Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Panelists: Health care reform is needed for Alabama

Four experts in Birmingham’s health care community said Wednesday President Barack Obama should amend his health care reform efforts by focusing more on cutting costs through tort reform, education and technology.

During the Birmingham Business Journal’s breakfast panel discussion titled “Obama Health Care Plan: How will it impact Alabama,” the panelists said Alabama’s obesity epidemic and overutilization of health care services are driving up the costs of medical insurance.

Educating the state’s population and providing incentives to promote healthier lifestyles would cut costs and that would eventually translate to lower health care premiums, they said at the forum held at Samford University’s Brock Recital Hall.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System CEO Will Ferniany said dollars spent on education do more to cut costs than money spent on health care delivery and health care reform is critical to the nation’s economic health as it competes in a global economy. Ferniany said U.S. firms are at a disadvantage because of skyrocketing health care costs.

“Health care is an important part of our economy,” Ferniany said.

BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama Chief Operating Officer Terry Kellogg said a state’s education level directly correlates to the health of its population. Alabama lags behind most of the country in both categories.

Kellogg favors incentives for people who engage in healthy behaviors. He said some large companies will see some premium savings for their employees’ participation in healthy living programs, although those savings won’t trickle down to smaller firms.

Lenora Pate, Sirote & Permutt’s health care practice group chair, doubts Obama’s plan for a public insurance option will come to fruition. She said reform likely will come through simple and incremental measures, not the sweeping overhaul Obama started the year with.

Two elements being debated are the creation of state health pools or allowing insurance companies to offer plans across state lines. BlueCross’ Kellogg didn’t see those options driving down prices.

Dr. Judith Favor said tort reform is needed to cut health care costs. She said 40 percent of health care costs are associated with defensive medicine and malpractice insurance. Curtailing frivolous lawsuits and capping malpractice monetary awards would help physicians drive costs by eliminating many unnecessary or redundant procedures.

“It’s amazing (tort reform) has not been at the forefront of the debate,” Favor said.

Rookie NY Cop Who Robbed Bank Tells Fed Judge He Was Struggling to Pay Bills

Well, this was certainly more, as they would say, than a rookie mistake.

By Tom Hays
Associated Press
NEW YORK – A former rookie police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to robbing the same bank twice after a friend who worked as a teller there convinced him it would be “easy money.”

Christian Torres, 23, told a federal judge that he was struggling to pay his bills when he hatched the inside job with the teller, Christina Dasrath, in 2007.

“It was premeditated,” he said. “We discussed … how we would split (the money) in the end.”

For Full Story

Ex-Homeland Chief Tom Ridge Criticizes Waterboarding and Indefinite Detention

It’s too bad this happens in every administration: Some high-ranking people only seem to be willing to speak up after it’s all over. The lesson here: express yourself to the powers that be when you’re there, not when you’ve left and decided to cash in with a book.

By Michael Scherer
– Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge does not want to “second-guess” the motivations of his former colleagues in the Bush Administration.

But with a new memoir, The Test of Our Times, about to hit bookstores, he is ready to talk about all the second thoughts he has been having.

For instance, he thinks waterboarding “was and is torture,” and he wishes the Bush Administration had not permitted it.

He thinks President George W. Bush should have gone to Congress sooner to get permission to expand the National Security Agency’s domestic-spying program.

He even frowns upon the Bush policy of indefinite detention for suspected terrorists, a policy that the Obama Administration has hinted it may continue to some degree.

For Full Story

Ex-Ohio congressman Traficant freed from prison

Former Ohio Rep. James Traficant walked out of a Minnesota prison Wednesday morning after serving a seven-year sentence for bribery and racketeering.

The nine-term Democrat from Youngstown left the Federal Medical Center in Rochester and stepped into a waiting cab.

Traficant, who wore a gray T-shirt, white shorts, white knee-high socks and had his famously wild hair pulled back, ignored a reporter's shouted question.

He faces three years of probation. He hasn't said whether he will retire or try to return to public life.

Traficant, 68, was one of Congress' most colorful members, known for his hair and his penchant for Star Trek references, including brief floor speeches typically punctuated with the phrase, "Beam me up."

He was convicted in a raucous trial in 2002 of bribery and racketeering for accepting bribes from businessmen and taking kickbacks from staff members. He then was expelled from Congress, only the second House member since the Civil War to be ousted for unethical conduct.

Traficant was transferred in 2004 to the Rochester facility, which provides specialized medical services to inmates.

His three years of probation will include a requirement to report regularly to a probation officer, be subject to unannounced home visits and get permission before traveling outside northern Ohio.

