Mojo - December 2006

Iraq Study Group: "Antidemocratic"

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 3:28 PM EST

An article in the Christian Science Monitor by Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, calls the Iraq Study Group "antidemocratic." Bacevich says the group is in place largely to keep citizens' demands about the war at bay.

Which does beg the question, where has all that citizen anger that was demonstrated on a global scale before the United States invasion of Iraq all gone to? While the war is being widely criticized by media and politicians, voices of dissent in the general public have been quiet. Even after the deadliest month of combat for both American troops and Iraqi civilians, there were no major protests, marches or public outcries calling for an end to the war (with the exception of a Cindy Sheehan led protest on the steps of the Whitehouse that resulted in her arrest on Nov. 9).

Perhaps, as Bacevich suggests, Americans assume the government will take care of it. Or, they are overwhelmed at how badly things have gone. Politicians recently traveling to Iraq experienced shock and awe of their own. After a recent visit to Iraq, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said: "(The Iraqi government) seems to be caught in a crossfire of sectarian angst and violent actions. It's a dangerous environment that will continue to escalate in the weeks ahead."

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Trying to Get the Lead Out in Peru

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 3:09 PM EST

In our current issue, Sara Shipley Hiles and Marina Walker Guevara investigate how Doe Run, an American mining company, effectively offshored its pollution when it bought a lead smelter in a small city in the Peruvian Andes. Its operation is coating the town of La Oroya in poisonous dust, with devasting effects on the local environment, public health, and especially its kids, many of whom have unacceptably high levels of lead in their systems. Don't miss the story.

But if you want a quick look at what La Oroya looks like and what local residents are saying about the plant, check out this video from Earthjustice, which is part of the legal effort Doe Run to get to clean up its act.

Study Shows Abortion Pill Could Prevent Breast Cancer

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 3:05 PM EST

A new study just released, reports the Washington Post, shows mifepristone, the active component of the abortion pill regimen RU-486, may stave off breast cancer. The research shows that BRCA1, a gene that causes breast cancer, actually accelerates the production of progesterone (a necessary hormone for pregnant women) in the body. Mifepristone blocks progesterone, and scientists discovered that it was very effective in shutting down cancer-causing genes in mice. It was actually 100% effective. Proponents of RU-486 are hoping that this new advancement will make the drug more available and therefore pave the way for women to use the pill for abortions. Scientists, though, are not yet convinced (and neither should you be-- the long-term effects of RU-486 have not been studied because the drug is meant for one-time use only). There are concerns that long-term use of RU-486 by humans suppresses the immune system and scientists are looking into other progesterone blocking options. So, this is likely not, nor should it be hyped as, the pro-choice ticket to off-label cancer fighting use of RU-486, but, then again, it isn't bad news for the much maligned abortion pill.

Birth Control or Purity Balls, That is the Question

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 3:04 PM EST

I wrote last week about the decline in the nation's teen birth rate, and how abstinence groups would try to claim the downturn is the result of chastity pledges and purity rings. (They have, but you need to be an approved member of the Abstinence Clearinghouse to read the "good news.")

Now, the American Journal of Public Health has released a study, Explaining Recent Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy in the United States: The Contribution of Abstinence and Improved Contraceptive Use, that pops that theory. The study's doctors write:

"The current emphasis of U.S. domestic and global policies, which stress abstinence-only sex education to the exclusion of accurate information on contraception, is misguided."

The study, via interviews with nearly 1400 women in 1995 and 1150 in 2002, looks at the relative contribution of abstinence behavior and improved contraceptive use to the recent decline in pregnancy rates (really teen birth rates) among U.S. women between the ages of 15 to 19. Investigators estimate that the likelihood of pregnancy in this age group declined 34 percent between 1995 and 2002, and that 86 percent of the decline in pregnancy risk was attributable to improved use of contraception.

They found that reduced sexual activity explained only 14 percent of the decline in teen pregnancy. To be fair, let it be recalled that abstinence-only ed didn't become a bankrolled operation until 2000. But also to be fair, there has been zero evidence that such education is more effective than comprehensive sex education which includes, gasp, discussion of birth control options.

