Bob Franken

Beer and Health Care-Distractions

So it’s over. The guys have had their beer. President Obama has smiled through clenched teeth at the “Beer at the White House” diversion from health care reform. Has anyone considered, though, that the single-minded focus on health care is also a diversion?

An old friend once said about cable news, “We can only over-cover one story at a time.” Britney Spears or Sarah Palin will completely take over. It’s fair to say that the debate over health care reform is more substantive. Sometimes.

What’s disturbing, though, is we’ve turned almost all our attention away from the faltering economy even as it shows glimmers of rebounding. There are still many many tales of despicable conduct we should be telling.

Thanks to the New York Times, we are reminded that the contemptible people who got us into this mess are doing everything they can to take care of themselves while everyone else continues to drown.

The article describes large numbers of mortgage brokers who are impeding efforts by desperate homeowners to stay in their homes. Why? Turns out these brokers have sweetheart deals where they share in the fees charged for late payments. The longer they can stretch the agony, the more delinquencies, the more money they get. So stretch they do. In the process they thwart government efforts to encourage new financing at terms the homeowner can better handle.

As for the faint signs the economy’s stormy seas are subsiding just a bit, it appears that all the slickos whose banking and investment practices nearly caused us to sink are the very ones who are prospering as the ship-like turnaround begins. They can’t wait to pay back enough of the taxpayer money that kept them afloat so they can return to their obscene salaries, unmolested by regulation.

According to a new report from New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, Wall Street firms and banks paid nearly 5,000 executives more than $1 million each in bonuses last year — while that ship was sinking.

The public clamor has gotten loud enough that Congress is making a show of stepping in. By Friday, the House is expected to pass a bill that would purportedly put some controls on compensation. But critics complain most of the restrictions are weak or non-binding. The final legislation has been watered down after heavy lobbying by those in the banking and investment communities.

To a large degree, this is happening under the radar, because the radar is pinging elsewhere. It is fair to say that there’s no small amount of larceny in the health care biz, but there’s an awful lot more out there that is not getting the attention it deserves.

We see how fast the spotlight can move. The death of Michael Jackson completely took it over. So did those guys having their beers at the White House. Meanwhile, secret deals — and maybe bad policy — are being brewed out of sight, which means the hustlers will continue to get away with their destructive behavior

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