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“The Comforting Feeling Of Rolling Heads”: It May Make You Feel Better, But Will The Issue Be Solved?

Since the firing of Health and Human Services Director Katherine Sebelius you no longer hear as much about repealing the Affordable Care Act (although certain candidates, most recently Scott Brown, continue to bring it up). But when her head rolled a lot of people seemed to feel better. Now the call is for the head of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, after dozens of stories cited deaths allegedly related to delayed care for veterans at many of the nation’s 1700 veterans hospitals and treatment centers. If he is let go people may feel better. But will the issue be solved?

The so-called secret lists of veterans waiting for care is troubling, but if it is true then the system as a whole needs an overhaul. This has been apparent for some time and was previously highlighted by the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital and the delay in computerizing records. But these things most likely won’t follow merely by firing the secretary. And although Congress is calling for another investigation, at the same time recent budget proposals by the GOP reduce money for veterans, including cutting health benefits for veterans.

VA hospitals and clinics served 8.76 million veterans last year. In 2008, 37 percent of veterans sought treatment for PTSD and depression. But it is thought that at least half of all veterans suffer from these. Those who report PTSD usually also suffer from many other conditions, some of which do not manifest themselves until more than 5 years after service.

The VA is a huge bureaucracy which serves as the largest single health care system in the country. Along with men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, it still serves veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Today’s veterans survive injuries that would have quickly killed veterans of earlier wars, including burns, amputations and traumatic brain injuries. And in the past ten years the numbers of vets seeking care has increased exponentially due to our most recent wars, with almost half of those veterans seeking disability compensation for their injuries.

For some perspective: In 2010 the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services reported that bad care contributed to 180,000 deaths of patients in Medicare alone. As many as 440,000 people nationwide suffer from some sort of preventable harm which could have contributed to their death. And that is in our civilian hospitals. Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US.

Average wait time in hospital emergency rooms has risen. It can take two to four weeks to get an appointment with a specialist (In 2009 people waited an average of 20 days. In 2010 fifty percent of our population felt they could have avoided a trip to the ER if they had been able to get an appointment with their regular doctor People without insurance have received little or no care until recent changes with the implantation of the ACA. Before the passage of the ACA, as many as 45,000 uninsured died each year.

In many small towns, including Savannah, Georgia, waiting times to see a mental health specialist can be at least a month for a psychologist and three to six months for a psychiatrist. At the local VA clinic in Savannah, veterans wait no more than three weeks, and often less, for mental health care and walk-ins who are in crisis are treated immediately.

According to the Associated Press yesterday, a recent report indicated that the department’s internal watchdog found no evidence that delays have caused patient deaths. President Obama has appointed deputy White House chief of staff to review VA policies and procedures.

Further inquiries will be held and outrage will continue to mount until something concrete is done. This is not a new issue. But firing Shinseki is like providing palliative care for end-of-life patients: the patient will be more comfortable but he will still die. Any investigation into the VA has to result in major changes to the system as a whole which will not be possible if the problem is “solved” by yet another head rolling.

 

By: Lisa Solod, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 17, 2014

May 18, 2014 Posted by | Health Care, Veterans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Lobbyist By Any Other Name”: Scott Brown Makes It Official With Wall Street

Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown announced today that he’s joining the government affairs department of a giant multinational law firm with major Wall Street clients.

“Brown will focus his practice on business and governmental affairs as they relate to the financial services industry as well as on commercial real estate matters,” the firm, Nixon Peabody LLC, said in a press release. Brown will not be a lobbyist, the firm said, but whether he meets the specific legal requirements to be a registered lobbyist or not, it’s clear that he will draw on his contacts and status to help advance clients’ agenda in government. “He can offer many types of legal services to his broad network of contacts,” the firm said.

The head of the Nixon Peabody’s Government Relations practice is ex-New York congressman Tom Reynolds, who now lobbies for Goldman Sachs on “[f]inancial services regulatory and tax issues.” According to the firm, Brown will also work with fellow Massachusettsian Jim Vallee, who abruptly left his job as majority leader of the state House of Representatives last year after getting hired by the firm.

Nixon Peabody contributed $2,500 to a PAC associated with Brown’s reelection campaign last year, the most it gave to any candidate in the country (tied only with a Democratic House member).

Brown was a reliable ally of the financial services industry in the Senate, where he helped water down the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and influence other bills of interest to banks. It was no surprise, considering how much money they threw at his campaigns. The Securities and Investment sector was the top industry donor to Brown’s 2012 campaign, giving him $3.2 million, on top of the millions he received from the insurance, real estate and finance industries, according to Open Secrets.

The move, however, is a blow to Massachusetts Republicans, who see Brown as their best — and possibly only — hope of retaking a Senate seat or winning the governor’s mansion. Perhaps Brown didn’t think he could win or perhaps he was more interested in cashing in.

It’s notable that Massachusetts voters have replaced Brown, who is now almost literally a Wall Street lobbyist, with Elizabeth Warren, one of the most outspoken critics of the finance industry in the country.

