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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bernie Meets Condi

United States Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, and other members of the U.S. Senate’s freshman class of 2007, met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

Berniechurchst_1 The junior senator from Vermont (pictured, at left, on Burlington's Church Street in mid-December), put out a press release afterward and also included a follow-up letter he’d sent to Condoleezza. A very, direct and to-the-point letter, if I do say so myself.

I didn’t see or hear any coverage in the Vermont press - anybody catch anything?

(Update: VPR had it.)

Let me tell you how I read the Constitution of the United States,” wrote Sen. Sanders.

The wording of Article 1, Section 8 is explicit: ‘The Congress shall have the power . . . to declare war.’ The Congress declares war, not the President. The President certainly plays a central role in foreign policy, but the Congress also has Constitutional authority in this area. That means if the Bush administration provokes a war against Iran, as it is currently threatening to do, we will have a Constitutional crisis of the gravest severity. If the President ignores the Constitutionally-defined and mandated Congressional role in making war, there will be very dire consequences for this administration.

“Very dire consequences for this administration?”

Has a ring to it, eh?

Now is the time to increase the level of diplomacy, not the level of American troops put into harm’s way in the middle of a civil war,” writes Ol’ Bernardo.

Also on Tuesday, the Independent from the Green Mountain State “became the first cosponsor of S. Res. 39, a resolution offered by Senator Robert Byrd, which declares the need for the Administration to seek approval before instigating offensive military action against another nation. He is also a cosponsor of S. 233, which prevents the President from escalating the war and increasing the troop numbers in Iraq without the express consent of Congress.”


What a concept.

P.S. Health-wise, I’m doing well. Chemotherapy is what’s happening. (Heck, been doing that since Woodstock, eh?)

Cancer cells grow very fast. My little lymphoma tumor, first discovered on New Year's, grew real fast. The chemo drugs are designed to kill fast growing cells in the body. Hair cells grow fast. That's why mine will disappear in a couple weeks. I've been reminded Vermont's entire congressional delegation is bald!

There’s chemical warfare underway inside of me. What a novel approach. I am, after all, a pile of chemicals. The tumor has already shrunk a good bit. The jaundice is gone.

The fact that I’m under 60 and only have it in one place - my abdomen - are positive indicators that statistically increase recovery rates.

Saw my new doctor today. Dr. Eric Pillemer is one of 12 oncologists at the Mary Fanny cancer clinic. It is a very busy place, but there’s a flow to it. Modern fast-food medicine. In and out like an airport - Boettcher Field?

The doc and I are both children of the Sixties. He was even at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, too. Small world, eh?

End the War in Vietnam, Bring the Troops Home!

Fast-forward 40 years and you only need to change one word. When will we ever fucking learn?

We shared one little reminiscence about when we were children in the 1950s and 1960s. How anyone of our parents, or their friends, or aunts or uncles getting cancer meant - it’s all over! Kiss of death. Curtains!

It’s not that way anymore. There are survival rates - cure rates.

I haven't been able to respond to everyone's call or email - pacing myself - but you guys have been positively priceless. Consider yourselves hugged! Each and every one of you.

But, still,  it drives the old journalist in me mad to learn they do not know what causes this shit in the first place.

Monday, January 29, 2007

And the Healing Has Begun

Thank you one and all for your expressions of support, love and good vibes. I may be single and live alone, but right now, it feels like I’ve got one big family out there and I appreciate it very, very much.

Shep_4_1 I was a resident of Shep 4 up at the Mary Fanny from Thursday until Sunday afternoon. Got the first full chemo-therapy treatment on Saturday. Amazing. Takes 8-9 hours. Four drugs I’ve never heard of are injected into one’s vein. Feels like the fast-growing fist-sized tumor has already shrunk some.


