Friday, September 28, 2007

UAW Changes Name to WURA, Worker UR Alone

GM's new contract with the union is a clear sign to the average worker in America. Just as Romulus killed his brother Remus to settle Rome, the auto company raised its hand against its own brothers. GM dumped health care for at least one group in the contract. First it jettisoned responsibility for retirement health care through creating a trust to be managed by the union. Second, it created a class of "temporary worker" to be paid at the full time rate. I don't know about you, but any temporary or contract worker I've come across got no, as in zero benefits. If the contract allows the hiring of no benefit, full wage temporary workers, then another group of employees will be without health coverage.

This clearly is the plan envisioned by Democrats and Republicans. GM is just the first to execute. Both parties compete in sucking up to corporate interests. Unions see this as their chance to be relevant in America again. If they can't get fair employee deals via negotiations, they can at least turn into group purchasers for health insurance. Think of the power they'll have in managing billions of insurance dollars, which will happen to need investing while waiting to pay out. That's where the PEU boys come in, offering grand returns.

You, the average American worker are hosed given the line up of union, corporate, Democratic, and Republican constellations. The night will be very dark...

Ex-Carlyle Lobbyist to be Senior Advisor to Obama

How does a lobbyist registered to work for The Carlyle Group and the Blackstone Group end up as a senior advisor to Barack Obama? In a speech railing on corporate influence inside the Beltway, the presidential hopeful said:

"What's most outrageous is not the morally offensive conduct on behalf of these lobbyists and legislators, but the morally offensive laws and decisions that get made as a result."

Recall that millionaire private equity money managers pay 15% taxes on "carried interest" while the average worker pays 35% on the same income. Directly benefiting are investment professionals at Carlyle and Blackstone. Fortunately Chuck Schumer-D NY rushed to their aid. But it gets better.

The new advisor also lobbied for the National Rifle Association, Monsanto, Pfizer Inc., United Health Group, Sempra Energy and Constellation Energy. Sempra has even partnered with Carlyle on energy investments, on more than one deal. As usual there's the incestuous board crossover relationship.

I find it hard to believe the Obama campaign couldn't find a skilled advisor without a deep lobbying background in dirty waters. It seems, the PEU credential is important after all, despite Barack's assertions otherwise. I suggest a new game. Rather than the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon, let's play the three degrees of Carlyle.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Silent Carlyle Has BigMouth After All

The Carlyle Group successfully worked to keep its name out of news and official government reports on LifeCare Hospital's patient deaths after Hurricane Katrina. They even quietly sold two affiliates and a chunk of Carlyle itself to Dubai firms between the two outrages of American ports and stock market sales. While George Bush took questions on the sale of NASDAQ, the ex-Carlyle CaterAir Board member never mentioned other Dubai sales involving his prior benefactor.

Yet, now the private equity underwriter (PEU) wants everyone to hear about its BigMouth. No, I'm not talking about Carlyle execs testifying on Capital Hill as to why multi-millionaires need to pay 15% on carried interest earnings while the average citizen pays 35% in taxes on their income. BigMouth does digital marketing and search engine marketing and is spreading their brand across Europe. Next stop, the world as the firm wants to be a world-wide full service agency. That does sound like the Carlyle I know...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

SEIU & Carlyle Meet Up to Screw Americans on Healthcare

A staged protest by the Service Employees International Union at Carlyle Group headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue could have ended with leaders of both groups conferencing on how to shaft Americans on health care. SEIU is upset that Carlyle is buying huge nursing home operator, ManorCare, especially after a New York Times report showed a decline in quality of care in private equity owned nursing home companies.

Union protesters didn't mention their leaders think businesses unfairly shoulder the cost of health insurance. SEIU President Andy Stern believes the group responsible for 60% of America's health insurance coverage should be allowed to drop it. As the federal government gags over the prospect of insuring more low income children, don't expect Uncle Sam to pick up the slack. That leaves the individual employee to shoulder the burden.

I have my own beef over the ManorCare acquisition, but it relates more to Carlyle's other health care company, LifeCare Hospitals. After Hurricane Katrina, their unit in Memorial Hospital had the highest number of patient deaths. Guess who they blame in their wrongful death civil suits? The feds! Carlyle says their patients became wards of the federal government as soon as FEMA set up evacuation teams in New Orleans. This language does not exist in any hospital disaster plan I've seen. If they can fail acutely ill patients in a time of crisis, my guess is Carlyle will do the same with nursing home or Alzheimer's patients.

Speaking of abandonment, that's what America's unions want to do for employees getting health insurance coverage through work. Everybody should be covered, but no one wants to do their part.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Cost of Changing Stripes

When you borrow to buy a more expensive house, your mortgage goes up. The same happens in business, and two such deals just hit San Angelo. CHS recently purchased Community Medical Center of San Angelo and Susser Holdings plans to acquire Town & Country Food Stores within 90 days. Both new owners have or will take on significant debt as part of the transaction.

Community Health System borrowed some $10 billion to finance their takeover of Triad Hospitals and SACMC. Annual interest on this debt is $660 million, a $440 million increase over the combined annual load of the two independent firms. That works out to over $3 million per hospital in the investor owned hospital chain.

Susser plans to finance the $361 million purchase price of Town & Country with cash, lease financing and debt. Their latest balance sheet indicates only $20 million in cash, so most of the deal will have an interest cost. Susser already has long term debt of $120 million. Once that nealry quadruples to $470 million, what will happen to interest charges? It will shoot up from ther $23 million in interest expense in FY 2006. Assuming the same ratio of interest to long term debt, the new number should come in around $90 million. Those costs will need to be passed on to customers in higher prices or operating expenses will need to be slashed. Per store the new interest expense amounts to $180,000. How many T & C's are in San Angelo? My phone book says 27, making the total annual debt burden close to $5 million.

Two deals stand to hit locals in the pocketbook for an additional $8 million. Is that progress?

That Sinking Feeling

The news led with a story on a corruption investigation involving Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, home of the Middle East's "model democracy". The problem is the Jewish state came in 34th on government openness and transparency according to an international group monitoring corruption. The United States, after 6 years under a President who promised to run an open and transparent office, stands at number 20. But how open and transparent is George W. Bush?

With the question of a politically connected private equity underwriter's free media pass on two recent deals with Dubai government controlled companies fresh on my mind, I explored cyberspace. Even with the White House and The Carlyle Group sharing square footage on Pennsylvania Avenue and the revolving door of ex-senior government officials that now manage industry segments for the PEU, what other connections exist?

