Thursday, January 31, 2008


Part 2 – What are the targets for change?

1. Money Mongers of the Financial Institutions
2. Mortgage Lenders – Vampires of the Golden Dream
3. Credit Card Industry Standards, Fees and Collection Methods
4. Health Care Industry Cost, Insurance and Unnecessary Treatment
5. Pharmaceutical Industry Proliferation of Prescription Drugs
6. FDA (Food & Drug Administration) Drug Approval Process
7. Agriculture – Food Testing, Ingredients and Source
8. Campaign Reform – Empty Promises and Empty Wallets
9. Immigration Reform – The Slumbering Social Issue of the Day
10. Government Permits & Inspections – Protection or Payoffs

So there you have it, a concise list of the ten institutional bureaucracies that must be addressed by our candidates for president if those candidates truly want to be the flag bearers for change. Now a more detailed description of the targets follows but I want you to know what you are in for up front.

When you hear why they are on the list just ask yourself what my favorite candidate for president has had to say about these issues that wreak havoc on the public every day. For you see these thorny targets also represent some of the largest financial contributors to our candidates for change and the political parties of America.

So maybe when questioning the presidential candidates we should ask a series of qualifying questions. Do you want change? Do you take money from these special interest groups? Can you stand up to them and their financial power? How are you going to persuade the other members of congress to support you?

In politics promises are cheap, promises most often are forgotten after the election and careers can be cut short when promises threaten the golden goose that feeds off the unsuspecting public. What does that mean? It means we the people are the cash cow and the special interest groups are the beneficiary of decades of conflicts of interest, bribes and payoffs, greed and immorality and the hijacking of our political system.

Truth is it is hard to believe any candidate means what they say about change. They are all players to some degree or another of our political system or they would not be candidates. They are all dependent on millions and millions of dollars in contributions in order to play in the game. They all hire the same old staff members that have mastered the game of inside politics. And if they do mean what they say, well the odds of being able to deliver are about as good as us bringing peace to the Middle East.

Still, as an eternal optimist when it comes to public service I can only hope there are people out there who have not been compromised, who are sincere, who can withstand the temptations of the golden goose, and who will lead us in the direction of real change before it is too late. Now let us turn our attention to the targets for change in America and see if you don’t agree.

1. Money Mongers of the Financial Institutions

Who are these people and what threat do they represent? Well, the intricate web of interlocking ownership, access to media, control of pricing in stocks, currency, commodities and bonds, and insulation from scrutiny probably make this the single most powerful force on Earth, capable of controlling governments and destroying opposition without ever getting their own hands dirty. You see they are invisible to the general public.

While flying the banner of capitalism they are the masters of deceit as the last thing they want is open competition, public scrutiny, social justice or power to the people. Their’s is a world of opportunity, the opportunity to take what other people have regardless of the consequences in order to consolidate power, maximize control, accumulate wealth and squeeze every last bloody cent of profit from everyone else.

Does it sound extreme, only because it is extreme? Sound like a sinister plot to gain control of the world? They don’t need to gain what they have already got. Their mission is not to lose it. While we wave our flag of democracy and freedom and every generation or so Americans rise up and take on new challenges, they have been quietly working behind the scenes for centuries, yes centuries, to achieve their goals.

Enough pontificating. Financial institutions control the world simply put and they do not serve the world in the process, as serving is not a good return on investment. They set up mutual funds to consolidate investment power and get government to create more sources of funds and turn them over to the financiers to manage such as pension funds, 401K funds, IRAs and many others.

They create financial “experts” to tell us what is happening to our investment markets and how to invest what money we do control completely ignoring the conflicts of interest when the greatest beneficiaries of the advice are the market makers, the very financial institutions whose experts are giving supposedly objective market advice.

What does that mean? The media takes the advice of industry experts and tells us the price of oil is going up because of the potential for a hurricane in the gulf that may or may not disrupt supply lines and drilling operations. A suicide bombing in Iraq shows that the crude oil supply from that country is not stable so a shortage of future oil may result if a bombing of the oil pipelines is successful. Cold weather in American means there will be a shortage of heating oil no matter that there are sufficient inventories already in the country. So the price of oil goes up, and up and up.