Economically depressed Youngstown was a beneficiary of Traficant's time in Congress, but it wasn't clear what kind of reception he would get.

Some residents planned a welcoming party for Traficant's return, selling $20 tickets for a bash with a suggested dress code of skinny ties, denim suits and bell-bottom pants — all part of his trademark style.

Traficant's wife, Tish, told The Associated Press in an e-mail last week that she would pass along an AP interview request to her husband.

In Youngstown, former Traficant congressional staff member Linda Kovachik hung yellow ribbons outside her house to welcome Traficant home. She talked Tuesday with Tish Traficant, who indicated that her husband plans a short vacation after his release.

Probation requirements would require him to check in with his probation officer within several days of his release.

Accused Holocaust museum shooter appears in court

A white supremacist charged with killing a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum appeared in court Wednesday in a wheelchair, the first time he has been seen publicly since the June shooting.

James von Brunn, 89, had been hospitalized since the June 10 shooting after reportedly being shot in the face by other guards. He was finally well enough to be in U.S. District Court in Washington after several delays, though he appeared to be wearing medical bracelets on his right wrist.

His attorney said in court that von Brunn's injuries make it difficult for him to hear and talk and that he cannot walk. However, he had no bandages on his face and no visible wounds.

A judge ordered he stay in jail while he waits for a trial.

During the 30-minute hearing, von Brunn's attorney asked that his client be evaluated to determine whether he's competent to stand trial. Von Brunn objected, at first shaking his head and then calling out "your honor." His attorney and the judge tried to stop him.

"Your constitution guarantees me a speedy and fair trial," von Brunn finally said in a halting voice.

"I'm a United States citizen and as a U.S. naval officer I swore to protect my country. I take my vows very seriously," said von Brunn, a World War II veteran who served on a PT boat.

However, the judge granted the request for a competency evaluation.

Von Brunn was indicted in July on charges including first-degree murder for the death of museum guard Stephen T. Johns, who was black. Four of the charges make him eligible for the death penalty if he's convicted.

Von Brunn once tried to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve board, a "caper" thwarted when a guard captured him outside a board meeting carrying a bag stuffed with weapons. He describes his attempt with apparent pride on his hate-filled Web site.

Von Brunn was sentenced in 1983 to more than four years in prison for attempted armed kidnapping and other charges in his Fed assault. He was released in 1989.

Public records show that in 2004 and 2005 he lived briefly in Hayden Lake, Idaho, which for years was home to the Aryan Nations, a racist group run by neo-Nazi Richard Butler.

Von Brunn had a racist, anti-Semitic Web site and wrote a book titled "Kill the Best Gentiles," alleging a Jewish conspiracy "to destroy the white gene pool." He also claimed the Holocaust was a hoax.

Levi Johnston: Not much parenting at Palin home

The father of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's first grandchild is speaking out in Vanity Fair magazine about what went on inside the Palin household.

Levi Johnston says in the magazine's October issue that the Palin home in Wasilla was different from what most people think. The 19-year-old lived with the Palins for two months awaiting the birth of the child he has with Palin's 18-year-old daughter, Bristol. The two were going to get married but called off the wedding.

Johnston says there wasn't much parenting. He says Palin's children pretty much took care of themselves, and did the cooking, cleaning and laundry.

Palin has four other children. The youngest, Trig, is 1 year old.

Excerpts of the interview were posted Wednesday on the magazine's Web site.

Pfizer will pay $2.3B to settle allegations of illegally promoting drugs

Pfizer Inc. and a subsidiary agreed to pay $2.3 billion to settle charges that it illegally promoted certain drugs. Missouri will get $22 million as its share of the settlement.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a Wednesday release that the settlement with Pfizer and its Pharmacia & Upjohn Co. Inc. unit is the largest health care fraud settlement in the agency’s history. The agreement resolves criminal and civil liability of Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) in the case.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a separate release that Missouri’s share of the settlement “shows why it is so important to our state to stay focused on Medicaid fraud.”

Information about whether Kansas is party to the settlement wasn’t immediately available from the DOJ, the Kansas attorney general’s office or Pfizer.

The DOJ said in its release that Pharmacia & Upjohn agreed to plead guilty to violating the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misbranding anti-inflammatory drug Bextra with the intent to defraud or mislead. Pfizer withdrew the drug from the market in 2005. Pfizer promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the Food and Drug Administration wouldn’t approve because of safety concerns.

Pfizer will pay a criminal fine of $1.195 billion, the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter, the DOJ release said. Pharmacia & Upjohn will forfeit $105 million, for a total criminal resolution of $1.3 billion.

