Category Archives: Economy

Greek hospitals run out of supplies, turn patients away due to budget cuts

Greece bankrupt

Ben Tufft for the UK’s Independent, May 23, 2015, that Greece’s insolvency and indebtedness that left millions unemployed and 2.5 million without medical insurance (out of a total population in 2o13 of 11.03 million), have also led to huge cuts to the healthcare budget.

The result is that Greek hospitals now find themselves unable to provide even basic provisions for operations and medical procedures because they have run out of supplies as simple and essential as painkillers, scissors and bed sheets.

Despite the new Syriza government’s reducing the €5 fee for attending state hospitals and pledging to hire 4,500 more health workers, healthcare spending has fallen by 25% since 2009, creating shortages of the most basic surgical equipment and leaving too little money to pay nurses’ salaries.

Reports have surfaced of patients being turned away from hospitals because there was no meter to measure their high blood pressure, while others have had to do without painkillers during medical procedures. One patient was even asked to bring their own sheets to hospital.

A trainee surgeon at KAT, a respected state hospital in Athens, said the situation was at “breaking point”: “There is no money to repair medical equipment, no money for ambulances to use for petrol, no money to hire nurses and no money to buy modern surgical supplies.

The news comes as the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, warned the country would run out of money in a matter of weeks. By June 5, Athens must repay the IMF €300m ($330.075 million), but should Eurozone creditors not agree to release a €7.2bn loan it is likely Greece will default. A further €820m ($902.205 million) is due just days later.

It is unclear what this would mean for Greece’s position in the euro club.

A report by Reuters just 3 hours ago says that Greece’s interior minister said today that the government cannot make debt repayments to the IMF next month unless it achieves a deal with creditors. This is the most explicit remarks yet from Athens about the likelihood of default if talks fail.

In 2013, Greece’s government or national debt is 175.1% of the country’s GDP.


It pays to work for UK government: Number of NHS fat cats retiring on six-figure pensions soars 700% in just five years


Daily Mail: The number of health service fat cats retiring on millionaire pensions has soared 700 per cent in the past five years. Despite the worst NHS funding crisis in a generation, six-figure payouts were made to 143 executives last year, compared with just 18 in the year 2009/2010.

The number of employees given bumper pension pots of more than £75,000 ($118,023 US) also quadrupled in the same time frame. Meanwhile, the number of £50,000-plus retirement deals has more than doubled, despite a £30billion ($47,209,500,000 US) funding blackhole. The extraordinary packages, mainly being handed out to boardroom big hitters, would pay for nearly 23,000 frontline nurses.

The revelations, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, come after it emerged that NHS bosses were given pay rises worth £35million last year. Some executives earned more than £1million. Even at hospitals with the worst standards of care directors enjoyed pay packages worth up to £5,000 a day. The average chief executive in England now takes home £185,255 in salary alone, far higher than the Prime Minister’s £142,500 pay.

Taxpayers are also being shafted by a wave of NHS bosses who are exploiting a pension loophole to cash in their retirement pots early. Some are ‘retiring’ for just 24 hours to maximise their entitlement – before returning to their posts full-time on the same huge salary as before. The provision was originally put in place to help lower-paid nurses who should be allowed to continue working part-time, in case they struggle on just their pension. But it has now become a lucrative loophole exploited by highly-paid executives. Others are being paid through personal service companies – a common tax avoidance tactic.

After the information was published by the NHS Pension Scheme, Unite’s Barrie Brown said health visitors, paramedics and school nurses could only dream of such a high sum, with the average NHS pension is just £6,000 for men – and even less for women.

‘Our members are now expected to work longer, pay more and receive less pension with the new NHS pension scheme the Government implemented on April 1,’ he said. ‘Senior staff who receive these very high pensions can opt to retire early with reduced but very good pensions. The majority of staff who prop up the NHS wouldn’t have that option.’

Hospital campaigner Sam Zair, whose 89-year-old mother Bernice was failed by the NHS, last night hit out at the huge payments. Mrs. Zair, a dementia sufferer, had been admitted to hospital with a water infection but died of pneumonia after allegedly being left on a mattress on the hospital floor.

