Best Viewed with IE or Opera. Sorry, Firefox works, but loses some sidebar layout,
'my profile' and other stuff... Anybody with a fix, please leave a comment. Many thanks in advance.

That said, if you must use Firefox (and I don't blame you, it's become my browser of choice, too)
...get the "IE Tab" extension. This allows you to view problem pages with the IE rendering engine. Very cool!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cheaper to "Give Away" Free Cellphone Services in Rural Areas

U.S. taxpayers are getting stuck with the tab for up to US$13,345 per telephone line per year for federally subsidized phone service under the US$7-billion "Universal Service Fund" tax on long-distance service, according to a new study conducted for The Seniors Coalition by George Mason University Professor of Law and Economics Thomas Hazlett.

The "gold-plated" waste and inefficiency under USF is so out of control that taxpayers actually could save at least US$1 billion or more each year by simply giving away at full retail cost satellite or cellular phone service to the few remaining Americans who do not currently have access to wireline phone service, according to the study.
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The Hazlett study notes that, rather than providing phone-service to low-income consumers in need, the bulk of USF taxpayer dollars are now part of a $3.7 billon wealth-transfer subsidy known as the "High-Cost Fund" that goes from unwary U.S. taxpayers to small, uneconomical private rural telephone companies that often have only a few hundred customers and are so engorged with tax dollars that they can afford to pay out more in dividends to shareholders than they actually charge for phone service.

The Hazlett study identifies 20 companies in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming that that have one or both of the following characteristics: (1) one of the 12 worst companies in terms of the cost to taxpayers per USF-subsidized line per year; and (2) overhead costs charged to taxpayers per customer of $1,000 or more.

The Hazlett report for The Seniors Coalition notes: "The 'universal service' regime ostensibly extends local phone service to consumers who could not otherwise afford it � Yet, benefits are largely distributed to shareholders of rural telephone companies, not consumers, and fail (on net) to extend network access. Rather, the incentives created by these subsidies encourage widespread inefficiency and block adoption of advanced technologies - such as wireless, satellite, and Internet-based services - that could provide superior voice and data links at a fraction of the cost of traditional fixed-line networks. Ironically, subsidy payments are rising even as fixed-line phone subscribership falls, and as the emergence of competitive wireless and broadband networks make traditional universal service concepts obsolete. Unless policies are reformed to reflect current market realities, tax increases will continue to undermine the very goals 'universal service' is said to advance."

"Grandma" Flora Green, national spokesperson, The Seniors Coalition said: "America's seniors and other taxpayers are getting a real wake-up call today: The Universal Service Fund is such a costly mess that it makes those bills we all paid for Pentagon hammers and toilet seats look like a downright bargain! American taxpayers need to insist on reining in the runaway Universal Service Fund, which should only help out those who really need it. The Fund should be capped and then reviewed from top to bottom to squeeze out all the billions of dollars of waste and fraud going on today. We think FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is correct in calling for a reverse-auction system to make sure that those Americans who really need USF help get it with the best available technology and at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers."

The Universal Service Fund tax has surged to $7 billion, up from less than $4 billion in 1998. To pay for the Universal Service Fund, the tax rate applied to long distance revenues has skyrocketed five-fold from 2.1 percent to its current level of 10.5 percent. The primary cause of USF increases stem from rising payments to rural phone carriers, labeled "High-Cost Support," where annual payments mushroomed from $1.7 billion in 1998 to $3.7 billion in 2005. These rising expenditures are, in turn, driven by increasingly expensive per-line payments to high cost rural phone carriers and by new payments to wireless phone carriers now qualifying as recipients of such funds.

SOURCE:
Cheaper to "Give Away" Free Cellphone Services in Rural Areas

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Hybrid Mini offers 640 hp, 0-60 in 4.5 seconds






jul21-mini.jpg

A British engineering firm has put together a high-performance hybrid version of BMW's Mini Cooper. The PML Mini QED
has an output of 640 horsepower, according to PML. It has a top speed
of 150 mph, a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds. The car uses a small
gasoline engine with four 160 horsepower electric motors on each wheel.
The car employs a brake-by-wire system to recoup some lost energy under
braking. The motors are able to provide ABS and traction control with
guidance of the car's onboard computer. The Mini QED is a plug-in
hybrid, meaning it can be charged directly from a power outlet. The car
will "not be generally commercially available," according to its
creators. However, the company is "interested in discussing possible
one-off orders and collaborations."












[PDFs: General Info | Specs]



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Reason Foundation Commentary: Have You Hugged a Hummer Today?

Have You Hugged a Hummer Today?
Hybrid vehicles' overall energy costs exceed those of comparable non-hybrids

By Shikha Dalmia

Ford Motor Company did itself a huge favor recently by backing away from its pledge to bump-up its hybrid production ten-fold in four years. But, as it turns out, the company might have done the planet a whale of a favor too.

Just last fall, CEO Bill Ford was valiantly promising in a mega-million dollar ad campaign that the company would never, ever turn away from its hybrid pledge because these vehicles were central to the company's reputation as an "innovator and environmental steward."

Never mind that at the time Ford was losing $2,000 to $3,000 for every hybrid it sold because consumers won't pay the entire $6,000 extra that it costs to produce a hybrid over its gas-powered counterpart. Never mind also that in the real world -- outside of the Environmental Protection Agency's tax-payer funded testing sites -- hybrids don't deliver anywhere close to the gas mileage that the agency attributes to them, as auto-writer Richard Burr reported in the Weekly Standard.
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Bill Ford had given his word on hybrids and you could take that to the bank (ruptcy court). But hybrids have received such a thrashing in the market lately that even Ford was forced to take-off his green eye-shades and read the red-ink on the wall.

According to Art Spinella, the uber-auto analyst and President of CNW Marketing Research, hybrid sales every month this year have been down compared to the same time last year. Even sales of the Toyota Prius – the darling of the greens – have dropped significantly. The only segment besides taxis where hybrids are still holding steady – taxpayers will be happy to note -- is the car fleets maintained by the government.

What's particularly interesting is that individual consumers are defying all expectations and turning their backs on hybrids at a time when gas prices are soaring. (The average U.S. retail price of gas spiked to a record high of $3.01 last September following hurricane Katrina, and just last week it hit its second highest price ever at nearly $3.00.) Nor is the reason all that mysterious. Spinella's customer satisfaction surveys show that 62 percent of hybrid owners are dissatisfied with the fuel-economy performance of their cars given what they have paid for them.

This means that when gas prices go up, these people don't rush out to buy more hybrids. "They buy a Chevy Aveo," says Spinella. "It delivers the same fuel economy as a Prius, but at half the price."

Consumer interest might revive if the cost of hybrids goes down substantially – or the cost of fuel goes up and stays up for a long period of time, Spinella believes. Until then, however, the hybrid market is unlikely to come out of the deep freeze, a reality that even Ford had to finally acknowledge.

But despite all these drawbacks, hybrids are at least better for the environment than say….. a Hummer, right? Nope.

Spinella spent two years on the most comprehensive study to date – dubbed "Dust to Dust" -- collecting data on the energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a car from the initial conception to scrappage. He even included in the study such minutia as plant-to-dealer fuel costs of each vehicle, employee driving distances, and electricity usage per pound of material. All this data was then boiled down to an "energy cost per mile" figure for each car (see here and here).

Comparing this data, the study concludes that overall hybrids cost more in terms of overall energy consumed than comparable non-hybrid vehicles. But even more surprising, smaller hybrids' energy costs are greater than many large, non-hybrid SUVs.

For instance, the dust-to-dust energy cost of the bunny-sized Honda Civic hybrid is $3.238 per mile. This is quite a bit more than the $1.949 per mile that the elephantine Hummer costs. The energy cots of SUVs such as the Tahoe, Escalade, and Navigator are similarly far less than the Civic hybrid.

As for Ford cars, a Ford Escape hybrid costs $3.2 per mile – about a third more than the regular Escape. But on the whole, ironically enough, the dust-to-dust costs of many of the Ford non-hybrids – Fusion, Milan, Zephyr – are not only lower than comparable Japanese hybrids – Prius, Accord -- but also non-hybrids – Seville, Civic.

