Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Serious Is The GOP About Reforming Health Care?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2011 at 1:41 PM

The answer: Not very serious, if a bill advanced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn is any indication. Read this story to find out why.

But in the meantime, I'll give you the CliffsNotes. Blackburn has proposed a piece of legislation, the Health Care Choice Act, that would mandate that states allow the interstate sale of health insurance — something that's currently illegal. It's the classic GOP free-market argument, the theory being that it would spur competition and drive down prices, thereby decreasing the shamefully massive number of uninsured Americans.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that's some seriously wishful thinking — or at least it said so back in 2005. That's when Blackburn's bill was essentially proposed before, word-for-word, by Arizona Republican John Shadegg.

We were motivated to write about this by a story in The Tennessean, which proclaimed the bill as "another advance in Blackburn's profile as a policymaker in Congress." Respectfully, we call bullshit. Read on and you'll see why.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Federal Bankruptcy Judge Candidate Plans To Resign From Embattled Belle Meade Country Club If Appointed

Posted By on Fri, May 27, 2011 at 4:02 PM

William L. Norton III, a bankruptcy attorney and candidate to replace Judge George Paine in federal bankruptcy court, told Pith he'll resign from the Belle Meade Country Club if he's appointed, revealing the extent to which membership at the prestigious club is a résumé-tarnishing liability for public-office aspirants.

Last week the Scene examined the confidential deliberations of the Judicial Council for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and its investigation into Paine's membership at the club. They tackled a two-pronged question: Does Paine's membership violate the judicial code of conduct? And, more to the point, does the club discriminate based on race and gender?

One problem the council identified is that the club, in its century-long history, can boast but a single black non-resident member who lives in Atlanta and seldom visits. The other problem is that women are not eligible to become resident members, which would accord them the right to vote on club affairs, its bylaws say.

The council exonerated Paine and (to a small extent) the club, but by the barest majority, revealing a schism in the 6th Circuit that followed an unmistakably racial path. But if the nearly split council left troubling questions about the club largely unanswered, it clarified one inescapable reality: Membership in the Belle Meade Country Club is a non-starter for Norton and anyone else seeking public office.

"If I'm going to take a public-service role, I shouldn't be painted with that kind of controversy because it wouldn't reflect well on the court," said Norton, who literally helped write the book on bankruptcy law — his father, William L. Norton Jr., is the force behind the Norton Bankruptcy Law Library, to which the younger Norton has contributed as writer and editor — and has been a member of the club for roughly 20 years.

Asked if he would resign if appointed to the bench Paine will vacate when he retires at the end of this year, Norton replied succinctly: "No doubt."

"If they see fit to appoint me, I'll make that fairly clear," he continued. After the jump, a list of the current candidates.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Natural-Health Guru, Author and Radio/TV Personality Asa Andrew Surrenders Chiropractic License

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2011 at 6:44 AM

  • DrAsaLive.com
Some six months after the Tennessee Department of Health filed notice of charges against a popular health-care guru, author and radio/TV personality for advertising and providing services "outside the scope of practice for a chiropractic physician" and "misleading the public about his true qualifications or lack thereof," Asa Andrew signed an agreed order to surrender his chiropractic license.

In the 21-count charging document, Andrew, who's received the gold-standard imprimatur of popular faith-based finance author Dave Ramsey, was accused of the "advertisement of a chiropractic business in which untrue or misleading statements are made," for "invading a field of practice" in which he isn't licensed, for practicing naturopathy in Tennessee — which is illegal — and for the "misuse of Titles."

Dated Thursday, the order says Andrew "agrees that cause exists to discipline his license" and that he "marketed himself through various media distributed in various markets (including publishing the book, Empowering Your Health, and appearing on radio and television shows) without disclosing the fact that he was a chiropractic physician." At first flatly denying the allegations in his answer to the notice of charges, Andrew now "concedes that the public may have been misled by the aforementioned omission," the order says. Andrew still denies he provided medical services "outside his scope of practice," but admits the state's proof might prove otherwise.

