Blogs

The Real Headline from the Dems' Debate: "Nothing Happened"

| Fri Apr. 27, 2007 10:51 AM EDT

Every news outlet seems to be leading with the debate the Democratic presidential candidates had in South Carolina last night. The reporters had to mine a thoroughly uneventful evening for a news hook, and so if you look around the web you'll find stuff like, "Everyone attacked Obama!" or "Obama was great, Hillary was awful!" or "Democrats target Bush!" Or whatever. In reality, here's what happened: nothing.

Obama was Obama. Edwards was Edwards. Clinton was Clinton. They didn't lash out at anyone except President Bush, which they've been doing every day for months. Richardson talks too much. Joe Biden knows what he's talking about, but has no chance. Dennis Kucinich doesn't talk about issues, he talks about philosophies and how they lead to positions on issues. He doesn't have a chance either. Chris Dodd was a non-entity. Mike Gravel (pronounced Gruh-VELL) is crazy and hilarious and you don't know who he is. But let's emphasize this, he's really crazy. Brian Williams was a fine moderator until the last ten minutes, when he let things get out of control and Obama and Kucinich started bickering about bombing people.

Everyone was so careful and timid and uninterested in attacking their opponents that they could have debated for three days instead of 90 minutes and there wouldn't have been a single worthwhile news hook. And that's all you need to know.

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Illegal Drugs Making a Legal Comeback

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:41 PM EDT

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This is trippy. Time Magazine asks, "Was Timothy Leary right?" LSD and Ecstasy are making a comeback in high-level psychiatric research.

Last year two top journals, the Archives of General Psychiatry and the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, published papers showing clear benefits from the use of psychedelics to treat mental illness. Both were small studies, just 27 subjects total. But the Archives paper--whose lead author, Dr. Carlos Zarate Jr., is chief of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Research Unit at NIMH--found "robust and rapid antidepressant effects" that remained for a week after depressed subjects were given ketamine (colloquial name: Special K or usually just k). In the other study, a team led by Dr. Francisco Moreno of the University of Arizona gave psilocybin (the merrymaking chemical in psychedelic mushrooms) to obsessive-compulsive-disorder patients, most of whom later showed "acute reductions in core OCD symptoms." Now researchers at Harvard are studying how Ecstasy might help alleviate anxiety disorders, and the Beckley Foundation, a British trust, has received approval to begin what will be the first human studies with LSD since the 1970s.

Legal, clinical studies, that is. People never stopped "studying" LSD at home. The intersection of illegal drugs and prescription medicine is fascinating, because the difference between them is not material. It's one of authority. What's illegal about most narcotics, of course, is not taking them, specifically, but taking them unsupervised. So many now-illegal drugs got a head start in the mental health field, including LSD, Ecstasy, and cocaine. While elementary schools in recent years have legally forced parents to make their children take Ritalin, adults have been legally prosecuted for crumbling up and snorting it.

Here's a story about a girl forced to take drugs. And here's a story about a medicine people are denied.

Meet the "Messengers of Orgasm"

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:00 PM EDT

If you haven't found your clit by adulthood, it might be worth seeking some guidance. That little nub can be hard to find, and cultural and religious mores have shrouded it even further. But paying $2,000? Living in a community of spiritual supporters? Practicing "orgasmic meditation" every day under the direction of a guru? The for-profit One Taste Urban Retreat Center in SOMA sounds less like feminist consciousness-raising than a self-help scam. Rife with jargon such as obnosing, chargey, and open-source sensuality, this story by Mary Spicuzza is a fun read.

Guess How Many People are Running for President? (Now Add One More)

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 9:30 PM EDT

Because former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore just announced he's in too.

If you're like, 'Jim who'? That's OK. It was my reaction and I'm from Virginia.

Gilmore is unknown to most Americans and a recent filing to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) showed that he has just $90,000 in his campaign account — well behind the totals reported by other Republicans. Gilmore said today that the presidential campaign is a "very long race" and that he will reach voters and increase his name recognition through the Internet. Gilmore's speech was broadcast live over his campaign Web site. (NYT/CQ)

Love that his campaign is trying to spin his virtual announcement as a sign that he's web savvy. And not, you know, the guy who couldn't get reporters to come to his press conference.

Seriously, how many people are running for president? I've lost count.

Rare Lung Disease Found In Food-Flavoring Plant Employees

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 9:28 PM EDT

Bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare, life-threatening lung disease, has been found in eight in eight individuals who worked in California food-flavoring plants between 2003 and 2007. Contracting this disease was apparently the result of inhaling diacetyl, which is also linked to the occurrence of bronchiolitis obliterans in people who work in the microwave popcorn industry.

And the latest issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that women who work in battery manufacturing plants have elevated lead levels.

"Bronchiolitis obliterans is a severe lung disease that can be prevented with appropriate measures, such as engineering controls, work practices, medical surveillance, and a respiratory protection program," according to report co-author Dr. Rachael Bailey, an epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

There are no regulations governing U.S. food flavoring plants.

Gov't Watchdogs Call the OSC's Rove Investigation Dead in the Water

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 8:20 PM EDT

As Dan Schulman reported this week, the Project on Government Oversight—a reputable nonprofit dedicated to rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in government—has expressed doubt that Scott Bloch and the Office of Special Counsel have the authority to investigate Karl Rove as they've promised to do. Today, POGO and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility issued a joint press release detailing their objections. First the obvious: OSC head Bloch is under investigation by the White House, so how can he impartially investigate the White House?