Spinella's finding that a Hummer on the whole consumes less energy than a hybrid than even some smaller hybrids and non-hybrids has infuriated environmentalists. And on its face it does seem implausible that a gas-guzzling monster like a Hummer that employs several times more raw material than a little Prius' could be so much less energy-intensive. But by and large the dust-to-dust energy costs in Spinella's study correlate with the fanciness of the car – not its size or fuel economy -- with the Rolls Royces and Bentleys consuming gobs of energy and Mazda 3s, Saturns and Taurus consuming relatively minuscule amounts.

As for Hummers, Spinella explains, the life of these cars averaged across various models is over 300,000 miles. By contrast, Prius' life – according to Toyota's own numbers – is 100,000 miles. Furthermore, Hummer is a far less sophisticated vehicle. Its engine obviously does not have an electric and gas component as a hybrid's does so it takes much less time and energy to manufacture. What's more, its main raw ingredient is low-cost steel, not the exotic light-weights that are exceedingly difficult to make – and dispose. But the biggest reason why a Hummer's energy use is so low is that it shares many components with other vehicles and therefore its design and development energy costs are spread across many cars.

It is not possible to do this with a specialty product like hybrid. All in all, Spinella insists, the energy costs of disposing a Hummer are 60 percent less than an average hybrid's and its design and development costs are 80 percent less.

One of the most perverse things about U.S. consumers buying hybrids is that while this might reduce air pollution in their own cities, they increase pollution – and energy consumption -- in Japan and other Asian countries where these cars are predominantly manufactured. "In effect, they are exporting pollution and energy consumption," Spinella says.

But while the environment has dodged Ford's hybrid foray, Toyota has shown no planetary concerns. It is going full throttle ahead with its plan of putting one million hybrids on the road by the end of the decade. Nor is there much hope that it will back-off in the near future given that it has already sunk $2 billion just in hybrid-related research and development, Spinella points out. Ironically Ford and some of the other car makers' exit from the hybrid segment means that Toyota will be able to consolidate its domination in it even more.

Thus the only hope of prodding Toyota to get out of the hybrid business would be if its customers jumped off the Prius bandwagon and embraced non-hybrids – even Hummers -- instead.

Now here's a catchy slogan for the next Save the Earth campaign: Have you hugged a Hummer today?

Shikha Dalmia is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation. An archive of her work is here and Reason's environment research and commentary is here.
SOURCE:
Reason Foundation Commentary: Have You Hugged a Hummer Today?

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click on picture to "embiggen" view........

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Liber Anglia Nova!: Epiphany

Epiphany

A lot of people in the Left side of the blogosphere are scratching their heads over Bill Clinton's decision to campaign for Joseph Lieberman. I wondered about it too, but after doing some mulling I have decided that it was really the only course of action Clinton had, and one that ultimately will help Conneticut Democrats, and possibly hurt Lieberman in the process.

Clinton had three choic[e]s:

1. Endorse Ned Lamont,
2. Stay Neutral,
3. Campaign for Lieberman.

If he chose the first course of action, he would be accused of being so 'bitter' over Joe's past scoldings that he chose Lieberman's rival. It woudl seema 'spite' endorsement. This could only hurt Lamont, and energize the Clinton haters on the right to support Lieberman.

the second course is almost as bad. Again, Clinton would be accused of failing to help a fellow Democrat out of 'spite'.

In fact, I suspect that Lieberman invited Clinton to help him simply in the hopes that he'd get turned down, and he could play it up to the right wingers how 'angry' and 'spiteful' his opposition is.

Much to Lieberman's dismay (I conjectur) Clinton accepted. This makes Clinton look magnaminous, and it makes Lieberman look so weak he has to turn to a man he used to publicly deride for help.

Clinton's help for Lieberman won't change anybody's mind on the left. We're commited to Lamont, but it won't change our feelings about Clinton one way or another. The real backlash is going to be against Lieberman. I am willing ot bet that there are many on the right who, though inclined to support Lieberman originally, have such a pathological hatred of Clinton that it will cause them to turn against Lieberman.

In this way Clinton manages to get revenge on Lieberman by actually supporting Lieberman.

Never underestimate the Clenis, you do so at your peril.

July 21, 2006 in Current Affairs
SOURCE:
Liber Anglia Nova!: Epiphany

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An All-Electric Car That Accelerates Faster Than a Ferrari

Several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are racing to bring high-end electric cars to market.
By Associated Press

SAN CARLOS, Calif. (AP) -- Like many Silicon Valley engineers, Martin Eberhard loves cars, especially fast ones. But the self-described ''closet gearhead'' didn't feel comfortable buying a hot rod that guzzled gas from the Middle East or some other troubled region.

So three years ago, Eberhard and friend Marc Tarpenning launched Tesla Motors Inc. Their goal: to design a sports car that would go as fast as a Ferrari or Porsche, but run on electricity.

With about 80 employees, Tesla just raised $40 million from high-profile investors including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk. It plans to start selling its first model next year.
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''I'm not the only person that would like to buy a car that's beautiful and fun to drive but also remain on the moral high ground,'' said Eberhard, 45, who sold his previous company, electronic book maker NuvoMedia, for $187 million to Gemstar/TV Guide International in 2000. ''None of the energy that goes into an electric car comes from the Middle East.''

Silicon Valley thinks it can do what Detroit could not -- create a thriving business selling electric cars. In the 1990s, General Motors and other automakers spent billions to develop battery-powered vehicles, but they flopped because most couldn't travel more than 100 miles before having to recharge.

By tapping the Bay Area's engineering expertise and culture of innovation, a cluster of entrepreneurs, engineers and venture capitalists here are racing to bring their own electric cars to market. But unlike the Detroit and Japanese automakers, they're working on high-performance sports cars for wealthy car enthusiasts.

At least three Silicon Valley startups -- Tesla Motors of San Carlos, Wrightspeed Inc. of Woodside and battery maker Li-on Cells of Menlo Park -- are among a small cadre of companies nationwide developing electric cars or components.

As fuel costs rise, technology improves and consumers seek more environmentally friendly vehicles, this new generation of electric car companies sees potential in a market niche largely neglected by the big automakers.

But some industry analysts question whether electric cars could ever become cheap enough, or have the battery life, to compete in the mainstream auto market.

''To attract consumers en masse, the price has to be low enough where they can see the break-even point,'' said Anthony Pratt, an automotive analyst at J.D. Power & Associates. ''The problem with electric vehicles is that they tend to be limited by the battery technology.''

Some major automakers are also working on electric vehicle technology, but most are focused on hybrid cars that run on a combination of gas and electricity, Pratt said.

Backers of electric cars, powered by batteries charged from an electric outlet, say the country could quickly reduce its dependence on foreign oil -- as well as emissions of ''greenhouse'' gases blamed for global warming -- if more drivers went electric.

But so far, efforts to bring electric cars to market have stalled.

In the 1990s, the major automakers introduced several thousand electric cars under a California state mandate to develop cars with no tailpipe emissions. While those cars attracted a small but devoted following, they didn't get much traction in the marketplace because of their restricted driving range.

The big automakers lobbied against the mandate until it was overturned in 2003. Most car companies then recalled their electric vehicles and destroyed them, sparking an outcry among loyalists.

While those models were hobbled by limited driving range, advances in battery technology and electronic components can allow electric vehicles to go more than twice as far on a single charge.

Tesla and Wrightspeed are using lithium-ion batteries that are more powerful, lighter and efficient than the lead acid batteries used in early electric cars or the nickel metal hydride batteries used in today's hybrids.

''The battery technology has improved,'' said Ron Freund, chairman of the Electric Auto Association in Palo Alto. ''They keep getting better. They last longer, they're smaller and they charge faster.''

The success of Toyota's Prius and other hybrids have shown there's a market for eco-friendly cars. Page and Brin, Google's billionaire founders, are known to drive Priuses.

But Tesla's Eberhard thinks the Prius is ''terrifically ugly'' and believes other wealthy car enthusiasts feel the same way.

In Tesla's workshop about 20 miles south of San Francisco, Eberhard and Tarpenning offered a glimpse of their first model -- a sleek two-seater called the Roadster that resembles a Lotus Elise -- but would not allow photographs. They plan to unveil it at an event for prospective buyers next month in Santa Monica.

