For a red hot read on a sizzling summer night! Free excerpt of my book, “The Candidate.”

The Candidate 2400x3200
Last year about this time, I released THE CANDIDATE, which was a joy to write.

I hope you think so, too. So that you can get a taste of it, feel free to  download an excerpt here.

 

Happy summer,

— Josie

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Seduction and intrigue are rampant on the campaign trail when a political campaign adviser discovers that Washington's power broker elite have embroiled his presidential candidate in a plot involving an act of terrorism on US soil…

 

SYNOPSIS

Democratic political campaign consultant Ben Brinker can’t remember the last time he was excited by a candidate’s vision. He feels he’s lost his way, both emotionally and professionally. Worst yet, his show-me-the-money policy seems to have finally caught up with him. Two of his recent clients have been disgraced in one way or another: a senator is caught in lurid sex scandal, and a congressman is indicted in a kickback scandal. In no time at all the political pundits are calling Ben a "candidate cooler." Now Ben is desperate for any campaign gig he can get.

As luck would have it, Andrew Harris Mansfield, the charismatic junior senator from North Carolina  and former Marine pilot, asks Ben if he wants to run his soon-to-be-announced campaign for president.

Little does Ben know what's in store for Andrew, or their country–

Nor does he realize that the key to saving both have been placed in his hands.

Move over, Marty McFly. The Flux Capacitor is here and now. #TrashIntoGas


Backto the Future
This article, from the
New York Times, shows that as of today, we can be self-producing of clean fuels just by converting our garbage. This should be the most important US works project of the new millenneum. 

ALL states should be doing this, don't you think? Maybe a writing campaign is in order.

We're Back to the Future–and just in time to save Miami. 

But do we want to,

— Josie

Trash Into Gas, Efficiently? An Army Test May Tell

By PAUL TULLIS / New York Times

THERE is an indisputable elegance to the idea of transforming garbage into fuel, of turning icky, smelly detritus into something valuable.

But big drawbacks have prevented the wholesale adoption of trash-to-gas technology in the United States: incineration is polluting, and the capital costs of new plants are enormous. Gasification systems can expend a tremendous amount of energy to produce a tiny amount of electricity. Up to this point, it hasn’t seemed worth the trouble.

Mike Hart thinks that he has solved those problems. In a former Air Force hangar outside Sacramento, his company, Sierra Energy, has spent the last several years testing a waste-to-energy system called the FastOx Pathfinder. The centerpiece, a waste gasifier that’s about the size of a shower stall, is essentially a modified blast furnace. A chemical reaction inside the gasifier heats any kind of trash — whether banana peels, used syringes, old iPods, even raw sewage — to extreme temperatures without combustion. The output includes hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which together are known as syngas, for synthetic gas, and  can be burned to generate electricity or made into ethanol or diesel fuel. The FastOx is now being prepared for delivery to Sierra Energy’s first customer: the United States Army.

Ethanol has long been promoted as an alternative fuel that increases energy independence, and federal law requires the use of greater amounts of it. But most ethanol in this country is produced from corn or soybeans, and many people worry that the mandate is pushing upfood prices. Ethanol produced from trash — or agricultural waste, as others are trying — would allay such concerns.

Ineos Bio, a Florida company, announced last month that it had produced ethanol from gasified wood waste, using a method that it expects to be commercially viable, and KiOR Inc. will make one million to two million gallons of diesel and gasoline this year from wood waste at its plant in Columbus, Miss., according to Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association. Mr. Hart said Sierra Energy’s technology should be complementary with the Florida company’s; the FastOx turns all municipal waste, not just wood scraps, into a gas that Ineos Bio could then transform into ethanol.

The FastOx gasifier is the brainchild of two former engineers at Kaiser Steel, patented by the grandson of one of them and commercialized by Mr. Hart. “It’s a modular system that can be dropped into any area,” Mr. Hart said, “using waste where it’s produced to make electricity where it’s used.” Once it’s off the ground, he said, “garbage will be a commodity.”  

From concept to construction, the story of the FastOx is of one fortuitous accident after another. And while Sierra Energy has not yet proved to be a successful company — it will be a long while before your garbage is shoveled into a FastOx — its system has become the first waste-to-energy technology acquired by the Defense Department, which paid $3 million for it through an environmental technology program. (The California Energy Commission, which supports renewable energy development in the state, also gave Sierra $5 million, to cover the portion of Sierra’s costs that the Pentagon couldn’t.)

The military is looking for ways to reduce its oil consumption, and to make it easier to supply the front lines with the fuel it uses in all its vehicles and generators. “These days, the supply lines are in the battlefield,” said Sharon E. Burke, the assistant secretary of defense for operational efficiency plans and programs. “And we consume a lot of fuel, which makes us a big target.”

MIKE HART got into the energy business by way of a train. In 1993, he bought the Sierra Railroad, a small freight and tourism line in Northern California. During the California blackouts of 2001, he had an idea: “As the lights were going out, I realized every one of my locomotives creates 2.1 megawatts of electricity,” he said — enough to power many hundred homes. “It’s a rolling generator, and inexpensive.”

The train-as-power-generator idea never really left the station, but it got Mr. Hart thinking about alternative energy. Then, as part of a settlement after a fuel spill from one of his trains, he promised to convert his trains to nonpolluting biodiesel.

Biodiesel, however, proved hard to find, and Mr. Hart started looking for new ways to source it. In 2002, he was asked to judge an annual business plan competition called the Big Bang, at the University of California, Davis. That’s where he met Chris Kasten.

Mr. Kasten came to the competition with an idea to use a modified blast furnace to turn waste into fuel. His grandfather, Bruce Claflin, a retired chief industrial engineer at Kaiser Steel in Fontana, Calif., had given him the idea.

Kaiser used blast furnaces to make steel, and Mr. Claflin and a colleague, John Jasbinsek, were tasked with finding “a way to make the blast furnace more efficient and less polluting,” said Mr. Jasbinsek, who is now 86.

Like all blast furnaces, Kaiser’s emitted a flue gas out of the top. It occurred to Mr. Clafin and Mr. Jasbinsek that this gas might have value. The two came up with the idea of injecting oxygen, instead of the atmospheric air that steel makers had always used, to create the chemical reaction that heats the inside of the furnace. This would cut pollution while raising the energy content of the flue gas — in essence, giving the steel maker a second product. But pure oxygen made the system too hot, so they added steam. This gave the furnace a third product: hydrogen, which can be used to produce electricity in fuel cells.

After Kaiser decided to close the Fontana plant in 1983, workers were told to toss all demolition debris into the blast furnace. It was then that Mr. Jasbinsek and Mr. Claflin realized that the furnace could take garbage, too. “No matter what they put in, the furnace melted and gasified it,” Mr. Kasten said. This meant a potential fourth revenue stream — from taking municipal waste that would otherwise go to landfills.

When Kaiser wasn’t interested, Mr. Jasbinsek recalled, “we took the idea to other steel companies, too.” But “nobody gave a damn!” he said. “Now there are hardly any steel companies left in the U.S.”

Kaiser Steel went bankrupt in 1987, so the idea belonged to Mr. Jasbinsek and Mr. Claflin. They were nearing retirement, though, so Mr. Claflin told his grandson about it. (Mr. Claflin died before the idea could be commercialized.)

Mr. Kasten’s first fruitful step in developing his grandfather’s idea was meeting with Chris Soderquist, founder of Venture Lab. “When you run a technology incubator, you see a lot of crazy and half-baked ideas,” Mr. Soderquist said. But Mr. Kasten’s was different; Mr. Soderquist could see right away the value of multiple revenue streams.

Gasification is more efficient than incineration and eliminates toxic byproducts that come from burning trash. But it was especially appealing from a business point of view because it relied on a proven technology and used materials in wide abundance: blast furnaces being abandoned as the American steel industry was collapsing.

“What was compelling from the start,” Mr. Soderquist said, “was repurposing existing infrastructure into a generator of clean energy, with a second revenue stream from people paying you to take their waste.”

Mr. Soderquist helped Mr. Kasten prepare for the Big Bang competition. “For a grad school business plan competition, it was quite a plan he presented,” Mr. Soderquist said, and the judges agreed: Mr. Kasten, now 43, won a $2,000 prize.

Mr. Hart, 51, as a competition judge and a serial entrepreneur, was intrigued. He had started his first business at 12, operating a string of candy machines in high schools throughout what would become known as Silicon Valley. Next, while still living at home, he opened a sort of temp agency for teenagers doing odd jobs. There were a lot of other businesses from the late 1970s to 1993, and stints as a developer for Steve Jobs’s company Next, and for Apple. Mr. Hart also did some consulting until he realized that he would make more money buying whatever devalued company he had been hired to help, and turning it around himself. That was when he bought the Sierra Railroad.

