Friday, July 31, 2009

The Shona Saga Continues

Poor Shona Holmes. The Waterdown woman who has become the spokesperson for the American right wing's efforts to stop the introduction of any semblance of humanity into their profit-driven health care system that excludes upwards of 50 million people and forces countless others into bankruptcy due to underinsurance can't quite understand the furious response of her fellow Canadians to her perfidy. I'll let you read all of the details from yesterday's Globe and Mail story, which I am reproducing below:

Medicare naysayer famous in U.S. but blasted as traitor back home


With a report from The Canadian Press Last updated on Friday, Jul. 31, 2009 03:06AM EDT

South of the border, she's become the poster girl for privatized health care and a familiar face on television. But here in Canada, Shona Holmes of Waterdown, Ont., has become vilified as a traitor who sold out her country to endorse a broken health-care system.

"There's been death threats on me ... it's just been awful, absolutely awful," Ms. Holmes said in an interview yesterday, breaking down several times in tears. "It's just absolutely asinine that somebody could speak out about their beliefs and be lynched."

She was recently catapulted into the spotlight after appearing in a U.S. commercial urging Americans to reject government-run health care. In the ad, sponsored by conservative group Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Ms. Holmes spoke of suffering from a brain tumour and soberly declared, "If I'd relied on my government for health care, I'd be dead."

The commercial was lapped up by conservative lobbyists and Ms. Holmes has since appeared on CNN and Fox News; she also recently appeared in Washington to give testimony before Congress.

But north of the 49th parallel, there has been a torrent of vitriol in the media and blogosphere, accusing Ms. Holmes of lying about her health and turning her back on the Canadian health-care system.

On Facebook, a group called "Lets deport Shona Holmes" is littered with messages decrying her as "a liar and a traitor" who should "move to the U.S. if you like it so much."

The outpouring of anger has shocked the 45-year-old family mediator, leaving her afraid for her safety. She's increased security at her home and even given the family dog to her daughter, because of threats that her lawn will be poisoned.

"My life has been turned upside down over this," she said. "I'm terribly hurt. ... But quite honestly I'm quite offended that people are so cold and callous to sick people."

Among the accusations levied against Ms. Holmes are that she exaggerated the severity of her brain tumour and it was actually a Rathke's cleft cyst, which is said to be benign. Ms. Holmes counters that doctors did diagnose her with a Rathke's cleft cyst, but it is still considered a tumour, which her American doctors told her would certainly cause death if not removed immediately.

She said the cyst was pushing on her pituitary gland and causing endocrine issues; she also feared permanent vision loss. Ms. Holmes was first diagnosed with a small tumour in 1998, but doctors said it was not a cause for concern and should be monitored closely.

Then in 2005, she began suffering symptoms that included headaches and vision loss and went to see her family doctor. She was put on a waiting list of six and four months to see an endocrinologist and neurologist, respectively.

Desperate, Ms. Holmes decided to go the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., which was willing to see her within two days. Today, she maintains she did everything she could to find adequate treatment in Canada, e-mailing and phoning every doctor she could.

The Mayo Clinic diagnosed her and advised her to have surgery in Canada immediately. But when she returned home, she was still unable to find immediate treatment and went back to the Mayo Clinic, which removed her tumour and restored her vision.

Ms. Holmes's cross-border hospital trips cost her more than $97,000 (U.S.) and she has since sued OHIP for reimbursement, an appeal that is still in the works. She also filed a 2007 lawsuit with another plaintiff, Lindsay McCreith of Newmarket, Ont., alleging the Ontario government's monopoly on health care is unconstitutional. On July 14, the Attorney-General responded to the lawsuit by filing a defence claim, denying that either Ms. Holmes or Mr. McCreith were prevented from accessing timely treatment. Yesterday, Ontario Health Minister David Caplan also defended the province's health care, calling it a system "every Ontarian can be proud of."

Ms. Holmes disputed that, however, and said it's a misconception that Canada has a perfect health-care system. She said it was this perception that motivated her to participate in the commercial.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obscene Bonuses

A good friend of mine sent me the following. If you read the part I have put in bold, you might draw the same conclusion that I did, that all of these people must have attended the same school of spin to justify their wastage of the taxpayers' money. How many times have school boards justified their outrageous remuneration policies of senior management with the same rhetoric?

