Sunday, September 27, 2009

In a bit of a pickle

As I came down the stairs I heard somebody moaning in the general vicinity of the kitchen.


Mmmfff. Unh-huh.


What the hell is going on, I wondered?

Standing over the kitchen island, eyes closed, murmuring to himself is my spouse.

With a half-eaten jar of pickles in his hand.

"Oh my God, these are so good."

"Good," he said, as if I didn't hear him the first time through the mouthful of pickles. "My mom would have loved these, these are soooo good. What are they?"

Just bread and butter pickles. Pickles and peppers from our garden, and some big sweet onions from the farmers' market, with some extra garlic.

That was a week ago. He's eaten another jar since then. I don't think I've made enough to make it through the winter, at this rate of consumption.

Try them yourself, they're easy to make. But you'd better do it soon if you live in northern climes as hard frosts will take out the rest of the pickle crop over the next couple of weeks.

Oh, and as for the pickle prep: I used my old Salad Shooter to slice the pickles. It made short work of the small pickles, although some of the larger diameter cukes had to be sliced in half lengthwise before I could put them through the machine. The same guy who'd glutted himself pickles was pretty skeptical about the thickness of the pickle slices; he thought they'd be too thin to be crisp. Obviously not a problem at all.

Bread and Butter Pickles


25 pickling cucumbers, washed and sliced thin
2 large onions, peeled and sliced thin
2 sweet or bell peppers, sliced or chopped bite-sized or smaller
3 cloves garlic, minced finely
1/2 cup pickling salt
3 cups cider vinegar
5 cups white sugar
2 TBSP. mustard seed
1 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1 TBSP. ground turmeric

1 TBSP. red pepper flakes (OPTIONAL - add if you like sweet-and-spicy)


1. Place prepared vegetables into a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables and toss together gently until salt has been evenly incorporated. Let stand approximately 3 hours.

Wash and prep jars and lids for canning.

2. About 20 minutes before the vegetables have finished brining, pour the cider vinegar, white sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, whole cloves and turmeric into a large pot. The pot must big enough for all of the vegetables. Bring the vinegar-sugar-spice mixture to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.

Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water and have at the ready; prepare hot water bath canner.

3. Drain the salty liquid from the vegetables; rinse the vegetables with very cold water three times to remove excess salt, then drain the vegetables thorougly in a large colander. (The colder the water, the better as it will ensure the cuke slices retain their crispness. Add ice to the water if necessary.)

Gently stir drained vegetables into the boiling vinegar-sugar-spice mixture. Turn up heat, stirring gently; turn down heat to warm just before vegetables reach boiling point.

4. Ladle hot pickle mixture into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head room. Seal and process in hot water bath for 30 minutes.

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake's The Seminal.]

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A pattern of behavior suggests less than full cooperation from the health care industry

After a rather aggravating discussion this past week with rank-and-file members of the local Democratic Party as well as representatives for elected officials, it became clear that hold-outs in Congress who refuse to commit that they will do everything possible to obtain the public option are not on the same page as us.

They believe they need to make no commitments to anyone, including constituents, in order to have maximum negotiating power when bargaining with the health care industry.

We, on the other hand, believe they simply need to do their utmost to get the public option, which is not the same as bargaining away and settling for less.

I was pretty steamed about this situation. Perhaps if I knew less about the health care industry's performance over the last couple of decades I might be more amenable and understanding.

But I do know about these choice examples -– and they are only a very small number, a smattering of cases presented here in no particular order which exemplify a problem across the health care industry:


09/03/09 -- Justice Department Announces Largest Health Care Fraud Settlement in Its History

"...American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company Inc. (hereinafter together "Pfizer") have agreed to pay $2.3 billion, the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice, to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from the illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products, the Justice Department announced today.

Pharmacia & Upjohn Company has agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misbranding Bextra with the intent to defraud or mislead. Bextra is an anti-inflammatory drug that Pfizer pulled from the market in 2005."


04/23/08 -- Former Bristol-Myers Squibb Senior Vice President indicted for lying to the Federal Government about popular blood-thinning drug

"The Department of Justice announced today that the former senior vice president of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS), Andrew Bodnar, was indicted for his role in lying to the federal government about a patent deal involving the popular blood-thinning drug, Plavix, used by heart attack, stroke and other patients.


