Friday, March 13, 2009

It's Always The Quiet Ones

The Nation's Chris Hayes says forget about Rush: the real ideological heart and soul of the modern, post-Dubya GOP is Rick Scott. Who's he? He's the Republicans' point man behind the multi-million dollar lobbying effort to kill Obamacare, and it's no surprise he's a Texas businessman with a huge record of scandal and fraud who sees healthcare as a cutthtroat business that has nothing to do with helping people get better, just getting their money for his massive hospital chain, Columbia/HCA.
"Other hospitals were intimidated," recalls John Schilling, who worked for Columbia/HCA in the 1990s. Scott was "like the bully that would come into town and if you didn't sell to him or partner with him, he would open up shop across the street from you and put you out of business."

Not long after joining the company in 1993 as the supervisor of reimbursement for the Fort Myers, Florida, office, Schilling noticed things weren't quite kosher. "They were looking for ways to maximize reimbursement...which ultimately would improve the bottom line."

One way they did this was to fudge the costs on their Medicare expense reports. They were "basically keeping two sets of books," says Schilling. The company would maintain an internal expense report, what it called a "reserve" report, which accurately tallied its expenses. "And then they would have a second report, which...they would file with the government, which was more aggressive." That report would "include inflated costs and expenses they knew weren't allowable or reimbursable. The one they filed with government might claim $5 million and the reserve would claim $4.5." Columbia/HCA would pocket the difference.

It wasn't just happening in Florida, and it wasn't just fraudulent Medicare expense reports. Around the country, dozens of whistle-blowers like Schilling stepped forward to file lawsuits under the False Claims Act, charging the company with sundry forms of chicanery: kickbacks to doctors in exchange for referrals, illegal deals with homecare agencies and filing false data about the use of hospital space.

By 1997 the FBI was investigating Columbia/HCA. Days after agents raided company facilities armed with search warrants, Scott was forced to resign. In 2000 the company pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to pay the government $840 million. Other civil settlements would follow, ultimately totaling a staggering $1.7 billion, making it the largest fraud case in American history.

(Scott was never criminally charged and continues to deny wrongdoing. His spokesperson did not respond to repeated interview requests.)

But in Washington there's no such thing as permanent disgrace, and as the healthcare debate heats up, Scott has established himself as a go-to source for reporters looking to hear from the opposition. He's been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He's been on Fox, of course, railing against President Obama's efforts to control healthcare costs. He appeared on CNN, where (as Media Matters noted) host Jessica Yellin never saw fit to notify viewers that the man she introduced as running "a media campaign to limit government's role in the healthcare system" once ran a company that profited mightily from ripping off that government.

Now Scott is the guy running the health care industry's lobbying efforts, and his job is simple: kill any reform legislation, period. He's as dangerous as he comes, and if he gets his way, the health care industry in this company will continue to become a bloated, greedy wreck.

There are far more dangerous people than El Rushbo out there, and Rick Scott is one of them.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Jim Pethokoukis asks (in what has to be the dumbest burning question evah):
There was a lively exchange last night on The Daily Show between Jon Stewart and CNBC's Jim Cramer, in which Stewart hammered Cramer and the network for being subservient to Wall Street and not alerting viewers to the coming meltdown. Cramer and the network can defend themselves, but what became clear to me is that Stewart really doesn't believe in the idea of a stock market where individuals can go to invest their money and build wealth over the long term. This, I think, is a revealing quote:

Isn't that part of the problem, selling this idea that you don't have to do anything? Anytime you sell people the idea that, sit back and you'll get 10 to 20 percent on your money, don't you always know that that's going to be a lie. When are we going to realize in this country that are wealth is work, that we're workers.

Me: So what is Stewart suggesting, that we "workers" just save insane gobs of money that we squirrel away into low-yielding savings accounts and rely on those savings and Social Security for our retirement?
No Jim. He doesn't. You thick headed fool.

Let me explain this to you slowly and carefully.

He's expecting not to be lied to by guys like Bernie Madoff and Sir Allen Stanford. He's expecting that the people monitoring the activity of guys like Madoff and Stanford -- and Jim Cramer for that matter -- actually monitor them and provide critical government oversight, and not end up empowering them, enabling them, and ignoring them long enough so that they implode in multi billion dollar scandals with our f'ckin money, you ass.

He's expecting that the financial companies that take our assets don't end up betting them on multi-trillion dollar securitized mortgage shit that not even they understand after the lessons of "You don't get something for nothing" in the dot com bubble became painfully clear. He's expecting the government to defend our financial system from such wretched, unsustainable excess that it has literally imperiled the entire globe.

In short, he's expecting the people in charge to act like adults, instead of the world's biggest collection of greedy jagoffs who all happily took our retirement money and played Deal or No Deal with it to the tune of trillions.

Finally, he expects people like Cramer, and Madoff, and Stanford, and you there, Jim, to realize that the greed, lack of regulation, and complete failure of the system needs to never, ever happen again, and for people to stop defending this indefensible garbage and help the rest of us find a real solution instead of demagogic whining about savings accounts in a blatant attempt to take Stewart out of context and accuse him of your own crime of missing the point.

