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Drug Experience 

Inside Track

Yours truly got quite the scare last week on the chest-pain front. Always a pleasure to visit the ER at the Mary Fanny. About once every seven or eight years we end up there.

Hey, did you know Red Sox announcer Bob Lobel's kid is a cardiology resident up there? Super nice guy. Almost asked for his autograph.

At first yours truly thought the piercing chest pain, the short breaths, must have been the result of something we wrote.

No panic. Called the ER. Asked to "speak to a doctor about a chest-pain problem."

"The doctors are busy right now," said the voice on the other end. "I'm just a secretary, but do you mind if I ask why you haven't called the ambulance yet?"

"Good point," we replied. Figured Benways Taxi would get us there quicker. Yours truly hit the ER door in about three minutes.

Turned out, we've got the ticker of an Irish racehorse, thanks be to God. The tummy was the big problem. Welcome to the brave new world of acid-reflux!

After I passed the heart tests with flying colors, a lovely little unionized nurse dropped by the bedside to offer a tiny Protonix pill. It's like a super-high-test Prilosec.

Lourdes never worked a faster miracle. Ten minutes later we were cured. We soon departed the Mary Fanny with a prescription for the stuff. A month's supply -- 30 pills -- costs $133 down at Brooks Drug. That's $4.43 per pill.

Then we checked the website that the Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, has set up so Minnesotans can order from Canada. We learned that if we lived in the Land of 10,000 Lakes we could get 100 Protonix pills for just $196. That's $1.96 per pill!


Of course, Vermonters do not have the option of assistance from their state government on this one. Vermont's Republican gov won't go against White House instructions. Jim Douglas says a legal opinion from the Attorney General's office backs him up.

Don't tell that to Gov. Pawlenty. Or Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, who has a similar website. Or Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, who just started a Canadian mail-order drug program for city workers.

Last week, after initially refusing to make the legal opinion public, the Douglas administration suddenly pulled a 180.

The five-page memorandum dated November 25, 2003, and marked "Privileged and Confidential," was prepared by Assistant AG Mike McShane.

A 25-year veteran of the Third Floor, McShane wrote that his research indicated importation and reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada "are prohibited by federal law."

McShane wrote that, "All states contacted are of the opinion that reimportation… is a clear violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act."

Since the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin are already operating state-sanctioned reimportation programs for their citizens, we asked Mr. McShane if he had contacted the legal beagles in those states.

"I'm not going to confirm who we talked to and who we didn't," replied McShane. "Obviously I didn't contact 50 states."


It's also obvious he didn't call anyone in Minnesota or Wisconsin, eh?

One other interesting point in McShane's legal opinion. You may recall that recently one of the top Bushies at the FDA told WPTZ-TV that Canadian drugs aren't safe.

McShane's memorandum notes that "neither the manufacturers nor the FDA have presented any evidence that Canada's system for the regulation of prescription drugs is deficient."

Meanwhile, Mayor Moonie told Seven Days that if he's elected governor, the state of Vermont will quickly have a website like Minnesota and Wisconsin, providing Vermonters with easy access to vastly cheaper, safe prescription drugs from north of the border.

The pharmaceutical issue, said Clavelle, is one that shows a clear difference in both style and policy, between him and the incumbent.

"What does Jim Douglas do about it? He asks for permission from the Bush administration," said Clavelle. "He'll be waiting until the sun rises over the Adirondacks to get it."

Speaking of Drugs --

Burlington's mayor also pointed out in the interview that the most popular question on the Burlington ballot was the one about medical marijuana. It received the support of 82 percent of the voters!

If he were governor of Vermont, said Clavelle, "I would be signing a medical marijuana bill for all Vermonters instead of threatening a veto like the current governor."

Love these clear distinctions, don't you?

Bloody Third Update --

Kudos to Progressive City Councilor Phil Fiermonte for his landslide victory in Ward 3 on Town Meeting Day. Landslide Phil crushed Democratic challenger Lynn Mesick 789-426.