Who benefits? The owners of the crude oil, the companies that pay them for the crude, the banks that finance the companies, the stockholders that own shares of the companies, the IRAs, 401Ks, pension funds and mutual funds that pump money into the companies, the companies selling and buying their stocks, or the companies setting market prices? Guess what, all of them could be part of the financial institutions benefiting from the market manipulations caused by the speculative reports on the industry by the media.

Where I come from that is a gross conflict of interest. Financial institutions can make money buying and selling stock with other people’s money, mutual funds, and retirement funds whether the stock goes up or down in value. They still get their commission. If they own stock in the companies, in the commodities market or in the banks financing the markets they also benefit.

So why does the Federal Trade Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission let them do this? The FTC and SEC are supposed to be our government watchdogs protecting the public from unscrupulous financial manipulators.

For two years the same financial sector was behind the unethical, immoral and often-illegal manipulation of the sub-prime mortgage markets as well which nearly sent the USA into recession and certainly left millions of homeowners in foreclosure. Where were the federal regulators?

How these people got away with it was tragic yet amazing to watch, and the fact they were rewarded for their disastrous actions is astounding since the same institutions were able to write off billions of dollars in losses on their own taxes, thus benefiting from the fees, the commissions, the collections and the tax write offs leaving the consumer high, dry and broke.

So candidates, what are you going to do to stop this? What are your plans to reform and better regulate the financial institutions? How can you stop the media from glamorizing industry experts whose employers directly benefit from their words of wisdom? How can you break up the inter-locking ownership inherent in the world? How can you protect he retirement nest eggs of the public that are being sucked dry by the money managers?

2. Mortgage Lenders – Vampires of the Golden Dream

Even though mortgage lenders can be owned, controlled or manipulated by the financial sector and banking institutions they are often set up independently until they finish preying on an unsuspecting public, having got caught using questionable practices (sub-prime loans for example), using heavy handed tactics, misleading consumers and initiating mortgage foreclosures.

When this happens the lenders now approaching bankruptcy get bought out by the financial and banking sectors that are seeking to acquire real estate property at far below the loan value. So losses are written off, property is acquired far below the loan value, new mortgages are written to resell or refinance the property, a few million people lose their homes due to foreclosures, and the financial institutions now have a new division with secure assets and credit worthy clients.

Of course we then lose sight of the fact illegal mortgages and unethical selling practices caused the bail out cycle to take place. Or that mortgage lenders, sales people, lawyers and credit rating firms were all players in this billion-dollar scam. That closing fees, collection fees and late fees have made someone millions of dollars at the expense of the hapless homeowners.

Then there is the question of the post mortgage market. I mean how many people know who really holds their mortgage as it can be sold over and over to spread the risk, enable firms to dissolve to avoid liability, or a variety of other reasons. You can get a mortgage from a bank only to discover the mortgage was sold to a bankrupt lender.

Finally even the government backed mortgage programs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, (what great names for federal backed mortgage players), not to mention the long list of programs such as VA, Indian, Rural, Low Income and other federal mortgage and housing programs must be ever more vigilant to root out corruption, contract fixing, slipshod construction and repair work, inefficient heating and utilities and other problems that beset our federal and state housing efforts.

So again we ask what are the presidential candidates saying about how they will change these institutional bureaucracies to serve the people? What is the new agenda to protect people and tax funds from these vampires? How will they be regulated, prosecuted and punished for any violations of the public trust?

3. Credit Card Industry Standards, Fees and Collection Methods

Now this is an area of regulatory meltdown and benign neglect involving federal and state agencies ranging from the FTC to Congress, from the SEC to Justice Department. There is a body of law at both the state and federal levels that regulates these practices but no one seems to pay attention.

The issuance of credit cards through the mail and Internet and the proliferation of offers from credit card companies are astounding. The never-ending changes in interest rates charged, the justification for such changes, the explanation of such practices and the downright deception in consumer information is appalling and predatory.

It is a wonder the nation is not drowning in credit card interest and collection activity with the elderly and youth being most likely to succumb to the offers that are too good to pass up. Fees change constantly for ATM charges, handling, processing, vendor, fraud, security, and any other excuse to stick it to the consumer.