County Councillor Mr. Zair, of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, said: ‘It is an absolutely obscene amount of money being paid out to people at the top of the NHS. It just goes to show that the money going into the NHS is not going where it is needed most. I wonder whether patient care is secondary to these people.

Chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance campaigner Jonathan Isaby said the money could have paid for an army of nursing staff. ‘Pensions of this extraordinary size are a thing of the past in the private sector because they’re totally unaffordable,’ he said. ‘Taxpayers shouldn’t be picking up the tab for lucrative pensions at a time when we’re trying to reduce a £90 billion deficit. Every single penny of taxpayers’ money spent on the NHS needs to go into front-line services and patient care, not lining the pockets of retirees.Clearly the NHS needs to wake up and smell the coffee.’

Liz Emerson, co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation think-tank, said the new Tory Government needs to cap ‘unsustainable’ pensions. She said the increase in six-figure sums ‘dispels the myth that we are all in it together’. ‘The current public sector pension liability is almost £1.7 trillion in the red,’ she said. ‘Young private sector workers, overburdened by student debt, high rents and poor pay, may well start to question why they should have to shoulder the burden of these over-generous fat-cat pensions.’

Labour shadow health minister Jamie Reed said a probe is needed ‘to ensure fairness from bottom to top in the NHS’. A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘It is vital that every penny of taxpayers’ money is spent to achieve the best outcomes for patients. The Government has already made significant reforms to the NHS pension scheme to save £800m a year. This includes linking pensions to career average earnings, rather than final salary and a higher retirement age.


Now we know why NHS has been doing this (gotta pay for these fat-cat pensions some how):


Higher Education is so enlightening! U.C. professor has students pose naked for final exam

Attention: California taxpayers!

This is what your hard-earned tax dollars are subsidizing!

Ricardo Dominguez U.C. San Diego

Alexandra Samuels reports for USA Today, May 12, 2015, that Ricardo (Dick) Dominguez, associate professor at the University of California-San Diego who teaches a course called “Performing for Self,” is asking students to pose naked for a final exam as a “nude/naked gesture,” whatever that means. Reportedly, the gesture takes place in a dark room lit by candlelight.

Dominguez’s rationale for the assignment is that nudity has been a core part of performance art since the mid-20th century. He says, “The core canvas for many performance artists has been, and continues to be, the nude or naked body. If students are to learn about performance art as practitioners, this history of the medium is crucial for them to experience.” Blah, blah, blah.

After some current students in the course complained, Dominguez defended himself in an e-mailed statement that students were “aware from the start of the class that (the gestures are) a requirement” and that he has taught the class for 11 years without complaint. Dominguez says students who feel uncomfortable with the assignment or feel the gesture “will be too hard for them to do,” can drop the class since it’s not a degree requirement. He insists “I have always been willing to work with students to help them navigate the process, during my office hours and in the context of the class.”

Dominguez also cryptically offers that “Our advising team is also very willing to discuss the options for doing the performance without having to be actually nude or naked.”

Jordan Crandall

Jordan Crandall, chairman of the university’s visual art department, also defended Dominguez and described the class as an “extremely successful one” in the visual arts department.

In an email, Crandall said that while the gestures are necessary to complete the course, getting completely naked isn’t the only way to pass because students can do the gesture in a number of ways without having to remove their clothes because “One can ‘be’ nude while being covered” — whatever that means. Crandall adds, “the ambiguity around the question of ‘nudity’ and ‘nakedness’ is intentional. It is intended to be provocative, to raise issues. That is what performance art does.”

Shanise Mok

Shanise Mok, a former student who had taken Dominguez’s naked course in 2012, also leapt to his defense, insisting that the nude “gesture” allowed her to “challenge” herself “intellectually.”

Mok said, “It was clearly outlined in the first class (just like any other first day where professors go over the syllabus) that the final gesture would be a ‘naked’ one and what we could expect that day. We were not ‘forced’ to do anything. I was only…forced to think about how I can take my own art to another level. We all had the choice to drop or to find our own creative way to meet the nude or naked prompt as artists should. I personally feel strongly about making the human body an okay thing to talk about. We all have a body — nipples, butts and pubic hair in all their glory — and it doesn’t need to be sexualized by the news – which is why artists step in to desexualize it and turn the human body into something we can love and appreciate as an art form.”

