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Lower Breast Cancer Rates May Not Mean Less Cancer

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 3:15 PM PST

According to a report released today by the CDC, fully 1.1 million fewer women aged 40 and over had mammograms last year than in 2000. This decline might explain, in part, the recent drop in breast cancer rates in the U.S., meaning rates might not actually be going down. Fewer diagnoses does not mean fewer cases, just fewer known cases. So, while we have seen detection rates decrease, deaths from breast cancer could increase, the report says.

The reason for the drop is unclear but the CDC researchers point to a couple of disturbing trends that move beyond the taking-it-for-granted explanation:

"One study has indicated that breast-imaging facilities face challenges such as shortages of key personnel, malpractice concerns and financial constraints."

"Because the number of U.S. women aged more than 40 years increased by more than 24 million during 1990 to 2000, the number of available facilities and trained breast specialists might not be sufficient to meet the needs of the population, whose overall median age continues to increase."

This feels wrong. Wrong, not in the incorrect sense, but wrong in the how can there not-be-enough-facilities-for-such-basic-needs sense. And let's get some more "breast specialists" trained, this is a must people.

The report did not look at mammography rates by age, geographic region or socioeconomic status though the researchers say they do plan on examining whether the decrease in mammography rates is concentrated among certain groups, such as the poor and uninsured.

Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,000 die from the disease. According to the report, screening might reduce breast cancer mortality by 20% to 35% among women ages 50 to 69 and by 20% among women ages 40 to 49.

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Q: What Do Dolphin-Mounted Weapons and NSA Wiretapping Have in Common?

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 3:06 PM PST

A: The government has claimed that they are "state secrets" and therefore cannot be discussed in court. The state secrets privilege, as Mother Jones reported in August, is basically a get-out-of-court-free card.

Bad news for Bush, the government's attempt to invoke the privilege was denied in several suits brought against it as a result of warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. But, the New York Times reports today, the government is still using Kafkaesque tactics to make the suit difficult for the plaintiffs. The Justice Department is filing its legal briefs in an office in its own building. It promises the employees guarding the briefs and the litigators in the case are separate and that the documents have not been altered—but the funny thing about lying is that it makes everything you say in the future suspect. Government lawyers have also demanded that a document accidentally provided to an Oregon Muslim charity, documenting warrantless surveillance of the group, be returned to the FBI even though the document is the primary evidence the charity is using to claim damages.

Kinda makes your head spin, doesn't it?

Victory Over Wal-Mart for Overtimers

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 2:55 PM PST

Mother Jones has always been hot on the Wal-Mart beat. In November of last year, when San Diego banned Wal-Mart Supercenters, I summarized on MoJoBlog.

Mother Jones has written a ton about Wal-Mart in the past, including this feature on Wal-Mart employees being so fed up with low wages, unpaid overtime, and union busting that they started fighting back, this blog post about how Wal-Mart's claims about going organic are a big fat lie, this blog post about how Wal-Mart could raise wages by more than $2,000 per employee and still maintain profit margins almost 50 percent higher than Costco, this short article about how Rick Santorum sided with Wal-Mart over his own beleaguered constituents, this essay about how Wal-Mart's "Made in America" claims are deceitful and disgusting, and on and on.

Today, a new addition. Wal-Mart has agreed to settle a case in which 87,000 employees sued for unpaid overtime wages. Specifically, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $33 million, which averages out to be $379 per employee involved. Hilariously, though, the damages paid to each employee range from a few cents to, in one instance, $39,000.

If you are a Wal-Mart employee and are wondering if you are due any unpaid overtime, you can go here to find out.

Bernie Kerik To Try His Luck In Guyana

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 1:15 PM PST

Bernie Kerik, who rose to fame after 9/11, is now headed to Guyana where he will be a new state security advisor, working alongside the President and the national security ministry. Kerik was the New York City police commissioner when the 9/11 attacks occured and was subsequently praised for his department's valor.

But Kerik's career since then has been marred by scandal. And, we mustn't forget his stellar performance in Iraq. The NYPD hero took over a police advisory role in the country in May of 2003, but due to his less than sufficient preparation -- he watched A&E documentaries on Saddam Hussein to prepare -- and lack of experience in Iraq, he proved to be incompetent in the role. He held only two staff meetings while in the country and returned having failed. (To be fair, the administration did not send enough advisers to Iraq despite numerous recommendations to do so.) The lack of competent police advising would prove to be one of the gravest errors made by the adminstration to date. For more examples of the adminstration's incompetence regarding Iraq, see the Mother Jones timeline.