Andrew characterizes himself as a "board-certified physician" in his book, though he's never been registered in Tennessee as a medical doctor. You may remember a Scene cover story published back in September, where we spoke with more than 20 current and former employees of his Center for Natural Medicine in Belle Meade. Among other things, many of them said obfuscating Andrew's credentials was a matter of office policy.

According to the order, he's banned from engaging in any sort of activity that could be "construed as practicing medicine or naturopathy," and must pay $5,000 in penalties, in addition to any costs incurred during the investigation.

Andrew, for his part, could not be reached at his office by the time of this posting. His attorney, John Floyd, tells Pith he decided not to contest the charges because "he wants to pursue some other interests." Floyd said he wasn't sure what those interests were.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who Killed Cletus Haegert?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2011 at 8:02 AM

Clete Haegert
  • Clete Haegert
Well, we still don't know, to put it bluntly. The shooting of Haegert, a longtime Nashville songwriter, country-music singer and producer — ever heard of Bob Frank? — in his Winchester home remains a mystery.

But for those of you who followed the story down its strange, sordid trail, it isn't without a recent bend. Clete's stepdaughters, Delora Woods and Gina Sherrer, pleaded guilty last week to aggravated criminal trespassing for breaking into Haegert's home days before he was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds. You may remember that shortly after his body was discovered by his stepson, James Harris, on Dec. 17, 2009, Woods, Sherrer, and Woods' son Robert Ingram were arrested for the break-in. The women told police they ransacked the place to find a prenuptial agreement he'd signed before he married their mother, the late Marjorie Harris Haegert. At the time, Haegert was at a Tennessee Titans game with James Harris.

A battle over his late wife's sizable estate — potentially worth up to $3 million — was brewing. Haegert's relationship with Woods and Sherrer had become acidic. So far, no one has been able to determine whether the break-in and Clete's murder are related. No charges have been filed by the district attorney, and the investigation is ongoing some 15 months later. Sherrer and Woods will be sentenced in June for the trespassing charge. Ingram, who was charged on suspicion of criminal responsibility for the break-in, will be tried this summer. The district attorney's office is not alleging that Ingram actually entered the home, but declined to elaborate further.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

At the D.C. Hearings on Islamic Extremism: "Something Is Wrong With the Muslim Leadership in Nashville"

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 10:24 AM

Rep. Peter King
  • Rep. Peter King
That's the claim leveled by the father of Carlos Bledsoe, the Memphis native and former Tennessee State University student who shot and killed one soldier and wounded another at a Little Rock, Ark., recruiting center in June 2009. Bledsoe, who, as a Muslim convert answered to Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, intended the murder as an act of jihad.

Marvin Bledsoe said in today's House Homeland Security Committee hearings on Islamic extremism that Bledsoe had been sent to a terrorist training camp in Yemen by the former imam of Al-Farooq Mosque. "What happened to Carlos at those Nashville mosques isn't normal."

Yet so far, there's been no evidence that the assertion is at all true. The prevailing theory at the FBI — and of Bledsoe's own lawyer — has been that he was radicalized in Yemen. Born and raised in the Baptist Church, he converted to Islam while attending TSU and worshiped regularly at the Islamic Center. In 2007, he decided to visit Mecca and learn Arabic. He got a job teaching English in the port city of Aden in Yemen and married a student. Some of his students, his lawyer once claimed, were Afghans who'd been maimed in the war, souring the young man on the U.S. and its military.

Much about Bledsoe's life in that country remains unknown, but just months after his wedding he was picked up for overstaying his visa. Authorities discovered he was carrying a fake Somali ID — an immediate red flag because the failed state is known as a terrorist training ground. Bledsoe was interviewed by FBI officials soon after and was deported roughly two-and-a-half months later. It was that time spent in Yemeni lock-up, however, that likely radicalized Bledsoe, the FBI believes, not some Nashville imam. Nor, as Bledsoe has claimed, was he a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. All indications so far point to a troubled young man acting on his own.