It turns out George W. Bush sat on the board of a Carlyle affiliate, Caterair. He served from 1990 to 1994. The company imploded from its heavy debt load. And the open and transparent "governor to be" scrubbed his resume clean of the fresh debacle, according to the Dallas Morning News. What intrigued the newspaper was that Bush had dropped the Caterair connection from his official campaign résumé in August 1994.

This small nugget helped answer two of my questions. One, how does The Carlyle Group get free passes on sales of U.S. assets to Dubai based companies when others get tight scrutiny? The President made no mention of either recent Carlyle sale in his White House Press Conference, even when asked about Dubia's owning part of the NASDAQ.

And two, why does George W. Bush lie so much? Apparently he has a long history of it. But my greatest fear is these two morally challenged, unpopular leaders, Bush and Olmert, will try to take the focus off their investigations. And guess who just came to New York to provide them the perfect opportunity? Can anyone sing "Bombs over Tehran" without crying on behalf of the innocents, maimed and killed due to the world's corrupt and selfish leaders?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Speaking Out on PEU's

Somebody voiced their concern about America's coddling of private equity underwriters (PEU), specifically the politically connected Carlyle Group whose three founders sit on the list of the 400 richest people. With the recent sale of 7.5% of the firm to a Dubai government controlled company for $1.35 billion, how much richer will David Rubenstein, William Conway and Daniel D'Aniello get? And how did they avoid public scrutiny in selling two aircraft operation companies to Dubai Aerospace when the ports sale raised such a ruckus? While people clamour about the United Arab Emirates owning part of the NASDAQ Stock Market, a chunk of a huge American PEU is sold. The times are odd and growing odder every day.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Second Carlyle Dubai Deal Stays Under the Radar

While the public screams about a Middle Eastern firm owning U.S. ports and a chunk of the NASDAQ stock exchange, two Carlyle Group deals sail under the radar. The first involved the sale of two U.S. aircraft operation companies to Dubai Aerospace. This got no, as in zero media attention.

Just days ago, The Carlyle Group sold part of itself to a different UAE government owned company, the Mubadala Development Company. For 7.5% of Carlyle, Mubadala paid $1.35 billion after the D.C. based private equity firm offered a 10% discount.

So why are ports bad and aircraft operations good? Why is owning a chunk of a U.S. stock exchange concerning and but a piece of a PEU worth cheering about? And how does this all stay out of the news? It seems having the ex-Time Warner CEO on your payroll produces dividends...

Bush Doesn't See Sick People of Short Stature

President Bush spoke to the country in his Saturday morning radio address on children's health insurance. What he didn't say is more children were uninsured in 2006 than in 1994, the start of the Republican Revolution. This happened despite covering poor children through state CHIP programs. The President has been AWOL on health care his whole two terms in office, other than a pharmaceutical crafted Medicare Drug benefit that similarly harmed low income seniors and the disabled, otherwise known as dual eligibles. George spoke to that issue in Dublin, Ohio. So why doesn't #43 see the 47 million Americans without health insurance? Why did he continually offer up meatless programs which failed to address an increase of 7 million uninsureds since 2001? I believe George Bush has a Sixth Sense. He doesn't see sick people, short or poor...

Railroad's Coming on Employer Health Care

Retired workers can now feel like military vets of past wars, as their employer reneges on promises of lifetime health care. Just as Republicans and Democrats passed legislation to screw vets, their high dollar donors put their heads together to ream long time workers. This is evidenced by General Motors negotiation to turn over its retiree health care obligations to a United Auto Worker managed trust in a historic deal. Step two is for employers who insure 60% of Americans to dump that responsibility. If you think I'm kidding, just look at Senator Ron Wyden-D and his bipartisan group of ten's proposal to shift the responsibility for health care coverage to the worker. "He thinks he can, he thinks he can, they think they can."

If you're counting on George Bush to step in a stop the train gathering steam, don't. The belligerent Chief Executive just got on television to squash state efforts to cover more kids. On his shift 7 million more Americans lost health insurance. Despite SCIP. more children are uninsured today than in 1994, the beginning of the Republican revolution. Here's a list of who won't stand up for you, employers, the federal government and unions. It looks like time for another revolution...

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Deming Institute Badly Needed

Don't you hate it when you have a computer problem and the hardware people blame it on the software folks, or vice versa? A similar international game occurred around defective toys made in China for American manufacturers. Mattel ordered three high-profile recalls this summer involving more than 21 million Chinese-made toys, including Barbie doll accessories and toy cars because of concerns about lead paint and tiny magnets that could be swallowed. Yet, it seems they got to the bottom of the problem.

Mattel's executive vice president apologized to Chinese product safety official citing the vast majority of the recalls were for design defects. He also expressed his regret for recalling too many toys suspected of having high concentrations of lead paint.

The Chinese official reminded the toy executive "a large part of your annual profit ... comes from your factories in China." Dr. W. Edwards Deming would frown on the corporate obsession of growing profits at the expense of workers. He believed one reason for having a business is to provide jobs.

Fortunately there is an institute carrying on the leadership guru's fine work. It seems they are needed by both parties in this case. Chinese product safety officials drove in fear with their execution of a drug safety official earlier this year. And Mattel lacked robust product safety procedures regardless of who manufactured their toys. I suggest they both call The Deming Institute for help before anyone else dies, either from playing or trying to do their job.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

PEU Boys Join Forbes 400 Richest List

The private equity and hedge fund boys crashed the latest Forbes 400 list like barbarians through a gate. They elevated the cutoff to make the esteemed group by $300 million from last year to a record $1.3 billion. More than half of the forty five newbies came from the PEU niche of America's economy. Amongst the crowd are Apollo Management, Texas Pacific Group, Blackstone Group and The Carlyle Group. Many on the big list hid their corporate affiliation under the general heading of "investments". Carlyle's David Rubenstein, Daniel D'Aniello and William Conway did such a thing. Blackstone's Pete Peterson and Hamilton James had the guts to put down their PEU, while Stephen Schwarzman, took the safe route.

Perusing the list one can see obvious supporters of each political party. In the Democratic camp falls Ron Burkle, George Soros and the infamous Mark Rich. While Republicans can claim numerous members, a few stand out. There's Ray Hunt who recently signed a regional oil deal in Iraq after sharing Dover Sole at the Bush White House with Queen Elizabeth. Dining alongside Ray stood other members of the Fortune 400 including Richard Kinder, Herb Kohler, Anne Windfohr Marion, A. Jerrold Perenchio, T. Boone Pickens, Harold Simmons, Sid Bass and his brother Lee. Now those are some high rollers baby, which leads us to our next member. Gambling guru Sheldon Adelson sits at #3 and is known for funding nasty Republican ad campaigns similar to the recent ad deriding rock star General David Petraeus. Only Sheldon's efforts didn't get an up or down vote in Congress. Neither did #380 Richard Mellon Scaife's past efforts submaring Bill Clinton. While Phillip Anschutz prefers his donations to promote George Bush and good Christian values he has the resources with some $7.6 billion.

