Sunday, February 22, 2004

Rabbit Fever genome decoded 

The Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California has announced that two teams of scientists have sequenced the genome, or genetic blueprint, of two separate strains of Francisella tularensis, the bacterium that causes tularemia, commonly known as rabbit fever.

Tularemia is highly infectious, but seldom fatal. It causes fever, pneumonia-like symptoms, glandular and intestinal disorders. Humans can contract tularemia through insect bites and through contact with animals such as rabbits and prairie dogs. Tularemia is treated with antibiotics.

Francisella tularensis, named after Tulare County, California, is on the Department of Defense list of bacteria posing a potential biological threat. Other bacteria on the list cause anthrax, plague, brucellosis, glanders and Q fever. Tularemia is also listed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a Category A threat to national security. The other Category A diseases are anthrax, botulism, plague, smallpox and the viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola, Lassa and Marburg.

Lawrence Livermore's press release stated that knowledge of the gene sequence of F. tularensis “could help researchers develop more effective vaccines and better methods for detecting, diagnosing and treating tularemia.”

But the same press release notes that the research into the genetics of F. tularensis was done at U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, with researchers from Porton Down, United Kingdom (the UK's big weapons lab), the Swedish Defense Agency, the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, Fort Collins, Colo.; and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Md.

Part of the funding for the research came from the DOE, which has strong financial and programmatic ties to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, the UK Ministry of Defense, the Swedish Ministry of Defense, and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

This doesn't sound like research done to keep hikers, hunters and rabbit-handlers safe from tularemia.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Providian and Democratic Party team up for credit card program 

It is axiomatic that Americans carry a lot of debt. According to an MSN Money article called “How does your debt compare?” about 43 percent of American families spend more than they earn each year. Average households carry some $8,000 in credit card debt. And personal bankruptcies have doubled in the past decade.

So why is the Democratic Party, which claims to be the party for the middle class and the poor, trying to raise money through a credit card affinity program?

Providian (a.k.a. Providian National Bank and Providian Financial Corporation) has teamed up with the Democratic Party to offer a 16.99 percent VISA card with a 1 percent rebate on purchases. People who get this card are urged to donate that rebate to the Democratic National Committee via a check-off provision on the “preapproved reply form.”

Providian is a very aggressive marketer of high interest rate credit cards. This writer gets 4-6 Providian mail offers a month, which is how she discovered the political party affinity program. (Providian is apparently using a very old Democratic Party voter list. This writer has been a registered Green for three and a half years.)

The solicitation includes a form letter from DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe, touting the benefits of the card, including “excellent customer service.” Previous Providian cardholders might beg to differ. A Google search turned up many complaints about Providian. Here is one such assessment, by Richard Green, who is the St. Louis, MO, guide on, “The Bottom Line - Whether you have good credit or less than perfect credit think twice before opening a credit card account with Providian Bank, Providian National Bank, or Providian Financial. Don't be fooled by low introductory APRs or gimmicks. This company has a horrible reputation when it comes to customer service and many people think they go out of their way to find legal ways of raising customer APRs and charging additional fees to customer accounts.” Green titled this particular guide review as “Is Providian a Predatory Lender?

Providian was the target of a class action lawsuit filed by the San Francisco law firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein as well as lawsuits by government entities. Although Providian disclaimed any wrongdoing, it settled the Lieff Cabraser suit, called “In re: Providian Credit Card Cases,” in November 2001, for more than $100 million dollars in cash, credits and other benefits. Although most members of the class received less than $20, Lieff Cabraser's website says that: “Combined with an earlier settlement with governmental entities, the award constitutes the largest settlement ever against a credit card company for alleged widespread consumer fraud.”

So why is the Democratic Party trying to raise money through Providian?

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Truth is neither trash nor gutter politics 

Question anything about George W. Bush and you are "trolling for trash" and engaging in "gutter politics."

The only sorry pieces of trash are in the White House and it's time for someone to take out the garbage.

The things the Bushies are good at are lying, intimidation and harassment. But Bush and all his men are not making the questions about his service in the Texas Air National guard -- or his lack of service -- go away, as they did four years ago. Despite Bush's lie to Tim Russert on Meet the Press that he would release all his military records to prove he completed his obligation, so far what has been produced raises more questions.

Now, the more they fuss, fume, waffle and spin, the more determined even the corporate media are now to join us in digging even deeper.

The true heroes in this effort are Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, now retired, who served under then-Adjutant Gen. Daniel James of the Texas Air National Guard, and Iowa farmer Martin Heldt. Online Journal, among other online publications, broke the stories about what Burkett had to say and Heldt obtained through Freedom of Information requests, beginning in June 2000 (See Bush Military Info), but after buying into the Bushies' "explanation" the corporate media, with a few exceptions, gave the revelations short shrift.

The White House would have you believe that Burkett is either a disgruntled former officer or just plain crazy. Yet, The Dallas Morning News took him seriously enough to report today that "Burkett told the AP that he saw documents from Bush's file discarded in a trash can a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Burkett described them as performance and pay documents. He said the documents bore the header: 'Bush, George W. 1lt.' -- meaning first lieutenant."