At the outset, critics have worried that the hearings held by House Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King (R-NY) would do little more than inflame hostility against Muslims — particularly at a time when nearly half of those responding to a Washington Post/ABC poll report unfavorable views of Islam. At least one committee member said today that the hearings were taking the country "down a dangerous path" — and one not without its antecedent when minorities are singled out in a climate of fear and anger.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Saturday's Cyntoia Brown Panel: Me Facing Life ... And a Couple of Oddball Questions

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 1:47 PM

Before Ellenette Washington mounted the auditorium stage at the downtown Nashville Public Library on Saturday, Pith was bracing for hostile, pointed questions during the Q&A following the Independent Lens screening of Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story (airing tomorrow night nationally and on Nashville Public Television) — the story of a 16-year-old prostitute convicted of a 2004 murder in Nashville and sentenced to life in prison. Through Dan Birman's lens, they'd just peered into the face of a girl in pigtails — Ellenette's adopted daughter — whose short, often brutal life would stand for an adult accounting in a justice system currently with no other option.

If there was any doubt about the divisive nature of the film, it was dashed when the audience had to be admonished beforehand by moderator Jonathan Martin of WSMV to keep questions respectful. Check the comments section of this week's Scene cover story, "Life Begins at Sixteen." You'll find comments ranging from hellfire and eye-for-an-eye retribution to public-safety justifications for her life-long incarceration. Yet it's a story that may raise more questions than it answers about the questionable circumstances surrounding Cyntoia's presence in the home of a 43-year-old man who was naked when police found his body.

Far from being overtly hostile, though, some of the questions were simply off-the-wall, rendering speechless the panel consisting of Washington, Vanderbilt forensic psychologist William Bernet, Cyntoia's former juvenile attorney Kathy Evans, and victim's rights advocate Jyl Shaffer. The strangest came from a woman sitting behind Pith, who launched into a rambling soliloquy on the parallels between life sentences for juveniles and pedophilia, prison rapes perpetrated by guards and the lawsuits that could subsequently be filed. This way, she assured Washington, Cyntoia could regain her freedom. Upon finishing, she promptly stood up and left the auditorium. There was something almost transcendently nonsensical about the monologue. Performance art?

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Life Begins At Sixteen: Teen Prostitute, Rape Victim, Murderer, Inmate for Life

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 10:57 AM

In August 2004, 16-year-old Cyntoia Brown was hooking on Murfreesboro Road, a runaway teen shacked up with a drug dealer and murder suspect, strung out and headed down the same path as her birth mother before her. She ended up in the home of a 43-year-old real estate agent who picked the girl up on the side of the road. Before the night was over, the real estate agent was dead. Cyntoia was arrested for the murder, tried and sentenced to life in prison.

This is a story sure to divide readers. Some will see a young woman who got exactly what she deserved. Others will see a damaged child deserving of a second chance the criminal justice system can't give her. Cyntoia Brown is the subject of this week's cover, "Life Begins at Sixteen," and a documentary called Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story by Dan Birman, who followed the girl from her juvenile transfer hearing to her trial two years later — and posed tough questions about the logic of adult punishments dealt to those who have not yet reached adulthood.

Before I'd begun researching this piece, the brutality of her crime shocked me — and it still does. After seeing Birman's film and Cyntoia's stunningly young, 16-year-old face, I was left with an emptiness in the pit of my stomach that took me days to shake. Cyntoia's story offers no easy answers, but it should, at the very least, force us to search our souls. We are the last country, aside from South Africa and Israel, that still hands down life sentences to juveniles.

If you'd like to see the documentary, head to the downtown Nashville Public Library library at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday). The film will be preceded by a reception and workshop led by filmmaker/activist Molly Secours. Afterwards, there'll be a panel discussion including Cyntoia's adoptive mother, Ellenette Washington; Vanderbilt forensic psychologist Dr. William Bernet, who worked on Cyntoia's case; victim's rights advocate Jyl Shaffer; Cyntoia's former juvenile attorney Kathy Evans; and moderator Jonathan Martin of WSMV-TV.