Pfizer also will pay $1 billion to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act that the company illegally promoted four drugs — Bextra; Geodon, an anti-psychotic drug; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug — and caused false claims to be submitted to government health care programs for uses that weren’t medically accepted and therefore weren’t covered by those programs.

The civil settlement also resolves allegations that Pfizer paid kickbacks to health care providers to induce them to prescribe these and other drugs. The federal share of the civil settlement is $668.5 million, and the state Medicaid share of the civil settlement is $331.5 million — the largest civil fraud settlement ever against a pharmaceutical company.

Pfizer acknowedged in a release “certain improper actions related to the promotion of Zyvox” but denied all other civil allegations.

Pfizer also agreed to enter into a corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, that provides for procedures and reviews to avoid and detect similar conduct.

“Today’s landmark settlement is an example of the Department of Justice’s ongoing and intensive efforts to protect the American public and recover funds for the federal treasury and the public from those who seek to earn a profit through fraud,” Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli said in the DOJ release. “It shows one of the many ways in which federal government, in partnership with its state and local allies, can help the American people at a time when budgets are tight and health care costs are increasing.”

Ex-NY Gov. Spitzer teaching at NYC's City College

Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is teaching a political science course at a New York City college.

A City College spokesman says Spitzer, who resigned in a prostitution scandal in March 2008, is an adjunct professor in the political science department.

Ellis Simon says the three-hour class is called "Law and Public Policy." The undergraduate course began meeting on Tuesday. It will meet once a week for 15 weeks.

Simon says Spitzer will earn around $4,500 for the fall term.

Since leaving public office, the Democrat has worked in his father's real estate firm.

City College is part of the City University of New York system.

Obama To Drop Demand For Public Option In Health Care Reform

As Congress prepares to return after the August recess, President Obama is set to outline his goals for health care reform and one big component will apparently be missing:

Aides to President Barack Obama are putting the final touches on a new strategy to help Democrats recover from a brutal August recess by specifying what Obama wants to see in a compromise health care deal and directly confronting other trouble spots, West Wing officials tell POLITICO.

Obama is considering detailing his health-care demands in a major speech as soon as next week, when Congress returns from the August recess. And although House leaders have said their members will demand the inclusion of a public insurance option, Obama has no plans to insist on it himself, the officials said.
“We’re entering a new season,” senior adviser David Axelrod said in a telephone interview. “It’s time to synthesize and harmonize these strands and get this done. We’re confident that we can do that. But obviously it is a different phase. We’re going to approach it in a d

On health care, Obama’s willingness to forgo the public option is sure to anger his party’s liberal base. But some administration officials welcome a showdown with liberal lawmakers if they argue they would rather have no health care law than an incremental one. The confrontation would allow Obama to show he is willing to stare down his own party to get things done. More to come I’m sure, but this is definitely a political earthquake in the making.

Halle Berry pregnant

Halle Berry is pregnant again.

The 43-year-old actress is said to be three months along with her second child with her model partner Gabriel Aubry - with who she already has a 17-month-old daughter, Nahla.

A source said: “Halle is overjoyed. She’s just ecstatic to be pregnant again. She wasn’t sure if she’d have another baby, so she’s very happy!”

Halle struggled to conceive Nahla - she took over 30 pregnancy tests before one confirmed she was to become a mother - and it is believed she underwent artificial insemination to get pregnant this time

The source added to Life and Style Weekly magazine: “The first time, she eventually conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF). This time, the baby was conceived through artificial insemination.”

When pregnant with Nahla, Halle admitted she and Gabriel were keen to have at least two children.

She said: “We always talked about having two. Whether or not we’ll actually make that happen is left to be seen, but that would be our intent. That’s for sure.”

Halle’s representative is yet to comment on the reports.

The actress is not the only celebrity who is expanding her brood.

Mark Wahlberg is believed to be becoming a father again after his wife Rhea Durham - with who he already has three kids - was spotted with an apparent baby bump.

Mark has previously admitted he would like a large family, saying: “When the kids are good, we want eight or nine!”

DJ AM: OxyContin, Crack Cocaine, Suicide?

Police found DJ AM with eight undigested OxyContin pills in his stomach and a ninth in his mouth, according to People Magazine.

Sadly, this means that AM may have tried to swallow several pills at once, which certainly could support a suicide conclusion. The same source claims that AM “smoked a lot of crack, barricaded the doors and killed himself.”

Popsquire’s pal and addiction specialist, Dr. Reef Karim, warns that recovering addicts must be careful about taking anti-anxiety medication, which DJ AM (understandably) was doing to cope with the guilt for surviving last year’s plane crash:

The complicated relationship between medicine, mental health and addiction was highlighted in this tragedy. As addiction is a chronic, relapsing illness and you never really “cure it”, you end up managing it and developing a support network and doing service with others in the sober community.

