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Context of '1990-2000: Clinical Research Studies Being Done Increasingly by Private Firms instead of Universities'

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During this period, pharmaceutical companies begin hiring fewer and fewer universities to perform the clinical research studies for their drugs, contracting instead private research firms or conducting the studies themselves. In the early 1990s, roughly 75 percent of drug companies’ clinical research budgets went to universities. By 2000, this figure drops to only 34 percent. [New York Times, 11/22/2002]

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

A number of agricultural biotech firms secure patents on genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). GURT, more commonly known as “terminator” technology, involves genetically engineering seeds to grow into sterile plants. The motivation behind this technology is to provide a means for seed companies to protect their intellectual property rights. By making their seeds genetically sterile, seed companies can prevent farmers from saving and replanting proprietary seeds, thus forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every year. Critics say that biotech companies intend to use the technology to force their seeds on Third World farmers, most of whom engage in subsistence-level farming and plant only common seed. The seed industry sees these farmers as a huge untapped market. Seed savers number an estimated 1.4 billion farmers worldwide—100 million in Latin America, 300 million in Africa, and 1 billion in Asia—and are responsible for growing between 15 and 20 percent of the world’s food supply. [USPTO Patent Database, 3/3/1998; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998; Ecologist, 9/1998] In addition to GURT, companies are seeking to develop a similar technology, called T-GURT or genetic trait control. This technology would make plant growth or the expression of certain genes contingent on whether or not the seed or plant is exposed to certain chemicals. For example, AstraZeneca is developing a technology to produce crops that would fail to grow properly if they are not regularly exposed to the company’s chemicals. The Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) suggests that T-GURT could serve as a platform upon which certain proprietary traits could be placed. In order to turn positive traits (e.g., herbicide-resistance) on, or negative traits (e.g., sterility) off, the farmer would need to either apply proprietary chemicals to the crops as they grow or pay to have the seeds soaked in a catalyst solution prior to planting. Critics note that this technology, like terminator technology, would require that farmers pay every year to have functioning seeds. Farmers would, in effect, be leasing the seed. Companies developing GURT and T-GURT seeds include Novartis, AstraZeneca, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rhone Poulenc, and DuPont. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1/30/1999]
Critics Say: -
bullet Terminator seeds would either turn poor farmers into “bioserfs,” by requiring them to pay for their seed every year, or drive these farmers out of farming all together. Proponents counter that farmers would not be forced to buy the seed. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet If biotech seed companies were to penetrate the markets of non-industrialized countries, their seeds would replace thousands of locally grown and adapted varieties resulting in a significant loss of the world’s agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet The use of terminator technology would allow the seed industry to expand into new sectors of the seed market, like those for self-pollinating crops such as wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans, oats and sorghum, according to the Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). “Historically there has been little commercial interest in non-hybridized seeds such as wheat and rice because there was no way for seed companies to control reproduction. With the patent announcement, the world’s two most critical food crops—rice and wheat—staple crops for three-quarters of the world’s poor, potentially enter the realm of private monopoly.” The organization notes that according to FAO, wheat, the world’s most widely cultivated crop, was grown on 219 million hectares in 1995. Rice, which was cultivated on 149 million hectares that year, produced the most crop by weight at 542 million tons. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet Critics warn that terminator technology would threaten the farmers’ expertise in seed selection and traditional plant breeding. [India, 12/2/1998]
bullet Some scientists have warned that introducing terminator genes into the germplasm could result in the development of a virus that could disable all non-terminator seeds. “This is perfectly possible,” according to Dr. Owain Williams, of the Gaia Foundation. “Already bacteria have been developed for fixing nitrogen into corn roots, so why not a killer bacteria?” [Independent, 3/22/1998]
bullet Terminator technology is also likened to piracy. Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy, write: “Patenting genes the same way you patent software robs Third World farmers. While they and their ancestors developed almost all important food crops, transnational corporations can now blithely patent those crops and make mega profits without in any way compensating traditional farm communities for the original research. Genetic resources taken freely from southern countries will be returned to them later as pricey patented commodities. ‘Terminator’ technology is a way of locking this ‘bio-piracy’ into the very genes themselves.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/1/1999]
Proponents Say: -
bullet Supporters of the technology say that farmers will not be required to buy the seed and therefore will not purchase it unless they perceive some benefit from using it. Critics say that this scenario is not realistic. In a market dominated by an ever diminishing number of seed companies, selection will be limited. RAFI notes: “Current trends in seed industry consolidation, coupled with rapid declines in public sector breeding, mean that farmers are increasingly vulnerable and have far fewer options in the marketplace.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]
bullet Some proponents argue that terminator seeds would be no different than F1 hybrids, which produce lower quality seeds than their parents. [London Times, 11/4/1998]
bullet Advocates say that terminator technology will allow the industry to safely release genetically modified plants into the environment, without the risk of contaminating related crops or wild plants. [New Scientist, 2/26/2005] Critics say that alleged benefit is outweighed by the danger terminator seeds pose to food safety, farmers’ rights, and agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998]

Timeline Tags: Seeds, Food Safety

Betsy McCaughey.Betsy McCaughey. [Source: Newsday / Gawker (.com)]Elizabeth “Betsy” McCaughey (R-NY), a lawyer and future lieutenant governor of New York, writes a scathing analysis of the Clinton administration’s health care reform plan. The article, “No Exit,” is published in the New Republic, and sparks not only a detailed rebuttal from the Clinton administration, but numerous editorials and responses praising the article and joining in the attack. Echoing McCaughey’s arguments, Newsweek writes, “The plan would reduce the quantity and quality of health care and medical technologies by vastly expanding government’s coercive role.” McCaughey and Newsweek question the proposed creation of a seven-member “National Health Board” which will, she claims, “guess the nation’s health care needs and decree how much the nation may spend meeting them.” According to Newsweek: “Everyone would be locked into one system of low-budget health plans picked by the government. Fifteen presidential appointees, the National Quality Management Council, not you and your doctor, would define the ‘medically necessary’ and ‘appropriate’ care a doctor could give you. Escaping government control to choose your doctor or buy other care would be virtually impossible. Doctors could be paid only by the government-approved plans, at rates set by the government. It would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem ‘necessary.’ Government would define a minimum level of care and herd people in particular regions into dependence on the lowest-cost organization able to deliver that level. Doctors would be driven into organizations in which they would be punished financially for giving more treatment than the organizations’ budget targets permit. The primary care physician assigned to you would be, McCaughey notes, a gatekeeper with an incentive to limit your access to specialists and high-tech medicine. The premise of the Clintons’ plan is not just that government knows best, but that government knows everything relevant, including how many specialists there should be no more than 45 percent of all doctors [sic]. McCaughey says many medical students will be told that the specialties they prefer are closed, or closed to them because they are not the right race or ethnicity. Yes, the plan subordinates medical values to ‘diversity.’” Prescription drug prices would be controlled through the Department of Health and Human Services, and, McCaughey and Newsweek claim, would “certainly suppress research” that might benefit patients of incurable diseases and disorders. [Newsweek, 2/7/1994]
Refuting McCaughey - The Clinton administration details the “numerous factual inaccuracies and misleading statements” contained in McCaughey’s article. The administration’s response says that doctors and patients, not “government bureaucrats” or a board of governors, will decide what treatments are “necessary and appropriate.” The government will not decide what treatments are, and are not, provided: “If anything, the ‘necessary and appropriate’ care provision in the bill delegates authority to the medical profession—rather than imposing further government bureaucracy between the patient and the doctor.” The plan will not block Americans from opting into private health care plans just as they do now, nor will it block doctors and hospitals from accepting payments from “non-approved” health care plans. Nor does the plan require doctors and hospitals “to report your visit to a national data bank containing the medical histories of all Americans,” as McCaughey writes. And the so-called “National Health Board” will not “decide how much the nation can spend on health care beginning in 1996,” as McCaughey claims. The plan will not seek to reduce quality of care in the interest of saving money, and it does not contain price controls. [White House, 1/31/1994] A year later, author and columnist James Fallows will call the article “a triumph of misinformation,” and refutes McCaughey’s (and others’) claims point by point. [Atlantic Monthly, 1/1995]
Instrumental in Derailing Reform - The article will later be cited by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as “the first decisive breaking point” in the plan’s initial support; the plan will never be implemented. The article itself will spark tremendous controversy, winning the National Magazine Award while being attacked for being fundamentally inaccurate. (In 2006, the new editor of the New Republic, Franklin Foer, will apologize for his magazine having run the article.) In 2009 McCaughey will be a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and will soon join the equally conservative Hudson Institute. Both are heavily funded by health care corporations. [Daily Beast, 5/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Franklin Foer, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Clinton administration, James Fallows, US Department of Health and Human Services, Hudson Institute, Manhattan Institute

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Research done by Dr. Garrett FitzGerald suggests that COX-2 inhibiting drugs, like Vioxx and Celebrex, increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. FitzGerald believes that COX-2 inhibitors block the production of a substance called prostacyclin, which leads to blood vessel constriction and clotting. His research is dismissed by Merck, the maker of Vioxx. Vioxx’s only selling point is that it causes fewer gastrointestinal problems than other pain killers on the market. But according to FitzGerald, the mechanism that makes the drug gentler on the stomach is also responsible for causing the cardiovascular problems. [MSNBC, 10/6/2004] FitzGerald’s research is later published in two studies, one in 1999 and another in 2001. [Associated Press, 6/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Merck, Garrett FitzGerald

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta & Pine Land Company jointly obtain US patent 5,723,765 for a technology that would be used to make sterile seeds (see 1994 and after). The seeds, dubbed “terminator” seeds by critics, would grow into plants that would produce seeds that when replanted would literally kill themselves by producing a toxic protein. Delta & Pine Land has exclusive licensing rights, while the USDA would earn about 5 percent of the net sales of any commercial product using the technology. The USDA and Pine Land Co. have also applied for patents in at least 78 other countries. Delta & Pine Land says in its press release that the technology has “the prospect of opening significant worldwide seed markets to the sale of transgenic technology for crops in which seed currently is saved and used in subsequent plantings.” [USPTO Patent Database, 3/3/1998; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 3/30/1998; Ecologist, 9/1998]