Mr. Hart checked out Mr. Kasten’s gasifier and decided to buy the patents. Then he applied to a Pentagon program established to shepherd proven concepts to the production stage. Results at the Defense Department’s testing facility near Sacramento have been promising; after about four hours, one ton of waste creates enough gas to produce 1,580 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which would power an average home in the United States for about a month and a half — at one-third the emissions of coal — and 42 gallons of renewably sourced fuel. And that’s with a 12-ton-a-day gasifier; existing blast furnaces can handle as much as 2,000 tons a day.

Now that the Pentagon is convinced that the FastOx will work as advertised, the system should be providing electricity later this year at Fort Hunter Liggett, a  training base in Monterey County, Calif., and fuel for vehicles and generators in early 2014.

“California produces 30 million tons of garbage a year,” Mr. Hart said. “If it decided to turn its waste into clean fuels, at that rate it could meet all its oil consumption needs and still export more fuel than some OPEC members.” That is, if the FastOx can do what no other waste-to-energy gasification technology has done before: take any kind of trash, in any succession, without additional separation or preparation.

Sierra plans to license its technology and to sell systems to make electricity or ethanol from the syngas produced by the FastOx. The first will be small and cost about $3 million. But Mr. Hart said he expects to sell larger systems to municipalities and biofuel makers that will go for much more.

Any waste-to-energy plan, however, must overcome a major hurdle: the wild inconsistency of the waste stream. “Until you’ve demonstrated that you can handle it all, nobody’s interested,” Mr. Hart said. “I can understand it; they’ve heard similar promises before. We’ve got 150 cities, communities and businesses lined up to be Serial No. 2. Nobody wants to be No. 1.”

NOBODY, that is, except the Pentagon. The Defense Department is the country’s largest single consumer of energy, spending $15 billion a year just on fuel.

“The mission drives this,” said Ms. Burke, the assistant defense secretary, “and the mission is inherently energy-intensive.”

The FastOx could reduce the military’s reliance on oil overseas and the grid at home. “I have a $24 million-a-year electric bill at Camp Pendleton” in Southern California, said that Marine base’s commander, Brig. Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese. “If I can reduce that cost, that’s more money I can put into training Marines and sailors.”

Ms. Burke added, “Something for military operations has to be really rugged, deployable, simple to use — all of those things.”

Consultants and municipal sanitation officials who’ve looked at the FastOx say it meets those criteria. John Conger, the acting deputy under secretary of defense for installations and the environment, who oversees management of military bases in the United States, says Sierra Energy’s technology should provide energy security for the military in the event of a blackout and provide budget savings as well.

The military’s cost of petroleum, when the costs of transporting and guarding it are factored in, can run as high as $50 a gallon. Moreover, about half of United States casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2007 were of servicemen and servicewomen moving and protecting fuel convoys, according to an Army report.

The appeal of Mr. Hart’s Pathfinder system is that it would produce fuel on site, eliminating the need to truck in fuel to dangerous military outposts. It would also reduce the need for trash-burning on bases, which creates pollution and noxious odors that have contributed to locals’ distaste for the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As a result, United States forces in Afghanistan are working to close burn pits.

“Waste is a problem,” Ms. Burke said. “So if we could dispose of waste and create energy at the same time, that would be a silver bullet.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 20, 2013

 

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to a product of Sierra Energy’s gasifier system. It  produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which together are known as “syngas,” for synthetic gas;  it does not produce “synthetic natural gas.”

 

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 20, 2013

 An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Fort Hunter Liggett, a training base in Monterey County, Calif. At more than 165,000 acres, it is not a “small” base.

(c) 2013 New York Times

 


HA-Vacation-to-Die-For-Final

My latest novel is

The Housewife Assassin's
Vacation to Die For

Now out, in

Amazon.com

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Pick up the first book in The Housewife Assassin series, for free!

 


 

Gotta love this headline in The New Yorker: “The Pay Is Too Damn Low.” Duh, yeah.

I don't feel the need to elaborate on this New Yorker article.

America, isn't it time you vote you pocketbooks, instead of letting the lobbyists decide your fates?

–Josie

THE FINANCIAL PAGE / The New Yorker

THE PAY IS TOO DAMN LOW

BY AUGUST 12, 2013

A few weeks ago, Washington, D.C., passed a living-wage bill designed to make Walmart pay its workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Then President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour). McDonald’s was widely derided for releasing a budget to help its employees plan financially, since that only underscored how brutally hard it is to live on a McDonald’s wage. And last week fast-food workers across the country staged walkouts, calling for an increase in their pay to fifteen dollars an hour. Low-wage earners have long been the hardest workers to organize and the easiest to ignore. Now they’re front-page news.

The workers’ grievances are simple: low wages, few (if any) benefits, and little full-time work. In inflation-adjusted terms, the minimum wage, though higher than it was a decade ago, is still well below its 1968 peak (when it was worth about $10.70 an hour in today’s dollars), and it’s still poverty-level pay. To make matters worse, most fast-food and retail work is part time, and the weak job market has eroded what little bargaining power low-wage workers had: their earnings actually fell between 2009 and last year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

The situation is the result of a tectonic shift in the American economy. In 1960, the country’s biggest employer, General Motors, was also its most profitable company and one of its best-paying. It had high profit margins and real pricing power, even as it was paying its workers union wages. And it was not alone: firms like Ford, Standard Oil, and Bethlehem Steel employed huge numbers of well-paid workers while earning big profits. Today, the country’s biggest employers are retailers and fast-food chains, almost all of which have built their businesses on low pay—they’ve striven to keep wages down and unions out—and low prices.

This complicates things, in part because of the nature of these businesses. They make plenty of money, but most have slim profit margins: Walmart and Target earn between three and four cents on the dollar; a typical McDonald’s franchise restaurant earns around six cents on the dollar before taxes, according to an analysis from Janney Capital Markets. In fact, the combined profits of all the major retailers, restaurant chains, and supermarkets in the Fortune 500 are smaller than the profits of Apple alone. Yet Apple employs just seventy-six thousand people, while the retailers, supermarkets, and restaurant chains employ 5.6 million. The grim truth of those numbers is that low wages are a big part of why these companies are able to stay profitable while offering low prices. Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years. That’s an increase that the companies can easily tolerate, and it would make a significant difference in the lives of low-wage workers. But that’s still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family. If you want to accomplish that, you have to change the entire way these companies do business. Above all, you have to get consumers to accept significantly higher, and steadily rising, prices. After decades in which we’ve grown used to cheap stuff, that won’t be easy.

Realistically, then, a higher minimum wage can be only part of the solution. We also need to expand the earned-income tax credit, and strengthen the social-insurance system, including child care and health care (the advent of Obamacare will help in this regard). Fast-food jobs in Germany and the Netherlands aren’t much better-paid than in the U.S., but a stronger safety net makes workers much better off. We also need many more of the “middle-class jobs” we’re always hearing about. A recent McKinsey report suggested that the government should invest almost a trillion dollars over the next five years in repairing and upgrading the national infrastructure, which seems like a good place to start. And we really need the economy as a whole to grow faster, because that would both increase the supply of good jobs and improve the bargaining power of low-wage workers. As Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me, “The best friend that low-wage workers have is a strong economy and a tight job market.” It isn’t enough to make bad jobs better. We need to create better jobs. ♦

ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

(c) The New Yorker. All rights reserved.

 

TheHousewifeAssassinsHandbook_JosieBrown (134x200)My way to help the wage slave is to offer THE HOUSEWIEE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK for free. Download it here:

(Book 1) Signal Press  

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New York Times gives us another reason to be disgusted with the high cost of US healthcare

Having just been biled $260 for a six-minute earwax removal procedure (oh yeah, minus a whoopdeedoo $180 "credit for being a Blue Shield member), I can tell you I'm truly fed up with the egregious cost of American healthcare. How about you?  This New York Times article certainly puts things in perspective — Josie

For Medical Tourists, Simple Math

By  | Published: August 3, 2013 / New York Times

Josh Haner/The New York Times

 

Michael Shopenn, who has an artificial hip, on Copper Mountain in Colorado. Joint replacements have grown sharply.

WARSAW, Ind. — Michael Shopenn’s artificial hip was made by a company based in this remote town, a global center of joint manufacturing. But he had to fly to Europe to have it installed.

