9 08 2020

One of the big headline stories  recently is that Dr. Anthony Fauci and his family now need bodyguards because there are people making credible threats against them. The covid epidemic has sparked a lot of distrust and division. Some people call it “the planned-demic,” a tool that the Democrats are using to make Trump look bad, that Dr. Fauci and others are inflating the danger in an attempt to demoralize the country (thus the death threats), and thus the right thing to do is to ignore all the warnings about wearing a mask. “It’s killed 0.04% of our population,” one commenter on my Facebook feed wrote. “Yeah, this is getting serious.” Yeah, it’s only about four times as many Americans as got killed in the Vietnam War, but instead of being drawn out over a decade, it’s in the last five months. Nothing serious. But the point is, a whole lot of people don’t trust that the government and the media are telling them the truth about what’s going on.

Their distrust is both irrational and rational. First, here’s the irrational part. If you step back far enough to take in what’s going on all around the world, it’s clear that covid is a real threat, and that our government has botched its response, and that botched response has been amplified by the skepticism of so many Americans. But their distrust is also rational, given that the American medical system and its advocates in media and politics have told us that it is the best medical system in the world, even though it’s clearly failing us right now. Even before the current crisis, there was widespread awareness of the many faults of our system–wildly inflated prices, overtreatment and overbilling, misdiagnosis, a tendency to focus on minutiae and miss the big picture.

At the same time, America’s medical system is the most expensive in the world, and has used its wealth to prevent any kind of universal health insurance coverage, let alone a national health system that would lower the cost of that health coverage by removing the profit motive. The US is the only “developed country” in the world where one of the most common side effects of a cancer diagnosis is bankruptcy. Indeed, this is the only country in the world where “medical bankruptcy” is even an issue, and where chronic disease is a pretext for the extortion of wealth from the sick person and their family to doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and other already fabulously wealthy “health care providers,” such as, here in Tennessee, the Frist family and Phil Bredesen.  So gee, why would anybody distrust the word of the medical establishment?

Along similar lines, there is strong bipartisan support among the people of this country for some kind of universal-access public health system. The Democratic Party has had to pull out all the stops to prevent an advocate of universal single payer health care, and a lot of other very popular reforms of our society, from becoming its Presidential candidate. So, does the Democrats’ platform acknowledge this incredibly popular, demonstrably helpful idea? No, in large part due to the influence of money from for-profit medical businesses. The Dems nominated a candidate who is not afraid to state publicly that he would veto “Medicare for All” if Congress, by some miracle, passed it. And Bernie Sanders, the guy who campaigned so valiantly for “Medicare for All,” says he will support that vetoer, the burned-out husk of Joe Biden, for President. Yet another reason not to trust the medical establishment or our political system–or even alleged “insurgents” in our political system.

If you are African-American or otherwise of non-European origin, or if you are a low-income Euro-American, you know you can’t trust that the police will not, at any moment, swoop in and kill you. There was a story on the news as I was writing this about an African-American family that included an autistic young adult, Kobe Dimmock-Heisler.

Kobe Dimmock-Heisler

Kobe’s mother

His grandfather called 911 for help because Kobe was waving a knife around. By the time four police officers showed up, he had calmed down, and the family told the police they didn’t need their help and asked them to leave. The police didn’t leave. They forced their way into the house, which got Kobe agitated again. In response, the police shot him a total of six times, murdering him in the presence of his horrified mother, grandfather, and other family members. Read the rest of this entry »


9 12 2018

A lot of people don’t realize that there are vampires in Nashville, even though those vampires are, in a fairly substantial way, responsible for the fact that our city is “The ‘it’ city,” while other  metropolises our size, such as Detroit, El Paso, Memphis, and Oklahoma City, are more like “she-it cities.” That’s because our local vampires have learned to turn the blood they suck into money, and spread that blood/money around town in the process of consuming it.. The new vampire has a different MO, however. He sucks metaphorical blood, which morphs into money just as easily as the red, sticky kind.

Gee…speaking of vampires, I am writing this around the death and funeral of former US President George H.W. Bush, whose father derived a good deal of his wealth from the blood of the young men of Europe and America, as well as the blood of European Jews, Gypsies, radicals, gay people, and anyone else who did not fit in with Hitler’s vision of “The Master Race.” The newly dead Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was one of the chief financiers of Adolph Hitler and his drive to Make Germany Great Again. Without Prescott’s backing, the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe, and all those death camps might not have happened. Bush senior paid no price for this. He went on to become a U.S. Senator. His son became head of US intelligence, then Vice President and President, and his grandson, too, became President. All have shown by their actions that they possess (or is it “are possessed by”?) the ruthless selfishness that is the hallmark of all vampires,

I’ll mention, but don’t even have time to talk much about, how Prescott Bush was also part of the cabal of Wall Street bankers who plotted to overthrow the government of US President Franklin Roosevelt. Bush wasn’t prosecuted for that, either, nor were any of the other plotters. Perhaps the fact that they had names were Harriman, Mellon, Rockefeller, to mention a few, gave them a stay out of jail card.

