.

It seems they’ve got two options: Do you sit around on Saturday as instructed by the big guy, all the while glancing furtively out the windows across the yard to make sure the undead are still underground? Or do you risk breaking the Sabbath by either repelling zombies or running like hell? I’m assuming, of course, that it is considered work to kill the undead. I have no proof of this. These poor saps are backed into a corner. It’s either death by zombie or death by zealous law abiding Jew. I sympathize with these guys. I really do. Jesus had a bad weekend. These guys lived through hell and couldn’t do anything about it.

Again, we’re left with scant information. We’ve only got two verses of absolute truth to deal with, and we’ve got to fill in the blanks. The main fact is this: zombies are slow. We have to calculate the time it took for them to stumble out of their burial sites to the epicenter of Jerusalem on Sunday, where they “appear” to “many” people. We all know what that means. Zombie fucking apocalypse, man.

I suck at this type of calculation, so I’m going to have to rely on divine inspiration. I wouldn’t be writing this shit if God wasn’t speaking to me, now would I? Here’s what happened. A lot of those caretakers took the high road and observed the Sabbath. They died. A few more ran like hell. They died too. The first rule about Sabbath is that you don’t fucking run on Sabbath. Zombies get a pass. They shuffle.

The rest of the caretakers? Those that could tell their story? They climbed trees or roofs on Friday night and sat shivering in the cold until Sabbath was over. Zombies can’t climb trees. A lot of those guys lost family. They must have felt like Noah, who was ridiculed for building a boat when there was no water. They were laughed at for high-tailing it up trees, only to see their mockers overcome by a slow-moving wave of brain-eating zombies. Holy and generally considerate brain-eating zombies, but there you have it.

Sunday morning must have revealed a massacre, but it’s overshadowed by Zombie Jesus’ game of hide-and-seek. The passage is so focused on that particular zombie that they completely forget to mention the destruction wrought by the roving gangs of holy undead. Instead, they soften the blow by saying, oh, those brain-devouring hordes were just “appearing to many people.” Such an understatement.

We’ll never know the death toll that weekend. We’ll never know what happened to these holy zombies. Did they start their own religion and eventually float into the stratosphere like Zombie Jesus? Did they get wiped out by a bunch of zealots throwing stones? Will they accept Zombie Jesus as their own personal savior so they won’t have to go to hell again? Did they reintegrate into their previous holy life as if nothing had happened, as if such a thing were possible? We’ll never know.

This Easter, don’t get caught up in all the hubbub about eggs and crucifixions. Remember those who took a stand against the undead. Those who weren’t afraid to back down from reanimated corpses, except for, well, a short time while they hid in trees. Sometimes you have to fight. Sometimes you have to run. And sometimes, the best thing you can do is to hide your ass from zombies and zealots. It’s about survival, people. Protect yourself from brain-devouring zombies. Especially Jesus.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Patients Are Not Consumers

This from Paul Krugman - please follow link to original
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Patients Are Not Consumers

I keep encountering discussions of health economics in which patients are referred to as “consumers”, after which the usual mantra of freedom of choice is invoked on behalf of voucherizing Medicare, or whatever.

We used to know better than this.

Medical care is an area in which crucial decisions — life and death decisions — must be made; yet making those decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge; and often those decisions must also be made under conditions in which the patient is incapacitated, under severe stress, or needs action immediately, with no time for discussion, let alone comparison shopping.

That’s why we have medical ethics. That’s why doctors have traditionally both been viewed as something special and been expected to behave according to higher standards than the average professional. There’s a reason we have TV series about heroic doctors, while we don’t have TV series about heroic middle managers or heroic economists.

The idea that all this can be reduced to money — that doctors are just people selling services to consumers of health care — is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society’s values.

How The "Ryan Plan" would work

This from Common Dreams -- please follow link, etc., etc.
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