Mr. Shopenn, 67, an architectural photographer and avid snowboarder, had been in such pain from arthritis that he could not stand long enough to make coffee, let alone work. He had health insurance, but it would not cover a joint replacement because his degenerative disease was related to an old sports injury, thus considered a pre-existing condition.

Desperate to find an affordable solution, he reached out to a sailing buddy with friends at a medical device manufacturer, which arranged to provide his local hospital with an implant at what was described as the “list price” of $13,000, with no markup. But when the hospital’s finance office estimated that the hospital charges would run another $65,000, not including the surgeon’s fee, he knew he had to think outside the box, and outside the country.

“That was a third of my savings at the time,” Mr. Shopenn said recently from the living room of his condo in Boulder, Colo. “It wasn’t happening.”

“Very leery” of going to a developing country like India or Thailand, which both draw so-called medical tourists, he ultimately chose to have his hip replaced in 2007 at a private hospital outside Brussels for $13,660. That price included not only a hip joint, made by Warsaw-based Zimmer Holdings, but also all doctors’ fees, operating room charges, crutches, medicine, a hospital room for five days, a week in rehab and a round-trip ticket from America.

“We have the most expensive health care in the world, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best,” Mr. Shopenn said. “I’m kind of the poster child for that.”

As the United States struggles to rein in its growing $2.7 trillion health care bill, the cost of medical devices like joint implants, pacemakers and artificial urinary valves offers a cautionary tale. Like many medical products or procedures, they cost far more in the United States than in many other developed countries.

Makers of artificial implants — the biggest single cost of most joint replacement surgeries — have proved particularly adept at commanding inflated prices, according to health economists. Multiple intermediaries then mark up the charges. While Mr. Shopenn was offered an implant in the United States for $13,000, many privately insured patients are billed two to nearly three times that amount.

An artificial hip, however, costs only about $350 to manufacture in the United States, according to Dr. Blair Rhode, an orthopedist and entrepreneur whose company is developing generic implants. In Asia, it costs about $150, though some quality control issues could arise there, he said.

So why are implant list prices so high, and rising by more than 5 percent a year? In the United States, nearly all hip and knee implants — sterilized pieces of tooled metal, plastic or ceramics — are made by five companies, which some economists describe as a cartel. Manufacturers tweak old models and patent the changes as new products, with ever-bigger price tags.

Generic or foreign-made joint implants have been kept out of the United States by trade policy, patents and an expensive Food and Drug Administration approval process that deters start-ups from entering the market. The “companies defend this turf ferociously,” said Dr. Peter M. Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health care.

Though the five companies make similar models, each cultivates intense brand loyalty through financial ties to surgeons and the use of a different tool kit and operating system for the installation of its products; orthopedists typically stay with the system they learned on. The thousands of hospitals and clinics that purchase implants try to bargain for deep discounts from manufacturers, but they have limited leverage since each buys a relatively small quantity from any one company.

In addition, device makers typically require doctors’ groups and hospitals to sign nondisclosure agreements about prices, which means institutions do not know what their competitors are paying. This secrecy erodes bargaining power and has allowed a small industry of profit-taking middlemen to flourish: joint implant purchasing consultants, implant billing companies, joint brokers. There are as many as 13 layers of vendors between the physician and the patient for a hip replacement, according to Kate Willhite, a former executive director of the Manitowoc Surgery Center in Wisconsin.

 

Hospitals and orthopedic clinics typically pay $4,500 to $7,500 for an artificial hip, according to MD Buyline andOrthopedic Network News, which track device pricing. But those numbers balloon with the cost of installation equipment and all the intermediaries’ fees, including an often hefty hospital markup.

That is why the hip implant for Joe Catugno, a patient at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York, accounted for nearly $37,000 of his approximately $100,000 hospital bill; Cigna, his insurer, paid close to $70,000 of the charges. At Mills-Peninsula Health Services in San Mateo, Calif., Susan Foley’s artificial knee, which costs about the same as a hip joint, was billed at $26,000 in a total hospital tally of $112,317. The components of Sonja Nelson’s hip at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., accounted for $30,581 of her $50,935 hospital bill. Insurers negotiate discounts on those charges, and patients have limited responsibility for the differences.

The basic design of artificial joints has not changed for decades. But increased volume — about one million knee and hip replacements are performed in the United States annually — and competition have not lowered prices, as would typically happen with products like clothes or cars. “There are a bunch of implants that are reasonably similar,” said James C. Robinson, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “That should be great for the consumer, but it isn’t.”

COMPARING TWO OPERATIONS

 

‘Sticky Pricing’

The American health care market is plagued by such “sticky pricing,” in which prices of products remain high or even increase over time instead of dropping. The list price of a total hip implant increased nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011, according to Orthopedic Network News, a newsletter about the industry. That is a result, economists say, of how American medicine generally sets charges: without government regulation or genuine marketplace competition.

“Manufacturers will tell you it’s R&D and liability that makes implants so expensive and that they have the only one like it,” said Dr. Rory Wright, an orthopedist at the Orthopedic Hospital of Wisconsin, a top specialty clinic. “They price this way because they can.”

Zimmer Holdings declined to comment on pricing. But Sheryl Conley, a longtime Zimmer manager who is now the chief executive of OrthoWorx, a local trade group in Warsaw, said that high prices reflected the increasing complexity of the joint implant business, including more advanced materials, new regulatory requirements and the logistics of providing a now huge array of devices. “When I started, there weren’t even left and right knee components,” she said. “It was one size fits all.”

Mr. Shopenn’s Zimmer hip has transformed his life, as did the replacement joint for Mr. Catugno, a TV director; Ms. Foley, a lawyer; and Ms. Nelson, a software development executive. Mr. Shopenn, an exuberant man who maintains a busy work schedule, recently hosted his son’s wedding and spent 26 days last winter teaching snowboarding to disabled people.

His joint implant and surgery in Belgium were priced according to a different logic. Like many other countries, Belgium oversees major medical purchases, approving dozens of different types of implants from a selection of manufacturers, and determining the allowed wholesale price for each of them, for example. That price, which is published, currently averages about $3,000, depending on the model, and can be marked up by about $180 per implant. (The Belgian hospital paid about $4,000 for Mr. Shopenn’s high-end Zimmer implant at a time when American hospitals were paying an average of over $8,000 for the same model.)

“The manufacturers do not have the right to sell an implant at a higher rate,” said Philip Boussauw, director of human resources and administration at St. Rembert’s, the hospital where Mr. Shopenn had his surgery. Nonetheless, he said, there was “a lot of competition” among American joint manufacturers to work with Belgian hospitals. “I’m sure they are making money,” he added.

Dr. Cram, the Iowa health cost expert, points out that joint manufacturers are businesses, operating within the constraints of varying laws and markets.

“Imagine you’re the C.E.O. of Zimmer,” he said. “Why charge $1,000 for the implant in the U.S. when you can charge $14,000? How would you answer to your shareholders?” Expecting device makers “to do otherwise is like asking, ‘Couldn’t Apple just charge $50 for an iPhone?’ because that’s what it costs to make them.”

But do Americans want medical devices priced like smartphones? “That,” Dr. Cram said, “is a different question.”

A Miracle for Many

When joint replacement surgery first became widely used in the 1970s, it was reserved for older patients with crippling pain from arthritis, to offer relief and restore some mobility. But as technology and techniques improved, its use broadened to include younger, less debilitated patients who wanted to maintain an active lifestyle, including vigorous sports or exercise.

Narayan Mahon for The New York Times

Dr. Rory Wright at the Orthopedic Hospital of Wisconsin with two modern hip joint options.

 

In the first few decades, implants were typically cemented into place. But since the 1980s, many surgeons have used implants made of more sophisticated materials that allow the patient’s own bone to grow in to hold the device in place. For most patients, implants have proved miraculous in improving quality of life, which is why socialized medical systems tend to cover them. Per capita, more hip replacements are done in Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands, for example, than in the United States.

Motivated in part by science and in part by the need to create new markets, joint makers churn out new designs that are patented, priced higher and introduced with free training courses for surgeons. Some use more durable materials so that a patient requiring a hip implant at age 40 or 50 might rely on it longer than the standard 20 years, while other models are streamlined and require smaller incisions.

Zimmer got a big sales bump a few years ago when it began promoting its new “female knee,” a slightly slimmer version of its standard design, in an advertising campaign directed at patients. Hospitals on average pay about $800 more to buy the gender-specific knee implants, according to MD Buyline.

Many doctors say that for most patients, older, standard implants with a successful track record are appropriate. Expensive modifications make no difference for the typical patient, but they drive up prices for all models and have sometimes proved to be deeply flawed, they say.