On June 11, 2007, BMS agreed to plead guilty and pay a $1 million criminal fine for misleading the government about the Plavix patent deal. BMS paid the maximum fine permitted by statute for committing two violations under the federal False Statements Act."


08/23/05 -- Former Bristol-Myers Executives charged by SEC with Civil Fraud

"The Complaint alleges that from the first quarter of 2000 through the fourth quarter of 2001, at Schiff and Lane's direction, Bristol-Myers stuffed its distribution channels with excessive amounts of its pharmaceutical products ahead of demand to meet the Company's internal earnings targets and the consensus estimate of Wall Street securities analysts, and improperly recognized revenue from $1.5 billion of such sales to its two largest wholesalers. According to the Commission's Complaint, when Bristol-Myers' results still fell short of its targets and the consensus estimate, at Schiff's direction, the Company used "cookie jar" reserves to further inflate its earnings. The Complaint also alleges that at Schiff's direction, and as a result of the channel-stuffing, Bristol-Myers also underaccrued for Medicaid and prime vendor rebate liabilities. As a result of its channel-stuffing and improper accounting measures, Bristol-Myers reported results that met or exceeded the consensus estimate every quarter during the scheme."


06/15/05 -- Bristol-Myers Squibb Charged with Conspiring to Commit Securities Fraud; Prosecution Deferred for Two Years

"Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS) has agreed to pay an additional $300 million in restitution and undertake a series of corporate reforms as part of an agreement with the government to defer prosecution on a charge of conspiring to commit securities fraud for the company's failure to disclose its 'channel-stuffing' activities in 2000 and 2001"


September 2008 -- WellCare Health Plans Inc. has agreed to pay $35.2 million to the Financial Litigation Unit of the United States Attorney's Office

"WellCare Health Plans Inc. has agreed to pay $35.2 million to the Financial Litigation Unit of the United States Attorney's Office arising from understatements of anticipated premium refunds pursuant to its Florida Medicaid contract. This figure is based on WellCare's estimate of the maximum potential repayment owed to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration ("AHCA") under the state's disease management law from December 1, 2002 through December 31, 2006."


03/03/08 -- New York takes on United over tactics as industry arbiter of physician pay

"An investigation into how a UnitedHealth Group subsidiary determined reimbursement for out-of-network physicians across multiple insurers alleges to show a pattern of underpricing services to shift the payment burden from insurers to patients.


Cuomo, speaking at a news conference in New York City, said Ingenix had manipulated UCR rates to keep them artificially low, resulting in additional profit for United and unnecessary costs for consumers.


Cuomo's investigation is extending to other plans that use Ingenix. He said he is issuing subpoenas to 16 other health plans, including WellPoint's Empire BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, Humana and Aetna. Humana has acknowledged receiving a subpoena."


02/09/04 -- HealthSouth fraud figures higher than thought

"The embattled outpatient services giant HealthSouth now believes its accounting fraud could total as much as $4.6 billion, significantly more than previous estimates.

In a meeting with investors on Jan. 20, HealthSouth officials said an audit was expected to reveal between $3.8 billion and $4.6 billion in fraudulent accounting. In July 2003, the company estimated the fraud to total at least $2.5 billion."


12/22/08 -- SEC Files Settled Enforcement Actions Against UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and Former General Counsel in Stock Options Backdating Case

“The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed a civil injunctive action against UnitedHealth Group Inc., a Minnetonka, Minn., health insurance company, alleging that it engaged in a scheme to backdate stock options. Without admitting or denying the allegations, UnitedHealth agreed to settle charges that it violated the reporting, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws.

In a separate complaint, the Commission charged former UnitedHealth General Counsel David J. Lubben with participating in the stock option backdating scheme. Without admitting or denying the allegations, Lubben consented to, among other things, an antifraud injunction, a $575,000 penalty, and a five-year officer and director bar.

The Commission alleges that between 1994 and 2005, UnitedHealth concealed more than $1 billion in stock option compensation by providing senior executives and other employees with “in-the-money” options while secretly backdating the grants to avoid reporting the expenses to investors.”


04/28/09 -- Federal court approves $350 million RICO case settlement

"A federal court in Massachusetts approved a $350 million settlement. The case alleged a drug wholesaler of inflating drug prices.


The suit alleged that McKesson and FirstData violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The complaint alleged that the companies used interstate mail to fraudulently raise the average price of McKesson’s drugs."


