Archive for January 19th, 2007
Frederick Black had served for more than a decade as acting U.S. Attorney to the territory of Guam, having been appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1991. In 2002 he was directing a long-term investigation into allegations of public corruption in the administration of Gov. Carl Gutierrez—a probe that had already produced numerous indictments of Guitierrez’ cronies. But a day after a Guam grand jury issued a subpoena demanding records from the Guam Superior Court that documented payments to Republican lobbyist extraordinaire Jack Abramoff, Black was relieved of his position.
In an article headlined, “Bush Removal Ended Guam Investigation,” The Los Angeles times reported that “a U.S. grand jury in Guam opened an investigation of controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff more than two years ago, but President Bush removed the supervising federal prosecutor, and the probe ended soon after.” With at least six prominent federal prosecutors recently removed from office, many of them managing large scale public corruption cases, many are wondering if history is not repeating itself.
Among those fired were Carol Lam, the U.S. Attorney for San Diego, who last year won a conviction against Congressman Duke Cunningham (R-CA) in the biggest bribery conviction in history, and Paul Charlton of Arizona, whose office is investigating charges involving land deals and influence peddling against of Republican Congressman Rick Renzi (R-AZ).
Also stepping down is the U.S. Attorney for Nevada, Daniel Bogden, whose office last year won corruption convictions against two Clark County, Nevada Commissioners and may be looking into campaign law violations by at least one member of the state’s Congressional delegation. Next door in New Mexico, David Iglesia is being asked to leave after winning convictions in the past year of two former New Mexico State Treasurers.
Then there’s northern California’s U.S. Attorney, Kevin Ryan, who has not made his mark by ferreting out wrongdoing by public officials but is certain to have stepped on the toes of a number of their most generous contributors with his high profile investigations of back-dated stock options given to numerous executives in major corporations. He has also announced that he is leaving his job.
Avoid those contaminated with lead:
If you’re banking on a daily vitamin to make up for any deficiencies in your diet, you may be getting a whole lot more — or less — than you bargained for.
Of 21 brands of multivitamins on the market in the United States and Canada selected by ConsumerLab.com and tested by independent laboratories, just 10 met the stated claims on their labels or satisfied other quality standards.
Most worrisome, according to ConsumerLab.com president Dr. Tod Cooperman, is that one product, The Vitamin Shoppe Multivitamins Especially for Women, was contaminated with lead.
“I was definitely shocked by the amount of lead in [this] woman’s product,” he said. “We’ve never seen that much lead in a multivitamin before.”
Other products contained more or less of a particular vitamin than listed on the label. And some did not dissolve in the correct amount of time, meaning they could potentially pass through the body without being fully absorbed.
“Half the products were fine, half were not,” said Cooperman.
ConsumerLab.com is a Westchester, N.Y.-based company that independently evaluates hundreds of health and nutrition products and periodically publishes reviews. In the new report, released to MSNBC.com, the company purchased a selection of the popular multivitamins on the market as well as some smaller brands and sent them, without labels, to two independent laboratories to be tested.
On a positive note, several of the most popular multivitamins on the market did pass muster, said David Schardt, a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C.
These included Centrum Silver, Member’s Mark Complete Multi (distributed by Sam’s Club), One A Day Women’s and Flintstones Complete.
“I think this confirms the advice often given: You’re safer choosing a well-known brand sold by some company or store that you have confidence in,” Schardt said. “There are no guarantees but that’s your best bet.”
Paul Bremer screwed Iraq to a parade rest and got away with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. But at last—at long last—he’s going to have to answer some questions.
It’s ugly, and they’ve done it before. ThinkProgress reports:
As many as eight U.S. Attorneys are leaving or being pushed out of their positions by the Bush administration. Several of these prosecutors are working on high-profile cases, such as Carol Lam, who ran the investigation into the corruption of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA).
The San Diego Union-Tribune has noted that Lam appears to be the “victim of strong-arm political pressure from Washington, where officials apparently wanted to hand her job to a partisan operative.” U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, who was pushed out by the Bush administration in December, was replaced with a “37-year-old protege of White House political adviser Karl Rove.”
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has denied political motivations behind the resignations, recently telling Congress, “Nothing could be further from the truth.” He added that they were a “sign of good management” by the Bush administration.
But these replacements are not the first time the administration has punished U.S. Attorneys for going after White House allies. In 2002, U.S. Attorney Frederick A. Black launched an investigation into Jack Abramoff’s “secret arrangement with Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill then pending in Congress.” On Nov. 18, 2002, Black issued a grand jury subpoena to the Guam Superior Court to turn over all records involving the lobbying contract with Abramoff. The administration swiftly punished Black:
A day later, the chief prosecutor, US Attorney Frederick A. Black, who had launched the investigation, was demoted. A White House news release announced that Bush was replacing Black.