In the last few years, joint manufacturers have faced lawsuits and have settled claims with patients after new, all-metal implants, which were meant to be more durable than the standard version, had unusually high failure rates. As for those “female knees,” a studyfeatured at the meeting of the American College of Orthopedic Surgeons this year concluded, “While we certainly use the female components frequently in surgery, we don’t detect any objective improvement in clinical outcomes.”

That is why Dr. Scott S. Kelley, an orthopedist affiliated with Duke University Medical Center, generally tries to dissuade patients who request “new, improved” joints. “I tell them: ‘That’s taking a big risk for the potential of a few percentage points of improvement. You wouldn’t invest your retirement account this way.’ ”

YOUR PERSPECTIVE

Can you relate an experience that has led you to feel that the price of American medicine does — or does not — correlate with the quality of care you received?

A Town’s Lifeblood

The power and profits of the medical device industry are on display here in Warsaw, which has trademarked itself the Orthopedic Capital of the World. Four of the big five joint manufacturers in the world are based in the United States; the other is in Britain. Three of these giants — Zimmer, Biomet and DePuy, a division of Johnson & Johnson — have their headquarters here, a town of 14,000.

An industry that began as a splint-making shop in 1895 has made Warsaw the center of a global multibillion-dollar business. The companies based here produce about 60 percent of the hip and knee devices used in the United States and one-third of the world’s orthopedic sales volume, local officials said. Nearly half the jobs in Kosciusko County, where Warsaw is, are tied to the industry. Residents joke that a mixed marriage is when one spouse works for Zimmer and the other for DePuy.

The industry’s benefits are evident. The county has the lowest unemployment rate in Northern Indiana, and the median family income of $50,000 puts it significantly above the state average. The town boasts lush golf courses and streets lined with spacious homes. The lobby of the elegant City Hall, which is in a restored 1912 bank, features plaques about device manufacturers.

“We eat, sleep and breathe orthopedics,” said Ms. Conley of OrthoWorx, which she said was set up to “plan for the future of the orthopedic industry here.” OrthoWorx’s board of directors includes executives from Biomet and DePuy.

With a high-tech industry as its lifeblood, Ms. Conley said, Warsaw needed to attract engineers and doctors from afar and train local youths for “the business.” It has upgraded the public schools and helped create programs at local colleges in orthopedic regulation and advanced machinist techniques.

Officials at OrthoWorx say the device makers do not discuss “competitive issues” among themselves, including the prices of implants, even as employees stand together watching their children play baseball. Still, it is in everyone’s interest not to undercut the competition. In 2011, all three manufacturers had joint implant sales exceeding $1 billion and spent about only 5 percent of revenues on research and development, compared with 20 percent in the pharmaceutical industry, said Stan Mendenhall, the editor of Orthopedic Network News. They each paid their chief executives over $8 million.

“It’s amazing to think there is $5 billion to $6 billion going through this little place in Northern Indiana,” said Mr. Mendenhall, adding that the recession has meant only single-digit annual revenue growth rather than the double-digit growth of the past.

Device makers have used some of their profits to lobby Congress and to buy brand loyalty. In 2007, joint makers paid $311 million to settle Justice Department accusations that they were paying kickbacks to surgeons who used their devices; Zimmer paid the biggest fine, $169.5 million. That year, nearly 1,000 orthopedists in the United States received a total of about $200 million in payments from joint manufacturers for consulting, royalties and other activities, according to data released as part of the settlement.

Despite that penalty, payments continued, according to a paper published in The Archives of Internal Medicine in 2011. While some of the orthopedists are doing research for the companies, the roles of others is unclear, said Dr. Cram, one of the study’s authors.

Although only a tiny percentage of orthopedists receive payments directly from manufacturers, the web of connections is nonetheless tangled.

Companies “build a personal relationship with the doctor,” said Professor Robinson, the Berkeley economist. “The companies hire sales reps who are good at engineering and good at golf. They bring suitcases into the operating room,” advising which tools might work best among the hundreds they carry, he said. And some studies have shown that operations attended by a company representative are more likely to use more and costlier medical equipment. While some hospitals have banned manufacturers’ representatives from the operating room, or have at least blocked salesmanship there, most have not.

No Gift Shop

There are, of course, a number of factors that explain why Mr. Shopenn’s surgery in Belgium would cost many times more in the United States. In America, fees for hospitals, scans, physical therapy and surgeons are generally far higher. And in Belgium, even private hospitals are more spartan.

When Mr. Shopenn arrived at the hospital, he was taken aback by the contrast with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where his father had been a patient a year before. The New York facility had “comfortable waiting rooms, an elegant lobby and newsstands,” Mr. Shopenn remembered.

But in Belgium, he said, “I was immediately scared because at first I thought, this is really old. The chairs in the waiting rooms were metal, the walls were painted a pale green, there was no gift shop. But then I realized everything was new. It was just functional. There wasn’t much of a nod to comfort because they were there to provide health care.”

St. Rembert's, the private hospital in Belgium where Mr. Shopenn had his hip replaced for $13,660. Thomas Vanden Driessche for The New York Times

 

The pricing system in Belgium does not encourage amenities, though the country has among the lowest surgical infection rates in the world — lower than in the United States — and is known for good doctors. While most Belgian physicians and hospitals are in business for themselves, the government sets pricing and limits profits. Hospitals get a fixed daily rate and surgeons receive a fee for each surgery, which are negotiated each year between national medical groups and the state.

While doctors may charge more than the rate, few do so because most patients would refuse to pay it, said Mr. Boussauw, the hospital administrator. Doctors and hospitals must provide estimates. European orthopedists tend to make about half the income of their American counterparts, whose annual income averaged $442,450 in 2011, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that studies health policy.

Belgium pays for health care through a mandatory national insurance plan, which requires contributions from employers and workers and pays for 80 percent of each treatment. Except for the poor, patients are generally responsible for the remaining 20 percent of charges, and many get private insurance to cover that portion.

Mr. Shopenn’s surgery, which was uneventful, took place on a Tuesday.On Friday he was transferred for a week to the hospital’s rehabilitation unit, where he was taught exercises to perform once he got home.

Twelve days after his arrival, he paid the hospital’s standard price for hip replacements for foreign patients. Six weeks later he saw an orthopedist in Seattle, where he was living at the time, to remove stitches and take a postoperative X-ray. “He said there was no need for further visits, that the hip looked great, to go out and enjoy myself,” Mr. Shopenn said.

Staying Active

The number of hip replacements has risen sharply in recent years, with much of the growth coming from people younger than 65.

With baby boomers determined to continue skiing, biking and running into their 60s and beyond, economists predict a surge in joint replacement surgeries, and more procedures for younger patients. The number of hip and knee replacements is expected to roughly double between 2010 and 2020, according to Exponent, a scientific consulting firm, and perhaps quadruple by 2030. If insurers paid $36,000 for each surgery, a fairly typical price in the commercial sector, the total cost would be $144 billion, about a sixth of the nation’s military budget last year.

So far, attempts to bring down the price of medical devices have been undercut by the industry.

When Dr. Daniel S. Elliott of the Mayo Clinic decided to continue using an older, cheaper valve to cure incontinence because studies showed that it was just as good as a newer, more expensive model, the manufacturer raised its price.

“If there was a generic, I’d be there tomorrow,” he said.

With artificial joints, cost-trimming efforts have been similarly ineffective. Medicare does not negotiate directly with manufacturers, but offers all-inclusive payments for surgery to hospitals to prompt them to bargain harder for better implant prices. Instead, hospitals complain that acquiring the implant consumes 50 percent to 70 percent of Medicare’s reimbursement, which now averages $12,099, up 25 percent from $9,645 in 1993. Meanwhile, surgeons’ fees have dropped by nearly half.

With the federal government unwilling to intervene directly, some doctors and insurance plans are themselves trying to reduce the costs by mandating preset prices or forcing more competition and transparency.

After concluding that hip replacements billed at $100,000 yielded no better results than less expensive ones, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or Calpers, told members that it would pay hospitals $30,000 for a hip or knee replacement, and dozens of hospitals have met that number.

Dr. Wright’s orthopedic hospital near Milwaukee has driven down payments for joints by more than 30 percent by resolving to use only two types of hip implants and requiring blind bids directly from the manufacturers; part of the savings is passed on to patients.

The Affordable Care Act tries to recoup some of the medical device manufacturers’ profits by imposing a 2.3 percent tax on their revenues, effective this year. But Brad Bishop, the executive director of OrthoWorx and a former Zimmer executive, said that the approach would harm an innovative American industry, and that the cost would ultimately be borne by joint replacement patients “whose average age is 67.” He argued that the best way to reduce the cost of joint replacement surgery was to rescind the tax and decrease government interference.

