Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “profit”

Whose Shutdown is it, Anyway? – Tom Rossi

The “debate” rages on. Are 1+1 really 2? Or are they 3? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear sh… Oh, forget it.

Here’s the “debate”: I want to cut off your legs with a chainsaw. What’s that? You don’t want to talk it over? You don’t want to sit down and negotiate? Hmmm… Well, let’s try something less extreme. I want you to give me 25% of your paycheck… every month. Whaaaaat? You don’t want to talk about that either??? Well, YOU are obviously the problem.

tom-toles-obamacare

John Boehner, Rush Limbaugh, Fox “News”, and just about every Republican politician out there is trying to pin this shutdown on President Obama. This is due to the fact that Obama stubbornly refuses to accept a Republican-crafted budget that takes away the funding for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which Obama and other Democrats worked for years to make the law of the land.

cryingboehner

The right-wing wants Obama to just turn around, let go of victory, and be defeated. And they want the same from the American people. Republicans (publicly, anyway) agree that health costs are out of control. But instead of making it cheaper for people, they want doctors and especially big medical businesses to be largely free from lawsuits, even when they do something terribly wrong.

Obamacare may only be a B- victory for the average citizen of the United States, but it’s all we’re going to get. We will not have “single payer” health care within the foreseeable future (unfortunately) so we have to hold on to our hard-won compromise like grim death.

obamacare card

It’s OK to disagree about this. It’s OK to hold the opinion that Obamacare is a bad thing. But don’t shut down the government and then claim it was the other guys’ doing. Though we can continue to debate health care, out here in the world, the law has passed. We supposedly have majority rule in this country, and the majority want serious health-care reform, and the majority made Obamacare the law.

Obamacare-face-full

As a nation, we badly need to grow up. Countries with nowhere near our natural resource base have thriving economies and universal health care. Obamacare is an imperfect compromise, but a reasonable one. Let’s get on with our lives… and our health.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Jail for the Privileged and Profiteers – Roger Ingalls

Another city jail opens its doors to corruption. Fremont, California over build their incarceration capacity by a factor of six so now they’ve decided to lower their vacancy rate by renting out the open cells in an attempt to turn a quarter of a million dollar profit. On the surface it sounds like a good idea because the city fixes a planning mistake and they also make money to spend elsewhere. But these profit motivated jailing programs have proven corrupt and beneficial to mainly the privileged.

Obviously, these programs cater to the wealthier members of society. As an example, if someone breaks the law and is sentenced to jail time, instead of serving time in a crowded county jail they can appeal to the judge for movement to a city facility if they pay a daily rental fee. In the case of Fremont, the daily fee is $155. If you have extra money, you can buy your way into a nicer jail with fewer prisoners and a less stressful environment. So, two criminals with the same offence with different monetary standings will serve different sentences. The poorer guy gets hell while the richer one gets a more privileged stay. Sentencing for crime should not be based on a criminal’s wealth.

picture by thinkprogress.org

picture by thinkprogress.org

Another problem with for profit jails is financial corruption. Again, it’s already been proven that judges can get bought. A for profit juvenile jail in Pennsylvania kicked back $2.6 million to two judges for keeping their facility at capacity; the infamous Kids for Cash Scandal. Offences that normally resulted in suspension from school for a few days often put teenagers in juvy-jail for months. The judges hid behind a position of zero tolerance but in actuality it was payola time.

For profit incarceration is also driving the criminalization of basic human behavior. Many of the prisons built over the past twenty years are constructed and managed by companies on the stock exchange. Many facilities originally built by local governments are now being handed over to for profit companies. Do you wonder why crime reports state that violent crimes are down but then the next report says the prison population is increasing? To attract stock investors, publicly traded incarceration companies need to grow revenue quarterly and annually…that’s how Wall Street and their financial institutions work. More prisoners equal more dollars and rehabilitation is a dirty word. These huge prison companies and their large work force hire lobbyists and political marketing firms to promote the passing of new laws or rally against movements that try to do away with bad laws that criminalize normal human behavior. Again, these companies need bodies behind bars to make money.

Jailing for the purpose of profit is a corruption of justice.

