Saturday, March 07, 2009

Your Wallet Versus Your Nation?

The recent withdrawal of Dr. Sanjay Gupta from the nomination of US Surgeon General raises once more the financial sacrifice that less than independently wealthy individuals may have to make to enter the world of public service.

While Dr.Gupta denied that the huge drop in income was "not at all an issue" in his decision to withdraw his name as Surgeon General I for one suspect it was. We will never know?

Also I don't know what level of income Dr. Gupta generates as a sexy health media reporter for CNN, and it is really none of my business what a person's income is, sufficed to say that I suspect that it may be excessive given the value his "cheerleading style" of health reporting services brings to our nation. I liken it to the inflated value a superstar professional athlete or top movie star brings to the common national good. But as the old cliche goes if the market will bear it -it is we the consumers who "pay for these exorbitant salaries" who are to blame.

This Gupta withdrawal(good for the nation by the way) incident reminded me of a telephone conversation I had in the summer of 2004 with then my own Congressman Jim Greenwood from Bucks County,Pa (PA-8th District) after The Philadelphia Inquirer published a letter I wrote about Greenwood accepting a job with BIO- the trade association for the biotech industry at a base salary of $650,000 dollars per year before up to $250,000 supplemental bonus. What I objected to was Greenwood taking the job with BIO at a time that hearings were being held on possible unsavory practices by the pharmaceutical industry which Greenwood himself was chairing.Greenwood was offered the job of president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization on July 16,just four days before he was to hold a high-profile congressional hearing into antidepressants and child suicide.

Mr. Greenwood,a decent man,told me on the telephone call that he placed to me that he believed his position with BIO was "a continuation of his public service." That characterization seemed disingenuous to me- not because I don’t believe in free enterprise or biotechnology- but I do not believe it is "public service" when generating a profit is the fundamental goal of BIO's member companies. I conveyed this disagreement to Mr. Greenwood. He then complained about his personal financial needs of himself and his family on the "meager salary" of a Congressman.

Now I know that Ivy League University educations don't come cheap these days. Nor do grocery bills for that matter. But please Mr Greenwood or anyone else don't insult my intelligence by confusing a high salaried executive job with a position in public service to the nation.

Most Americans know the difference between serving your wallet and serving your nation.

Presumably people like Sanjay Gupta and "should have been President" Al Gore do know the difference between national public service and other means of generating income but my former Congressman Jim Greenwood and his more sleazy and venal former colleague in Congress Billy Tauzin, who now heads up Big PhRMA after pushing through a Medicare bill highly favorable to Big PhRMA, don't seem to undertand the concept.

Also, as Common Cause and other organizations have tried to propose over many years, do we really want to tolerate the capacity for politicians to accept private sector executive positions in companies or trade associations for which they had political oversight with just a 1 year waiting period before lobbying is permitted? Is this really good for a nation which has been witness to the number and gravity of corporate scandals that we have experienced in recent years? Haven’t we had enough? I think so.

I believe our new President is asking us all to consider more service to our nation and less to our individual wallets which is not really a bad idea for our troubled times

What do you think?

Dr. Rick Lippin


Anonymous Dr. Rick Lippin said...

PS- Another public servent gone sour- Donna Shalala. To my knowledge she's cashed in in a big way since leaving HHS under Clinton, serving on the board of the for-profit health insurance co UnitedHealthCare. A quick google of Shalala and UnitedHC turns up SEC filings of large stock sales of UnitedHealthCare by Donna Shalala.

Dr. Rick Lippin

10:01 PM  

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