Friday, November 25, 2011

“The devil made me do it. Oh, wait a second, actually it was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

The folks who have been sinking America can be lovely companions – good conversationalists, charming dinner company, amusing raconteurs – the kind of affable folks you’d want as pals. Just so long as you steer clear of politics and what they do for a living.

I was an invitee sitting across a dinner table from one of those delightful people this Thanksgiving. He was an investment bank institutional securities salesman. The two of us were doing absolutely fine, on the verge of becoming BFF’s, until he asked me how I make my living.

I went through my litany of stuff-I-do-for-money and then I made the mistake of mentioning a non-income-producing sideline of mine, this blog.

“Blogger?” he asked, sounding just a bit suspicious, as if I had told him I’m an assistant university football coach who also leads a cub scout troop and that I occasionally indulge in a bit of playful shower-room towel snapping with the little boys.

“One of those left-wing bloggers?” he asked. As if right-wing bloggers, political neuters and recipe publishers were somehow absent from the blogosphere, if not the entire Internet.

I told him, as I tell everyone, that I’m a 1950’s middle-of-the-road Democrat who has been standing politically pat for over half a century. Meanwhile, the rest of America forgot its roots and its own needs and has begun a long, mad hike to the right. So that today, for example, some people are willing to bargain away – or let the Obama Administration bargain away – a good part of their own old-age Social Security and Medicare benefits in exchange for a minor upward adjustment in taxes for the wealthiest Americans. And that increase would be a small fraction of the rates the rich paid half a century ago.

Before you could say “financial crisis,” we were knee-deep into a mortgage meltdown fracas. “It’s all the fault of the U.S. Government,” he insisted. “Fannie Mae was selling mortgages to people who weren’t qualified.”

I’ll spare you ninety percent of the impassioned back-and-forth wonkery that followed. Suffice it to say that the guy across the table absolved every financial entity on the planet for the mortgage crisis – Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac excepted. He put the blame squarely on Congress and its insidiously destructive secret agents, Fanny and Freddy, for encouraging as many Americans as possible to be homeowners, in part so they’d have a direct stake in the financial stability of America.

I in turn pointed out that it was the mortgage originators who were encouraging liars loans ­– and putting pressure on borrowers to go for adjustable rate mortgages rather than long term fixed rates – and that this was neither the law nor the intent of Congress. And that it was Lehman, and Goldman-Sachs, and Citi Corp, and Bear Sterns, and Merrill Lynch, and on and on who were peddling bad mortgage securities. Not to mention the role of AIG, the firm that insured the junk without the reserves to pay the insurance claims if they ever came due.

The securities guy, in turn, assured me that Ace Greenberg, the former CEO of AIG, and Sandy Weill, the former CEO of Citicorp had enough “skin in the game” (money invested in their own institutions) that they would have never let this happen had they been in charge.

(Bullpoop! The banks were packaging and trading mortgage crapola, and AIG was insuring it, while Ace and Sandy were still wallowing in the cash from their annual incentive bonuses, set by the boards of directors they helped to appoint. Oh, not to mention Jimmy Cayne, the CEO at Bear Sterns whose “skin in the game” didn’t stop him from allowing his now-defunct company to become a major player in the mortgage derivatives market.)

As for not doing due diligence on mortgage applications, or robo-signing foreclosure orders, or packaging baroque tranches of mortgages into securities that were virtually impossible to evaluate, well, my almost-BFF insisted, that was because there were too many mortgages to process, y’see. And besides, those people who got foreclosed on shouldn’t have had mortgages in the first place.

What it all came down to was, it was everybody’s fault except the financial industry’s for in effect “forcing” the industry peddle that worthless stuff.

Betcha didn’t know that before!

And to think I naively thought the devil made them do it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The U.S. constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. (Except in front of the Bloomberg mansion.)

Less than a week ago, I posted on No More Mr. Niceblog a suggestion that the Occupy Wall Street Movement occupy East 79th Street, in front of multi-billionaire Mayor Bloomberg's personal, private mansion.

Well whaddya know! That’s just what they did earlier today (Sunday, November 20th). Or at least they tried.

But when hundreds of Occupy Wall Street marchers arrived at East 79th Street, they found that the entire block between Fifth and Madison, the block where the Emperor Bloomberg lives, had been blocked off by cops who work for, umm, lemme see now. Oh yes, that's right – they work for Michael Bloomberg.