No More Tears? – Tom Rossi

I was just watching a “news” special, that smacked of being paid for, like many, seemingly real, news segments are, about eye health. It featured a series of ophthalmologists and optometrists that offered advice on various issues of the eye.

Some of these issues were serious, like macular degeneration. But a somewhat lengthy segment was about “chronic dry eye syndrome.”

The doctors offered several solutions to this irritating, and sometimes painful, problem – pills, operations… the usual medical stuff. But let me tell you about when I went to see an ophthalmologist about this type of problem.

bloodshot

My eyes were dry, itchy, and actually painful, in a half-achy, half-sharp sort of way. I was having trouble focusing on written words, and reading was getting to be really difficult. The ophthalmologist I went to was very young… I’d say she had probably graduated from med school within the last five years, at the most. She examined me thoroughly, listened to my descriptions, and then uttered an utter blasphemy – “Go home and put a hot, damp washcloth on your forehead and eyes for 15 minutes, three times a day, for three weeks.”

What?!?!? No pills? No surgery? No scheduled return visit? Are you insane? OK, I didn’t ask her that last one, but I incredulously asked, “Are you sure?” She said, “Yes.” I told her that the pharmaceutical companies would have her head. She laughed and agreed.

pills1

My wife had been having similar symptoms, and so we tried the “treatment” together… and it worked. I was stunned, for several reasons. First, that such a simple regimen had fixed my problem. But most importantly, that my doctor had been willing to ignore what I call the “Pill Imperative.” She had also not even mentioned surgery at all.

My ophthalmologist’s treatment for this condition wasn’t supposed to be a one-time, permanent cure. It has to be repeated, every once in a while. But to tell the truth, neither my wife nor I followed the plan to the letter, and it still worked. We did about half the recommended hot washcloth treatments, and now do it about once every two months, or so.

I’ve decided not to give my doctor’s name, here, because I actually do think that it could bring negative attention to her from various medical regulatory bodies and/or pharmaceutical companies. But this episode illuminates a basic problem with our health care “system.”

Don't be a zombie.

Don’t be a zombie.

What’s wrong with our health care “system?” First, it’s not a “system” at all – it’s a bucket full of independent particles, more a gas than a fluid, each of which mainly exists to make money. There is a lot of good, of course. Many of those particles, while making money, do an excellent job and some of them actually care about people’s health. But what seems like a majority of doctors are all too ready to prescribe pills or surgery for almost any problem that a patient might have. Sometimes, this is due to an ignorant patient attitude, expecting pills and even, thanks to ridiculous advertizing on television, asking for medications by brand name.

Profits get sucked out of patients and insurance companies at several layers of the health care process, pushing the costs through the clouds, even while our bodies are increasingly assaulted by man-made toxins in the environment and in our food and water. These profits often leads to changes in the decision-making process concerning a patient’s care. Changes that are not based on the patient’s best interest.

The treatment prescribed by my ophthalmologist certainly won’t work for everyone. Sometimes pills and/or surgery are necessary or even urgent. There are many cases where an “alternative medicine” treatment just won’t get the job done, and could even cause a dangerous delay in getting the real medical attention that is needed.

But, in many cases, the first line of defense could be something simple and almost free. If you suffer from dry eyes, for example, you probably won’t die if you take a week or two to try this alternative treatment. Give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work, then you can go to a doctor and spend a bunch of money.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Charging for… Not Charging?

The recent move by Bank of America and others to charge people for using their debit cards provides a porthole into the mind of the corporate person. The corporate person is not a real person that works for a corporation, it is the legal entity that the corporation itself has become – especially in light of recent supreme court rulings.

A corporation is, of course, not really a person and should not be legally treated as such. A corporation much more resembles an ant colony – it’s mindless automatons performing whatever task is needed to satisfy the never-ending hunger of the nest.

Corporations are armies raised to seek profit. There are many ways to make a profit, and to increase your profits. The “free market” fantasy professed by so many politicians (and their corporate owners) promotes the good, old-fashioned way – by making something better than your competitors or somehow offering more value to your customers so that consumers buy more of your products/services.

Another way to make more profit is simply to charge more for the product or service that you already offer. Banks know that it’s a pain for customers to change to another bank, and if gradually ALL the banks charge for the things that used to be free, there won’t be any incentive to change anyway.