Entity Tags: Delta & Pine Land Company, US Department of Agriculture

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Omnicom, one of the world’s largest advertising firms, pays $20 million for part-ownership of Scirex, a research firm that conducts clinical studies on drugs to determine their effectiveness and safety. Thomas L. Harrison, a top executive of the company, says he expects Scirex’s studies to provide positive results for its clients in the drug industry. “Our goal is to help ensure that all clinical studies and each patient accrued into a study can be assessed to support the NDA submission.” [New York Times, 11/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Omnicom, Scirex, Thomas L. Harrison

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (SBSTTA) rejects proposals during a meeting in Montreal to recommend a permanent moratorium on genetic use restriction technologies (GURT). GURTs are those which use genetic engineering to restrict the growth of plants in order to protect the intellectual property rights of the seed developer. The most well-known restriction technology is “terminator” technology (see 1994 and after). Another is “traitor” technology, so named because the traits of seeds and plants produced with this technology can be genetically controlled, e.g., a certain proprietary chemical may be required in order for certain genes to be expressed. The proposal to ban GURTs was made after a report by a blue-ribbon scientific panel was presented before the SBSTTA. The report had concluded that restriction technologies are a threat to agricultural biodiversity and national food security. The delegates at the meeting reportedly agreed that the study was broadly based and well done. After listening to the report, the government of Norway proposed that the SBSTTA recommend a moratorium on field trials and commercialization of the technology. India, Portugal, Kenya, Peru, and several other countries backed the proposal. The US opposed it, as did Canada—though only the US delegation attempted to defend the technology. One of the concerns expressed by supporters of the proposal was that terminator technology could be used to strong arm poorer countries into adopting or accepting certain trade policies. Countries like the US, it was suggested, could withhold seed or the chemicals needed to sustain the growth of chemically dependent plants as a sort of ransom. With the US and Canada opposed to Norway’s proposal, an alternative resolution was drafted by Britain (and then amended by Suriname). Though different than Norway’s, Britain’s proposal would have also recommended a ban on commercialization and field trials. But this was not considered agreeable either. Finally, a “contact group” was formed, which went into private discussion. The compromise that resulted from the closed-door meeting looked nothing like either of the original proposals. Under the provisions of the compromise resolution, governments would have the option of imposing a ban on field trials and commercialization. It failed to affirm the conclusions of the Blue Panel report, making no mention of GURT posing a direct threat to biodiversity or national sovereignty over genetic resources. “I don’t know what happened in that room,” Silvia Ribeiro of Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) says, “There were two reasonably strong resolutions when they went in and one very weak proposal when they came out. I think the South has been tricked.” The new proposal was then weakened even further by the efforts of Australia. Even an industry representative took a stab at weakening the proposal. “In the feeding frenzy, a representative from the seed industry became so excited that he took the floor, presumed the prerogative of a government, and proposed additional resolution text to restrict farmers’ rights to save, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed,” according to RAFI. The following day, during a plenary discussion, RAFI called attention to a little noticed provision that had been slipped into the draft by Australia as an amendment. RAFI noted that it would restrict countries’ rights to impose a moratorium on GURT by linking any moratorium to potential trade sanctions. “Shortly before the debate ended, the US delegation made an ugly and aggressive intervention that put the question to rest: The US bluntly threatened trade sanctions on countries that impose a moratorium and made clear that it was willing to use the WTO to force terminator down the world’s throat,” according to RAFI. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/25/1999; Convention on Biodiversity, 6/27/1999, pp. 23-26 pdf file; Convention on Biodiversity, 6/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/28/1999; Economic Times of India, 7/8/1999]

Entity Tags: Suriname, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, Portugal, United States, United Kingdom, Peru, Kenya, Australia, Canada, Norway, India

Timeline Tags: Seeds

According to an internal company document, Merck research chief Edward Scolnick discusses possible plans to reformulate Vioxx with the company’s in-house patent counsel. The new Vioxx would contain an anti-clotting agent to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems. The document indicates that the company’s researchers believe the current Vioxx formula inhibits the production of a substance called prostacyclin which leads to blood vessel constriction and clotting. But Merck was alerted to this problem two years before by scientist Garrett FitzGerald, who had warned the company that all Cox-2 inhibitors would likely have this effect. Merck, eager to get its drug on the market, dismissed his research (see 1998). [Associated Press, 6/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Edward Scolnick, Merck

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Ethics Panel meets in Rome to consider the ethical implications of recent advances in biotechnology. The panel is made up of world-renowned agronomists and ethicists. The focus of their discussion is on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Following the meeting, the panel prepares a report that includes a summary of its views and lists a number of recommendations. The overriding concern of the report, completed some time in 2001, is that there is an inherent conflict between the interests of the corporations developing the technology and the social issues that GMO defenders say the technology will address. The biotech industry’s primary concern is “to maximize profits,” not to address the needs of the world’s rural poor, the report says. The panel notes that the private sector receives more resources than the public sector for GMO research, and that in some cases, public resources are actually being diverted to support private sector priorities. Another problem, according to the panel, is that the adoption of GM crops could undermine farmers’ livelihoods. Noting the power and leverage enjoyed by industry, the panel’s report warns that seed companies “may gain too much control over the rights of local farmers” and create a dependency among the rural poor on imported seeds. This would especially be the case if the biotech industry were to move ahead with genetic use restriction technologies (GURT), more commonly known as terminator technology (see 1994 and after). “The Panel unanimously stated that the ‘terminator seeds’ are generally unethical, as it is deemed unacceptable to market seeds whose offspring a farmer cannot use again because the seeds do not germinate,” the report says. “GURTs are not inherent in genetic engineering. While corporations are entitled to make profits, farmers should not be forced to become dependent on the supplier for new seeds every planting season.” However the panel says it does believe there is potential for the ethical use of GURTs. According to the panel, “Where the concern is with possible outcrossing of crops, for example GMOs that could damage wild plant populations, GURTs might be justified. This may also apply elsewhere: when the primary concern is to prevent reproduction of farmed fish with wild populations, for example, then GURTs could be useful in protecting wild populations.” In conclusion, the panel stresses the need for independent, publicly-funded research on GMOs that is “directed to the needs and benefits of poor farmers, herders, foresters and fishers.” [Food and Agriculture Organization, 2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture

Timeline Tags: Seeds

An expert panel convened by the National Science Academy’s Institute of Medicine issues a report recommending a number of changes to how the FDA regulates the drug industry. The proposed changes are unanimously endorsed by the panel, comprised of 15 experts from academic and professional organizations. Some of the recommendations include:
bullet The FDA should implement a moratorium on direct consumer advertising of recently approved classes of drugs until enough aggregate data is available to confirm the drugs’ safety. Packaging for such medications should have a special symbol imprinted on them alerting consumers to the higher risk associated with new medications.
bullet The FDA should be required to reevaluate the safety and effectiveness of drugs at least once every five years after the drug has been approved. The agency’s current system for monitoring drug safety post-approval is far less effective than pre-approval testing. The report notes that there is a history of fierce disagreements between the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety and the agency’s Office of New Drugs.
bullet The FDA should be given new powers to impose fines, injunctions, and withdrawals when drug companies fail to complete the required safety studies.
bullet The agency should be given the authority to impose a wider range of restrictions on drugs it considers potentially unsafe.
bullet The government should require drug companies to register all clinical trials they sponsor in a government-run database so patients and physicians can review all studies. Currently, only those studies published in medical journals are accessible to the public, and these tend to be the studies that produce the most favorable results for the drug being tested.
bullet Expert advisory panels should not be loaded with industry-connected scientists. Most of the members making up these panels should be free of industry ties. “FDA’s credibility is its most crucial asset, and recent concerns about the independence of advisory committee members… have cast a shadow on the trustworthiness of the scientific advice received by the agency,” the report says. [Institute of Medicine, 9/22/2006; Washington Post, 9/23/2006; New York Times, 9/23/2006]

Entity Tags: US Food and Drug Administration, Institute of Medicine

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The court orders the EPA to come up with regulations governing formaldehyde emissions at wood products facilities by February 27, 2004 (see February 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

EPA staffers meet with the agency’s top pollution regulator, Jeffrey Holmstead, in his fifth-floor conference room to discuss a February 2004 deadline for creating a rule governing formaldehyde emissions at wood products plants. Holmstead, a lawyer, formerly worked at Latham & Watkins representing one of the nation’s largest plywood producers. Also present at the meeting is William Wehrum, the EPA air office’s general counsel, who had also represented timber interests as a partner of the same law firm. They meet with Timothy Hunt, a lobbyist for the American Forest & Paper Association who is an old acquaintance of Holmstead, and with Claudia M. O’Brien, the association’s lawyer. O’Brien had previously been a law partner of Holmstead’s and Wehrum’s at Latham & Watkins. During the meeting she proposes to exempt “low-risk” plywood, particleboard and other plants from strict emission controls, arguing that such facilities are often located in isolated areas where their emissions pose a relatively small risk to public health. She also contends that the expense of adding new controls to the plants, which the industry complains could cost as much as $1 billion, would make them vulnerable to foreign competition. Holmstead likes the idea and decides that the agency should push the proposal, despite opinions from EPA career attorneys that the exemption would violate the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments (see March 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Timothy Hunt, William Wehrum, Jeffrey Holmstead, Claudia M. O’Brien, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Bush administration decides to drop its plan to nominate Dr. Alastair J. J. Wood as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. An article recently posted on the conservative National Review Online’s website warned that Wood is not friendly to industry interests. “The people I know in clinical pharmacology, in the research trenches, went berserk when they heard about Wood,” wrote Robert Goldberg, a senior fellow at New York’s Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank. Goldberg said the doctor is overly obsessed with drug safety and asserts, falsely, that Wood is “a buddy of Senator Ted Kennedy.” The attack on Wood was continued in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal six days later in a piece titled “It’s Not Ted’s FDA.” Shortly after the publication of these articles, the White House calls Wood to inform him that the administration is no longer considering his nomination for commissioner, a post that has been vacant for more than a year. Republican Senator Bill Frist—the person who had recommended Wood’s nomination—tells the Boston Globe that the White House was concerned that Wood “put too much emphasis on the safety.” Wood’s track record was evidence that he might take an aggressive approach to regulating drugs. He previously called for an independent board to investigate potentially deadly drugs. The current policy is to allow the drug companies to do their own studies on adverse drug reactions and then provide these results to the FDA. Wood has also said that he believes the current FDA regulatory process has an inherent conflict of interest because the same department that approves drugs is also in charge of reviewing the safety of those drugs post-approval, a criticism that is shared by at least one FDA insider (see November 18, 2004). Furthermore, in May 2001, Wood supported making three allergy prescription drugs—Pfizer’s Zyrtec, Schering-Plough’s Claritin, and Aventis’s Allegra—available over-the-counter (OTC). The companies were opposed to the idea because OTC drugs are often sold at lower prices and are not typically covered by insurance. During a panel discussion on the issue, Wood had noted, “What we have today is an unseemly parade of people trying to protect their own financial interests.” [Boston Globe, 5/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Robert Goldberg, Bush administration (43), Alastair J. J. Wood