Does it ever end??????

Company News Alert
3rd UPDATE: NY AG: Some Banks Gave $1 Million Bonuses To Hundreds (djones)
(Adds analysis and companies declining to comment.)

By Kerry Grace Benn and Jessica Papini


NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Several large, troubled banks that got U.S. government assistance paid hundreds of employees bonuses of at least $1 million last year, according to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) topped the list of banks that gave large bonuses, with 1,626 people receiving $1 million or more, including more than 200 people getting at least a $3 million payment. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), which employs less than a seventh of the number of people that JPMorgan does, paid 953 people bonuses of $1 million or more, including 212 of them who received $3 million or more.

Cuomo released the data in a report that criticized banks for continuing to pay hefty bonuses, intended to reward good performance, when the banks were reporting large losses or profit declines during the financial crisis. As such, the report could fan public indignation over bonuses paid on Wall Street.

The report provides a rare, numbers-based glimpse into the secretive world of bonuses being paid by major banks. Shortly after its release Thursday, employees of major Wall Street companies were comparing notes about which companies paid the greatest number of large bonuses.

Wall Street companies often allocate as much as half of the revenue of certain units to pay bonuses to top-performing employees. Some of the banks that took money from the U.S. Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program have wanted to pay it back as soon as possible, largely because of restrictions put on compensation that came with the funds. Some of the banks faced an exodus of key employees who left to work for other companies not subject to pay restrictions, and not in the same spotlight of public anger over pay.

Banks argue that they need to pay large bonuses to retain top professionals. It's top talent that is keeping these firms going, said Jeanne Branthover, head of the global financial services practice at Boyden Global Executive Search. " Human capital is now more important than ever," she said.

Some banks, such as Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Citigroup Inc. (C), haven't yet repaid their TARP investments.

Cuomo said his office has been investigating compensation at many of the banks, including the original nine that took TARP funds, over the past nine months. The study refers to 2008 bonuses - those that would have been given before any of the banks repaid their government bailout money.

"At many banks...compensation and benefits steadily increased during the bull- market years between 2003 and 2006," Cuomo's office said. "However, when the subprime crisis emerged in 2007, followed by the current recession, compensation and benefits stayed at bull-market levels even though bank performance plummeted."

The reports said two of the first nine TARP recipients - Citigroup and Merrill Lynch - suffered huge losses of more than $27 billion apiece last year. Citigroup got $45 billion from TARP, while Merrill received $10 billion, but they paid out more than $5.3 billion and $3.6 billion in bonuses, respectively.

At Citi, 738 got bonuses of $1 million or more, including 124 people who received bonuses of $3 million or more. At Merrill, which was bought by Bank of America, 696 got $1 million or more, including 101 employees who received $3 million or more in bonuses.

Bank of America paid 172 employees bonuses of $1 million or more, including 28 who received $3 million or more.

Other banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley (MS) and JPMorgan, paid out more in bonuses than their profit for the year, Cuomo's office said. Goldman Sachs, for example, earned $2.3 billion, paid out $4.8 billion in bonuses and received $10 billion in TARP funding.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan declined to comment on the report. Citigroup didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The smallest number of big bonuses on the report's list of nine banks was paid by State Street Corp., which paid 44 employees a bonus of $1 million or more.

Bonuses have become a source of contention. At American International Group Inc. (AIG) executives in one division were set to get bonuses totaling $165 million, despite the firm's federal bailout and massive losses. Chief Executive Edward Liddy and other executives received death threats over the issue, and in a March congressional hearing Liddy said he was concerned about the safety of AIG employees. Some employees decided to return the bonuses.

Cuomo's office said that in some ways large bonuses became an expectation at banks and a source of competition among them. At some banks, including Merrill Lynch, Cuomo said, the company "severed the tie between paying based on performance and set its bonus pool based on what it expected its competitors would do."

A person close to Cuomo said the attorney general "decided not to release the names of individual bonus recipients after weighing the public's right to know with the personal privacy interest of the individuals involved."

-By Kerry Grace Benn and Jessica Papini, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2353;

(END) Dow Jones Newswires
07-30-09 1629ET
Copyright (c) 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Andre Picard's Defense of Canadian Health Care

The Globe and Mail's medical reporter, Andre Picard, offers a cogent defense of our healthcare system in today's Globe and Mail. As well, he notes some interesting discrepancies in Shona Holme's 'story.' I have reproduced the article below:

André Picard

Montreal — From Thursday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 30, 2009 07:23AM EDT

Shona Holmes has become a central figure in the bitter debate about U.S. health-care reform.

The Waterdown, Ont., woman is featured in a TV ad telling her tale of horror – how she had a life-threatening brain tumour but would have had to wait months for treatment. So Ms. Holmes remortgaged her home and flew to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona for treatment, paying $97,000 cash for her care.

“Now, Washington wants to bring Canadian-style health care to the U.S.,” the narrator says gravely in the ad, paid for by Patients United Now, an offshoot of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative group that promotes less government and lower taxes.

Ms. Holmes has also recounted her nightmare story in countless media interviews, warning that “free” Canadian health care comes at a heavy price – lack of access – and lamenting her inability to buy private insurance to get quicker care.

“My agenda, if I have one, is to tell them [Americans], be careful what you wish for,” Ms. Holmes told The Washington Times.

Discussions surrounding the provision of health care always elicit strong emotions and outbursts of rhetoric, and Ms. Holmes's case is no exception.

She is, of course, entitled to bash medicare and promote the idea of private health-care insurance both at home and abroad. That is the beauty of free speech. (And, to be fair, Ms. Holmes has always praised the quality of care in Canada; her issue is access and timeliness.)

But a few important details are missing from the “commercial” version of this socialized-medicine-kills tale.

Ms. Holmes did not have a deadly brain tumour, she had a benign Rathkes cleft cyst. Yes, she had vision loss, but it was temporary and reversible. This is not to suggest what she went through was not awful and frightening, but it was not life-threatening.

Initially, Ms. Holmes said she had a six-month wait to see a specialist. Later, she amended that to three months. Canadian hospitals and physicians won't say how long the wait was nor comment on the gravity of her condition because of privacy rules.

For the sake of argument, let's acknowledge that the wait to see specialists like neurologists can be long. It's a problem that needs to be fixed, and the situation is already better now than it was in 2005, when Ms. Holmes had her health problems.

The reality is that, in Canada, we “ration” care. Under our state-financed insurance program, we try to provide universal care efficiently and cost-effectively. We make choices. Getting the balance perfectly right is difficult.

The United States, by contrast, has over-capacity. That is one of the principal reasons that, per capita, care costs about 50 per cent more there than in Canada.

Money buys you access, and lack of money denies you care. In Canada, we have a not-always-happy medium: Universal access with sometimes frustrating waits.

So what happens when a patient feels they are waiting too long for care? Ms. Holmes had a “gut feeling” that her life was in danger and made a radical choice to pay out-of-pocket for immediate care in the United States rather than wait for “free” (read: tax-financed) care in Canada.

Now, she wants to be reimbursed by the Ontario Health Insurance Program. She is also a party to a lawsuit against the Ontario government arguing that a “government-run monopolistic” health system that prohibits the sale of private insurance for medically necessary care is unconstitutional. (The case, very similar to the Chaoulli case in Quebec, is backed by the Canadian Constitution Foundation. It is still before the courts.)

There are complex legal issues here and competing rights that the court will need to balance. But what insurance program, private or public, would ever allow clients to determine their own treatment and reimburse them without question?

In the discussion flowing from Ms. Holmes's ad, it has been noted often that some 45 million Americans do not have health insurance. For them, the right to buy private insurance is moot because they cannot afford it and the Canadian-style system looks pretty appealing. But that is largely beside the point here.

Ms. Holmes is insured – albeit by a state-financed plan. The question is: Can insurers (and providers) delay and deny care, and can they limit and deny coverage?

Of course they can, and they do so all the time. In the United States, health insurance is expensive and it is often tied to employment. Even those with good insurance see their claims denied because of “pre-existing medical conditions,” insurers' attempts to hold down “medical losses” (the industry term for paying for care), and caps on total payouts.

Ironically, for all her lauding of private insurance, someone like Ms. Holmes would find it virtually impossible to buy insurance, given her medical history.

The infamous ad claims that Canadians have long waits and are denied all manner of care because the “government says patients aren't worth it.”

On the contrary, medicare – universal state-financed health insurance – means everyone is worthy of care and entitled to care.

If nothing else, Ms. Holmes' foray into the U.S. health-care debate should remind us of how medicare, despite some shortcomings, is worth it.

Americans can only dream of having such a system to bemoan.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ontario's Response to Shona Holmes

The government of Ontario has responded to Shona Holmes' outrageous lawsuit which essentially tries to end the universal healthcare enjoyed by all residents. Read the story below, published online today by the Globe and Mail:

Ontario fires back against woman in ad

The Ontario government has filed a defence against a claim made by a Hamilton woman who's at the centre of the U.S. debate over health care.

Shona Holmes is featured in a TV campaign in which she claims she had to mortgage her home and travel to a U.S. clinic for brain surgery in 2005, due to a six-month wait for care in Canada. The ad, which began airing about two weeks ago in all 50 states, warns Americans to reject Canadian-style health care because it failed her.

In the ad, Ms. Holmes states that if she relied on her government, she'd be dead.
The filing — Ontario's first response to a lawsuit launched two years ago by Ms. Holmes — was filed by the attorney general two weeks ago.

The lawsuit says Ontario's monopoly over health services is unconstitutional and that long waiting lists cause patients to “endure significant financial, emotional and physical hardship to access such services in the United States.”

Ontario's defence, filed July 14, denies that Ms. Holmes and a co-plaintiff, Lindsay McCreith of Newmarket, Ont., have been prevented from accessing timely treatment. An official in Attorney General Chris Bentley's office said there will be no comment on the case since it is before the courts. Ms. Holmes said Tuesday she also does not want to discuss the lawsuit to keep it from being “played out in the media.”

The ad, entitled “Shona's Story,” is sponsored by a conservative lobby group and has gained traction in the U.S. media and through Ms. Holmes' testimony before Congress.
Canadian physician Robert Ouellet said he is tired of hearing Canada's health care system being cast as the boogeyman in the vitriolic U.S. political debate over health care reform. Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama's reform drive have accused him of trying to adopt the Canadian system of public health care funding, which they say endangers patients with lengthy waits for medical care.

While Mr. Ouellet, president of the Canadian Medical Association, admits the country's system has its flaws, including excessive wait times for some medical services, he denies the accusation that it puts lives at risk. “To say that the system is a complete failure is not fair. When people go to the hospital they get good quality medical care. ... People are not dying on the street,” said Mr. Ouellet, who practices medicine in Quebec.

The Canadian health care system is “seen as something that separates us from the United States,” said Mike Luff, a spokesman for the National Union of Public and General Employees.

The U.S. attacks on the system are also “ironic“ because “Obama's plan doesn't come close to what the system is in Canada,” Mr. Luff said.
White House-backed bills now making their way through the U.S. House and Senate would overhaul rules for private health insurers, and offer them competition in the form of a government-run health program.

Mr. Ouellet says each country has something to learn from the other about health care, and should also take lessons from European countries that provide universal care while reducing both costs and wait times.

Dr. Brian Day, a past CMA president who has advocated for a bigger private-sector role in Canada, is also dismayed that Americans and Canadians focus on one another and ignore the rest of the world when discussing health care reform. “Clearly the Canadian system has problems, but the United States has more problems. ... Neither country is giving value for money.”

The Canadian government has stayed quiet on the U.S. debate, but it may have no choice but to speak out if the Canadian public grows more upset at what it sees as unfair U.S. attacks on a source of national pride, said Mario Canseco, of the polling firm Angus Reid Strategies. “Sooner or later someone from the federal government is going to have to stand up and say leave us out of this,” Mr. Canseco said.

Canadian politicians may be leery of involvement in the U.S. debate because they recognize if the Americans reform their system it could force Canada to address its own health care problems, Mr. Ouellet said.

“It's good to have someone like President Obama who wants to fix things.”
With files from Allan Dowd of Reuters, writing out of Vancouver

Monday, July 27, 2009

Universities Have Forgotten Their Purpose

One of the main reasons I do not contribute any money to either of my alma maters is the fact that it has become obvious over the years that universities have forgotten the reason they exist. While it may come as a surprise to the ‘visionaries’ who have been busily building their empires over the decades, the base mission of the university is, or should be, teaching excellence, not the forging of partnerships with businesses, not the building of grander and grander buildings, not the endless fundraising efforts, and certainly not the proliferation of already bloated academic bureaucracies (i.e., $500,000 a year presidents, multiple vice-presidents, deans, etc., etc.)

Now that these institutions are facing greater than usual financial pressures, what is their solution? Not to pare down non-essentials (see the above bloated academic bureaucracies), but, of course, to cut teaching staff and increase class sizes. Organizational behaviour is so predictable, not to mention so destructive to the well-being of the organization. I saw the same misguided and short-sighted antics during my 30 years as a high school teacher, when boards would spend outrageous sums on non-classroom personnel (“You have to pay top dollar to attract top people,” they would tell us) while begrudging us the smallest of increases.

I am reproducing below an article from today’s Globe and Mail that details the latest folly of these academic ‘leaders.’

Staff cuts to boost class size on campus

Services hurt as universities strapped for cash

Elizabeth Church
From Monday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Monday, Jul. 27, 2009 03:52AM EDT

A wave of staff reductions at cash-strapped universities will mean larger classes and fewer services for students at campuses this September.

The budget squeeze – the result of falling investment income and rising costs, especially for pensions – has left many universities scrambling to find millions of dollars in savings for the coming school year. With salaries accounting for the lion's share of budgets, job losses are the inevitable result, school leaders say. That's led to a range of actions to reduce head counts on campus, including layoffs, buyout offers, the cancellation of teaching contracts and hiring freezes.

“You've got to know these discussions are going on at every university in this country,” said Harvey Weingarten, president of the University of Calgary, who recently warned that as many as 200 jobs would be lost on campus this fall. Dr. Weingarten said efforts would be made to limit those cuts to areas that have the least effect on students, but he said with so much of the budget spent on salaries and benefits, staff reductions are the only way to meet the province's requirement for a balanced budget.

While many schools say it is too soon to put a firm number on job losses, others are in talks with unions or have already taken action.

At the University of Guelph, as many as 100 teaching contracts and 30 posts for teaching assistants are in question. The exact cuts will depend on course demand and student numbers, a university spokesman said. Earlier this year 145 staff at the university accepted an early retirement package.

The University of Western Ontario was one of the first campuses to implement reductions, offering a buyout package and a phased retirement option this spring, followed by the layoff of 55 staff.

“I think it's fair to say the system is under distress,” said Jim Butler, vice-president of finance and administration at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Laurier is using one-time provincial funding to help bridge this year's $8.8-million funding shortfall, but also is cutting casual workers and posts through attrition to make ends meet. The measures will mean the elimination of some smaller classes. “If there is a class of six people in it, we will not be running it,” Mr. Butler predicted.

There will also be fewer campus jobs for returning students. Cuts have already been made at the Special Constable Services, a 24-hour on-campus security hub that last year employed 32 students to work as dispatchers.

The centre responds to student emergencies, whether it's a stolen bike or a bar brawl at the campus pub. During the school year, student dispatchers work six-hour shifts in teams of two, answering phone calls, dispatching officers during emergencies, and keeping an eye on the 236 CCTV cameras on campus.

This fall, the centre will hire 16 students, with only one working per shift.
Second-year business student Jodi Martin was a student dispatcher last year and used her earnings to help pay for tuition. She was hoping to keep the position throughout the summer but was discouraged when her manager informed her of the staffing reductions.

“I was really unimpressed by the fact that they were cutting that,” she said, adding that the centre was actually redesigned last year to accommodate two students per shift. “Especially since they had drilled it into us how important it was that there was two people there for regulations and for being able to do the job properly.”

Other schools are floating proposals for unpaid leave. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay is attempting to require staff and faculty to take days off in December and the idea of unpaid “Queen's Days” was suggested by the administration at Queen's University recently, but was rejected by faculty.

“Clearly all this will inevitably have a significant impact on how we deliver programs,” said Patrick Deane, vice-principal academic at Queen's. Mr. Deane said many, but not all, contract faculty will not have their appointments renewed, and proposals for early retirement packages are being discussed.

While universities say the cuts are necessary, faculty groups are attempting to gauge the severity of the situation, with some questioning the need for drastic action and warning about the effect it will have on quality.

“It's a muddied picture,” said Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. “We are trying to separate out legitimate claims of financial hardship from less legitimate claims, but it is not easy.”

Mr. Turk said it is too soon to see trends in the reductions. While some schools are cutting contract faculty, others are using them as a less costly replacement for departing tenured professors. “It's an evolving story,” he said.

As the story develops, faculty members such as Mark Jones, an English professor at Queen's University, are troubled by the departure of talented scholars who have been told they will not be needed next year.

“It's very upsetting,” he said. “There are tremendous losses here.”
Over the past two decades, Prof. Jones said, he has watched seminar classes double or even triple in size and introductory courses swell from 50 to 200 students. He fears what further cuts will do to course offerings and the ability of the department to offer a full program.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shona Holmes - Part 4

Despite the reluctance of private media to publicly challenge Shona Holmes' veracity about her condition and prognosis, the Hamilton Spectator today ran a story about a woman with the same last name who is receiving a flurry of phone calls very critical of Shona Holmes' lending herself to the American right wing for propaganda purposes. The paper finally reveals (undoubtedly after much soul-searching) that Holmes had a cyst, not a tumour, removed at the Mayo Clinic. I have taken the liberty of reproducing the story below:

Couple getting abusive calls meant for Canadian health critic

July 23, 2009
Carmela Fragomeni
(Jul 23, 2009)

I am NOT Shona Holmes.

Waterdown resident Palmira Holmes wants angry callers to know she is not the same Holmes from Waterdown whose problems with Canadian health care have made her the U.S. poster girl for forces opposed to President Barack Obama's health-care plan.
Palmira Holmes has been inundated with phone calls from people trying to express their fury over Shona Holmes' decision to become the face of an aggressive American TV ad that slams Canadian-style health care.

Airing in 50 states as Shona's Story, the ad has Holmes explaining: "I survived a brain tumour, but if I had relied on my government for health care, I'd be dead."
Palmira Holmes says "it was like being bombarded" in the last few days as critics called constantly, thinking they'd reached Shona Holmes. Palmira's number is listed as S. Holmes for husband Stephen.

Callers have shouted, called her a liar and tried to shame her, but they are venting to the wrong person.

"We are not related. I don't even know her," said Palmira. "I wasn't even aware this was going on until people started calling me."

It isn't a surprise the other Holmes family is getting calls. Shona Holmes has ignited an issue of clear emotional importance.

Canadian media websites that have carried items on the ad have registered more than 1,000 critical online comments since Monday. A key area of discussion for critics is whether the facts about Holmes' case are accurately portrayed.

"It's unclear to me exactly what her condition was, and why she was put on the waiting list," said Kenneth Sherman, national chair of Democrats Abroad, an organization of American expats who live here but still vote in the U.S.
"No matter what her situation was, it's the worst example of the Canadian system, not the norm."

Holmes came to public attention in 2007 when she and another Ontario resident launched a lawsuit against the Ontario government, alleging undue wait times.
Her statement of claim, filed in the Ontario Superior Court, says Holmes began to get headaches, disturbed vision and other symptoms in March 2005, but was told she had to wait more than seven weeks for an MRI, over four months for a neurology consultation and over six months for a consultation with another specialist.

The MRI in May 2005 "showed an 8-9 mm tumour" and subsequent tests "confirmed a significant loss of vision in both eyes," the statement of claim says.

Concerned by the projected wait for treatment, Holmes had the symptoms evaluated at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, which identified a Rathke's cleft cyst, a fluid-filled sac that grows near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.

The statement of claim says the Mayo Clinic urged Holmes "to have the cyst surgically removed immediately to avoid the risk of permanent blindness and death."
That operation took place in Arizona in August 2005. Her lawsuit against Ontario is on hold until a hearing this fall to try to recoup the $100,000 cost from OHIP.

Shona Holmes has said she feels so strongly about faults in the Canadian system that she had to act when contacted by the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, which opposes government involvement in health care. The group is among many lobbyists working to derail Obama's plan.

Sherman says Democrats Abroad -- which supports Obama -- is so incensed by misrepresentations of the Canadian system that it will run a counter campaign.
"Most of us members, like myself, have had insurance coverage in both systems, so we know the pitfalls as well as the benefits of both," Sherman said. "Americans here in Canada feel we have a unique tale to tell. We're going to share that with letters and phone calls to our congressmen and back to hometown newspapers ..."

Meanwhile, Palmira Holmes has had to warn her eight-year-old son not to answer the phone. Palmira said the family can't even change their number because they run their business from home.

"I just can't shut it off."

She has called Hamilton police to find out what she could do and is waiting to hear back.

"I'm just stressed and terrified."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shona Holmes - Part 3

Finally, someone asked the questions that need to be asked of Shona Holmes. But guess what? Those who are practicing real journalism are working for our public broadcaster, the CBC, much reviled by the right wing as a terrible drain on the taxpayer, and not needed because we are so 'well-served' by private broadcasters. Of course, were that true, those hard questions about her story would have been asked, wouldn't they?

To hear the interview, click here and download the podcast of tonight's edition of "As It Happens."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shona Holmes - Part 2

Just a brief note here. Someone from the local media read my blog and requested an interview about Shona Holmes. Despite the fact that the interview was at least 10 minutes long, it was condensed on the news to about 10 seconds; none of my comments about this woman's misrepresentations were used, only a few brief comments about my late brother-in-law's treatment.

I suspect the reporter who interviewed me had the best of intentions, but that the ruthless editing was done by the 'powers that be' who take the safest, most cautious and conservative route in their news coverage which, if they ever really thought about it, is the opposite of what their role is expected to be in preserving a healthy democracy.

I just found another website that takes a very critical look at Ms Holmes. Check it out if you get the chance, and try to get the word out to people about her untruths.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shona Holmes – Brain Tumour or Cyst Survivor?

I was very disappointed by the media's superficial coverage of Shona Homes, the Waterdown woman who has aided the American right wing by filming a commercial in which she describes herself as a ‘brain tumour survivor” whose life was saved because she used the U.S. private system to attend to her health problems. In allowing herself to be used by those U.S. vested interests who oppose any hint of public health care (even though it is the only Western industrialized country that leaves its citizens to the capricious mercy of the private insurers, and seems unbothered by the fact that 50 million Americans have no coverage), there is one major problem: her story as reported isn’t quite true.

A quick visit to the Mayo Clinic website reveals her actual condition, Rathke's cleft cyst, described as a “rare, fluid-filled sac [that] grows near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and eventually can cause hormone and vision problems.” Nowhere is it described as potentially fatal, a clear contradiction of Ms Holmes’ claim in the commercial that within six months she would have been dead if left to the vagaries of the Canadian health system.

I feel especially upset by the propagandizing nature of her commercial due to the fact that last year my brother-in-law died of brain cancer. The truth is that from the moment he was diagnosed (days after he had his initial seizure) to the time he died, he received exemplary and timely care from a team of dedicated specialists employed by our allegedly flawed system in Ontario. Unfortunately, the nature of his brain cancer, multiforme glioblastoma, the same suffered by Ted Kennedy, meant a fatal outcome was inevitable.

In my view, despite her anxiety and suffering, Ms Holmes should be ashamed of herself for undermining Barrack Obama’s efforts to bring some humanity to a system that is badly in need of it, and calling into disrepute a Canadian system that we would all be much worse off without.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tim Hudak – The New Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader

Tim Hudak, 41 and a former Ontario cabinet minister, was recently elected the new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. Endorsed by former Premier Mike Harris, in my mind the most evil and divisive political leader in Canada’s history, Hudak seems intent on regaining power for the party by resurrecting the same tactics that so divided so many Ontarians during Harris’s rule. Spouting catch phrases such as ‘middle class values,’ and suggesting that he would cut up public sector contracts because they are too rich, Hudak, who has never held a job outside of politics, seems to assume that there is still an appetite amongst the electorate for the politics of disenfranchisement and division, politics that play to the worst of human nature.