The timing caught some by surprise. Despite his officially temporary status as the acting US attorney, Black had held the assignment for more than a decade.
An internal Justice Department investigation concluded that the White House did not improperly retaliate against Black for raising allegations against Abramoff. But the probe into Abramoff’s activities in Guam died shortly after Black stepped down. Congress needs to question the White House about whether the Cunningham investigation will meet a similar fate when Lam resigns.
Quantum mechanics is strange and spooky:
Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image’s worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact.
While the initial test image consists of only a few hundred pixels, a tremendous amount of information can be stored with the new technique.
The image, a “UR” for the University of Rochester, was made using a single pulse of light and the team can fit as many as a hundred of these pulses at once into a tiny, four-inch cell. Squeezing that much information into so small a space and retrieving it intact opens the door to optical buffering–storing information as light.
“It sort of sounds impossible, but instead of storing just ones and zeros, we’re storing an entire image,” says John Howell, associate professor of physics and leader of the team that created the device, which is revealed in today’s online issue of the journal Physical Review Letters. “It’s analogous to the difference between snapping a picture with a single pixel and doing it with a camera–this is like a 6-megapixel camera.”
“You can have a tremendous amount of information in a pulse of light, but normally if you try to buffer it, you can lose much of that information,” says Ryan Camacho, Howell’s graduate student and lead author on the article. “We’re showing it’s possible to pull out an enormous amount of information with an extremely high signal-to-noise ratio even with very low light levels.”
Optical buffering is a particularly hot field right now because engineers are trying to speed up computer processing and network speeds using light, but their systems bog down when they have to convert light signals to electronic signals to store information, even for a short while.
Quite clearly a deliberate effort by the tobacco companies:
A reanalysis of nicotine yield from major brand name cigarettes sold in Massachusetts from 1997 to 2005 has confirmed that manufacturers have steadily increased the levels of this agent in cigarettes. This independent analysis, based on data submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) by the manufacturers, found that increases in smoke nicotine yield per cigarette averaged 1.6 percent each year, or about 11 percent over a seven-year period (1998-2005). Nicotine is the primary addictive agent in cigarettes.
In addition to confirming the magnitude of the increase, first reported in August, 2006 by MDPH, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) extended the analysis to:
- ascertain how manufacturers accomplished the increase — not only by intensifying the concentration of nicotine in the tobacco but also by modifying several design features of cigarettes to increase the number of puffs per cigarette. The end result is a product that is potentially more addictive.
- examine all market categories — finding that smoke nicotine yields were increased in the cigarettes of each of the four major manufacturers and across all the major cigarette market categories (e.g. mentholated, non-mentholated, full-flavor, light, ultralight).
It starts when you’re young—very young:
A new study concludes that low birthweight babies born with low sodium (salt) in their blood serum will likely consume large quantities of dietary sodium later in life. In the study, researchers also found that newborns with the most severe cases of low sodium blood serum consumed ~1700 mg more sodium per day and weighed some 30 percent more than their peers. These data, taken together with other recent findings, make it clear that very low serum sodium in pre-term and new born infants is a consistent and significant contributing factor for long-term sodium intake, a key marker for obesity.
The results are from the study “Lowest Neonatal Serum Sodium Predicts Sodium Intake in Low-Birthweight Children,” conducted by Adi Shirazki, Edith Gershon, and Micah Leshem, all of the University of Haifa, Haifa; Zalman Weintraub of the Galilee Medical Center, Nahariya; and Dan Reich of the Ha’Emek Medical Center, Afula, Israel. The study is published in the American Journal of Physiology — Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology. The Journal is one of 11 peer-reviewed research journals published each month by the American Physiological Society (APS).
Forty-one children born prematurely and identified through the archives of the Ha’Emek and Galilee Medical Centers (Israel) participated in the investigation with the written permission of their guardians. The youngsters were admitted to the study based on whether they had received neonatal diuretic treatment during their first month of life (n=23) or were a matched control having received no diuretic treatment (n=18). Of the total, 21 were Arabs (14 boys, 7 girls) and 20 were Jews (11 boys, 9 girls), ranging between 8-15 years of age.
It’s unsafe, it looks like:
Many people think they can safely drive while talking on their cell phones. Vanderbilt neuroscientists Paul E. Dux and René Marois have found that when it comes to handling two things at once, your brain, while fast, isn’t that fast.
“Why is it that with our incredibly complex and sophisticated brain, with 100 billion neurons processing information at rates of up to a thousand times a second, we still have such a crippling inability to do two tasks at once?” Marois, associate professor of Psychology, asked. “For example, what is it about our brain that gives us such a hard time at being able to drive and talk on a cell phone simultaneously?”
Researchers have long thought that a central “bottleneck” exists in the brain that prevents us from doing two things at once. Dux and Marois are the first to identify the regions of the brain responsible for this bottleneck, by examining patterns of neural activity over time. Their results were published in the Dec. 21 issue of Neuron.
“In our everyday lives, we seem to complete so many cognitive tasks effortlessly. However, we experience severe limitations when we try to do even two simple tasks at once, such as pressing a button when a visual stimulus appears and saying a word when a sound is presented. This is known as dual-task interference,” Dux, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Psychology, said. “We were interested in trying to understand these limitations and in finding where in the brain this bottleneck might be taking place.”
The research is particularly timely, as additional states consider banning the use of cell phones while driving.
“While we are driving, we are bombarded with visual information. We might also be talking to passengers or talking on the phone,” Marois said. “Our new research offers neurological evidence that the brain cannot effectively do two things at once. People think if they are using a headset with their cell phone while driving they are safe, but they’re not because they are still doing two cognitively demanding tasks at once.”
Identifying the information bottleneck responsible for this dual-task limitation required the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, an imaging technology that reveals the brain areas active in a given mental task by registering changes in oxygenated blood concentration in these regions. While fMRI is an excellent tool for identifying a particular area in the brain involved in a given task, it generally provides limited information about how that area responds over time.
The Higgs boson, chronicled in the entertaining and informative book The God Particle, by Leon Lederman, still hasn’t been seen. But we’re getting closer:
University of Toronto researchers are now closer to answering contemporary physics’ most pressing question: where is the missing particle that gives matter mass, known as Higgs-boson? The breakthrough comes after researchers discovered that the mass of another subatomic particle — the W boson — is slightly heavier than previous measurements, pointing them in a new direction.
So far, the Higgs-boson only exists in mathematical formulas and has stumped physicists since it was theorized by Peter Higgs in 1964. It is the missing link that will complete the standard model of particle physics, which studies the basic elements of matter and radiation, including other observable subatomic particles such as quarks and leptons.
Working at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the team of researchers made the world’s most precise measurement of the mass of the W-boson and found that it is somewhat heavier than previously measured, which in turn lowers the target mass for the Higgs-boson.
“What happens is that the Higgs-boson interacts with other subatomic particles, causing drag — the heavier the particle, the more drag the Higgs-boson applies,” says Professor William Trischuk of the Department of Physics and team leader. “From precise measurements of the W-boson, we can then infer the mass of the Higgs-boson. The W-boson, being among the heaviest particle in the standard model, is the current limitation in being able to pin down the Higgs.”
Trischuk predicts that if the Higgs-boson exists, researchers will find it in the next couple of years and the importance of the discovery cannot be overstated. “While the observation of a Higgs, at just the mass indicated by current precision measurements of the W mass might close the standard model, an inconsistency between the two would lead to the much more interesting prospect of starting us down the path to particle physics beyond the current paradigm.”
Top Bush administration officials seem to revel in historical analogies, particularly when it comes to the war in Iraq. At different times, the Bush gang has referenced Korea, the Revolutionary War, WWI, and the Civil War. By mid-2005, the president had settled on World War II as a personal favorite.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is especially fond of pointing to history to justify White House decisions. When pressed a few months ago about the failures of the administration’s policies in the Middle East, Rice told reporters, “I’m a student of history, so perhaps I have a little more patience with enormous change in the international system. It’s a big shifting of tectonic plates, and I don’t expect it to happen in a few days or even in a year.” Apparently, Rice’s detractors just don’t know enough about history to make sound judgments. We should leave it all to Dr. Rice.
With this in mind, the Wall Street Journal noted today that when Rice compares today’s challenges in the Middle East to the Cold War and post-World War II Europe, as she does quite frequently, she has no idea what she’s talking about.
Her contention is while things may look bad now in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, history is on the administration’s side. She pushed a similar argument to reporters last month. The Middle East is “moving toward something that I am quite certain will not have a full resolution and that you will not be able to fully judge for decades,” she said.
Critics dismiss Ms. Rice’s references to the Cold War as both convenient and a sign of her limited frame of reference. The challenges facing Europe in 1946, they say, bear little similarity to those of the Middle East in the 21st century.
“The administration’s reservoir of historical analogies seems limited to the 1914-1991 period. And it’s all about Europe,” said Adam Garfinkle, a former Rice speechwriter who edits the foreign-policy journal The American Interest. “No one in a senior position in this administration seems to have even the vaguest notion of modern Middle Eastern history.”