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The Journal of the American Dental Association publishes a study concluding that Bextra, a new drug manufactured by Pharmacia, offers relief to the acute pain patients feel after dental surgery. [Daniels et al., 2002] Just six months before, the FDA investigated the claim and found no evidence to support it. [New York Times, 11/22/2002] Bextra is only approved to treat pain caused by arthritis or painful menstrual cycles. [US Food and Drug Administration, 11/22/2002] During the three-month period following the article’s publication, Bextra sales increase by 60 percent. It is later learned that the authors of the article were not independent scientists, but rather employees of Scirex, a research company owned partially by Omnicom, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. When the New York Times asks three doctors to review the Scirex article, the doctors say its conclusions are not persuasive. “All three said that one of Scirex’s conclusions was insignificant: that one dose of Bextra worked longer than a single dose of a medicine containing oxycodone and acetaminophen, a combination often sold under the brand name Percocet. Patients rarely receive just one dose of that combination drug, the doctors said, because it wears off in four to six hours.” One of the doctors, Eric J. Topol, says the studies cited in the article make “a contrived comparison.” He notes that patients in the study had an average age of 23, which is not representative of the age group that would mostly likely use the drug. Judy Glova, a spokeswoman for Pharmacia, denies in a statement to the New York Times, that the article was an attempt to bypass the FDA regulation. And Pat Sloan of Omnicom insists the company has “nothing to do with the design of clinical studies.” [New York Times, 11/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc, Eric Topol, Omnicom, Scirex

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The National Cancer Institute publishes a study demonstrating that 25,000 workers exposed to formaldehyde had an increased risk of leukemia. The EPA will ignore the results of this study when it creates a new federal rule regulating formaldehyde emissions in February 2004 (see September 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: National Cancer Institute, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health completes a study of 10,000 workers who have been exposed to formaldehyde and find that they have an increased risk of leukemia. Though not published until March, it is posted on the institute’s website in early 2004. The EPA does not consider the results of this study when it creates a new federal rule for regulating formaldehyde emissions in February 2004 (see September 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) meets its February 27, 2004 deadline to come up with a new federal rule regulating formaldehyde emissions. Ignoring the opinion of experts, the EPA did not take into account the findings of two recent studies (see November 2003) (see Early 2004) that had found that workers who were exposed to formaldehyde were at an elevated risk of leukemia. The EPA said it did not have time to incorporate the two findings before the deadline. Though extensions for such deadlines are often given, the agency did not request one. Instead, the EPA relied on a cancer risk assessment by the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology, a private, nonprofit research organization, funded primarily by chemical companies. That assessment was about 10,000 times weaker than the level previously used by the EPA in setting standards for formaldehyde exposure. The new federal rule is modeled on a proposal that had been designed by a lobbyist for the wood products industry (see January 14, 2002). It creates a new category of “low-risk” plants, which gives the agency the authority to decide on a plant-by-plant basis which facilities pose a risk to public health. It initially exempts eight wood products plants from having to install pollution controls for formaldehyde and other emissions, but could eventually extend the exemptions to 147 or more of the 223 facilities nationwide. The exemption allows qualifying plants to legally skirt pollution-control requirements that had been mandated by a 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act requiring all large industrial plants to use “best available” technology in order to reduce emissions of 189 substances. Though backers of the new rule claim that it does not violate the amendment, the lawmakers who wrote the legislation disagree. “I don’t have any doubt but that is a way to get around the policy which we worked hard to achieve,” former Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.) will tell the Los Angeles Times in May. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) similarly says the exemption is “directly contrary to our intent.” The new rule will save the industry as much as $66 million annually for about 10 years in potential emission control costs. [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), David F. Durenberger, Environmental Protection Agency, Henry A. Waxman

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

FDA scientist David Graham has analyzed data on 1.4 million Kaiser Permanente patients who took Vioxx, Celebrex, or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSDAID) between 1999 and 2003. Based on his findings, Graham believes there have been more than 27,000 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths in the US that would not have occurred had those patients been prescribed Celebrex instead of Vioxx. [Washington Post, 10/8/2004] When the FDA reviews a summary of his study, which Graham will present in France on August 25 (see August 25, 2004), his conclusion triggers “an explosive response from the Office of New Drugs.” Graham later tells Congress, “I was pressured to change my conclusions and recommendations, and basically threatened that if I did not change them, I would not be permitted to present the paper at the conference. One Drug Safety manager recommended that I should be barred from presenting the poster at the meeting.” [US Congress, 11/18/2004 pdf file] In an August 12 e-mail, John Jenkins, director of the Office of New Drugs, suggests “watering down” the report’s conclusions because the FDA is “not contemplating” a warning against high-doses of Vioxx. In response, Graham says, “I’ve gone about as far as I can without compromising my deeply-held conclusions about this safety question.” In another e-mail, a different top official expresses concern about how the report might impact Merck. The person writes that the company should be warned beforehand “so they can be prepared for [the] extensive media attention that this will likely provoke.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/8/2004; Washington Post, 10/8/2004]

Entity Tags: John Jenkins, David Graham

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

David Graham, associate science director for the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety, presents the findings of a study on Vioxx in a poster exhibit at an international medical conference in Bordeaux, France. According to Graham’s research, thousands of Americans have died from taking the drug. In his study, he analyzed data on 1.4 million Kaiser Permanente patients that took Vioxx, Celebrex, or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSDAID) between 1999 and 2003. According to Graham’s analysis of the data, the risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart problems is 3.2 times higher for Vioxx patients than people who do not use painkillers, and twice as high for those using Celebrex. Based on these figures, Graham estimates that more than 27,000 Americans have had heart attacks or died from sudden cardiac deaths as a result of taking Vioxx instead of Celebrex. In response to Graham’s study, Merck, the maker of Vioxx, issues a statement insisting that its drug is safe. Alise Reicin, vice president of clinical research at Merck, claims that numerous studies comparing the drug to a dummy pill found “no difference in the risk of having a serious cardiovascular event.” FDA spokeswoman Laura Alvey says the FDA has no plans to ban the drug. “Removing the drug from the market is not on the table,” she says. [Associated Press, 8/26/2004] Prior to the event, FDA officials had pressured him to water down his conclusions (see Mid-August 2004).

Entity Tags: Laura Alvey, Alise Reicin, David Graham, Merck

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Merck voluntarily withdraws Vioxx from the market after a long term colon-polyp prevention study, called APPROVe, appears to show that the drug doubles the risk of heart attacks or strokes when taken for 18 months or longer. [Merck, 9/30/2004 pdf file] Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford praises Merck for “promptly reporting these finding” to the FDA. [US Food and Drug Administration, 9/30/2004] An estimated 107 million people have used Vioxx since it was approved in 1998. A paper by FDA scientist David Graham, published in the British medical journal Lancet, will later suggest that 88,000-140,000 Americans may have suffered serious coronary heart disease as a result of taking the drug. (see January 25, 2005)

Entity Tags: Lester M. Crawford

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

David Graham, associate science director for the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety, appears before the Senate Committee on Finance to testify on the agency’s ability to protect the American public from harmful drugs. Graham, a twenty-year veteran of the agency, tells the committee that “the FDA, as currently configured, is incapable of protecting America against another Vioxx. We are virtually defenseless.” Graham was an early critic of Vioxx, a painkiller that was recalled in September (see September 30, 2004) because of its link to heart problems. Graham recounts how in August (see Mid-August 2004), the FDA tried to suppress a study he led which found that “nearly 28,000 excess cases of heart attack or sudden cardiac death were caused by Vioxx.” He says the study’s findings were “extremely conservative” and that “a more realistic and likely… estimate ranges from 88,000 to 139,000 Americans” of which “30-40 percent [or 26,400-55,600] probably died.” He notes that this figure is the “rough equivalent of 500 to 900 aircraft dropping from the sky… [or] 2-4 aircraft every week, week in and week out, for the past 5 years.” [US Congress, 11/18/2004 pdf file] The remainder of Graham’s testimony focuses on problems within the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety (ODS). He makes the following points:
bullet The Office of New Drugs (ONS), which approves all new drugs, is the same division that is responsible for taking regulatory action against those drugs after they have been released on the market. This is an inherent conflict of interest, he notes, because when a problem arises, recognizing it would require the ONS to acknowledge that it had made a mistake. Instead, the office’s “immediate reaction [to a problem] is almost always one of denial, rejection, and heat.” [US Congress, 11/18/2004 pdf file]
bullet The Office of Drug Safety (ODS) is subordinate to the Office of New Drugs, and consequently the management of the former sees its mission as pleasing the latter. [US Congress, 11/18/2004 pdf file]
bullet The culture of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) “views the pharmaceutical industry it is supposed to regulate as its client, over-values the benefits of the drugs it approves and seriously under-values, disregards, and disrespects drug safety.” [US Congress, 11/18/2004 pdf file]
bullet The Office of New Drugs refuses to take regulatory action on any drug unless it can be shown with 95 percent or greater certainty that it is unsafe. However “to demonstrate a safety problem with 95 percent certainty, extremely large studies are often needed… [and] those large studies cannot be done.” Graham suggests the 95 percent rule makes as much sense as a person with a 100-chamber pistol loaded with 90 bullets saying that the gun is safe. “Because there is only a 90 percent chance that a bullet will fire when I pull the trigger, CDER would conclude that the gun is not loaded and that the drug is safe.” [US Congress, 11/18/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: David Graham