The medical device industry spent nearly $30 million last year on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Senate moved to repeal the tax, and the House is expected to take it up this fall. The bill’s supporters included both senators from Indiana.

Mr. Shopenn’s new hip worked so well that a few months after returning from Belgium he needed a hernia operation — a result of too much working out at the gym. He was home by 4 p.m. the day of the outpatient surgery, but the bill came to $16,500. Though his insurance company covered the procedure, he called the hospital’s finance department for an explanation.

He remembers in particular a “surreal” discussion with a “very nice” administrator about a $750 bill for a surgical drain, which he called “a piece of plastic in a sealed bag.”

“It was mind-boggling to me that the surgery could possibly cost this much,” he said, “after what I’d just done in Belgium.”

(c) 2013 New York Times

Anthony Weiner’s campaign manager quit. Reminds me of this scene in THE CANDIDATE.


The-Candidate-Final4
THE CANDIDATE

Signal Press – eBook

Buy it NOW, on 
Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

I love this scene in THE CANDIDATE because it's a perfect example of yet another politician has been caught behaving badly, and instead of blaming himself, he lashes out at those who do their best to protect him — in this case, the book's hero, Ben Brinker, who is his campaign advisor.

A perfect illustration that scandals, such the Anthony Weiner texting scandal in the New York City mayoral race, aren't so much stranger than fiction.

Enjoy,

— Josie 

 

EXCERPT

 “You sure are one stupid sonofabitch!”
Congressman Calder’s rant, roaring out of Ben’s iPhone, could be heard by each
and every wayward traveler in the Manchester Airport lounge, including the
bartender who was trying hard not to smirk as he slid Ben’s double Glenlivet,
neat, in front of him. “Damn it, Brinker, you told me you had that bitch under
control!”

Despite
a splitting headache, Ben cradled his cell as close as he could to his head,
then grabbed his glass as if it were a lifeline and took a swig. If he thought
the scotch’s numbing burn would muffle Dick Calder’s profanity-laced bellowing,
he was sorely mistaken. Worse yet, while Calder was screaming into one ear,
Chris Matthews was barking his own ruminations about “the politician and his
baby mama” on the lounge’s TV set. His guest pundits—Paul Begala, Bay Buchanan,
and Arianna Huffington, each wedged into a thin slice of the split screen—were
spinning their own theories on the first scandal of the election season.

“Calm
down, Dick! I did take care of her. I always do, don’t I?” Ben ran his fingers
through his hair. Three strands—all white—dropped on the bar beside his napkin.
After today he wouldn’t be shocked to find that they’d all turned white—or that
they’d all fallen out. “I just talked to her yesterday in fact, and—Oh…wait!…Shit!”

“What
now?”

“I—well…Okay,
look: Last night I didn’t have time to swing by there before my flight
with—well, you know, her little stipend. I called instead, and told her I’d
drop over tonight.”

In
all honesty, seeing Jenna never made Ben happy. He’d met her a decade ago, when
she was one of the many fresh-faced bright young things on the Hill. Having
just been hired on as a Staff Ass to her home state senator, she was a
small-town girl with a sunny smile and great legs: something admired by Calder,
among others—including Ben. And with so much going for her, Jenna wasn’t
exactly a saint. Then again, she wasn’t a Washingtonienne,
either. She truly believed Calder’s bullshit when he told her he’d leave his
wife for her.

At
least, those first three or four years they were together.

Needless
to say, when Jenna broke the news to him that she was pregnant, of course he
hit the roof. Still, Jenna did her part. She left the Hill before her pregnancy
could be discerned under her fitted suits.

Her
discretion was part of her charm for Calder, whose wife gave him a wide berth
but had made it ominously clear that the gates of hell would open up under him
should any scandal threaten her hard-earned standing in Washington society.

As
the executor of little Cole’s trust, of course Ben knew otherwise.

Lately,
though, Jenna had been fretting over what Calder’s presidential aspirations
would mean to her and Cole. She was no fool. Under normal circumstances she saw
him, what, twice in a month? If Calder were to get the Democratic nomination,
odds were he’d drop her like the hot political potato she was.

“And
when he does, who’s going to hire me? No one!” she’d fretted to Ben last night
on the phone. “Not that Cole’s illness isn’t a full-time job. But without
employment, I’ve got no health insurance. Ben, these medical bills are eating
me alive, and that cheap son of a bitch Calder begrudges me every dime. I’m not
living high on the hog here. I mean for God’s sake, Cole is his son, too!”

No
wonder Jenna had sounded so anxious on the phone last night. Besides whatever
the Enquirer was paying, apparently
she’d hoped to get her cash before the Couric interview aired.

 Calder turned icy cold. “Let me get this right,
Brinker: In other words, you blew her
off?”

“No,
not exactly. I mean—”

“Save
it, Kiss Ass. For once, you may have done me a favor. At least I saved a few
thousand there.” Calder’s cruel chortle sent chills up Ben’s spine. “It’ll be a
cold day in hell when that cunt sees another buck from me. Her little gravy
train is over. And so is yours, Brinker. It was your incompetence that lost me
the election.”

It
was all Ben could do not to shout back into the phone, You did this to yourself, shithead. If you’d loosened your wallet, she
would have kept quiet forever.

Instead
he took a deep breath. “Can I help it that the Enquirer made her a better offer?”

His
retort was met with silence. Then Calder hissed: “That’s my point, you fucking
moron. You should have come up with a more permanent
solution. Like offing the bitch.”

What the hell?

Yeah,
okay. Lying to the media, to donors, even to his candidates’ wives was one
thing. And these days a payoff (to a dirty cop who could be convinced to “lose”
an arrest warrant, or a blackmailer, let alone a loudmouth mistress) was just
business as usual. But arranging a hit?

No,
even I won’t sink that low, thought
Ben.

Ben
knew the bartender had overheard Calder’s taunt, too, because the stocky
Irishman stopped polishing the counter mid-wipe and scrutinized him through
hooded eyes. Ben pretended not to notice, but a moist trickle of shame inched
its way down his back.

He
turned his head in the hope of deflecting the man’s stare. Then with as much
dignity as he could muster, he muttered, “Seriously, Congressman, what do you
take me for, some sort of thug?”

Calder
cackled so hard that Ben had to hold the iPhone away from his ear. “A ‘thug’?
Frankly, that would be a step up for you, Brinker. Hell, a cockroach would be a
promotion. For Christ sake, you’re just a fucking political consultant. Or have you forgotten that?”

If the
cell hadn’t chirped as the line went dead, Ben would have faked some sort of
face-saving kiss-off for the benefit of the bartender and anyone else who was
still listening, but why bother? Everyone was watching the television, anyway.

Ben’s
eyes gravitated there too when he realized what they were staring at: his
photo, which had suddenly appeared on the television screen as Matthews spit
out his name:

“—Is
it just me, or has there been an epidemic of political scandals lately? Seems
like the only thing they have in common is the same political consultant: Ben
Brinker. Remember the congressman from Utah who was caught last month
soliciting teenage girls over the Internet?”

The
screen cut back to the pundits. “Well, yeah, that was Ben’s candidate, too.”
Begala’s nod was accompanied with a grimace. “But hey, Chris, we political
consultants don’t carry crystal balls. And the ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’
types are few and far between—”

“If I
remember correctly, Brinker also handled that governor who recently got
indicted in a construction kickback scandal.” Bay shook her head in disgust.
“And didn’t he work on the campaign of that senator whose diplomatic
aspirations went up in smoke faster than you could say ‘back taxes’?
Whitewashing the depraved makes you just as culpable, in my book.”

  “Granted, there are some pathetic losers up
on the Hill, but there are also some really great statesmen—and stateswomen.” Chris was just warming
up. “They just don’t hire creeps like Brinker.”

“Bottom
line is that Brinker’s the best at putting lipstick on pigs and running them
for office.” Arianna’s icy chuckle pierced right through Ben. “But seriously,
how many political consultants can survive in D.C. with those kind of
‘see-no-evil, hear-no-evil’ antics? It may work if you’re a candidate’s wife,
but not a campaign strategist who wants to stay on K Street.”

Damn, that’s harsh, hon. Well then hell, don’t
count on me blogging anytime on HuffPo…Yeah, okay, so it’s a long shot that,
after this Calder crap, you’ll ever ask me again
.

“Nah,
something else is going on here!” Matthews was on a roll. “Maybe some lousy
karma. ‘Bad Luck Brinker’ is some sort of political cooler who jinxes his
candidates’ chances—”

This
set off a cacophony of supposition, innuendo and balls-to-the-wall blarney from
his guests. Above it all Matthews roared his patented, “Tell me something I don’t know! Be right back–”

All
eyes in the bar turned to Ben.

