Amtrak: A Lesson in Government Takeovers

Poison Pill

– By: Larry Walker, Jr. –

The Quest for Affordability

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it.” ~ Rep. Steve Cohen (A Government Employed Psychotic)

“If it ain’t broke, break it, and then when it’s broke, nationalize it.” ~ A Wayward Progressive

When facing a régime hell-bent on government takeovers, one must first understand exactly what a government takeover is, how one occurs, and whether or not a takeover is good for the nation. Once we understand what a government takeover is, how one occurs, and how it will end; and once convinced that a takeover is indeed occurring, we can make up our own minds about how to handle it. Of course, proponents of government takeovers will always deny that one is occurring. Such denial is generally accompanied by calling anyone who would so hint a liar, or Nazi propagandist.

According to advocates of government takeovers, any private entity which makes a profit is bad and worthy of increased regulation, and once bankrupted, in certain cases, worthy of takeover. Under the rules for government takeovers, the objective is government control of everything, from private industry to personal lives, and everyone is a loser. The only thing that matters for most politicians is that they keep their own government backed jobs, retirement security, and benefits; and the best way for them to ensure this is through increased government control.

The Government Takeover of Passenger Railroads

For example, before the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (a.k.a. AmTrak) existed, there was a profitable private passenger rail industry. But profits being deemed a bad thing by both big government and unions, meant that its days were numbered. “Bring them down”, they decried. “Top down, bottom up, inside out.” While unions pushed for higher pay, greater retirement security, and more benefits, big government tightened regulations — limiting the amount railroads could charge for their services. The attack came by big government from the top, and unions from the bottom. The only thing lacking was a thrust from the inside out.

The first line of attack would come from the Interstate Commerce Commission which prevented increases in the amounts that privately owned railroads could charge both shippers and passengers. This meant that the only way in which railroads could become more profitable was through cost-cutting. But the ability to slash costs was greatly hampered by agreements with aggressive employee unions. Eventually, the railroads turned to mergers as the only way of escape. What else can an industry do once it has been obstructed from responding to changing market conditions?

In 1968, the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads merged creating Penn Central, which would result in a virtual monopoly within the U.S. passenger rail industry. But the nation would be shocked when only two years later, in June of 1970, Penn Central declared bankruptcy. At the time, it was the largest corporate bankruptcy in American history. But this was only the beginning. Behind the scenes a government takeover was being staged from the inside out.

In May of 1967, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) was founded to lobby for the continuation of passenger trains in the United States. Imagine that, a few months before the railroads were forced to merge, and just three years before they would go bust; a government takeover was already in the works. This was the missing link, an attack from the inside out. It was big government from the top, employee unions from the bottom, and now passengers themselves (at least in name) were demanding continued services, profitability be damned. The man-made crisis was complete and there was now enough force to justify a full blown government takeover.

The NARP’s lobbying efforts were successful at dividing both political parties. The Democratic Party was opposed to any sort of subsidies to privately-owned railroads, and the Republican Party feigned opposition to the nationalization of the industry. Sound familiar? But in the end, both Democrats and Republicans would compromise for fear of being responsible for the extinction of passenger trains. So what did big government do? What they always do, they agreed to both subsidize and nationalize the passenger rail industry.

In 1971, the federal government stepped in and created Amtrak, a virtual government agency, which began to operate a skeleton service on the tracks of Penn Central and other U.S. railroads. Today, the federal government owns all of the preferred stock in AmTrak, has invested $32.4 billion of taxpayer’s money into the government owned corporation over the past 40 years, and in return, AmTrak has netted total losses of $27.1 billion. In fiscal year 2010, the federal government pumped in an additional $2.4 billion, and AmTrak promptly lost $1.4 billion of it, before the red ink dried. Besides the federal government, the only other shareholders in AmTrak are the old railroad companies themselves, which are now consolidated into other private companies.