His majesty The Emperor-Mayor evidently didn’t want to look out of his window and see any damn protestors. So instead of occupying East 79th Street, cops shunted the protesters around the corner to Fifth Avenue between 79th and 80th Streets at the edge of Central Park. His Royal Bloombergness couldn’t see them from there, although Elliott Spitzer, who lives just across that stretch of Fifth Avenue from the park, probably could.

That high-handed treatment of the marchers, plus the civil rights brouhaha that is brewing thanks to the efforts of a State Senator, a civil rights lawyer, and others who are furious at the way occupiers were evicted from Zucotti Park last week, should have made prime time news. But the mayor wasn’t worried. He had a little diversion up his sleeve.

Evidently, the cops for weeks had been investigating and following a “home grown terrorist” who is also "an Al Quada sympathizer." Well, he’s either that or a homicidal lunatic who needs to be locked up, if police and his His Bloombergship’s reports are true. No disputing that. It's the rest of it that has a bit of a problem passing the smell test.

The person in question, a a 27-year-old (Hispanic, not Arab or Persian or Pashtun or Pakistani) named Jose Pimentel, had been reading Al Quada websites and was building bombs, said the Emperor and his police commissioner. To prove the point, the cops showed off a model that they themselves had made of one of the bombs. Heaven only knows why they weren't showing off the actual weapon. But let's give the cops and the emperor a little leeway here.

It's possible Pimentel, if accurately accused, might have killed somebody. But an Al Quada agent he evidently wasn’t, at least not according to any evidence so far disclosed. Which may explain why the FBI and other Federal authorities were having nothing whatsoever to do with this. Their absence from the press conference had me scratching my head.

But what’s even more curious is that Pimentel was under surveillance for months, but only arrested yesterday when Occupy Wall Street’s plans to occupy East 79th Street were announced. And then His Royal Slipperyship and his police commissioner held their press conference at 7:30 p.m. – that's prime prime time folks – just when the local news otherwise would have been focusing on the cops rousting the demonstrators from in front of Il Bloombergche's own house and sending them over to bother the Spitzers instead.

Why do I think that if the cops who raided Zucotti Park get really, really out of hand one of these days ­– say by committing wholesale clubbing of demonstrators and maybe even shooting a few – the Mayor’s going to hold a press conference to announce he plans to compete on America’s Got Talent?

That, or he’ll declare his engagement to Kim Kardashian.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy East 79th Street? Read all about it on No More Mister Nice Blog.

As a favor to somebody I truly admire, I've put my latest post up on No More Mr. Nice Blog.

Click here now, then hurry over and read the piece.

Friday, November 11, 2011

“We are Penn State?” Actually, you are a bunch of unfeeling, heartless, self-centered, violent, and pro-violence imbeciles.

Memo to those Penn State students who are angry at the dismissal of Joe Paterno: you are living evidence that no Penn State student or recent graduate deserves an iota of respect, much less a job upon graduation.

It’s no secret what happened. Over a period of some fifteen years, several little boys were raped by a member of the coaching staff. Another member of the coaching staff reported it up the line in the athletic department, but failed either to call police or to intervene while the rapes were happening to stop them.

And the beloved head football coach, “Joe Pa” Joe Paterno turned out to be Joe Enabler, also failing to put a stop to the matter. He won a lot of games for you? Good for him. But he didn’t report the physically injurious and deeply psychologically damaging anal rape of little boys, thus allowing the rapes to continue?

He belongs in prison with the guy who reportedly did it. Prison is where he he might experience a little of what he previously ignored and learn why stopping child rape is so important.

As for the Penn State students who rioted in the streets, turned over news trucks, started fires – and for their fellow students who think what they did is proper – don’t be surprised to learn that you have dragged your university and its reputation through the mud. I haven't seen or heard about a single mass demonstration on behalf of the raped little boys. Your priorities and your morals – to say nothing of your sympathies – belong in a cesspool.

Nor should you be surprised if any recent or near-future graduate of Penn State turns out to be suspicious or damaged goods to prospective employers. That even when the recession ends, there will be minimal interest in giving many of you – or perhaps any of you – a job.

Thanks to you, Penn State has become Scum State.

Post Script: About six hours after this post went online, I saw a television news report saying some Penn State students are planning a march, in part to express sympathy with the raped boys. Well hallelujah! It's about time.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

What the guilty verdict in the Dr. Conard Murray case tells us about Medicare

I feel sorry for Dr. Conrad Murray. With crowds of Michael Jackson fans cheering like the crowd at Place de la Concorde whenever a head rolled during the French Revolution, Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson, according to the Orlando Sentinal, which was reporting on the TV reporting.