The treatment and care I received was great. The nurses were very special people - hailed from Plattsburgh to Plainfield. I was in very good hands. And one thing they had in common was they loved doing what they do. They were just like the nurses I worked with many moons ago during my Vietnam War conscientious-objector days at Hennepin County General in downtown Minneapolis. Making such a difference in other peoples lives. Being there. (Even if all but the night shift has to park over at the Fanny Allen in Colchester and take a shuttle bus to Hospital Hill in Burlington.)

Yes, indeed, the new “Airport” i.e. Renaissance wing Bill Boettcher & the Boys built, is the butt of many a joke or sarcastic crack. The $60 million underground Renaissance parking garage built into Hospital Hill was coincidentally the target of one letter-to-the-editor in today’s Burlington Free Press:

...The garage is dimly lit, difficult and dangerous to navigate, and the per-hour rate to park there constitutes highway robbery. The parking garage at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center is free.

As a woman I feel unsafe in the parking garage because there is not enough lighting and oftentimes there are few people in the vicinity..

BUT the good news on Hospital Hill is that about 10 days ago FAHC instituted a new chow policy for patients. These days, a patient picks up the phone and calls the kitchen to place their order when they’re hungry. Lots of choices. Seven flavors of yogurt to choose from. Three different soups. A Honey Mustard Turkey Burger and a Garden Burger everyday. Great mashed potatoes with gravy. A Chef’s Salad, a Caesar Salad or a Mediterranean Salad. Three entrees for dinner to choose from every night plus all kinds of sinful goodies for desert. And it tasted good, too! I had an appetite because They were loading me with steroids and that stimulates the appetite. (Only criticism: the turkey sandwich was particularly skimpy turkey-wise.) The folks who deliver it all to bedside say the new menu ordering has saved dramatically on waste.


Can Internet access for patients be far off?

Pet_scan Monday morning it was out to Fanny Allen for a PET Scan. Nuclear medicine. You’re injected with a radioactive sugar, sit quietly in a recliner for 45 minutes - can’t even read or write - then lay down and get slid into the big machine for pictures. I laid still with my arms over my head for 28 minutes.

It’s supposed to detect cancer anywhere in one's body.


The PET Scanning takes place in the back of a semi-trailer truck that travels around New England. (That's Gayla with the machine at left.) It’s at the Fanny Allen for just two days at a time. Word is Dartmouth’s about to get one of their very own.

So, I’m feeling different but OK. Doc said all those years of John Power Irish Whiskey might reduce side effects from the chemo drugs like nausea. So far so good.

I'd say a new learning period has just begun in this dude's life. And the good vibes, support and love you guys have expressed and shared has lifted the spirits of this Irishman big time.

"And miles to go before I sleep."

That's my theme song now.

Lots more writing ahead.

Let's keep in touch, eh?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

As the World Turns

Yours truly's little life has hit some interesting new ground lately. Right around New Year's was when I felt it for the first time. When I was frozen-in under two feet of snow in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A little soreness in my abdomen.  Felt like something swollen. Then a lump an inch or two beneath the breast bone.

Peter_1 Saw the doc at UHC as soon as possible upon returning to Beautiful Burlap. Didn't get my doc, the one who brought me back from double pneumonia in 1995, but others on his team. (In, fact, my old doc, age 43, called me two days ago to tell me he's ceasing his medical practice.)

Anyway, it's been bing-bam-boom after that. Quickly to blood tests and a CAT scan and biopsy and the discovery of a lymphoma - a cancerous tumor. Just like that. The oncologist, the one who specializes in this sort of stuff, looks me in the eye and calls it "75-80 percent" curable.

Let me tell ya, after all those years of writing about the bloody monster of an underground garage that Bill Boettcher and the Boys stuck four-stories deep into Hospital Hill, I'm finally getting to become intimately familiar with it. And helping to pay for it.

The first time, I didn't make sharp enough note of my parking spot in the biggest underground car garage between Boston and Montreal.  Took me 20 minutes to find my blue Saturn.  Now I write the location on the ticket.