Credit rating companies feed information to credit card companies and collection companies making the whole business of debt collection a financial windfall to lawyers, collection agencies, process servers and even the courts. Lies regarding the rights of the cardholder are overwhelming to most people, threatening to them and their credit, and fraught with heavy-handed tactics.

Simply stated there is no protection for people from getting the cards, understanding the changing fees, and especially getting caught in the late payment and collection process. Debts are written off yet collection efforts go full steam. When debts should be forgiven efforts are still made to scare the consumers into making payments. The credit collection industry is about as close as we come to the Gestapo in this country and the politicians are silent.

There is minimum at best consumer protection and maximum effort to throw the consumer to the dogs. State and federal laws can regulate the methods for offering cards, the message explaining the “wonderful” opportunity, the interest, and the fees, even the ways and means of collection.

If we allow a credit card company to write off the bad debt, then why is the collection industry pursuing the poor consumer with no money? Why are the bad debts written off years before the debt is forgiven to the consumer? If the credit card company realizes a tax deduction for bad debt, why are collectors threatening the consumer long after?

If credit card companies contract out for collection to private businesses, are those private businesses subject to government regulation meant for the credit card companies? If the USA is drowning in debt it is because the card companies and all those companies making money off the card companies are driven by greed.

There are many opportunities for the candidates to help the consumers in this area and it does not even require spending much money, just developing and enforcing meaningful legislation and regulations to truly control the sharks. So once again we ask where are the proposals for change from the candidates?

4. Health Care Industry Cost, Insurance and Unnecessary Treatment

Just look at the facts and there is no doubt this system is broken. In 2006 we spent $2.1 trillion on health care, over $7,026 for every person in the USA, and it took over 16% of our Gross Domestic Product. That is 4.3 times more money than we spent on defense. The cost of health care increases at more than double the inflation rate annually.

At 16% of GDP we have the highest health care costs of any developed nation with the next highest being Switzerland 10.9%, Germany 10.7%, Canada 9.7% and France 9.5%. Americans spent one third more on health care than any of these nations, and while 50 million Americans do not have health insurance all of the citizens in the other nations mentioned receive health care. At our current pace we will be spending $4 trillion on health care in just 7 years, by 2015.

With the war in Iraq one might expect the cost of health care for veterans to be substantial as treatment in the war zone is far improved from earlier wars and for every death of a soldier there are 9 wounded soldiers that return home. Yet the cost of veteran’s health care drops to $5,000 per person, $2,000 less per year than civilians.

What is causing these statistical aberrations? Are we much sicker than citizens of the other nations? Is there a greater medical risk to civilians in America than our soldiers in Iraq? Why are 50 million Americans uninsured when all of the citizens of other nations receive health care?

According to the latest statistics employer paid health insurance premiums in the USA were $11,500 for families and about $4,200 for individuals. That means annual health insurance premiums account for a substantial portion of health care costs. Something is very wrong with the system.

Doctors take payoffs from drug companies to promote treatments. Doctor’s own clinics that need to keep billing patients to make money. Hospitals need patients to pay the bills and keep the beds full. In the end, some estimates say 25% of all health care treatment is unnecessary and serves to generate money for clinics, doctors and hospitals and not cures for the patients.

Alternative medicines are blocked throughout the nation as they represent a major loss of revenue for traditional medicine. Most of the use of alternative and holistic treatment is not covered by insurance because it would mean a huge loss in revenue to traditional medicine. CAT scans, MRIs and many other very expensive tests are done without justification in order to generate billings.

Deaths from malpractice and the wrong drugs or drug overdoses can be as high as natural deaths in some medical facilities. Yet the medical money machine goes on and on at higher and higher costs with little effort to bring about meaningful reform.

So what is the average educational debt for new doctors coming into the market? According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average educational debt of indebted graduates of the class of 2006 (including pre-med borrowing) is $130,571. The average debt of graduating medical students increased in 2006 by 8.5 percent over the previous year. 72 percent of graduates have debt of at least $100,000. 86.6 percent of graduating medical students carry outstanding loans. 40.2 percent of 2006 graduates have non-educational debt, averaging $16,689. Source: AAMC 2006 Graduation Questionnaires.