And while we're on the subject of saving, maybe if Americans actually lived within their means and hadn't created such monstrous, unsustainable debt in the first place, we wouldn't be hurt nearly as much by this crash as we are hurting now.

Everyone bought into Something For Nothing, and in the end, we got a whole hell of a lot of nothing for our troubles. That's a hell of a thing to base your entire financial plans on...and yes, I know your next shrill strike will be about Obama's spending. We've got no choice but to hope it works right now, Jimbo.

Because if it doesn't, America is done.

He follows up his question with this:
The only reason to do that is if you don't believe in the long-run soundness of the American economy. And if the American economy isn't dynamic over the long run, don't expect Social Security or Medicare to meet their meager promises.
No Jim, I do not believe in the long-run soundness of the American economy, if you haven't noticed.

Neither should you. We're in real trouble here. Try to be part of the solution.

Poor Bernie

Headline of the Day: "Madoff's lawyers want him freed from jail on bail."

People in Hell want ice water, too. Smarter people in Hell want out of Hell completely, one would imagine.

No sympathy for the devil here. Let the old bastard rot in Gen Pop. I can just imagine an entire wing of a Manhattan jail listening raptly as Bernie explains how he ripped off more money than the inmates can possibly imagine, and got away with it forever.

There's a Steven Soderbergh movie in there, somewhere.

Capped And Traded

Senate DINOs are furious that Obama is trying to get carbon cap and trade legislation in through as a budget measure (which cannot be filibustered) rather than regular legislation (which absolutely will require 60 votes). Several Dems from carbon-heavy states are rebelling completely and joining with the GOP in a letter demanding separate they can kill it.
Using the procedure of budget reconciliation, which would allow a climate change measure to become law with 50 votes while preventing filibusters, "would circumvent normal Senate practice and would be inconsistent with the administration's goals of bipartisanship, cooperation, and openness," the 33 senators wrote.

Budget reconciliation was used by George W. Bush and congressional Republicans to prevent Democrats from stalling both the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. The opposition of nearly one-half of the Senate, however, means that President Obama's party will have little room to use the tactic as successfully as Bush's supporters did.

Filibuster-proofing the upcoming health care reform bill through reconciliation already has been ruled out strongly discouraged* by pivotal Democratic senators on the Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

Democrats' reluctance to take advantage of their procedural arsenal to pass climate change and health care this year doesn't mean that both pieces of legislation would necessarily fall to filibusters. But it does mean that Republicans will have significantly more opportunities to insert pro-business provisions into these pivotal bills.

Late Update:
The eight Democratic senators who signed on to the letter are Robert Byrd (WV), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Evan Bayh (IN), Mark Pryor (AR), Bob Casey (PA), Carl Levin (MI), and Mary Landrieu (LA).

What a surprise: Southern Dems, Rust Belt and Coal Belt Dems, and Ben "Backstab" Nelson.

Forget the fact that a mojority of Americans continue to support climate change cap and trade legislation. We've got American energy and manufacturing lobbyists to take cash from!

Like Elena Schor says, nobody seemed to object to Bush ramming through his tax cuts for the rich through as a budget process and denying the Democrats the "right to filibuster". Rae-Rae was talking about this last night at the end of her show, about how despite a massive seventy-nine seat advanatage in the House and a 17 seat (18 if you count Al Franken) advantage in the Senate, Senate DINOs continue to side with deeply unpopular House Republicans and oppose Obama's mandate.

Why not boot them in the primaries? It's not like we can do too much worse.

You know, other than the planet melting.

Wingnut Welfare

Whatever Commentary Magazine is paying Jennifer Rubin, it's 100% too much.
This is why the markets aren’t a “poll”: “The wealth of American families plunged nearly 18% in 2008, erasing years of sharp gains on housing and stocks and marking the biggest loss since the Federal Reserve began keeping track after World War II. The Fed said Thursday that U.S. households’ net worth tumbled by $11 trillion — a decline in a single year that equals the combined annual output of Germany, Japan and the U.K. The data signal the end of an epoch defined by first and second homes, rising retirement funds and ever-fatter portfolios.”
Yes, the stock market collapse of 2008 hurt millions of Americans. Naturally, the person Rubin blames for the stock market collapse of 2008?
Do we think Obama gets this? No.
Because after all, Obama went back in time before he was President and wrecked the global economy just to give himself a huge chasm to dig out of. Jesus wept.

The League Of Extraordinary Dipsticks

I'm not sure what Glenn Beck is smoking these days, but I think he's finally gone over the edge. It was bad enough when he was justifying secession and revolution against the government, but now he's basically justifying cold-blooded murder.
On Tuesday, an Alabama man named Michael McLendon killed 10 people in a shooting spree before committing suicide in what has been called “the worst rampage in Alabama’s history.” Police are continuing to interview people who knew McLendon and his victims, but said today that “there’s probably never going to be a motive” found.