In the leadup to the convention, the general wisdom was that centrists such as Christine Elliot could never lead the party back to power, being too closely allied in many ways with the policies of the existing Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty. And therein lies the problem with politicians today - if the only reason to choose Hudak is to increase the chance of returning to power, doesn’t that bespeak a moral vacuum? I would argue, of course, that this bald grasping for power for power’s sake is endemic in our system today, not limited to the Conservative Party by any means.

Margaret Wente, with who I rarely agree, has an interesting column in today’s Globe and Mail that examines the politics and strategy of Mr. Hudak. I have taken the liberty of reprinting it below:

Only a political junkie could care about the fate of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party - a bunch of old white guys so lost in the woods they make Stephen Harper's crowd look enlightened.

To bring you up to date, they just had a leadership race. Not one of the candidates addressed the economic tsunami that will define the province for years to come. Instead, the front-runner chose to fan the culture wars by lustily attacking Ontario's Human Rights Commission. The small-town base applauded. Anyone else might ask: Who cares about the culture wars when the economic heartland of Canada is being disembowelled?

The election of Tim Hudak as leader of the Official Opposition is a rare piece of good news for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. Mr. Hudak has styled himself as the reincarnation of Mike Harris, a name that evokes fear and loathing among most of the province's voters. People remember Mr. Harris as a dose of Castor oil - necessary, but deeply unpleasant. It is not an experience they'd care to repeat.

Nonetheless, Mr. Hudak thinks that old-time medicine might go down well again. He stands for "hard-working Ontarians" and "middle-class families," while the McGuinty Liberals stand for "massive tax grab."

By narrowing their base, the Conservatives took exactly the wrong message from their previous leader's failure to make an impact. John Tory was a Red Tory with bad timing. He opposed a moderate premier in good times. Mr. McGuinty projects an image as a dull but honest guy, and his government has generally avoided major screw-ups. The economy was booming, and voters saw no reason to rock the boat. Mr. Tory's political failure was widely blamed on his nice-guyness, along with his unpopular support for private-school funding. But it was prosperity that did him in.

Mr. Tory has little love for his successor, who campaigned for his job the entire time he had it. Mr. Hudak, 41, is nothing if not ambitious. He's been a career politician since he was first elected at 27 - not necessarily a plus, in my view. At least Mr. Harris spent some time as a golf pro.

In public, Mr. Hudak is a bit robotic - bright, glib and highly scripted by his band of Harrisites. His wife, Deb Hutton, was chief of staff in the Harris government. He is not unpersonable, but he's not personable, either. He has a habit of baring his teeth in an alarmingly phony smile, as if he's about to devour Little Red Riding Hood. Whether he's capable of substance is not known.

I'm not a fan of Mr. McGuinty's wishy-washy nanny-statish liberalism. But he is geekily enthusiastic about ideas, even though a lot of them are half-baked. He thinks seriously about forging a prosperous postindustrial model for Ontario. He surely knows that, before the next election in 2011, the province will be grappling with an unemployment rate of at least 10 per cent and even more horrendous deficits than it has now. He'll have to raise taxes and cut spending. So will anyone else who winds up in the job.

The reason to bother with Mr. Hudak is that he may well be premier one day - if not next time, then the time after that. All governments get long in the tooth, and this one is well into its second term. It is also sailing into a perfect storm not of its own making. If people get mad enough, they'll vote for Donald Duck.

That alone may be enough to get Mr. Hudak elected. But if he's halfway smart, he'll realize that the 5,600 diehards who elected him as leader are the party's past. They are the province's past, too. Ontario's future won't be forged in the aging, fading, small white towns like the one he grew up in. It will be forged in the vibrant knowledge belt of Southern Ontario, and in multiethnic, creative, culturally liberal Toronto. My advice to Mr. Hudak is to work the next Pride parade. It might broaden his horizons. It might even loosen him up.