Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whistleblower - lipstick on a pig

Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. Did you see the story in today's ETN about St. V's agreeing to pay $1.9 million to the federal government for what amounts to Medicare fraud. By no means am I saying what St. V's did was right. Apparently, from 2001-2003, Vincent was jacking up the prices of certain procedures so they'd fall under this "outlier" category and then getting Medicare to reimburse them. (More details are in the print version of the story than the online one I've linked to, unless it's been updated). So, St. V's was basically ripping off the federal government, although they won't admit to it. (The $1.9 million payout just to "put something behind them" - I'm paraphrasing, admits enough.)

It was action brought by New Jersey-based "independent hospital consultant" Anthony Kite that brought on the payment. In press coverage, Kite is classified as a whistleblower- yeah, right. I'll agree, he blew the whistle on St. Vincent's and about eight other hospitals performing similar fraud, but Kite wasn't even employed by St. Vincent. No, Mr. Kite could be more accurately described as an extortionist.

First of all, Kite is from New Jersey, so that should tell you something (and I felt this way about NJ people long before the Sopranos made it fashionable). Second, when I Googled his name, I didn't find any listing for a hospital consulting business. I did find several stories about extortion schemes similar to the one he pulled on Vincent, including some published by his apparent employer - the law firm of Phillips and Cohen.

Here's how it works: Kite is the front man, who likely has connections and knows how to discover which hospitals have been pulling this scam on Medicare (lots of scamming going on here). So, he threatens to sue and expose the hospital, which settles with Phillips and Cohen, which pulls a nice commission from the deal. The rest goes to the federal government, and everybody is happy, except for the taxpayers, who have overpaid this hospital first and are now contributing to the ever-accumulating wealth of this law firm. Then again, if it wasn't for the meddling law firm (shades of Scooby Doo here. "They would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for.....'), the federal government probably would have recouped nothing. So, I guess we can give them some due, but to call Kite a "whistleblower" is to put him in the same class with people who have taken serious personal risks and in some cases paid a hefty price to expose wrongdoings.

Maybe "extortionist"' is too strong of a term. Let's just call him a mercenary and leave it at that.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Prep Guidance Department Takes Hit

A know that SI columnist Peter King meant well in yesterday's MMQB column, when we awarded Bob Sanders the "Good Guy of the Week." However, he seems to slam Prep's guidance department with his comments about Sanders not even knowing what the SAT was. I went to Prep, albeit a few years before Sanders, and while the guidance department wasn't world class, it did take an interest in students' futures. I don't know if there were budget cuts in the years after I left, but I fiind it hard to believe that no one tried to help a talented guy like Sanders lay out his future plans.

Anyhow, congrats to Sanders for starting his Chasing Dreams foundation. Sounds like a good thing. I just feel bad for Prep's guidance dept, as King makes it sound like they were sleeping on the job.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Last week for Zoo

Just as a heads up, the Erie Zoo closes for the season after this coming Sunday, Nov. 30. According to the Web site, it's open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day until then. I don't know if this includes T-Giving, but it doesn't say it doesn't.

Now, granted, a lot of the animals are away for the winter. But the orangutans are still up and about and worth the visit. I don't know how long Layla, pictured above, will be with us over there, as word has it, her father is starting to make advances on her and they may have to move her. I recently did see a wrestling match between the two of them that definitely raised my eyebrows.

Those of you who have seen the orangutan family know what I'm talking about when I say how entertaining they can be. They are very active and definitely respond to visitors. Leyla climbs all over the place and puts on quite a show playing with her blanket. The mother will swing from the ceiling and threw a couple punches at my youngest son yesterday. And Joseph, the father, he's a big lug who will put his lips up to the glass and try and kiss you. Really good stuff to watch, especially for the kids who get a chance to interact (closeup, especially this time of year when there is barely anyone else around) with some really intelligent and fascinating animals.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Maybe not...

Maybe I was being a bit too easy on ole' Judge Joyce. Perhaps he did strong arm Erie Insurance into forking over the cash....

Joyce Innocent

No, this isn't a scoop.

I have no insights into how the jury is voting, but the more I think about it, I don't see how they can justly convict this guy. Did he take over $400,000 from Erie Insurance based on trumped up claims? Almost certainly. Did Erie Insurance care? No. So, how is this a crime? Who is the victim? Granted, you could probably look at this as some type of bribery, but that's not what Joyce is charged with. And if it is bribery, Erie Insurance should be charged too.