''We're building a car for people who like to drive,'' Eberhard said. ''This is not a punishment car.''

To build the Roadster, Tesla engineers designed a sophisticated battery system with more than 8,000 lithium-ion cells and a network of computers to control them, Eberhard said. They also built an electric motor that is more than twice as powerful as earlier electric vehicles.

The Roadster will be able to drive about 250 miles on a single three-hour charge, drive up to 135 miles per hour and accelerate from zero to 60 in four seconds, Eberhard said. It will cost between $85,000 and $120,000.

Named after the inventor Nikola Tesla, known for his pioneering research in the field of electricity, the company has big ambitions. Tesla executives talk about building a ''new kind of car company'' and hope to eventually introduce a series of models, starting at the market's high end and bringing down the price as technology improves.

But the company must first undergo rigorous government safety and environmental tests -- a process whose complexity the founders admit they didn't anticipate.

''The car business had more challenges than we expected,'' Tarpenning said.

Ian Wright, who left Tesla to start Wrightspeed last year, is aiming at the same $3 billion market for high-performance sports cars. The New Zealand-born electrical engineer spent nine months retooling an Ariel Atom race car to run on a lithium-ion battery -- a prototype of the car he hopes to eventually sell for about $120,000.

Wright frequently takes prospective investors -- and reporters -- for a spin in the hills near his Woodside home.

With no doors, roof or windshield, a drive in Wrightspeed's X1 feels like a roller coaster ride and can leave passengers wind-beaten and queasy. It accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 3 seconds, making it one of the world's fastest production cars. Last year, Wright's X1 beat a Porsche and Ferrari in separate races.

''I wouldn't describe myself as a radical environmentalist,'' said Wright, who is still trying to raise his first round of funding. ''I think my customers will buy my cars for performance. The energy efficiency is nice to have, but it's not the reason they will buy the car.''

On the Net:

Tesla Motors: http://www.teslamotors.com
Wrightspeed: http://www.wrightspeed.com
SOURCE:

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Been there, done that ... here's why | Herald Sun

RESEARCHERS believe they have found a key insight into deja vu, the eerie sensation of seeing something that has already been experienced, the New Scientist magazine reports.

Experiments suggest that deja vu can be triggered independently, without a real memory to prompt it, the British weekly magazine reports in its latest issue.
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Recognising a familiar object or scene is believed to unleash two processes in the brain.
First, the mind searches through its memory archive to see if the contents of that scene have been observed before. If so, a separate part of the brain then identifies the scene or object as being familiar.

Exploring this two-step theory, a team at the University of Leeds in northern England showed 18 volunteers 24 common words, then hypnotised them.

They were told that when they were next presented with a word in a red frame, they would feel that the word was familiar, although they would not know when they last saw it.

But if they saw a word in a green frame, they would think that the word belonged to the original list of 24.

The volunteers were then taken out of hypnosis and presented with a series of words in frames of various colours. Some of the words were not in the original list of 24 and were framed in red or green.

Ten of the volunteers said they felt an odd sensation when they saw new words in red, and five others said this sensation definitely felt like deja vu.

Researcher Akira O'Connor, a doctoral student at the university's Memory Group says the findings shed intriguing light on the causes of deja vu and on fundamental workings of human memory.

"This tells us that it is possible to experimentally dissociate these two processes, which is really important in establishing that they are indeed separate," New Scientist quoted.

Previous research has suggested that deja vu may originate in a part of the brain called the temporal lobe.


Some people with temporal lobe epilepsy frequently report deja vu, and French scientists have found that electrically stimulating parts of the temporal lobe can trigger a sensation of familiarity with everything a person encounters.
SOURCE:
Been there, done that ... here's why | Herald Sun

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

firstamendmentcenter.org: news

By The Associated Press
07.20.06

MORGAN CITY, La. — Residents of trailer parks set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to house hurricane victims in Louisiana aren't allowed to talk to the press without an official escort, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate reported.

In one instance, a security guard ordered an Advocate reporter out of a trailer during an interview in Morgan City. Similar FEMA rules were enforced in Davant, in Plaquemines Parish.
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FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Rodi wouldn't say whether the security guards' actions complied with FEMA policy, saying the matter was being reviewed. But she confirmed that FEMA does not allow the news media to speak alone to residents in their trailers.

"If a resident invites the media to the trailer, they have to be escorted by a FEMA representative who sits in on the interview," Rodi told the newspaper for its July 15 report. "That's just a policy."

Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said FEMA's refusal to allow trailer-park residents to invite news media into their homes unescorted was unconstitutional.

Morgan City Mayor Timothy Matte told The Advocate that he was surprised residents were being barred from talking to reporters.

"I would think anyone who lives there would be allowed to have any visitor they wanted," he said.

FEMA leases the land for the trailer park from the city, Matte said. "It's public property. There's no question about that. You would think the people would have the same freedom there as everyone else has," he told the newspaper.

Hundreds of trailers at FEMA parks sit empty and unused in Louisiana, according to The Advocate.

Officials in Morgan City estimate that FEMA has spent about $7.5 million to build the trailer park but that only about 15 of the 198 trailers are being used.

"We all wonder why no one lives there," Matte said.

FEMA officials refuse to say how much was spent to build the park or why 183 of the trailers are vacant.

"We're not going to talk about cost," Rodi told the newspaper.

As in Morgan City, the 334-trailer FEMA park in Davant in Plaquemines Parish is greatly underused.

The north side of the park is empty, and 92 families live in the south side, Rodi said, adding that the empty trailers would be removed.

"We put them there at the parish's request," she said. "Now we've found that the need is not as great there or that people don't want to live there."

The trailers are going to be put on private property or in private parks in the parish as needed, Rodi said. She refused to disclose how much the park cost to build.

Meanwhile, Plaquemines Parish President Benny Rousselle blamed FEMA, in part, for the slow return of residents to the parish.

Rousselle said FEMA knows where many evacuees relocated after the storm but won't give that information to parish officials.

"FEMA told us because of privacy issues, they can't give us the addresses of our residents who are spread out in all 50 states. And no one but FEMA has that information," Rousselle said. "If we could contact them, I think a lot of them would come back if they knew we had places for them to live."

SOURCE:
firstamendmentcenter.org: news

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Bush: Worse Than Nixon

by Morton H. Halperin

The Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program may have shocked and surprised many Americans when it was revealed in December, but to me, it provoked a case of deja vu.

The Nixon administration bugged my home phone — without a warrant — beginning in 1973, when I was on the staff of the National Security Council, and kept the wiretap on for 21 months. Why? My boss, national security advisor Henry Kissinger, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover believed that I might have leaked some information to the New York Times. When I left the government a few months later and went to work on Edmund Muskie's presidential campaign (and began actively working to end the war in Vietnam), the FBI continued to listen in and made periodic reports on everything it heard to President Nixon and his closest associates in the White House.
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Recent reports that the Bush administration is monitoring political opponents who belong to antiwar groups also sounded familiar to me. I was, after all, No. 8 on Nixon's "enemies list" — a curious compilation of 20 people about whom the White House was unhappy because they had disagreed in some way with the administration.

The list, compiled by presidential aide Charles Colson, included union leaders, journalists, Democratic fundraisers and me, among others, and was part of a plan to "use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies," as presidential counsel John Dean explained it in a 1971 memo. I always suspected that I made the list because of my active opposition to the war, though no one ever said for sure (and I never understood what led Colson to write next to my name the provocative words, "a scandal would be helpful here").

As I watch the Bush administration these days, it's hard not to notice the clear similarities between then and now. Both the Nixon and Bush presidencies rely heavily on the use of national security as a pretext for the usurpation of unprecedented executive power. Now, just as in Nixon's day, a president mired in an increasingly unpopular war is taking extreme steps, including warrantless surveillance, that many people believe threaten American civil liberties and violate the Constitution. Both administrations shroud their actions in secrecy and attack the media for publishing what they learn about those activities.

But there also are important differences, and at first blush, it is hard to say which administration's policies are worse. Much of what the Nixon administration did was clearly illegal and in violation of the Constitution. Nixon and his colleagues seemed to understand that and worked hard to keep their activities secret. On the occasions when their actions became public, administration officials tried to blame others for them.