The Fate of Shareholders

AmTrak initially issued 10,000,000 shares of common stock, with a par value of $10 per share, to the bankrupt railroads in exchange for their assets. In fact, American Financial Group (AFG) still owns 5.2 million shares which were acquired directly from Penn Central. Although Congress, in 1997, ordered AmTrak to buy back all of its common shares by the year 2002, AmTrak has yet to have the funds, and has in fact been totally dependent on additional government subsidies just to remain viable.

In 2002, AFG filed suit against AmTrak seeking $52 million, plus interest (5.2 million shares @ $10). Two years prior, AmTrak had offered to buy back all of its common shares for a measly three cents per share. Of course none of the common stock holders accepted such a ridiculous offer. Who in their right mind would settle for $156,000 in return for a $52 million investment made some 40 years prior? This is a fine example of what private stock and bond investors may expect in the wake of a government takeover. The original stockholders would have gotten a better deal through normal bankruptcy proceedings, but because of the government’s takeover, everyone got screwed, including generations of unborn taxpayers. It would be wise to remember this as the government attempts to takeover the health care industry.

The Government Takeover of Health Care

And that brings us to the main point of this post, the government’s attempted takeover of the health care industry. The only difference between what I will call AmHeal, and AmTrak, is that the health care industry isn’t broke (yet). But regulations are coming which will attempt to restrict the amount that health insurance and health care providers may charge their customers, while increasing the burden of services they must provide. These regulations will naturally cripple the industry from the top down and from the bottom up.

Health care insurers and providers will quickly realize that the only way they can remain profitable is through cost-cutting, yet their ability to cut costs will be restricted by the increased amount of services they will be required to provide. With millions more customers having been mandated by the federal government, and with restrictions on the amount which may be charged, companies will begin to consolidate in order to achieve economies of scale. But just like the railroads, their attempts will fail. In the meantime, labor unions and progressive community organizers are seeking to stir up public support by way of demanding that health insurers and providers do more with less, profitability be damned. In the end, we will wind up with government run health care, just like many have warned all along.

Unless a poison pill strategy is implemented to derail this insidious disaster, we will soon see the AmTrak of health care, AmHeal. And AmHeal will be just as disastrous as AmTrak in every way. Over time, AmHeal will not only lose billions of dollars per year, but potentially trillions, and will eventually bankrupt the United States of America. Investors in health care companies will be among the first to get burned, as health care companies begin filing for bankruptcy. This will be the final blow to the $2.3 trillion health care industry, and the end of 1/6 of our free market economy.

So how do we derail AmHeal before it reaches the tarmac? In dealing with a government takeover, a poison pill must be taken from within the government itself. We must takeover the government with a top down, bottom up, and inside out approach. We the people must elect politicians dedicated to defunding all regulatory aspects of the affordable health proposal, and then put pressure on the political system from the bottom up. Then all private industry must place additional pressure on the government by requesting waivers, thereby opting out of the government’s proposed mandates. Tea Party advocates, moderates, centrists, conservatives, State governments, lobbyists, and proponents of the free-market must band together. We know that we must stop the government takeover of health care, and that is precisely what we are doing, and what we will accomplish.


Penn Central Transportation

National Association of Railroad Passengers

Major Acts of Congress – Rail Passenger Service Act


History of U.S. Gov’t Bailouts

Amtrak management = worthless Amtrak stock

RAILROADS: Perils of Penn Central

Health Insurance Co-Ops vs. Government-Run Health Insurance

* More Honest Debate *

By: Larry Walker, Jr. –

What is a Cooperative (Co-Op)? *

A Cooperative is a business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit. A cooperative may also be defined as a business owned and controlled equally by the people who use its services or who work at it.

There are many types of Co-Ops in the United States. I will attempt to address some of the most common cooperatives. If you belong to a credit union, you are already a member of a Co-Op. My electric and natural gas utility company is an EMC, another word for Co-Op. In the insurance industry, Co-Ops are called Mutual Companies, or Mutual Legal Reserves.