When a Rice speechwriter says the administration’s top officials are clueless, you know it’s bad.
Of course, Rice’s misguided perspective, in which she seems to force modern situations into the historical models she’s familiar with, have real consequences. As the WSJ noted, Rice “tends to portray events, particularly the clash between what she calls ‘moderation’ and ‘extremism’ in the Middle East, as driven by huge, almost inevitable forces that make diplomacy impractical, or even irrelevant.” Rice personally fed that notion this week by insisting diplomatic negations had nothing to do with “deal making.”
“There’s a tendency to think about diplomacy as something that is done untethered to the conditions underlying it or the balance underlying it,” she said. “In fact, that’s not the way that it works. You aren’t going to be successful as a diplomat if you don’t understand the strategic context in which you are actually negotiating. It is not deal-making.”
Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former advisor to Secretaries of State from George Schulz to Colin Powell, said Rice’s comments were so misguided, he “nearly fell off [his] chair” when he read them.
Remember, back in 2000, when candidate George W. Bush said it didn’t matter if he knew anything; what mattered was he’d have top-notch advisors?
It’s painful, and he doesn’t quite succeed, but it does seem as though he was trying to think. Watch him flounder.
‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” complained Shakespeare’s King Lear. But Lear didn’t know from ingratitude. Think it stings to have a thankless child? Just try the sting of a thankless occupied nation!
President Bush on Sunday shared his lamentations on “60 Minutes,” the modern equivalent of the storm-swept heath. Assuming the time-honored role of Fool, CBS’ Scott Pelley asked the president, “Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?”
Bush retorted: “That we didn’t do a better job, or they didn’t do a better job?…. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude…. We’ve endured great sacrifice to help them…. [Americans] wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that’s significant enough in Iraq.”
Well, yes. I have wondered about that. Frankly — I’m talking to you, Iraqis! — a few flowers and ticker-tape parades wouldn’t be amiss, even at this late stage. Remember, we got rid of Saddam Hussein for you — with a little help from his executioners, to be sure, who sent him to his death amid enthusiastic chants in praise of Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr. But that’s just a detail.
Anyway, that’s not all we’ve done for Iraq. We also introduced the Iraqis to basic principles of energy conservation. Before the U.S. invasion, the feckless residents of Baghdad used 16 to 24 hours of electricity each day. Today, thanks to us, they thriftily make do with about six hours of electricity a day. Under our tutelage, the Iraqis are also conserving fossil fuels: Oil production is still well below prewar levels! And — recognizing that auto emissions are a major contributor to global warming — a symbolically important number of Iraqis has gone from driving their cars to detonating their cars. Now that’s dedication.
We’ve also helped the Iraqis address the problem of urban overcrowding. With 34,452 Iraqi civilians killed in 2006 alone, according to the United Nations, and another 2 million opting to leave the country, the war has reduced the Iraqi population by nearly 10%!
Bush continues to do damage to the US and its interests:
Last week, the Chinese sent a missile up into orbit and obliterated an old satellite of theirs, creating a speeding debris cloud that will threaten other satellites for years.
Why’d they do that? As The New York Times reports, the Bush administration has been working on a “a powerful ground-based laser weapon that would be used against enemy satellites.” And they don’t want to give it up:
In late August, President Bush authorized a new national space policy that ignored calls for a global prohibition on such tests. The policy said the United States would “preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space” and “dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so.” It declared the United States would “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.”The Chinese test “could be a shot across the bow,” said Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, a private group in Washington that tracks military programs. “For several years, the Russians and Chinese have been trying to push a treaty to ban space weapons. The concept of exhibiting a hard-power capability to bring somebody to the negotiating table is a classic cold war technique.”
Amazing story: a site that sells knitting kits made a (relatively) lot of money—enough, in fact, that their bank decided they must be involved in an illegal activity and closed their account. Ah, banks—they know everything, or at least think they do. Knitting is the new cocaine, I guess. Read the story at the link.
Christy Hardin Smith (aka Reddhedd) of Firedoglake has a fine post:
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee did its job. No, not the parlimentary propping up of the Administration tap dance to which we have grown accustomed lo these many years…but some meaty, honest to goodness oversight.
Wherein the Attorney General of the United States, Alberto Gonzalez, was sworn in to give testimony under oath, and under threat of perjury for any false repsentations made to Congress — just like any other witness to the Judiciary Committee would have to be sworn. And then was asked a series of tough, detailed questions to give him an opportuity to explainthe rationale behind actions of the Bush Administration that have been awfully close, shallwe say, to the illegality line…if not crossing it outright.
