Monthly Archives: December 2008

Kiplinger’s pick: Galichia Heart Hospital

Galichia Heart Hospital’s discounted fees are getting national attention.

In February, the hospital made news by announcing it would offer heart bypass surgery for a flat fee of $10,000, undercutting other hospitals’ charges by more than $20,000. And in April it treated its first out-of-country patient: a Canadian willing to pay cash for a hip replacement he would have waited months or years for back home.

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine noted those trends in its January issue on saving money. ” Forget traveling abroad to save on medical procedures. A trip to America’s heartland can be just as healthy for your wallet,” the article begins.

Nice to see us getting the attention.

Big Brother lives and breathes in Oregon

If the crazies that surface in Kansas public policy debates vex you, take heart from this gas story in the Albany, Ore., Democrat-Herald.

The governor of Oregon, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, wants to put the eye of government in all vehicles and tax them by mileage driven, rather than the conventional state gasoline tax used there and in other states, like Kansas.

Now, in addition to all the personal privacy issues and potential for abuse this nutty idea raises, it also puts the hammer again to the beleaguered transportation industry.

My heart goes out to those folks: We can’t as a country allow them to enjoy a few months of lower fuel prices. Instead, bureaucrats hungry for the tax dollar go back to the drawing board to see what they can siphon off an industry whose increased costs end up clobbering each and every one of us.

I’ve got a better idea: Let’s tax politicians by the stupid and self-serving public policy ideas they develop.

There wouldn’t be a dirt road in America.

Give me a V! Give me a U! Don’t give me a W

Here’s an interesting piece about the shape of recessions, which come in all kind of shapes: the sharp V, the more gradual U and the double-dip W, among others.

The author sees a W, with the stimulus package making the first recession shallow, creating the illusion of a recovery. Once the stimulus wears off, the county will hit a second, deeper recession, plus having high budget deficits and inflation.

PS. I fixed the link from earlier.

Spitzer asks for sunlight

This post by Eliot Spitzer make me sad he couldn’t keep his pants on when it counted.

He asks critical questions about how, why and who at the banks screwed up so badly, and what’s going with the bailout. His theme is that more sunlight in the dimly lit backrooms of Wall Street is the only thing that will restore confidence among the public.

Even now the big banks, their vaults filled with public dollars, are refusing to tell regulators how much they’re lending. They don’t feel that the rules have changed any. That tells me that the banks and Wall Street see this as just a temporary storm, that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the system and they plan to go back to what they were doing when they can.

ING lets some customers skip mortgage payment

I don’t want to get too carried away with this and suggest that online bank ING is above reproach, but it’s letting several hundred of its customers skip a monthly mortgage payment.

It’s interesting, based on interviews of two of the beneficiaries of this action, what kind of impact this has had on customers.

What’s even more interesting is the fact that ING, based on the most current list of financial institutions to receive money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, hasn’t yet asked for money from the $700 billion rescue plan.

Merry Christmas, ING customers!

Don’t you want to know?

I’ve heard a lot of complaints by business people about the media and how it has hurt them by writing bad news. Sensationalizing, they say. Trying to sell papers, they say.

My kneejerk reaction is to say you’re wrong, we’re just reporting the news. My second reaction is to say, well, maybe, there has been a lot of bad news and people do seem to be pretty down. I’ve looked for the good news nuggets and tried to get them in the paper.  And we’ve gone out of our way to differentiate between the disastrous national housing market and the merely mediocre local one.

My third reaction is to get a little ticked off: people need to know what’s going on to make important decisions. For every retailer or salesman who says we should tone down the coverage, there are hundreds of people who probably ought to think twice before spending $1,000 on Christmas. In these times, being a little scared is appropriate.

Ronald Reagan is dead

In a new Pew Research Center poll, 59 percent of Americans say that the government can successfully address our economic problems when asked if the federal government still has the power to fix the economy or whether globalization has made this task too difficult to accomplish.

70 percent of the public say that government expenditures of billions of dollars on roads, bridges, and public works are the right thing to do.