I think someone from Erie Insurance testified to the effect that they wanted to settle with Joyce quickly because of his track record ruling in favor of insurance companies. Now, $400,000-plus seems like a pretty expensive settlement for this reason. I mean what kind of cases was Joyce hearing that involved Erie Insurance? And how often did these cases occur that Erie Insurance couldn't wait the time it would have taken to follow-up on Joyce's claim with more care.

Certainly, something sounds fishy, but is this sort of deal illegal? To me, it sounds like Erie Insurance felt it was making a business investment, much like lobbyists invest in our governmental representatives.

When Joyce is found innocent, the question I'd like to see answered is "how did this thing get brought to trial?" In other words, "who's responsible?" And when we figure that out, the responsible party should be made to reimburse the taxpayers for the court costs. The same holds true for the Fillippi trial, which was also seemed a bit frivilous for my taste.

Of course, that all said, both trials have been highly entertaining to follow. Maybe, there's some value to taxpayers in a bread and circuses sort of way.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wide Right

The horror. The horror.

Can you imagine? It certainly reminded me eerily of Super Bowl XXV. During that game, I knew the kick was too long. Just like tonight. Couldn't we have thrown it one more time? Tried to get just 10 yards closer. A 45-yard kick into the wind in Buffalo is no gimme. We ran it three times up the middle and settled for the long kick. I remember feeling the same way at the end of Super Bowl XXV. I thought, if we could just get it a little closer, I'd feel better about the kick.

But in both cases, it was not to be. Same result. Painfully close, but wide right. And now, we will miss the playoffs again.

At least the game was entertaining. I'd like to say, congrats to Cleveland, you played a good game. But, we kind of gave that one to ya'. Merry Christmas I guess.



Monday, November 17, 2008

Cringely leaving PBS

It seems one of my favorite columnists is wrapping things up at at the end of the year. If you've never read his work before, do yourself a favor and read this week's post. He's truly an original with unparalleled insights into and contacts in the high-tech industry. He jokes (I think) that Barak Obama should consider him for the position of CTO for the federal government. Then again, with Bill James holding a front office position with the Red Sox, I guess anything is possible.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Joyce Trial

This trial of the former Judge Joyce is truly a classic. You've got all sorts of high-drama elements coming together:
  • a high-profile former district judge, who was also known as a man about town
  • a spurned ex-girlfriend with a vendetta
  • an insurance company that admittedly paid him off quickly so as not to lose access to his mostly favorable rulings
  • is Greg Rubino involved in this as well?

Anyhow, things are coming to ahead, and based on today's article in the paper, if I as on the jury, I think Mike Joyce would be cooked. Here's the testimony I found most damning: (It comes from Dr. William Welch, the chief neurosurgeon at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, who was testifying for the prosecution.)

From the Times article:

"Joyce’s activities, especially the long hours he spent piloting a personal
plane, do not support Joyce’s claim to the insurers that he suffered
life-changing pain and cognitive problems after the crash, he said. Joyce’s
'actions suggest this is not a highly disabled person,' Welch said.

Joyce’s multiple flights in 2002, the 95 score he received on his pilot’s
test and his clean Federal Aviation Administration physical all indicate he was
'highly functioning,' Welch said. 'If you are saying you are having arm
weakness, numbness, and shaking, you would have trouble operating the controls.
Anyone having significant neurological difficulties would not pilot anything. It
is unconscionable.'"

That makes sense. Really, if someone was as worried as Joyce says he was about physical problems, and stuff, like his back, suddenly stopping working, what the hell was he doing flying a plane? It makes no sense. Of course, maybe he's just psychotic, which I guess in itself isn't criminal...

Oh well, there was a lot more evidence presented than what I have just written, but, based on that alone, I'd say something is fishy.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Weekend-Monday update

Well, we got our first snow of the season. The rest of the week looks a little questionable, with more snow perhaps next week. Could we possibly be in for a big snowy winter?

Looks like it will at least be pretty nasty for the Prep-Vincent rematch on Saturday. I've seen the Ramblers play twice this year, and, from my perspective, they got killed both times, vs. Vincent and McDowell. I sure hope they have some sort of a different game plan for this one. Prep seems to do pretty well in the games I haven't gone to, so maybe I should stay home.

Prep runs this spread offense and they do have a new quarterback from the one they had in the beginning of the year. As the QB is definitely the key to this type of offense, perhaps they really have turned a page, but I'm not overly confident. Vincent has been really, really solid all year.

On a professional football note, the Bills have really shit the bed after their fast start. I've had a link to this guy's page for a couple years now. He is absolutely brutal on the Bills, and it turns out justifiably so. Basically, he's insisted that for the past four years - at least, any winning they have done is through smoke and mirrors and that they just don't block, tackle, and execute well enough to win consistently in the NFL. Maybe if Mr. Phillips would spend a little more time on his day job with Cowboys and less time writing under his alias, his team in Dallas would have more success. Seriously, when Wade was in Buffalo, the Bills sure could tackle and hit you at least. I don't know what's happend to his D in Dallas.