These actions were not limited to its warrantless wiretap program and the investigation of political opponents by the IRS and other agencies. They also included, among other things, the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist (to find evidence discrediting Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times) and the effort to have the CIA persuade the FBI to call off the investigation of the Watergate burglary (by asserting that it threatened national security).

Although the Nixon administration did argue (like the Bush administration) that virtually anything the president did to promote national security was lawful, it never presented an argument to justify these particular transgressions.

By contrast, as far as we know, the Bush administration has not engaged in any such inherently illegal activities. Nor has it, to our knowledge, specifically targeted its political opponents (aside from the outing of Joseph Wilson's wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame).

But even though Nixon's specific actions might have been more obviously illegal and more "corrupt" (in the sense that they were designed to advance his own career over his rivals), President Bush's claim of nearly limitless power — including the ability to engage in a range of activities that pose a fundamental threat to the constitutional order and to our civil liberties — overshadows all comparisons.

Among the many such activities are the seizure of U.S. citizens and their indefinite detention without charge or access to lawyers; warrantless wiretaps of citizens in violation of procedures mandated by Congress; and the seizing of individuals in foreign countries and their movement to third countries, where they have been subjected to torture in violation of U.S. laws and treaty obligations.

When these activities have leaked out, the president has not sought to deny them but has publicly defended them (and attacked the press for printing the information). The administration has vigorously opposed all efforts to have the courts review its actions, and when the Supreme Court has overruled the president, as it has several times now, the administration has given the court holdings the narrowest possible interpretation.

Congress has been treated with equal disdain. When the Senate voted overwhelmingly to prohibit torture and cruel and degrading treatment by all agencies, including the CIA, Vice President Dick Cheney warned lawmakers that they were overstepping their bounds and threatening national security. When Congress persisted and attached the language to a defense appropriations bill, the president signed the law with an accompanying statement declaring his right to disobey the anti-torture provisions.

The administration has repeatedly failed to inform Congress or its committees of what it was doing, or has told only a few selected members in a truncated way, preventing real oversight. Even leading Republicans, such as Michigan's Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have voiced strong concerns.

During the Nixon years, the laws governing what the president could do and under what circumstances he needed to inform Congress were murky. There were no intelligence committees in Congress, and there was no Intelligence Oversight Act. There was no legislated prohibition on national security surveillance.

In response to Watergate and the related scandals of the Nixon years, however, Congress constructed a careful set of prohibitions, guidelines and requirements for congressional reporting.

Bush's systematic and defiant violation of these rules, as well as of the mandates of the Constitution and international law, pose a challenge to our constitutional order and civil liberties that, in the end, constitutes a far greater threat than the lawlessness of Richard Nixon.

Morton H. Halperin served in the administrations of presidents Johnson, Nixon and Clinton. He is a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and the director of U.S. Advocacy for the Open Society.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
SOURCE:
Bush: Worse Than Nixon

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Can Al Gore Be Trusted?

by Jeff Cohen

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

The wise old Chinese proverb on who is to blame for repeat gullibility was famously mangled by our Embarrasser in Chief: "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you," Bush stammered, with that deer-in-the-headlights look. "Fool me -- you can't get fooled again!" The video of that golden Bushism can bring down the house on The Daily Show.

But these words of wisdom are no laughing matter when applied to the man who defeated Bush in the 2000 election: Al Gore.
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Many solid progressives want Gore to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008. A recent AlterNet reader survey (in which Noam Chomsky won the MVP for "Most Valuable Progressive") showed Gore way in front of the pack -- with Russ Feingold second and corporate media "front-runner" Hillary Clinton way back.

If Gore does run in 2008, big questions will nag: Didn't he fool a lot of us once before? Can we trust him?

Don't misunderstand (or mis-underestimate) me: I'd love to see Gore run.

Like many progressives, I've grown to appreciate the new Gore. Beginning in 2002 when leading Democrats had lost their voices, a reborn Gore spoke out loudly against Bush policies (and irritated mainstream pundits) through a series of speeches on Iraq, foreign policy, economics and the assault on our precious Constitutional freedoms.

Gore broke with former allies in the party establishment, worked closely with grassroots groups like MoveOn and endorsed the upstart Howard Dean in the primaries. He even spoke haltingly in favor of single-payer national health insurance.

His global warming movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" is not just a box office sensation. Gore is turning it into a broad organizing drive to build a national consensus on climate change -- a campaign that has earned supportive words from Ralph Nader. The documentary shows Gore to be a serious and passionate advocate, whose commitment to change begins from an understanding of facts and consequences. In other words, the opposite of the current White House resident.

If this new Gore were to run for president, I would do everything I could to help him vanquish the Republicans.

But doubts still persist. Because I remember the old Gore.

I remember a politician whose words on the environment were not matched by later actions; a politician whose foreign policy views were often militarist and whose economic views were often corporatist.

I remember Vice President Gore -- despite having written the environmental manifesto "Earth in the Balance," which highlighted the impact of auto emissions -- as the Clinton administration's leader in a "partnership" with Detroit auto makers that failed to increase fuel efficiency standards one inch in eight years.

I remember a vice president who was the administration's go-to-guy in promoting corporate-oriented trade deals like NAFTA, with their obvious negative impacts on the global environment and on workers' rights. (Asked recently about NAFTA by Larry King, Gore's position seems to have changed very little.)

I remember a vice president who played a lead role in pushing through the Telecommunications "Reform" Act of 1996 that predictably led to the worst media conglomeration in our nation's history, and helped fortify the media empires of folks like Murdoch, Clear Channel and Sinclair.

And I remember a presidential candidate in 2000 emptied of progressive principles by Beltway consultants so afraid of the American people and democracy that they believe a Democrat must win largely through stealth. A candidate who chose as his campaign chair William Daley, the NAFTA campaign czar despised by labor unions. And as his running-mate Joe Lieberman, who aided Bush's side in the Florida fight.

In his documentary, Gore seems to relish a biting quote from the fearless progressive advocate, Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding." The Sinclair comment is pungently anti-corporate, anti-careerist. When I watched the movie, I felt I was seeing the new Gore critiquing the old Gore.

So the question remains: If Gore runs for president again, which Gore will we get? And if he makes it to the White House (or even gets close), can we be sure that the new Gore won't revert into the old?

In 2002, Gore parted with some old Beltway buddies. Today, new grassroots forces and information/fundraising technologies may be strong enough -- stronger than when Dean nearly won the nomination -- to allow the new Gore to flourish and win the White House without the backing of old-line media, timid consultants and corporate funders.

If Gore were to choose a grassroots/netroots path over the Beltway bandit approach, it could be an inspiring campaign that would infuriate the same pundit elite that went apoplectic over Dean's primary campaign.

Here's an inconvenient truth: Progressives have few options for 2008. A high priority for some is stopping pro-war, corporate Democrat Hillary Clinton -- the preferred candidate of many in the media. Days ago, conservative Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Clinton.

Many progressives have a message for Al: Get into the presidential race... but free of the old corporatist baggage.

And don't make fools of us again.

Jeff Cohen www.jeffcohen.org is a media critic and former TV pundit whose new book, Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media, can be pre-ordered online.


SOURCE:
Can Al Gore Be Trusted?

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The Tobacco Industry Academy Awards

by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Everywhere you look, Big Tobacco is proclaiming, "We've changed."

Number two global seller British American Tobacco brags that it has risen to 31st on the "2006 Companies that Count" listing, a British ranking of supposedly socially responsible companies.

Proclaims BAT's Director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Michael Prideaux, "If a business is managing products which pose a risk to health, we believe it is all the more important that it does so responsibly."
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R.J. Reynolds, which is now owned in large part by BAT, is a newcomer to the social responsibility game, but trying to catch up fast. "At the core of our beliefs is the knowledge that we produce a product with significant and inherent risks," writes company CEO Susan Ivey in RJR's 2006 "Corporate Social Responsibility Report." "With that understanding, our core values and guiding principles speak to responsible marketing, our approach to tobacco risk reduction and product stewardship."

No company can outdo Philip Morris on this front. "By the end of the 1990s, our tobacco companies better understood the expectations placed upon them," the company asserts on its website.

"Corporate responsibility is a core business objective," contends Andre Calantzopoulos, CEO of Philip Morris International. "From youth smoking prevention to open discussion of tobacco issues to research into reduced risk products, we're reshaping our company to meet society's expectations."