So how much do they make when they graduate? Cardiologists were the most sought-after specialists last year, fetching salaries ranging from $234,000 to $525,000 and averaging $320,000 a year, according to surveys. Close behind cardiologists are radiologists and orthopedic surgeons. Other prime areas where salaries are among the highest in medicine include ophthalmology, anesthesiology, and dermatology. Salaries for some of these specialties range from about $250,000 to more than $600,000, never mind the lucrative signing bonuses, income guarantees, and vacation packages that can be counted in months, not weeks.

But you don't need an M.D. after your name for the offers to come in. Pharmacists, physician assistants, physical and occupational therapists, audiologists, nurse practitioners, and other advanced-practice nurses are all in demand, with a master's degree as a certified registered nurse anesthetist generating salary offers ranging from about $100,000 to $160,000.

How are the candidates going to address the many changes needed in health care costs, stop the unnecessary treatments, and allow for the alternative methods to be embraced? Is there a better way to manage student loans and loan repayment? What insurance reforms are needed to make the USA competitive with other developed nations in terms of health care costs? How can we stop malpractice and false billing against insurance companies?

5. Pharmaceutical Industry Proliferation of Prescription Drugs

This can be short and sweet. In 2002 we spent $162 billion on prescription drugs and in 2006 we spent $217 billion on prescription drugs. One out of every five Americans takes 5 or more prescriptions per day. All Americans average 2.9 prescriptions per day. Our senior citizens, who are increasing very rapidly with the aging of the Baby Boomers, averaged $559 for prescriptions in 1992, $1,205 for prescriptions in 2000, and $1,912 in 2005 with spending expected to reach $2,805 in 2010.

Every day it seems the health authorities announce yet another prescription drug that does not work, or whose long-term effects are determined to be more dangerous than expected. Yet every day it seems there are new prescriptions for new diseases. We live longer but spend far more. Kids are over-prescribed with Ritalin and other drugs. They are addicted to drugs they don’t even take raiding medicine cabinets for the new drug culture.

What will the candidates do to stop this nonsense? How will they reign in the drug companies to stop making false advertising claims? Will they call for truth in advertising, documentation for claims, clinical trials when needed, and a stop to the practice of over-prescribing drugs across the board?

6. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Drug Approval Process

If drug prices in America have been rising almost five times as fast as inflation then the FDA must assume some of the responsibility as they are the regulatory agency charged with overseeing the over-the-counter and prescription drugs so abundant in our society.

The FDA new drug approval process with layers of clinical animal and human trials is the most costly, most lengthy and often most bizarre in terms of protocols and criteria for approval in the world. It is a process designed for the benefit of wealthy pharmaceutical companies, not for the small and independent research companies and laboratories.

Drug companies say it takes up to $500 million to bring a new drug through the FDA approval process. Small companies can do the same thing for about $10-25 million. Most small companies have to raise the money as they go through the process and will give up a major ownership position in their own company to afford the FDA process.

Major pharmaceutical firms have managed to negotiate with FDA for new drug approval even if the drug extends the life expectancy of the patient by just 30 days. Yet when these products are sold to the public no one seems to mention they might only be good for 30 days at a cost of thousands of dollars. Human clinical trials take place to see if there are any adverse reactions to the drugs. When you hear all the disclaimers in the ads for the approved drugs you wonder how they could ever get approval.

Things have gotten so ridiculous in the approval process that television ads for the drug Celebrex contain so many warnings of side effects and drug interactions that the ad actually states “the FDA says the benefits may outweigh the risks” when taking it. Are they crazy? It might be safe to take it?

Human trials approved by FDA require a protocol where half of the patients are given a placebo rather than the drug so results taking the drug can be measured against a control group not taking the drug. Not a bad practice unless the drug is experimental and the disease is going to kill the patient.

For example, stage 3 cancer patients have weeks or months to live. At stage 3 any normal and extremely expensive treatment like chemo, radiation or surgery has already failed. When they are offered a chance to participate in an experiment that might save their life and the option is certain death you might think they would jump at the chance, but that is not the case.

Why would they sign up when only half the people will even receive the treatment, with the other half getting meaningless placebos? If they are in the half that gets the candy and not the drug they die. If they get the drug there is a chance they might live. When you are facing death there should not be a 50-50 chance you won’t get the treatment.