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The British medical journal Lancet publishes a paper by FDA scientist David Graham suggesting that tens of thousands of Americans probably died from taking Vioxx, a painkiller that was recalled in September (see September 30, 2004). His study looked at data on 1.4 million Kaiser Permanente patients that took Vioxx, Celebrex, or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSDAID) between 1999 and 2003. The data showed that the risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart problems was 1.6 times higher for patients taking standard-dose Vioxx compared with those using Celebrex. The risk was 3.6 times higher for those on high doses. Graham notes that Vioxx’s potential impact on the patient population was likely severe. Using the risk factors from Merck-sponsored randomized clinical trials, and extrapolating these to the estimated 106.7 million Vioxx patients, Graham says that the drug may have caused cardiovascular problems for 88,000-140,000 Americans. It is estimated that 44 percent of acute myocardial infarction’s are fatal. [Graham et al., 2005 pdf file; London Times, 1/25/2005] In November, Graham told Congress that senior managers at the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety had delayed giving Graham permission to publish this study, even after it had been accepted by Lancet. [US Congress, 11/18/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: David Graham

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

An expert panel convened by the US Food and Drug Administration unanimously agrees that Celebrex, Bextra, and Vioxx “significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular events” such as heart attacks. However the panel does not believe that the risk is so great that these drugs should be banned from the market. (Vioxx was withdrawn from the market voluntarily by its manufacturer in September (see September 30, 2004).) The sales of these drugs should be permitted to continue, but only under strict conditions, the panel says. It also recommends a prohibition on direct marketing to consumers, a patient’s guide for the drug, and a black box warning—the most severe possible—detailing the drug’s cardiovascular side effects. [CNN, 2/18/2005; Washington Times, 2/19/2005] After the vote, the New York Times reveals that 10 of the panel’s 32 members had at one time been paid-consultants to the makers of the drugs in question. In analyzing the votes, the Times discovers that neither Bextra nor Vioxx would have survived the vote if the scientists with connections to the company had not voted. For both Bextra and Vioxx, the industry-connected panelists voted 9 to 1 in favor, while the experts with no ties voted 14 to 8 and 17 to 15 to ban Bextra and Vioxx, respectively. The Times notes in its article that “these votes were deeply important” for the makers of those drugs. After the votes, the shares of Merck and Pfizer increase substantially. In e-mails to the Times, eight of the panelists, responding to questions from the newspaper, say their votes were not influenced by their ties to the companies. Two of the panelists do not respond. One of the panel members, Dr. John Farrar, who has received research support from Pfizer, says, “I think FDA would have a hard time finding people who are good at what they do who never spoke to a pharmaceutical company.” But another panel member, Dr. Curt Furberg, who has no ties, says he was “uncomfortable with the Pfizer-friendly undertone” at the meeting and he felt the industry ties might have contributed to that tone. Furberg adds that it has never been proven that Celebrex, Bextra, or Vioxx offer better pain relief than ibuprofen or more than a dozen other over-the-counter drugs. Daniel E. Troy, the FDA’s former chief counsel and a longtime advocate of drug-maker interests, plays down the importance of the ties, saying that any suggestion that experts’ votes were influenced by industry connections “buys into an overly conspiratorial view of the world.” [New York Times, 2/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Daniel E. Troy, John Farrar, Curt Furberg, US Food and Drug Administration

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Dr. Susan Molchan testifies before Congress.Dr. Susan Molchan testifies before Congress. [Source: CBS News]Dr. Susan Molchan, a former clinical researcher for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), testifies before Congress that her supervisor at NIH made a secret deal with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer that involved human tissue samples supposedly collected for the public good, but were instead used for Pfizer’s own research and garnered the company millions in profit. [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Molchan testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations [The Scientist, 6/14/2006] that a collection of unused spinal fluid samples, which CBS News describes as a "a treasure trove of biological material, many painfully given up by Alzheimer’s patients" disappeared without a trace from her laboratory freezer at NIH. The samples were slated to be used for NIH studies on Alzheimer’s disease. Molchan says she was told that some of the samples were lost due to freezer malfunctions, but, "nothing solid, nothing that made sense. I never got a handle on what happened to them." [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Procuring the tissue samples alone cost the government $6.4 million, say committee staffers, who spent a year investigating the matter. "It would really be a shame if we find out that the National Institutes of Health has more control over its paper clips and trash cans than it has over its human tissue samples," says committee member Joe Barton (R-TX). [The Scientist, 6/14/2006] Molchan’s testimony, and other data gathered by Congressional investigators, prove that Molchan’s immediate supervisor, Dr. Trey Sunderland, a well-known psychiatric researcher, cut a secret deal with Pfizer at the same time Pfizer was launching and refining a new Alzheimer’s drug. "If individual scientists are making use of that tissue for their own personal gain, that’s something we need to know about it. It’s not the right thing," says House Energy subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY). Sunderland provided Pfizer "access" to 3,200 tubes of spinal fluid, costing the NIH and, as a result, taxpayers, an estimated $6 million. In exchange, Sunderland reportedly received $285,000 in personal compensation. Pfizer’s drug Aricept is now the top-selling drug in the world for treating Alzheimer’s, generating $1.6 billion in sales in 2004. "The more tissue samples you can collect these days and extract genetic information about risk and benefit, that’s the future of drug development around the world," says Dr. Art Caplan, a bio-ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. The House committee finds that Pfizer itself broke no NIH rules or knew of any wrongdoing by Sunderland, who does not testify before Congress, instead invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Sunderland himself received more than $600,000 in outside consulting and speaking fees from Pfizer from 1998 to 2004 without prior government disclosure or approval. A review by NIH’s Office of Management Assessment found that Sunderland "engaged in serious misconduct, in violation of HHS ethics rules and Federal law and regulation," the report stated. In December 2006, Sunderland will accept a plea bargain in regards to his accepting payments from Pfizer (see December 11, 2006). [The Scientist, 6/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Susan Molcher, Pfizer, Joe Barton, Pearson (“Trey”) Sunderland III, Art Capland, Ed Whitfield, United States National Institutes of Health

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Dr. Pearson “Trey” Sunderland.Dr. Pearson “Trey” Sunderland. [Source: CreativityFound (.org)]Dr. Pearson “Trey” Sunderland III, a National Institute of Health (NIH) senior researcher on Alzheimer’s disease, pleads guilty to a federal charge that he committed a criminal conflict of interest. The charges stem from Sunderland’s contract with the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer as a paid consultant for work that overlapped his duties as a public servant. Sunderland is the first official in 14 years to be prosecuted for conflict of interest at NIH, an agency rocked in recent years by revelations of widespread financial ties to the drug industry. According to the original court filing, in early 1998, “Sunderland initiated negotiations with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, to be paid as a consultant for his work on the same project” that he headed for NIH, a research project into Alzheimer’s disease. In June 2006, Sunderland was revealed to have engaged in a secret contract with Pfizer to supply thousands of samples of spinal fluid collected from Alzheimer’s patients at taxpayer expense and slated to be used in NIH research. Sunderland turned those samples over to Pfizer, which in turn used them to refine and market its drug Aricept, a leading prescription drug for treating the disease (see June 14, 2006). According to the original charging document filed with the court, in 1998 Sunderland approached Pfizer with a proposal that he be paid $25,000 a year for “consulting” with the firm, plus $2,500 every time he attended a one-day meeting with company representatives. Pfizer agreed. Later that same year, Sunderland set up another deal with Pfizer to be paid another $25,000 a year, according to prosecutors. The House Energy and Commerce Committee received little cooperation from NIH—Sunderland himself invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to testify before the committee in June 2006—but subpoeaned 21 drug manufacturers known to have paid NIH researchers. Sunderland’s history of payments from Pfizer, which he did not reveal to the NIH as required by law, were some of those discovered. After that information was revealed in 2004, NIH director Elias Zerhouni requested that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the matter. Government researchers found that 44 researchers, including Sunderland, had off-the-books relationships with drug and biotech companies; many of those researchers were reprimanded and/or took early retirement. At the time of Sunderland’s contracts with Pfizer, NIH restrictions against public-private collaborations were far more lax than they are today. [Associated Press, 12/4/2006; Associated Press, 12/5/2006; Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2006; Washington Post, 12/5/2006]
'Public Trust Has Been Violated' - Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) asks, “Will a criminal conviction for conflict of interest be enough to get someone fired from NIH?” Bart Stupak (D-MI) adds, “If the National Institutes of Health and Commissioned Corps fail to discipline Dr. Sunderland, even after criminal charges have been brought, we can only conclude that no one is being held accountable, the system is broken, and the public trust has been violated.” [Associated Press, 12/5/2006; Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2006] Committee member Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) says: “I found this story incredibly distressing because it is so important that people have confidence in the NIH. It is a pretty big move for people to donate human tissue to further scientific discovery. People have to have confidence that that decision… is treated with the utmost respect.” [Washington Post, 12/5/2006]
Guilty Plea Avoids Jail Time - Sunderland pleads guilty to the charge under a plea agreement in which he admits to taking some $285,000 in “unauthorized” consulting fees from Pfizer as well as $15,000 in travel expense payments between 1998 and 2003. During the same period, he provided Pfizer with spinal-tap samples collected from hundreds of patients as part of a research collaboration approved by the NIH. He agrees to pay the government $300,000, perform 400 hours of community service, and serve two years’ probation. Sunderland faced up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, but avoided those penalties through his plea agreement. After the hearing, US Attorney Rod Rosenstein tells reporters that Sunderland’s actions constitute a breach of the public trust. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2006; Washington Post, 12/5/2006] According to NIH spokesman Don Ralbovsky, Sunderland remains an employee, working as a “special assistant and senior adviser” in a division that gives out grants; Rabolvsky refuses to comment on whether Sunderland faces termination procedures. The branch of NIH that Sunderland once headed, the Geriatric Psychiatry Branch, no longer exists, according to Ralbovsky. [Washington Post, 12/5/2006] One media report says Sunderland is planning to retire. [Associated Press, 12/4/2006] Sunderland will later become a doctor and director of the Alzheimer Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. [Lundbeck Institute, 12/11/2008]
Pfizer Denies Wrongdoing - For its part, Pfizer maintains that it broke no laws and breached no ethics, saying in a statement: “We believe our actions complied with applicable laws and ethical standards. We are not aware of any allegation that we violated any law or regulation.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2006; Washington Post, 12/5/2006; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Pfizer, Pearson (“Trey”) Sunderland III, Rod Rosenstein, John Dingell, Bart Stupak, Don Ralbovsky, Elias Zerhouni, United States National Institutes of Health, Tammy Baldwin