The Boston Globe today said Bush's removal from flight status should have sparked a probe. The Globe went on to report, "Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, a former top aide to the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, said in an interview that Bush's failure to remain on flying status amounts to a violation of the signed pledge by Bush that he would fly for at least five years after he completed flight school in November 1969."

The horror of it all is that this privileged son, who threw away the best schooling money could buy, jumped ahead of hundreds of his contemporaries to secure a place in the TANG and zoomed to the head of a three-year waiting to become a fighter pilot, could not even complete that service while other people's less fortunate sons were being killed or maimed in Vietnam. And it is this same privileged son, who likes to don military uniforms, who is now sending other people's sons and daughters to be killed or maimed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who know where next.

Trolling for trash? No, Mr. Bush, we are trolling for truth and truth knows no ideology or political party.

In whose interests is MoveOn working? 

As this year's Super Bowl approached and CBS still refused to run MoveOn's "Child's Pay" commercial, MoveOn came up with the wimpy idea for a one-minute viewer boycott during the game's half-time, as a way of punishing CBS for its censorship, rather than calling for a boycott of the whole game.

After all, said a MoveOn supporter, people would be more likely to go along with a one-minute boycott than a boycott of the whole game. Translated that means a football game is more important than a tiny step toward letting the corporations know we are going to fight back.

Oh yeah, that worked so well that if anyone turned off Super Bowl for the prescribed minute, CBS didn't notice. Instead, the talk was all about Janet Jackson and an exposed breast.

To compound its fuzzy thinking, MoveOn is now back to where it started, when it called for censuring Bill Clinton and moving on. This time, it is calling for Congress to censure George W. Bush.

Where in the constitution is the provision for censuring a president -- elected or unelected?

Under the constitution, each house of Congress has the right to make its own rules regarding members' behavior, which means the houses can censure members for inappropriate or unethical conduct; even go so far as to expel a member.

Congress, though, has no constitutional right to censure a president -- an argument we made when MoveOn was calling for the censure of Clinton. The only constitutional provision for dealing with a president alleged to have committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" is by impeachment in the House and trial in the Senate.

There is more than enough to draw a bill of impeachment against Bush, given that the evidence suggests he either was complicit in or had foreknowledge of Sept. 11, 2001; that he blatantly lied to the American people, Congress and the world in order to wage an illegal war on Iraq; that he bribed nations into becoming part of his Iraq war's "coalition of the willing;" that he or his subordinate illegally told some six reporters that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA operative; that he has been complicit in keeping from the American people who was involved with Dick Cheney in drawing up a national energy policy; that he has bankrupted the country with his tax cuts and "wars;" that he may have covered up a criminal record that goes beyond one DUI, two pranks while in college and the killing of an endangered species bird; and that he may have deserted the Texas Air National Guard.

After being handed the presidency by the US Supreme Court, Bush has violated the oath he took to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" by taking unto himself powers the constitution does not give a president; by violating the separation of church and state; by signing the USA PATRIOT Act and creating the Department of Homeland Security, thusly curbing the people's rights of free speech and assembly, and their rights to privacy; by setting up First Amendment Zones into which peaceful protesters and peace advocates are herded so he doesn't have to see or hear them. Moreover, his bogus "war on terror" has made us less secure, not more.

Why then is MoveOn calling for, as they say in spookville, a limited hangout: censure? Yet, the gullible keep pouring their money into MoveOn at the expense of the real journalists who are working to get back the country. Is feel good all that matters?

Yes, MoveOn has gotten some excellent issue commercials on television. Since the presidential election isn't until November, might it have been premature in airing them now or does it plan to keep extracting money from its followers to keep the commercials on the air?

The pie is only so big, so more money for MoveOn means less money for journalists laboring to shed light on the truth.

It is hard these days to separate the good guys from the bad, so one must keep in mind hidden agendas.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Ricin found in Senate majority leader's mailroom 

A white powder laced with ricin, a very powerful poison easily made from the castor bean, has been found in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Tests have shown that the ricin was active, meaning it could sicken people, but apparently no one has become sick so far. An anonymous Senate source says that between 40 and 50 Senate employees have been decontaminated.

Postal officials have told lawmakers not to open mail. Capitol Hill mail has been radiated since the yet-unsolved anthrax attacks on mail at the office of then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). But radiation has no effect on ricin.

The Dirksen, Hart and Russell Senate Office Buildings were closed today. Some senators set up work areas in nearby places. The Senate met but most work was cancelled today. The Capitol was closed to tourists and is expected to remain so for several more days.

The ricin attacks come two weeks after some members of Congress applauded during the State of the Union address when George W. Bush mentioned that the USA PATRIOT Act was scheduled to expire. The anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill occurred while the act was under discussion. At the time, it was in danger of not passing because of its major threat to constitutional and civil liberties.

In the 2004 State of the Union address, Bush called for congressional reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. He got more applause for that comment than he did for the comment about the act's expiration.

Despite that apparent indication that PATRIOT will be reauthorized, could someone who very much wants to see the act renewed have planted ricin on the Hill to make sure that a terrorized Senate does the “right” thing?

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