If you're wondering how the cut off grew by $300 million when the average American's take home rose by a pittance, just remember many of these folks drive international economic policy and own more than a piece of our democratic government via their ample donations to the campaign money trough. Recall these are the same PEU boys who need to continue their preferred tax status on "carried interest". We have gorging George and his free market followers which now includes many Democrats. Sooooeeeeeyy!!!

Bush Ugly to Uninsured Kids

When confronted with millions of uninsured kids, President Bush jumped on his high horse to speed off. The problem is his health care plans are nothing more than a statue which hold in place the dynamics of a system failing legions of Americans, young and old. After "riding" for hours to impose two bureaucratic blocks, George dismounted saying "Things should be OK for awhile, Uncle Bucky. Those kids will keep their WellPoint policies thanks to my veto." A relieved Presidential uncle serves on the board of the huge health insurer. Sharing the WellPoint table are Susan Bayh, wife of the Indiana Senator and White House Economic Advisor, Al Hubbard (a past member of their Board).

Last night CNN's Jack Cafferty did a one hour special titled "It's Getting Ugly Out There". It mentioned issues of concern to our citizens, one of which is health care. A segment of the transcript is below:

"I mean, honestly, I really found a hopeless bunch of people when I talked to them about this. I mean, you know, Mike McCurry, who you saw in that piece, did think that perhaps people are now looking at the political slate and saying, "Well, we've been talking about Social Security for years. We've been talking about health care for years. We've been talking about all of these issues for years. Nothing has gotten done. It's gridlock in Washington." So the opportunity is there, but there's just so much else battling against it."

President Bush's signature health care strategies have failed to even hold the line on the uninsured, much less reduce it. A growing tide threatens to force millions more Americans underwater in this regard. So what does the President do? He calls a press conference and in his usual belligerent manner, blames others for his policy failures.

He also brought along his parrot, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt who couldn't answer a question outside his narrow talking points. The end result is more kids and more citizens on their own for health insurance, or without coverage for their health care bills (assuming they get care). For those in a bind, don't forget about the President's ER referral. Be sure to list 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the address of the responsible party.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Carlyle Shows its Blue Side to Keep Green Flowing

The Carlyle Group hired its first lobbyist to head global regulatory affairs. They pegged David M. Marchick, a former staffer in the Clinton Administration and senior advisor to Kissinger McLarty Associates. Carlyle has long mined its "A list" of ex-political insiders on the payroll, but suggests this is its first foray into "lobbying".

Even with ex-IRS chief Charles Rossotti on staff, the firm is nervous that it might lose its preferred tax status on "carried interest". So they hired a new waterboy with strong Clinton connections to wander the halls of Congress. Democrats and Republicans drag our democracy down with their competition for business campaign donations. Carlyle sees the writing on the wall and is deepening their blue bench. While they gorge at the campaign money trough, let's hope someone throws the rest of us stool pigeons a crumb every now and then.

Update 12-7-14:  Henry Kissinger played a critical role is getting the Union Carbide plant built in Bhopal, India, then helped Union Carbide avoid criminal prosecution for killing 25,000 people.

Carlyle to Buy Jacques Cousteau's Boat Maker

The next time you're relaxing in the recliner, eating Baskin Robbins ice cream and watching Jacques Cousteau reruns, think about the Carlyle Group as the scientist orders his team "to the Zodiacs." The European Commission approved Carlyle's purchase of Zodiac Boat from a French firm. Want to bet the U.S. Navy ups its orders of Zodiac's some time in the near future, in the usual Bush no bid fashion? And when our soldiers get back from securing the world, Carlyle is more than happy to take their ice cream money, just like they took yours...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Big Oil's New Threat is Oceans!

Big Oil has a new threat to squash, discredit, or buy up and stick in a dark closet to gather dust. A scientist at Penn State University recently demonstrated using salt water as a fuel. A researcher studying cancer accidentally discovered bombarding salt water with radio frequency waves produced a spark. Tinkering turned it into an eternal flame that burns at over 3,000 degrees.

What happens if this new fuel source can be used widely? Salt water doesn't have to be drilled although it does exist underground. It's readily available. Supply seems endless given the Earth's current natural processes. A discovery like this can flip a market on its head. Former leaders become irrelevant as the table is reset.

Big Oil will have none of that. Predictions call for a peak in oil reserves in a few years, then steady declines. With their huge investments in infrastructure, their massive profits and their widespread governmental influence purchasing Big Oil will take serious moves to squash this threat. Will they get their lackeys to enact laws restricting the use of the RF spectrum on salt water? Will they outlaw the mining of hydrogen from H2O? Will they approach the scientist involved and buy up his discovery for a billion dollars so they can stick it on a shelf to gather dust in their vault of secrets? Will he sell? Will a man dedicated to the discovery of knowledge on behalf of humanity be bribed with enough greenbacks to tuck it away for "safe keeping"?

Keep your eye out for burning salt water as hydrogen could soon power your automobile or home heating. Not if Big Oil can help it and definitely not if they don't own it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Recipe for 26% Annual Return for Investors

High dollar investors with the Carlyle Group gathered recently in our nation's capital to talk about the difficult investment climate that sprouted virtually overnight. Not long ago the firms chiefs called the environment "frothy". The story mentions CEO Lou Gertsner's admonitions to "take a long view". It also cites Carlyle's history of granting investors 26% annual returns before fees. Below is a recipe for generating such high profits over several decades.

1. Buy strategically placed, undervalued companies. This means buy businesses in areas the government intends to "privatize". Leveraging insider knowledge of such strategic shifts is critical. The practices is aided by the litany of ex-government insiders on Carlyle's payroll, starting with ex-Defense Department Chief Frank Carlucci and ending with the latest hire, Randal Quarles, former undersecretary of domestic finance at the Treasury Department.

2. Use existing political connections to feed off the government tit. Political donations are OK as long as politicians come through for Carlyle. One example is Vought Aircraft Industries which gave generously to Texas legislators (both state and national) and in return got federal and state subsidies.

3. Get more business from the government. By growing revenues dramatically in a two to three year period, Carlyle can flip a company for an easy double. For buying CSX Lines, holding it just over a year and renaming it Horizon Lines, Carlyle doubled their initial investment. While much of their shipping occurred on U.S. monopolized routes courtesy of the Jones Act, something changed to drive the value of the company skyward. How much increased business did Uncle Sam send Carlyle's way during that year?

