Archive for December, 2007

ignorance

December 30, 2007

Richard Whately, “He who is unaware of his ignorance will be only misled by his knowledge.”

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You’re Damn Right I’m Angry. Why Isn’t Everybody?

December 30, 2007

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I write articles each week with titles like “Everything I Need to Know About the Regressive Right I Learned In Junior High”, or “Conservatism Is Politics For Kindergartners”, or “Schadenfreude Is My Middle Name”.

I regret doing so very much. Believe it or not, I really don’t like spewing venom, sarcasm and rage all over my computer keyboard.

I particularly don’t like it because I have friends who are conservative, and it’s not my nature to trash-talk anybody, let alone friends.

Indeed, none of this is in my nature. I don’t start fights and I don’t go looking for them. I’m not an angry, bitter or mean-spirited person. But I can understand how I might be seen as such in the absence of the appropriate context, and it truly chagrins me that I might be so misperceived, and so negatively.

But I don’t intend to change, and I don’t intend to stop making the arguments contained in my rants. I’m angry for a very good set of reasons, and I’m angry because I care about my country just the way conservatives claim to. I’m angry, in short, because I’m a patriot and defender of the ideas that America is supposed to stand for. And what I really want to know is why those on the right aren’t equally outraged?

I was a teenager when Nixon was being Nixon, destroying democracy at home, napalming civilians in Vietnam, conducting secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, employing racism to win elections. At that age I knew enough to dislike what I saw (and what I learned of what Nixon and McCarthy had done to innocent Americans even earlier, before I was born, in order to serve their political ambitions), but I didn’t know enough yet to feel genuine rage at what regressives were doing to my country and to the world.

I began to experience those feelings in my twenties, first as truly sociopathically insane gun laws in this country helped to claim the life of John Lennon, and then as Ronald Reagan began to systematically turn his back on the poor and the middle-class in order to further enrich the country’s already wealthy economic elites. I also felt deep shame and outrage that America – the country that had supported if not literally created every two-bit dictator in Latin America, ‘our backyard’, (and well beyond) for a century – began to murder Nicaraguan peasants in order to halt their struggle to free themselves from the economic and political tyranny of one of those Washington-run caudillo clients, the sickening Somoza regime.

Then I watched in disgust as Newt Gingrich and his merry band of infantile hypocrites impeached a president for lying about a consensual sexual affair, while they were themselves all doing worse, like dumping a wife while she was lying in her hospital bed recovering from cancer surgery, or fathering children with a mistress, or carrying on many years-long affairs.

All of this was truly noxious. Nothing to that point had prepared me, however, for the regressive politics of our time. And they have turned me very angry indeed.

Regressives like to call people like me Bush-haters, and so it is important to address that claim before proceeding, because the entire intent of hurling that label at the president’s critics is to undermine their credibility. If you simply hate the man, they imply, you’re not rational, and your critiques can be dismissed. But it isn’t that simple – not by a long shot. First, it should be noted that the regressive right is far wider a phenomenon than just one person. It currently includes an entire executive branch administration, almost (and, just a year ago, more than) half of Congress, a majority of the Supreme Court and probably a majority of the lower federal courts, a biased-to-the-point-of-being-a-joke mainstream media, and tons of lobbyists, think tanks and profitable industries.

But as to George W. Bush, himself, I suspect it’s quite fair to say that most Americans and even most progressives did not originally despise or loathe him. I didn’t. I certainly didn’t admire the guy, nor did I think he was remotely prepared to be president of the United States. (Nor, by the way, was I particularly impressed with Al Gore in 2000.) Bush campaigned as a center-right pragmatist (a “compassionate conservative”, in his words), much as his father had been, and I expected that’s how he would govern if elected. You know, more embarrassing most of the time than truly destructive.

I mention all this because it is important to note what has – and what has not – been responsible for my/our anger, and to make clear that attempts to dismiss that anger as some Bush-hating bias or predisposition are false, a ploy to destroy the messenger when one doesn’t care for the message he’s carrying. If Bush had governed like he campaigned I’m sure I would have disliked him, but neither hated him nor his policies, nor experienced the rage that I feel about what he’s done to the country and the world. Frankly, my feelings toward another center-right Bush presidency would have likely been largely the same as my feelings toward the center-right Clinton presidency which preceded it.

But he hasn’t governed anywhere near to how he campaigned, and he wasn’t even elected properly, and I do in fact feel huge anger at the damage done. Moreover, I cannot for the life of me imagine how anyone – even conservatives – could feel differently. Even the wealthy, to whose interests this presidency is so wholly devoted, have to sleep at night. Even they have children who will inherit a broken country existing in an environmentally and politically hostile world, though no doubt they figure that big enough fences, mean enough private armies, and loads of central air conditioning will insulate them from the damage.

I don’t mind that the Bush campaign fought hard to win the 2000 election. That was certainly a legitimate goal for them to pursue. But it nauseates me beyond belief that their agents in the Florida government disenfranchised tens of thousands of African Americans in order to keep them from voting Democratic. And it sickens me that they gathered up a bunch of congressional staffers pretending to be an angry local mob and stormed election canvassers, using pure Gestapo techniques to shut down the most fundamental act of democracy, counting the votes.

I don’t mind that the Bush campaign took the election to the Supreme Court, even though they were simultaneously accusing the Gore folks of being litigious. What disgusts me beyond words is that a regressive majority of the Court anointed Bush president in a sheer act of partisan politics. And that they were so anxious to achieve that end that they repudiated all their own judicial politics previously espoused in case after case – from states’ rights, to equal protection, to judicial restraint. And that they were so conscious of what they were actually doing that they took the unprecedented step of stating that no lasting principles were involved in the matter, that their decision would forever apply to this case and this case only.