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

In a 93-1 vote, the US Senate passes the Food and Drug Administration Improvement Act of 2007 (H.R.2273), which grants the FDA broad new authority to monitor the safety of drugs after they are approved. It was based in part on the recommendations of a 2001 report by the Institute of Medicine (see September 22, 2001). The institute had been asked by the FDA to examine drug safety after it was revealed that the FDA and drugmaker Merck had permitted the drug Vioxx to stay on the market despite numerous indications that it increased patients’ risk of a heart attack. But the bill that is passed is much weaker than the original version, and ignores some of the institute’s most critical recommendations. A USA Today investigation will find that industry-friendly changes made to the bill were instigated by senators “who raised millions of dollars in campaign donations from pharmaceutical interests.” For example, 49 senators successfully defeated an effort that would have allowed US consumers to import lower-cost drugs from Canada and other industrialized countries. The senators who opposed the provision “received about $5 million from industry executives and political action committees since 2001—nearly three quarters of the industry donations to current members of the Senate,” USA Today found. Another factor contributing to the amendment’s failure was that President Bush said he would veto the bill if it permitted the imports. Also excised from the bill was language that would have give the FDA the authority to ban advertising of high-risk drugs for two years. This was one of the Institute of Medicine’s key recommendations. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan) argued that the change would restrict free speech. Drug interests have given Roberts $18,000 so far this year, and $66,000 since 2001. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) was responsible for a change that reduced the agency’s power to require post-market safety studies. He insisted on limiting this authority so that the FDA could only target drugs when there’s evidence of harm. Gregg has received $168,500 from drug industry interests since 2001. The bill’s main sponsors—senators Edward Kennedy, (D-Mass) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo)—agreed to water down a proposal that would have required all clinical drug studies be made public after meeting with industry officials. The senators agreed to change the language so that only studies submitted to the FDA would be available. Enzi and Kennedy have received $174,000 and $78,000, respectively, from drug interests since 2001. Amendments aimed at reducing industry conflicts of interest on FDA expert advisory panels were also stripped from the bill. One of those amendments would have made it more difficult for scientists to advise the FDA on drug approval applications from a company the scientist had received money from. Another would have required that FDA panels consist of no more than one member with financial ties to the drug industry. The Senate also rejected an amendment to establish an independent FDA office to monitor the safety of drugs after they are released on the market. The office that currently has this authority is the same one that approves new drugs, an arrangement that lawmakers and at least one FDA scientist (see November 18, 2004) believe is a conflict of interest. [WebMD Medical News, 5/9/2007; US Congress, 5/10/2007; USA Today, 5/14/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Judd Gregg, Mike Enzi, US Food and Drug Administration, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Moderate Republican House member Mike Castle (R-DE) faces a raucous band of angry conservative protesters at one of his “health care listening tour” meetings. Castle, who is one of eight Republicans to join the Democratic majority in voting for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is challenged by a full range of accusations and conspiracy theories, some ranging far afield from health care reform and energy policy.
'Socialized Medicine' Worse than 9/11 - Some audience members accuse Castle of supporting “socialized medicine.” One member shouts, “I don’t have the answers for how to fix the broken pieces of our health care system, but I know darn well if we let the government bring in socialized medicine, it will destroy this thing faster than the twin towers came down.”
'Cap and Trade' Tax Will Destroy Economy - One audience member shouts that the proposed “cap and trade” tax on pollutants will destroy the US economy. “Do you have any idea what that cap and trade tax thing, bill that you passed is going to do to the Suffolk County poultry industry?” the member says. “That’s how chicken houses are heated, with propane. It outputs CO2. I mean, I’m outputting CO2 right now as I speak. Trees need CO2 to make oxygen! You can’t tax that!”
Global Warming a 'Hoax' - Many audience members respond with cheers and chants to expressions that global warming is a hoax. “I’m actually hopeful that this vote that you made was a vote to put you out of office,” one says to a barrage of applause and cheers. “You know, on this energy thing, I showed you, I had in my email to you numerous times there are petitions signed by 31,000 scientists that that know and have facts that CO2 emissions have nothing to do and the greenhouse effect has nothing to do with global warming. It’s all a hoax! [Applause.] First of all, I cannot for the life of me understand how you could have been one of the eight Republican traitors!” Another audience member says that global warming is “still a theory, so is Darwin’s theory of evolution! And yet we have the audacity to say global warming is accurate, it’s more than a theory? How about how cold it’s been this spring. Personal data, data shows that since 1998 average temperatures have been cooling!”
'Dead Baby Juice' Used to Create AIDS, Swine Flu - Some audience members believe that AIDS and the H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic are part of a conspiracy to kill Americans, using “dead baby juice.” “The virus was built and created in Fort Dix, a small bioweapons plant outside of Fort Dix,” one audience member asserts. “This was engineered. This thing didn’t just crop up in a cave or a swine farm. This thing was engineered, the virus. Pasteur International, one of the big vaccine companies in Chicago, has been caught sending AIDS-infected vaccines to Africa. Do you think I trust—I don’t trust you with anything. You think I’m going to trust you to put a needle full of dead baby juice and monkey kidneys? Cause that’s what this stuff is grown on, dead babies!”
Obama a Kenyan - One audience members wins a round of applause by asserting that President Obama is not an American citizen. “Congressman Castle, I want to know,” she shouts. “I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America saying I’m an American citizen, with a seal on it. Signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator’s name, my parents, the date of birth, the time, the date. I want to go back to January 20th and I want to know why are you people ignoring his birth certificate? He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya!”
Protests Organized by Conservative Lobbying Organizations - According to liberal news and advocacy site Think Progress, Castle and other moderate Republicans are facing orchestrated attacks on their energy and health care policies by conservative lobbying firms and right-wing talk show hosts. Lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009) have tarred Castle and other moderate Republicans as “cap and traitors,” joined by members of Fox News host Glenn Beck’s “9-12” organization (see March 13, 2009 and After) and exhorted by pronouncements from Beck, fellow talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the Web site Prison Planet, and others. [Think Progress, 7/21/2009]

Entity Tags: 9/12 Project, American Clean Energy and Security Act, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Castle, Pasteur International, Prison Planet (.com), Americans for Prosperity

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

A Syracuse “town hall” meeting hosted by Democratic House member Dan Maffei (D-NY) turns ugly after police are forced to intervene to restore order. During the meeting, held at Lincoln Middle School and focusing on health care reform, conservative anti-reform protesters cause disruption with shouts, curses, and screams that repeatedly drown out both Maffei’s remarks and the questions and comments from the audience, which numbers around 400. Many of the protesters are members of one or another “tea party” groups (see April 8, 2009), which have long opposed the policies of the Obama administration. The worst of the attempts to shout down discussion comes when Maffei or audience members bring up the idea of the “public option,” the idea of a government-run alternative health care plan similar to Medicare or Medicaid. Some pro-reform audience members bicker with the anti-reformists, adding to the cacophany. Maffei will later say he believes many of the loudest and most discourteous anti-reform protesters were not from the district, but had been brought in by special interest groups (see July 23, 2009 and August 4, 2009). “Many of them are not even from the Congressional district,” Maffei says. “But we’re not going to check driver’s licenses and ask people if they live in the district. It’s very, very unfortunate.” After the meeting, Maffei says he is considering other formats for such meetings; he says any such format should allow everyone to speak and discuss ideas in a respectful fashion. “This has been a problem going on a little bit with our public meetings,” he says. “It just makes me think we can do a better job with the format.” [Syracuse Post-Standard, 7/12/2009; TPMDC, 8/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Dan Maffei