And anytime an addict is introduced to a medication that has abuse liability, you are taking a risk. The risk is that the medication with abuse potential may cause craving or may alter an individual’s relationship with drugs of abuse and ultimately their sobriety.

An insanely powerful disease. It claimed DJ AM’s life. Don’t let it claim the life of someone you love.

Former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant involved in death of Toronto cyclist

Late last night, a cyclist was killed in Toronto. "Ontario's former attorney general Michael Bryant ... will be charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death, a police source tells the Globe, after a collision left a 33-year-old cyclist dead." Accounts vary, but the sequence appears to be 1) Some collision and argument between the cyclist and the driver; 2) The cyclist grabs the driver's door and hangs on (or he may have been caught on the car accidentally) while the Saab convertible drives on; 3) The car drives into the opposite lane, across a construction zone, and the cyclist is battered against mailboxes and light posts; 4) The cyclist falls under the car's back wheels and is killed.

This map shows the path of the accident and includes links to picture and video. (What it doesn't show is how torn up by construction the area is, like much of downtown and midtown Toronto.) Witnesses describe what they saw at the scene.

The cyclist has not yet been identified to the public.

Feelings have already been running high in Toronto about the Toronto Bike Plan and what many motorists consider a War on Cars. A few weeks ago, a woman was killed by a teenager cycling on the sidewalk, but the cyclist was not charged.

Coincidentally, a study based on Toronto accident statistics was recently released, showing that 90% of bicycle-car accidents are caused by clumsy or inattentive drivers, although these results have been disputed.

And while traffic services has been cracking down on both driver and cyclist infractions this summer (and some Critical Massers seem to agree that sidewalk cycling should be cracked down on), some people think cyclists are getting treated with kid gloves, that they shouldn't be on anything but residential roads, and that no more money should be spent on cycling infrastructure. Catch a taste of non-CBC Canadian talk radio here (live streaming here.)

Meanwhile, I suspect another ghost bike is being prepared.
posted by maudlin (383 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

Owners steal 15% weekly from the typical low-wage worker

Low-wage workers are routinely denied proper overtime pay and are often paid less than the minimum wage, according to a new study based on a survey of workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.

The study, the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations in a decade, also found that 68 percent of the workers interviewed had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week.

“We were all surprised ...


... by the high prevalence rate,” said Ruth Milkman, one of the study’s authors and a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the City University of New York. The study, to be released on Wednesday, was financed by the Ford, Joyce, Haynes and Russell Sage Foundations.

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.

The researchers said one of the most surprising...


.... findings was how successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file for workers’ compensation. Only 8 percent of those who suffered serious injuries on the job filed for compensation to pay for medical care and missed days at work stemming from those injuries.

“The conventional wisdom has been that to the extent there were violations, it was confined to a few rogue employers or to especially disadvantaged workers, like undocumented immigrants,” said Nik Theodore, an author of the study and a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “What our study shows is that this is a widespread phenomenon across the low-wage labor market in the United States.”

So, thieving from top to bottom: Theft from Timmy, Larry, and the banksters, and thieving a pathetic $51 a week -- a fucking week, I've been there -- from those to whom $51 means a lot more than a few lattes.

Truly, we have become a banana republic.

NOTE $51 a week buys a lot of ramen noodles....

UPDATE Just imagine what a difference single payer would make in the life of somebody who's employer was stealing their paycheck -- assuming that they'd managed to eke out some pathetic form of junk insurance for their family. They could leave the guy who was stealing from them, and go someplace better! Thanks, "progressives"!

Bank robber: I did it to get away from my wife

Lancaster, PA:

A Pennsylvania man said he robbed a bank in 2007 to go to jail and get away from his overbearing wife.

At a sentencing hearing Monday, 39-year-old Anthony Miller said he robbed a bank in Ephrata because he wanted to leave his then-wife but she had threatened to commit suicide if he did.

Defense attorney Robert Beyer said Miller approached tellers with a BB gun, asked for money and told them to call the police.

Officials: Pfizer to pay record $2.3 billion penalty

WASHINGTON (AP) – People familiar with a record settlement to be announced Wednesday say Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drugmaker, will pay a $2.3 billion civil penalty over unlawful prescription drug promotions.

The U.S. Justice Department plans a news conference later in the day with FBI, federal prosecutors, and Health and Human Services Department officials to announce the terms of the deal. The people discussed the announcement on condition of anonymity because the court filings in the case were still under seal.