(It’s a sad state of affairs when newspaper staffs have been decimated so badly to cut costs, that in a breaking story of national interest, the reporter covering the story can only tell you what he saw on TV. But that’s for discussion some other time.)

No, I don’t think Dr. Murray deserved to walk. Nor should he keep his medical license if he used it to support the demands of a performer who was, essentially, a prescription drug addict. All the same, I think Murray was a victim of the job (which he chose for himself), rather than any kind of malevolent medic.

One of the facts that emerged from the network coverage was that Michael Jackson paid Dr. Murray $150,000 a month. If you haven’t done the math, that comes to $1.8 million a year. That’s quite a premium given that the median income for cardiologists in the United States is about $219,000-and-change, and even the most successful cardiologists max out somewhere around $450,000 a year. Or at least so says Healthcare Salary Online, which gets its numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By comparison, Dr. Murray was getting paid like an investment bank bond trader on a rocket-powered trip to the financial stratosphere.

Which brings us around to Medicare

Thanks to our skinflint, anti-entitlements Congress, Medicare reimbursements for doctors are pathetically low. The Republicans in Congress have every intention of pushing them lower still, in an effort to destroy Medicare.

Consider the cost of training a doctor: A doctor has to do well at a good four year college, which can leave him or her in debt for $200,000 or more in college loans – and then go on to medical school for four years. Figure medical school at twice the cost of college.

After that, there’s a year of internship, a year or more of residency, specialty training, endless continuing physician education, the cost of setting up an office with all the high tech equipment it takes to practice cardiology these days … well, you get the idea. It takes many doctors years to get to the point where their loans are paid off and they can begin to have a life.

Forcing doctors out of Medicare

The truth is, this nation should be paying doctors the way we pay bankers, and bankers the way we pay shoe salesmen. By putting the financial squeeze on doctors in the name of cost-saving, Congress is forcing more and more doctors out of the Medicare system. These days, the first time senior citizens call a doctor for an appointment, they usually have to ask if the doctor even accepts Medicare. More and more don't. You can thank the Republicans for that.

Between the ever increasing cost of a lengthy medical education, and the steadily eroding reimbursements both from Medicare and private insurance companies, it’s little wonder that some doctors start refusing to take Medicare. Or insurance.

Enter "concierge medicine," the medical care hogs

Instead, some doctors join organizations offering concierge medicine, which are based in well-heeled towns like Greenwich, Connecticut, and charge a flat $5,000 to $10,000 a year (depending on the applicant’s current age and heath.) Concierge medicine offers basic medical services, appointments on short notice, and even house calls in some cases.

A successful doctor practicing concierge medicine will take care of many fewer patients and earn up to 60 percent more than colleagues who take Medicare and other insurance reimbursements.

So instead of earning $219,000 a year, or maxing out around $450,000 a year if you're a top doc, a run-of-the-mill cardiologist can earn $464,000 – considerably more than his or her highly paid counterpart. Which would you do if you were a doctor?

Exactly. And that’s why there are fewer and fewer really superb doctors accepting Medicare. This is putting medical stress on 99 percent of the population while the top one percent calls a concierge doc for a case of the sniffles and demands that the doctor come right over “because I feel too achy to come into the office.”

But even more piggy of medical services than concierge customers, a few of the super-super-rich, Michael Jackson for example, become the sole employer of a doctor. The doctors travel with their patients and the patientss families, administering to their aches, pains, immunizations – and occasionally, as in Dr. Murray’s case, feeding their addictions. And here, too, one can sympathize with the doctors.

When doctors become slaves of their only patient

If you’ve given up a normal practice for a chance to make big bucks for a single patient, that patient owns you. Refuse some nutty or drug-addled demands, say for Profocol, and you could be out on your butt, your income down from nearly two million bucks a year to zero, with little prospect of similar future employment. So the tendency is to give the patient whatever the patient wants, even if it’s dangerous or against the law.

The Murray case should serve as a warning about single-patient medicine not only to other physicians, but also to the rest of us. Society needs to pay doctors enough to reward the cost, hard work and time it took them to become doctors and specialists. If Medicare doesn’t do this, pretty soon there won’t be any Medicare.

But doesn’t Medicare have to cut costs?