Mok’s LinkedIn page says she presently is unemployed and that her most recent job was a 6-month stint as a “teen education & recreation specialist” at Redwood City Public Library, which ended in February 2015.

Call me a cynic, but I doubt Shanise Mok making national news saying she was “intellectually challenged” by stripping naked is going to help her find gainful employment.

While searching on the Internet for Dominguez’s naked class, I also came across this other piece of weird higher ed. news from October 2012.

A math professor at Michigan State University (MSU) stripped naked, ran naked through his classroom and down the hallway, screaming “There is no fucking God!” before police apprehended him.

Students said online that the professor, who was not charged with a crime and whose name was not released by the university, was “eccentric” and that they “could probably have seen this coming.”

A Redditor shared this (see below) grainy cell phone picture of the professor in the Engineering Building’s hallway as authorities restrained him. (Source: Huffington Post)

naked Michigan State Univeristy math professor

According to a chat-thread on Reddit, the professor is John D. McCarthy, Professor of Mathematics at MSU.


VA official: McDonald silent after warning of billions misspent

Bob McDonald

Bob McDonald

Stars and Stripes: The head of procurement at the Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday that Secretary Bob McDonald never contacted him after a warning in March that the agency is misspending billions of dollars each year.

Jan Frye

Jan Frye

Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, detailed to House lawmakers how he blew the whistle on the agency’s questionable credit card purchases and how VA officials testifying along with him planned in advance to hide the wrongdoing.

The VA was hit with its newest scandal just before the hearing Thursday when a March letter written by Frye to McDonald was made public. It unveiled that at least $5 billion and as much as $10 billion each year in employee credit card purchases were made without contracts and in violate of federal procurement rules.

“I have not had any response from the secretary’s office,” Frye testified to a Veterans Affairs subcommittee. He said an assistant to McDonald and Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson confirmed both had received the letter.

Frye also told members of a House Armed Services subcommittee that VA leadership, including its chief financial officer and its chief procurement officer for the department’s health care system, were testifying Thursday in hopes of obscuring the purchase practices.

“We hope you won’t ask us any questions that will force us to tell you about the important pieces we’ve premeditatedly left out,” he testified. “If you happen to ask us about what we’ve failed to tell you, we hope we can answer your questions in such a way as to quickly extinguish potential follow-on questions. In short, obfuscation is our game.”

About 23,000 VA employees have credit cards designed to streamline smaller purchases, but the cards were also used to buy health care and medical devices such as prosthetics without required contracts, which opens the agency up to overpayments, defective products and fraud, according to Frye.

Frye said he wrote to McDonald in March after years of pressing the agency to clean up purchases. The secretary was confirmed by Congress last summer to revive the VA from its biggest scandal — the manipulation of patient wait times at veterans hospitals across the country — and has often spoke publicly about the value of whistleblowers.

Edward Murray, acting VA assistant secretary for management and the interim CFO, testified to the House subcommittee that he had never seen Frye’s letter to McDonald before Thursday. “I just found out about this letter this morning,” he testified. Some of Frye’s claims had recently been discussed by a working group within the VA, Murray said.

He agreed that the VA needs to do more and said that McDonald is also working to change the culture in the agency, which is one of the federal government’s largest bureaucracies. “I believe I am working with him, and me and my staff are working our very utmost to make the staff more accountable and transparent,” Murray said.

He said the agency has made “tremendous strides” in fixing its long-troubled purchase card program, including a list of improvements after a scathing audit by the VA inspector general last year that found 15,600 potentially unauthorized card purchases worth $85.6 million.

The testimony raised the ire of some lawmakers. “I guess I’m dumbfounded,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. “You’re here to speak for the VA … and you’ve never seen the allegations” in Frye’s letter.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., chairman of the House subcommittee, said the VA attempted to block Frye from testifying in “yet another attempt to avoid responding in a fully open and candid manner” but relented at the last moment.

Coffman said the agency wanted to only send Murray, who has been in his position for about two months and does not have a full grasp of the long-term purchase card problems.

The VA purchase card program has been troubled by a lack of oversight since the 1990s, according to various audits, but the claims by Frye would be a massive increase in misuse over the past five years, a period when agency purchases more than doubled.

