Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Whole Foods Health Care Flap

So, this is the article from Whole Foods' CEO that created the big flap. Three main themes: government frugality, individual responsibility, and personal choice. How controversial! In order to consider these ideas some kind of betrayal of Whole Foods' customers' values, it seems to me that those who have their undies in a twist are making some very thin connections: healthy eating = progressiveness = liberalism = blind agreement with Obama's agenda. None of those connections are 1:1 (exclusive). Obviously, Mackey's experience leads him to have a different opinion about how to create a healthier America. Why not respect that, and use it as an input when evaluating our options? At least his experience is based on real-world interactions with real people who have experience using both socialized and free market health care systems. I wish we could say that Obama and Congress have experience grounded in reality, but we know that simply isn't true.

Click here for Wall St. Journal article.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Goldman CEO Warns Employees to Keep a Low Profile

From the New York Post:

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has warned his employess to avoid making big-ticket, high-profile purchases as the gold-plated Wall Street firm hunkers down amid a firestorm of public and political anger over outsize bonus payments.

According to sources at the bank, Blankfein has told Goldman staff that spending should be toned down in light of the billions in bailout money that banks, including Goldman, have gotten from Uncle Sam.

A source within the bank said Blankfein first began calling for an end to the conspicuous consumption late last year, but has stepped up his campaign in recent weeks as the White House has sought to rein in compensation and as the firm has gotten dinged by a pair of high-profile magazine articles.

"This is a sensitive time for us, and [Blankfein] wants to make sure that we're not being seen living high on the hog," said one Goldman exec.

Indeed, the exec said that senior managers were ordered to tell their staffs that just because Goldman made a record second-quarter profit of $2.3 billion, they shouldn't bank on getting a fat bonus just yet. Blankfein was quoted as reminding staff that bonuses are based on full-year results, and that the year is far from over.

Blankfein's admonishing of workers about profligate spending comes as the firm has been hit with a barrage of negative press lately over its uncanny ability to make money not only in the best of times -- but also the worst.

A Rolling Stone article referred to the firm as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity," while a recent New York magazine piece floated the idea that Goldman benefited from the rescue of troubled insurance giant American International Group.

A spokeswoman declined to comment.

Goldman's speedy recovery in the wake of the global recession and the demise of many of its rivals has drawn more outrage than awe.

Observers question everything from the bank's massive pay to its uncanny ability to serve as a incubator for Washington policymakers. Goldman alumni include former Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin, and Jon Corzine, the current New Jersey governor and former US senator.

Goldman accepted $10 billion in rescue funds from Uncle Sam to help it stay afloat last year amid a crisis of confidence on Wall Street but quickly repaid the money thanks to record revenues.

The Goldman exec said that while Blankfein was cajoling workers to cut back on their spending to avoid negative publicity, he was also playing cheerleader.

In a company-wide voice mail left last week, the CEO assured employees that management is "focused on addressing the negative news and that [Goldman] remains committed to integrity and excellence."

"I know you're all working hard," he added.

If this seems familiar, perhaps you're recalling the scene from Goodfellas in which Robert De Niro admonishes his crew members for going on spending sprees following their big Lufthansa heist. For your enjoyment:

Finally! Congress is Waking Up to Wall St. Market Manipulation

Everyone knows that Wall Street firms are using high frequency trading platforms to frontrun their own clients, yet no one is speaking out against it...until now. Thank you, Senator Schumer.

Click here for related article.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Daniel Hannan speaks about U.K. Health Care System

I love this guy. He's one of the most articulate and clearest-thinking politicians I know of. I wish he were American.

His cautionary tale about how Canada's "public option" morphed into a government-only program is very much in line with what I believe will happen here.

"No New Taxes"... Yep, We've Heard that One Before

Oh, I don't know, maybe they should have thought about deficits (like the rest of us did) before they lined Goldman Sachs' pockets with billions and queued up billions in pork barrel spending disguised as stimulus. I know I sound like a broken record about the government's need to think things all the way through, but it's just so obvious.

George Stephanopoulos re Tim Geithner interview:
To get the economy back on track, will President Barack Obama have to break his pledge not to raise taxes on 95 percent of Americans? In a “This Week” exclusive, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told me, "We’re going to have to do what’s necessary.”

Click here for related article.

Larry Summers: A Master of Double-Speak

This guy is so over-rated it makes my stomach churn. Obama's economics team refuses to admit that because they got it wrong on the severity of the recession, that the stimulus plan was not front-loaded enough and that the spending needs to be more sharply focused and shifted forward. Instead, they shout down tough questions and continue to try to BS the American public into believing that they've got it all under control and that the wasteful, massive deficit spending yet to come on pork and social agenda items will be good for us.

Listen in this clip to how Summers flip-flops between whether the stimulus plan was intended to have a short- or long-term impact. Listen also to the double-speak about job creation. "We don't know what the baseline is, or how many jobs will actually be saved or created, but we know it will be more than what otherwise would have happened." Huh? I wish I never had to substantiate any of my ideas or actions. It's insulting to anyone with half a brain. This guy is a thug, a crook, and a moron.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Health Care Reform: Rise up, Mr. Obama. This is your Man-on-the-Moon Moment.

Many reforms in health care are needed, but the proposed legislation doesn’t address them. For example, the argument that the so-called public option will increase competition is totally false. Employers are justifiably tired of paying ever-increasing insurance premiums for their employees. When the public option becomes available, many firms will simply decide to give their employees a raise to cover the cost of the public option, and then they’ll cancel their company-sponsored plans. That way, they can convert their medical benefits expense to salaries expense, which is much easier to control (i.e., salaries increase at about the rate of inflation, whereas medical premiums have been rising at two to three times that). Once that happens, you’ll then have most Americans on a bare-bones Medicare-type program, with no options and no industry competition. The insurance carriers currently battle it out against each other every day. They do what they can to keep costs down, but they can only do so much to control the medical and pharmaceutical industries. With whom do government agencies like the Social Security Administration, the IRS, and Veterans’ Affairs compete? No one, and they don’t exactly set any standards for efficiency and customer service, do they? It will be the same with whatever new agency ends up running health care.

The health care industry represents 16% of our economy. It employs millions, and it touches every one of us. There is no simple, quick fix for this problem. Bringing health care costs under control is going to take a tremendous amount of collaborative work by the insurance, medical, pharmaceutical, and technology industries. This undertaking is far bigger than the Apollo project, for example, and that project could have never been accomplished without industry doing most of the work. As it did with Apollo, government (NASA, in that case) should play a facilitation role in health care reform, but it should not attempt to become the industry itself. It doesn’t have the technical or managerial skill, nor could it ever put the incentives in place to ensure that the system would be able to actually improve service while also driving costs down, which should be the ultimate goal. The current dialogue in Washington never makes mention of that, which is frightening and disappointing in its lack of ambition. Our politicians are content with the notion of serving more people, but serving them poorly in order to do it (all but themselves, that is). Well, I’m not.

Mr. Obama should use his estimable leadership skills to unify the efforts of these various industries, rather than trying to put them out of business or under some type of Soviet-like control. A sharp bureaucrat can always muscle some kind of ineffective legislation into place (e.g., the stimulus bill), but a real leader inspires the public to raise its ambitions and strive to take on new challenges. President Kennedy inspired the nation to put a man on the moon within 10 years. I’d like to see President Obama do something similar with health care reform. He has the vision and the charisma. He just needs to do it. That's what voters really wanted from him anyway, not bureaucratic quick fixes.

Mr. Obama, don’t deny Americans the opportunity to be Americans. Tackling problems head-on and developing world-class solutions is what we do. Yes we can, remember?