Kerik, though, certainly has a nose for a deal. One can only imagine how much his one year contract in Guyana, which begins next month, is worth.

The Thirteenth Tipping Point Begins

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 12:43 PM PST

Climate change is in the air. And not just the warming kind. A fresh breeze blows from Washington DC as Congress finally declares an interest in global warming. The barometer climbs a notch as CEOs urge Bush to address the issues now. The heavy, foggy, dark, oppressive weather stagnating in place for the past six years is finally yielding to new air destined to dismantle the Big Low from the top down. We may see sunshine yet. By Independence Day, if Speaker Pelosi has her way.

Yet no matter what changes transpire in government or industry, you and I can't abrogate our responsibility. Only we can shift the human race from its doomsday course. My article in the November/December 2006 issue of Mother Jones, The Thirteenth Tipping Point, examined what science can tell us about our ability to change ourselves. The outlook is good, and the following op-ed, which ran in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere summarizes:

What if twelve meteors were on known collision courses with earth? What if we could alter their trajectories and save our planet by the cumulative effect of our individual efforts? What if science and history proved that we are fully capable of such heroism? What would it take to get us started?

John Schellnhuber, distinguished science advisor at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, has identified 12 global warming tipping points—from the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest to the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—any one of which, if triggered, will likely initiate sudden, meteoric changes across the planet.

More Good News About Factory Farming

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 11:47 AM PST

Smithfield Foods Inc., the nation's largest pork producer, announced yesterday that it is phasing out the use of gestation crates at all of its farms. Smithfield says that within ten years, it will have no gestion crates at any of its facilities. Ten years is a long time for hundreds of thousands of pigs to continue to suffer, but the announcement is nevertheless a major breakthrough in the fight against corporate animal abuse.

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Bush to Congress: "I'm Still Making the Decisions Around Here"

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 11:00 AM PST

This morning, President Bush told reporters, regarding Congress' opposition to escalation, that he really doesn't care.

"Most people recognize that failure would be a distaster for the United States. And, that I'm the decision-maker. I had to come up with a way forward that precluded distaster."

For what it's worth, I think I personally preferred "the Decider."

Shi'a Iraqi Soldiers Beat Sunnis As American Soldiers Cheer Them On

| Thu Jan. 25, 2007 5:25 PM PST

Footage of the beating of Sunnis by Shi'a Iraqi soldiers is available here. Obtained by a British public television station, the footage shows the Sunnis being beaten with fists, kicked, and beaten with the butts of weapons. While the beatings are taking place, American soldiers taunt the Sunnis and cheer on the Shi'a soldiers, then help load the victims into the back of a truck.

The beatings were witnessed by two journalists from the First Cavalry division. According to the British television station, American troops threatened the journalists and held them under armed guard, threatening to seize their footage. A U.S. Army commander reports that he has taken action to suspend the platoon sergeant.

Farewell to Ryszard Kapuscinski

| Thu Jan. 25, 2007 3:10 PM PST

Ryszard Kapuscinksi, the Polish foreign correspondent, astute observer of the Third World and fixture of most college courses on literary nonfiction for the last 25 years, passed away today. He was best known in the United States for the translations of his books on wars and revolutions, told through the eye of a nation that had itself been victim to conquest and subjugation. He was criticized in his later years for being somewhat essentialist on the matter of race and culture, and for being more literary than literal in his use of facts, but he remains one of the great chroniclers of post-colonial tumult in Africa and the Middle East, a journalist of exemplary courage and a writer of great empathy.

While riding the bus this week, it just so happens I've been rereading Kapuscinski. His Shah of Shahs, published in 1982, chronicles the events leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in which Ayatollah Khomeini deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the corrupt, US-backed autocrat. As I'd hoped, Kapuscinski shed some light on what we'd be getting into if the Bush Administration made good on its brinksmanship. Bush might want to consider this before invading:

[Iranians] have a particular talent for preserving their independence under conditions of subjugation. For hundreds of years the Iranians have been the victims of conquest, aggression, and partition. They have been ruled for centuries on end by foreigners or local regimes dependent of foreign powers, and yet they have preserved their culture and language, their impressive personality and so much spiritual fortitude that in propitious circumstances they can arise reborn from the ashes. During the twenty-five centuries of their recorded history the Iranians have always, sooner or later, managed to outwit anyone with the impudence to try ruling them. Sometimes they have to resort to the weapons of uprising and revolution to obtain their goal, and then they pay the tragic levy of blood. Sometimes they use the tactic of passive resistance, which they apply in a particularly consistent and radical way. When they get fed up with an authority that has become unbearable, the whole country freezes, the whole nation does a disappearing act. Authority gives orders but no one is listening, it frowns but no one is looking, it raises its voice but that voice is as one crying in the wilderness. Then authority falls apart like a house of cards. The most common Iranian technique, however, is absorption, active assimilation, in a way that turns the foreign sword into the Iranians' own weapon."