Let me run that by you again: Prescott Bush knew full well what the Nazis were doing, had no problem financing them, and in fact tried to do the same thing here, and his son became the President of the United States, and now we are being asked to mourn that son’s death, even though it is clear from his record that the main lesson he learned from his father was to hide his sympathy for the notion of a master race that is entitled to ruthlessly assert itself, but nonetheless pursue the fascist program. Somewhere, Adolph Hitler is laughing his ass off.

But I digress. I was talking about local vampires, and about the new vampire in town.

Read the rest of this entry »


14 10 2018

Recently, our President addressed The United Nations, and something unprecedented  took place. When he said,

 “My administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”

That usually solemn body broke out in laughter.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Several commentators that I read were aghast, enraged that our country has been brought so low that our President is laughed at by other world leaders.

Not me. I’m glad it finally happened, and I hope it’s not the only time. I wish the world had started laughing at America’s pretensions a long time ago.

I wish that, when Colin Powell falsely asserted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, he had been laughed at. I wish the UN had laughed at George Bush for supporting those lies, instead of acquiescing and giving the US permission to invade Iraq and Afghanistan on the ludicrous pretext that a bunch of Saudis hijacked airplanes and flew them into buildings in the US. I wish the UN had laughed at Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech. I wish French and British diplomats had laughed at the US when this country put them up to the UN resolution that was wrongly used to justify intervention in that country’s US-incited civil war, which plunged Libya from being, as Iraq once was, one of the wealthier, more stable countries in the region into being a failed state and a gateway for African refugees seeking to escape to Europe. Not that African refugees don’t need a safe haven. Read the rest of this entry »


14 11 2010

Our “Truth in Strange Places” Award this month goes to Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.  Long-time listeners and readers will recall that I have referred to our governor as a vampire, because he has profited so handsomely from the suffering of others.  The American health care system seems designed to make poor people out of sick people, which smells like bloodsucking to me.

So, I was startled when I found myself reading an interview with Governor Bredesen about his new book on health care, and nodding along in agreement, as he said

There are problems in the way we use insurance, but the insurance companies themselves aren’t the core problem. If we want to blame somebody, let’s look at other medical providers, like the pharmaceutical industry. In the book I use the example of [drug maker] Merck, where profits last year were equal to the earnings of all the companies in the Fortune 500 health insurance and managed-care category combined.

Well, okay, I actually rolled my eyes at the first part of that and started nodding when he outed Merck’s excessive profits.  Bredesen made his money in the insurance biz, so he’s not going to accept the blame, and I suppose in a way he’s right.  While for-profit insurance companies are primarily concerned with making a profit for stockholders and only secondarily with providing adequate benefits to policyholders, it’s immaterial to them whether medical costs are inflated or not, as long as their income is sufficient to cover those costs.  As for-profit companies, they will do whatever they have to do to stay in the black, including denying life-saving procedures.  (As more than one wag has pointed out, “America already has ‘death panels’–they’re called ‘insurance companies’.”)

So, while he’s telling the truth about Merck here, it’s also a form of passing the buck.  Sure, Merck’s (very) gross profit contributes to the excessive cost of medical care, but so did the estimated $100 million dollar fortune Bredesen amassed while running HealthAmerica.  Remember, that hundred mil is just a part of the difference between what average Joes like you and me paid in for our insurance coverage and what Bredesen’s company paid out.  You can also think of that fortune as blood sucked from the bodies of the poor and sick by a vampire….yeah, I know, Halloween is over, but ’tis still the season….

Just for the record, Merck’s estimated profit for 2010 is in the range of $26 billion dollars, so I suppose the Guv thinks his personal hundred mil is chump change…”Hey, I’m not the bloodthirstiest vampire in the crypt!”

Tell it to the people who lost their Tenncare coverage, Phil.  See if they think you’re poor like them.  See if they think you’re not just as much a part of the problem as Merck.

More on Tenncare later.   What Phil had to say about Obama’s “health care reform” was a lot more on track:

….we put a structure in place in the 1930s—an insurance-based, employer-based system—and it’s outgrown its usefulness. It’s obsolete. We’re sitting here in America with frequently inferior care which is more expensive than anywhere else in the world. You’re not going to fix that by simply adding more people to the rolls or singling out particular enemies.