Bloch aside, PEER and POGO claim it is "unclear at best" whether the OSC has the authority to oversee White House (and RNC) activities. The office almost certainly doesn't have the authority to look into former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias's claim that his firing amounted to discrimination against an armed services member (one of the rationales the DOJ gave for firing him was that he was out of the office too often; he serves in the Navy Reserves). Finally, the OSC can issue subpoenas, but can't enforce them. Do you really think Rove would submit to such a weak legal request?

Finally, as Dan reported in the current issue of the magazine, Mr. Bloch has hardly been an overachiever in the past, and has very little experience conducting large-scale investigations. PEER director Jeff Ruch put it this way: "Scott Bloch brings the investigative acumen of an Inspector Clouseau to a very complicated and delicate matter."

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Ecuador Asks Us to Pay for the Amazon

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 7:22 PM EDT

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This dilemma cuts to the core of environmentalism today. Ecuador is asking for international financial compensation to leave alone a major oilfield in the heart of the Amazon. Ecuador's president says he will wait up to one year for a response before drilling. At stake are not only plant and animal species, but also the homeland of tribes living in voluntary isolation. Environmental groups are in disagreement. To pay or not to pay? Keep reading on The Blue Marble.

Military B.S. Alert

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 5:05 PM EDT

Remember James Yee, the poor Guantanamo chaplain who was charged with a laundry list of offenses, all of which were later dropped?

There's a new James Yee. His name is Lt. Col. William H. Steele. He's been accused of aiding the enemy, a charge that can bring a death sentence. The reason? He allowed detainees at Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport to use an unsecured cell phone. All the charges against him sound suspiciously floppy:

He was also accused of illegally storing and marking classified information, disobeying orders relating to his possession of pornography, dereliction of duty regarding government funds and conduct unbecoming of an officer for fraternizing with the daughter of a detainee since 2005 and for maintaining "an inappropriate relationship" with an interpreter in 2005 and 2006.

The military is mum on the charges, but outside analysts who have seen them say the fraternizing charge probably did not involve a sexual relationship.

Now get this: The military accused Yee of disturbingly similar violations, including aiding the enemy, failure to obey a general order, adultery and storing pornography on government computers.

So the real question isn't whether detainees were using Steele's cell phone to harm Americans (much less whether Steele knew it, which would have to be proven for the charge to stick), it's what Steele did to piss off the Pentagon. Or is this simply an attempt to distract the public from the security surge's failure? (Now even Gen. Petraeus is saying things will get worse before they get better.) Stay tuned.

Ecuador Wants Us to Pay for the Amazon

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 4:51 PM EDT

20070424_monkey.jpg

This dilemma cuts to the core of environmentalism today. Ecuador is asking for international compensation to leave alone a major oilfield in the heart of the Amazon. Ecuador's president says he will wait up to one year for a response before drilling. At stake are not only plant and animal species, but also the homeland of several tribes living in voluntary isolation. These tribes are among the fiercest on Earth, renowned for giant spears.

"Ecuador doesn't ask for charity," said President Rafael Correa, "but does ask that the international community share in the sacrifice and compensates us with at least half of what our country would receive, in recognition of the environmental benefits that would be generated by keeping this oil underground." That could come out to about $350 million per year.

Environmental groups are in disagreement. To pay or not to pay?

Arguments against: 1) Biodiversity is priceless. Destroying this part of the Amazon is evil. But paying for abstention would implicitly legitimize its exploitation. 2) Ecuador might be ethical enough to leave it alone anyway. If we pay, who else will come out of the woodwork to demand compensation what they might have left alone? There's no money pot to pay for everything. 3) Paying for what should be a given might exacerbate the situation. A slightly-related case: When well-meaning Christian groups bought modern-day slaves in Africa in order to set them free a few years ago, they put enough cash into the system to promote more slave raids, after the market would have died on its own. Talk about a road to hell paved with good intentions.

Argument for: 1) For environmentalism to work, we need to integrate it into the economy, not just morality and law. 2) With $4,500 income per capita, Ecuador is among the poorest half of nations. Oil is its biggest source of income. 3) Again, biodiversity is priceless. Ecologists and economists have estimated that the value of all natural ecosystems across the world--in terms of their services to humanity--is about 30 trillion dollars a year. That's more than the GNP of all nations combined. But in this case Ecuador is making it easy for us by asking for just half of potential oil revenue. So the question becomes, who would pay, and how?

McCain Neglects to Vote on Iraq War Spending Bill and Everything Else, Really

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 4:45 PM EDT

I just updated my McCain post below with this news, but decided it deserved its own slot. The LA Times reports that presidential candidate John McCain was one of three senators who did not show up to vote today on the Iraq war spending bill (it just passed in the Senate). "This is the fourth major Iraq-related vote missed by McCain." But, it's not just Iraq votes that McCain skips. Politico points out that according to Congressional Observer Publications, McCain doesn't show up to vote for much these days. In fact, since January, he has missed one in three votes. Need a little context? The senator's Democratic cohorts, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both missed just three.