Monday, May 09, 2005

Monday 9 May 2005

Bush In Wrong Countries
White House Blunders On Bush Europe Itinerary

Chirac, EuroDisney Officials Miffed At No-Show

The White Office today has a new entry on its growing list of fences to mend - France and Russia

In a hastily called press conference this morning, White House Press Secretary confirmed rumors that surfaced over the weekend that there was a "human error" in President Bush's travel itinerary.

Instead of attending a long-standing appointment to meet with French President Chirac at EuroDisney, the President was sent to Russia for the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War II events.

Bush's strong criticism of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin caught many off-guard and his visits to the Balkan states was known in advance as something that would chafe the Russians.

Meanwhile, in Paris, the newspaper 'Le Monde' screamed at Parisians this morning; 'Bush se lève Chirac; Envoie Underling' (Bush Stands Up Chirac; Sends Underling). The paper quoted Chirac saying; "Il rencontre chacun d'autre, mais pas nous …" (He's meeting with everyone else, but not us)

Chirac, and EuroDisney President André Lacroix stood, with other foreign dignitaries and U.S. Embassy staff, impatiently waiting for over 35-minutes before Under Secretary-of-State Paula J. Dobriansky showed up. Dobriansky coordinates U.S. foreign relations on a variety of global issues.

Dobriansky, and the State Department, offered no public statements on her appearance to meet with Chirac and the U.S. Embassy in France refused comment.

The meeting between Chirac and Bush at EuroDisney had been on the schedule since early January, as an attempt to warm up relations between France and the U.S.

EuroDisney was chosen as the meeting site because, according to McClellan, "the President has been to the Disney parks in Anaheim and Orlando and wanted to see EuroDisney to add to his collection of memorabilia from theme parks".

Putin displayed, visibly and vocally, his unhappiness about Mr. Bush's five-day itinerary in Europe, which includes visits to Latvia and Georgia. The Russians planned for months, with huge billboards all over Moscow, to focus on the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany with a massive celebration in Red Square.

With already contentious relationships with its Baltic states, all former republics and now independent nations, the Russians were virtually distraught that Bush, in a speech in Latvia, repeatedly used the word "occupation" in his remarks to describe Russia's actions in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia after World War II.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as other White House officials, spent the weekend making secondary visits with Russian officials and press, in an attempt to soften the President's comments.

McClellan, at today's press conference, referred to the mix-up in travel as "human error".

"Some folders got mistakenly picked up ahead of schedule and the itinerary plans were sent to the wrong offices"

Asked about the President's strong remarks to the Russians, as well as his criticism in his speeches in the Baltics, McClellan indicated that much of the President's speech was "written on the fly". The mistake was not noticed until Air Force One landed in Latvia.

At one point, press aboard the flight, just before the landing, heard the President asking various staff why he didn't see the Eiffel Tower as they entered into Paris. It was at that point, with the jet on the ground, rolling to a stop, did the White Office staff realize the mistake.

When apprised of Bush's comments about not seeing the Eiffel Tower, Chirac responded briskly, and in English;

"Perhaps President Bush was too busy eating some Freedom Fries to notice he was in the wrong country".

Merck Defends Vioxx Tactics

Says "haven't done anything different that what baseball did"

Merck & Co, stung last week with allegations, some released from congressional hearings, that they trained employees to avoid discussing negative studies about Vioxx, shot back at its critics, defending its practices, saying that "… we haven't done anything different that what baseball did …"

'The information on the card was accurate and that detailers were not obligated to discuss details not listed on the drug's label", offered a testy Dennis Erb, Merck vice president of global strategic regulatory development.

Since Sept. 30, the Senate has held numerous hearings on Vioxx and drug safety. Studies have come out with negative information about Vioxx and links to the arthritis painkiller causing heart attacks and strokes.

Reportedly, Merck representatives known as ''detailers" were trained by superiors to "sidestep questions about heart risks" in their interactions with doctors. Merck's Marketing Department prepared a special booklet that stated "Vioxx was eight times safer for hearts than similar painkillers".

The goal of Merck, and their representatives, was to increase the amount of prescriptions for Vioxx

Erb, in defending Merck at a recent press conference, brought up Major League Baseball's recent congressional testimony before Congress.

"Baseball has had a blind eye to steroids, despite known health risks", according to Erb. "He (Commissioner Bud Selig) wasn't handing out pamphlets with that information …"

The booklet that Merck's representatives were instructed to use did not include details from the Merck study, showing a fivefold increase in heart attack and stroke risk with the use of Vioxx, compared with naproxen or another painkillers.

When asked if Merck representatives specifically used baseball tickets as an incentive for doctors, Erb stated that Merck does have a number of 'corporate suites' at various baseball stadiums, as well as season tickets and does "entertain clients" from time-to-time, with these tickets.

One unconfirmed charge the Senate is investigating is the Merck representatives offered doctors prime baseball tickets, in exchange for the doctors writing more Vioxx orders. Adding to that, one doctor reportedly gave testimony that the doctor could "bring to the game, any heart attack patients as a result of using Vioxx" and that they would get "choice seating".

Another baseball-related charge came from doctor, at an earlier Senate hearing, that Merck offered to "send the doctor to Fantasy Baseball Camp".

The Senate is already investigating reports that Merck focused on details of its representatives and their meetings with doctors, such as how long they shook hands, if they maintained eye contact and, based on the age and physical fitness of the doctors, asking if they played baseball.

"They avoid talking about the risk and steered the conversation and meetings to baseball" offered one Senate insider.

Reportedly, Merck tracked the prescription orders much like a baseball box score, listing its' "heavy hitters", keeping averages and attaching bonuses for the best average and "homeruns". The representatives were heavily pressured and very competitive.

"It was kind of a Glengarry, Glenross thing" said another Senate staffer close to the investigation, referring to the David Mamet play on real estate salesman. "First prize was the baseball tickets, second prize was that they were fired"

With the results of the negative Merck study on Vioxx published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA), said that a "''wide-awake physician" would have known about Vioxx's heart risks".

Erb responded to the Davis comment by saying;

"If doctors are having a hard time staying awake, we have a drug for that too".

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