4. Use political connections to drive special legislation granting tax exemptions. Horizon Lines, a shipping company, benefited mightily from the switch to the tonnage tax which recently turned U.S. flagged shipping into a very profitable but tax free industry.

5. Encourage privatization of government services. One of Carlyle's early investments was USIS, previously an arm of the federal government that did security investigations. The powerful private equity underwriter (PEU) sees the writing on the wall in health care and public/government infrastructure, expanding its investments in both areas.

Turn the burner on high, stir in a ample amounts of campaign donations and voila, 26% returns! Don't try this at home, one must be a professional to do this safely, especially as PEU's produce flammable gases.

Let the Iraqi Oil Hunt Begin!

In one of the strangest moves to date, an American oil company signed a deal with Iraq's Kurdish regional government. This occurred as the Bush administration continues to press for a national Iraq oil law, one that shares the proceeds, however meager, with "all the citizens" of Iraq. What makes it even more odd is the U.S. company is Hunt Oil, whose CEO Ray Hunt is a personal friend of President George W. Bush. Ray recently dined on Dover Sole with Queen Elizabeth in the Bush version of the Clinton Lincoln Bedroom. Who says Bush doesn't wine and dine his major donors? Ray even made Pioneer status.

While the Kurdish region passed an oil law last August, there is risk in Hunt Oil's inking a deal prior to the signing of a national law. President Bush holds the trump card with his Executive Order 13303, intended to maintain the integrity of Iraq's oil resources. Might he or the Treasury Chief declare the Hunt deal illegal? Doubtful, as Ray served as Chair of the Dallas Federal Reserve System Bank.

As for President Bush, the two men are thick as thieves. Ray Hunt served as Chairman of the Board of Southern Methodist University, future home of the Bush Library. He still sits on the board of that august institute of higher learning. Unfortunately the Bush Library will paint the Bush Presidency as something other than an eight year exercise in partisan division. Hopefully Freedom's Watch will get a corner with windows as it rode in to save the long suffering Bush legacy.

Ray Hunt's connections wind throughout the Iraq oil deal. Ray serves on President Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a member of the National Petroleum Council which advises the Secretary of Energy. Mr. Hunt shares the boardroom table at EDS, founded by Ross Perot. The only other oil firm to ink a deal in Kurdistan is associated with Ross Perot Jr.

It looks like politically connected Ray is ready to do more Texas style wildcatting. I think the Iraqi people have enough problems without unleashing a rabid Republican into their midst.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Businesses, Republicans, Unions & Democrats Want to Take Away Your Coverage

Earlier this year the strangest coaliton in America proposed a plan jettisoning employer sponsored health insurance in favor of personal responsibility. The group consisted of members of both political parties as well as business and union representatives. WebMD drove home this idea with its story "Is Workplace Healthcare Coverage Dying?"

Nearly 16% of Americans have no health insurance. Some 60% have employer sponsored coverage. Government sponsored programs at the state and national level cover the rest. With the problem of lack of coverage so big, how could any serious politician propose dumping employer sponsored health insurance, the source of coverage for 175 million Americans? At a time when getting more people paying into the system, our elected leaders want to rapidly grow the legions of 47 million uninsured. Why?

First, the Bush administration is leading the way. The President proposed Health Savings Accounts paired with High Deductible Health Plans as the solution to the problem. In 2000 69% had employer sponsored coverage. This dropped to 65% in 2002 and 60% in 2006. His signature program ended up a mere stalling measure. As a result he offered his new solution, tax credits for individuals. This would give insurance companies a chance to boost the price of insurance while the responsiblity shifts away from employers, a literal one-two punch to the pocketbook of the average citizen.

The WebMD article is using past and current inaction to let the air out of the balloon for 175 million Americans. It stated "With no major changes on the horizon in Washington to rein in costs, some experts are saying that the end of the employer-sponsored health system has arrived."

Who are the experts? It's none other than a Union Executive, Andrew Stern, president of the Services Employees International Union which happens to represent health care service workers. "We have to recognize that employer-based health care is ending. It's dying. It will not return." So much for their "stronger together" motto. Who would have thought Unions and Democrats would be behind such thinking, but one need look no further than Ron Wyden-D Oregon for evidence.

If you're appalled by Mr. Stern's comment, it gets better. The article went on to say "Stern points to President Bush's promotion of health savings accounts as a sign. Employers typically pay for a set amount of insurance, even if the cost goes up. But health savings accounts let firms contribute a set amount of money to workers, not a set amount of benefits. As premiums go up, the employer contribution stays the same. And workers can be on the hook for the rest."

This is patently false. Employers must provide insurance through a high deductible health plan for an employee to contribute to a health savings account. Employers do not have to contribute to the HSA and many do not. Most employers that switched to a HDHP didn't pass extra costs on to the employee as the move saved the company some 30-40% in the cost of the health insurance benefit. It makes me wonder why I should listen to someone who doesn't know what they're talking about.

As for employer/employee cost sharing in health insurance premiums, that's been going on for 20 years. Isn't is odd that a group supposedly concerned about employees would give a free pass to employers to completely drop the benefit? What's going on?

Here's the deal. America is being dragged down to the lowest common denominator internationally in order to feul corporate profits and executive incentive compensation. Rather than raise the rest of the world, U.S. leaders want to lower the bar. CEO's rode the outsourcing boom to record profits and individual earnings. There are no easy profit boosts left, save one, dropping health insurance. Businesses, Republicans, Unions and Democrats have decided its time to pluck that low hanging fruit.

Republicans and Democrats currently compete to be the most business friendly. Individual politicians seek to gorge at the campaign money trough and cash heavy corporations lay on the slop. So how do unions fit in? They're seeking relevancy and what better way than to become your group purchaser of health insurance. Yet, most employees will not be able to afford this new responsibility.

With legions of newly uninsureds, America's public health care system will wish it was in hell with its back broke. Private for profit hospitals will weed out the uninsured without resources. Watch for Congress to allow hospitals to not treat patients with large outstanding balances. Rather than debtor prisons, we'll see debtor health care vacuums. Large sections of society will simply go without. Think rural areas before electical co-ops.

What business and elected officials don't understand is the economic engine of local community hospitals. When four of their eight cylinders shut down, many communities will suffer financially. With no income to spend on cheap Chinese made goods, local Walmarts will suffer. Sure the rich will remain rich, but they don't feul much of the real day to day economy. The loss of local employment will feed back on itself in the old Chamber of Commerce multiplier effect. The new dollar extender one won't come close to taking up the slack.