The treatment is chemotherapy for 18 weeks. One gets a one-day-long intravenous dose of four different "drugs" once every three weeks. Yes, my hair will fall out at some point, they say. The fact is, this lymphoma stuff is not that uncommon. And the bloody maddening thing is, they're not sure what causes it.

At the Statehouse Wednesday, several lawmakers shared with me they had spouses who also had a lymphoma similar to mine - "Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma."  They did the chemo and are fine today.

Hey, whatever's meant to be is meant to be, right?

Still, it's kind of ironic that just when I was getting sick and tired of covering health care reform stuff, I'm going to have a front row seat. My doc, an oncologist, with two Stanford degrees, is admitting me to the hospital in about an hour. The tumor is squeezing against a bile duct and causing jaundice. If I'm jaundiced they can't begin the chemo. First things first.

I am taking my new Mac Book with me. Just took it out of the box. Unfortunately, the early word is the largest hospital in Vermont, the one with its very own Renaissance, does not have WiFi - nor any Internet access for its patients.

Say it isn't so.

If postings here dry up, gang, blame Melinda Estes, CEO at the Mary Fanny, not me!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thorpe vs. Freyne

Thorpe Kenneth Thorpe is chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University in Atlanta and a former deputy assistant secretary of health policy in the Clinton Administration. Last year he was the Vermont Legislature’s consultant on healthcare reform - the legislature that finally produced and passed the Catamount Healthcare Reform Bill that’s scheduled to go into effect this coming October. You remember?

The “reform” bill that AARP Magazine gave Republican Gov. Jim Douglas an award for signing?

Recently released figures indicate Catamount may not cover as many uninsured Vermonters as it originally promised to, giving critics, including promoters of a single-payer system along the lines of what exists in Canada, France Great Britain and other European countries, fuel for their fire. 

On Wednesday, I bumped into Ol’ Ken outside the office of House Speaker Gaye Symington. We grabbed a couple chairs and sat down for a little one-on-one.

Q. What’s your snapshot of where we are in Vermont on this?

Thorpe: I think where we are is Vermont passed the most far-reaching, important healthcare reform package in the country. The reason it’s different is that most of the reforms were aimed at making health insurance more affordable for the 90 percent of Vermonters who have health insurance.  That is a major part of the Vermont healthcare reform that other states - Massachusetts, the California proposals really don’t address the affordability of healthcare. And that’s one thing that really distinguishes Vermont’s healthcare reform effort.

Q. For example?

Thorpe: For example - two major ways we’re going to reduce the cost of  private health insurance. One is by more effectively managing people that have chronic illness. Most of the healthcare spending in the Vermont system is for patients that have chronic disease - 75 percent of it. We want to more effectively manage it and provide better quality care. That’s going to reduce costs.

The second way we’re going to reduce costs is “pull” a cost-shift out of private health insurance by reducing the uninsured, by increasing, over time, Medicaid rates we can reduce the cost of private health insurance. And both  of those are going to be important for Vermont businesses and families.

Q. To the consumer out there who may not be as sophisticated, the argument defined by our political left Progressive Party is: let’s get real here - there’ll be no real reform until we go to a single-payer like the rest of Western Civilization. What do you say to them?

Thorpe: Well, I think the reforms are much broader-sweeping than even a single-payer. We’re going to the heart of the affordability problem. We’re going to manage chronic illness. It’s not an insurance issue. This is a management issue of people that have chronic diseases.

Ironically, the Canadians, the Europeans are facing the same problems we’re facing. In fact, I’m going to a conference next week in Europe to work with the Canadians, a single-payer country, to build the same type of integrated delivery structures that are embedded in Catamount Health.  They are facing the same problems and pressures in their system that we’re facing in ours.

Q. So the insurance industry - their cut - that’s not a problem in the cost and availability of healthcare in this country?