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Wendell Potter (r) being interviewed by Bill Moyers (l).Wendell Potter (r) being interviewed by Bill Moyers (l). [Source: PR Watch (.org)]Former health care executive Wendell Potter, who left the insurance giant Cigna after fifteen years, appears on “Bill Moyers’ Journal.” He was formerly the head of corporate communications before he resigned his position, a post he calls “the ultimate PR job.” He says he was not forced to leave the company, and was extremely well compensated for his duties. He left after realizing that the health care industry is using underhanded and hurtful tactics to undermine the drive towards health care reform. He never went to his bosses with his observations because, he says, “for most of the time I was there, I felt that what we were doing was the right thing. And that I was playing on a team that was honorable. I just didn’t really get it all that much until toward the end of my tenure at Cigna.”
Health Care Expo Changed His Perceptions - In June 2007, Potter recalls, his perceptions were drastically changed by his visit to a health care exposition in Wise, Virginia (see June 2007).
Changing Plans - The industry shifted from selling primarily managed care plans, he says, to what they call “consumer-driven plans.” Despite the name, they are health care plans with high deductibles and limited coverage.
'Highlight Horror Stories' - Moyers shows Potter a copy of an “action plan” devised by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s trade association. In large gold letters, the plan tells lobbyists and industry representatives to “Highlight horror stories of government-run systems.” Potter says that AHIP and other industry representatives try to paint government-run health care as socialism, and as inevitable failures. “The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them,” he says, “that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.” Moyers also notes that the AHIP plan targets the film Sicko, a 2007 documentary by leftist filmmaker Michael Moore that portrayed America’s health care industry in a dismal light. AHIP’s action plan is to “Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats’ larger agenda.” Potter says that was an effort to discredit the film by using lobbyists and AHIP staffers “to go onto Capitol Hill and say, ‘Look, you don’t want to believe this movie. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you.’” If they did, AHIP would retaliate by running negative ads against the lawmakers in their home districts or other electoral punishments. AHIP focused strongly on the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. Another tactic, as delineated in the memo: “Message to Democratic insiders. Embracing Moore is one-way ticket back to minority party status.” Moyers says that AHIP attempted to “radicalize” Moore and portray him as an extremist who could not be believed. Many politicians used AHIP talking points in discussing Moore and his film. “So your plan worked,” Moyers observes. Potter agrees: “It worked beautifully.” The lesson that was lost from Moore’s film, Potter says, was that Americans “shouldn’t fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it’s been proven in the countries that were in that movie.”
Conservative Counter-Strategy - Moyers then displays a memo from Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who in the spring of 2009 wrote a strategy memo for health care reform opponents. The memo reads in part: “First, you have to pretend to support it. Then use phrases like, ‘government takeover,’ ‘delayed care is denied care,’ ‘consequences of rationing,’ ‘bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine.’” He then shows film clips of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and others using Luntz’s talking points in discussions on the floors of Congress. Potter says that many conservatives—Democrats as well as Republicans—“are ideologically aligned with the industry. They want to believe that the free market system can and should work in this country, like it does in other industries. So they don’t understand from an insider’s perspective like I have, what that actually means, and the consequences of that to Americans. They parrot those comments, without really realizing what the real situation is.” He notes that Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), who grew up very near Potter’s childhood home in Chattanooga, told reporters that half of America’s uninsured don’t want health care, they would rather “go naked and just take the chance of getting sick. They end up in the emergency room costing you and me a whole lot more money.” Potter notes that the word “naked” is an industry term for people who choose not to buy health insurance. He calls Wamp’s comment “ridiculous” and “an example of a member of Congress buying what the insurance industry is peddling.” Moyers cites conservative Democrat Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as another politician central to the health care reform process who is heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists—two of whom used to work on his own Senate staff. Potter says: “[I]t does offend me, that the vested special interests, who are so profitable and so powerful, are able to influence public policy in the way that they have, and the way that they’ve done over the years. And the insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies.”
Fierce Opposition to Public Option - The “public option,” the idea that the government would extend a non-profit, government-run health care alternative for citizens, is fiercely opposed by the health care industry. Potter says the reason why is “[t]he industry doesn’t want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don’t want any more competition period. They certainly don’t want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate.” Government programs such as Medicare and the Veterans Administration’s medical providers are far more efficient than private, for-profit health care providers, and the industry fears that having to compete with such a program will slash their profits. Medical companies will do whatever it takes to keep their profit margins—and shareholder returns—above a certain threshold. They will deny more claims, kick more people off their rolls, purge employer accounts, whatever it takes. Potter, evidently bemused, says, “You know, I’ve been around a long time. And I have to say, I just don’t get this. I just don’t understand how the corporations can oppose a plan that gives the unhealthy people a chance to be covered. And they don’t want to do it themselves.… I’m a capitalist as well. I think it’s a wonderful thing that companies can make a profit. But when you do it in such a way that you are creating a situation in which these companies are adding to the number of people who are uninsured and creating a problem of the underinsured then that’s when we have a problem with it, or at least I do.” A public option would help “keep [health care corporations] honest,” he says, and they would inevitably lose profits.
Predictions - Right now the industry is primarily involved in what Potter calls a “charm offensive,” where it is attempting to give the perception that it, too, is for health care reform. But once Congress begins putting out specific legislative language, the industry and its flacks will begin attacking specific provisions. Moyers says the upshot is for the industry to either “kill reform” or prevent lawmakers from agreeing on a bill, just like what happened in 1993-94 under the Clinton administration. No matter what they say—favoring the elimination of pre-existing condition restrictions, for example—the industry will adamantly oppose reform of any kind. “They don’t want a public plan,” Potter says. “They want all the uninsured to have to be enrolled in a private insurance plan. They want—they see those 50 million people as potentially 50 million new customers. So they’re in favor of that. They see this as a way to essentially lock them into the system, and ensure their profitability in the future. The strategy is as it was in 1993 and ‘94, to conduct this charm offensive on the surface. But behind the scenes, to use front groups and third-party advocates and ideological allies. And those on Capitol Hill who are aligned with them, philosophically, to do the dirty work. To demean and scare people about a government-run plan, try to make people not even remember that Medicare, their Medicare program, is a government-run plan that has operated a lot more efficiently.… [T]hey want to scare you into thinking that through the anecdotes they tell you, that any government-run system, particularly those in Canada, and UK, and France that the people are very unhappy. And that these people will have to wait in long lines to get care, or wait a long time to get care. I’d like to take them down to Wise County. I’d like the president to come down to Wise County, and see some real lines of Americans, standing in line to get their care. [PBS, 7/10/2009]

Entity Tags: John Boehner, Frank Luntz, Cigna, Bill Moyers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Zach Wamp, Wendell Potter, US Veterans Administration, Senate Finance Committee, Michael Moore, Medicare, Max Baucus, Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Anti-health care reform protesters displays sign with swastika prominently featured.Anti-health care reform protesters displays sign with swastika prominently featured. [Source: Paul Rhea]The Democratic National Committee and several national and local unions stage a rally in Austin, Texas, to support the White House’s health care reform proposals. Anti-health care protesters also appear, one of whom carries a sign with a Nazi symbol prominently displayed. The sign warns that anti-reform advocates want “no repeats” of Nazi Germany, apparently in reference to the reform proposals. [TX 912 Candidates, 8/5/2009; Philip Martin, 8/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Democratic National Committee

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

The conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009), in conjunction with the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition, organizes a large protest at a town hall meeting organized by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Michelle Sherrod, a McCaskill aide, intends to discuss the senator’s opinion on the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals with the protesters, but AFP volunteers and associated protesters have a different agenda. The AFP Web alert says, “We hope we can have a vigorous yet courteous exchange Monday evening,” but according to liberal blog OpenLeft, whose contributors videotape part of the proceedings for YouTube, the conservative protesters—numbering somewhere around 1,000—are disruptive, often preventing Sherrod and other citizens from asking or answering questions. AFP later calls the protest a “smashing success.” The Fox News blog, Fox Nation, celebrates the protest with the headline, “Tea Party Protest Erupts During Senator’s Town Hall!” [Americans for Prosperity, 7/24/2009; Open Left, 7/27/2009; St. Louis Business Journal, 7/27/2009; Americans for Prosperity, 7/28/2009; Fox Nation, 7/29/2009]

Entity Tags: St. Louis Tea Party Coalition, Claire McCaskill, Americans for Prosperity, Michelle Sherrod, Fox News, OpenLeft

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

The Internet news site Politico reports on the quickly escalating confrontations occurring at “town hall” meetings held around the country, featuring conservative protesters agitating against the White House’s health care reform proposals (see Late July, 2009). Reporter Alex Isenstadt writes: “Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety—welcome to the new town hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.” The meetings, held by Democratic House members attempting to discuss the health care proposals with their constituents, have quickly devolved into confrontational events disrupted by shouting, cursing protesters waving signs and shouting down speakers, often before they can begin speaking.
Other Methods to Discuss Issue with Constituents - After one such meeting (see June 22, 2009), House member Tim Bishop (D-NY) says he will not hold more town halls until late August. “I had felt they would be pointless,” he says. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.” He adds: “I have no problem with someone disagreeing with positions I hold. But I also believe no one is served if you can’t talk through differences.” Other Democrats such as Bruce Braley (D-IA), Allen Boyd (D-FL), and Thomas Perriello (D-VA) have experienced similar incidents at their own town hall meetings. Isenstadt characterizes the meetings as plagued by “boiling anger and rising incivility.” Braley explains the heated protests by saying, “I think it’s just the fact that we are dealing with some of the most important public policy issues in a generation.” Bishop notes: “I think in general what is going on is we are tackling issues that have been ignored for a long time, and I think that is disruptive to a lot of people. We are trying, one by one, to deal with a set of issues that can’t be ignored, and I think that’s unsettling to a lot of people.” Dan Maffei (D-NY), whose July 12 meeting at a Syracuse middle school was disrupted, says he is considering other options to avoid the confrontations. “I think you’ve got to communicate through a variety of different ways,” he says. “You should do the telephone town hall meetings. You should do the town hall meetings. You should do the smaller group meetings. It’s important to do things in a variety of ways, so you don’t have one mode of communication. You’re going to have people of varying views, and in this case, you’ve got the two extremes who were the most vocal.” Russ Carnahan (D-MO) says he enjoys the town hall meetings, and will not let disruptions stop him from holding them. Perriello agrees. “I enjoy it, and people have a chance to speak their mind,” he says.
Countering the Protesters - Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has planned countermethods for the spate of meetings to be held during the August recess. According to sources familiar with the meetings Van Hollen has held, Van Hollen advised his fellow Democrats to “Go on offense. Stay on the offense. It’s really important that your constituents hear directly from you. You shouldn’t let a day go by [that] your constituents don’t hear from you.”
Continuing the Protests - Van Hollen’s Republican counterpart, Pete Sessions (R-TX), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), says the protests will continue. “We’ve seen Russ Carnahan, we’ve seen Tim Bishop, we’ve seen some other people face some very different crowds back home,” he says. “The days of you having a town hall meeting where maybe 15 or 20 of your friends show up—they’re over. You’ve now got real people who are showing up—and that’s going to be a factor.” Asked if the Republicans would use the confrontations against Democrats, Sessions says, “Wait till next year.”
Possible Backlash? - Democrats warn that Republicans will likely face a backlash in public opinion if the public perceives the party as being too closly aligned with tea party activists or other radical-right protesters. Former DCCC political director Brian Smoot says: “It’s a risk that they align themselves with such a small minority in the party. They risk alienating moderates.” [Politico, 7/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Dan Maffei, Brian Smoot, Allen Boyd, Alex Isenstadt, Chris Van Hollen, Tim Bishop, Russ Carnahan, Bruce Braley, Obama administration, Pete Sessions, National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Politico, Thomas Perriello