Other problems with the industry include their price gouging, opposition to generic drugs selling for much less, opposition to foreign drugs also selling for much less, payments to doctors for prescribing their drugs, and unsubstantiated claims regarding over-the-counter drugs like cough syrup which has been proven to do no good.

Where do the candidates stand on the issues raised about the FDA and drug regulatory and approval process? How will they change the system to make it more responsive to patients, less costly for companies, and more beneficial for the public? How will false claims be dealt with and stopped?

7. Agriculture – Food Testing, Ingredients and Source

You go to the grocery store, check the fresh meat, see something that looks nice and red and fresh and buy it. Or maybe you buy the chicken to fry up for dinner. Then again you might buy pet food for your favorite dog or cat. Now did anyone tell you fresh meat like beef should not be red? Did they tell you color dyes and carbon monoxide are used to give the cuts of meat that color and they are injected in the butcher shop?

Did they tell you the chicken was raised in a hen house and pumped with hormones, steroids and God knows what else to fatten it up for the slaughter? Did they tell you about everything you just bought included rendered animal parts?

Did they mention rendering plants use raw product including thousands of dead dogs and cats; heads and hooves from cattle, sheep, pigs and horses; whole skunks; rats and raccoons? Did they mention the millions of maggots swarming over the carcasses? Did they tell you the carcasses would be ground up and cooked to create batches of yellow grease, meal and bone meal, and that the meat and bone meal would be used as a source of protein and other nutrients in poultry, swine and pet foods?

That the animal fat is used as an “energy source” and millions of tons will be trucked to poultry ranches, cattle feed-lots, dairy and hog farms, fish-feed plants and pet-food manufacturers where it is mixed with other ingredients to feed the billions of animals that meat-eating humans, in turn, will eat.

When you look at the ingredient label and it says the meat included protein it sounds good but is that protein from the rendered carcasses and what are the health consequences of eating a standard diet of rendered byproduct? The deadly Mad Cow disease was caused by feeding rendered products to cattle.

In food labeling what do the terms “natural” and “organic” really mean? Does that mean they were not genetically engineered? Are they free of the carbon monoxide used to make it appear fresh? Unless you grow all your food in your own garden and prepare all your meals from scratch, it's almost impossible to eat food without preservatives added.

The bottom line is we have a lot of explaining to do about food, what is in it, where it comes from, and what it will do to us over the years. So just where do the candidates stand on this critical consumer health and survival issue? What are their proposals to fix things?

8. Campaign Reform – Empty Promises and Empty Wallets

For the first time in our history the presidential campaign alone in 2008 is expected to cost over one billion dollars. Now that is a whole lot of money being spent to win a job that pays $400,000 a year and only lasts four years. One billion dollars spent to make $1,600,000. If that is the result of capitalism then we might have a problem.

Campaign reform has been talked about more and acted upon less than any other issue facing congress and the president. Political advertising costs are criminal. Some campaigns spend more money raising money than they do getting elected. Special interest groups give to candidates, give more to national political parties, more to state political parties and then spend money themselves to influence elections.

If $1 billion is spent in the race for the White House and there are 121 million votes cast like in 2004 then each vote will cost about $9 for president. When you add to that the cost for federal congressmen and senators, governors, state legislators and local races it is a pretty expensive freedom we exercise.

It can be changed if the president and congress have the guts. Paid ads can be stopped, special interest funding can be stopped, and a logical schedule for primaries can be held. Candidates can receive free media time since all the airways are government regulated. Voter registration can be increased.

There are about 226 million people eligible to vote in the USA and about 142 million are registered to vote. In 2004 about 121 million did vote for president. That means about 53% of the eligible voters participated in the last presidential election, a pretty weak total for the citadel of democracy in the world. That needs to be fixed. Require automatic voter registration with social security cards or drivers licenses if need be but get people back involved in the process. We can’t make people vote but we can make sure they have the opportunity to vote.

There is a lot the candidates can do to introduce meaningful campaign reform and the lack of proposals offered is troubling at best.