Hit
with the realization that his income stream had just dried up—worse yet, that
he wouldn’t be able to replace it because he’d never live down this latest
humiliation—the Tilt’n Diner’s signature whoopee cake pie crawled back up Ben’s
throat, along with his Glenlivet neat.

Swallowing
hard, he tossed a ten on the bar and, with what dignity he could muster, walked
to the men’s room.

Once
inside, he kicked open an empty stall, and promptly threw up.

(c) 2013 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.


Excerpt from THE CANDIDATE: Pilot Error, or Sabotage?

The-Candidate-Final4I thought I'd treat you to another excerpt from the candidate. 

I had a blast researching this scene, in which a saboteur must make an experienced pilot's plane go down — and make it look like pilot error.

Hope you enjoy it!

— Josie

Buy it on
Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

 

EXCERPT



Smith’s
man, Charlie, had no problem stealing a uniform from one of the two approved
maintenance subcontractors allowed to service planes at that particular
airport. The electronic gate key got him in with no hassles. But just in case
anyone was around to ask questions, he dummied up a fake Airworthiness
Directive and stuck it in his back pocket so he’d have it to wave under the alert
bastard’s nose, if need be.

 The plane was located in one of the newer,
larger hangars at the end of the third row, the one closest to the runway. The
swipe card that opened the hangar’s manual double door had already been coded
to open on command. Once he was inside, he closed the door behind him.

 The job was a piece of cake. First Charlie
loosened a bleed clamp in the pressurization system, but just enough to ensure
that, forty minutes into the flight—by the time the plane reached an altitude
of 26,000 feet or so—the outflow valve would pop off. When that happened, the
cabin would decompress immediately, and all hell would break loose.

 Next he replaced the emergency oxygen tank
with an identical one that was filled with nitrogen instead.

The
pilot’s emergency procedure was predictable. First he’d put on his oxygen mask,
and instruct any passengers to do the same. Then he’d radio the tower for an
emergency descent, and switch the transponder to the MAYDAY signal:
SQUAWK 7700. If he was really quick, he might even have time to put power
all the way back to idle, and pull out spoilers—

PrivatePlaneBefore
the toxic gas flowing into his lungs asphyxiated him.

Of
course, if the pilot’s body were to stay intact—fat chance of that, considering
that the plane’s angle would be steep upon impact—the amount of the gas found
in his lungs would be too negligible to raise suspicions among the NTSB
investigators.

In
other words, the cause of the crash would stay a mystery. 

Personally,
Charlie hoped there wouldn’t be too many passengers onboard. As a former flyboy
himself, nothing annoyed him more than the media’s endless ruminations about
the amount of fatalities caused by “pilot error.”

Then
again, this time around he’d hate for them to suspect the truth.

(c) 2013 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Author.

Read another excerpt for a chance to win a
$100 Gift Card from the bookstore of your choice
!

Free, for just ONE MORE DAY (Saturday, July 6, 2013): THE CANDIDATE

The-Candidate-Final4

 

Yes, you want to get it. 

Or as Amazon readers put it:

"I got mad at myself because I had to put this book down to sleep at night. I wanted to finish it all – without taking a break!" — Chick Lit Plus

"The story and the characters pulled me in. Great summer escape reading." — Julia B.

" Great plot twists kept me reading to learn more. Kind of makes me wonder about the real sick world of politicians." – Rob B.

"It's a terrific read and does not disappoint! I couldn't put it down and finished in one day." – Nikki S.

" I was hooked. Hopefully there will be others in the series soon!" –Jana A.

" Always a page turner. Couldn't find one dull spot. Highly recommend. Even the title is intriguing." – Nocturnes

Buy it NOW, on Amazon

Hump Day Haiku: “Kiss Bliss”

Lovers-kiss-park

The urge to kiss her /
Comes in the oddest places/
He always gives in.


The-Candidate-Final4
THE CANDIDATE

Signal Press – eBook

Buy it NOW, on 
Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

BN.com (US)

Seduction and intrigue are rampant on the campaign trail when a political campaign adviser discovers that Washington's power broker elite have embroiled his presidential candidate in a plot involving an act of terrorism on US soil…

SYNOPSIS

Democratic political campaign consultant Ben Brinker can’t remember the last time he was excited by a candidate’s vision. He feels he’s lost his way, both emotionally and professionally. Worst yet, his show-me-the-money policy seems to have finally caught up with him. Two of his recent clients have been disgraced in one way or another: a senator is caught in lurid sex scandal, and a congressman is indicted in a kickback scandal. In no time at all the political pundits are calling Ben a "candidate cooler." Now Ben is desperate for any campaign gig he can get.

As luck would have it, Andrew Harris Mansfield, the charismatic junior senator from North Carolina  and former Marine pilot, asks Ben if he wants to run his soon-to-be-announced campaign for president.

Little does Ben know what's in store for Andrew, or their country–

Nor does he realize that the key to saving both have been placed in his hands.

Read an excerpt here…

Enter THE CANDIDATE'S Contest for a $100 Gift Card!


I want to whet your appetite for THE CANDIDATE. Here’s the opening scene.


The-Candidate-Final4
THE CANDIDATE

Signal Press – eBook

Buy it NOW, on 
Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

BN.com (US)

 

Seduction and intrigue are rampant on the campaign trail when a political campaign adviser discovers that Washington's power broker elite have embroiled his presidential candidate in a plot involving an act of terrorism on US soil…

SYNOPSIS

Democratic political campaign consultant Ben Brinker can’t remember the last time he was excited by a candidate’s vision. He feels he’s lost his way, both emotionally and professionally. Worst yet, his show-me-the-money policy seems to have finally caught up with him. Two of his recent clients have been disgraced in one way or another: a senator is caught in lurid sex scandal, and a congressman is indicted in a kickback scandal. In no time at all the political pundits are calling Ben a "candidate cooler." Now Ben is desperate for any campaign gig he can get.

As luck would have it, Andrew Harris Mansfield, the charismatic junior senator from North Carolina  and former Marine pilot, asks Ben if he wants to run his soon-to-be-announced campaign for president.

Little does Ben know what's in store for Andrew, or their country–

Nor does he realize that the key to saving both have been placed in his hands.

Read another excerpt here…

Enter THE CANDIDATE'S Contest for a $100 Gift Card!

 

EXCERPT

December 31st

It was an
unseasonably warm New Year’s Eve, and the throbbing mass of partygoers centered
around the fountain at the Bellagio was for the most part feeling no pain.

One
in particular was especially numb. His captors had made sure of it, doping him
up with a cocktail of drugs—a potent mix of zombie cucumber, scopolamine, and
some botulism thrown in for good measure—that left him too paralyzed to move,
to speak, to cry, let alone to shout out to the crowd that he was, quite
literally, a ticking time bomb.

As
the Bellagio’s famous fountain pulsated to the sensual sounds of Sinatra,
Carlos Rodriguez glared hard at those around him in the hope that someone—anyone—might be able to read the fear in
his eyes, if not for his sake, then for the rest of them. Illuminated in the
hotel’s many roving spotlights, their faces melded into a living collage:
flirting, blowing horns, laughing, and screaming. He tried to scream, too, but
nothing came out. Not a whisper. The drugs ensured that.

Then
there it was:  The countdown.

58…57…56…

The last three
months passed before his eyes, starting with the moment when that emotionless
U.S. Customs official pulled him out of the employee line crawling down the
gangplank of the Carnival Cruise ship on his one night of shore leave in Miami.
If he had assumed that his Venezuelan passport wouldn’t raise any flags with
her, he was wrong. She asked him some seemingly innocuous questions about his purpose
for coming into the country.

His answers,
innocent enough, still landed him in some hot, dusty hellhole.

There, Carlos was
stripped naked, shackled in a fetal position, or made to squat in his own
waste. During the scalding heat of the day, he was given little water to quench
his thirst, and no blanket when the night temperatures dropped to freezing. As
bad as the daily beatings were, the threat of being drowned, tortured, or
bitten by his captors’ hounds of Hell was even worse.

He was no longer
a man, only a number. They called him Catorce—the
number, fourteen, in Spanish.

From the scared
whispers and coded taps he heard from the other young Venezuelaños also isolated in the prison’s catacomb of cells,
Carlos learned that, like him, they had all come from poor remote villages.
None were married or had any immediate family, either back home or here in the
United States.

In time, the capitano of their captors, the human
devil named “Smith,” told them that they were to play very important roles in
the freedom and prosperity of both their old and new countries.