Oh well, that's about it. All sorts of fun on several fronts here.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Gotta Love Denny Green

Was listening to the Browns-Broncos game last night. Former Vikings (and regrettably Cardinals) head coach Denny Green was doing the color commentary. To give you an idea of what he sounds like, I thought it was Jerry Glanville. Anyhow, he made this call, "the Broncos still need a whole half-yard for the first down."

Oh yes, another great episode of Life on Mars. I absolutely think this is the best network TV show ever made through five episodes. Unforuntely, I haven't found anyone else who shares my opinion. Are you out there?


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Democratic night

Last night was very democratic both with a capital and a small "D." First and foremost, there didn't seem to be any voting problems or controversies, which was a big relief. So the democratic process, with a small "d" worked.

Then, of course, we had the big wins by both Barak Obama and Kathy Dahlkemper. Congrats to both of them, because I think both were signficant underdogs a year ago that pulled off pretty remarkable victories. Yes, they were buoyed by the failures of the Republicans (who elected those guys anyway?) But, neither one just stood there and let the votes come to them. They both did some serious campaigning.

It's no secret that a lot of Bush's success was driven by the grass-roots-level campaigning led by Karl Rove. Unfortuntately, (or justly, depending on how you want to look at it) Rove was disgraced because of some underhanded intimindation-type stuff. However, his path to success was not lost on the Obama and Dahlkemper campaigns. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, totally missed the message.

I knew Dahlkemper was serious during the primaries when both my wife and I received several polite calls, and even an apology that a rep couldn't stop by our house because of bad weather. And, these were not recorded messages. Dahlkemper also made a point to campaign hard in Crawford and Mercer counties, even though she was at a serious disavantage vs. Repulicans in those areas. Having lived in Mercer County for a couple years, I know, those people don't want to be ignored and the area is not completely devoid of Democrats. I think one of Ron DiNicola's biggest failures was his inability to connect with people outside of Erie.

Obama, of course, has been lauded for his use of Internet communication, something which was really pioneered by Howard Dean four years ago. I still think it's a shame Dean couldn't knock off Kerry, but he was a bit of a loose cannon and quite frankly scared some people. I think Dean's head of the Democratic party now. I don't know how much be helped Obama, but the Obama campaign difinitely followed his lead and took advantage of Internet communication.

This reverberated with young people, and probably high-tech people in general. I thought it was interesting that, according to ABC's exit polls, the majority of people earning more than $200,000 per year, which are the people being targeted for higher taxes by Obama, voted for him. I credit this to the fact that a lot of these high-wage earners are likely technologically savvy, and, in Obama, they likely see one of their own. When you add this elitist base to the traditional Democratic working/union base, and the minority vote that Obama carried...well, that's why he won by so much.

Here's my Republican thought for the day: Obama Joe Biden sounds a little like... well, you know that guy in Pakinstan. Whatever happend to him anyhow? I'm still not convinced that the Bush family connections with him didn't get him off the hook.



Tuesday, November 04, 2008

1973 tunes

This is kind of wierd, but has been thoroughly enjoyable for the past 45 minutes...

Is Kathy D a millionaire?

Yesterday, I posted a comment on Erie Blogs, in which I probably, unjustifiably, took at least one crack at Phat Phil's weight. And Heavy D (presumably not realted to Kathy) rightfully called me out for it, but still, for a guy his size to be preaching against walking and riding bikes, seems a bit, I don't know, ironic.

Anyhow, Heavy D did bring up the point about Dahlkemper not revealing her tax returns, which I've let pass by because I think her husband owns a business and lettng people pour through the returns may be a competitive disadvantage. Heavy D also says she has 12 acres with a lake view? Is this true? Not that it should matter, but for some reason, perhaps her work with Frontier Park, I was under the impression she lived in the Frontier area. Anyhow, if all this money was earned through valid landscaping work, god bless big Chuck and Dan and whoever made this thing roll. But, if there are some questionable contracts and potential political favors going on... let's hear about it.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Sore throat

Seems to be some sort of sore throat virus going around. My wife has had it, and now I feel a it coming on me. My son stayed home from school because of a bad cough this morning. Of course, it's supposed to be warm out the next few days, so I guess we'll just open up the windows and try and chase the bad stuff out.

As always, any theories on colds and what causes them and how to get rid of them are appreciated.