Once in office, there was still the possibility that the administration would govern as it had campaigned, as a rather centrist, status quo-style government, perhaps especially tempered from arrogance and overstretch by the knowledge that the country was deeply divided and that Bush had in fact actually lost the popular vote. In fact, though, they did precisely the opposite.

The first order of business, certainly the top priority for the administration, and arguably the only thing they were ever completely seriously about, was their tax restructuring program. It was grim enough that the tax cuts, as under Reagan, where dramatically tilted in favor of the wealthy. But what made them especially disgusting was that – again, as under Reagan – these wholesale revenue reductions were not only not accompanied by expenditure cuts, but in fact were coupled with increased spending. Can you say “voodoo economics”? Bush’s father once had, before he treasonously changed his tune to win the vice presidency (leading to the presidency) for himself. But he was right the first time, before he put personal ambition and transparent insecurity ahead of the national interest. And thus we’ve witnessed the only possible result of the combination of massive revenue cuts and continuing spending increases: astronomical debt, now well over nine trillion dollars in total, and rapidly growing. What I want to know is how can we – especially so-called family-oriented, so-called fiscal conservatives – not be outraged, not be scandalized, not be boiling with anger at the debt we have transferred to our own children, all so that we could avoid paying our own way, like every generation before us has?

I am outraged as well at how the administration polarized the country in the wake of one of the greatest traumas it had ever experienced. Let us leave aside the ample evidence demonstrating that the Bush team was asleep at the wheel before 9/11 – or perhaps far, far worse – a set of facts which is noteworthy in part because progressives did not use them to attack the president and score cheap but easy political points. But the administration did precisely that. It is disgusting – and it fills me with anger – how they used a national security crisis to win partisan political contests. How they scheduled a vote on the Iraq war resolution right before the midterm elections of 2002, thus politicizing the gravest decision a country can make by forcing Democrats to choose between voting their conscience and campaign accusations of being soft on national security.

It boils my blood that these chickenhawks – almost none of whom showed up for duty in Vietnam when it was their turn – could dare to accuse Max Cleland of being weak on national security, a guy who gave three of his four limbs to that very cause on the battlefields of Southeast Asia. How could they run ads morphing his face into Saddam’s or bin Laden’s, when his opponent – of course – took Vietnam deferments, just like Cheney and Ashcroft and the rest? And how could they accuse him of being weak on national defense because he opposed the bureaucratic reshuffling to create the Homeland Security Department, when Bush himself had also opposed it? That is, before Rove politicized it by inserting union-busting language applying to tens of thousands of civil servants covered by the act.

It nauseates me beyond words that this president could use the tragedy of 9/11 to justify invading a country which had nothing to do with that attack whatsoever. It enrages me that those who had the courage to oppose this policy so transparently deceitful (and it truly was – from the proof of the Downing Street Memos, to Colin Powell’s charade at the UN, to the assurances that the US knew where the WMD were, to the rejection of the weapons inspectors’ request to have two more months to finish the job) were labeled as traitors and worse for telling the truth. And that 4,000 Americans and over a million Iraqis have died for these lies.

And speaking of treason, what sort of looking glass have we all fallen through when the government of the United States exposes its own CIA undercover agent in order to punish her spouse for revealing administration lies about the war? When did that cease to be a cause of outrage, especially among our super-patriotic friends on the right?

How is it possible not to be angry looking at the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, and the bungled response of the government before, during and after that tragedy? Indeed, even journalists who had spent so many years licking government boots that their tongues had long ago turned black were moved to outrage at the magnitude of that failure, with the president meanwhile on a stage in San Diego pretending to play guitar at a Republican fundraiser.

I am outraged, as well, by one of the most insane and avoidable tragedies of all human history, the slow-motion holocaust of global warming. How can anyone not be angry at a political movement and a government that puts the short-term profits of one or two industries ahead of the viability of the entire planet? How can anyone not be mortified as we one-twentieth of the world’s population, who generate one-fourth of the greenhouse gases causing the problem, not only do nothing about the problem, but actively block the rest of the world from saving all of us from this folly?

I’m furious because the Bush administration and its ideological allies have shredded the Constitution at every turn, destroying the institutional gift of those they pretend to revere (but only when it’s convenient to upholding their own depredations). This president, who has gotten virtually everything he has ever wanted throughout his life and his presidency, once privately exclaimed in frustration at not getting something he wanted when he wanted it, “It’s just a goddam piece of paper!”, and that is precisely how he has treated America’s founding document. His signing statements – probably over a thousand in count now – completely obliterate the checks and balances principle of the Constitution, its most central idea. His admitted spying on Americans without warrant smashes the Fourth Amendment. His fiasco in Guantanamo and beyond mocks due process and habeas corpus guarantees. His invasion of Iraq against the international law codified in the UN Charter, to which the United States is a signatory, violates the Constitutional requirement to hold such treaties as the highest law of the land. Altogether, Americans have never seen a presidency with such imperial ambitions, and anyone who cares about the Constitution should be furious. A year from now, it is quite possible that Hillary Clinton will be president of the United States (ugh). Would our conservative friends silently countenance, let alone viciously support, such a monarchy in the White House if it belonged to Queen Hillary rather than King George? I think not.

We could go on and on from here. This administration and the movement it fronts at least gets high marks for consistency. Everything they touch turns to stone. There’s Pat Tillman and Terri Schiavo. There’s the politicization of the US Attorneys and the corruption of DeLay and Abramoff. There’s North Korea, Pakistan and the Middle East. There’s the shame of torture and rendition. There’s the wrecking of the American military and of the country’s reputation abroad. There’s Afghanistan and the failure to capture bin Laden. And much, much more. But above all, and driving all, there’s the kleptocracy – the doing of everything in every way to facilitate the looting of the national fisc.

What an unbelievable record of deceit, destruction, hypocrisy, incompetence, treason and greed. What a tragic tale of debt, lost wars, stolen elections, environmental crises, Constitution shredding, national shame and diminished security.

All done by the very most pious amongst us, of course. Merry Christmas, eh? I guess those are our presents, all carefully wrapped in spin, contempt, and preemptive attacks on any of us impertinent enough to say “No thanks, Santa”.

So, yeah, you’re goddam right I’m angry about what’s been done to my country, and what’s been done by my country in my name.

How could anyone who claims to care about America not be?

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

The Musharraf Commission to announce that a lone nut killed Bhutto

December 29, 2007

It’s too tempting to point out the irony that Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter was in Islamabad last night, waiting for a dinner meeting with Benazir Bhutto that tragically never happened. If the Pakistani authorities want to make this mess go away quickly — and clearly they do — who would be better to consult with than the author of the “Magic Bullet” theory. But Specter’s services apparently aren’t even needed — the Musharraf regime is already to announce the case is closed:

Musharraf initially blamed her death on unnamed Islamic militants, but Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz told The Associated Press on Friday that “we have the evidence that al-Qaida and the Taliban were behind the suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto.” He said investigators had resolved the “whole mystery” behind the opposition leader’s killing and would give details at press conference later Friday.

Wow, that was quick. Even “Perry Mason” used to take 57 minutes to crack a case. The truth is, when you peel away the layers of the onion that is the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, al-Qaeda and its friends in the Taliban — the people who were nearly wiped out until we shifted our military focus from Afghanistan to Iraq — are one of the major peels. The person or persons who killed Bhutto was no doubt a terrorist — “barbaric animal” might be more appropriate — but was it an al-Qaeda terrorist, or a different stripe?

Here’s a good wrap-up from Spencer Ackerman at TPM Muckraker:

[T]he first-blush assessment from most experts held that al-Qaeda is responsible. Others, including political adversaries of Pervez Musharraf, then suggested Musharraf’s government was at least culpable, given the porousness of security Bhutto received in the garrison city of Rawalpindi where she was assassinated. Still others caution that Pakistani Islamic terrorist groups with agendas distinct from al-Qaeda’s might be more likely candidates.

Ackerman points to this analysis from the L.A. Times:

Complicating the situation is the fact that many of the extremist groups have ties to Pakistan’s political establishment, including elements of the government loyal to President Pervez Musharraf, as well as close ties to the military and its intelligence agencies. Bhutto had long criticized such links, and in the wake of her killing Thursday, some of her supporters accused the government of playing a role. One senior U.S. counter-terrorism official also said Washington suspected that rogue officials within the military or intelligence agencies could have been involved, noting that though there is no evidence, they have detested Bhutto for more than a decade. U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies, and groups such as the Sept. 11 commission, have said that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency in particular has cultivated relationships with radical groups, using them as proxies to wage war against India while protecting Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan.

Which all gets back to the headline of the post — although there are some clear differences, it’s also a little creepy how some aspects of this remind one (well, me anyway) of the JFK assassination, but especially this: You have a state-security apparatus in Pakistan with unsavory ties with bad guys that they’re supposed to be fighting, the Islamist terrorists and the other “NGOs” of violent unrest. To be even more blunt, just read today’s newspaper and substitute “JFK” for “Bhutto,” “LBJ” for “Musharraf,” the “CIA” for the “ISI” and “the Mafia and disgruntled Bay of Pigs veterans” for “terrorists” and you’ll see why it’s no easier to get to the bottom of what happened in Rawalpindi yesterday than what happened in Dealey Plaza in 1963.

Benazir Bhutto was killed by terrorists, but terrorists are a subset of “the enemies of democracy,” and that it is a long list that starts with a dictator, Pervez Musharraf, and includes his security apparatus, the Pakistani military and their unholy friends in al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It would probably take more than a day just to read down the list of prime suspects, more time than it took the “Musharraf Commission” to announce its “findings.”

You’re an idiot

December 28, 2007

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The BEAST 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2007

9. You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism — it’s nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears’ children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you’re going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can’t spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don’t want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy’s doing well. You’re an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn’t get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn’t cover. You deserve it, chump.

We Are All Prisoners Now

December 27, 2007

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by Paul Craig Roberts

“They’re locking them up today
They’re throwing away the key
I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?”
~ The Red Telephone (LOVE, 1967)

At Christmas time it has been my habit to write a column in remembrance of the many innocent people in prisons whose lives have been stolen by the US criminal justice (sic) system that is as inhumane as it is indifferent to justice. Usually I retell the cases of William Strong and Christophe Gaynor, two men framed in the state of Virginia by prosecutors and judges as wicked and corrupt as any who served Hitler or Stalin.

This year is different. All Americans are now imprisoned in a world of lies and deception created by the Bush Regime and the two complicit parties of Congress, by federal judges too timid or ignorant to recognize a rogue regime running roughshod over the Constitution, by a bought-and-paid-for media that serves as propagandists for a regime of war criminals, and by a public who have forsaken their Founding Fathers.

Americans are also imprisoned by fear, a false fear created by the hoax of “terrorism.” It has turned out that headline terrorist events since 9/11 have been orchestrated by the US government. For example, the alleged terrorist plot to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower was the brainchild of a FBI agent who searched out a few disaffected people to give lip service to the plot devised by the FBI agent. He arrested his victims, whose trial ended in acquittal and mistrial.

Raising doubts among Americans about the government is not a strong point of the corporate media. Americans live in a world of propaganda designed to secure their acquiescence to war crimes, torture, searches and police state measures, military aggression, hegemony and oppression, while portraying Americans (and Israelis) as the salt of the earth who are threatened by Muslims who hate their “freedom and democracy.”