And that was how
they were told that they were to be suicide bombers.

When that
day—today—finally came, the men were taped down front and back with the bombs,
then dressed in nice slacks, collared sweaters and beige cashmere jackets,
their hair lightened and spiked. Yes, now they could easily pass as well-to-do
gringos. Then they were drugged.

Two hours later,
seven vans carrying the human bombs pulled up in front of the seven hotels
hosting Las Vegas’ world famous fireworks: the Flamingo, the MGM Grand, Circus
Circus, Treasure Island, the Venetian and the Bellagio, all the way north to
the Stratosphere.

Only Carlos had
been paired with another bomber: some kid, maybe seventeen or so, who had
entered their hellhole only the day before. His captors called him Trece, the Spanish word for the number
thirteen. Although muscle paralysis had set in quickly, Carlos’s mind was still
alert. He could tell that the boy, Trece, was also trying to fight the effects
of the drugs. The look in his eyes wasn’t terror, but determination.

Señor Smith had
ridden shotgun in their van. When the van reached the Bellagio, Smith roughly
yanked Carlos out the back. After positioning him in the heart of the teeming,
screaming mass of humanity in front of the fountain, he slapped Carlos on his
back and whispered in his ear: “Look at it this way—at least you and the others
will die heroes’ deaths for your new country…” before casually strolling away.

Out of the corner
of his eye, Carlos watched as Smith reappeared with Trece the boy. They moved
in the opposite direction though; deep into Bellagio’s thickening crowd.

What had Smith
called him, a hero? No, Carlos was more like a fantasma…

A ghost who would haunt the United States for years to come.

45…44…43…

At
the thought of that, the tears that could not fall glistened in his eyes.

In
front of him a cluster of unattached women unraveled quickly in order to sidle
up to whatever single men were still around. Any moment now they would bestow
the first kiss of the year on some lucky stranger, one of the joys of being
young and single on this special night—

37…36…35…

One
girl, pretty in pink, her blond hair grazing her bare shoulders, glanced over
at him. By her quizzical look he could tell she’d noticed his tears. She waved
at him. Of course he couldn’t wave back. No matter. Undeterred, she swam
against the deep wave of humanity between them, to his side.

A
burly red-haired man, watching the exchange, glared hard at Carlos. The fact
that he didn’t respond irritated the man, like a red flag waved at a moody
bull. He grabbed the women’s arm, she tried to shake him off, but he shoved
passed her, hell bent on reaching Carlos first.

Her
boyfriend perhaps, determined to win her back? Que lastima! Perhaps the lovers could
make amends in heaven, because in a mere twenty-two seconds, the bomb strapped
to Carlos’ chest would blow all of them to pieces…

 

(c) 2013 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This excerpt may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission from Josie Brown or Signal Press Books (info@signaleditorial.com).

 

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THE CANDIDATE

Signal Press – eBook

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Seduction and intrigue are rampant on the campaign trail when a political campaign adviser discovers that Washington's power broker elite have embroiled his presidential candidate in a plot involving an act of terrorism on US soil…

SYNOPSIS

Democratic political campaign consultant Ben Brinker can’t remember the last time he was excited by a candidate’s vision. He feels he’s lost his way, both emotionally and professionally. Worst yet, his show-me-the-money policy seems to have finally caught up with him. Two of his recent clients have been disgraced in one way or another: a senator caught in lurid sex scandal, and a congressman is indicted in a kickback scandal. In no time at all the political pundits are calling Ben a "candidate cooler." Now Ben is desperate for any campaign gig he can get.

As luck would have it, Andrew Harris Mansfield, the charismatic junior senator from North Carolina  and former Marine pilot, asks Ben if he wants to run his soon-to-be-announced campaign for president.

Little does Ben know what's in store for Andrew, or their country–

Nor does he realize that the key to saving both have been placed in his hands.

EXCERPT

The care and feeding of Andrew Mansfield’s most generous campaign donors was well underway by the time Ben got to the Fairmont on that drizzly New Year’s Eve. Dinner was served promptly, the Tattingers flowed freely, and the up-tempo tunes emanating from the ten-piece orchestra on the Colonnade Room’s center stage lured a constant wave of the senator’s well-heeled guests onto the dance floor, so few if any of them minded the long wait to be endured prior to partaking in their prime objective: a few fleeting but memorable moments with Mansfield, in which he shook their hands and intoned a heartfelt thanks to them for ponying up $2,500-per-person for a plate of the Fairmont’s renowned Shenandoah Valley grilled rib eye of bison, the proceeds of which would go to the Mansfield Presidential Exploratory Committee fund.

As requested, Ben, tuxedoed and manure-free, arrived punctually at eleven o’clock. Waiting for him at the ballroom’s double-door entry was Sukie Carmichael, Mansfield’s aide-de-camp, a slight spinsterish woman with an unruly red mane. He followed her lead as she wove around banquet tables and partying revelers.

ElegantThey ended up in front of a door that was hidden behind a few potted ferns. In the small anteroom on the other side of it were two men. Immediately Ben recognized the eldest as Preston Alcott III– the managing partner at Corcoran Adams Webster and Alcott, the oldest, most revered law firm in Washington. Besides being a celebrated lawyer, Alcott served as gatekeeper to the country’s aristocracy. The sway he held over statesmen, monarchs, even dictators the world over was legendary.

The esteemed attorney was in his mid-seventies but could easily pass for a much younger man–ramrod straight and broad shouldered as he was. Even seated, Ben could tell he was a tall man. His eyes were piercingly bright, and befitting his role of patrician, his hair was full and white.

Ben had done his research. He knew that Alcott was also the executor of Abigail Vandergalen Mansfield’s trust, not to mention the blind trusts of the current POTUS and his wife, Edward and Elinor Barksdale, and the estates of an impressive percentage of the Forbes 400. No doubt Alcott was there to ensure that Abby’s very expensive investment in her husband’s political career would pay off in the largest and most important dividend of all: executive power. 

Alcott’s presence there was proof that Ben wouldn’t be handed the job carte blanche.

Fuck it. I need to score this gig—and a win—to prove I’m back in the game, thought Ben. Even if that means kissing Alcott’s ass.

So it’s show time. . . .

As Sukie made the introductions all around, Ben shook Alcott’s hand and gave a reverential bow. “It’s an honor, Mr. Alcott.”

“Ah, the kingmaker.” As Alcott’s eyes cursorily swept over him, Ben held his gaze.

“No sir. That would be your title, not mine.”

Alcott’s slight nod indicated his grudging approval at the response, but Ben was fully aware that the real grilling hadn’t even started.

The man standing with Alcott chuckled nervously. Still his handshake, two-handed and firm, made up for his obvious apprehension in the presence of Alcott. “Paul Twist. I’m Andy’s finance chair.”

Ben recognized the name. “Also a partner at Cochran Adams. And Andy’s best friend. You guys roomed together in law school, right? It’s a pleasure to meet you, too.”

Andy’s buddy’s nodded genially. “Your track record is a thing of wonder, Mr. Brinker. But you’ve yet to manage a presidential campaign, am I right?” 

“Yes. That is, not until now. In that regard, the senator and I are both underdogs going into this thing.”What, did you think I wasn’t going to point out that your boy doesn’t have his own party’s blessing? Fat chance. “We both know the deciding factors differ every four years. But one thing doesn’t change: The candidate who wins is the one who has the ability to embody the message the public wants to hear, to get that message out to the media, and to respond immediately to any bullshit that the other side might toss our way.  As my track record shows, it’s what I bring to the table.”

 “That’s all well and good. It’s too bad it didn’t work for Calder.” Alcott’s smile said it all: You lose

Upon hearing the congressman’s name, Ben gave an involuntary wince. “As long as you can assure me that Senator Mansfield’s, er, skeletons aren’t anywhere near as fertile, I’ll take your candidate all the way to the White House—”

Andy Mansfield’s hearty laugh roared through the anteroom. Ben looked up to find the senator standing in the doorway. He had his arm around a woman of slight build and medium height, with long pale hair, pulled back severely from her anxious face and twisted into a chignon. Ben recognized her immediately: Abigail Vandergalen. She was, perhaps, eight years younger than her husband. Her black gown, a sequined sheath that she wore under a cropped lace jacket, was obviously expensive, but its elegance was undermined by the slump of her shoulders and her pensive grimace. Her squared-off pumps didn’t help, either.

In fact, if Ben had to choose one thing that stood out about Abigail Vandergalen Mansfield, he’d say not a thing–except for her eyes, which were deep set, and as blue and sparkling as rough-cut sapphires. At least, from what he could tell in the few seconds in which they actually met his before her innate shyness forced her to turn away again.

