Weekly Roundup 12/6/2011

Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress
Bob Ivy, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz, Bloomberg Markets Magazine, January 2012 (post-dated)

Synopsis: The nation’s banks took generous advantage of below-market-interest loans that the Federal Reserve provided during the height of the financial crisis, borrowing heavily even as most of them professed no need for help and earning billions in profits by lending the funds out at higher rates. That’s the conclusion that reporters for Bloomberg Markets Magazine reached after poring over more than 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained after a protracted Freedom of Information Act battle with the agency.

Takeaway: The reporters stress that Congress and the public were kept in the dark about the program. “While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses,” they write, “details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.”

For CQ Researcher coverage, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Financial Industry Overhaul,” July 30, 2010; Thomas J. Billitteri, “Financial Bailout,” Oct. 24, 2008, updated July 30, 2010; Kenneth Jost, “Financial Crisis,” May 9, 2008.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


GOP Filibuster Ends Tenure of Health Care Cost Cutting Expert
Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo, Nov. 23, 2011

Now Departed from his Tenure at The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Berwick Receives High Marks for his Tenure at the Agency
Harris Meyer, Health Affairs, Nov. 2011

Synopsis: Filibuster-threatening Senate Republicans have steadfastly refused to allow an up-or-down vote on widely respected Don Berwick, whom President Obama appointed last year to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He will leave the agency at year’s end. Ironically, in this era of fierce battles over how to balance government budgets, Berwick is one of the world’s leading experts on “comparative effectiveness” research -- figuring out how to improve care and save money. Republicans argue that the better approach is to turn over all health care to the private sector.

Takeaway: Berwick’s departure is lamented by many in the health-care field, writes Meyer. “Other Republicans with extensive health care experience also heap Berwick with praise,” he wrote. ‘He did a wonderful job, but Gandhi couldn’t have gotten confirmed in this environment,’ says Thomas Scully, a senior counsel at Alston and Bird, who headed CMS under President George W. Bush.”

For more, see my reports on “Health Care Reform” (June 11, 2010, updated May 24, 2011; and Aug. 28, 2009), “Universal Coverage” (March 30, 2007), and “Rising Health Costs” (April 7, 2006).

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer
John Branch, Three-part series, The New York Times, Dec. 3,4,5, 2011

Synopsis: In a riveting, three-part series, reporter John Branch tells the tragic story of Derek Boogaard, who grew up in a small Canadian town dreaming of playing in the National Hockey League. Boogaard got his wish. But as a mediocre player, the only way the six-foot-three-inch, 250-pound skater could make it was as an enforcer---the player on each hockey team designated to duke it out – bare knuckles -- with the enforcer from the opposing team. Indeed, Boogaard became the most feared man in hockey.

Takeaway: The role exposed Boogaard to repeated head trauma, chronic pain and a deadly addiction to pain killers. He died at age 28 of an accidental overdose. A study of his brain showed massive deterioration from repeated concussions and, if he had lived, dementia in mid-life.

For background see “Preventing Memory Loss,” by Marcia Clemmitt, April 4, 2008

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor