2007 - %3, March

Cobell, Native Leaders Reject Bush Proposal, Seek Resolution From Congress

| Fri Mar. 30, 2007 1:54 AM EDT

Elouise Cobell and two other Native American leaders today urged the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to reject a Bush administration proposal to resolve a number of Indian disputes. Some of these disputes have little to do with the long-running lawsuit over the government's admitted mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust, according to IndianTrust.com. The story was covered in Mother Jones' "Accounting Coup."

Calling the administration's proposal "a slap in the face of every Indian Trust beneficiary," Cobell outline an alternative course that could lead to settlement of the class-action lawsuit she and other Native Americans filed 11 years ago. She also produced a real-life example of the harm the trust problems continue to create for Native Americans--James Kennerly Jr., a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, should be a millionaire. But because the government lost records of the oil leases on his father's lands, Kennerly has been forced into a life of poverty, receiving only $70 a month from lands that continue to pump oil, and that once paid more than $1,000 a month, according an Interior report. What happened? Interior officials can't say. Lease records for the lands have disappeared.

Cobell was joined in her testimony by John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund of Boulder, Colo., and William Martin, vice chairman of the InterTribal Monitoring Association of Albuquerque, N.M. Both denounced the government's efforts to lump settlement of the Cobell case with the settlement of more than 100 separate lawsuits that tribes have filed over the government's mismanagement of their tribal trust accounts.

Committee Chairman Bryon Dorgan, D-N.D, agreed that the government was reaching too far with that proposal. He promised to continue to press efforts for a resolution of the Cobell lawsuit, which affects about 500,000 Indian Trust beneficiaries. Cobell called the $7 billion the administration proposed to settle her lawsuit along with those of the tribes and other issues "an insult, plain and simple." Just last year the Indian Affairs Committee released a proposal that would have called for an $8 billion settlement of the Cobell case alone.--Julia Whitty

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Overfishing Large Sharks Impacts Entire Marine Ecosystem

| Fri Mar. 30, 2007 12:59 AM EDT

Ransom's Myers last paper before his death this week reports that fewer big sharks in the oceans also means bay scallops are harder to find at market. Ecologists and scientists have thought for a long time that the effects of removing the ocean's top predators, big sharks, would cascade through the food web. This is the first study to demonstrate that cause and effect—a holy grail of conservation biology.

A team of Canadian and American ecologists, led by Myers and Julia Baum, found that overfishing the largest predatory sharks (such as bull, hammerhead, dusky, and great white sharks) along the Atlantic Coast led to an explosion of ray, skate, and small shark prey species, according to a Dalhousie University press release. Myers held the Killam Chair in Ocean Studies at Dalhousie. The paper appears in this week's Science.

"With fewer sharks around, the species they prey upon – like cownose rays – have increased in numbers and in turn, hordes of cownose rays dining on bay scallops have wiped the scallops out," says Julia Baum, a co-author of the article. "Large sharks have been functionally eliminated from the east coast of the U.S., meaning that they can no longer perform their ecosystem role as top predators. The extent of the declines shouldn't be a surprise, considering how heavily large sharks have been fished in recent decades to meet the growing worldwide demand for shark fins and meat.

"Our study provides evidence that the loss of great sharks triggers changes that cascade throughout coastal food webs," says Baum. "Solutions include enhancing protection of great sharks by substantially reducing fishing pressure on all of these species and enforcing bans on shark finning both in national waters and on the high seas."

Loss of a Great Scientist, Ransom Myers Dies of Brain Cancer

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 11:28 PM EDT

The science world lost a great this week. Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia warned at length, using solid science and brilliant analysis, of the dangers of overfishing. He didn't mince words and he wasn't afraid to report bad news. As the Guelph Mercury reports, the 54-year-old biologist, originally from Mississippi, was known for his groundbreaking research and blunt warnings about the extinction of marine life around the world, and for his irrepressible passion for conservation that not even cancer could quell.

Despite his illness, another groundbreaking scientific paper on shark population declines that Myers co-wrote was published this week in Science, a testament to his boundless energy and ability to carry on in the face of grave adversity. "He was just so extraordinarily driven to try to provide the science and to address the scientific questions so we can start seeing more effective shark conservation," Julia Baum, co-author on his last paper, told the Guelph Mercury.