Philip Morris takes the idea of remodeling itself so seriously, it even changed its name. No longer is the parent company Philip Morris -- now it is Altria.

But to get a glimpse of what Big Tobacco is actually doing (rather than saying) around the world, you need to shift attention away from the industry's self-aggrandizing propaganda.

The industry's "extreme makeover" was, in equal measure, mocked and exposed at the "Tobacco Industry Academy Awards," held in conjunction with the triannual World Conference on Tobacco or Health, which finished this past weekend in Washington, D.C.

The awards ceremony was a biting parody (you can see video at http://www.2006conferences.org/26-media.php#), but unfortunately all of the nominations and awards were based on actual industry activities over the last three years.

The award recipients:

Best Ploy to Circumvent a Law: Imperial Tobacco. With Australia mandating large warning labels on cigarette packs, Imperial innovated the idea of "peel off" warnings.

Among the runners up: Philip Morris and BAT. Tobacco advertising is prohibited in Senegal -- so Philip Morris has painted entire storefronts in its familiar red-and-white. Among BAT's nominations was for its conduct in Uzbekistan, where an analysis of internal company documents shows the company overturned legislation that banned advertising and smoking in public places as part of a deal to buy a formerly state-owned company.

Best Effort to Conceal Corporate Ir-Responsibility: BAT, for providing free mini-stalls to sell cigarettes to Sri Lankan tsunami victims.

Among the runners up: BAT again, for providing a highly publicized water tower to a town in Niger. The problem: It is a waterless water tower, with the pumps that were supposed to fill the tower not connected to any electrical source.

Best Initiative to Recruit New Smokers: Philip Morris, for a worldwide competition that brings young adults from around the world (chosen from more than a million applicants) to Marlboro Country -- the U.S. West.

Among the runners up: Philip Morris, for sale in Malaysia of "kiddie packs" -- packs of 14 cigarettes that are cheaper than a regular pack. A ban on kiddie packs has been delayed at industry urging.

Best Exploitation of a Special Population: Gallaher's Benson & Hedges. An uncovered training video for "tobacco girls" -- who approach men "young and old" on streets and at bars and offer to light a Benson & Hedges cigarette for them -- shows the young women being tutored to start the day with a "good wash," followed by careful grooming and application of makeup. A "good impression will be transferred to the brand and international company you represent," the video instructs.

Among the runners up: Philip Morris, for hawking "Maori Mix" brand cigarettes in Israel. (Maoris are the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand.) Confronted at the company's shareholder meeting this past April, CEO Louis Camilleri apologized to a Maori anti-smoking activist for the misappropriation of the Maori name.

Best Industry Ally: Liu Xiang, an Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler from China, is a leading image ambassador for China's biggest cigarette maker, Baisha Group.

Among the runners up: The Bandung Municipal Administration in Indonesia, for partnering with Philip Morris on a "school improvement" program, and U.S. President George Bush for refusing to send the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to the Senate for ratification. More than 130 countries have now ratified the tobacco treaty.

That last is the good news. For one thing has really changed about the tobacco industry. Around the world, its legitimacy is declining and a growing public health movement is imposing meaningful rules to curb industry predation.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and associate counsel for the Consumer Project on Technology. Mokhiber and Weissman are co authors of "On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy" (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

© 2006 Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
SOURCE:
The Tobacco Industry Academy Awards

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Health Hazard Makeover

by Diane Farsetta
 

Breast cancer. Genital abnormalities. Distortion and damage of genetic material.

Common ingredients in cosmetic products have been linked to these hazards. As further research is conducted into the long-term and cumulative effects on cosmetics users, their children and the water supply that products are washed off into, more questions arise. Not that you'd know it by listening to the cosmetics industry.

An important underlying issue is that the industry is largely self-regulated. While interstate trade in "adulterated or misbranded cosmetics" is prohibited, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review new cosmetics before they are marketed and cannot order recalls of hazardous cosmetics. "Cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients," reads the FDA's own explanation.

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The industry's trade group, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA), likes this hands-off approach. CTFA has 600 member companies, including Aveda, Clairol, L'Oréal, and Unilever, and standing committees on government relations, public affairs, and international issues. Its website says CTFA promotes "industry self-regulation and reasonable governmental requirements." But reasonable to who?

Health and environmental organizations are increasingly seeing the status quo as unreasonable and untenable. In 2002, the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group, National Black Environmental Justice Network, and others launched the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Its goal is the phase-out of cosmetics ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. In May 2006, Friends of the Earth and the International Center for Technology Assessment petitioned the FDA to monitor products with nanoparticle ingredients, including more than 100 cosmetics and sunscreens. Due to their incredibly small size, nanoparticles can enter tissues and cells and cause biochemical damage.

CTFA seems nervous. In its 2005 annual report, CTFA chair Marc Pritchard warned, "It is clear that our industry is at a crossroads in the areas of safety, self-regulation, and global harmonization, and will require further action on our parts to lead to positive changes." He added that "activist groups" are "attacking us on several fronts and taking their messages to consumers."

But CTFA has some potent tricks up its sleeve. In December 2005, The Hill reported that CTFA was on a "hiring spree," bringing aboard several new lobbying and public relations staffers, including Representative Mike Oxley's (R-Ohio) son, Elvis, and Kathleen Dezio from the American Beverage Association. In May 2006, CTFA added a new vice-president of communications, Lisa Powers. Powers told PR Watch that her "primary objective is to strengthen the message about product safety."

On June 1, 2006, CTFA shmoozed members of Congress with its "Fragrance Day" on Capitol Hill. The event opened with "a VIP reception, by invitation only, for Congressional Members including members from the Committee on Energy and Commerce," followed by an "open house for members and staffers," according to a CTFA press release.

Whether CTFA will be able to neutralize the mounting health concerns and regulatory pressures faced by the cosmetics industry depends largely on whether such lobbying and PR efforts go unchallenged.

Chemical Terrorists Are after Your Mascara

Lexi Shultz estimates that she uses 20 or more cosmetic products -- including soap, shampoo, and lotion -- on a daily basis, even though she has "personal concerns about how safe they might be." So, when she saw an email about a Washington DC focus group on cosmetics, she applied to take part in it.

The January 2006 focus group was conducted by Luntz Research, the polling and political consulting firm founded by Frank Luntz. Luntz is probably best known for his polling to develop the 1994 Republican "Contract with America," his work to reframe the estate tax as the "death tax," and his use of so-called "dial technology" in focus groups. The idea behind the dials, as Luntz explained to PBS, is that they allow focus group members to immediately and anonymously respond to "every single word, every single phrase."

In the cosmetics focus group, Shultz and 27 others were shown a series of video clips, and asked to turn their dials to the right if they felt positively about what was shown and to the left if they felt negatively. The first clip featured Environmental Working Group representatives raising concerns about the use of chemicals called phthalates in cosmetics. Some phthalates have been linked to reproductive abnormalities in animals. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' first report, "Not Too Pretty: Phthalates, Beauty Products and the FDA," found that 52 of the 72 cosmetics, deodorants, and perfumes tested contained phthalates.

Every other video shown during the focus group was from the cosmetics industry's point of view. In one, an unidentified person claimed that "chemical terrorist groups are trying to frighten you" by claiming that cosmetics are not safe. Other negative terms applied to health and environmental organizations were "opposition groups" and "questionable groups." The phrase "junk science," often employed to muddy policy debates, was used repeatedly.

"The industry messages were in attack mode," Shultz told PR Watch, but it didn't play well. "The stronger the language in a video clip, the more negative the reaction from the focus group." Another major theme, choice, also backfired. In response to an argument that adults should be allowed to make their own decisions about cosmetic products, as they do about alcohol and tobacco, participants asked, "Didn't the tobacco industry lie to us for years?"

What appealed to the focus group were independent experts, government agencies, and review processes overseeing and ensuring the safety of cosmetic products. One video featuring a woman epidemiologist received especially high ratings. Participants also expressed interest in doing their own research. This was explored throughout the session, with the moderator asking where participants would do their research and who they would believe. At one point, participants were asked to fill out worksheets describing a website with information on cosmetics ingredients, to be launched in 2007.