Americans cling to this “truth” while the Bush regime and a complicit Congress destroy the Bill of Rights and engineer the theft of elections.

Freedom and democracy in America have been reduced to no-fly lists, spying without warrants, arrests without warrants or evidence, permanent detention despite the constitutional protection of habeas corpus, torture despite the prohibition against self-incrimination – the list goes on and on.

In today’s fearful America, a US Senator, whose elder brothers were (1) a military hero killed in action, (2) a President of the United States assassinated in office, (3) an Attorney General of the United States and likely president except he was assassinated like his brother, can find himself on the no-fly list. Present and former high government officials, with top-secret security clearances, cannot fly with a tube of toothpaste or a bottle of water despite the absence of any evidence that extreme measures imposed by “airport security” makes flying safer.

Elderly American citizens with walkers and young mothers with children are meticulously searched because US Homeland Security cannot tell the difference between an American citizen and a terrorist.

All Americans should note the ominous implications of the inability of Homeland Security to distinguish an American citizen from a terrorist.

When Airport Security cannot differentiate a US Marine General recipient of the Medal of Honor from a terrorist, Americans have all the information they need to know.

Any and every American can be arrested by unaccountable authority, held indefinitely without charges and tortured until he or she can no longer stand the abuse and confesses.

This predicament, which can now befall any American, is our reward for our stupidity, our indifference, our gullibility, and our lack of compassion for anyone but ourselves.

Some Americans have begun to comprehend the tremendous financial costs of the “war on terror.” But few understand the cost to American liberty. Last October a Democrat-sponsored bill, “Prevention of Violent Radicalism and Homegrown Terrorism,” passed the House of Representatives 404 to 6.

Only six members of the House voted against tyrannical legislation that would destroy freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and that would mandate 18 months of congressional hearings to discover Americans with “extreme” views who could be preemptively arrested.

What better indication that the US Constitution has lost its authority when elected representatives closest to the people pass a bill that permits the Bill of Rights to be overturned by the subjective opinion of members of an “Extremist Belief Commission” and Homeland Security bureaucrats? Clearly, Americans face no greater threat than the government in Washington.

December 27, 2007

Paul Craig Roberts [send him mail] wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is author or coauthor of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury’s Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He is also coauthor with Karen Araujo of Chile: Dos Visiones – La Era Allende-Pinochet (Santiago: Universidad Andres Bello, 2000).

is there anything that Pot can not cure?

December 27, 2007

Cannabinoids, the active components in marijuana, are used to reduce the side effects of cancer treatment, such as pain, weight loss, and vomiting, but there is increasing evidence that they may also inhibit tumor cell growth. However, the cellular mechanisms behind this are unknown.

Robert Ramer, Ph.D., and Burkhard Hinz, Ph.D., of the University of Rostock in Germany investigated whether and by what mechanism cannabinoids inhibit tumor cell invasion.

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ScienceDaily (Dec. 27, 2007) — Cannabinoids may suppress tumor invasion in highly invasive cancers, according to a study published online December 25 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Cannabinoids did suppress tumor cell invasion and stimulated the expression of TIMP-1, an inhibitor of a group of enzymes that are involved in tumor cell invasion.

“To our knowledge, this is the first report of TIMP-1-dependent anti-invasive effects of cannabinoids. This signaling pathway may play an important role in the antimetastatic action of cannabinoids, whose potential therapeutic benefit in the treatment of highly invasive cancers should be addressed in clinical trials,” the authors write.

Adapted from materials provided by Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071226004546.htm

trial lawyers, they are the last line of defense against corporations that are unconcerned about the harm that they cause to others.

December 26, 2007
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Edited on Tue Dec-25-07 11:52 PM by Time for change

Republicans have been expressing nothing but contempt for trial lawyers for many years now. When John Edwards ran for Vice President in 2004 the anti-trial lawyer rhetoric heated up a notch. If he wins the Democratic presidential nomination, that rhetoric will heat up quite a bit more. Edwards is not just any trial lawyer. He is one of the most talented and successful trial lawyers ever to practice law in our country.

When Republican hostility and contempt for trial lawyers first became apparent to me, it was difficult for me to understand. The Republican Party is the party of the rich and powerful. Trial lawyers usually make quite a bit of money. So it would seem that the Republican Party would be very cozy with them. Furthermore, I too held a good amount of suspicion towards trial lawyers. It seemed to me that they made a lot more money than they deserved. I enjoyed lawyer jokes like bigots enjoy ethnic jokes. It seemed to me that since I held both Republicans and trial lawyers in such poor esteem that they should be natural allies.

But I eventually learned that my feelings about trial lawyers at the time were indicative of my ignorance on the subject. The irony is that the extent of my ignorance was largely due to Republican propaganda against trial lawyers – and I didn’t even know it. Like so many other Americans, then and now, I was disgusted at what I perceived as an overly litigious society characterized by a multitude of trivial lawsuits, which I believed led to skyrocketing costs that hurt us all.

The reason for Republican demonization of trial lawyers

As the Party of the rich and powerful, Republicans have long been much more corporate friendly – and consequently unfriendly to ordinary Americans – than Democrats (though there are many Democrats who lean in that direction as well). Far right wing Republican presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have exhibited their corporate affinities largely by using their powers to reduce regulations on corporations that require them to act in ways that reduce the likelihood of damages that they might cause to the American people. Such damages include such things as harm to workers’ health due to dangerous working conditions, harm to the health of consumers who buy dangerous products, harm to the environment, and economic harm accruing through monopolistic practices. Powerful corporations have the money to make political contributions that win them much favorable legislation at the expense of the American people, and corporate friendly politicians are rarely averse to being influenced by those contributions.

But deregulation doesn’t entirely reduce their accountability for the damages that corporations cause. No matter how far deregulation proceeds, under our system of law American citizens have the right to sue corporations who cause them harm. That’s where trial lawyers come in. They are the last line of defense against corporations that are unconcerned about the harm that they cause to others.

