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Vermont Guardian

For The Independent Mind

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posted November 24, 2006

CORRECTION: Gov. Phil Hoff was elected to office in 1962 and Sen. Patrick Leahy to office in 1974. This information was incorrect in the Nov. 17 issue of Vermont Guardian.

Voting isn’t enough: It’s time to act
The results of the election brought a slight sense of relief but the real work must begin now. Please heed my call.

I read in Business Week that Nancy Pelosi’s choice to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee is John Dingell of Michigan who “favors nuclear waste legislation that could help the atomic energy industry build the first new reactors in decades.”

Meanwhile, Harry Reid, new Senate majority leader, pledged to push legislation “requiring that nuclear waste be stored on-site where it’s produced,” according to the Las Vegas Sun.

Closer to home, Congressman-elect Peter Welch of Vermont named as his chief of staff a former Green Mountain Power (GMP) vice president of public affairs who had previously held the same post at Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS). CVPS and GMP were the two primary owners of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation before the sale to Entergy in 2002.

Please do not rest on the laurels of your vote. Voting is not enough. Mr. Welch needs to hear from you. He spouted lip service toward his Windham County constituency after he made the back room deal that secured Entergy the ability to store radioactive wastes on the banks of the river in casks that last for only 100 years. Entergy has no plans for how to change out those casks. They don’t care. They don’t have to. In 100 years, Entergy will be long gone from Vermont. For Welch to choose a public relations flak from the owners of Vermont Yankee as his chief of staff three days after the election is a glaring affront.

Nuclear is far too impractical, expensive, and slow an approach to combat the global warming phenomenon. Nuclear is not clean, green, nor sustainable.

For nuclear to be a solution to global warming, a new reactor would need to be built somewhere in the world every two weeks and this would require a new “Yucca Mountain” sized repository every two to three years. These are show stoppers folks. They are real.

It is up to us to convince our elected representatives that nuclear is not sustainable. We need our leaders to support measures that continue life without threatening it. Our elected officials must not be led by the corporate economics that have controlled the purse strings of the state and federal coffers. This campaign is gaining steam now. Bring your election jubilation to this campaign now. Let’s use the recent victories to create needed change for our present and our future.

Gary Sachs

Prison provider isn’t gaming system
Prison Health Services (PHS) has recently given notice of termination to the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC). This was a difficult business decision, but it was necessary. We had lost $1 million in the third quarter, primarily because of unusually high staffing costs, especially for nurses.

We have been working very well with Vermont officials and are proud of what our dedicated health professionals have been able to achieve in partnership with the DOC. In fact, all nine of the Vermont facilities we serve have now been accredited by the National Corrections Commission on Health Care.

The Vermont DOC has noted that local PHS managers and staff have done an “excellent job.” We appreciate that recognition and hope to be able to provide service to Vermont again in the future.

In a recent editorial (Nov. 10), you encouraged state officials to be wary of some sort of gamesmanship on our part. That is certainly not the way we do business.

Anyone who works in health care or even accesses health care understands the cost increases we all face. It is a national problem that we are working hard to help address in order to deliver quality health care to our patient population.
Richard Hallworth
Nashville, TN
Richard Hallworth is president and chief executive officer of Prison Health Services

Ensuring patient privacy
The Vermont Medical Society recently passed a resolution calling for legislation that would prohibit pharmaceutical companies from having any access to data about what medicines are prescribed by doctors. Modeled on a similar measure in New Hampshire, it’s a simplistic solution to a complex problem.

While physician-prescribing data shouldn’t be available for marketing purposes, there are important public health reasons why this data must continue to be shared with pharmaceutical companies.

When FDA-directed safety warnings are issued, they’re communicated via “Dear Doctor” letters to the physicians who have prescribed the drug in question. This is accomplished quickly and precisely because the industry has access to accurate data. And when safety issues arise, that same data helps define the scope of the problem. Because of this data, for example, the FDA can determine how many patients were taking a specific drug and for how long each patient had been taking it.

Further, FDA-mandated risk management plans — developed for physicians who prescribe higher-risk therapies — are physician-targeted through the use of prescribing data. These records are also an important tool in clinical trial recruitment, allowing doctors who are treating targeted patient populations to focus their efforts.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), “Restrictions on the use of prescription information will disrupt health care research and its corresponding benefits for patients, government agencies, health planners, academicians, businesses and others.”

In July, the AMA launched a new web-based program specifically designed to address physician concern over inappropriate use of prescribing information. Known as the Prescribing Data Restriction Program (PDRP), the program also ensures that prescribing data remains available for all the reasons previously mentioned. In fact, all companies that purchase data from the AMA will be contractually required to adhere to the PDRP program.

The safeguards offered by the AMA’s program offer a much more reasonable and targeted approach to protecting both patients and physicians from unwanted disclosures. And those safeguards come with far fewer unintended consequences than any ill-considered state legislation.