The client paying Luntz Research to conduct the focus group was not identified, but CTFA's Lisa Powers confirmed that the association had commissioned focus groups, "to find out what the issues are that are out there and how well-known CTFA was." She couldn't comment further on the subject, she said, as the focus groups were held before she joined CTFA.

Mirroring Activist Campaigns

The parallels between what was discussed during the cosmetics focus group and CTFA's new "consumer-oriented industry initiatives," announced at the association's annual meeting in March 2006, are striking. The initiatives include "a consumer beauty information web site," described by CTFA as "the definitive place to go for consumers seeking information about the science behind cosmetic products and ingredients." Also on the list is "a new consumer commitment code," to "reaffirm the industry's commitment to safe products."

As described in a May 2006 letter to CTFA members, the "Consumer Information Website ... will use the latest technology to provide consumers with safety information about cosmetic products and ingredients, as well as educational information on how the industry conducts its safety reviews and testing." Powers described the website as "a critical piece" of CTFA's work. She said that CTFA is currently "collecting significant data" for the website, which is expected to go public in early 2007.

With regard to CTFA's new "Consumer Commitment Code," the association is giving "all CTFA member companies" a deadline of January 1, 2007, to "certify compliance," according to the May letter. "Companies that are compliant with the code will receive special recognition on the CTFA website and can promote this to customers and vendors," it adds.

The code directs companies only to use ingredients and market products that have sufficient safety information, to report "serious or unexpected" adverse reactions to the FDA, and to make ingredient and product safety data available to the FDA. Given that these are very minor changes to the current system, it's fair to ask whether the code's real goal -- or, at least, its effective outcome -- might be to promote cosmetic products and companies as compliant, under a system defined by and for the industry itself.

After all, independent standards have a way of threatening the status quo. Europe is a case in point. Since September 2004, the European Union has banned more than 1,200 substances from cosmetic products, including some phthalates and other chemicals still allowed in U.S. cosmetics. By the end of 2006, the European Union is expected to enact more comprehensive legislation requiring chemical producers and users to provide basic data on potential health and environmental hazards before products can be sold. (Not surprisingly, the Bush administration worked with the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups in an attempt to derail the pending European legislation, which they characterized as too "costly, burdensome, and complex.")

While CTFA, like other trade associations, promotes "industry self-regulation," that regulation must be perceived as rigorous enough to avoid significant criticism or government action. That's where CTFA's industry initiatives come in. Ironically, its initiatives mirror those of the activist Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "What can we say -- imitation is the highest form of flattery," Stacy Malkan of Healthcare Without Harm commented dryly.

As CTFA builds its own informational website, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has "Skin Deep." Launched in 2005 and hosted by the Environmental Working Group, Skin Deep draws on 37 government, academic, nonprofit, and professional reports and databases. The interactive site matches toxicity information and regulatory status on more than 7,000 ingredients with nearly 15,000 cosmetic and personal care products. Website visitors can determine the "safety score" of the products they currently use, browse by product type or brand name, or find the lowest-risk products that meet their needs.

As CTFA holds seminars to explain its new code to member companies, the list of signatories to the "Compact for the Global Production of Safe Health and Beauty Products" is growing. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics drafted the Compact in 2004, based on European standards. Companies that sign the Compact agree to inventory the chemicals they use, replace chemicals banned by the European Union with safer alternatives within three years, and publicly report on their progress. As of March 2006, more than 300 cosmetics companies -- mostly smaller ones -- had signed on. "Despite repeated requests, multinational companies such as L'Oréal, Revlon, Estée Lauder, Gap, Avon, OPI, and Procter & Gamble have refused to sign the Compact," notes a Campaign for Safe Cosmetics press release.

Lipstick on A Pig

While CTFA may seem to be on the defensive, one advantage the association has is its past experience fighting -- and at least partially winning -- similar battles.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the cosmetics industry came under intense scrutiny for its animal testing practices. Many people were disturbed by the outmoded and often extreme methods used, such as putting massive amounts of cosmetics into animals' eyes or stomachs. By 1991, ten states were considering legislation to limit the use of animals in cosmetics testing.

Minutes from an April 1987 meeting of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA, now called the American Chemistry Council) read: "The committee discussed the various animal rights bills pending that would restrict the use of animals for health effects testing. It agreed to gather more information on policies and positions that other trade and professional groups have adopted. The Health and Safety Committee recommended that CMA allow the Cosmetic, Toiletries, and Fragrance Association [sic] to take the lead advocacy role on this issue."

In 1989, CTFA asked its member companies to help it raise $1 million to combat -- in the words of then-CTFA president Ed Kavanaugh -- "a very negative and ... very dangerous campaign that is being conducted in the name of animal rights." According to Women's Wear Daily, CTFA retained the services of E. Bruce Harrison, who is often considered the pioneer of "environmental public relations," or greenwashing. (When asked by PR Watch, CTFA's Lisa Powers said the association is currently working with multiple outside PR firms, but declined to name them.)

According to its website, CTFA's early efforts to defuse the animal testing controversy included establishing a task force to "explore alternative testing procedures;" sponsoring a symposium on animal testing, to foster "an open exchange of opinions and ideas" between the industry and animal rights activists; and awarding grants to the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, to develop alternatives to animal testing. Later efforts, including lobbying and newspaper op/ed campaigns, were focused on the states considering animal testing bills.

After the California legislature passed an animal test ban in 1990, CTFA pulled out all the stops. Working with former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop -- who was at the time also helping PR firms defend pesticides and recombinant bovine growth hormone -- CTFA won a gubernatorial veto of the California bill, twice.

Kathy Guillermo had a front row seat for much of this heated debate. She was the director of the Caring Consumer Campaign of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) from 1989 through 1993. She told PR Watch that several aspects of CTFA's response to animal testing concerns were misleading.

"The industry adapted the tests so that, for example, fewer rabbits were used in the eye irritation tests and a smaller percentage were poisoned to death in the lethal dose tests," explained Guillermo. "They were merely variations on the same tests, but the CTFA, by using a narrow definition, claimed that most companies no longer used the Draize [eye irritation] and [lethal dose] tests. They knew this would be taken to mean that companies weren't putting chemicals in animals' eyes and force-feeding chemicals, when they were still doing this." She also questions the impact of CTFA's grants to Johns Hopkins, saying that the university's Center for Alternatives to Animal Tests "has been little more than an apologist for the animal testing industry -- not a single in vitro (non-animal) test now in use has emerged from the center."

Not surprisingly, CTFA tried to discredit PETA, claiming that the group "was interested only in publicity and donations," said Guillermo. She told PR Watch that she even received phone calls from "people identifying themselves only as private investigators hired by the cosmetics industry. They seemed rather obvious in their attempts to gather some sort of 'inside PETA' information that might be used to damage our reputation -- questions like, 'What about your off-shore bank accounts?' and other nonsense."

But CTFA's negative rhetoric didn't stop there. The association "claimed that companies that had banned animal tests were 'dishonest' because they used ingredients that had been tested on animals in the past," according to Guillermo. "This was just silly. We were aware that most chemicals had been tested on animals. We applauded companies that chose to let this remain in the past rather than continue it."

Guillermo advises health and environmental groups now challenging the cosmetics industry "not to be intimidated by the CTFA, or any other industry group. The fact that it mounted a campaign against PETA and our work was evidence that they were running scared. ... For PETA it was more effective to go directly to the consumer and not spend huge amounts of time on worry about what the CTFA was saying."

Compared to CTFA's past efforts to defuse animals rights activism, the association is now doing more to "go directly to the consumer" with its own messages downplaying health dangers and confusing the oversight issue. But the current concerns may hit closer to home for many. "Infants imbibing breast milk may also be sucking down a high dose of phthalates," reported Environmental Science & Technology in July 2006.

Advocating that cosmetics companies reformulate their products to exclude ingredients known or strongly linked to health problems is not "chemical terrorism" or "junk science." It's common sense, no matter how hard CTFA claims otherwise.

Diane Farsetta is a senior researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy.

© 2006 Center For Media and Democracy


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Cowboy George: Bush's unexpected squeeze of the German chancellor hast he Internet howling

by Carla Marinucci
 

It's not exactly "Presidents Gone Wild!" but for the normally staid Group of Eight Summit, a video of President Bush sidling behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel and delivering an impromptu neck rub is, well, as wild as it gets.