Thus trial lawyers represent a great threat to corporate power, which explains Republican contempt towards them. To deal with this problem Republicans have come up with “tort reform”. The main purpose of “tort reform” is to decrease the accountability of powerful corporations for the harm that their actions cause to the American people – which is done by severely limiting the right of the people to seek redress in the courts for such harm. And to give “tort reform” political saliency, Republicans demonize trial lawyers.

An example of how Edwards has held corporations accountable through our tort system

Since John Edwards is bound to be demonized as a trial lawyer if he wins the Democratic nomination, let’s take a look at an example of what that work has entailed. Edwards describes four of his cases in detail in his book, “Four Trials”, but I’ll just describe one here:

Valerie Lakey was a five year old girl who got stuck in a swimming pool because of a defective pool drain which suctioned up 80% of her small intestine, thus requiring lifelong medical treatment costing millions of dollars, and involving the need to receive food through intravenous and gastric tubes for more than 12 hours a day for the rest of her life. Though there was more than one responsible party, I’ll confine this discussion to the liability of the pool products manufacturer, Sta-Rite Industries, who supplied the defective pool drain cover that led to the Lakey family tragedy.

Prior to that tragedy, Sta-Rite already knew that their drain cover was defective, as they had previously been involved in several other claims related to defective drain cover related accidents. Subsequent to those claims, a study had been commissioned and had concluded that “unless deflected by a proper drain cover, the vacuum force created by a pool pump could trap and drown a relatively strong, aware adult” Yet Sta-Rite continued to sell the defective drain cover that they knew to be defective.

Edwards produced an engineer expert witness who testified that a solution to the defective design would have cost two cents per drain cover. Sta-Rite objected to Edwards’ demand for evidence of all previous cases, but the judge denied Sta-Rite’s objection, so Sta-Rite was thereby forced to produce literally a truckload of relevant evidence. The evidence clearly showed that Sta-Rite had been aware of numerous serious injuries resulting from their defective drain cover, yet they didn’t feel it was their responsibility to do anything about it, so they did nothing. Here is an excerpt from Edwards’ jury summation:

How many times has it happened to them?… When it happened to them the first time, what did they do to insure that it would never happen again? What did they do the third time?… the eighth time?… There are thirteen children that we know about so far… It’s continuing to happen.

The jury awarded the Lakey family $25 million, the largest verdict in North Carolina’s history. Sta-Right agreed to pay up immediately, without appeal, if the Lakey family would agree not to pursue punitive damages. Though they clearly would receive much more money than the $25 million in punitive damages if they pursued the case, the Lakeys could not afford to wait because they desperately needed the money for Valerie’s medical care. Edwards was outraged over the offer, but it had to be accepted.

The McDonalds spilled coffee tort case as a prominent example of right wing propaganda

Probably most Americans are at least aware of the McDonalds spilled coffee case, where a jury awarded a woman several hundred thousand dollars after she spilled a cup of McDonalds coffee on herself. The case has become sort of a joke and metaphor for our “out of control” tort system – due largely to right wing propaganda. Few Americans are aware of the facts of the case:

On February 27, 1992, 79 year old Stella Liebeck pulled the lid off a cup of hot coffee she had just purchased from McDonalds, following which some of the coffee spilled onto her lap, causing third degree burns of her genitals, inner thigh and buttocks. She spent 8 days in the hospital undergoing painful skin grafting and debridement of her wounds, following which she had to return to the hospital for additional skin grafting and was immobilized for several months.

Two years after the accident Liebeck wrote a letter to McDonald’s, without financial demands, asking them to please lower the temperature of their coffee. McDonald’s wrote back offering her $800, which angered her and thus motivated her to hire a lawyer. Her lawyer filed suit for $100,000 in compensatory damages plus $300,000 in punitive damages, and the case went to court.

In court, the following salient evidence came out: 1) McDonald’s sold its coffee at 185 degrees F, despite an industry standard of 120-130 degrees; 2) McDonald’s was aware that a burn hazard exists at 140 degrees and that the temperatures at which they pour their coffee into styrofoam cups will burn the mouth and throat; 3) Over a ten year period, more than 700 instances of burns from scalding coffee, including burns of infants and children, had been reported to McDonald’s; 4) During the same period of time, McDonald’s had settled several law suits, most of them out of court; 5) Yet they continued to serve coffee at dangerous temperatures because most of their customers like it like that, since they don’t open the cup or drink the coffee until they get to work, by which time it has had time to cool. Thus, it is a cost-benefit issue for McDonald’s.

The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages (double what her lawyer asked for), but reduced it to $160,000 because they held her to be 20% responsible for her accident. They also awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages, which the judge reduced to $480,000. Both sides appealed the verdict, and later they settled out of court for an amount which McDonald’s required (as part of the deal) be undisclosed to the public.

The corporate effort to wreck our justice system

What most opened my eyes to this issue was Ralph Nader’s excellent book, “No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America”. Nader’s book goes into great detail on the many legal mechanisms that corporate America has used to diminish their legal accountability for injuries and deaths that they cause, and the propaganda that they use to convince the American people of the need to diminish their legal accountability.

Nader describes the typical whining by powerful corporations about lawsuits:

The same profitable companies that have told Congress and the media that the product liability “explosion” is driving their business out of business have reported something quite different to investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Time after time, the same companies report in their SEC filings that liability exposure poses no material threat to their bottom line.

Bill Clinton vetoed a 1996 bill that would have greatly limited the rights of Americans to recover damages in product liability cases. But the push continued, culminating in the 2005 “Class Action Fairness Act”, which our Republican Congress pushed through and George W. Bush then signed into law.