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, March 11, 2013

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Cherry On Their Sundae”: Behind The GOP Game On Susan Rice

This point bears emphasizing, I think. I suspect that the Republicans want to block Rice because they want Obama to name John Kerry because they believe that Scott Brown can win that seat back. And as I’ve written before, he probably can, in my admittedly somewhat removed view (but also in the view of certain Bostonians I’ve consulted on the matter)

McCain and Graham have other motivations: getting a scalp, keeping phony impeachment hopes alive, etc. But let’s not forget that these guys are politicians, and senators, and they think of politics and the Senate first. One less Democrat in the Senate would make for a nice little cherry on their sundae.

Which raises another point that deserves attention. If Harry Reid is going to push filibuster reform next January, why should they not include a provision that the minority can’t filibuster certain categories of major appointments? The number of vacancies in this administration, judgeships and other key positions, is mind-boggling, and it reached the point where the administration simply stopped trying to fill positions because some wingnut senator was placing a hold on every single nomination.

This too needs exposure to the old harsh disinfectant. But if Ayotte really puts a hold on Rice, I spect that’ll get lots of attention. Swell move by the party allegedly trying to reach out now to nonwhite voters eh?

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 27, 2012

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Influence Peddling”: Scott Brown Backed Letter For Top Legislative Priority Of Compounding Pharmacy Industry

Senator Scott Brown joined 10 other senators in sending a July letter to the US Drug Enforcement Administration advocating a top legislative priority of the compounding pharmacy industry, which is under scrutiny following a deadly meningitis outbreak.

The July 24 letter did not directly relate to the injectable steroids that have been blamed for 14 deaths and at least 185 sicknesses nationwide. But it addressed an issue central to that controversy: how these lightly regulated pharmacies can deliver their drugs and who can receive them.

The firm at the center of the meningitis outbreak, the New England Compounding Center, was sending drugs in bulk to doctors, a move that Governor Deval Patrick said has misled regulators. Compounding pharmacies are supposed to mix medications for an individual patient, based on a prescription from a doctor. But some have acted like drug companies, shipping thousands of doses to clinics and doctors’ offices, a practice Massachusetts officials say may violate state regulations.

Gregory Conigliaro, a co-owner of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, and his wife threw a fund-raising event for Brown six weeks after the letter was written, at their home in Southborough. Brown’s campaign said he has received about $10,000 from the firm’s executives and relatives, which he donated to charity this week after the outbreak, which was traced to New England Compounding Center on Oct. 4. The senator is in a tight reelection battle against Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

For years, compounding pharmacies have delivered controlled substances, in bulk, to clinics, veterinarians, and other health facilities for use there, according to two specialists in the field. But in recent years, the DEA has interpreted federal law as requiring those pharmacies to deliver the drugs to ­patients whose names are on the prescription, or to owners, in the case of animals. The DEA argues that it is not a change in interpretation, enforcement, or policy and that agents pursue leads about violations when­ever they are known.

The industry position, echoed by Brown Friday, argues that the DEA’s interpretation creates a paramount safety concern. Industry officials say that medical professionals are in a better position to protect the drugs, which include strong opiates, from misuse or ­improper environmental conditions. Many must be injected by physicians and are sensitive to heat and light.

“As you know, they sometimes fall into the wrong hands,” Brown said Friday during an event in Dorchester, where he received endorsements from a coalition of police unions. “I was advocating getting it to the doctors, which I don’t think loosens regulations.”

But changing or clarifying DEA enforcement policy is also important to helping the industry avoid a legal gray area that could jeopardize its business, said Jesse C. Vivian, professor of pharmacy practice at Wayne State University in Detroit and the general counsel for the Michigan Pharmacists Association. Vivian and others say enforce­ment is now selective, meaning compounding pharmacies are at risk if DEA agents choose to crack down on them.

“What they’re really looking for is to legitimize what in fact they’re doing right now,” said Vivian, who is not involved in the industry’s lobbying effort, but believes the DEA is treating the industry unfairly.

The letter to the DEA’s top official, Michele M. Leonhart, was signed by a bipartisan group of senators. When a smaller group of senators signed a similar letter in 2011, Brown did not lend his support.

The July letter implores the DEA to open what is known as a rule-making process, which would allow the agency to take public input on whether it is ­interpreting current law correctly.

“DEA’s lack of action is a source of serious concern for us, our constituents, and the regulated community,’’ wrote the senators, including Brown.

“It is difficult to argue that controlled substances are more safely maintained by family members or animal owners than they are by trained, ­licensed, regulated doctors who would administer those substances only to legitimate ­patients,” it continued.

Brown emphasized Friday that the type of drugs covered by the letter are different from the steroids involved in the meningitis outbreak, and he once again urged a full investigation of the outbreak. He said that the Food and Drug Administration, not the DEA, oversees the safety of drugs at the center of the meningitis problem.

Brown referred inquiries about who asked him to sign the DEA letter to his campaign, which has declined to comment on that question. But Brown said there was absolutely no connection between his signing the letter and his fund-raising from industry officials.