07/29/02 -- Blue Cross of California and WellPoint Health Networks to pay U.S. $9.25M to settle allegations of Medicare Fraud

"Blue Cross of California (BCC) and its parent company, WellPoint Health Networks, have agreed to pay the United States $9,250,000 to resolve allegations that BCC defrauded Medicare, the Justice Department announced today. BCC, which was under contract with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to process Medicare claims in California until December 2000 (Medicare Part A fiscal intermediary) is alleged to have knowingly falsified data regarding its performance of cost report audits for Medicare."


06/29/06 -- Tenet Healthcare Corp. to pay U.S. more than $900 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations

"Tenet Healthcare Corporation, operator of the nation's second-largest hospital chain, has agreed to pay the United States more than $900 million to resolve several "whistleblower" lawsuits and investigations alleging that Tenet and its hospitals knowingly submitted false claims to the Medicare program and other federal health insurance programs over the past decade.

The settlement is the largest single settlement in the nearly 150-year history of the False Claims Act. Previously, the Justice Department settled with HCA for $840 million, as part of a total recovery from HCA of $1.7 billion."


Again, let me reiterate that this list is a tiny number of cases culled from the last seven years alone. There are many, many more like them, and there's one hell of a lot of money involved.

So tell me exactly why it is we are negotiating at all with these organizations?

Would we tolerate this kind of widespread disregard for the law from any other industry, and still sit down to the table to negotiate with them, believing them to be working with us in good faith?

[Photo: Pharmaceuticals by Destinys_Agent via Cross-posted to Firedoglake's The Seminal.]

Monday, September 07, 2009

An offended mother on President Obama’s speech to school kids

The text of President Obama's speech scheduled for delivery tomorrow to public school children has been released today; I've read it.

And I asked my both of my kids read it.

With a bored, so-what shrug, the new sophomore said, "It's rather elementary, but I suppose it has to be since it's meant to reach elementary school kids. Like kindergartners."

The new middle-schooler was more forthcoming.

"Yeah, I read this part about Obama and his mom this past year," by which he referred to the portion of the speech in which Obama recalls how mother got him up at 4:30 a.m. to study. "I already knew about that. And the President is telling kids the same thing you already tell us, that we need to go to school and study and work hard."

I asked him about parents being afraid to let kids hear President Obama's speech -- what did he think about this?

"Profiling. They're profiling him."

You could have knocked me over with a feather; I wasn't expecting this for an answer. Really? Profiling? What did he mean?

"Yeah, the parents are like Maxwell Smart in the Get Smart movie. Max says, 'I'm not profiling, I'm not profiling...he looks EVIL! But I'm not profiling...'"

And off he went to go and enjoy the last day of summer vacation; I doubt this includes packing his backpack, though.

* * * * *

I wish I could summon more cogent thoughts in response.

But all I can think at this point in time is Get. The. Hell. Off. It.

You, the conservatives whining about the President's speech to children tomorrow: Get off it.

The smart kids can see right through you. The older kids won't be impacted by his speech because they are already firmly on the road or they are already lost.

The younger ones are more savvy than you give them credit; they already know you are acting out of pure bigotry.

And the youngest of school kids? Well, we can only hope that a message like "Go to school because you need education" isn't going to scar them unduly. Goodness knows what crazy-ass messages you'd rather they heard from the government. We already know you are personally teaching them fear and bigotry instead of critical thinking.

You do realize that in a capitalist, free market society, workers compete against each other, right?

Fear and bigotry are going to make your kids unemployable in an adult work world where they compete for jobs with the rest of the globe -- as if a lack of critical thinking and education won't do that, too.

Over the past week you've managed to label encouragement to be responsible and completely prepared to compete for future jobs as socialist. What are you telling children about capitalism?

You've had your chance for the last decade-plus, between your former majority in Congress and your two terms in the White House. You've bankrupted us by lying us into an illegal war, by allowing greed to eat away at solid legislative protections and eventually eat away our nation's personal savings, too. You've dumbed us down with your ownership stranglehold on media, so that blabber-mouth cry-babies like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are seen as the benchmark of media success.

And now you want kids to avoid hearing a speech encouraging their personal responsibility to obtain a good education?

Just stop.

And stay the hell away from my kids, you frightened, bigoted, crazy freaks.

[Photo: Crazy bus by bunchofpants, via Cross-posted at FDL's The Seminal.]

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