With the tremendous power imbalance that exists between wealthy corporations and individual citizens, one of the few ways that people have of fighting back against corporations is to combine together to file class action suits. The “Class Action Fairness Act” severely curtails that possibility by requiring that class action suits be filed in federal rather than in state courts. Virtually all experts who analyzed this bill agree that it will prevent most class action suits from ever seeing the light of day – which indeed was the purpose of the bill.

One of the last chapters in Nader’s book is 64 pages long and is titled “The corporate effort to wreck our justice system.” This excerpt summarized the problem:

This organized attack on the civil justice system is a direct assault on victims. Led by corporate lawyers, corporation-financed “think thanks,” front groups, and campaign-contribution-hungry politicians like (former) Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich… it seeks a radical dismembering of the justice system’s ability to hold corporations accountable to people they have wronged. At its foundation, it is anti-consumer and anti-individual rights. As the nonprofit Alliance for Justice has put it, its agenda seeks to “elevate corporate profits and private wealth over social justice and individual rights as the cornerstones of our legal process”. The tort deform movement is a brazen effort by corporations and politicians beholden to corporate interests to pull off – under the guise of “common sense” reform – a nationwide perpetual bailout for polluters, swindlers, reckless health care providers, and makers of tobacco, defective vehicles, dangerous drugs, and many other hazardous consumer products.

Edwards’ appropriate response to attempts to demonize his trial lawyer work

We all know that if John Edwards wins the Democratic presidential nomination he will be mercilessly pilloried by his Republican opponents as a “predatory trial lawyer”. This is what Nader had to say about the demonizing of trial lawyers:

The tort deformers’ strategy is straightforward: Play on Americans’ suspicions about greedy “shyster” lawyers, i.e., those lawyers who represent individuals seeking compensation for personal injuries. Take the few lawsuits each year where juries award large punitive damages and distort the facts beyond recognition. Spread fears of job loss, of high insurance premiums caused by lawsuits, and of a national economy crippled by a litigation “explosion.”

John Edwards says that he doesn’t think standing up for average people is a political liability, and that he will be ready for any such attacks. He says (See last paragraph):

I absolutely believe that what I’ve been doing for the last 22 years is perfect preparation for going to Washington and advocating for the people… I’m proud of what I have done… I am more than happy to have Valerie Lakey and Joe Blaney, whose wife was killed by a drunk driver a year ago – any of these folks – stand up and speak on my behalf, which I know they will. Whatever issue they raise about that, I intend to take it head-on.

The outlook for an Edwards nomination

Despite the demonization of trial lawyers, and despite Edwards’ constant marginalization by our corporate news media, he comes out better than any other presidential candidate – Democrat or Republican – in head to head match-ups against the opposition party’s candidates. This is how he compares with the two Democratic front runners according to the latest Rasmussen polls:

Edwards: +16 over Romney, +7 over McCain, +9 over Thompson, +12 over Huckabee, even with Giuliani
Obama: +4 over Romney, -2 against McCain, +7 over Thompson, +4 over Huckabee, even with Giuliani
Clinton: -1 against Romney, -6 against McCain, +2 over Thompson, +4 over Huckabee, -1 against Giuliani

If he gets the Democratic nomination, they’ll no longer be able to ignore him. When they demonize him, as they will any candidate who threatens their profit margins, I think he’ll be ready for them.

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×2530373

Cancer opens one’s eyes to the many facets of marijuana.

December 24, 2007

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By Diana Wagman

December 22, 2007

Ahh, cancer. One learns so much from being diagnosed with a death-sentence disease. Of course, 95% of it is stuff you would rather not know, but that other 5% is downright interesting. For example, “America’s Next Top Model” is much more fun to watch when you’ve lost 15 pounds without trying. During chemotherapy, vanilla smells good, but vanilla wafers taste disgusting. And eyelashes really do have a purpose; without them, my eyes are a dust magnet.

But the most compelling fact I learned was about my friends. Not just what you would expect: how they cooked for my family and picked up my kids and took me to doctors and pretended not to notice how bad I looked and, most important, that I could not — cannot — survive without them.

No, what really shocked me was how many of my old, dear, married, parenting, job-holding friends smoke pot. I am not kidding. People I never expected dropped by to deliver joints and buds and private stash. The DEA could have set a security cam over my front door and made some serious dents in the marijuana trade. The poets and musicians were not a surprise, but lawyers? CEOs? Republicans? Across the ideological spectrum, a lot of my buddies are stoners. Who knew?

OK, I admit it, in college I smoked dope with the rest of them. I mean, everybody was doing it — an excuse I do not allow my children — and at parties I didn’t want to be uncool. Plus, I felt my only other option was alcohol, and the sweet drinks I liked were too fattening. But that was a long time ago, and since then I have learned to drink bourbon straight, get high on life and appreciate the advantages of not doing anything you wouldn’t want your kids to do.

I thought all my friends felt the same. Boy, was I wrong. When I surfaced from my chemo haze enough to care about anyone else, I was curious. Why do so many 40- and 50-somethings still get high? I asked my suppliers. Pain was the No. 1 answer. Not just the psychic angst of being mothers and fathers to teenagers, but real physical pain. We’re all beginning to fall apart, and for those who imbibe, a couple of tokes really take the edge off the sciatica, rotator cuff injuries, irritable bowel syndrome and migraines.

The second biggest reason was anxiety. Perhaps we can blame politics for middle-age pot use: the war, the environment, the loss of our civil liberties, little things like that.

Obviously some of us use drugs to ease the lives of quiet desperation we never thought we would have back when we were getting stoned the first time. Our drug use now is really the same as in college. Then I got high to relax, to gain confidence, to forget I was an overweight, mediocre college student terrified of the future. Now we get stoned to relax, forget our disappointing careers and mask our terror of not just our own future but the future for our kids as well. Is it so different from my dad coming home from work and having a couple of martinis? Or my mother and those little prescribed pills she took when she felt “nervous”? At least — we can rationalize — marijuana is all natural.