Unfortunately her small thick-framed glasses did nothing to enhance them. Damn shame she has so little charisma. We’ll have to get her into media training yesterday to keep that from hurting Mansfield on the campaign trail—

Andy nodded at all three men, but it was Ben whom he slapped on the back. “These two will swear up one side and down the other that I’m holier than a saint.”

“And they should know, I presume.”

 “There is only one person who knows me better. I’d like to introduce you to Abby.”

Ben gave her his patented thousand-watt smile. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Mansfield.”

“Call me Abby, please. And I hope you’ll allow me to call you Ben.” This time when she looked up at him, her eyes didn’t waiver. In fact they seemed to look right through him. “You’ll have to excuse us for being tardy, Mr. Brinker. I was still on the dance floor when you arrived.”

“And giving an earful to some very earnest young man from the Auto Alliance. He was naive enough to insist that Detroit is doing all it can to cut emissions.” Andy gave his wife’s arm a squeeze. “You see, reducing our country’s petroleum consumption is a pet peeve of my wife’s.”

“To the point where she insisted that I divest her portfolio of any and all oil company stocks, and buy into clean energy start-ups instead.” Alcott’s disapproval was evidenced by the disdain in his voice. “One’s personal ideology shouldn’t impinge on one’s investment strategy.”

“I’ve always appreciated your concern over my financial matters, Preston. You know that.” Abby’s tone was soft, but firm. “But I refuse to support industries that are the problem, not the solution. Don’t you agree, Mr. Brinker?”

“Personally, my philosophy is ‘whatever floats your boat.’ Heck, I know people who choose their stocks the way others pick horses at the racetrack: because they like the name. It’s all a game of chance, right?” He shrugged. “Now if you’re asking my professional opinion, I’d say your instincts—be those personal or political—are ingenious. In fact, if a list of your green investments were to be ‘accidentally’ leaked to a few of the right reporters, they’d be duly impressed that you put your money where your mouth is. And what they’d write would sway a lot of independents and undecideds, not to mention any Dems looking to come our way.”

“But we don’t just ‘dabble in stocks.’ For the past six years in a row, my husband has been voted the greenest Republican in the Senate. We’re making inroads in convincing our party that being green isn’t just environmentally smart–it’s also fiscally responsible. Some of the country’s greenest business visionaries have stepped up and offered their support. They’re excited that Andy is making the greening of America a national mandate. If we’re going to—well, to put it somewhat indelicately, quit sucking on the ‘tit’ of foreign oil–we have stop cold turkey.”

Ben nodded, impressed. “You’re right, Abby. That message coming from a Republican candidate is big news.”

 Andy smiled. “You now see, Brinker, why I’ve come to realize that Abby’s instincts are always right on the mark. In fact, it’s why you’re here tonight.”

“How so?”

“It was Abby who suggested that I approach you to run my campaign in the first place.”

Noting the quizzical look on Ben’s face, Abby turned away shyly. Andy, on the other hand, smiled at Ben’s obvious disbelief. “Even before we ran into each other, she said—and she’s correct—that crossing Talbot would be political suicide for any of our party’s favored campaign advisors, so we should find the best Democratic consultant; someone who knows how that party thinks—and how to strategize against our frontrunner. And someone who wouldn’t be afraid to take the gloves off, when the time came. As always, she called it. So I guess Calder’s implosion was my good fortune. And yours.” He gave Ben a knowing grin. “Which is why I’m hoping you’ve passed Preston’s inquisition.”

 “Times will be a lot tougher, Andrew, if this boondoggle of yours doesn’t pay off.” Alcott took a sip of his drink. “Six hundred million is a lot of money to bet on a longshot. And if you lose, so does Abby, since it’s her money that will be the initial seed capital for your campaign. As you can imagine, the thought of that makes me very uncomfortable.”

“But he won’t lose.” By the way Abby said it Ben could tell that she wasn’t being naive, but just stating the facts as she saw them. “Certainly Vice President Talbot has his supporters. In the past, they’ve funded him fully—and have prospered, along with him, based on a failing energy policy. However the rest of us are ready for new leadership, both in the party and in the White House. With your help, Ben, that will be Andy.”

 So the mouse isn’t afraid to roar. Interesting.

 “As you can see, Preston, Abby is one hundred percent behind backing my campaign—and behind Ben, too. And as always, she has the last word.” Andy’s point was made: Game over.

At that, Alcott gave a resigned shrug. Paul, on the other hand, tried to hide his smirk.

Knowing he’d trumped any argument to the contrary, Andy turned to Ben. “So what do you say? Are you in?”

Hmmm, thought Ben, Now let me get this straight: I get to redeem myself with a candidate who is a seasoned politician from a large swing state, and whose wife has a trust fund that rivals Iceland’s gross domestic product. To top it off, he’s as pure as driven snow . . .

Hell yeah, where else would I be?

Not that he had to say that out loud. His smile said it all.

Andy shook his hand. “Great! You’ll make a great wingman. We have a few minutes before I jump onstage to ring in the New Year. Let’s compare notes on New Hampshire —”

*** 

She was nicely naughty, a raven-haired sylph with a sleek chin-length bob and a come-hither beauty mark on the left side of her luscious lips. One dainty foot, encased in a high-heeled diamond studded ruby slipper, was propped high on the rung of the bar stool next to her, unleashing her leg—long, strong, lean, and slim at the ankle—from the skin-tight red velvet gown sliced high on her thigh.

There was nothing Ben wanted more than to play her Prince Charming.

Hell, why not? It was just a few minutes before midnight. His timing was perfect.

He had zoned out somewhere in the middle of Andy’s speech. There were only so many ways a politician can inspire his constituency, and Ben had heard them all before. In a long career he would hear them all again.

 So instead he searched out the nearest bar. Time to celebrate his resurrection.

There was one in the back of the ballroom, but the line was too long. The second one, in the hotel lobby, right outside the ballroom’s open door, was empty—

Except for Little Red Ride Me Hard.

Of course at that point he just presumed she’d live up to that fantasy. Still, he’d be willing to bet on it. The giveaway was what he saw on the spot where her backless gown came to a vee at the base of her spine:

A tattoo of a broken heart.

 Perfect. He liked his women heartbroken. That keeps it simple. She wouldn’t expect it to go  beyond tonight. 

Particularly on New Year’s Eve, when no one wants to go home alone.

He wondered if he’d still be able to make out his candidate’s punch lines from the barstool beside Red Velvet. The senator’s jokes seemed to be going over big with the crowd, if the waves of laughter emanating from the room were any indication.

Yeah, no problem, he thought. Mansfield was coming in loud and clear . . .

If Ben cared to listen at all.

A sleek blade of her hair sliced her milky shoulders as she threw back her head and nudged a last lethargic drop from her martini glass.

 “The lady will have another. And a scotch, neat, for me.” He skirted a twenty toward the bartender.

“Do I look that easy?” Red Velvet pretended to pout but couldn’t hold it together. Her full-throated laugh was an outright dare.

Easy? Heck, yeah.

And for some reason, she looked familiar, too. But he couldn’t quite place it. Something about the slant of her cheek. Or maybe he had once lost himself in the deep mossy depths of those luminous eyes peeking out under those brow-grazing bangs . . .

No, if he had met Red Velvet before, he would have certainly remembered. He shook his head. “If you want my opinion, I’d say you look thirsty.” He slid onto the bar chair next to her. “Besides, who wants to drink alone on New Year’s Eve?”

“Who says I’m alone?”

Ben made the grand gesture of craning his neck around her then shrugged. “Unless you’re dating the Invisible Man, I’m your best bet.”
Couple-kissing-w352

This time her smile was a bit forced. “Yeah, that’s my guy. Invisible. But you’ll still have to convince me that you’re the better man.”

“Don’t doubt that I can.”

“I won’t. Not in a million years——” she murmured, drinking him in. As she casually took the object of his affection—that beautiful leg—and crossed it over its perfect match, he felt his cock harden—“but you’ll have to try hard, just the same.”

That was when he kissed her.

It stunned her. He could tell by the tiny gasp she gave. He barely heard it though, because just then the crowd began the countdown to midnight—

58 . . .57 . . .56 . . .

He could hear Mansfield’s voice booming above it all: “Ah, here we go! And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve lost my wife! Abigail? Abby? Come on up here, honey, don’t be shy—”

That was when Ben’s red velvet dream bit his lip then licked the wound so lovingly, so passionately.

That for a moment there, he almost forgot to breathe. . . .

 

© 2013 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Author.

 

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