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Anti-reform protesters carry signs depicting Doggett with ‘devil horns’ and a sign featuring Nazi SS lettering.Anti-reform protesters carry signs depicting Doggett with ‘devil horns’ and a sign featuring Nazi SS lettering. [Source: Raw Story]Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) receives a hostile reception in a town hall meeting in an Austin grocery store. The meeting is to discuss the controversial Democratic health care reform proposal. The crowd is much larger than some had anticipated, and apparently packed with anti-health care reform protesters; anti-reform and anti-Obama signs are prominently displayed, including signs that read, “No Socialized Health Care.” Protesters also wave signs with Doggett depicted with devil horns, of a marble tombstone with Doggett’s name on it, and with slogans alleging Democrats are Nazis. When Doggett tells the crowd that he will support the reform plan even if his constituents oppose it, many in the crowd begin chanting “Just say no!” and, according to news reports, “overwhelm… the congressman as he move[s] through the crowd and into the parking lot.” One resident says of the meeting: “The folks there thought their voices weren’t being heard. They were angry, but they were respectful. There wasn’t any violence.” Another says, laughing: “He jumped in [his car] and fled. It was like he was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. It was a beautiful thing.” Doggett later notes that because of the disruption, he is unable to engage in discussion with constituents who have other issues, including a father who wants his help in getting his son into a military academy. [Austin American-Statesman, 8/3/2009; New York Times, 8/3/2009; Atlantic Monthly, 8/4/2009]
Congressman: Protesters a 'Mob' - Doggett will later characterize the anti-reform protesters as a “mob.” In a statement, he says: “This mob, sent by the local Republican and Libertarian parties, did not come just to be heard, but to deny others the right to be heard. And this appears to be part of a coordinated, nationwide effort. What could be more appropriate for the ‘party of no’ than having its stalwarts drowning out the voices of their neighbors by screaming ‘just say no!‘… Their fanatical insistence on repealing Social Security and Medicare is not just about halting health care reform but rolling back 75 years of progress. I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care. An effective public plan is essential to achieve that goal.” [Politico, 8/3/2009; CBS News, 8/3/2009]
Coordinated by Local Republicans, Washington Lobbyist Firm, 'Tea Party' Group - The protest is coordinated by Heather Liggett, a local Republican Party operative, and by officials with the lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which has organized numerous anti-tax “tea party” demonstrations (see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009). Liggett confirms she is part of a national network of conservative organizers putting together anti-reform protests. Doggett says: “This is not a grassroots effort. This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to my event.” Of the event itself, he says: “In Texas, not only with the weather but with the politics, it is pretty hardball around here. I have a pretty thick skin about all of this. But this really goes over the line.” And Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), adds: “Conservative activists don’t want to have a conversation. They want to disrupt.” [New York Times, 8/3/2009] Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse says, “The right-wing extremists’ use of things like devil horns on pictures of our elected officials, hanging members of Congress in effigy, breathlessly questioning the president’s citizenship, and the use of Nazi SS symbols and the like just shows how outside of the mainstream the Republican Party and their allies are.” Another group with connections to the “tea party” movement, “Operation Embarrass Your Congressman,” helped organize the protest. It says on its Web site: “These arrogant, ignorant, and insolent [Congress members] have embarrassed America, trampled the Constitution, and ignored their constituents for far too long. Attend their townhall meetings during recess and press them with intelligent questions (unlike the mainstream media), asked in an intelligent manner to see if they are really in touch and on board with ‘the will of the people.’” [CBS News, 8/3/2009] After the meeting, FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying organization that actively promotes disruptive behavior at Congressional town halls (see April 14, 2009), posts video from the meeting, and exhorts its members, “If you know of a town hall meeting your Congressman is having, be sure to show up, bring some friends, and them know what you think.” [FreedomWorks, 8/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Lloyd Doggett, Heather Liggett, Brad Woodhouse, FreedomWorks, Jennifer Crider, Operation Embarrass Your Congressman, Americans for Prosperity

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

Fox News covers the Sebelius/Specter town hall meeting.Fox News covers the Sebelius/Specter town hall meeting. [Source: Eyeblast (.org)]Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) hold a meeting at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to discuss the White House’s health care reform proposals. A large and vocal crowd of anti-reform protesters attempts to shout over, or shout down, both Sebelius and Specter during the event. Over 400 people attend the meeting, and many “cheered, jeered, and booed” the two, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sebelius’s response to the crowd: “I’m happy to see democracy is at work.” The Inquirer reports, “Sebelius and Specter managed, barely, to impose a tenuous civility on the hour-long meeting titled ‘Health Insurance Reform—What’s in it for You.’” At one point, the booing and screaming become so pervasive that Sebelius informs the crowd, “We can shout at one another, or we can leave the stage.” Audience members verbally engage with each other as well: one, a self-identified Republican “political junkie,” says the nation cannot afford to insure 47 million uninsured Americans, and is countered by a rheumatologist who works with underinsured and uninsured patients, and who describes the horrific situations many of them face. One anti-reform participant tells the pair, “The American people don’t want rationed health care,” winning cheers from many in the audience. When Sebelius retorts that health care is already rationed for the 12,000 people a day whose insurance disappears when they lose their jobs, she wins applause from other audience members. About a dozen members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are there to support Sebelius and Specter, and some members of the pro-reform group Physicians for Obama are also in attendance. Countering them are numerous audience members with “Tell Washington No” bumper stickers plastered to their chests. One anti-reform organization, the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots, will later claim to have around 40 members in attendance. Outside the hall, dozens of anti-reform protesters picket with signs saying, among other slogans, “Government Health Care: Dangerous to Your Health,” “Welcome to the United States Socialist Republic,” and various anti-abortion signs. After the meeting, Sebelius says: “Health care touches everybody personally.… I find it difficult, because so much misinformation gets repeated in questions at town hall meetings. We have a challenge to get the message out.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/3/2009] After the meeting, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), a lobbying organization that actively promotes the town hall disruptions by conservative protesters, calls the event “a must emulate at town halls across the country over the next month.” [FreedomWorks, 8/3/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Health and Human Services, Arlen Specter, FreedomWorks, Service Employees International Union, Kathleen Sebelius, Physicians for Obama

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Conservative anti-health care reform protesters disrupt a “listening session” held by House member Steve Kagen (D-WI) in a Green Bay, Wisconsin, library. The library quickly fills with 300 participants, leaving some 50 to listen and protest outside the venue. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, “[t]he vast majority of people attending the event appeared to come in protest of the health care legislation, and they repeatedly disrupted the event by shouting.” Green Bay police soon appear at the library in response to reports of disruption, and they stay throughout the event to keep order. No one is arrested. Local reports say Kagen keeps his calm throughout the event, and does not try to shout over the protesters, but several times speaks about the attitude on display. “You can talk, but I can’t listen to 100 people at the same time,” he says. “This is not a shouting contest. This should be a discussion.” According to the Press-Gazette: “If the event were a shouting match, the mob won. Kagen tried talking about the health care bill, but the roaring chants deafened his attempts. Several elderly people covered their ears and grimaced at the level of noise.” The Press-Gazette calls many of the shouts and screams “incomprehensible.” In the last half hour of the session, the crowd calms somewhat, and Kagen is able to engage in a more active discussion. One participant will later explain the crowd’s behavior: “We are scared and when we get scared, we get angry,” she says. “We sit back here [in Wisconsin] and we have no control.” [Green Bay Press-Gazette, 8/4/2009; Think Progress, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Steve Kagen

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Local ‘tea party’ protesters at the Arcuri/Hoyer town hall.Local ‘tea party’ protesters at the Arcuri/Hoyer town hall. [Source: WKTV]Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), taking part in a town hall meeting in upstate New York hosted by House member Michael Arcuri (D-NY), is browbeaten and verbally assaulted by conservative protesters who are against health care reform. The meeting is to discuss a proposal for a high-speed rail system for the area. “You’re lying to me!” one protester, local conservative activist Don Jeror, screams during the assemblage. “Just because I don’t have sophisticated language, I can recognize a liar when I see one!” Jeror adds, “Why would you guys try to stuff a health care bill down our throats in three to four weeks, when the president took six months to pick a dog for his kids?!” Jeror and many of the activists, who continue to scream and shout over Hoyer during his entire presentation, belong to a group called the “Fort Stanwix Tea Party ‘Patriots.’” House Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), who was recently accosted by conservative protesters during a town hall meeting in his district (see August 1, 2009), says the protests are anything but spontaneous and citizen-driven. “This notion of a grass-roots campaign is totally and completely phony,” he says. “The Republican Party has coordinated this apparent outrage and stirred it up.” While he and fellow Democrats welcome dialogue, he says, “there’s no way you can change the legislation to satisfy any of these Republicans and their insurance allies.” Doggett is referring to allegations that corporate lobbying groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) are behind the protests. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs agrees, saying, “I think what you’ve seen is they have bragged about manufacturing, to some degree, that anger.” Bob MacGuffie, a Connecticut conservative activists who recently wrote a strategy memo directing fellow conservatives in methods to disrupt and dominate town hall meetings (see Late July, 2009), says that while there is organization, the anger and resistance to reform is “most assuredly real.… We’re organizing those voices, but it’s a real emotion, coast to coast.” ABC News reports that polls show the “protesters are not representative of the public at large, which overwhelmingly supports provisions such as ‘requiring insurance companies to sell health coverage to people, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions’ and ‘requiring that all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help for those who can’t afford it.’” [ABC News, 8/4/2009; TPMDC, 8/4/2009; WKTV, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Lloyd Doggett, Americans for Prosperity, ABC News, Bob MacGuffie, FreedomWorks, Robert Gibbs, Don Jeror, Michael Arcuri, Steny Hoyer, Republican Party

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) says that a House member has been physically assaulted during a town hall meeting by anti-health care protesters (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). He refuses to identify the representative in question. Instead, he warns that the increasingly riotous confrontations at town hall meetings by conservative protesters are rising to “a dangerous level.” He blames misinformation disseminated by conservative lobbying organizations who are helping orchestrate the town hall disruptions (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) and on Fox News (see August 3, 2009 and August 3, 2009). “When you look at the fervor of some of these people who are all being whipped up by the right-wing talking heads on Fox, to me, you’re crossing a line,” he says. “They’re inciting people to riot with just total distortions of facts. They think we’re going to euthanize Grandma and the government is going to take over.” Another Democratic staffer says flatly, “These people are crazy.” Connolly notes that many of the more elderly protesters receive Medicare, but are seemingly unaware that Medicare is a government program. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), who recently held a contentious health care discussion (see August 3, 2009), says: “We’re not going to say we’re no longer going to listen to constituents because of a few angry protesters. We have no intentions of changing our plan based on any extracurricular nonsense.” Grover Norquist, president of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, says the protests are nothing more than spontaneous outbursts of real public anger. He also says his organization encourages its members to attend town halls, and gives them talking points, suggested questions to ask, and slogans to chant (see August 5, 2009). “People are pissed,” he says. “They’ve been lied to.” [Roll Call, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Americans for Tax Reform, Steve Driehaus, Gerry Connolly, Grover Norquist