According to the study, among 18 to 19-year-olds, the decline in pregnancy risk was entirely due to improved contraceptive use, which includes increases in the use of birth control pills, condoms, or both. The study authors conclude:

"These data suggest that the U.S. appears to be following patterns seen in other developed countries where increased availability and increased use of modern contraceptives have been primarily responsible for declines in teenage pregnancy rates...Our findings raise questions about current U.S. government policies that promote abstinence from sexual activity as the primary strategy to prevent adolescent pregnancy."

Questions indeed. They're being polite.

Happy Methday!

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 3:00 PM EST

For those of you who weren't, um, aware that yesterday was National Methamphetamine Awareness Day, Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance has a holiday card for you. Among his several well-reasoned critiques of our nation's approach to the speed problem - which Piper sums up as "incarcerate as many methamphetamine offenders as possible and hope for the best" - is the nugget that California's policy of diverting low-level offenders into treatment instead of prison has saved taxpayers over one billlion dollars in the last five years.

Calling All Conspiracy Theorists

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 2:04 PM EST

The Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood unearthed this fascinating nugget in a recent Navy directive on its "Human Research Protection Program," which, much as the name suggests, is tasked with safeguarding human research subjects from inhumane experiments.

The Under Secretary of the Navy (UNSECNAV) is the Approval Authority for research involving... severe or unusual intrusions, either physical or psychological, on human subjects (such as consciousness-altering drugs or mind-control techniques).

Umm, mind control. Part of me is relieved that research, of the Manchurian Candidate variety, if it does indeed exist, requires some form of high level approval. Mostly, though, I'm unnerved by the possibility that government researchers are spending any time whatsoever contemplating this line of inquiry. Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised. The DoD is known for floating some pretty absurd proposals, such as one in 1994 by researchers at the Air Force's Wright Laboratory who pitched developing "harassing, annoying, and 'bad guy' identifying chemicals." One example:

Chemicals that effect human behavior so that discipline and morale in enemy units is adversely affected. One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior.

Your tax dollars at work folks.

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Former Members of Congress, Convicted Of Crimes, Collect Pensions

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 1:55 PM EST

Former Congresssman Duke Cunningham is in prison, which is a good thing. What isn't such a good thing is that he is collecting a $64,000-a-year pension while he is there, and the amount of the pension will increase as the cost of living goes up. Former Congressman Bob Ney, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges, will get $29,000 a year after he turns 60, and former Congressman Mark Foley, even if he is convicted of a crime, will get $32,000 a year.

Last May, the House of Representatives finally passed a bill that would take pensions away from members who are convicted of bribery or corruption. However, the bill is stalled, and is unlikely to pass before the end of the current session. At any rate, it is not retroactive, so Cunningham and Ney (and possibly Foley) can relax and put their pensions in the bank.

Another problem is that the bill covers only bribery and corruption and not other crimes. Fifteen other disgraced former members of Congress, including convicted Dan Rotstenkowski, collect pensions. Rotstenkowski collects over $100,000 a year, and would have done so even if the House bill had already been made law at the time of his conviction.

We're Still #1 In Prisoners

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 1:08 PM EST

The United States has been locking up more of its citizens than any other country for some time now - and last year we extended our lead. A record seven million Americans - three per cent of the population - were behind bars, on probation or on parole in 2005, the Department of Justice announced last night. That number includes 2.2 million people currently locked up here in the Land of the Free, despite the fact that crime rates have been falling for over a decade. That gives us an incarceration rate several times higher than that of any Western European country, and far ahead of our closest competitor, liberty-loving Russia.

Headline of the Day

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 12:32 PM EST

The liberal media strikes again. From page one of today's San Francisco Chronicle:

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The article in a nutshell: Bush might still be talking about staying the course in Iraq, but behind the scenes, who knows what the heck he's really thinking or doing? That should be pretty obvious by now, but there's something bracing about seeing that in print in a major newspaper. Even the Chron.