Whatever happened to Ronald Reagan’s” Government isn’t the solution to the problem, the government is the problem.”

Credit Suisse handing out interesting ‘bonuses’

How does a bank unload some of its riskiest assets?

Zurich, Switzerland-based Credit Suisse has come up with an interesting idea. Use them as bonuses for senior executives.

Bloomberg news service has a story today about such a plan.

Could U.S. banks employ such an idea?

Score one for consumers

If I have any major financial regrets, the top one of the bunch is taking out a credit card. While they have their purpose, the past eight years have been a barrage of pro-financial institution regulations enabling credit card issuers to legally morph into loan sharks: Witness the 8 percent rate hike I endured in November, so the issuer can recoup losses from other card holders.

Hard to believe anyone in this economy can’t handle doubled payments and interest rates rising from the low teens into the 30s, isn’t it?

Well, those loan sharking days appear numbered, as this story about the Federal Reserve illustrates. Anything that makes it harder for banks – many who issued credit cards to consumers without regard to credit suitability – to make money unilaterally by gouging consumers, despite the free run on the U.S. Treasury many have gotten out of the October bailout, will get nothing but applause here.

But never let it be said that I’m unsympathetic to the plight of financial institutions. Maybe they can start hoarding and speculating in oil to recoup their losses.

There’s more than one way to gouge the American consumer.

Vilsack’s nomination draws support

Obama’s nomination today of ex-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as his U.S. ag secretary has generally drawn rave reviews from the ag community and Washington folks. But you have to figure those in the renewable fuels industry are particularly pleased with the selection.

After all, Vilsack comes from a state that has 29 ethanol plants, the most of any state. The ethanol industry can use all the friends in Washington it can round up with gas prices still down and oil projected to perhaps dip below $30 in 2009. Only last week a second ethanol plant in Iowa, Pine Lake Corn Processors, filed for bankruptcy.

Vilsack was also an early backer of developing wind energy.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he was looking forward to working with Vilsack.

Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, which represents small communities and small farmers in the Midwest, said, “I think he’s a good choice to implement the vision of rural American that President-elect Obama put forth in the campaign.

Hassebrook had applied for the job himself after growing discouraged with the reported list of possible nominees. “There were people on the list who weren’t very interested in the things we care about,” Hassebrook said. “He is.”

Craig Cox, now the Iowa-based Midwest vice president of the Environmental Working Group, said Vilsack will bring a broad view of agriculture to the Cabinet.

“It’s encouraging that the White House understands that the Department of Agriculture is about much, much more than farm subsidies,” he said.

After dropping out as a presidential candidate very early in the race, Vilsack endorsed Hillary Clinton. When she quit, Vilsack backed Obama. That apparently was enough to satisfy Obama.

Meanwhile, Washington sources indicate that Karen Ross, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, will be named ag’s deputy secretary.

Charles Koch and Paris Hilton in their own words

So what do Charles Koch and Paris Hilton have in common? The answer is not money, although that would also be true.

The correct answer is both are in the “What I’ve Learned” feature in Esquire magazine’s January issue. Clint Eastwood is on the cover.

Here are some snippets from the Koch interview:

“You can study the theory and learn the concepts of riding a bike forever, but until you practice them so you can do it without thinking, you don’t have knowledge of bike riding.”

“Most people in Wichita take maybe ten minutes to get to work. Just examine that, what that means in the quality of life. Ten minutes as opposed to an hour and a half.”

And from Paris:

“I put pheromones in a lot of my fragrances, and that attracts people to you. My new fragrance is called Fairy Dust. I’m dressed kind of like Tinkerbell.”

“Having a nightclub in your house really helps for having a party, because then you don’t need to go out.”

Ghosts of Christmas past

We did a newsroom wide cleanup yesterday and I looked through the enormous pile of business cards that had collected around my computer monitor to see what I should keep and what I should toss. Man, talk about memories: marketing managers who’ve been laid off, executives who have retired (or died) and this gem -

Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper

Wild West World

Thomas Etheredge

President

It was four years ago this week that Etheredge announced to the world that he was building a theme park.