Thorpe: I think the cost of administering healthcare is too high.  Catamount Health includes several provisions that will reduce administrative costs: going to a single claims form; reducing reporting requirements on physicians. We’re going to really make sure that we do everything we can to simplify the physicians lives and pay them adequately to manage chronic illness.

A lot of what we’re going to be doing this session is putting in new approaches, new ways of paying  physicians, and really making this promise a reality.

Q. You’re hopeful?

Thorpe: I’m very hopeful. The devil’s in the details. We did a lot of hard bipartisan work to pass this last year. Now we have a lot of work to make sure that it’s actually implemented in a very effective way and that will be a challenge.

Thorpe said they will do everything they can to simplify physicians lives and reduce administrative costs. Thorpe will be in Montpelier for two days this week, Wednesday and Thursday, meeting with the leadership of both chambers as well as the members of the health care committees in House and Senate.

P.S. Unfortunately Ol’ Ken’s a little late. On Wednesday, I got a phone call from my Primary Care Physician at UHC. Been with him since 1995 when he brought me back from double pneumonia at the Mary Fanny. The Good Doctor informed me he’s leaving the medical profession next week. He’s only 43.


Vermont Reaction

Three Thumbs Down!


"Bush Insists US Must Not Fail in Iraq" was the headline in The New York Times this morning - the morning after President George W. Bush's State of the Union address to Congress.

"Bush Urges Congress to Give Iraq Plan a Chance" was the headline in The Washington Post.

Most people I've spoken to said they couldn't stomach watching it.

How did this guy become president?

Here's a taste of the official Vermont reaction:

Sen. Patrick Leahy:

"It is regrettable that the President has rejected opportunities for a change of course in Iraq.  He has dismissed bipartisan suggestions advanced by the Iraq Study Group, by our commanders who have been on the ground in Iraq, and by the people’s elected representatives in Congress.  Escalating the conflict will put more of our troops in danger and will worsen the war’s toll on efforts to address urgent needs in our country.  In my view, the Congress should use its constitutional authority to try to change course in Iraq by opposing an escalation of troops and changing our budget priorities so we can bring our troops home."

Sen. Bernie Sanders:

"Tonight we heard further evidence that this President is out of touch with the reality and needs of the American people.  At a time when our citizens want to wind-down the war in Iraq and bring our troops home as soon as possible, the President has proposed escalating it. Instead of leading us towards universal health care, he wants to tax workers’ health care benefits and cut funding for hospitals serving the lowest-income Americans.  Instead of offering the meaningful policies needed to combat global warming and position our nation as a leader in clean energy he continues to offer only empty rhetoric.  The American people cannot afford these backwards policies. It’s time for bold action that will end the quagmire in Iraq, ensure that every Americans receives health care as a right of citizenship, and protect our environment for future generations.”

Rep. Peter Welch:

"There is no more immediate need than a change of course in Iraq.  Regrettably, the President stubbornly clings to a dangerous and misguided policy of escalation, disregarding the advice of his military advisors, the will of the American people, the sound advice of the Iraq Study Committee, and a growing bipartisan consensus in Congress.

"And while repeatedly making pledges to expand health care coverage and contain costs, the number of uninsured Americans steadily climbs year after year.  After declaring our nation is 'addicted to oil' a year ago, he held steadfastly to a dead-end 'drill our way out' energy policy that short-changed alternative energy."

Sounds like they're on the same page, eh?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Times' Bernie Feature Disappointing

Ol' Bernardo got his first senatorial splash in the Sunday New York Times. A magazine piece by Times reporter Mark Liebovitch (formerly with The Washington Post.)

Kind of disappointing actually. As one reader put it, "I think the author was a little too much in love with the sound of his own writing."

Here's a taste:

Sanders crinkles his face whenever a conversation veers too long from this kind of “important stuff” and into the “silly stuff,” like clothes and style. “I do not like personality profiles,” Sanders told me during our first conversation. He trumpets a familiar rant against the media, its emphasis on gaffes, polls and trivial details.