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

Protesters bang on the windows of the Children’s Board, demanding to be heard.Protesters bang on the windows of the Children’s Board, demanding to be heard. [Source: WTSP]The raucous and near-riotous behavior of recent town hall and forum meetings about health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) reaches new heights in Ybor City, Florida, just outside Tampa, as a large and disorderly group of anti-reform protesters disrupt a town hall meeting held by Betty Reed (D-FL) and featuring Kathy Castor (D-FL). [Think Progress, 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay, 8/6/2009] The forum, apparently intended to be something of a pep rally for the Obama administration’s health care proposals, was organized by Reed, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a pro-reform group, Organizing for America. But hundreds of protesters also appear, many affirming that they came at the urging of the Tampa 9/12 conservative activist group, an organization promoted by Fox News host Glenn Beck. Others say they received e-mails from the Hillsborough County Republican Party urging them to speak out against the plan and offering talking points. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009]
Huge Turnout Exacerbates Tensions - Well over 1,000 people appear for the meeting, held at the Children’s Board, a venue that holds a maximum of 250. Local news reporters note that “[t]ensions were high among people who couldn’t get in.” Protesters accuse the forum organizers of barring people who oppose health care reform, but many of the people left outside are reform supporters. The meeting is marred by screams and shouts both outside the venue and in, as well as people banging on windows to be let in. [Think Progress, 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay, 8/6/2009; Fox News, 8/7/2009] Both Reed and Castor are shouted down almost from the moment they begin speaking, and battle spates of shouting, chanting, and a variety of accusations throughout the evening. Castor leaves relatively early, apparently frustrated at being shouted down when she tries to speak; when Castor leaves, she requires an escort to avoid being accosted. [WTSP, 8/7/2009] One of the popular chants is an apparently orchestrated repetition of “Tyranny! Tyranny! Tyranny!” Other chants include: “Tell the truth! Tell the truth!” “Read the bill!” and “Forty million illegals! Forty million illegals!” One reporter will write, “The spectacle… sounded more like a wrestling cage match than a panel discussion on national policy.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009]
Verbal, Physical Violence - Outside the hall, a fistfight occurs, with Orlando cameraman Mark Bishop being roughed up. “That’s the most violent anyone has been towards me,” he says. A protester, Randy Arthur, attempts to force his way into the hall, and is instead slammed into a wall by, he claims, union members acting as door guards. (Susan Smith, a member of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, later says that members of the Young Democrats, not union members, were on the doors.) A photo of him displaying his torn shirt and scratches later makes the rounds of anti-reform Web sites. Arthur says he intends to file charges, though the Tampa police have no such plans, and says he intends to become more involved in Republican and conservative politics as a result of the forum. Inside the hall, Kathy Miracle, who supports reform, is “inadvertently” spat upon by a shouting anti-reform protester, Barry Osteen, sitting beside her, she will later say. She shoves Osteen’s face away, and is photographed doing so, in what some people construe as a slap. Osteen will say: “She didn’t slap me. I almost didn’t even know she was there.” Miracle later says she doesn’t “appreciate being spread all over the Internet.” Supporters and opponents of reform engage in a number of verbal altercations in the parking lot. No arrests are made, even though many ignore police orders, issued through bullhorns, to disperse. Later, a Tampa police spokesman says, “We walk a fine line between freedom of speech and public safety.” [WTSP, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009; Susan Smith, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/13/2009]
Cameraman Jostled - A protester with a camera, J. Mark Campbell, has his camera knocked out of his hand and his glasses broken during an attempt by protesters to force their way into the hall, and later tells his story to Fox News commentator Sean Hannity. Campbell claims that the event was “set up” by SEIU and Democratic organizers to bring supporters into the front rows and force protesters into the back rows. He also claims that four “thugs” from the “Pipe Fitters Union” not only “bum rush[ed]” the protesters, but then gave him their business cards. Campbell claims that a “28-year-old Democrat… with cancer” was assaulted by union members, but also identifies an adult woman as “his daughter.” “[T]his is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “And I’ve been into jihadist areas. I’ve been dealing with, you know, Muslim extremists. And, you know, this is the most afraid I’ve ever been.” Campbell’s video shows little more than jostling and shoving at the door of the hall; he tells Hannity, “it’s what you don’t see in this video is what’s really telling.” [Fox News, 8/11/2009] Tommy Ates, a diarist on the liberal blog Daily Kos, later identifies Campbell as a member of a group he calls “the far right, libertarian, and ‘islamophobic’ Florida Security Council.” (Campbell directs viewers to the organization’s Web site during the Hannity interview.) Ates also asks some questions about Campbell’s claims: “How did Campbell get the information that the Tampa town hall had been stacked with Pipefitter union members? If the men guarding the door were union men committing assault, why would they give their cards to the man they were assaulting? Why didn’t Campbell file a police report? And (if J. Mark Campbell dealt with terrorists), why didn’t he identify what international media organization he served under? And if he didn’t go overseas, is Mark trying to say he dealt with Middle East domestic terrorists?” [Daily Kos, 8/12/2009]
'Somewhere in All the Screaming, No One Got Heard' - One participant, Largo resident George Guthrie, says of the crowd, “They think they’re exercising their right to free speech, but they’re only exercising their right to disrupt civil discourse.” Andrew Reder, a reform opponent, defends the shouting from himself and his fellows by saying: “There were clearly people who were very, very upset. People are concerned about the direction of the county right now.” But Reder, who is allowed inside during the proceedings, admits that virtually nothing is accomplished in the meeting. “Somewhere in all the screaming, no one got heard,” he says. One protester, who identifies herself as a member of Beck’s 9/12 organization, says of Castor and Reed: “They’re hiding from their constituents. She works for us and needs to listen.” After the meeting, Florida Democratic Party chair Karen Thurman says in a statement: “Throughout the summer, we have been reaching out to Floridians to engage in an important debate on the future our health care system. We have heard story after story from people who are struggling to get the care they need. Recently, their thoughtful discussions are being interrupted by angry mobs—well funded and organized by Washington special interests—attempting to drown out the voices of the hard-working Floridians who are desperate for health insurance reform. These groups are not concerned about Americans’ access to quality heath care, but are extreme ideologues, only interested in ‘breaking’ the president (see July 17-22, 2009) and thwarting the change Americans voted for last November.” [WTSP, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] Castor later echoes Thurman’s sentiments, saying: “The insurance industry and… Republican activists are manufacturing a lot of these phony protests.… I do expect some rabble-rousing.” Reed later says she was shocked at the behavior of some of the crowd. “When you get to the point of possible violence, you’ve gone over the edge,” she says. Castor says the protesters who appeared at this and other venues “would have been protesting Medicare.… They would never have accepted Social Security.” But protester Brad Grabill counters, “It’s the backlash to the arrogance of our government that you’re seeing here.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] After the meeting, the Tampa 9/12 group posts the following on its Web site: “Be courteous while anyone is speaking, including Castor. We don’t want to sound like an ‘angry mob.’” [Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] Smith, the local Democratic Party official, later posts an e-mail she receives concerning the event. The message reads: “WAR IS COMING. YOUR THUG PR_CK B_STARD [apparently President Obama] SHOULD HAVE KEPT HIS F_CKING COMMUNIST MOUTH SHUT.” [Susan Smith, 8/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Andrew Reder, Fox News, Tommy Ates, Service Employees International Union, Barry Osteen, Brad Grabill, Betty Reed, Florida Security Council, Daily Kos, Sean Hannity, Susan Smith, Organizing for America, Randy Arthur, Hillsborough County Democratic Party, George Guthrie, J. Mark Campbell, Karen Thurman, Hillsborough County Republican Party, Kathy Miracle, Obama administration, Kathy Castor, Mark Bishop

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

Discussing the anti-health care reform protests, Fox News host Sean Hannity asks his guest, conservative radio host Mark Levin, “You think the president [Obama] bears any responsibility for this conflict now that is emerging in these town halls” (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009)? Levin responds, “[L]et me suggest that if there’s anything that happens at these town hall meetings, if anybody’s hurt or if anything really stupid happens, this White House has some responsibility for it.” Levin justifies his claim: “This White House is calling out its dogs. The president sent out an e-mail to millions of, uh, his supporters. [White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel, behind the scenes, is pushing too, so is [White House political coordinator David] Axelrod. If something terrible happens at one of these town hall meetings, I think the president in part can be held accountable.” [Media Matters, 8/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, Fox News, Mark Levin

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Former health insurance executive Wendell Potter (see July 10, 2009), who formerly headed the PR division at Cigna, says that the skyrocketing profits of health care corporations and their executives are directly driving the industry’s opposition to health care reform. According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the profits of the US’s 10 largest health insurance companies rose 428 percent between 2000 and 2007. In 2000, those 10 companies made a combined profit of $2.4 billion. In 2007, those numbers had risen to $12.9 billion. During that seven-year period, the number of Americans without health insurance rose 19 percent. The CEOs of those 10 firms made an average of $11.9 million in 2007 alone. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that the health insurance industry “bankrolled efforts to kill the last effort at health care reform” in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). In an interview with Maddow, Potter blames the insurance industry for much of the recent spate of “town hall” disruptions that have helped derail debate over health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, and August 10, 2009) “and a lot of the deception that’s going on in terms of disinformation that many Americans apparently are believing.” Potter goes on to note that health insurance firms are making tremendous profits on the steady erosion of paid premiums going to fund medical claims. In 1993, the industry paid out roughly 95 percent of the premiums they took in to claims. In 2007, that number had dropped to 80 percent. Insurance firms also routinely “kick sick people off the rolls when they do get sick or when people get injured.… [A]nd also, they’re paying fewer claims.” The health insurance industry is dead set against the so-called “public option,” Potter says, for the simple reason that a publicly run alternative to private insurance would cost its members profits. [MSNBC, 8/11/2009]

Entity Tags: Wendell Potter, Rachel Maddow

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive with CIGNA who has now become a whistleblower against the industry (see July 10, 2009 and August 10, 2009), says that the raucous and contentious protests at health care “town halls” are the result of what he calls “covert,” or “stealth” efforts by health insurance companies. Potter says he lacks the specifics for the current campaign, but he witnessed and actually took part in similar efforts in earlier years. This year’s efforts follow similar patterns to the ones he was familiar with, he says. “The industry is up to the same dirty tricks this year,” Potter says after meeting with House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who supports the Democrats’ health care reform initiative. “When you hear someone complaining about traveling down a ‘slippery slope to socialism,’ some insurance flack, like I used to be, wrote that,” Potter says. He notes that during his 20 years in the industry, he watched—and participated in—the industry’s funneling money to large public firms who would create “Astroturf,” or fake grassroots, organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, and August 10, 2009) and use friendly conservative media voices. Slaughter says, “[T]he notion that this is going to be something devilish comes from the people who would lose money on it.” [The Hill, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Wendell Potter, Louise Slaughter

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

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