Credit Unions are owned by their members. When you join, you must establish a share account and maintain a minimum balance. Your share account is your capital investment in the company. You are paid ‘dividends’ on your savings and checking accounts. Dividends are your share of the Credit Union’s profits. A Credit Union offers benefits for its members such as preference on home and automobile loans.

An Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) is a service cooperative owned by those who receive its services. There are nearly 1,000 electric cooperatives in the United States. When the EMC makes a profit, those profits are shared with customers through credits to their electric bills, or lower rates.

Health Insurance Co-Ops

Health Care Services Corporation (HCSC) is the largest customer owned health insurer in the United States.

  • HCSC operates the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, employing 17,000 people and serving more than 12.4 million members – 38% in national employer plans, 32% in large local employer plans, 10% in small employer plans, 10% in individual plans and 10% in government plans.

  • HCSC is the fourth largest health insurance company in the United States and the largest customer-owned health insurer. In 2008, the company’s gross revenue totaled $39.9 billion (considering all subsidiaries which are not included in the chart below in accordance with GAAP).

  • HCSC is the most financially secure health insurer in the United States, with a rating of AA- (Very Strong) from Standard and Poor’s, Aa3 (Excellent) from Moody’s and A+ (Superior) from A.M. Best Co.

  • HCSC retains full or joint ownership of a number of subsidiary companies, including Fort Dearborn Life Insurance Co., Dental Network of America, MEDecision, Availity, Prime Therapeutics and RealMed.

If the HCSC model is the type of Health Insurance Co-Op being discussed in Congress, then I am a fan. Yes. Here is an idea that would have strong bi-partisan support. We can agree on Health Insurance Co-Ops. In my opinion Co-Ops are in line with the purest sense of Capitalism. On the other hand, if Congress is talking about some kind of partially Government owned, or Government controlled entity, then I am not in favor.

In fact, I would like to join HCSC, or a similar Co-Op, but unfortunately it only operates in 4 states, and none of the health insurers in my state are co-ops. Fostering increased competition by allowing insurers to operate in all states would be an improvement.

The Plan

So if America wants to convert its health insurance industry to Co-Ops, the question is how? Obviously, it would be unfair, and foolish, to force the existing insurers out of business, so how do you get them to convert?

I am a proponent of Binary Economics. Under Binary Economics, the only role of Government in private enterprise is to offer interest-free loans through its central bank. Existing publicly traded insurers will need to buy back all of their stock in order to make the conversion to mutual companies. Interest free loans from the Government will facilitate this conversion. The loans will be paid back over the long-term out of the profits of the insurers. Once the loans have been paid, the insured will be able to participate in a larger share of company profits. Profits will be shared with policy holders either in the form of dividends, or lower insurance rates.

Interest free loans are not hand-outs, or bailouts. The money gets paid back. Granting interest free loans would be a much better use of taxpayers money than the current foolishness being promoted by certain ‘linear’ thinkers (right and left). The World is not flat. In fact, most good ideas come from outside of the box.

Reforms I can believe in:

  1. Conversion of the Health Insurance Industry to Co-Ops

  2. Tort Reform

  3. Fostering Interstate Commerce for increased competition

  4. No denial for preexisting conditions

  5. Tax Incentives for those paying higher premiums due to preexisting conditions

  6. Tax incentives for purchasing health insurance

  7. Portability of policies

Reforms I don’t believe in:

  1. Making health insurance mandatory

  2. Taxing employers who don’t offer insurance

  3. Expanding Government-Run health care

  4. Excessive Government Regulation

  5. Triggers

click images to enlarge


Empowering Patients First Act – H.R. 3400

Putting Patients First!