The scene, captured by a Russian TV camera, hit the Internet like a summer wildfire Tuesday, and it may be most memorable for the German chancellor's reaction. Bush applies his hands to Merkel's shoulders and neck while she's speaking with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi; the chancellor hunches her shoulders, then throws her hands up to stop the unexpected massage with a wan smile -- and an expression that can best be translated as "Ewwww."

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While the incident didn't get a lot of play on major TV media, it was just one of the Bush G-8 gaffes that garnered considerable space in the blogosphere from London to Los Angeles.

Bloggers on sites like www.truthdig.com expounded at length on the U.S. president's now-famed open mike incident in which Bush let slip the "s-word" while talking with British Prime Minister Tony Blair; it wasn't so much the potty mouth as the president speaking with his mouth full that horrified many international critics.

But it was the massage for Merkel -- notably the only female at the G-8 table -- which earned Bush the title of "Groper in Chief" on some Web sites.

One German tabloid, Bild-Zeitung, which posted the link to the video and headlined it: "Bush: Love Attack on Merkel!"

And Dialog International, a Web site that specializes in German-American politics and culture, said Bush's behavior raised questions about the American president and his profile abroad.

"When he is away from his script and his handlers, his true lack of intelligence and emotional maturity surfaces for all to see. The dangerous situation in Lebanon ... requires true leadership. Don't look for it from the world's uberpower."

The G-8 dustup prompted Bush fans and Republican insiders to say that the critiques were much ado about a back rub.

GOP commentator and Fox News political analyst Karen Hanretty said the outraged reaction shows how "President Bush just can't win."

"Aren't these the same women who have been angry about cowboy diplomacy?" she asked. "Do they want a kinder, more sensitive Bush -- or a cowboy? Once again, there's no pleasing women," she said. "Give them the cowboy and they want Alan Alda.''

Hanretty went on to say that "these women who would criticize the prez for making a friendly gesture are the same women who refused to say anything about Bill Clinton when he was accused of sexually harassing Paula Jones. Where were they when Katherine Willey was grieving for her dead husband and Bill Clinton was rubbing them in all the wrong places?''

Hoover Institution research fellow Bill Whalen, a former adviser to former Gov. Pete Wilson, says the generous coverage of Bush's back rub and his open mike comments fully illustrates the power -- and occasional "goofiness" of the Internet in its ability to turn quotes and images into major events for what he calls the "get-a-life contingent.''

"We have this perception that presidents are like Quakers or Amish; they don't say any dirty words,'' he said. "But occasionally an s-bomb will slip in there."

As for that neck rub, Whalen quipped: "There are those who say the president should be more Clintonesque ... maybe he misunderstood what they meant."

But commentator and author Steve Young's blog on the Huffington Post Web site says Bush looks like the "Lounge Lizard in Chief'' -- so he advises Democrats to seize the moment and make use of "the irony of a president who's supposed to represent our best, giving the chancellor of Germany an inappropriate and unrequested back rub.''

Even some veteran White House insiders say the incident is a hair-raiser.

"I mean, did Reagan do that to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher? He's not giving massages to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin -- and he's the one who thinks he has a great relationship with Putin," said Martha Whetstone, former political director for the Northern California Democratic National Committee and a longtime Arkansas-born friend of former President Bill Clinton -- who certainly made news of his own on the female front.

"You could use this video for sexual harassment training. It's something you'd show and say, "No one in a boss' position should be doing that," Whetstone said.

"This is a guy whose favorite quote is, 'I'm a leader,' said Whetstone. "Leadership is knowing protocol, knowing you don't diminish other leaders. Diplomacy is about respect. Leaders should not act that way.''

Janette Gitler, a Marin County-based media and strategic planning consultant, says that Americans can "add it to the long list of embarrassing moments for our president.''

She said that if Bush were a media training client, she'd be "horrified that someone of his stature would behave in such undignified and inappropriate'' ways.

"Obviously, the president isn't included in any kind of sensitivity training at the White House ... because it's clear from the video that (Merkel) didn't appreciate it,'' Gitler said. "I'm sure she didn't want to humiliate him, but you don't give her many options.''

San Francisco Chronicle reader Christine Curtis was outraged and wrote in to say the video was a scary look into Bush.

Merkel "recoiled as I would also do if someone came up from behind me and started touching me,'' Curtis said. She wondered if the president was "drunk or on something," adding "he is a frat boy gone wild in a grown-up, very scary and dangerous world."

Whetstone said the moment echoes something Bush likes to brag about: "He says he's going to be 'me' -- because that's what people like. But sometimes 'me' isn't a good thing.' ''

But Whalen quips that maybe "would San Francisco readers prefer he rubbed Tony Blair's shoulders?''

©2006 San Francisco Chronicle


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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Toddler Flips off Bush During Veto Announcement

From the good folks over at michellemalkinisanidiot.com, we have this...

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Tivo rocks!
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Screencap from MSNBC video of Bush’s very first use of veto pen. A few frames later, the little girl’s father reached over and grabbed her hand, quickly moving it out of camera range.


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Go Ask Alice: Mushroom Drug Is Studied Anew

By RON WINSLOW
July 11, 2006; Page B1

In a study that could revive interest in researching the effects of psychedelic drugs, scientists said a substance in certain mushrooms induced powerful, mind-altering experiences among a group of well-educated, middle-age men and women.

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[Psilocybe Cubensis]

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions researchers conducted the study following carefully controlled, scientifically rigorous procedures. They said that the episodes generally led to positive changes in attitude and behavior among the 36 volunteer participants and that the changes appeared to last at least two months. Participants cited feelings of intense joy, "distance from ordinary reality," and feelings of peace and harmony after taking the drug. Two-thirds described the effects of the drug, called psilocybin, as among the five most meaningful experiences of their lives.

But in 30% of the cases, the drug provoked harrowing experiences dominated by fear and paranoia. Two participants likened the episodes to being in a war. While these episodes were managed by trained monitors at the sessions where the drugs were taken, researchers cautioned that in less-controlled settings, such responses could trigger panic or other reactions that might put people in danger.

A report on the study, among the first to systematically assess the effects of hallucinogenic substances in 40 years, is being published online today by the journal Psychopharmacology. An accompanying editorial and commentaries from three prominent neuroscientists and a psychiatrist praise the study and argue that further research into such agents has the potential to unlock secrets of consciousness and lead to new therapeutic strategies for depression, addiction and other ailments.

In one of the commentaries, Charles R. Schuster, a neuroscientist and former head of the National Institute for Drug Abuse, called the report a "landmark paper." He also expressed hope that it "renews interest in a fascinating and potentially useful class of psychotropic agents."

Still, the research is likely to stir controversy. Though psilocybin mushrooms, which can be found growing wild throughout the world, have been used for centuries in some societies during spiritual rituals, they also were agents, along with such hallucinogens as LSD and mescaline, that fueled the "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out" counterculture of the 1960s personified by Timothy Leary.

Researchers acknowledge that the study's positive findings may encourage inappropriate use of the agents. Roland Griffiths, the Hopkins neuroscientist who headed the research, warned against viewing the results as a green light for consuming the mushrooms. "We don't know all their dark sides," he said. "I wouldn't in any way want to underestimate the potential risks" of indiscriminate use of the drugs.

The National Institute for Drug Abuse, which co-sponsored the study as part of its support for research into drugs of abuse, also warned against eating psilocybin mushrooms. They "act on serotonin receptors in the brain to profoundly distort a person's perception of reality," the institute said, possibly triggering psychosis, paranoia and anxiety.

[art]

It was widespread abuse in the 1960s that led to hallucinogens becoming illegal, effectively shutting down then-burgeoning corporate and academic research programs that had suggested the agents might be valuable research and therapeutic tools. One of the last influential studies was the Good Friday Experiment in 1962 in which 20 seminary students were given either psilocybin or nicotinic acid during a religious service. The 10 who got psilocybin reported intense spiritual experiences with positive benefits; one follow-up study suggested those effects lasted 25 years.

"It's remarkable that we have a class of compounds that has sat in the deep freeze for 40 years," Dr. Griffiths said. "It seemed to me scientifically it was high time to look again" at psychedelic agents.