“I hope VA is embarrassed and ashamed about the way they treat people who try to bring problems forward,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the full Veterans Affairs Committee. “I am tired of hearing the same thing over and over and over again. Nothing is changing regardless of what leadership is telling this committee.”

Embarrassed and ashamed?

Embarrassed and ashamed?


Dr. Seuss says No

A quickie guest-post from our Gen iYer, Justin.

Dr. Seus

And here’s my quickie!

dog pees on O


“Progressive” govt in action: $20 rebate cards for car tabs may cost Seattle $37 apiece


Seattle Times: To give low-income drivers $20 rebates on their car-tab fees, Seattle’s city government intends to spend as much as $17 each in overhead costs this summer.

The rebates, in the form of Wells Fargo debit cards, are meant to offset the pain of the $60 car-tab fee that voters approved last fall. That measure will increase bus service citywide for the next six years.

“The administrative cost is 85 percent. That is extremely high for something like this,” said City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the transportation committee. “For nonprofits, ideally the administrative cost is no more than 15 to 20 percent.”

Still, the committee — also including Councilmembers Jean Godden and Mike O’Brien — on Tuesday morning recommended going forward in June, by endorsing the budget amendment, proposed by Mayor Ed Murray. “The fact is, it’s expensive to give people rebates,” said Andrew Glass Hastings, transportation adviser to Murray.

Efforts are underway to reduce the overhead fee, Bill LaBorde, chief policy adviser for the city’s transportation department, said Wednesday morning. For months, the city has struggled with a “numerator-denominator” problem, he said, of certain unavoidable costs like income verification, to provide “a very low benefit” of $20 per driver.

The city also proposes spending $718,000 to promote and distribute King County Metro Transit’s new discounted fare card, called ORCA LIFT, which took effect March 1. It allows users to ride for $1.50 a trip, rather than $2.50 to $3.25.

King County already established a network of community agencies and public-health providers enrolling transit riders. But the county had signed up only 8,529 people as of last week.

O’Brien called the low enrollment disappointing. “I feel like we need to do a better job making sure everybody knows this is available,” he said. “Every food bank should have a big banner right there, that you can enroll.”

Besides helping people with their transportation, the discounts shielded the city from complaints on both the political left and right that a car-tab fee, along with a 0.1 percent sales-tax hike, were regressive.

Social-equity advocates, including the Seattle Transit Riders Union, have pushed the city and King County Metro Transit for fare discounts. “It’s good the city’s taxpayers stepping up to help,” said Katie Wilson, the riders union’s general secretary.

Proposition 1, to raise about $45 million per year, specifically requires the $20 rebates, along with $2 million annually “to improve and to support access to transit service” for low-income riders. What hasn’t been widely known until Tuesday is how much money might trickle away in the pursuit of doing good.

“There are always arguments for running government more efficiently, but it’s unusual for the administrative costs to be almost equal to the amount of the benefit,” said Paul Guppy, vice president for research at the conservative Washington Policy Center, who notes that each rebate requires $37. “It was a poorly thought-out policy.”

math is hard

Given the expense, could the City Council just skip them? To cancel those $20 payments, which are named in the ballot title, would require another citizen ballot measure, Glass Hastings said. Expenses include processing costs from Wells Fargo, the debit cards themselves, verification of low-income users, enrollment workers, marketing and informational mailings, staffers said.

The $17 figure is a high estimate and could wind up lower, said Christie Parker, representing the city budget office. However, the costs and benefits won’t be clear until they try.

For instance, Parker estimated 51,000 eligible motorists might enroll — but O’Brien said he’s skeptical, considering that’s three times the number of households that signed up for city utility discounts, which are far greater. To keep a lid on fixed costs, Parker said, the city ordered only 1,000 debit cards for the first month, and will seek more as needed.

A simpler method might be just to lower the price on a car-owner’s bill, but state Department of Licensing computers are too old to adapt, she said.

As for transit fare cards, the $718,000 amounts to one-third of the yearly $2 million voters approved for low-income aid — but the overhead is likely to shrink after the first year. The city’s launch plan includes $500,000 to publicize the reduced fares, including ads in radio broadcasts and ethnic media; some $161,000 for outreach and enrollment staff; and $31,500 to distribute preloaded, $6 fare cards as a way to get customers started.