I spoke to my oncologist about the pros and cons of marijuana use for cancer patients. He said he was part of a study 25 years ago on the effects of pot on nausea, joint pain and fatigue caused by chemotherapy. It worked then, he said; it really helped some people. But now they have great new drugs, such as Emend, dexamethasone and Ativan, that keep the nausea and other pain at bay. He said the people who use pot now do it because they like it. Or maybe they use it because they would rather support a farm in Humboldt County than a huge pharmaceutical conglomerate.

After chemo No. 1, I was violently ill. Anti-nausea drugs notwithstanding, I was hugging the porcelain throne. My body did not want to be poisoned; I guess it liked cancer better. I was willing to try anything, so I lit up. It helped. A lot. I collapsed on the couch, I zoned out watching “Project Runway,” I was able to take deep breaths without puking.

My 15-year-old daughter was shocked. The look on her face was proof that her elementary school D.A.R.E. program had really done its job. A friend — not a supplier or a user — explained to her it was just to make me feel better and that if it worked, wouldn’t that be great? My daughter reluctantly agreed, but I knew she didn’t mean it. I had come full circle in my life — the next time I had a toke, I stood in my bathroom with the fan on, blowing smoke out the window, but instead of my parents, I was scared my kids would find out I was smoking dope again.

The biggest pain of cancer is the gnawing, scratching, bleeding dread that they didn’t find it all, that you didn’t go to the doctor soon enough, that it is growing out of control at this very moment. My doctor recommended meditation. Yeah, right, I thought, more time sitting quietly trying not to think about dying. I had carpool for that. Meanwhile, I lost all taste for alcohol. Even half a glass of wimpy white wine could make me toss my cookies, so I turned to my friend Mary Jane occasionally, only when nothing else would do.

In the middle of one post-chemo night, my husband was out of town and I was sick and I got up and tried to get the little pipe lit and take one hit so I could maybe sleep. My son heard me struggling and he came into my bedroom. He lit the match for me and showed me where to put my finger on the “carburetor,” the hole on the side of the pipe, to make it draw. I was too grateful to ask him how he knew all this. He stayed with me until I felt better. It was mother-son bonding in a new way.

Just another reason to say: Thank you, cancer.

Diana Wagman, a professor at Cal State Long Beach, is the author of the novels “Skin Deep,” “Spontaneous” and “Bump.”

Molecule of the Year: Cannabiodiol

December 24, 2007

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By FRED GARDNER

THC -delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol- is not the only active ingredient in cannabis. At least five other cannabinoids exhibit biological activity, and so do some terpenes and flavonoids. All these compounds are found in the resin stored in the plant’s glandular trichomes. They are chemically related.

THC predominates in plants bred for psychoactivity (as cannabis plants have been bred for generations in California and elsewhere). Cannabidiol -CBD- is the predominant cannabinoid in plants typically bred for fiber. There are only trace quantities of CBD in high-THC plants because one form of the same gene codes for THC synthase and the other codes for CBD synthase. Thus growers selecting for high THC content get low CBD.

California growers hoping to develop plants with a high CBD-to-THC ratio have been stymied by lack of access to an analytical test lab. In surreptitious tests, “high grade” buds were reportedly in the range of 15-20% THC and 0.1% CBD.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has placed CBD on Schedule I even though CBD has no known adverse effects and doesn’t induce “euphoria.” The most dire effects attributed to marijuana -tachycardia (accelerated heartbeat), panic, confusion, anxiety, even psychosis- are effects of THC that CBD has been shown to mitigate!

By listing CBD as a Schedule 1 substance and denying growers the means to develop high-CBD plant strains, the government is protecting the American people from an immunomodulator with anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, anti-psychotic, anti-oxidant, and neuro-protective properties. In whose interests could that possibly be?

BF Mechoulam on CBD END BF

The chemist who worked out the precise structure of CBD 45 years ago, Raphael Mechoulam, gave a “review talk” at this year’s meeting of the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine. Mechoulam had just gotten his PhD in chemistry in the Fall of ’62 and was looking for a research project that might lead to tenure at the Weizmann Institute. He chose to analyze the components of cannabis, he said, thinking “it’s a minor project, it will be finished off in six months.”

Hashish of Lebanese origin was obtained from the police -“There is a fantastic collaboration between Arabs and Jews in smuggling,” Mechoulam observed- and a dozen constituents were then identified by two types of chromatography. (Some cannabis constituents had been identified previously, including CBD, which Roger Adams of the University of Illinois isolated in the early 1940s.)

It was generally assumed throughout the ’60s and ’70s that the cannabinoids exerted effects not by binding to a specific receptor but “nonspecifically” by altering the lipid structure of cellular membranes. Mechoulam established that the action was specific by purifying THC and showing that only the natural version of the molecule -and not its synthetic mirror image- was exerting the effect. In 1988 Alynn Howlett found that THC was indeed activating a receptor. It was dubbed “CB1” and was found in those areas of the brain involved in movement, stress, cognitive function – “everywhere it would be expected,” said Mechoulam, given what was known about the effects of cannabis on people.

Unlike THC, CBD hardly binds to the CB1 receptor. It binds to a second cannabinoid receptor -CB2-originally found in spleen cells by S. Munro of Cambridge University in 1993 and subsequently found in the stomach, liver, heart, kidney, lymph and immune cells, bones, endocrine glands, and throughout the peripheral nervous system.