When it comes to New Hampshire, “Live free or die” is a great state motto — but it’s a terrible health care policy. Vermont should not follow blindly in the Granite State’s footsteps.
Peter Pitts
New York, NY
Peter Pitts is director of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA
associate commissioner

Getting prisoners the help they need
The Brattleboro field office of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) claimed they could not supervise my mentally ill son on a pre-approved furlough, called a supervised community sentence. I (his mother) believe and have complained to the agency of human services that the field supervision unit provoked certain responses in my son in order to violate him on his conditions, and even though he has been doing a good job for someone who has mental disorders, they have kept him on an hour to hour schedule for the past two years. He was violated for being “out of place” four times, and had to see the Vermont Parole Board each time in order to be released from prison and put back on supervision.

The Parole Board seems to understand the difficulty, and on Nov. 1, they were essentially forced into revoking his release status because the DOC claims it cannot supervise him. Nothing he has done would get any ordinary person into trouble, but now my son faces a four-year stay in prison with no hope of recovery and this is a waste, if only because he can be supervised if the DOC would make simple changes in their approach with someone who is psychiatrically disabled. Instead, I believe they have used his disabilities to bring about certain predictable outcomes for which they could violate him and send him to prison, to wash their hands of having to deal with mental illness.

Instead of my providing therapies and aid to my son, which I have been doing as I have fought the DOC at every turn, the state intends to needlessly spend more money on the prison system. Is this political? It certainly isn’t anything that should exist under an umbrella of the Agency of Human Services. I think the state is purposefully filling its jails with those who could be supervised in the community in defiance of the cry to make changes. They would like the prison situation to reach crisis proportions: To what end is my question.
Barbara Lewinger

Keep up the fight to end the war — now
Recently, it has come to light that a growing number of active duty service members are expressing their opposition to the occupation of Iraq.

Throughout the several interviews I have done with various media outlets, a few valid questions have been raised. “When is it OK for service members to vocally oppose a war? If the troops opposed every conflict we engaged in, then it could seriously undermine the military’s effectiveness.” And, “How and why should I help?”

The first question is a legitimate concern for both civilian and military persons interested but not entirely sold on the appeal for redress. Certainly military personnel can’t oppose any conflict for any reason. If we did, the unit cohesion and discipline that makes us so effective would be diminished. However, there are circumstances that justify and even morally obligate service members to oppose a government policy.

I believe that the criteria for military personnel’s opposition to the Iraq occupation and the rationale that makes our grievance justified are the following: the shifting reasons why we initially invaded Iraq; the human cost; the Iraqi people and government want us to leave; and, who is paying for the war?

Depending on your personal situation, there are different ways you can help bring about an end to this occupation.

Everyone should dismiss the voice that tells you that your opinion doesn’t count. That is not true, just wait and see.

Service members who oppose the war but don’t want their careers to suffer should go to Read the Department of Defense directives on your rights. Fill out an appeal. It is confidential and completely legal.

Service members who want to be more involved in the appeal for redress movement should get four or five friends to sign appeals, and get them to sign up more friends.
People can also hold film showings, write articles, and be creative. Step out of your comfort zone a little: Very little gets accomplished until people start doing that. Above all, stay legal.

For service members currently in Iraq, sign the appeal and try to put your opinions on hold until you return; do not undermine the effectiveness of your unit. When lives are at risk, unit cohesion means more than personal belief.

For civilians and family members, tell the people you know who are currently serving about the appeal. Whether it is your son, husband, father, wife, or your neighbor’s brother, spread the word to military personnel. And, if you can, support the appeal for redress movement however you can.

Overall, be creative, be supportive, be vocal, and bring the troops home.
Sgt. Liam Madden

Thanks for crossing party lines
A special thank you to the 10,299 voters who voted for me in the race for Vermont attorney general. I am very grateful to the Democrats and Republicans who crossed their party line to make that vote. Their votes are a call for reform.

Many Vermonters who have been deprived of justice contacted me. Information from citizens who have been hurt by the system, along with the 10,299 votes, gives credibility to all of us who are working for major changes in the system.

There is much work to be done. I will continue to push for reform of the policies of the Office of the Attorney General. One member of the Vermont judiciary has already contacted me and a legislator has met with me to discuss the issues.

I would appreciate any suggestions. All Vermonters, young and old, rich and poor, should have equal access to justice in compliance with the true spirit of the Vermont Constitution.
Rosemarie Jackowski

History repeats
When Phil Hoff was first elected governor in 1962 (Vermont Guardian, Nov. 17), an interesting fact is that although he was the Democratic candidate, he was also on the ballot a second time as the candidate of the Vermont Independent Party, and the votes he received on that line were more than his margin of victory over Republican F. Ray Keyser.

Patrick Leahy was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974, with the election coming less than three months after the Watergate scandal forced Pres. Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace. There was a big win for the Democrats that year across the country, very much like this year, due to widespread disenchantment with the Republican administration.
Andy Shaw
Manchester Center