No, not the cost of paying doctors (or for that matter, hospitals.) If need be, uncap current Medicare payroll deductions to help pay the freight. And if we have Medicare for all, the cost per-patient will go down, simply because younger Medicare recipients will need less medical and hospital attention than the 65-plus crowd.

That’s why the “public option” that President Obama walked away from was so important, and why his abandoning it was so unforgivable.

As for the Republicans who would destroy our healthcare system and leave in its place healthcare for the rich only, they are beneath contempt.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Who ratted out Herman Cain? The thick plottens.

Aw c’mon. You’ve seen it on TV. You’ve heard about it on radio. You read it in the New York Times. And on 100 zillion blogs. Do you really need more than one link ­– if that – to know what’s with Herman Cain?

He’s charming. He has this crazy plan to “flatten” taxes by making everybody pay a nine percent tax on everything from their income to their babies' infant formula and their blood pressure pills, and he’s pulled ahead of the Mad Doctor, the Dumb Texan who likes to execute people, and Clueless-About -History Michelle, and is now running neck and neck with Mitt (what kind of a name is Mitt? Have you ever met another Mitt?) …anyway, with Mitt Romney.

Then from out of the blue come revelations that way way, back, sometime in the 1980s when Herman was running a restaurant association, he was accused of sexual harassment of not one, not two, but at latest count three women. And, in the course of crafting a response to these revelations, Herman has forgotten that the truth is the only reliable guide to keeping your story straight.

He didn’t remember it, he first declared. Then he sort of remembered it. Then he misremembered it. There was no settlement paid. Well there was something paid, but it wasn’t a settlement, it was an agreement or something. But he didn’t touch her. Well he may have made some gesture relating to showing one of the women the height of his wife. Well…

Yikes! I’m not going to go through all of it. I have a bigger question.

This has all the makings of

a trite detective novel

I keep hearing that some Republicans are saying the Democrats leaked the story, but that makes no sense at all. At least not yet. It is to Barack Obama’s advantage to have all the sharks in the Republican presidential pool going after one another as long as possible, spilling each others’ political blood, wrecking one-another’s images, smearing each other so that the Democrats won’t have to and can take the high road instead, come the presidential elections.

We ought to have a movie with a scene in which a great detective hauls into the library Herman the Hermanator, and Slippery Mitt, and Texas Rick the Executor, and the Newt Man, and Michelle the Misinformed, and Mad Doctor Ron, and Santorum from the Sanitarium, and whoever else the Republicans can haul in from their comic book cast of characters.

“One of you tried to kill the Hermanator,” says the great detective, “and none of you is leaving until we have the guilty party. Now let us begin.

“Mitt Romney, you have the most to gain. You were in the lead, and now the Hermanator is neck-and-neck with you, and if opposition research knocks the Hermanator off his pedestal, you stand the most to gain.

“Rick Perry, you were number one in the straw polls against Mitt until you proved in debate you’re so dumb that if they made you dog catcher, you’d fill the pound with hot dogs. Besides, CNBC on the evening of December 2nd, was rife with rumors that the agents who leaked the news about Herman's harassments was you. So maybe you’re leaking on Herman to get him out of your way so you can be one of the ones in the lead again. You’re ignoring warnings that even if you pull ahead, your Republican opponents are going to start a whispering campaign. You know, if they said it in Texan it would be, “That good ole boy is dumber than a box of rocks.”

“Michelle, don’t you worry. I’ll explain to you later what a rock is. And also what a gay person is, since you obviously wouldn’t know one if you stumbled over him at a wedding.”

Well, you can see where all this goes. Finally it comes around to Herman.

Did Herman rat out himself?

“Herman, you’re a suspect, too. You’re in over your head. Somebody may have sat down with you and showed you that the vast majority of people who will vote in the presidential elections is saying “Nein, Nein, Nein!” to your nine-nine-nine plan. The best way for you to get out of the mess you'd be in if for some reason you became president is to say you’re not playing any more with people who dredge up thirty year old scandals to smear you with, so you’re taking your bat and ball and you’re going home.”

So who did do it?

A little birdie told me it’s those stiletto-smooth guys in the Romney camp. But what do I know?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Have some madeira m'dear

Here, sit next to me on the bed and have a glass of this. I wouldn't think of trying to get you drunk, sweetheart. I'm merely trying to help your heart.

So at last we know what Herman Cain is really, really running for.

He wants to be the next American Idol.