Con jobs by charlatans in the name of our children

This is an edition of the University Scandals 96-97 series, selected installments of which were submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration. Click here to access the archive.

Anytime some skulduggerous charlatan says "we're doing this for our children," scream Mayday! Witness the recent spectacle of rusty brass hat Colin Powell and four presidents. They all showed up in Philadelphia, the cradle of democracy, the city of brotherly love (unless you're a brother with black skin).

The once and future presidents spent three days performing publicity stunts to convince Americans that volunteering can cure all our ills. Forget that each of the living presidents has done his best to export jobs and thus create a bull market for the import of drugs. Drugs and prisons for warehousing users are the only guaranteed growth industries this country has left.

Volunteerism isn't going to bring exported jobs back or patch up the families destroyed when the bottomline mentality of corporate America lays waste to another community. Presidents are expected to create a veneer of caring while helping their corporate sponsors stab the very people who elected them.

I thus find no joy in the election of a Labour government in Great Britain. New prime minister Tony Blair, as I've written so many times, first had to sell out to media pirate Rupert Murdoch before being allowed to ascend to the top. Blair cut his deal with Baron Rupert several years ago, agreeing to support a change in the law to allow Murdoch to acquire more British newspapers, an industry he already dominated. Blair got his cake when Murdoch's newspapers stopped hatcheting Labour. The icing came last week when two formerly pro-Conservative Murdoch papers endorsed Labour. Last Thursday, Murdoch got his cake and ate it, too. As The Who once sang, meet the new boss - same as the old boss. As with Bill Clinton, Blair will do little for the little people who elected him while promising a better day for the children through more privatization of public services. Mayday!

A similar strategy has been in the works here in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream, led by another populist turncoat. Scott Craigie got his start in Las Vegas as Mr. Senior Citizens' Advocate. He wrote a regular newspaper column and hosted a TV show called "Action Seniors." His popularity was such that Gov. Richard Bryan appointed him to chair the state public service commission, which regulates utility rates. He rose to become Gov. Bob Miller's chief of staff. Craigie has now taken that experience to the bank as a bigtime lobbyist.

His latest hustle is a bill mandating what one consumer advocate termed "a corporate takeover of Nevada Medicare." Craigie represents the predatory HCA/Columbia health care octopus. These guys are so powerful they even elected the boss' son to the U.S. Senate. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has one job in DC: privatize the government social safety net for the family store's profit.

Craigie, of course, talks about how privatization of much of the Medicare safety net would allow the same money to serve many more of Nevada's children. Mayday!

Washoe County swallowed the same shuck a dozen years ago. Washoe Medical Center executives dreamed up a scheme to steal the county hospital. They started a totally false propaganda campaign that the county would go broke providing medical care to those who could not afford health insurance such as low-wage workers.

Through a combination of corruption by county commissioners and witless compliance by legislators, Washoe Med was deeded over to its current ownership. The bandidos acquired an asset worth more than $100,000,000 for just $3 million. Promises to take care of indigents forevermore at no charge to the taxpayers somehow never made it into the final contract written by now-Judge Ed Dannan. (I recommend that you read the Washoe County grand jury report, still available for about two bucks at Office Depot on Plumb Lane. Ask for it under the Barbano file.)

The Reno Gazette-Journal, which should remember better, endorsed the HCA/Columbia ripoff. The company owns West Hills Hospital in Reno and Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas. They recently got a black eye in the Gomorrah South press, which disclosed that the Nevada operation is one of several across the country under federal investigation for Medicare "upcoding." That's a practice whereby a computer program scans every bill sent to the government and upgrades each charge to the maximum allowable under the category, irrespective of the actual services rendered. "I know nothing about this," stated Ann Lynch, Sunrise director of marketing and community relations.

As an executive in the Dilbert comic strip noted last Friday, "what we do here might seem like criminal fraud, but it's not. It's marketing."

IF HCA/Columbia is successful, the less fortunate will suffer. University Medical Center in Las Vegas is part of the University of Nevada School of Medicine. The library at the hospital is so woefully underfunded and out of date that a couple of doctors recently took the situation to the media out of concern for their patients.

UMC says the HCA/Columbia plan would severely cut care to the same people Craigie and company swear they are trying to help. "William Hale, chief executive officer of University Medical Center, Clark County's public hospital, said the bill would be harmful to Southern Nevada," wrote the Las Vegas Sun's veteran Carson City bureau chief Cy Ryan. "(Hale) estimates that $26 million in indigent care funding would be cut from his budget to support the program. 'The bill jeopardizes the institution (UMC) and the community we serve,' Hale said. While the plan would care for 106,000 people with no health insurance, Hale said that would still leave close to 200,000 without care. He said a reduced budget would make it more difficult for UMC to treat its share of indigent patients," Ryan reported. Sound familiar?

HCA/Columbia's Craigie said that 20 states are currently looking at similar plans. I fear for Mr. Hale's future. University of Nevada system administrators always side with corporate fatcats.

Last week, again in the name of helping our children, university chancellor Richard Jarvis put out press releases about a hugely expanded scholarship program. "Largest scholarship increase in university system," read the headline in UNR's student newspaper, Sagebrush. "These new dollars will significantly improve Nevada's ability to meet the financial needs of its students," this newspaper quoted Jarvis as stating.

But these are not scholarships. Students getting the money are forced into jobs. "The requirement would be some level of service or work," Jarvis told Sagebrush. "This is not just an unqualified scholarship." So what's it worth? Less time for learning and more for washing dishes at the Doggie Diner?

The flak provided great PR cover. The announcement overrode the news I warned of last week: the university regents voting in favor of $100,000,000 to fund new sports facilities in Reno and Las Vegas to enhance the profits of the gambling-industrial complex. The action generated one surprise and one disappointment. Assemblyman Morse Arberry (D-Las Vegas) called for an increase in the sacrosanct gaming tax as an alternative method of funding the jockocracy's needs. (Nevada casinos pay the lowest taxes in the nation.)

Alas and alack, the regent of the students, Prof. Howard Rosenberg, supported the jocks who want the big bucks for pro sports. I will ask Mr. Rosenberg for his reasoning and report it in a future installment.

All for the children, of course.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988.
This column originally published 5/4/97.

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