In the process, Fiermonte also crushed Democratic State Rep. John Tracy and The Burlington Free Press.

You see, it's Tracy's legislative district. The House Democratic bigwig and his local Democrat pals went all out to unseat Fiermonte. Tracy, as you know, makes no secret of his desire to be Burlington's next mayor. Fiermonte tops the list of possible Prog candidates. This election was, shall we say, spring training?

You'll recall that the Ds tried to make something out of the fact that Mayor Peter Clavelle, the former Prog turned Democrat, supported his old pal Phil over the Democratic candidate. Ch. 3 gave that one a ride, billing it as a political "bombshell," but the bombshell exploded in their faces.

Fiermonte has spent most of the last 20 years as a behind-the-scenes union organizer. He currently works for Congressman Bernie Sanders. Amazingly, our local out-of-town paper, The Burlington Free Press, made a big stink over that.

Given that the Freeps editorial page editor David Awbrey is from Kansas and editorial writer Susan O'Brien hails from Toronto, Ontario, one should never be surprised by what appears on the Freeps' editorial page.

Locals know that the Gannett daily's editorials have never been friendly to Progressives. (Never wrote an editorial for or against civil unions, either, winning the Cowardly Journalism Award of 2000.)

The paper's nasty, small-minded editorial slams against then-Mayor Bernie Sanders back in the 1980s only seemed to increase Ol' Bernardo's support. Apparently the paper just did the same for Fiermonte.

In its endorsement editorial before the election, the Freeps dissed Landslide Phil because -- get this -- he has a real job!

"A full-time aide to U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, Fiermonte acknowledges that he devotes only about 10 hours a week to City Council duties," read the editorial. "That might not be enough to serve the especially demanding Ward 3 constituency. Fiermonte's work with Sanders and his activism on a host of leftist concerns divert time and attention from such issues as crime, housing and other nitty-gritty neighborhood matters. Ward 3 councilor should not be a part-time hobby."


Somebody please tell the touristas over at 191 College Street that Burlington City Councilor was never intended to be a full-time job, the way writing off-the-wall editorials is. Can't wait for the editorial calling for a full-time legislature, eh?

Over the years we've had our disagreements with Phil the Prog, just like we've had with Bernie. But, like his mentor, Fiermonte is an indefatigable champion of the have-nots in this community. What you see is what you get. Apparently, The Burlington Free Press simply hasn't been watching.

Those people just don't get out enough, eh?

Speaking of the Freeps --

Sources tell Seven Days that Vermont wind-energy proponents are outraged by a recent string of three anti-wind energy editorials. As readers know, Free Press Editorial Page Editor Awbrey loves school choice but hates wind power. The editorials led to a recent sit-down with wind proponents, including Andrew Perchlik of Renewable Energy Vermont.

Following that powwow on College Street, Mr. Perchlik sent an email to supporters describing what happened. Seven Days has obtained a copy of that email.

Perchlik wrote, "It was clear from our meeting that David Awbrey is a passionate opponent to wind. He is convinced that wind energy has no place in Vermont, that turbines on the ridgelines of Vermont would destroy the state and would reap little except profits for huge corporations."

Isn't reaping huge profits for the Virginia-based Gannett corporation precisely what the Freeps does? After all, Gannett has more employees than Burlington has people. And the word on the street is that if the latest FCC ownership rule changes go through, Gannett will be first in line to buy WPTZ-TV in Plattsburgh.


According to Mr. Perchlik, Mr. Awbrey's "idea of a sound energy policy is to accept that coal is king and will be the power source of the future. Thus we should spend all of our energy making sure they burn it in the cleanest way possible. He thinks the technology is there to burn coal ‘as clean as baby's breath,' but the political will is not there to make it so.

"We suggested he write an editorial about our coal future and he laughed and said he couldn't."

You don't think Gannett owns a few coal mines, do you?

"Awbrey," wrote Perchlik, "wanted to make a big deal out of GE's involvement in the wind industry. He said he found it incredibly ironic ‘that left-wing environmentalists like VPIRG were going door to door collecting alms for GE.'"

