WASHINGTON, D.C.—If there are two people conservative Republicans really can’t stand it’s Howard Dean (whom Bill Frist calls “Doctor No”) and Rudy Giuliani. Bob Novak was after the former New York mayor last week, quoting former Senate majority leader Trent Lott warning Giuliani at a fundraiser “about roadblocks” along his path to the White House.
Because Lott likes Giuliani, he just wanted to let Rudy know about the “heavy burdens” the former mayor had laid on the Republican Party by supporting abortion, gay rights, and gay marriage. But, sputtered Giuliani, he didn’t back gay marriage, just civil unions. To which Lott pointed out that in Mississippi, “they don’t see any difference between gay marriage and civil unions.”
Ever since he was dumped as majority leader, Lott has been spinning his wheels, which in the end may make Giuliani want to stay away from him. The U.S. Attorney in Jackson abruptly shut down a criminal probe of Medicare fraud and obstruction of justice by Baptist Health Systems over the objections of line prosecutors and federal criminal investigators, says Corporate Crime Reporter. Sources “close to the investigation” tell the Reporter that Lott “contacted the U.S. Attorney’s office expressing his concerns about the criminal investigation of the Jackson hospital.” At that point, the investigation was closed. Lott said the reports were “false.”
Brent Farris, a former consultant who worked for the hospital, has sued Baptist, claiming the hospital blackballed him in the industry because he wore a wire for the FBI in its investigation. Said Farris: “I found Baptist, in the name of perpetuating the healing mission of Christ, to be a corporate culture of profiteering, greed, and institutional arrogance.”
Martha’s finally rehabilitated, unlike 1.5 million other ex-felons
For Martha Stewart, prison meant “rehabilitation.” Her image of a steely bitch has been replaced by that of a humble person who did her time. Her stock has gone through the roof. She is the star of a new reality TV show.
But some 1.5 million convicted felons are still denied the right to vote after completing their prison sentences. There are 14 states in which disenfranchisement can last for a lifetime. A study by the Sentencing Project finds that in 11 of these states, fewer than 3 percent of the disenfranchised people have had their rights restored in recent years. In all 14 states, some or all persons convicted of a felony lose their voting rights even after completion of their sentence, and often for life.
In Southern states, where felony convictions are often just a device to keep blacks off the voting rolls, the situation is the worst. In Kentucky, the governor requires a felon to submit three character references, along with an application to regain the right to vote. In Florida, felons are required to undergo a hearing with the governor and his cabinet before they get to vote. The unfair and cumbersome Florida system has blocked all but 48,000 felons out of the state’s total of 613,514 between 1998 and 2004. In Mississippi, only 107 ex-felons regained voting privileges out of 82,002 felons who had completed their sentences.
Real reporters, fake news
Over the past couple of months the news has been full of reports of phony journalism, people being paid by Bush to write puff columns for the Bush administration programs. Now the world of virtual journalism has gone over the top.
Journalists writing fictitious stories as if they were reports on real events, and journalists writing articles on subjects they were paid to cover by the people involved—that’s one thing. But journalists pretending to be journalists making fictitious reports on fictitious events might be stretching matters, even for the most liberal-minded in the journalistic community.
Last month The Hill reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking for “reporters to participate in TOPOFF 3, a biennial exercise directed by Congress that simulates a terrorist attack on the United States.” Ogilvy PR was enlisted by DHS to recruit six real journalists not currently employed by a news outlet “to help department officials better understand how the media would respond to a weapon-of-mass-destruction attack.” They will be reporting for something called the Virtual News Network, according to PR Watch, the group that keeps an eye on the public relations business.
Out of breath
Among the most thoroughly documented environmental health dangers is breathing diesel fumes. An excellent article in the Garden State EnviroNews, on which the following item is based, follows the trail of just how the government rationalized doing barely anything about this hazard for more than 20 years.
A recent report by the Clean Air Task Force estimates that 21,000 people are killed each year in the U.S. by those particular bad fumes. In addition, diesel fumes cause 27,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 410,000 asthma attacks in American adults annually, plus 12,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, 15,000 hospital admissions, 2.4 million lost workdays, and 14 million restricted-activity days.
But these figures just scratch the surface, apparently. Research has found, according to some experts, that diesel fumes degrade the immune system and interfere with hormones, reducing sperm production, masculinizing female rats, and changing the development of baby rats.
The fumes cause serious permanent impairment of the nervous systems of railroad workers. Allergic reactions to the fumes cause thousands of kids to miss thousands of school days.
“More than 20 years ago, numerous researchers confirmed and reconfirmed that diesel fumes could cause lung cancer in laboratory animals,” according to a December 2004 issue of Rachel’s Environment & Health News.
The New York Times reported on December 23, 1981, that the National Academy of Sciences acknowledged that diesel soot is known to contain suspected cancer-causing substances. But the academy said that “no convincing epidemiological evidence exists” that there is “a connection between diesel fumes and human cancer.”
Four years later, in the spring of 1985, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a scientific report about the dangers of diesel fumes in New York. “Diesel emissions are probably the single most important air-quality threat in New York City today,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a lawyer for the environmental group and an author of the report. “But city, state, and federal agencies have not yet mounted a broad-based counterattack.”
The New York Times reported at the time that a spokesperson for the New York State Environmental Conservation Department acknowledged that diesel fumes cause lung cancer in humans but said the state was “not yet sure” how big the problem was. The state had no plan for dealing with diesel, the spokesperson said, because “we have not identified the extent of the problem.”
Three years later, a federal report confirmed that exposure to diesel fumes “causes lung cancer in humans.”
By May 1995, however, the Times was reporting that researchers were beginning to doubt evidence that diesel fumes, though bad for people with asthma, chronic bronchitis, and cystic fibrosis, were carcinogenic. Nothing has ever been done about diesel pollution because the government has been up against the political power of the motor vehicle industry.
But it’s not just industrial might that’s involved in the case of diesel fumes. It’s the political fix known as “risk assessment,” under which you can balance the benefits against the losses and make decisions based on what’s good for most people—not for all the people. And unless you can fix absolutes, which is difficult, there really is no seeming reason to do anything but keep on keeping on.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2005