O’Brien said later Tuesday his instincts are to spend more money at social-service sites and less on advertising. Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok said, “We have been talking with the city for months about how they can improve or accelerate ORCA LIFT awareness with those designated revenues.”

Previously, King County has guessed that somewhere between 45,000 and 100,000 people might enroll with ORCA LIFT. Residents soon will see what Glass Hastings called “a drumbeat of improved transit.”

More buses are coming in June and then in September, along with transit lanes in South Lake Union, light-rail extension next year from downtown to the University of Washington, and a $930 million Move Seattle ballot measure that offers a Madison Street bus-rapid-transit corridor, among other projects.


In the UK, GPs ‘too busy to see your child’

Children used as NHS propaganda during the 2012 London Olympics Ceremony

Children used as NHS propaganda during the 2012 London Olympics Ceremony

Daily Mail: Thousands of children are being taken to casualty needlessly because their GPs are prioritising adults, a report shows. Some parents no longer feel they can take sick youngsters to their local surgery so they end up being treated as ‘second-class citizens’ in hospital. More than 8,000 ‘potentially avoidable’ extra admissions for conditions such as asthma and diabetes have been logged every year since doctors were allowed to opt out of evening and weekend work.

Out-of-hours care was handed to private firms, NHS trusts and GP co-operatives under a 2004 contract that primarily rewarded the care of chronically ill adults. These changes have ‘squeezed out’ the care of children, according to researchers from Imperial College London.

They said parents were finding it hard to get daytime appointments for their youngsters because GPs were overloaded with adult patients. Confidence in out-of-hours services has also fallen.

Sonia Saxena, a GP and lead author of the study, suggested parents ‘may be getting the message’ from doctors that general practice was not now a place to take a child. ‘They have been squeezed out,’ she said. ‘Consulting rates have gone up for adults but remained the same for children.

The incentivised scheme aimed at improving quality of care provided mainly to adults possibly detracted focused care from children. We have clear evidence that the unintended consequences have been that children whose care was not prioritised have had to turn to the emergency services, which in many cases results in poorer health outcomes in children and waste in the health system.’

The Imperial researchers studied data on 7.8 million unplanned hospital admissions among under-15s from 2000 to 2012. They said the GP contract changes had led to an eight per cent increase in short-stay admission rates for children with chronic conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and asthma. This was equivalent to 8,500 additional short-stay hospital admissions a year. This was significant because these were children with ‘primary care sensitive’ conditions – where better GP care is seen as vital.

This 8 per cent rise was over and above the 3 per cent annual increase, according to the study published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine and funded by the National Institute for Health Research. Avoidable admissions are expensive for the NHS, costing up to £500 a child compared with £30 for a GP consultation.

Dr. Saxena called for a rebalancing of financial incentives and better ways of working, including more telephone access to GPs. She said children risked being treated as ‘second-class citizens’.

However, Maureen Baker, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, insisted there was no evidence of a causal link between out-of-hours GP access and hospital admissions.

She said: ‘Any increase is most likely due to some hospital doctors taking a more cautious approach to admitting children for overnight observation, a response to pressure to meet the A&E four-hour target, and a lack of ability to discharge patients back into the community. It is a myth that GPs do not work outside of normal working hours – and in an emergency patients will always have access to a family doctor.’

Professor Baker said her college wanted 8,000 more GPs in England to combat severe shortages as well as a bigger share of the overall NHS budget.

Dr. Richard Vautrey, who is deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: ‘This research ignores the important fact that since 2004 there has been a substantial increase in pressure on the NHS from rising patient demand, falling resources and staff shortages that have particularly affected general practice. GPs see and treat large numbers of children every day and are experts in this area. The GP contract does focus on ensuring good standards of care for children with asthma. It is a key part of the care GPs deliver and unlikely to be an explanation for the changes in hospital admissions seen in this research.’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘The 2004 GP contract broke the personal link between doctor and patient, piled on red tape and put huge pressure on A&Es. By 2020, we’ll ensure everyone can see a family doctor seven days a week, empowering hard-working GPs as the cornerstone of the NHS.’

Last month a damning report showed that care standards were far worse in areas where GPs had opted out of evening and weekend work. Locum doctors provided by private firms were more likely to turn up late, less trusted and offered a ‘very poor’ overall service, according to the study.