Indeed, Awbrey wrote his third anti-wind editorial on that very point, if you could call it a point.

Hey, Dave, Progressives drive cars, too. They watch network television and cheer for corporate-owned professional sports teams. Some even subscribe to Gannett-chain newspapers.

Hypocrites, right?

According to Perchlik's email, Awbrey "admitted that his opposition to wind was really just based on aesthetics and that he didn't have arguments to back-up the false claims he made in the editorials."

Interesting, eh?

Get this Awbrey dude some Bob Dylan tunes, will ya?

Because "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind."

More "Low" Journalism --

Yours truly received a little love note Monday from a distinguished writer for the Washington Post.

Recently, you see, our opinion of the Post shot up after writer Michael Powell described yours truly in a Howard Dean post-mortem as "an astute political columnist." But the email from R. Jeffrey Smith quickly let the air out of that balloon.

"I heard about the scummy article you wrote," wrote Mr. Smith of the Washington Post; "really low journalism."

Back in the February 4 edition of this distinguished little weekly, yours truly mentioned our hour-long interview with Jeffrey in the Statehouse cafeteria. Mr. Smith came to Vermont at the end of a long line of corporate-media scribes who had already picked through Howard Dean's "dirty laundry" pretty good.

Smith, a distinguished foreign correspondent for more than a decade, was focusing on the political scrap of 12 years ago between Ho-Ho and then-Auditor Ed Flanagan. Remember those olden times before email and cell phones?

What was pathetic about Smith's quest was that he was so terribly late to the dance. Dean had already been crushed in Iowa and defeated in New Hampshire. He was going down.

Others interviewed by the Post writer, such as Attorney General Bill Sorrell and Flanagan himself, were likewise flabbergasted.

Close your eyes and imagine for a second that the Washington Post, a paper that supported the Iraq Invasion, had put the same lens of scrutiny to the administration of George W. Bush over the last three years.

Wouldn't it be a better world?

We don't know how Mr. Smith defines "low journalism," but we'd bet he can find a forklift-full in his own newsroom.

By the way, the Washington Post never ran Smith's Dean "expose."

Buckle Up --

A great political year looms. Election 2004 in Vermont offers several great match-ups at the top of the state ticket and a do-or-die battle by Vermont Republicans to hold their shrinking beachhead in the state legislature.

Incumbent Gov. Jim Douglas worked his tail off during last week's legislative recess, crisscrossing the state like a candidate in full bore. At times it seems like there's two of him.

Over in the Gov-Lite sweepstakes, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie scored a nice little coup with his public service TV spot for seat belts. The dude looks great in uniform sitting at the controls of his American Airlines passenger jet.

Democrat Cheryl Rivers of Stockbridge, one of two Ds running, admitted to Seven Days she does not know how to fly a jet airplane. But Cheryl argued that she's probably better than Doobie-Doo at steering a wagon pulled by a Morgan horse.

And Ma Rivers was quick to remind us she was the member who reported the seat-belt bill on the Senate floor a few years ago.

Wonder if we'll see that horse and cart in her TV spots?

Jan Backus of Winooski, the other D, is up on her feet again. Sort of. She busted her ankle a month ago on the icy slopes of Winooski. Backus told Seven Days she'll be on crutches for another two months.

"It hurts, but it's coming along," said brave Jan of Arc.

As for Dubie's cockpit TV spot, Backus said, "It's a good thing to be in favor of seat belts."

Since Brian's got the cockpit and Rivers has the horse and cart, what, we asked, does Jan have to compare?

"I have the crutches," she said. "Slow and steady wins the race."

P.S. While recuperating, Jan of Arc got involved in the Ward 3 City Council race in Burlington. Backus endorsed the Democrat who got creamed by Landslide Phil.

Asked if we should blame either her or John Tracy for Lynn Mesick's thumping, Backus quickly replied, "Blame Tracy."

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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