Yet, there will be one more round of profit boosting before the American economy sputters. As health care suffers mightily, will any ventilators remain to inflate Uncle Sam's economic lungs? As long as he has coverage and the ability to pay!

Bush's Katrina Like Track Record on Health Insurance

An Associated Press article painted a bleak picture for families getting and keeping health insurance coverage. Premiums rose 6.1% this year, well above inflation and wage increases. Since 2001 health insurance premiums rose 78% far outpacing wage increases of 19% and 17% overall inflation.

The annual cost of insuring a family of four is now over $12,100. Employers pick up 70% of this cost, however fewer do so each year. In 2000 69% of employers provided health insurance benefits. Now only 60% do so and the talk among business and political leaders indicates fewer employers doing so in the future.

Demographically this sounds like a struggling industry, but financially health insurers are doing very well. The article said "health insurance companies continue to see higher profits." How can that be, if so many customers are getting priced out of the market. Do the forces of supply and demand not work? One would think White House Economic Advisor Al Hubbard and Uncle Bucky would warn the President if that were the case. Both men shared the board table at large health insurer WellPoint ( see Allan B. Hubbard and William H.T. Bush). And don't forget The Carlyle Group's purchase of MultiPlan last year. The huge private equity underwriter (PEU) followed that up with the buyout of a medical cost cutting firm.

Guess what's coming? It's more of what anyone in the workforce experienced the last twenty years, greater cost sharing and benefit cuts. A survey of employers found more than half of the respondents planned to shift costs to employees through higher premiums, deductibles, copays or out-of-pocket maximums.

Businesses do less while the government drags its feet. Meanwhile, you feel it in your pocketbook, even postponing or avoiding care altogether. Does that produce greater cost to the system later? The good news is George W. Bush has a plan. I'll meet you in the Emergency Room.

Monday, September 10, 2007

More Money Changers

The Carlyle Group announced the addition of six heavyweights to its Global Financial Services Group. The six are a mix of Wall Street and ex-federal government leaders. Does that sound familiar? It should as the politically connected investment house runs this play over and over. The pedigree of those joining the Pennsylvania Avenue private equity underwriter (PEU) include:

Former Chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Former Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Bancorp
Former Under Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for Domestic Finance
Former Vice President, Financial Institutions Group, Goldman Sachs
Former Research Analyst, Legg Mason Capital Management
Former Vice President, Financial Institutions Group, Goldman Sachs

A warm welcome and round of back slaps to the six new PEU boys.

P.S. If the testimony went well, they might just keep their tax break on investment profits. The bellweather on that issue could be New York Senator Chuck Schumer.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

State Department "Kicking Ass" on Passports

In typical Bush fashion, the State Department declared "Mission Accomplished" on the passport backlog and celebrated with a round of toasts. A spokesman says it worked through the massive backlog and processing times are "back to normal". The department said it "brought the waiting period for a standard application back to six to eight weeks and three weeks for expedited service."

"We're very pleased that we've been able to get back to the customer service standard that has long been our desire, and pleased that we've been able to do so in accordance with the commitments that we made to the American people and Congress," deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.

Those slower commitments that are now "back to normal" were made by the State Department but three weeks ago. In mid August government officials pushed back the one week standard for expedited applications to three weeks yet left the $60 fast track fee in place. Should anyone be cheering they lowered the standard to "meet the target"?

Welcome to the state of customer service in Bushville, where you don't get what you pay for, and the government brags about it anyway. At least we're not trying to get health care in Iraq where only one third the number of physicians are available to treat patients. However, give the President time to work his magic in that arena.

Experts predict doctor shortages in the U.S. by 2020 and a visiting health care expert recently suggested numerous hospitals would shutter their doors. A friend recently told me the medical personnel at our local Air Force base are not treating soldiers, but escorting terror suspects and enemy combatants around the globe on rendition flights. The world gets odder every day under our "ass kicking" leader.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Denny Not Willing to Pay Taxes to Help Health Care System in Crisis

Ex. Triad CEO Denny Shelton spoke to citizens of San Angelo on "the Future of Healthcare" yesterday evening. He stated 75-85% of community hospitals have a tough long-term future, while a quarter are in serious financial difficulty. The two groups that traditionally provide health coverage aren't stepping forward, but backward.

Employers cannot afford to bear the cost of such an expensive benefit as they try to sell their products worldwide. This is the opposite logic Henry Ford used in paying his Ford workers a high enough wage to afford to purchase a Model T. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce dropped its old "local employment" multiplier effect in favor of the "cheap goods dollar stretcher" multiplier effect.

The number of uninsured has grown to 47 million. While Denny broke this number down a bit, he failed to mention it includes 8.7 million children and 1 million employed but uncovered workers. The government failed miserably in its efforts to reduce the number of uninsured the last 7 years. He even spoke to the financial perils of President Bush's favored strategy to cover more people, high deductible health plans with $5,000 to $10,000 in annual deductibles.

To Mr. Shelton's credit he believes everyone in America should have health insurance coverage and that people with more financial resources should pay more. One solution he favors is means testing Medicare. Denny stated he has the resources to pay for his health insurance as a retiree and is willing to do so.

But he's not ready to raise taxes, despite taking home some serious profits in the sale of his company. Denny grossed over $40 million from his stock holdings according to SEC filings. His savings, due to the Bush capital gain tax cut, range from one to $2 million. Yet, the man with decades of experience isn't ready to pay even the old capital gains rate of 20%. If the Triad CEO won't part with 5% of his big profits to avoid the train wreck, who will? Surely not the private equity boys scrambling to keep their preferred tax status on "carried interest".

Denny said he'd be willing to pay more taxes once "inefficiencies" are driven out of the system. Some inefficiencies mentioned include malpractice costs, the costs of poor quality, medical mistakes, patient falls, and drug errors. While he called health care "a capital intensive" industry, he didn't mention the cost of capital.

Triad's sale increased Community Health Systems' interest expenses by $600 million a year. Add the sale of HCA to the mix and increased interest expense soars to $2 billion. Are those system inefficiencies? No new doctor was added. No new high tech diagnostic or treatment device got ordered. Company ownership changed hands at an annual cost of $2 billion.

That $2 billion turns into one of two things, medical price increases or operational expense cuts. Do you want to pay more so private equity companies like KKR can profit off hospital care? Do you want staff cuts or deferred equipment purchases so new corporate owners can meet profit margin targets?

