Clem’s Chronicles: Obama & Health Care/Cali Fires/Afghan Hazing/Pfizer Fines

By Clem Lane

Sep 2, 2009 9:11pm

OBAMA AND HEALTH CARE-President Obama will address a joint session of Congress next Wednesday Sept. 09, it was announced today. Jake Tapper, filing for WORLD NEWS, notes the address “might be seen as an acknowledgement that he has lost ground in the health care reform fight.” Certainly the August recess didn’t seem to help matters judging from the shrill invective emanating from Congressional District town hall meetings across the country. The address, aides to the President tell Tapper, will give the President a chance “to regain control of the discussion.” David Axelrod, a senior Obama advisor, told Tapper “All the ideas are on the table. Now we have to pull those strands together and deliver an overall vision of where to go.” Don’t skimp on the details, Mr. President. Tapper reports that “Congressional Democrats have been practically pleading for the President to be more specific” on the cost of the bill, where the monies will come from and whether a public option will remain on the table. Tapper also mentions that “the President seems ready, aides say, to throw in the towel on bi-partisan negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee” after Republicans Enzi(WY) and Grassley(IA) seemed to trash the President’s attempts at health-care reform while ostensibly negotiating with Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee to reach a consensus.
WORLD NEWS anchor Charles Gibson followed up Tapper’s report with a question on just how specific the President might be. Tapper: “They are still debating how specific, but the President will address nuts and bolts issues of what should be in the legislation, but they also understand that there is still a public education component of this, that they have not fully realized. There’s a lot of people that do not understand what is in this bill for them, and what’s not in it. And the President intends to discredit some of the myths out there about this reform effort.”

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES:  As weather conditions improve, firefighters are slowly gaining on the wildfire burning through north Los Angeles.  The Station Fire has burned approximately 140,150 acres, destroyed at least 64 structures and is currently 28 percent contained.  “Smoke from this fire has blown all the way East to Denver,” Brian Rooney reported on WORLD NEWS.  “Helicopters and airplanes have been critical…the choppers dropping water nearly in back yards…and the fixed wings painting the mountains with retardant in advance of the fire…with fire beaten back from threatened neighborhoods, some residents are expected to go home later…the signs of optimism are already appearing along streets saved by firefighters.”  As a result of the progress firefighters have made, about 13 strike teams – 270 firefighters and 65 fire engines – will be demobilized Wednesday. 
At the 8pm ET news conference, fire officials said earlier reports that the cause of the wildfires was “human in nature” were incorrect, and that it was still under investigation. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

PFIZER FINES- Federal prosecutors hit Pfizer Inc. with a record-breaking $2.3 billion in fines today for illegal drug promotions. The problems occurred with the drug Bextra, which was approved by the FDA to treat pain from arthritis. Lisa Stark, filing for WORLD NEWS, reports that Pfizer didn’t stop there, “pumping up its bottom line by pitching doctors to prescribe the drug for things it was never approved for.” And that bottom line was pretty phat-Stark tells us that “Bextra became a blockbuster, bringing in $1.2 billion a year, as sales reps assured doctors it could be used not just for arthritis, but for any acute pain.” And in case those doctors needed more convincing…a former company rep (and main whistleblower in this case) laid out some of the perks. Stark: “In exchange for hearing the company’s pitch, doctors were paid up to $1500 to attend meetings, were treated to conferences at lush resorts (and were) given airfare, hotels, meals, even massages.” Unfortunately for Pfizer, Bextra was a bust-Stark notes that “even when used correctly, Bextra was dangerous, linked to possible heart attacks and strokes, and was pulled off the market.” And while it would be nice to think of Pfizer as a rogue, they apparently have plenty of company. Stark says that “In the last 8 years, drug manufacturers have paid over $11 billion in penalties for everything from off-label promotions to overcharging Medicare for drugs.” So how to change things? Accountability might not be a bad start. Stark: “Pfizer will now be required to reveal every penny it spends pitching doctors. Some believe that should be required of all drug companies.”

HAZING IN AFGHANISTAN:  Kirit Radia reports that the U.S. Government has opened three investigations into allegations that security contractors working at the US Embassy in Kabul hazed new employees with activities that included sex and alcohol.  The three investigations are being carried out by the State Department's Inspector General, the State Department's Bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Management and U.S. Ambassador Eikenberry at the Embassy in Kabul.
Photos of the hazing activities conducted by security company ArmorGroup were released publically Tuesday, and Radia reports “it appears the events depicted in the photos and videos took place in mid-August. They were sent by the company to the State Dept some 10 days ago.” Brian Ross reported more details on WORLD NEWS:  “One of the guards, a US military veteran, told ABC news that top bosses from ArmorGroup were – quote – sexual deviants – who have been carrying on this way for at least a year and a half, demanding sex from new arrivals…Guards in Kabul say company executives in headquarters were well aware of the wild scene in Kabul and took no steps to stop it.”  In fact, the State Department sent nine letters to the contractor in response to complaints about various issues, such as inadequate staffing, which the department says were eventually corrected.  And despite the complaints, State Department spox Ian Kelly said they decided to renew ArmorGroup’s contract “based on the information that they had at the time.  And they were satisfied that the contractor was providing adequate security for the embassy.” 
Wackenhut Services Inc., the parent company to ArmorGroup, has not yet commented on the incident or investigations. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