Known colloquially by such names as magic mushroom or sacred mushroom, psilocybin is considered a Schedule I substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. That puts it in the same class as heroin and LSD, drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no known medical use. It isn't considered addictive. The psilocybin used in the study was synthesized by David E. Nichols, a professor of medicinal chemistry at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., under a special permit.

After getting approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and an institutional review board at Hopkins, Dr. Griffiths and his colleagues circulated a flier seeking volunteers for a "study of states of consciousness brought about by a naturally occurring psychoactive substance used sacramentally in some cultures."

From among the 135 people who responded, 36 were eventually selected, based in part on their lack of a history of psychedelic drug use or family history of serious psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. The 36 -- 14 men and 22 women -- ranged in age from 24 to 64 years old, with an average age of 46; 97% were college graduates, and 56% had post-graduate degrees. All 36 participated at least occasionally in religious or spiritual activities. (Dr. Griffiths declined to make any participants available for interviews, citing privacy issues.)

Thirty of the participants were randomly assigned to receive either psilocybin or Ritalin (known generically as methylphenidate) as a control for the first eight-hour session; two months later, they were given the other drug in another session. Neither the participants nor the monitors who were present during their sessions knew which agent was being taken. To further reduce chances that participant responses would be affected by expectations they were getting psilocybin, a third group of six participants was randomly assigned to receive Ritalin in both sessions, followed by a third session when they knew they were getting the psychedelic agent. Ritalin was selected as the control agent in part because it can cause mood-changing effects similar to those of psilocybin, researchers said. It also takes effect at about the same time and lasts for about as long.

Participants were given the drug in individual sessions in a living-room environment with two experienced monitors. They were blindfolded, given headphones to listen to classical music and encouraged to lie down and direct their thoughts inward.

Researchers provided participants with a battery of questionnaires and mysticism scales, some of which were developed based on research from more than four decades ago, to measure their impressions of their experience at the end of the session and again two months later.

A third of the participants said the experience with psilocybin was the single most significant experience of their lives, and an additional 38% rated it among their top five such experiences -- akin to, say, the birth of a first child or the death of a parent. Just 8% of the Ritalin episodes were reported to be among the top five meaningful occurrences. Two months after the sessions, 79% of the participants indicated in questionnaires that their sense of well-being and satisfaction increased after the psilocybin episodes, compared with 21% for Ritalin.

Researchers hope the findings will spur other studies that will, for instance, compare the effects of other hallucinogens and use MRIs to observe how such drugs affect the human brain. Other efforts are expected to test the value of psilocybin as a therapy. Charles Grob, a researcher at UCLA, is heading a small study to see if the drug relieves anxiety, depression and pain among patients with advanced cancer.

Dr. Griffiths said another goal is to understand the consequences of spiritual experiences -- both drug-induced and spontaneous -- and to determine how long they last and whether they lead to personality changes.

Write to Ron Winslow at ron.winslow@wsj.com


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Bush Personally Blocked DOJ Investigation Of Wiretapping Program

Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is charged with investigating attorney misconduct, announced that it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the NSA warrantless wiretapping program because it was denied security clearance.

Previously, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would not explain why the security clearances had been denied, saying he did not want to “get into internal discussions.” But in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Gonzales said President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an investigation of the warrantless eavesdropping program. Watch it.

Transcipt:

SPECTER: Now when you had the first line of review, Mr. Attorney General, by OPR, why wasn’t OPR given clearance as so many other lawyers in the Department of Justice were given clearance?

GONZALES: Mr. Chairman, you and I had lunch several weeks ago, and we had a discussion about this. And during this lunch, I did inform you that the terrorist surveillance program is a highly-classified program. It’s a very important program for the national security of this country –

SPECTER: Highly-classified, very important, many other lawyers in the Justice Department had clearance. Why not OPR?

GONZALES: And the President of the United States ultimately makes decisions about who ultimately is given access –

SPECTER: Did the President make the decision not to clear OPR?

GONZALES: As with all decisions that are non-operational in terms of who has access to the program, the President of the United States makes the decision because this is such an important program –

SPECTER: I want to move on to another subject. The President makes the decision and that’s that.
SOURCE:
Think Progress » VIDEO: Bush Personally Blocked DOJ Investigation Of Wiretapping Program

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Repairing American Democracy

by Neal Peirce

American democracy, once the wonder of the world, is working about as well as the levees around New Orleans — "degenerated into a partisan brew of spin, scandal, name-calling, money chasing, and pandering."

That's the charge of reform advocate Steven Hill, and who is to doubt his indictment? Elections are marred by suspicious voting equipment. TV blanks out most serious campaign debate. Congressional and state legislative elections are increasingly less competitive as "red" and "blue" voters cluster in their own partisan enclaves. The presidential election system focuses all attention on a tiny band of swing states — and can easily make the popular-vote loser the winner. Citizens increasingly wonder: Why bother to vote at all?
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What's to be done? In his new book, "10 Steps to Repair American Democracy," Hill abjures piecemeal reform and instead provides a " 'one-stop shopping guide' to what's broken about American democracy and how Americans can help fix it."

From Hill's list of 10, I'd pick five indispensable first steps:

Secure the vote. Butterfly ballots and hanging chads in Florida in 2000, thousands of low-income voters effectively excluded from polls in Ohio in 2004 — the scandals are well-known. A comprehensive Caltech-MIT study found a stunning 6 percent of ballots cast nationwide in 2000 weren't counted because of faulty voting machines, poorly designed ballots or foul-ups with absentee ballots. Private voting-machine companies have been shown to have egregious partisan ties.

Hill would have us create — with federal dollars to help — a new, professionalized cadre of professional election officials free of direction by partisanly chosen or motivated secretaries of state. A national elections commission would be empowered to create minimum standards that states must follow to assure honest elections. And there'd be a "voter-verified voter trail" for ballots cast by computerized voting equipment, ensuring honest recounts.

His next proposal: expand voter participation by a "right to vote" constitutional amendment, universal registration (everyone 18 and over automatically registered to vote, as most modern democracies do) and prohibiting voter intimidation.

Reclaiming the airwaves comes next — obliging broadcasters to provide ample free media time for candidates, more political news and balanced coverage. Hill also urges a more-robust public broadcast sector to counterbalance our increasingly powerful corporate media.

To minimize the overbearing role of money in elections, Hill suggests public financing of all campaigns at local, state and federal levels, and at least trying to limit donations and set spending caps on candidates.

There's one more reform on Hill's list I'd call absolutely essential: direct popular election of the president. Sticking with the Founding Fathers' jury-rigged Electoral College system makes zero 21st century sense.

Hill then has three reforms I'd call intriguing next steps, experiments we ought to try.

First there's runoff voting, now being used in San Francisco's mayoral elections, Utah Republican primaries and other places. Voters list their preferences — No. 1, No. 2, etc. If no candidate gets a majority of the No. 1 choices, immediate recounts include voters' second or even third choices. The lowest vote-getter is eliminated on each count until there's a majority. The method has big pluses: diminished campaign mudslinging, incentives for higher voter turnout and less impact by spoiler candidates (such as Ralph Nader in 2000).

Hill would also scrap — especially for legislative races — the "winner-take-all" election system that so often leaves political minorities and our many racial and ethnic groups unrepresented. His model: Illinois' success, from 1870 to 1980, with three-seat state House districts. Voters could cast all their three votes for one candidate, or distribute them as they chose. Result: Any candidate who got over 25 percent was likely to win. More mavericks, willing to buck their party's leadership, got elected. Bipartisan coalitions were commonplace.

Now Hill suggests three-seat districts, not just for legislatures but congressional seats too, a big break for "blues" in "red" areas and "reds" in "blue" areas, plus election of more Latino and black representatives.

Hearing this spate of ideas, some may grouse: Why change the ground rules? Didn't our Founding Fathers know best? Yet in his introduction to Hill's book, Hendrick Hertzberg of The New Yorker has it right. Reinvigorating the republic is a way to keep faith. "The question isn't: What way back then, did Jefferson (and Madison and Hamilton) do? The question is: What would they do now?"

Neal Peirce's column appears alternate Mondays on editorial pages of The Times. Email to: nrp@citistates.com

© 2006 Washington Post Writers Group
SOURCE:
Repairing American Democracy

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