Denny also left out pressures embedded in President Bush's "private health care", some which he recently faced. Triad's largest stockholder mounted a campaign challenging Shelton's corporate strategy and aggressive capital spending. Hedge funds bought into the company’s stock in anticipation of quick returns. They went from 3% of Triad shareholders to double digits in just a few months. Is this what Denny wants to spread to other health care executives? How will CEO's address system inefficiencies and quality when their focus is diverted by market machinations?

Leaving what Denny omitted, let's return to what he covered in the Q & A. Mr. Shelton cited the stacked deck insurance companies currently have. Recall those 8.7 million uninsured children? The Bush administration just issued two bureacratic blocks to states wanting to cover more kids and his rationale cited the need to maintain "private insurance" coverage. Hello, Mr. President? 47 million people have no coverage at all!

Opponents of change cite the looming disaster of "government sponsored health care" and its rationing and long waits. Denny thinks the private system will go the same way. He believes troubled hospitals will close and there will be waits for hospital beds. He worries about America's best students not pursuing medicine as a career, about doctors getting frustrated and retiring. Experts predict a major doctor shortage by 2020. That translates to waits for doctors and hospital beds.

Suddenly the private system doesn't look much different than the public one we're told to fear, it just takes care of fewer people in a less organized way. Episodic care will be sought as household resources allow. Will doctors start taking chickens again as payment? If you see a farm next to your local non-profit community hospital, you'll know the Bush plan is in full force.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Bush Welcomes Sparse Crowd to OPEC

"I'd like to welcome everyone to OPEC. My friend here has plenty of lead, but where is he hiding the oil? Maybe inside those Mattel toys, or is it under this table along with loose U.S. nuclear warheads? As for global warming, we're kicking ass! And we can only go as far in Iraq as is economically feasible. Did I get those two mixed up? Did you hear about my row with Roh, the S. Korean leader? Yes, I can fight over a war ended fifty years ago. Anyone heard of a cluster _uck? Cut! Ban this speech for being too cute and funny. And bring me another non-alcoholic beer!"

Carlyle Hits $75 Billion Mark

According to a company news release, The Carlyle Group eclipsed the $75 billion mark, reaching $75.6 billion in investments. The politically connected firm continues its rapid growth under the Bush administration as it lobbies to keep existing tax breaks. When President Bush was sworn into office, the private equity underwriter (PEU) managed some $13 billion. They raised $32.5 billion between 2001 and 2006, but they've done quite well since, raising another $30 billion.

Imagine if the current administration kept the capital gains tax at 20% on all those Carlyle profits. Would we still have 8.7 children without health insurance? Would 75-80% of community hospitals be struggling? Would 47 million people go without health insurance? After hearing both my Congressman and a retired for-profit health care executive the last few weeks, I'm certain things will get worse before they get better. Both employers and the government are shifting costs to the individual.

A noted health care economist and advisor to the Bush administration said in 2003:

“In principle the idea (of universal health coverage) is eminently workable, but it did not become reality and probably never will, for a simple reason: it would require the well-to-do in this country to pay additional taxes on behalf of the poor and near poor.”

Eminently workable in other industrialized countries, but not in the Selfish States of America, miserably led by George W. and preserved by entities like The Carlyle Group. Funny how they want to make money off health care companies, like CareFx, but not pay taxes to cover care...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Federal Review of Carlyle's Buyout of Manor Care

Months ago the Carlyle Group announced its purchase of Manor Care, a large nursing home operator. The company set an Ocotber 17th date for shareholders to vote on the buyout. In the proxy statements Manor Care indicates both the Antitrust division of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission will review the merger. Having already complained to the Justice Department and heard nothing, I weighed in with the FTC. My complaint stated:

(Product Name: Patient Safety) Another division of The Carlyle Group, LifeCare Hospitals had the highest patient death toll post Hurricane Katrina. In their defense, they state as soon as the federal government set up evacuation teams in New Orleans, LifeCare patients became wards of the federal government. A firm such as this failed their patients in a time of disaster, failed to take responsibility for their actions and now wants to take over an operator of more than 500 long term care sites. I complained to the Antitrust Div. of the DOJ and noted in Manor Care's proxy the FTC also has jurisdiction. This matter should be reviewed on future patient safety concerns alone.

While Carlyle can claim any legal defense they want in wrongful death civil suits, it should come back to haunt them if they push their responsibility off on others, in this case the federal government. I'll let you know what I hear, but if its like my inquiries regarding the omission of LifeCare patient deaths from the White House Lessons Learned report, there will only be silence. The Carlyle Group has a way of buying that...

President Bush Consoles RLJ

"Don't worry Bob, Republicans love giving tax breaks to billionaires. And Democrats, well they love black people. That why the PEU Council's lobbying strategy will work. Quit being so nervous, your joint ventures with The Carlyle Group and Goldman Sachs are safe on my watch. Can you smile and look like a small business owner for the camera? It's the American way. Say one thing and deliver another..."

PEU's Trot Out Advantaged Minorities to Keep Tax Breaks

Private equity underwriters (PEU's) trotted out advantaged minorities to keep their significant personal income tax breaks. In an appeal to Congress, the private-equity industry argued the effort to drop their preferred treatment would harm investment firms owned by women and minorities, and discourage economic activity in neglected areas.

The Wall Street Journal reported minority and women business leaders plan to announce a new group, the Access to Capital Coalition, to oppose a move in Congress to raise taxes on carried interest, a cut of profits that hedge-fund and private-equity managers receive. Leading the fight is former basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson, now chairman and chief executive of Johnson Development Corp., which invests in bringing businesses into urban areas.

What's at stake is the tax rate on hedge fund and private equity profits passed onto managers. Current law allows the already highly paid fund managers to pay only 15% in taxes on "carried interest", while normal income tax rates are 35%. The Private Equity Council understands Democratic leaders desire to help minorities and is working hard to paint the issue in that light.

Not long ago, President Bush visited a small business owner and community banker at an Urban Trust Bank located not far from the White House. It was none other than billionaire Bob Johnson of the above mentioned Johnson Development Corp., ex BET owner, current owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats and WNBA's Charlotte Sting, and joint venture partner with the Carlyle Group.

Meanwhile that minority bank did a deal with Goldman Sachs on college loans and may already have its minority designation from the U.S. Treasury, which brings certain benefits. Treasury Chief Hank Paulson is the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs and might grease the skids for Urban Trust's minority designation.

A few months ago the Treasury did a piece on the state of black owned banks with Mr. Johnson's getting prominent attention. It states "the bank is federally chartered and owned by RLJ, a development company headed by the BET founder" while elsewhere in the piece it referred to Bob Johnson as a "billionaire entrepreneur." That same RLJ Companies signed the deal with the Carlyle Group in 2005.