That passion for marine conservation stemmed from his days in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, where he worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at a time when the industry was watching the collapse of the cod fishery. He became, says the Guelph Mercury, a lone, unpopular voice in the emotional discussion about the cause of the collapse, insisting overfishing was the main factor in the decimation of a fishery central to island life. The world was in "massive denial," he said, and spending its energy fighting over the few fish left instead of cutting catch limits before it was too late.

A Washington Post obituary reports that Myers analyzed vast amounts of data from government and industry reports around the globe, establishing that the size of large fish declined dramatically in recent decades. Tuna used to be twice as big, and marlins were once as large as killer whales. He warned governments, the fishing industry and consumers that unless commercial fishing is sharply curtailed many large marine species will become extinct, leading to economic disruptions, food shortages, and lasting damage to marine ecosystems. He said his conclusions were shocking because people had lost sight of the true magnitude of the declines because they did not look back far enough in history. In other words, we've forgotten how big fish used to be and how many of them once lived in the sea.

His seminal paper on fisheries declines was reported in Mother Jones' "The Fate of the Ocean."

The world will sorely miss his voice, commitment, intelligence, and common sense. Let's hope more scientists emulate his fearless lead.

Cancer Patients Warned Not to Self-Medicate with Chemotherapy

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 11:07 PM EDT

A bizarre black market is forming around a simple laboratory chemical that cancer patients have pinned their last hopes for survival on. In January, New Scientist reported a discovery that sounded "too good to be true."

A Canadian researcher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, tested dichloroacetic acid on human cells cultured outside the body and found it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells. "Tumours in rats deliberately infected with human cancer also shrank drastically when they were fed DCA-laced water for several weeks," wrote Andy Coghlan.

But because the chemical is not patentable, Coghlan wrote, no incentive existed for pharmaceuticals to run the clinical trials necessary to make DCA legal as a cancer treatment. Soon two Web sites sprung up: one with the research papers and chat rooms to discuss DCA, and another site selling DCA supposedly for use in pets with terminal cancer. Both sites are run by a California man who operates a pest-control company. But both sites are under criminal investigation by the FDA, because DCA hasn't gone through clinical trials or been approved for human use. Even marketing DCA for pets is illegal.

Still, Evangelos Michelakis and his Canadian team, who made the discovery, have fielded thousands of emails and calls from people asking how much DCA to take. Michelakis tells New Scientist, "We're now getting emails from people asking for dosage information for, say, a 150-pound golden retriever."

But even Michelakis is warning the desperate people not to take DCA. And so are other doctors, even though at least one doctor with cancer is taking it. Michelakis fears that if anyone dies while taking DCA unsupervised, funding for clinical trials will disappear. He tells New Scientist, "We are trying to do this the right way, by putting it into clinical trials, and these websites could destroy all of this."

Word to Dems: Don't Count Your Chickens

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 8:24 PM EDT

I was born in 1971, and the first president I remember is Jimmy Carter. I "campaigned" for his re-election in 1980, and at such a tender young age I learned that my candidate would nearly always lose. Twelve years of Republican rule molded my young mind into believing that it was impossible for Democrats to win. I was stunned when Clinton won in 1992, and flat out didn't believe the polls that said Clinton was trouncing Dole before the 1996 election.

Nowadays, Democrats seem to have the opposite problem. They are dancing on the graves of folks like Karl Rove (who, by the way, can't dance) and Bush 43. A word of advice from a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist: Not so fast.

Although conservatives are seriously unhappy with their stable of candidates, their people are still dogging the Dems in imagined head-to-heads. In a recent TIME poll, Hillary Clinton loses to John McCain, 42%-48%, and to Rudy Giuliani 41%-50%. Even though Dems favor Clinton over Obama, he fares better than Clinton does against Republicans. TIME has Obama losing by a hair to either McCain or Giuliani. (This despite Firefighter-gate! Astounding!)

TIME attributes the surprising (though not to this hardened loser) results to the fact that the voters shedding their loyalty to the Republican Party don't think of McCain or Giuliani as, you know, Republicans. (I wonder how they feel about that? It's like having your white friends tell you that you're the special black guy! You're OK!)