If you can't make it to the library this weekend, the film premieres 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 1 as part of PBS's Independent Lens series. Check it locally on NPT (Channel 8).

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Vandy Law Alum's Nonsensical Judgment on Health Reform Constitutionality

Posted By on Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 6:30 AM

So far, federal judges ruling on constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act seem to split right down partisan lines. And while these judicial opinions probably won't amount to much more than a hill of beans — because the ACA question will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court — Pith found Florida federal judge and Vanderbilt Law School alum Roger Vinson's opinion to be fascinating.

First, Vinson didn't just find the individual mandate to be a federal overreach like Virginia's Judge Henry Hudson (an investor in a firm actively seeking health-care reform repeal). Vinson wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater because of the "non-severability" of the mandate from the bill's other components. Though you won't hear cries of judicial activism from the right, that bit is clearly activist. Vinson even admits that under the "normal rule," reviewing courts generally "refrain from invalidating more than the unconstitutional part of the statute." But, of course, in this case there's a "but."

James Ely, a Vanderbilt Law School professor, called the opinion "thoughtful and compelling," adding that the mandate does indeed exceed congressional power to regulate commerce between the states.

"Thoughtful and compelling," however, this opinion is not.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Ingredient In Lethal Injection Cocktail Discontinued

Posted By on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 3:37 PM

Sodium thiopental, the barbiturate used to induce unconsciousness as the first step in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail, has been discontinued by it's Illinois manufacturer, Hospira, The Washington Post reports.

Hospira is, in fact, the only company in the United States that manufactures it. The drug maker was planning to move production of the drug to a facility in Italy, but authorities there stipulated that the company must ensure the drug would not find its way into the hands of an executioner. Concerned it might not be able to guarantee this, Hospira decided to discontinue the anesthetic altogether.

It was only days before the planned execution of Stephen West late last year that Tennessee received more of the drug from a supplier in England. The execution was ultimately called off by the state Supreme Court, where the justices continue to evaluate the three-drug cocktail method and whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Autopsies of several recently executed inmates, including Steve Henley, indicated alarmingly low amounts of sodium thiopental in their bodies. This sparked fears that the paralytic, pancuronium bromide, is nothing but a shroud concealing a waking, immobile hell as the potassium chloride stops the heart.

Hospira still manufactures the other two drugs in the cocktail, but the production halt could throw a wrench into planned executions in Tennessee and elsewhere. Shortages of the drug were seen last year in Kentucky, Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Move Over, Defense Industry, Drug Companies Are The New Fraudsters, Study Finds

Posted By on Mon, Dec 20, 2010 at 7:01 AM

In a recent cover story (Pharm League, Dec. 2, 2010) the Scene examined the relationship between a handful of Nashville doctors and the drug companies that pay them big bucks to speak on their behalf. The story sparked heated debate in the comments section online, despite a wide consensus in the ethics community and a number of studies over the years that bear out just how much influence the industry wields over doctors on their payroll.

In case there were any doubts about Big Pharma's bad intentions, the Public Citizen's Health Research Group released a study that should resound in the medical community: Drug companies have surpassed the defense industry as the biggest defrauder of the federal government. Let that marinate for a moment. Ok? Let's continue.

Among their findings: Of the nearly $20 billion in penalties paid out by drug companies over the past 20 years, nearly 75 percent of the settlements were paid out in the last five years.

Most of the infractions were for promoting off-label (non-FDA approved) uses for drugs. Recruiting doctors to push off-label uses has been a successful strategy in raising sales and market-share. It's also illegal as hell. The rest of the infractions were for overcharging the government — Big Pharma's biggest customer.

More than half of the settlements were paid out by four companies: GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Schering-Plough.

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