….The core problem is this: if you leave health care as an open-ended entitlement, where the people providing services get to define how much service is provided and how much to charge for it, you will never contain costs. The history of the last fifty years of health care is uniform in that regard. So let’s try to find a different way of doing it, one that disengages from the insurance model. That model is inefficient and it creates all sorts of bad incentives, ones where the incentive of any doctor or provider is to do more and charge more.

What Phil recommends is the “Mayo Clinic model,” which divorces physicians’ income from the number of patients they see and the number of tests and procedures they order, thus freeing doctors to spend more time with each patient.  One study found that this simple step cuts health care costs by over 50% for some groups of patients.

And, by the way, here’s what an official Mayo Clinic spokesperson had to say about the health care plan that Obama and the Democrats passed:

“The proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients. In fact, it will do the opposite,”

Back to Phil…here’s what he said about those notorious TennCare cuts:

The TennCare experience was very painful. It was somewhat politically painful for me—I had people sitting in my office twenty-four/seven for six months. But it was extraordinarily painful for the people who lost their health insurance because of it. What we were forced to do in the end was make reductions with a broadax rather than a scalpel. And it was very painful for the people who got lost in the cracks in that. The sense in the book that the system we have is not serving the needs of some of the people who most need it comes very strongly from that experience.

The other thing that comes from my experience with TennCare is that if we indeed consider some level of health care a basic right, let’s divorce it from being charity handed out by politicians and organize ourselves deliberately and fairly and without anybody having to grovel to get it. I’d love to go back to more of what Harry Truman’s vision was, which is that there is some underlying level where everyone’s treated the same. We’ve really gotten close to that with Medicare, and there’s no reason we can’t do it with the rest of the system.

So he’s coming mighty close to endorsing the “Medicare for all” paradigm in the book he wrote, even saying:

To pay for it, let’s give people vouchers that can only be spent on health care. That’s essentially what Social Security is, just reworked for medical care. Of course, it’s different in the sense that if someone isn’t a part of the Social Security system, you’re willing to not write them a check—whereas if they’re not part of the medical system you’re not willing to let them die in the street. But if you disburse a limited amount of money and say it can only be spent on health care, then you’re limiting the maximum amount of money that comes into the market, which creates some competition and value. Then, third, you create quality auditing systems to monitor what is being provided. What the book is about is how to do all this in a fair and responsible way.

I have to confess here that I haven’t yet read Phil’s book, entitled Fresh Medicine, so I’m not in a position to comment on what he considers “a fair and responsible way,” but what I perceive here is that, from his strongly capitalist, free market perspective, he’s trying to design universal access to health care without mandating that everybody has to buy private insurance, which, he seems to agree, is not the most cost-effective way to make Americans both healthier and less financially vulnerable in the event of a catastrophic health problem.  And sure, I’m in love with the idea of a national health service that  incorporates holistic practices, but if somebody’s got a way to improve the skewed system we’re currently stuck with that will actually get through our legislative process, there are compromises I could live with.

I’ve saved the best for last:

I don’t want to be a Cassandra, but we’re in a difficult financial situation in this country, and we’re going to have to deal with entitlements very soon. So let’s start addressing the issue now, particularly as related to health care, and not wait until China stops buying our bonds. Let’s start getting things set up so that when the whole issue comes to a head, we’ll be ready.

Got that?

Let’s not wait until China stops buying our bonds.

That thrilled me to the core.  It let me know that I am not just a lunatic fringe, nutjob doomer for thinking the US is approaching the end of our financial choke-chain leash, and the Chinese could just decide to snap it tight around our throats any time.  Our own governor, a conservative guy whom I have excoriated on numerous occasions,  sees it that way.  You can hardly get a more independent confirmation than that.  And,  with Obama and the US bankers making threatening noises about Chinese currency manipulation, it is clear that we are on the brink of a financial war, a war the US is almost certain to lose.  When that poop comes through the air intake, affordable health care is going to be among the least of our worries.

So, Phil–you may be a vampire, but you’re a lot more clear-headed than I had suspected.  Thanks for your, yes, Cassandran pronouncements–hey, I believe you.  But then, I’m a Cassandra too.

music:  Material:  “Words of Advice for Young People”


13 05 2006

Governor Bredesen has been showing his for-profit health industry stripes in his treatment of the Tenncare issue. After dropping 220,000 people from the program, many of whom were uninsurable, he is now proposing to create a program for the healthiest, most insurable of those individuals and their families—who are willing and able to pay for a barebones insurance policy that will not cover a lot of the things people buy insurance for. It won’t cover maternity or newborn babies; it won’t cover disabled dependents of the insured individuals; it won’t cover diabetes self-management (but it will probably cover diabetes-related amputations–but hey, that’s a lot more expensive than prevention, it’s a good thing they’ll cover it, right?)