BAILOUT CEO’S-You may want to grab the TUMS before you read this story. We learned today the financial compensation paid CEO’s for the top 20 banks involved in the government bail-out. Keep in mind that those 20 banks received more than $280 billion of taxpayer money.Betsy Stark, reporting on WORLD NEWS, notes that each of those CEO’s “took home an average of $13.8 million while the average wage earner-who paid for the bailout-brought home less than $32 thousand…in other words, the average bank CEO earned 436 times the salary of the average wage earner and 34 times the salary of the President, all while presiding over an historic debacle.” (Is this the Land of Opportunity or what?) As Sarah Anderson, the author of “America’s Bailout Barons”, noted in Stark’s piece “No matter what happens, the executives always seem to come out ahead.”
 
SWINE FLU/EMORY COLLEGE- Officials at Emory University say about 50 students with swine flu have been moved to a separate dorm. The students aren't attending classes and school workers are delivering food to them. Emory has about 6,900 undergraduate students and an additional 5,900 graduate students. Each of the sick students has his or her own room in the dorm, which has a capacity for 100 beds. An Emory University spokesperson says the students are there on a voluntary basis. 
 
SEC/MADOFF SCANDAL-From Matt Jaffe: “The Securities and Exchange Commission was incompetent in pursuing Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, but not due to any inappropriate connections between the two parties, the agency's watchdog said Wednesday.
The investigation by David Kotz, the SEC's inspector general, did not find any evidence that agency employees ‘had any financial or other inappropriate connection’ with Madoff or his family that influenced their examination of his business. Even former SEC assistant director Eric Swanson's relationship with Madoff's niece Shana did not influence the agency's probe, Kotz found, according to an executive summary released today.” For more on this please see Jaffe’s Blotter offer at  http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/Madoff/story?id=8475568

FAA PROPOSES NEW RULES FOR HUDSON RIVER FLIGHTS-Lisa Stark passes along a release from the FAA regarding new safety rules for the Hudson River airspace. The release reads in part: “The safety enhancements would restructure the airspace, mandate pilot operating rules, create a new entry point into the Hudson River airspace from Teterboro, standardize New York area charts and develop new training for pilots, air traffic controllers and businesses that operate helicopters and aircraft in the area.” 

FED RESERVE/DOWNTURN ENDING-Dan Arnall: “The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee released the minutes from its August 11-12th meeting and revealed that things seem to be looking up for the overall economy.
‘In their discussion of the economic situation and outlook, meeting participants agreed that the incoming data and anecdotal evidence had strengthened their confidence that the downturn in economic activity was ending and that growth was likely to resume in the second half of the year,’ said the minutes.
That’s as direct an acknowledgement as we have seen from Bernanke & Co. that the recession seems to be coming to an end. But don’t think that just because they’re seeing an end to the recession that means happy days are here again. It’s more likely that the risk of further economic and market drops are diminishing and that the U.S. is in for a recovery that is slow and steady.”

OTHER STUFF-
SECOND OBAMA LETTER TO IRAN?- White House spokesman Tommy Vietor today did not deny a report by Iranian Television that President Obama has sent a second letter to Iranian authorities."There have been multiple ways that communication has taken place with Iran,” said Vietor. “We do not discuss the details or modalities of those communications." (Jake Tapper)
2016 OLYMPICS/WINDY CITY LOOKING IFFY-The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation committee released a 98 page report on the four cities vying to host the Games. Rio de Janiero came off best in a technical evaluation of the four candidate cities. Chicago, meanwhile, came in for some pointed negative comments -including its financial guarantees and public transportation – and Madrid and Tokyo also took some direct hits from the International Olympic Committee. The IOC votes on the city October 2nd in Copenhagen, Denmark. (AP)
DETROIT SCHOOLS FOLO-A small follow to last night’s Barbara Pinto spot on Bill Cosby and Detroit schools. Public high school students in Detroit can sleep in a little later beginning in January. District emergency financial manager Robert Bobb listened to a group of several dozen students Tuesday and moved the morning bell back 30 minutes. The students were taking part in a roundtable discussion that included comedian Bill Cosby. They said 7:30 a.m. was too early. Bobb agreed to have morning classes start at 8 a.m. by the second semester, which begins Jan. 22. (AP)
FOOTBALL TEAM VALUATIONS-FORBES Magazine released its’ valuations of NFL franchises-The Dallas Cowboys ($1.65 billion) lead the rankings for the third straight year and are worth $100 million more than the runner-up Washington Redskins. New England is third at $1.361 billion, followed by the New York Giants ($1.183 billion) and Jets ($1.170 billion). (AP)

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