In his IACM talk Mechoulam reviewed research in recent years that has shed light on aspects of CBD’s mechanism of action. Its lipid-solubility enables it to get into places in the brain that conventional neurotransmitters cannot reach. It is a potent anti-oxidative agent. It turns out to be an antagonist to a recently discovered receptor called GPR-55 to which THC and 2-AG bind as agonists. It blocks the uptake of adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that may promote sleep. It blocks the formation of various cytokines (signaling compounds not released by nerves or glands) under certain circumstances. It activates the serotonin receptors. No wonder, then, that CBD plays a role in many clinical conditions.

Conditions treatable by CBD

Mechoulam described an experiment led by Paul Consroe and colleagues in Brazil in which CBD was tested as a treatment for intractable epilepsy. Patients stayed on the anticonvulsants they had been on (which hadn’t eliminated their seizures) and added 200mg/day of CBD or a placebo. Of the seven patients getting CBD over the course of several months, only one showed no improvement; three became seizure-free; one experienced only one or two seizures, Mechoulam recalled; and two experienced reduced severity and occurrence of seizures.

“So it seemed a very promising approach,” said Mechoulam, “but unfortunately, nothing has been done ever since. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has done any work on cannabidiol in the clinic on epilepsy, and I wonder why.”

A colleague of Mechoulam’s, Marc Feldman at Imperial College, London, tested CBD on mice who had a version of rheumatoid arthritis and found that it reduced inflammation by almost 50% at the right dose -5mg/kg of body weight. But this “beautiful antiinflammatory reaction was lost if we went up to, say, 25 mg/kg,” Mechoulam said. Drug developers must bear in mind and cope with the fact that cannabinoids have a finite “therapeutic window” -they are ineffective at low and high doses.

Mechoulam has been testing CBD on mice bred to have a version of type-1 diabetes that manifests around age 14 weeks. He and his co-workers treated these mice with CBD for their first 6-7 weeks of life, then tested them 6-7 weeks later and found that only 30% had developed diabetes (compared to 90-100% given placebo).

In a follow-up experiment the mice weren’t given a course of CBD until age 14 weeks, when they were developing diabetes. They were then tested at age 24 weeks, and again only 30% of the treated mice were found to have diabetes. In other words, CBD did not just prevent onset but blocked development of diabetes.

Examination of the insulin-producing islets showed that only 8% were intact in the untreated diabetic mice, whereas 77% were intact in the mice treated with CBD. “I believe that here we have something very promising,” Mechoulam said. “We plan to have a clinical trial starting next week treating patients, and hopefully at the next meeting I will tell you that all of them are cured.”

Cardiologists working with mice at Hebrew University have found that CBD treatment at the time of a heart attack can reduce infarct size by about 66%. “So now they’re pushing me, ‘let’s have more CBD,'” Mechoulam said. “We should try it with humans in a few years.”

He went on: “What about sleep? I’m jumping from thing to thing to show you that CBD does quite a lot of things and I’m not sure that all of them are according to the same mechanism.” Mechoulam was part of a group led by Eric Murillo-Rodriguez that administered CBD to rats and determined that while THC caused sleepiness, CBD increased wakefulness and significantly decreased REM sleep. According to Mechoulam, “When one says ‘cannabis causes sleep,’ one should think really of two compounds, one that causes sleep and one that causes awakening.”

The anti-nausea and memory extinction effects of CBD “seem to be closely related,” Mechoulam said. He described the problem of anticipatory nausea, for which no good drugs are available. (The effects of chemotherapy can be so nauseating that patients start vomiting when they see the doctor or nurse who is going to administer the treatment.) Linda Parker at the University of Guelph conditioned shrews to start vomiting by administering lithium fluoride at a certain location. When the shrews were subsequently placed in that location they began vomiting. But if given CBD, they could be moved to the dreaded location without vomiting. “The conditioned-wretching reaction was completely abolished,” Mechoulam declared. [THC is anti-emetic, too; the advantage of CBD in this instance may be legal rather than medical.]

Mechoulam is hopeful that CBD can help tone down other kinds of conditioning. He described an experiment in which rats had a choice of two paths, one leading to cocaine, one to no reward. Rats like cocaine (and amphetamine) and will learn to choose the path leading to it. But if injected with CBD, they no longer show a preference for cocaine! Mechoulam characterized post-traumatic stress disorder, certain phobias and forms of chronic pain as “human situations which are conditioned” and might be amenable to treatment with CBD. “I know that many patients with PTSD take cannabis, self administered,” Mechoulam said. He has been trying to interest the Israeli Ministry of Health in testing CBD and THC at various ratios to treat PTSD.

Fred Gardner will be opening for a band called Lake Street at the Rockitt Room (formerly the Last Day Saloon, Clement St. off 6th Ave.) Sunday, Nov. 25, 8 p.m. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.

Tasar note to cops, 50 yr old woman on cellphone “NO”, Naked man wielding axe “YES”

December 24, 2007
mr-axe-man.jpgWAUZEKA, Wis. — Charges are pending after a naked 52-year-old Wauzeka man attacked Crawford County Sheriff’s Department deputies with an axe Thursday night after barricading himself in his house.

Deputies responded to Wauzeka for a report of a male, who authorities have not identified, acting “bizarre,” according to Crawford County Sheriff Jerry Moran. Deputies were knocking on the door when the man suddenly appeared naked and brandishing a double-bitted axe. The man started to come outside with the axe before retreating, shutting the door and swinging the axe, sticking it through the door. He then barricaded himself in the house.

Moran said deputies backed away from the house and summoned the Tri-River Special Operations Team. Deputies surrounded the house and evacuated neighbors. At 7:20 p.m., the man suddenly charged out of his house, shouting at police. The team’s members responded, using a taser and rubber bullets to subdue the man, who was not seriously hurt. He was taken to Boscobel Area Health Care

for examination for any possible injuries.

http://www.thonline.com/article.cfm?id=184631