The premium level is also high enough to make it only marginally affordable to low-income workers, and completely unaffordable if you lose your job, because then the cost doubles. Isn’t that thoughtful?

Well, it’s a nice election-year sop, not that Phil needs to worry too much about getting re-elected. Republican main contender Bob Bryson is flailing so badly that the Green Party’s Howard Switzer may out-poll him. Switzer is the only candidate who can credibly claim to speak for the hundreds of thousands of low-income, underprivileged voters in the state who need a government that’s genuinely on their side.

Meanwhile, I recently found out that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee has over a billion dollars in its contingency fund and pays its director seven hundred thousand dollars a year. I’ve talked before about the importance of turning health care into a not-for-profit enterprise, but I’m going to have to amend that by saying A WELL-REGULATED not-for-profit enterprise. The last Tennessee legislator to call for an investigation into Blue Cross bloat found himself facing a well-funded opponent and lost his seat. Gee whiz…you don’t think they….? Naw, they wouldn’t do that.

And Bill Frist—our fine, upstanding Senator—his family paid a 1.7 BILLION dollar fine for defrauding Medicare not long before he bought a US Senate seat here in Tennessee. When asked, Frist said he didn’t think the country could afford universal health care. Why, his FAMILY could afford to take care of a sizable portion of the country’s health needs—especially if we’re not paying bloated executive salaries to for-profit health providers. Private health care providers commonly pay abut 15% for administrative expenses, while Medicare does what is generally considered a good job on 4%. That 11% difference could amount to between two and three hundred billion dollars a year in savings. No wonder the Frist family could afford to give back a measly 1.7 billion. Ain’t relativity wonderful?

We need to draw back from the immediate anguish of those who are getting shafted by their inability to afford the cost of the American medical system, and change the system itself if we really want to do something about health care in this country. A recent study comparing American and English health and health care brought that into sharp focus. Average health care expenditure in the U.S. is about $5200 per person, while England spends about half that, but the English get a lot more bang for their buck—or is it pull for their pound? Anyway, the study compared Caucasian Americans with Caucasian Britons, to eliminate distortions due to racial differences, and found that half again more Americans than English are overweight and, and half again more Americans also suffer from heart problems—and we’re just talking physical heart problems here. Americans are twice as likely to be diabetic, 25% more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, and nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer. The study found, predictably, that richer people tend to be healthier than poor ones, but still, the wealthiest Americans have more health problems than the poorest Britons.

Researchers think this may relate to the more stressful nature of life in the US, although part of England’s stress relief program is its much better health safety net—that costs half what ours does. Another reason cited for the less stressful nature of life in England is that the standard of living has risen across the board in England over the last thirty years, while here in America only the wealthiest 20% of the population has seen their real income rise.

Some of that lucky 20% are in the upper echelons of the health care industry. In his book, Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government – and How We Can Take It Back, David Sirota points out that

In 2003, HMOs nearly doubled their profits from just a year before, adding $10 billion to their bottom line. That year, top executives at the 11 largest health insurers made a combined $85 million in one year. In the first three quarters of 2004, HMO profits increased by another 33 percent. The sheer numbers behind these profits are staggering: In 2004 alone, the four biggest health insurance companies reported $100 billion in revenues. That’s $273 million a day, every day, 365 days of the year.

That’s why there’s such an effort being made to blame the Tenncare shortfall on its victims, and ignore the real perpetrators of this crisis—the bloated health care industry. Sure, diabetes, high blood pressure, and acid reflux, the most common problems treated by Tenncare, are “lifestyle diseases” that a prudent person could avoid; but the entire force of the American economy, from the food we are urged to eat to the rents, taxes, and mortgages we have to pay to the cars we have to buy and drive and the jobs and low wages we have to put up with, is designed to get us to make imprudent choices.