On the other hand, it may be that Clinton, whom voters know and, err, love, has reached her maximum percentage potential, but that Obama and Edwards still have room to win over additional voters.

Burger King Finally Gives PETA an Inch

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 7:36 PM EDT

Burger King has just announced an initiative to purchase 2% cage-free eggs and 10% of its pork from farms that allow sows "some room to move around." As far as its Canadian and American suppliers are concerned, anyway. In Asia, anything still goes.

Nevertheless, the policy leaves the chain way behind other reduced-cruelty crusaders like Wolfgang Puck and Chipotle. One reason for the slow start is the higher price of humanely-raised meat, which the company is currently negotiating so its menu prices won't change (read: BK is going all Wal-Mart on its suppliers and demanding lower prices, because it certainly wouldn't want to keep the Hamlette Sandwich cheap by diverting money away from video games or an ad campaign featuring the world's creepiest mascot).

An industry VP says that an increase in mindful consumers will require more companies to jump on the bandwagon – that's right, this guy actually calls "social responsibility and social consciousness" a "bandwagon." There are 285 million egg-laying hens and 63 million pigs in factory farms in the U.S., a country in which 9 billion chickens are raised and killed for meat annually. Keep an eye on that bandwagon, which, if it gets big enough, could cause changes of revolutionary proportions when industry giants may not be able to strong-arm farmers into selling their quality goods for less, and companies and consumers alike will finally have to admit that there's not enough room on the planet to give the meat we eat "free-range."

—Nicole McClelland

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Security Surge Fails in its Strong Suit

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 6:44 PM EDT

I blogged last Friday about TIME's optimistic assessment of the surge-backed security crackdown in Baghdad (for which General Petraeus was a major source). I was skeptical. But one new tactic even I had to admit was a good idea—if a tad slow in coming—was Operation Safe Markets, where the military uses concrete barriers to prevent cars, and car bombs, from getting close to the crowds markets draw.

Today, a car bomb killed 61 people at a market in the Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad, and 40 were injured. Simultaneously, a car bomb killed 43 and wounded 86 in the predominantly Shiite town of Khalis, north of Baghdad. The Shaab neighborhood is one of the crackdown's key areas.

Convinced yet? Don't just take my word for it. Those who have warned the surge won't work include Colin Powell, the Iraq Study Group, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Petraeus's sacked predecessor, General Abizaid.

Tensions Mounting Between U.K. and Iran

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 4:47 PM EDT

Iran has reneged on its pledge to release the female soldier seized among 15 Britons the nation accused of entering its territorial waters during a sea patrol. Things are a bit hairier than a simple territorial dispute, however. Britain asked the U.N. to issue a press release "deplor[ing]" the marines' capture (how British is that?). In response to that action, Iran reneged on its promise to release Leading Seaman Faye Turney. Iran has now released a letter written by Turney, asking the U.K. to begin removing its troops from Iraq. Blair has called the soldiers' release the "only outcome" to the crisis, and suggests he will "step up the pressure." But Iran doesn't respond well to pressure, so this conflict has the potential to turn into something big.

Bush Coming Out of Your Closet?

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 4:36 PM EDT

cheneyad.JPGWhat's scarier: your overstuffed closet or Bush's agenda? Manhattan Mini Storage poses that question in a series of political ads posted on Upper West Side phone booths and subway cars.

The ads, one of which features an suitcase-toting elephant, aren't as racy as they might seem, given the demographic they're targeting: the UWS was the largest NYC Democratic contributor in 2004.

There must be at least a few GOPers living there, though, judging by the outraged bloggers who apparently don't like Bush being associated with anyone's closet.

—Jen Phillips

Spate of Tornadoes

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 4:32 PM EDT

tornado.jpgTime reports that "65 tornadoes were reported in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska on Wednesday." As part of my weird weather watch, I looked into these and learned that they're only sorta weird. It's tornado season, and although Colorado technically falls outside "Tornado Alley," it does see twisters pretty regularly. A National Weather Service representative told me the "number of tornadoes was large," calling the "outbreak" "significant but not of record proportions."