The issue here is the tax rate on profits distributed to already highly paid fund managers. The smoke and mirrors being tossed out by the private equity industry is laughable. Bringing in billionaires to pass them off as regular struggling business folks is George W. Bush worthy. The question is whether Dirty Max Baucus and Charlie Rangel will buy the bull excrement carted around by the PEU boys. Max has a history of taking PEU money. Will the odd cast of characters ensure PEU managers get to keep more than the average citizen for their ten minutes work? Or will someone stand up and cut their preferred taxes?

Carlyle Goes After Australian Traffic Management Firm

The Carlyle Group wants Coates Hire Ltd. to join their private equity family. Coates Hire bills itself as Australia's largest equipment hire company with over 120 years experience in industry, supplying to a wide variety of markets including Engineering and Building Construction & Maintenance, Mining & Resources, Manufacturing, Government, and Events. With over 200 branches and satellite locations, our own maintenance and transport capability, Coates is well positioned to satisfy the equipment hire needs of an ever increasing customer base.

Carlyle has the connections to grow that customer base worldwide, but especially through picking up federal and state government business. A look at Coates subsidiaries shows one competency Carlyle's infrastructure group might like to have, traffic management.

Texas is currently ground zero for the privatization of roads. TxDOT wants Congress to pass a bill allowing the state to buy sections of interstate highways for "privitization". Infrastructure companies would recoup their investment by charing tolls. An Australian private equity firm, Macquarie was first into this profitable niche with four U.S. projects, including the Indiana Toll Road. But Carlyle won't be far behind, especially given their political connections.

Mary Peters and her senior staff at the U.S. Department of Transportation clearly favor privitization. However, if Carlyle really wants Coates Hire in their PEU family, they'll need to increase the bid. If an Australian PEU can own American roads, an American PEU can own an Australian road builder. And the world of high dollar intrigue goes on...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Buck Still Circles

President Harry Truman would laugh at the hi jinks of President George W. Bush and his flunkies. First, Tony Snow and Alberto Gonzales jam to Jimi Hendrix on a tattered sofa in the smoke filled White House basement. How else would they get "fuzzy" or "hazy" memories? Incidentally, it looked like Alberto badly needed another hit while testifying before Congress.

Now, President Bush emphatically states they planned to keep Saddam's army and intelligence services in operation, but something "happened". The man in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority insists George approved the dismantling. How did the President respond to someone who failed to execute this critical plan? He pinned a medal on his chest after saying:

Beyond the fashion statement, Jerry will be remembered for his superb work in laying the foundations of a new democracy in the Middle East.

Welcome to the Bush administration where trying to land responsibility is like a dog chasing its tail, except when it stops to lick its balls. Then the authority figures come out to squash it. Otherwise, it's hard to find where the buck stops, unless politicians empty their pockets...

The Will to Address Uninsured in America

Dr. Dan Stultz, President of the Texas Hospital Association recently told hospital administrators in West Texas their number one through four concern is the number of uninsured Americans. The problem isn't new to his audience as Texas passed New Mexico years ago for the top spot, with over 25% of people without health care coverage.

On President Bush's shift the number grew to 47 million uninsureds per data recently released by the Census Bureau. The uninsured rose by 2.1 million from the prior year with 700,000 of that children and 1 million from businesses dropping health insurance benefits.

The latest data on uncompensated hospital care shows bad debt and charity care reached $28.8 billion in 2005. That same year Exxon's bottom line was $36.1 billion. One U.S. company had the wherewithal to pay off every hospital bill in America and still have over $7 billion left.

Recently two large private hospital companies were bought out. KKR purchased HCA while Community Health Systems acquired Triad Hospitals. The increased interest alone on these combined deals is $2 billion. That amount would put a dent in hospitals' bad debt and charity care. Instead, that $2 billion is a cost increase to be passed on to those paying the freight.

Resources are not the problem, it's political will. This is shown by President Bush's recent actions blocking state efforts to expand children's health insurance. Census figures show 8.7 million uninsured kids in the U.S. This is higher than the number of uncovered children in 1994, the start of the Republican revolution and before the passage and implementation of CHIP.

The San Angelo Standard Times ran a story on the Defense Department's desires to cut benefits for Veterans living in rural areas. Congressman Mike Conaway got an earful from veterans at his recent open house for numerous problems with VA care. He must not have passed the messages on to his old friend President Bush.

The problem grows with each Bush action to constrain and cut. With employers retrenching and the government cutting, guess who's left holding the bag? That would be you, my friend. It's time to mobilize some political will. Otherwise, we'll all have to "go to the ER" as recommended by President Bush.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Texas Setting Up PEU's Infrastructure Boys

Texas Department of Transportation wants the U.S. Congress to allow the state to buy back interstate highways so they can be turned into private toll roads. Nevermind who paid for the roads originally, taxpayers. As citizens they can pay for that same road again and again. Who benefits? The private firms who get to buy government assets as a deep discount and the politicians they wine, dine and line their campaign coffers with cash.

For an example of generous tax breaks, look no further than America's other infrastructure area, shipping. The new tonnage tax gave U.S. flagged ships a turbo charged profit boost, courtesy of the individual taxpayer. Why should the public expect roads to be any different? Especially with the infamous Carlyle Group intent on expanding its infrastructure holdings. They doubled their money on Horizon Lines in just over a year's time.

How far behind can roads be? Look for generous tax breaks for the PEU boys. One Carlyle sub, Vought Aircraft Industries already milked the state of Texas several times. Through its Carlyle Riverstone energy venture, the firm owns power generating plants in Texas, previously owned by AEP. My guess is they've fed off the state coffers, I just have to dig around for dirt.

Romney Hoses Down Ball Licking Dog

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney left his campaign tour bus to deal with a problematic situation. A staffer told him someone was on the picnic table licking their balls. Mitt exploded from the bus to see if it was his rear end exploding, Irish Setter Seamus or the Senator from Idaho, also known as "Shame Us". It is unclear if the Senator enjoys exploding in rear ends (especially given his arrest for soliciting gay sex, which contrasts with his emphatic statements that he's "not gay.") Either way, Mr. Romney stood ready to hose down the offending party. Stay tuned for more updates on the PEU sponsored Romney campaign, including his JumpCut video contest. (PEU stands for private equity underwriters)

Bush Labors Yet Again on Labor Day

For the third year in a row, President Bush struggled on Labor Day. In 2005 the reeling Chief Executive issued a proclamation honoring the memory of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The public wondered how many died as a result of his botched federal emergency response. Recall he flew back from Crawford to "manage the disaster."