“If I walked up on a stage and fell down, that would be the top story,” Sanders says. “You wouldn’t hear anything about the growing gap between rich and poor.”

When I first met Sanders in person on Church Street, there were big streaks of dried mud on his shoes and dried blood on his neck from what looked to be a shaving mishap. His hair flew every which way in a gust of wind. At six feet tall, he is wiry, but he walks with shoulders hunched and elbows out, like a big, skulking bird. From a distance, he looked as if he could be homeless.

Give me a break!

Here you have Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders criticizing the media for its shallowness and superficiality and what does Liebovitch write but a rather shallow, snarky and superficial piece?

Go figure.

Of course, this is the same New York Times that allowed President Bush to lie his way into the disaster in Iraq unchecked.

P.S. Little reality check in today's Washington Post:

Confidence in Bush Leadership at All-Time Low, Poll Finds
By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen

President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday at the weakest point of his presidency, facing deep public dissatisfaction over his Iraq war policies and eroding confidence in his leadership, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

With a major confrontation between Congress and the president brewing over Iraq, Americans overwhelmingly oppose Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to the conflict. By wide margins, they prefer that congressional Democrats, who now hold majorities in both chambers, rather than the president, take the lead in setting the direction for the country.

Iraq dominates the national agenda, with 48 percent of Americans calling the war the single most important issue they want Bush and the Congress to deal with this year. No other issue rises out of single digits. The poll also found that the public trusts congressional Democrats over Bush to deal with the conflict by a margin of 60 percent to 33 percent.

Here's the rest of it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Giving Peace a Chance


Nice little drive to Montpeculiar this morning. Only eight cars off the Interstate.  Patience was the key - 50 mph in the right lane.

Went down for the peace march and rally in front of the Vermont State House.  The AP’s Willie Ring put the crowd at “about 200.”

Sorry, Willie, our count had it at “about 350.”

And it was absolutely frigid, with a piercing wind blowing across the snow-covered Statehouse lawn.

There were a number of folks who looked old enough to have, like me, attended some of the antiwar marches of the 1960s. Instead of Iraq, our troops were dying and getting maimed in Vietnam. In both cases the White House lied to Congress and to the American people about the justification for their bloody sacrifice.

When will we ever learn?

Peace_jan_202 Joanne Boyle (on the left) made a slippery two-and-a-half-hour drive from Perkinsville to Montpelier. She also made the “ NO MEANS NO” banner. She's the mother of an 18-year-old son. And, she told us, it was her very first protest march!

Always nice to see new blood, eh?

“NO MEANS NO," she told us, is what a mother tells her child. Every kid hears it. And President George W. Bush, heard it, she said, on November 7 when the American people voted the Democrats back into power in both House and Senate after a 12 year absence. Unfortunately, he’s behaving like a very bad little boy. (Claudia Marieb of Montpelier and Pam DeAndrea of Calais are helping her hold up her banner.)

Joanne also shared with us that she was particularly struck the other day when listening to an NPR piece on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., honored with a national holiday last Monday. She never realized before that he was only 39 when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

She’s 49, she told us. Time to get going!  Ms. Boyle will also be joining other Vermonters going down to Washington next weekend for the big national antiwar march.

Will the president hear them?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Oh, Canada

The obvious light at the end of the tunnel is the end of the presidency of George W. Bush.

A new U.S. president will take the oath of office in January 2009.

Couldn't come fast enough, eh?

Hang in there, America.

Leahy_1 Our neighbors to the north are certainly hoping so, as Canadians read in today's Toronto Star. A piece by Tim Harper focusing in on Vermont's senior U.S. senator - Patrick J. Leahy:

Leahy was the first member of the U.S. Congress to raise questions about the rendition of Maher Arar to Syria by the Bush administration. He co-sponsored an amendment that pushed back the deadline for tough new border restrictions, and said talk of a fence along the northern border was the most "cockamamie" idea he'd ever heard.