“It’s a tragedy, and for anyone to try and politicize it is just wrong,” he said. “I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of fundraisers. There’s absolutely no connection. That’s the old spaghetti-­on-the-wall-trick, see what sticks.”

His campaign has said he would donate the $10,000 that came from company executives to the Meningitis Foundation of America.

The compounding pharmacy industry’s lobby, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, lists the delivery issue raised in the letter as the first of three legislative priorities on its website. In June, a month before the letter was written, members of the organization descended on Capitol Hill to make their case, according to the website, seeking face-to-face visits with lawmakers. A spokesman for the organization did not respond to two calls and an e-mail requesting comment.

The DEA says it has no latitude in changing its enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, which governs how drugs can be delivered, unless Congress acts.

“We have to enforce the law the way it’s written,” spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said.

 

By:Noah Bierman and Frank Phillips, The Boston Globe, October 12, 2012

October 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Of Hooters, Zombies and Senators”: Attention Must Be Paid To Races In The House And Senate

Today, let’s take a look at debates that do not involve Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. You can thank me later.

I am talking about the races for the United States Senate, people. Attention must be paid! And, as a reward, we can also discuss a new campaign ad featuring zombies.

There are 33 Senate contests this year, although voters in some of the states may not have noticed there’s anything going on. In Texas, for instance, Paul Sadler, a Democrat, has had a tough time getting any attention in his battle against the Tea Party fan favorite Ted Cruz. Except, perhaps, when he called Cruz a “troll” in their first debate.

In Utah, Scott Howell, a Democrat, has been arguing that if the 78-year-old Senator Orrin Hatch wins, he might “die before his term is through.” Suggesting a longtime incumbent is over the hill is a venerable election technique, but you really are supposed to be a little more delicate about it. Howell also proposed having 29 debates. The fact that Hatch agreed to only two was, he claimed, proof of the senator’s fading stamina.

Nobody in Massachusetts could have missed the fact that there’s a Senate race going on. In their last debate, Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren sounded like two angry squirrels trapped in a small closet. A high point came when the candidates were asked to name their ideal Supreme Court justice. “That’s a great question!” said Brown brightly, in what appeared to be a stall for time. He came up with Antonin Scalia. Then, after boos from the audience, Brown added more names, until he had picked about half the current court, from John Roberts to Sonia Sotomayor.

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, the Democrat Bob Kerrey began his debate remarks with: “First of all, let me assure you that I’m still Bob Kerrey.” This seemed to be a bad sign.

There are actually about only a dozen Senate races in which there is serious suspense about who’s going to win. To the Republicans’ dismay, many of them are in states that were supposed to be a lock for the G.O.P.

Tea Party pressure produced several terrible candidates. We have all heard about Todd Akin in Missouri, who claimed after a recent debate that Senator Claire McCaskill wasn’t sufficiently “ladylike.” Since then, Akin has doubled down on a claim that doctors frequently perform abortions on women who aren’t pregnant.

In others, the Republicans found awful candidates without any help from the far right.

Senator Bill Nelson in Florida received the gift of Representative Connie Mack IV as his Republican opponent, and promptly unveiled an ad calling Mack “a promoter for Hooters with a history of barroom brawling, altercation and road rage.” Mack’s fortunes seem to have been sliding ever since. Recently, while he was greeting voters at a Donut Hole cafe, one elderly couple asked him to get them a menu.

Some Democratic candidates are also turning out to be stronger than anticipated — like Arizona’s Richard Carmona, a Hispanic physician who served as surgeon general under President George W. Bush. Carmona is a Vietnam combat veteran who worked as a SWAT team leader for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. “In 1992,” his campaign biography reports, “he rappelled from a helicopter to rescue a paramedic stranded on a mountainside when their medevac helicopter crashed during a snowstorm, inspiring a made-for-TV movie.”

Let that be a lesson. If the Democrats in Texas had just nominated a Hispanic Vietnam combat veteran who saved crash victims and inspired a TV movie, they wouldn’t have to depend on debates to get some attention.

The race where the Democrats are getting a nasty surprise is in Connecticut, where Representative Chris Murphy is having a tough time against the Republican Linda McMahon, the former professional wrestling mogul. McMahon has spent a record $70 million of her own money over the past three years trying to convince voters that what Connecticut really needs is a senator who knows how to create jobs in a simulated sport awash in violence, sexism and steroid abuse.

Improbable candidates who don’t have $70 million to blanket their state in ads can always just cobble something really weird together, put it up on the Web and hope it goes viral.

Last time around, Carly Fiorina, who was running for Senate in California, created a sensation with “Demon Sheep,” featuring an actor wearing a sheep mask with glowing red eyes.

Now John Dennis, the Republican opponent of the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has a new California sheep-themed conversation-starter. It portrays Pelosi as the leader of a cult of zombies, preparing a lamb for sacrifice. Then Dennis breaks in, saves the lamb, calls one of the zombies “Dude,” and denounces Pelosi for supporting the indefinite detention of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists.

Not your typical Republican. Dennis ran against Pelosi before and got 15 percent of the vote. But I feel the zombie ad could well push him up into the 20s.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 5, 2012

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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