9. Immigration Reform – The Slumbering Social Issue of the Day

So far the candidates have done a masterful job of avoiding the issue of Immigration reform although before the campaign heated up they had a variety of ideas to offer. Now it seems the ideas have been taken off the table in hopes no one noticed they flip flopped on an issue.

There are a few areas of agreement. For one everyone agrees we need to strengthen border security on both the Canadian and Mexican borders. We also acknowledge that there are millions of Mexican workers illegally in the USA gainfully employed at jobs typically not wanted by Americans. What to do about them is a huge problem.

Since there is widespread opposition to any kind of amnesty program allowing them to remain without consequence perhaps a better alternative would be to allow those illegal immigrants and their families to remain with a permanent work visa if they are gainfully employed and have paid taxes in the United States.

They are here and they pay our income and sales taxes. They have cars and drivers licenses. They are making a substantial contribution to Social Security even though they cannot draw benefits. What amnesty are we giving them? If we throw them out don’t we owe them back their income, sales and social security payments? I say they have paid enough already for a permanent visa and they should be welcomed if they complete our citizenship requirements.

If the illegal immigrants that are gainfully employed and contributing to our tax and social security system are granted permanent work visas, overnight we will reduce the border security issues saving substantial money and improving relations between our two countries. This will free up resources to pursue the criminal elements from foreign countries that come illegally for far more sinister reasons.

Not only do millions of illegal immigrants pay taxes and provide services we would not otherwise have but they are also victims to hordes of unscrupulous people involved in car sales and repair, medical treatment, legal assistance, and many other areas because they have no way to protect themselves. They cannot go to law enforcement agencies for help, as they would be prosecuted. The simple act of granting well-earned permanent work visas would stop predators from taking advantage of their status.

So the candidates owe us their positions on the immigration reform issue and don’t just tell us they support the Great Wall of Mexico now being constructed. We all know how even the greatest and most feared of walls cannot stop people from seeking social justice and freedom, remember the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall? Give us substance.

10. Government Permits and Inspections – Protection or Payoffs

Whenever corruption is uncovered at the state or local government level the odds are it is tied to the permits and inspection activities of the locality. Permits are required for new and renovation construction, whether it is housing, commercial, industrial or public. A complex combination of federal, state and local statutes dictate the construction standards to be followed.

Federal standards are set but states, counties or localities can add to the standards and the result can be a tremendous burden to the public. Inspections are required for the issuance of building permits and therein lays the gateway to potential corruption. Since inspections cover all aspects of construction from foundations to floors and walls, electrical to plumbing, there are many ways the process can be compromised.

Beyond that unique local codes can further complicate the process such as areas without public water or sewer lines, environmentally sensitive areas, watersheds, aquifers, wetlands, water front and on and on. In some cases the intent of building codes may be good but the result may be counterproductive. For example, we have water shortages but block the recycling of gray water. We require septic mound systems when we have no long term testing to show it even works.

Energy conservation and recycling efforts can be discouraged because of code problems and interpretations and the most cost effective and environmentally friendly materials may be prohibited by outdated building codes. Housing is a critical element of our nation’s economy and anything that restricts our ability to renovate, rebuild, or undertake new construction, to use new energy and environmental materials and techniques, or that offers opportunities for corruption is in need of reform.

The federal government is the only legislative authority that can override the archaic codes or practices of state and local government, that can encourage the use of new materials and techniques to help our energy, environmental and water needs, and can work with state attorney generals to assure the process is not corrupt.

Because this process can impact on anyone living in our nation it would behoove the candidates to address this issue and offer recommendations on how to protect our citizens, encourage the economic activity resulting from housing construction, and make certain the codes are enforced in a lawful and just manner.


There you have it, ten areas in need of reform to help the people of America, the People’s Agenda for Change. We The People, yes the same We The People first mentioned as the first words of our Constitution, expect leaders to lead and to better understand what type of leadership we can expect from the candidates and we need to know what they intend to do about these issues. Sound bites or silence do you no justice and are a disservice to us.

These issues affect every American and will dramatically effect our future generations. History can be made this election but it will have to be earned by a meaningful discussion of how candidates intend to serve. It is time to silence the swords and get on with the substance. We have waited patiently; now give us the reasons to support you.

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