During a conversation with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News today, Glenn Beck offered up his own theory about McLendon. “First of all, this guy’s a psycho,” said Beck. Beck added that listening to the description of him, he was reminded of “the American people that feel disenfranchised right now” and “that feel like nobody’s hearing their voice.”

He then questioned whether these people who feel silenced by “political correctness” are likely to “turn into that guy” when “pushed to the wall”:

BECK: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?

O’REILLY: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.

BECK: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?

O’REILLY: Nah, I don’t believe in this snap thing. I think that that kind of violence is inside you and it’s a personality disorder.

Nice. It's to the point where BillO thinks Glenn Beck is out of his damn mind. Beck thinks the government is pushing these folks to go on shooting sprees.

I'll let you stop and think about that.

Cramer Vs Cramer

Last night on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart eviscerated Jim "Mad Money" Cramer with his own words. Watch the whole segment, it's excellent stuff. (h/t Crooks and Liars)

The Daily Show's website has more, including the whole interview with Cramer (which went much further than the show's airtime.) Stewart just annihilates the guy and even gets him to promise to clean up his act, not to mention Cramer himself calling for Wall Street indictments is rich. He got his head handed to him in a Ziploc baggie. Stewart does an outstanding job of voicing the real outrage and anger America is dealing with on a daily basis right now.

Guys like Cramer saw this coming and did nothing to stop it, nothing to warn us, and everything to make their own money off the impending stock implosion last year. Nobody was worse than Cramer's head in the sand routine, and Stewart absolutely does a public service by kicking the crap out of this idiot on national television.

But that's the saddest part: We have to rely on a comedian to ask the tough questions, because the Sensible Centrist Village Idiots refuse to do so. I mean I give Cramer credit for showing up and taking his lumps, but the fact of the matter remains that the most insightful TV journalism in America right now comes from a cable network called Comedy Central, for f*ck's sakes. You want to know why the smartest guys in the room missed the financial meltdown? Because not only are the most brilliant financial minds of our tmes a bunch of greedy slimebags, but the guys supposed to be asking these greedy slimebags questions like "Why are you such a greedy slimebag?" are barely smart enough to tie their own shoes. And this is coming from a former mass communications major. In retrospect, I'm damn glad I went into computers instead.

Hey Cramer, where was your indignation 12 months ago? Where were any of the major news networks on this? Any of the major new networks since this happened? People are pissed off, scared, and sick of being manipulated and used. Our leaders screwed up so badly the entire planet is in trouble. I saw it coming then. I told people then it was going to go belly up. But the guys who were wrong are the ones getting rewarded.

But that's life for you.

[UPDATE] Tim at Balloon Juice has more.

[UPDATE 2] Think Progress has more on Cramer's no show on Morning Joe today.

[UPDATE 3] Digby has Cramer's blog response, which actually includes the sentence "I will stand up for what I believe and for what I have always believed: Every person has a right to be rich in this country and I want to help them get there."

Copycat Treatment Of A Copyright Treaty

Something's rotten with US negotiations over a world copyright and anti-counterfeit treaty. The Bush administration kept the proceedings very quiet.

That's nothing compared to the Obama administration however: they have classified the nearly all of the treaty documents as national security secrets.

Now President Obama's White House has tightened the cloak of government secrecy still further, saying in a letter this week that a discussion draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and related materials are "classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958."

The 1995 Executive Order 12958 allows material to be classified only if disclosure would do "damage to the national security and the original classification authority is able to identify or describe the damage."

Jamie Love, director of the nonprofit group Knowledge Ecology International, filed the Freedom of Information Act request that resulted in this week's denial from the White House. The denial letter (PDF) was sent to Love on Tuesday by Carmen Suro-Bredie, chief FOIA officer in the White House's Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Love had written in his original request on January 31--submitted soon after Obama's inauguration--that the documents "are being widely circulated to corporate lobbyists in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. There is no reason for them to be secret from the American public."

The White House appears to be continuing the secretive policy of the Bush administration, which wrote to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (PDF) on January 16 that out of 806 pages related to the treaty, all but 10 were "classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958."

In one of his first acts as president, Obama signed a memo saying FOIA "should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure."

Love's group believes that the U.S. and Japan want the treaty to say that willful trademark and copyright infringement on a commercial scale must be subject to criminal sanctions, including infringement that has "no direct or indirect motivation of financial gain."

In other words, it's looking like the Obama administration could be making moves to forge an international agreement that could lead to international criminal sanctions against file sharing.

More importantly, why can't Obama tell the people of the US about an international treaty being negotiated in their name? What the hell happened to openness and sunshine laws?

Seems to me in several key respects that Obama is no different from Bush. Far too many Bush administration policies are being carried over by Obama, strengthened, and made all but permanent. It's sickening and disturbing, not to mention illegal and immoral for the same reasons Bush's legal hanky-panky was.

Obama's refusal to shed these horrible policies is going to cost him dearly (not to mention cost us dearly) down the road.


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