The Highwayman: DeFazio to Take on Privatization

| Thu Jan. 25, 2007 2:58 PM PST

When I met with Peter DeFazio in his office last summer, the Oregon democrat was, to put it mildly, a bit exercised. Having flown in from Oregon the night before after participating in a charity bike ride, he was going on basically no sleep. And, when I asked him about the nascent trend of leasing the nation's highways to the private sector, he was particularly blunt: "It's a scam, basically," he told me. He was even more candid in his comments about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, the former Bush administration official who pushed to privatize his state's 157-mile toll road, ultimately leasing it for $3.8 billion to a foreign consortium.

Daniels had appeared before the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit that May to talk up so-called public-private partnerships and DeFazio, then the ranking democrat on the committee, questioned him pointedly on the logic of such deals during the hearing. "Are we outsourcing political will to a private entity here?" he asked at one point, referring to the fact that Indiana had chosen to lease its road rather than increase its profitability by raising tolls. When we spoke later that summer, DeFazio, questioning how good these deals are for the public, said Daniels had "just screwed the state of Indiana and the people of the state of Indiana." (By one estimate, the Indiana Toll Road, in state hands, could have earned as much as $11.38 billion over the next 75 years. If so, then Indiana taxpayers will lose out on more than $7 billion in revenue.) "The point is these are very, very tricky things," he said. "You're making a 75 year commitment of vital public infrastructure and you're not getting a very good deal."

As Jim Ridgeway and I report in the current issue of the magazine, there are other problems with these public-private transactions. One of them is the keen interest investment banks, Goldman Sachs in particular, have taken in opening the toll road market to private investment. In doing so, Goldman has played the role of lobbyist, municipal finance advisor, and, controversially, would-be principal investor. In this new market, the potential for conflicts of interest abounds.

Last summer, when I asked DeFazio where he saw this trend going, he said, "if the Republicans retain control of everything, the Bush administration will push this hard I'm sure." But, he added, "this is nowhere near a done deal." At the time, he was particularly concerned by a blue ribbon panel, known as the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, which had been tasked, after the passage of the last highway bill in 2005, with the lofty mission of looking at ways to "preserve and enhance the surface transportation system to meet the needs of the United States for the 21st century." "My understanding is it's turning more and more and more toward a sole focus of how to justify the privatization of infrastructure — just like Bush's Social Security commission," DeFazio told me. With several privatization advocates appointed to the committee, including transportation secretary Mary Peters, DeFazio certainly had reason to be concerned. "If we take control, we'll drag those people in here and remind them of their charge," DeFazio said.

Well, the Democrats have retaken control of Congress and DeFazio, who now serves as the chairman of the Highways committee, has kept his pledge. Yesterday, he gaveled to order the committee's first hearing of the new Congress, dubbed the "Surface Transportation System: Challenges of the Future." Among the witnesses, were two members of the transportation policy committee. "You should expect this subcommittee to be very active over the next two years as we conduct oversight on the implementation of the last highway and transit reauthorization, SAFETEA-LU, and prepare to meet the many challenges we will face in crafting the next reauthorization," he said yesterday. Then, he addressed the transportation policy committee directly, perhaps offering a subtle warning. "Congress created the Commission in hopes of getting a thorough and objective analysis of what our surface transportation system needs to become to support our economy in the future, as well as short and long term funding solutions to increase revenue into the Highway Trust Fund." But yesterday's hearing was just the precursor for what's to come. Expect the real fireworks to arrive when the committee holds a hearing specifically on the topic of private-partnerships, which is expected to take place sometime next month.

Even though DeFazio has now ascended to the key post on the Highways committee, it remains to be seen whether or not his efforts will slow the privatization trend, which has the enthusiastic backing of the Bush administration. To this end, the president recently nominated D.J. Gribbin to be general counsel to the Department of Transportation. Who is Gribbin you might wonder? A former general counsel to the Federal Highway Administration, he has most recently been working on behalf of Macquarie Holdings, Inc., a branch of the very same company that has been so avidly buying up the nation's highways.