RSC Chairman Tom Price has introduced the Empowering Patients First Act. This is another positive solution from the Republican Study Committee that grants access to affordable, quality health care for all Americans, and is centered around the patient. By increasing patients’ control over their health decisions, we will make coverage more affordable, accessible and responsive, while offering more choices and the highest-quality care.

This solution is centered around four main principles:

#1: Access to Coverage for All Americans

  • The Empowering Patients First Act makes the purchase of health care financially feasible for all Americans, covers pre-existing conditions, protects employer-sponsored insurance, and shines light on existing health care plans.

#2: Coverage is Truly Owned by the Patient

  • This legislation grants greater choice and portability to the patient, and also gives employers more flexibility in the benefits offered. It also expands the individual market by creating several pooling mechanisms.

#3: Improve the Health Care Delivery Structure

  • Physicians know the best care for their patient. That’s why this legislation establishes doctor-led quality measures, ensuring that you get the quality care you need. It also reimburses physicians to ensure the stability of your care, and encourages healthier lifestyles by allowing employers to offer discounts for healthy habits through wellness and prevention programs.

#4: Rein in Out-of-Control Costs

  • A key concern in positive reform is reining in out-of control costs. This legislation does this by reforming the medical liability system. Also, the cost of the plan is completely offset through decreasing defensive medicine, savings from health care efficiencies, sifting out waste, fraud and abuse, plus an annual one-percent non defense discretionary spending step down.

Additional Information:

Short Summary

Detailed Summary

Section by Section Summary

Full Bill Text

RSC Press Release

Steny Shivers, Shakes at Patient-Centered Health Care Solution

Side-by-Side Comparison with the House Democrat Government Takeover (H.R. 3200)

POLITICO – “How the GOP Wants to Fix Health Care”

Chairman Price Accepts Obama’s Invitation to Examine Health Care Proposals Line-by-Line

Letters of Support:

From Americans for Tax Reform


Obama Scores a Zero on Health Care Reform

Bombs on the Fundamentals

Barack Obama’s main argument and the key to his whole presidency seems to be this idea that health care reform will lead to economic recovery. However, what Obama has failed to do is to convince the American public, and mainly conservatives, that it was our present health care system that caused the economic recession of 2007. His failure to convince an intelligent public has caused him to score a big fat zero on fundamental logic.

Obama: “We must lay a new foundation for future growth and prosperity, and a key pillar of a new foundation is health insurance reform.”

Conservatives: We believe you create jobs by keeping taxes and regulation low, and litigation at a minimum. Americans succeed when government puts in place positive policies that encourage more freedom, and more opportunity.

Most of us were under the impression that the recession was caused by the failure of our financial system as specifically related to the housing market. We believe that our economy failed due to a combination of easy money, lax mortgage regulations, and the crash in home prices. We also believe that the problems that caused the housing/mortgage crisis have yet to be resolved.

Instead of focusing on the main problem, the one that actually caused our economy to buckle, along comes Barack Obama with the false premise that it was the lack of health care reform that caused the recession. American’s are however, unable to connect the dots. Some key questions are as follows:

  1. How did the lack of health care reform cause the present recession?
  2. How will health care reform lead to economic recovery?
  3. How do you define economic recovery?
  4. Why did Fannie Mae lose another $15 billion in the 2nd Quarter of 2009?
  5. How will passing ‘untested’ (unread) legislation restore America’s confidence in a broken federal bureaucracy?

It is precisely Obama’s inability to answer the above questions that has American’s like myself so ticked off. Instead of recognizing and focusing on the real crisis, Obama has created a make-believe crisis, and he is proposing a make-believe solution.

Will the Obama brand of make-believe health care reform help delinquent consumers pay their bills? Will it keep real interest rates down? Will it create jobs? Will it encourage more freedom and opportunity? Will it balance the current budget deficit?

When Obama can come to the table with a logical argument regarding his proposed government take over of the health care industry, I will be glad to sit down with him, and have a serious conversation. Until then he can look forward to more questions and more dissent.