In financial filings in January, the company indicated that it would pay $2.3 billion over allegations it had marketed the pain reliever Bextra and possibly other products for medical conditions different than their approved use.

Use of drugs for so-called "off-label" medical conditions is not uncommon, but drug manufacturers are prohibited from marketing drugs for uses that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The settlement is the largest ever paid by a drug company for alleged violations of federal drug rules.

Justice Department officials declined to comment.

Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder confirmed Wednesday that the $2.3 billion charge to the company's earnings had been taken in the fourth quarter of 2008.

"No additional charge to the company's earnings will be recorded in connection with this settlement," he said.

Loder said he would have no further comment on the settlement until after the Justice Department news conference later Wednesday morning.

When Pfizer originally disclosed the settlement figure, it also announced plans to acquire rival Wyeth for $68 billion. That deal, which would bolster Pfizer's position as the world's top drugmaker by revenue, is expected to close before year's end.

Shares of Pfizer were up 9 cents at $16.47 in early trading Wednesday.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Vendetta) Wants AG Holder to Investigate Cheney for Torture....

If there's one surefire way to pander to the leftist base it's attack Chimpy McBushitler and Darth Cheney.....

(The Hill)- Attorney General Eric Holder should expand a special prosecutor's investigation into detainee abuse during the Bush administration to include high-ranking officials like Vice President Dick Cheney, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.
"My criticism of the attorney general is that he should not limit the investigation to people in the field who may have committed torture, but to people who may have ordered it, such as the vice president, for example," Nadler said during an interview on Fox News.

Emerging Threats Kabul on edge ahead of election results

With a major suicide operation Wednesday targeting government officials in Afghanistan, Kabul residents are on edge as they await presidential election results.

An attack at the Metherlam Mosque in the eastern province of Laghman killed Abdullah Laghmani, a deputy intelligence official, and dozens others Wednesday.

"The contrast between the majority of Afghans who yearn for peace during this holy month and those who conducted this attack could not be more stark," said Peter Galbraith, the U.N. deputy special envoy to Afghanistan.

Kabul residents are on edge, meanwhile, as violence increases ahead of the release of official results from the Aug. 20 provincial and presidential elections.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai is gaining ground as results are released. His closest rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, warned recently that Afghans might take to the streets in violent protest if Karzai wins.

He said the government would be responsible for any unrest if considerations were not made to the growing number of fraud complaints in the elections.

In interviews with local residents, the Pajhwok Afghan News agency highlights a growing concern of the threat from violent protests in reaction to the election results.

Area businessmen, for their part, complain the lingering threats are preventing foreign investors exploring commercial opportunities in Afghanistan.

"If there is no security, no one will invest," one merchant told Pajhwok

Charlie Gibson To Step Down from ABC 'World News', Diane Sawyer to Anchor Broadcast

TVNewser has learned ABC News will announce today that Charlie Gibson will leave "World News" in January and that Diane Sawyer will be named the new anchor of the network's evening newscast.

Gibson has been the anchor of "World News" since May 2006, after the pairing of Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff was broken up when Woodruff was seriously wounded in an IED attack in Iraq.

Woodruff and Vargas were named co-anchors of the program in Dec. 2005 after the death of longtime anchor Peter Jennings.


> More: ABC News tells us Gibson is announcing his retirement from ABC News at which point Sawyer will take over the broadcast.

Click continued to read the emails from ABC News president David Westin: "Diane's presence will certainly be missed on Good Morning America. But we are fortunate that both Charlie and Diane will remain with their current broadcasts for the next four months.."

...and the email Charlie Gibson sent to his staff: "It has not been an easy decision to make. This has been my professional home for almost 35 years. And I love this news department, and all who work in it, to the depths of my soul."

Whitney Houston Performs On 'Good Morning America'

A very grateful Whitney Houston gushed to her fans after performing on Good Morning America as part of the morning show's Summer Concert Series.

After singing to the crowd gathered at Rumsey Playfied in Central Park, the songstress thanked her fans and told them "God bless you" repeatedly. "You make me feel so good," Houston told the audience.

Houston also apologized for occasional evidence of the wear and tear her voice has taken throughout the years, blaming her interview with Oprah Winfrey for at least some of the squeaks. She explained, "When I'm talking, I should be singing," although she admitted that her chat with the iconic talk show host was "so good."

Her first selection was "Million Dollar Bill," followed by "My Love Is Your Love," "I Look To You" and finally "I Am Every Woman." Aww, go on Whit.

Gallery Info: Whitney Houston performs on Good Morning America as part of their Summer Concert Series at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park.