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Wolves in Samaritan's Clothing 

Ask your doctor . . . about the scam he's running.

If you see your doctor sporting a button that reads, "Ask me how you can save medicine," you may be putting your health in the hands of Mephistopheles.

The button is part of $1.5 million campaign by the Ohio State Medical Association and Ohio Hospital Association to make sure the state Supreme Court remains stacked with Republicans who will uphold tort-reform laws, which protect doctors from having to pay if they accidentally remove a lung instead of your appendix.

But the campaign's newspaper ads -- with the words "Gone. Is Your Doctor Next?" -- won't tell you that. And AskYourDoctorOhio.com also strikes an altruistic, non-partisan pose. But make no mistake: This is about naked self-interest.

Doctors claim that frivolous malpractice suits and outrageous jury awards are to blame for soaring malpractice insurance rates, which are supposedly chasing doctors out of the state. The legislature has passed bills capping these awards, but medical professionals are concerned that the Supreme Court will strike them down, as it did with similar measures in 1999.

"It is imperative we have a court that understands the role it plays, and not an activist court where it inserts its judgment over that of the legislature," Mary Yost, vice president of the OHA, told a Columbus paper.

But what Yost won't tell you is that the number of Ohio doctors is actually rising, and that jury awards are declining. Nor will she tell you that an estimated 195,000 patients per year die from in-house hospital errors nationwide, according to HealthGrades, a Colorado research company. (Read the complete study at www.healthgrades.com.)

But since it's easier to screw you than to take on the insurance industry, which appears to be gouging doctors to make up for stock-market losses, this altruism has a distinctively weak-kneed quality.

Ask your doctor about that.

DeLay's houseboy
Every good racket needs a safety valve, someone to handle the cover-up if the scheme goes bad. Which is why Tom DeLay, the most powerful man in the U.S. House of Representatives, put Painesville Republican Steve LaTourette on the House Ethics Committee.

DeLay needed someone willing to look the other way when members get caught selling legislation for campaign donations. LaTourette was the perfect guy. After all, this is the guy who ended his 21-year marriage by calling his wife from Washington, D.C., telling her about his long-running affair with a lobbyist, then saying, "I want a divorce. It's over. Goodbye."

So when DeLay installed LaTourette on the ethics committee, he also made sure that our little Stevie was happy. DeLay dipped into funds he raised with his political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, and gave LaTourette $16,073 in campaign money. DeLay also gave money to four of the five Republicans on the ethics committee.

Yet, last month, Texas Democrat Chris Bell accused DeLay of raising money by selling legislation to a Kansas defense contractor. The complaint, naturally, went to the House Ethics Committee, where LaTourette and his fellow Republicans are expected to make it sleep with the fishes this week.

Now, who says crime doesn't pay?

Surreal life
Plain Dealer columnist Sam Fulwood III is regarded by colleagues as an incredibly nice man. He's also regarded as incredibly lazy.

So there was no shortage of newsroom sighs when Fulwood was assigned to be the point-columnist for The PD's coverage of poverty. It seems that the paper, having been recently informed by the government that Cleveland is poor, has decided to amp up its reporting on the huddled masses.

But Fulwood, who drives a BMW and lives in Shaker Heights, is the kind of guy who should be legally required to wear an ascot. And he isn't known for straying far from his home office. So when co-workers chided him about actually having to go out and talk to people for his new assignment, Fulwood responded, "It's not that easy to find poor people." This from a man who lives but a few blocks from Cleveland's Mount Pleasant neighborhood, among the poorest in the city.

Expect penetrating and insightful coverage in the coming weeks, as Sam combs Pepper Pike and Beachwood in search of the impoverished.

It hurts to be beautiful
Just ask Playmate of the Year Carmella DeCesare. Last month, the Avon Lake model was out gallivanting with her boyfriend, Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia, when they ran into Garcia's ex, Kristen Hine, at Tramp, a bar in the Warehouse District.

DeCesare, possibly influenced at the time by her role as a WWE Diva finalist (she has since lost the title), or perhaps inspired by the bar's name, immediately "launched" herself at Hine, according to a complaint Hine filed with police. A cat fight ensued, and assault charges were filed against the 22-year-old.

Then, as if it weren't hard enough being the most beautiful girl in Cleveland, DeCesare was back at the police station last week, this time filing charges against a male acquaintance. The beauty told police she had been receiving threatening text messages for the past month.

With friends like this . . .
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, is a Republican big shot who helped draft Newt Gingrich's Contract on America. But even he understands the disaster that is the Taft administration.

In a recent speech to Republicans Abroad, a group representing conservatives overseas, Norquist launched a tirade against our fair governor, which was secretly taped by a Democratic operative. When asked about swing states, Norquist responded: "We have to hold Ohio, OK? We have an idiot, stupid, corrupt, dumb, rotten, Republican governor in the state, who's been busy looting the state and raising taxes and lying to gun owners. And his state is the only state in the nation that's lost jobs and isn't recovering, because he's been beating the economy to death in the state! But he's not on the ballot! George Bush is on the ballot."

When contacted for its reaction, the Taft administration proved once again that it can't do anything right, including talk trash. "We're not going to dignify Mr. Norquist's comments with a response," said a spokesman. Harrumph.

And the winner is . . .
Scene has once again been named the state's best weekly newspaper. So says the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, which announced its annual awards last week.

Competing against the state's largest papers -- those with circulations of 100,000 or more -- Scene pulled down a total of seven awards. Aina Hunter won first place for best social-justice reporting, Sarah Fenske finished first for best coverage of the environment, and Pete Kotz landed first for media criticism, in addition to being named Ohio's best columnist.

Second-place awards went to Erich Burnett and Jimi Izrael, both for consumer reporting.

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