The next year, the political waters were less turbulent and Bush focused on the economy and the American worker. His speech did the usual, exhorted for less taxes, challenged other countries to open up their markets, and rallied support for our soldiers. However, one comment seemed absurd. The President said "And my message to the world is this: Just treat us the way we treat you. That's all we expect. We just want the rules to be fair -- because I believe this country can compete with anybody, any time, anywhere, so long as the rules are fair."

Right afterwards he stated "it's important for Presidents to embrace the Jones Act" which restricts shipping between certain U.S. ports to American flagged vessels. Treat us the way we treat you? In shipping, America completely shuts out foreign competition on selected routes. This seems odd in light of other recent Presidential actions. Why allow Mexican trucks on U.S. highways and approve Dubai Aerospace's purchase of American airport operations while shutting our foreign shipping?

Those Jones Act carriers got another break with the switch from business income taxing to tonnage taxing, which turns the industry in a huge tax break courtesy of Uncle Sam. Profits are soaring on the backs of U.S. taxpayers.

However, the thing most noteworthy about Bush's 2006 speech is his omission. Given the trend of employers bailing on worker's health insurance benefits, the President skipped over this challenge for the American worker. It warranted not one comment in last year's talk. And just days before the 2007 Labor Day, the U.S. Census Bureau released disturbing data on the state of the insured in our country.

Employers continued jettisoning their health insurance benefit. Of the 2.1 million increase in the number of uninsured, one million came from the employer segment. With the number reaching 47 million across America, President Bush had this to say. "The Census data also shows that challenges remain in reducing the number of uninsured Americans. Containing costs and making health insurance more affordable is the best way to reverse this long-term trend." When the numbers are bad, George is remarkably subdued.

The President oversaw the increase of 7 million people without health insurance on his shift and he says challenges remain? (The number would be 9 million without some timely reformulations the last two years.) George W. Bush has been AWOL on this issue his entire presidency. Lately he's become obstructive.

Consider children's health insurance. In the face of states expanding coverage for low to middle income citizens, the Bush administration issued a spate of bureaucratic rules intended to block covering more kids. The Census Bureau indicates 700,000 more children with coverage in their latest figures. this brings the total to 8.7 kids, more than the number of uninsured children in America in 1994 when the Republican revolution began. Yes, even with CHIP more kids are without health insurance than thirteen years ago.

None of this will be mentioned this Labor Day as the President visits the Dick Cheney predicted quagmire in Iraq. Cheney donned his crystal ball in 1994, prior to his service as CEO of Halliburton. George W. made a surprise landing in al Anbar province where local Sunni tribes collaborated with coalition forces to drive al Qaeda from Iraq. I wonder how that went, especially given local tribal leaders stated months ago they "would fight al Qaeda so the Americans would leave their country." Having the President use their province as a stage to promote his surge, might not go over well.

Also, a recent military report that said local militia's could change their allegiance at any time. Let's hope George W.'s confab and photo op isn't the trigger for such a shift. Might Iraqi's still be mad given Colin Powell's Pottery Barn analogy, "you break it, you own it"? At least the trip to al Anbar prevented Bush from having to answer to millions of Baghdad residents why they don't have water and electricity. His not leaving the base should keep the President from being wounded by anything other than "a cedar."

As for the Petraeus report, the news already suggest it will be written by the White House. Today's meeting in al Anbar is the last big confab of Bush's military advisers. I love it when the President says he'll act on the information from his generals, while behind the scenes, the White House writes the position they should proffer. Colin Powell didn't create the pictures with arrows showing Saddam's mobile WMD factories.

First Powell acted as the administration's mouthpiece, now Petraeus. Who will get fooled again? This Labor Day we already know it's the American worker, the question is who else?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Selfish States of America?

Have we become the Selfish States of America? The question popped into my mind after reading news reports about rampant contractor abuse in Iraq, union leaders suggesting employer based health insurance is a relic of the past, millions of Southern Baptists turning their back on public schools and obscenely paid investment fund leaders decrying the prospect of surrendering their preferred tax breaks.

In Iraq the $400 hammer is back, courtesy of layers and layers of contractors, each with their own profit incentive. The only problem is it comes with a $1,200 security bill to use properly. That is roughly the ratio spent on security in "rebuilding" Iraq. Selfish!

Bob Herbert's column in the NY Times quoted a union leader. “We can’t be the only country on earth that asks our employers to put the price of health care on its products when a lot of our competitors don’t.” Those same employers covered 1 million fewer workers this past year as the number of uninsured rose over 2.1 million to 47 million Americans. The number of uninsured children rose by 700,000 to 8.7 million. The day these statistics were released, President Bush raised the specter of nuclear holocaust in the Middle East. He failed to mention the very real human toll caused by legions of citizens without health insurance coverage. That fallout didn't cross his lips.

Months back Democratic and Labor leaders offered a proposal jettisoning employer based health insurance. As usual our leaders reach to the lowest common denominator. Do we not compete with British, German, and other European firms whose governments provide universal health care? And don't forget about Japan which ensures everyone has coverage. They don't seem ready to dump it. Of course we compete with these countries, but instead our Washington bobbleheads raise China and India.

Unions want to become the group purchaser for health care, with you paying. Corporate America is looking for the next big profit boost and dumping that pesky insurance benefit would do the trick. Disturbing and disgusting. When more people should be paying into the system at levels they can afford, the deep pockets look to bail. Selfish!

Many Southern Baptists apply "who is not for me, is against me" to educating today's youth. They are offended by secularism which teaches evolution over creationism, world faiths over Christianity, sex education over abstinence, and moral relativism over Christian claims of truth. (I thought kids went to school to learn math, English, and science.) As a result, many of the 16 million Baptists are avoiding public school altogether. It seems the above concerns could be addressed in an out of school Christian education environment, Wednesday evening or Sunday school. What happened to "he who is not against me, is for me"?

As for business leaders, I was appalled by the widespread cheating by corporate executives on their incentive stock option programs. But that outrage multiplied when I found the most handsomely paid leaders in our country want to keep their cushy tax breaks. Top investment fund managers make $657 million a year. They pull down in ten minutes what the average worker makes in a whole year. When challenged over the preferred tax rates given to both private equity firms and their investment managers, they cry out "raising taxes will hurt the economy". They threaten to take their firms overseas and our elected leaders cave. Selfish!

Both Democratic and Republican leaders court American corporate interests. Their duplicitous behavior is difficult to see, frequently requiring much digging. But it's there, if you look!