He also enshrined himself in the exclusive FOC – Friends of Canada – circle by twice calling Canadian ambassadors here as banners or flags were flying at half staff, acknowledging tragedies in this country.

He's a lifelong civil libertarian, a mild-mannered man in his daily routine but known to blow a gasket when he's being stonewalled, or when he feels he must pounce on an injustice.

 (Freyne Land file photo)

I couldn't post a link for some unknown reason, so please copy & paste for full article.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An Auditor Moment

Auditorsalmon Democrat Tom Salmon, the Bellows Falls CPA, hasn't gotten a whole lot of press since winning the auditor's race recount on December 21 by a slim 102 votes over Republican one-term incumbent Randy Brock.

On the first count of the November 7 vote, it appeared Brock had won by around 800 votes.

But Salmon, the son of the former governor of the 1970s and UVM president of the 1990s, won the count that counted in this historic statewide squeaker 111,770-111,668.

Since taking office on January 4, however, Salmon II has been lost in the background of the big legislative kick-off. Tough to compete with global warming when you're just a numbers-crunching CPA, eh?

Yours truly had the good fortune of bumping into our new auditor on State Street in Montpeculiar this afternoon. Nice to see him out strecthing the legs. Told us he's been living with an old Navy buddy in Northfield during the week, unless he has to attend a meeting of the Rockingham Selectboard on which he serves.

The selectboard seat, he told us, keeps him conected to the local community - a very good thing. Said Tom the Auditor:

"As a candidate you deal with uncertainties. To dive into this just feels so right. It’s an accountant’s dream in essence to be given a key to a very effective accounting firm and to get in there and work for the biggest client in the state. When you look at that gold dome you know that what we’re working on here is bigger than any of our egos. It’s really about the people of Vermont."

Feels good?

"Feels great!"

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Battle of Bennington 2007

Bennington Hey, at least the sun was shining! Lots and lots of energy in the air too, both outside and inside the building.

At left, is a shot of the heated goings-on in Sen. Vince Illuzzi’s Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs. The hot-button item of the morning was the state office building in Bennington. Specifically, it was the condition of the office building - health wise. There are 135 employees inside and seven of them have been diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a chronic immune system disorder.

Sarcoidosis normally occurs, say VSEA officials, in 1 of 10,000 persons. But 7 out of 135, they say, raises a huge red flag.

State workers say the Douglas administration has known about the problem since last June, but state workers will not be moved out until March. What’s taken so long?

Said our governor to reporters at his weekly “slugfest” in the ceremonial office an hour or two later:

“We acted immediately. I asked the Health Department to look into it immediately along with the Dept of Buildings and General Services. The Health Department conducted a very thorough investigation and concluded that they did not have any evidence linking the building directly to these diagnoses.

“Nevertheless, it seemed to me so unusual that the diagnoses of this disease is disproportionate to the population as a whole, coupled with the fact there is clearly some mold in the building that may be exacerbating asthma or lung conditions, that I felt we had to do something about it.

"I’ve directed the department to move the employees on a temporary basis and make some improvements to the building: clean it up, repair it, alter the building so there’s less likely development of mold in the future. Then eventually send the employees back.”

Bennington_2 The state is going to fit up a site in Bennington with modular trailers to serve as a courtroom and other state offices. The price tag: $3.3 million.

“It’s going to be like something you see out in Desert Storm,” said Chairman Illuzzi (R- Essex/Orleans).

In the end, they’ll be taken down, he said. The workers will be returned to the original “sick” building.

“That money could have been spent on refitting an already existing building in a designated downtown Bennington location,” said Sen. Illuzzi.

Illuzzi also noted the Douglas Administration didn’t sign the lease for the modular units until just last week.

Vince the Prince told Buildings Commish Tasha Wallis (testifying above), “The timing has been troubling because we learned you signed the contract only after you learned we were having a hearing today.”


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