To a corporation, an incomplete opportunity to make a profit is seen as a cost. Let me say that again, because it’s an important insight into the inherently disfunctional corporate mindset: If there is some way that money COULD be made, but it is not being fully exploited, that it seen as a LOSS.

Through the lens of this contorted thinking, bankers at BofA and other banks realized that they make lots of money when customers use credit cards, but not debit cards. Hmmmm… How to fix this? It’s simple: charge your customers for using their own money.

How do banks and other corporations get away with changing the basic terms of a debit card or other contract? When you enter into an agreement with a corporation, say for a bank account or something like cell-phone service, the contract explicitly states: “This agreement is subject to change.” What???? Well I certainly don’t have the power to change it. Only they can change it and, guess what? It’s never once been to my benefit.

I’m writing my bank now, in type size 2 (here’s an example), and informing them that they are now paying me 99% interest on my deposits – weekly. I’m sure it will work.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Lawsuits – the driving force for change.

I’m in the hospital right now – not as a patient (this time) but visiting a family member who is a patient. It’s a good hospital – better than most. It’s in my home town and I have been here many, many times for various reasons and I’ve witnessed everything except an actual operation in progress.

Because I’ve seen so much, I’ve been able to notice some significant changes to procedures over the years – changes for the better. For one thing, when blood or what they call “blood products” (plasma, etc.) are to be given to a patient, there are at least two people on the task. They scan the bar codes on the patient’s wrist band (another innovation from several years back) and the bar codes on the blood. They don’t just rely on technology, though. They read the full name and other identification information about the patient and the material aloud. They verify the blood type at least twice and maybe three times. All this to assure that the wrong thing doesn’t go into a patient.

Another interesting procedural innovation is in the way that the head doctor (attending physician) of a department conducts what are called “rounds”. This is where the doctor gathers and verifies information on the patient from all of a patients nurses, therapists, etc. All the information has already been entered on the computer system and the doctor has a linked laptop computer right in front of him. But everyone is required to verify each piece of relevant information from his or her own notes. Then, the doctor gives any visitors who are present at the time a breakdown in understandable language of the patient’s condition, prognosis, and several details.

Everywhere I look, as I walk around and watch the hospital at work, I see caution, verification, and various other methods of, essentially, mistake prevention. So why has this system evolved so well? Well, one important reason is malpractice lawsuits.

A hospital could save a significant amount of money by having only one person administer blood products, but even infrequent mistakes can cost MUCH more in lawsuits and legal fees. So, mistake-preventing procedures pay for themselves, perhaps many times over. The result (a positive externality) is that patients enjoy improved safety and improved medical care. So, lawsuits have driven these changes.


There are two alternatives to the present, lawsuit-based system when it comes to the relationship between individuals and corporations (including hospitals): much stronger government regulation to protect patients (and consumers of various types) or simply trusting market mechanisms. The former might be viable if strict regulations had sharp teeth – large fines and even criminal charges in some cases (more than now). To work, this would require enforcement on many levels – again, more enforcement than we have now. We would have to agree, as a society, that good treatment of individuals outweighs profit maximization.


On the other hand, letting corporations essentially choose how relationships with individuals work would mean that society had chosen to believe that profit maximization would drive these relationships to an “optimal” form. The idea is essentially that poor quality of services delivered will cause the business to suffer because the flow of customers will stop.


One problem with this is that the negative publicity that might come from news of an accidental and unnecessary fatality can be overcome by an active public relations (PR) campaign – TV commercials, magazine and newspaper ads, etc. All that need be done is to feature some trustworthy-looking person telling a story (fictional) about what a great hospital this one is. And so, the principle that the market will punish poor quality often fails.

Essentially, the market drives improvements incrementally and usually only within a short time horizon – within which changes in profits are quickly apparent. Without lawsuits or fines shifting the cost equation, many improvements to safety practices would either never happen, or would happen much more slowly.

Am I actually praising lawsuits? No, but lawsuits are yet another necessary evil in our world. It’s the most effective and efficient way we have to coerce painful, otherwise bottom-line worsening changes that are in the best interest of patients and consumers. Lawsuits are a way of shifting the balance back toward human well-being.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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