It’s not enough to try and cover everybody’s insurance needs under the current system. It’s not even enough to switch to single-payer coverage. We need to create an economy that promotes the health of its citizens over the wealth of its corporations, and that is going to take a radical, nonviolent revolution in thought and government to create. That will be difficult. The alternative—for the current situation to devolve still further—would be much more difficult. Let’s roll, eh?

music: Greg Brown, “America Will Eat You”


19 07 2005

There are vampires among us. They prey on those who are mentally or physically ill, on the aged, the infirm and handicapped members of our society. They grow fat and healthy from the misfortunes of others. Once they waited for their victims to seek them out, for the help they claimed to offer; now they aggressively encourage people to fall into their clutches through television advertisements and other mass media methods. Newspapers, magazines, TV stations are happy to lend assistance to these modern-day Draculas, for they pay their helpers well—with the blood money they have extracted from honest, hardworking Americans like you and me.

I am talking about the people who run the so-called health care business in general, and about one man in particular—Bill “the Vampire” Frist. He can say his stock in HCA—the bloodsucking demon that actually does his dirty work—is in a blind trust, but he has devoted plenty of time and energy during his senate career to legislation that benefits the company his father and brother started—and that recently paid the largest fraud settlement in history, 1.7 BILLION dollars, for bilking the government, aka you and me, the taxpayers– through medicare overcharges. Due to the intervention of the Bush Whitewash, I mean White House, no one was indicted for this crime. Bill Frist’s brother and father who as directors were certainly liable, are not Martha Stewart, if you know what I mean.

Bill the Vampire is a prime example of what’s wrong with America’s so-called healthcare system. There are millionaires in the health care business because honest, hardworking Americans like you and me have been overcharged for health care. There is no reason for Bill the Vampire Frist—or Phil the Vampire Bredesen—for that matter, to be as obscenely rich as they are. It’s extortion, pure and simple. You need healthcare, they have a monopoly, you’re gonna pay what they tell you—or else you can suffer and die.. Your house, your land, your retirement savings, your childrens’ inheritance? Too bad! Fork it over—Bill the vampire is hungry for your blood.

I just about gag when I consider how many people have accepted Bill the Vampire as OK because he was clever enough to get so obscenely rich. “Look at the nice art museum he gave us, “ they say. I say he built it with money he stole from sick people in Tennessee. And eight bucks a head to get in? Some gift!

I am dismayed that there are enough fools in this state to elect Bill the vampire to two terms in the United States Senate. He and his vampire brother and father (whom Bill the vampire himself has likened to don Corleone) should have been stripped of their wealth and put to work doing something real—like maybe helping out Mother Teresa’s clinic in Calcutta. Bill’s brother Tom is probably the second richest man in America, with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes Magazine at two BILLION dollars. That would fix Tenncare!

The whole idea of for-profit healthcare is obscene. Healthcare needs to be non-profit, and oriented towards maintaining wellness rather than pill-peddling. This is a personal issue for me. I has a co-worker, a kind, gentle, conscientious man, who put off going to see a doctor—he had no health insurance, and most of these things clear up on their own,.right? His didn’t. He died from a curable infection, racking up tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts for his family in the process, because the so-called health food supermarket we worked for and the corporate culture it’s just another part of were both too cheap to give him access to medical care and time off to go see a doctor and then rest and recover.

That’s obscene.

It’s obscene that medical care is so expensive that people don’t seek it because of cost concerns. It’s obscene that the for-profit system is oriented towards peddling more and more pills and treatments to more and more people, when the right thing to do is to work to create general wellness through diet and lifestyle, but hey, there’s no money in that, nothing to patent or franchise. Bill the Vampire is going to do everything in his power to prevent that from happening. And don’t look to him to ask the federal government to bail out Tenncare, either. The for-profit medical system doesn’t care if there are people who can’t afford it—it’s doing quite well off those who can, thank you.

But his conscience is uneasy—that’s why he’s building a bunker into the basement of his new house. “Just what does he think is going to happen?” wondered the neighbor of his who told me about what she had seen at the construction site. Hey, this is a guy who pretended to adopt cats from animal shelters, took them home and was nice to them for a night, then practiced surgery on them until they died. He says he regrets it—but talk is cheap.

Now, I bear Bill the Vampire no personal ill will. I wish him no harm. I hope he sees the error of his ways, the gravity of his sins. I hope Bill the vampire repents and spends many years doing the right thing, promoting real public health, atoning for all the harm he’s done—after all, the Hippocratic oath enjoins physicians to “Frist—I mean First—do no harm.” He has done a lot of harm, from preventing people from suing Eli Lilly for putting poisonous Thimerosol in childhood vaccines and causing autism to preventing people from suing their HMOs (like his own HCA) for failure to provide adequate treatment. But I’m not holding my breath. I don’t know what the future holds—I have no crystal ball—but I do know there are vampires among us, and Bill Frist is one of them. Watch your neck.

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