It’s tough to know for certain, considering how little fact-gathering and oversight has actually been done for the past six years, and all, but I’m hopeful that some day — and this always seems to happen that someone starts talking and then all the worms start spilling out of the bait can, doesn’t it? — we’ll get the entire story. Until then, there are a whole lot of rocks to uncover and a whole lot of festering, writhing, dark-corner-loving conduct to expose to the sunshine.
Yesterday, Sen. Pat Leahy launched a blistering series of questions and critiques regarding the US treatment of an innocent Canadian man who was whisked to a secret detention facility and subjected to torture for at least a year before they finally released him. Crooks and Liars has the video, and it is well worth the watching.
Leahy: “We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn’t be tortured. He’d be held and he’d be investigated. We also knew damn well if he went to Syria, he’d be tortured. And it’s beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured.”
Let me just say this morning, as clearly as I possibly can do so, that I adore Pat Leahy for this one statement alone. But the fact that he, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, set up this hearing and demanded answers? THIS is why I worked my butt off in the last election cycle — because this is what our nation needs. Robust, honest, fact-based, philosophically examining debate about who we are as a nation — and how our actions, right or wrong, affect our status in the world around us and speak to what we are, or to whom we wish we were.
If you haven’t been following the Arar case, The Reaction blog has. See here, here and here for more information. And our own Selise did a fantastic job of live-blogging yesterday’s entire hearing in the comments here. Glenn, as always, does a fantastic job piecing together the ins and outs of the hearing and manages to catch quite a bit of it in live blog yesterday as well (for which I am eternally grateful, having missed most of the hearing on the phone trying to get Jane updates yesterday).
But it isn’t just the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s committees all over the Hill, stepping up to the plate to do their jobs. Consider one such committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee headed by Henry Waxman of California, dubbed by Karen Tumulty at Time as “the scariest man in Washington.” Per Waxman:
The committee has yet to schedule any hearings, but Waxman told Federal Times in an interview last month that his No. 1 priority is to review waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ money in order to stop those practices.
He said he wants to make sure agencies are doing their jobs in the best interest of the American people.
“Whether it’s the Environmental Protection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration, how are they doing? Are they accomplishing what we want them to accomplish? Are they looking out for the interests of the American people? Or are they serving special interests, which sometimes happens to be the situation,” Waxman said.
And the Senate passed an ethics overhaul yesterday that was pretty far-reaching in terms of shining a whole lot of sunshine on earmarks. (At least, it looks that way in the limited time I’ve had to read the bill…more later as I get time to nitpick through it.) Sen. Feingold explains why this was pushed through by the Democrats: “Today’s Senate passage of groundbreaking ethics and lobbying reforms was a resounding victory. In November, the American people demanded real change, and the Senate has responded with a strong bill that will bring an end to the status quo. I will continue this fight until these changes become law.”
Ahhh…so they DO remember that they work for us, and not the other way around. Oh yeah, it’s January. And the grown-ups are back in charge.
I don’t think Rich Little will quite have the snap that Stephen Colbert did. (video)
One Tuesday last fall I sat in on a positive-psychology class called the Science of Well-Being — essentially a class in how to make yourself happier — at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. George Mason is a challenge for positive psychologists because it is one of the 15 unhappiest campuses in America, at least per The Princeton Review. Many students are married and already working and commute to school. It’s a place where you go to move your career forward, not to find yourself.
The class was taught by Todd Kashdan, a 32-year-old psychology professor whose area of research is “curiosity and well-being.” Kashdan bobbed around the room or sat, legs dangling, on his desk beneath a big PowerPoint slide that said “The Scientific Pursuit of Happiness” as he took the students, a few older than he, through the various building blocks of positive psychology: optimism, gratitude, mindfulness, hope, spirituality. Though the syllabus promised to “approach every topic in this class as scientists” and the assigned readings were academic, the classroom discussion was Oprah-ish. The students seemed intrigued by the research Kashdan presented mostly in relation to their own lives.
The focus of Kashdan’s class that day was the distinction between feeling good, which according to positive psychologists only creates a hunger for more pleasure — they call this syndrome the hedonic treadmill — and doing good, which can lead to lasting happiness. The students had been asked first to do something that gave them pleasure and then to perform an act of selfless kindness. They approached the first part of the assignment eagerly. One student recounted having sex with her boyfriend 30 feet underwater while scuba diving. Another said he “went to Coastal Flats and got hammered.” A third attended a Nascar race in North Carolina, smoked, drank and had sex. Some also watched favorite TV shows; others chatted with friends.