Copyrighted material 404: Information Missing From Your Daily News

Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories

+ Olestra coverup   A September 404 item on coverage of FDA hearings on "olestra" pointed out that few in the press mentioned the controversy surrounding this fake fat, although thousands claim that it has caused gastrointestinal problems. Now a member of the FDA's own Science Board has used the case to show how public health takes a back seat to corporate interests, but not a whisper about this report can be found anywhere in the media.

"The Selling Of Olestra" appears in the November/December issue of Public Health Reports and documents a 30-year, $500 million campaign by Procter & Gamble to win approval. (P&G is expected to recoup its costs by the end of next year.) Author Marion Nestle's central point is that academics, politicians, and health professionals were all guilty of undisclosed conflicts of interest. Nestle adds that funding for nutrition education cannot compete with the $30 billion spent annually on advertising.

In the olestra case, the FDA accepted the company's research, and switched the burden of proof to critics to prove demonstrable harm. She suggests, instead, that Congress revise statutes to increase the FDA's research authority and funding, and that FDA be granted greater authority, not less, to regulate health and nutrition claims on package labels.

Nestle's many credentials underscore the importance of her message. No science amateur, she has been a senior advisor to the American Cancer Society, USDA, Department of Health and Human Services, and Managing Editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health. (November 15, 1998)

+ Mad Cow in Portugal, Canada   In our last mad cow 404 item in August, it was reported that England's National Health Service is so concerned about a mutation of "Mad Cow" disease being spread through their blood supply that it is importing all plasma, plus filtering every drop from 2.5 million annual U.K. blood donations to remove white blood cells, which may -- or may not -- transmit the disease. Microbiologist Stephen Dealler, an outspoken critic of Britain's handling of the crisis, believes that 80,000 people may be already infected.

But few items on the disease make it to print, or appear only in obscure health journals. Earlier this month, for example, Canada quietly ordered 11,000 sheep destroyed with scrapie, a version of mad cow disease. Health officials are watching 60 other flocks, plus looking for signs in wild elk and deer in Canada and the United States.

And last month, a small item carried by Reuters said that the disease was more serious in Portugal than official figures suggested. "A considerably larger number of animals than currently confirmed are incubating the disease," the European Commission said in a statement, calling on the Portuguese authorities to tighten controls over what was fed to cattle.

According to Reuters, Portugal claimed there were only about 50 new cases of mad cow disease in animals this year. But an inspection carried out by EU veterinarians in May said the problem was far more serious. Spain has since prohibited the sale of Portuguese beef, and Portugal's Agriculture Minister has resigned.

In England, meanwhile, some 200 new cases of the disease in animals are reported every month. (November 8, 1998)

+ What does it mean to be USDA certified?   Food and health items like the ones above may be dismissed because most readers (and editors) don't think they're that important -- or maybe it doesn't apply to their own dinner table. "I don't eat snack food with olestra," or, "I don't eat Portugese beef or Canadian lamb," or, "I don't eat meat or junk food at all." But the important point made by Dr. Nestle is that the process of food safety is at fault, not just the food itself. And that sort of problem can touch almost everything we consume.

Consider the little mid-November item from the Des Moines Sunday Register: The National Association of Federal Veterinarians protested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was pressuring inspectors to certify that meat was free of disease.

Two letters were sent to USDA Secretary Dan Glickman by the group, protesting that a vet "was disciplined and forced to retire" for refusing to certify cattle as being from disease-free areas, even though it didn't meet export requirements. According to their lawyer, other veterinarians risked their career for refusing to sign "outrageous and obvious false statements."

The story was picked up by the Associated Press, but still only appeared in a handful of newspapers, and was usually reduced to a single paragraph. AP noted that export of American meat is a multibillion-dollar business, and many countries are already refusing U.S. meat to protect their own meat industry. (November 14, 1998)

+ Voters approve electric company bailout   Thanks to the folks at the California Voter Foundation, we can be comforted to know that over $143 million was spent on the nine statewide ballot propositions. While about two-thirds of that was gambled just on the proposal to allow Indian tribal gaming, the next biggest wad of money went to defeat Prop 9.

That Proposition 9 lost by a wide margin (only 26 percent voted for it) is both puzzling and frightening. Clearly explained as a initiative to stop a $28 billion utility bailout rushed through the state legislature two years ago, it was endorsed by a who's who of advocates for consumer and enviro protection: the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, Consumer's Union, CalPIRG, Ralph Nader, and many more.

Even after the election, anyone reading the ballot arguments will probably be struck by the simplistic claims made by opponents ("Many of your fellow Californians are voting No on Proposition 9 because it won't work and is too costly") compared to the articulate background provided by supporters ("...The utilities were allowed to freeze the price of electricity for residential and small business users at recent high levels. The giant utilities also got their money-losing investments in nuclear power paid off as part of a disguised $28 billion tax on consumers'electricity bills -- an outrageous act of corporate welfare costing average ratepayers close to $1,000...")

Opponents to Prop. 9 had one major advantage: Lots of money. The utilities outspent the consumer groups by about $40 million to $1.4 million. As Alexander Cockburn noted in a special column, part of that fortune went to a TV campaign with David Horowitz, an erstwhile TV consumer reporter who acknowledged receiving more than $106,000 in consulting fees from the No On 9 campaign (but told the San Francisco Bay Guardian that his opposition to Prop. 9 had nothing to do with the payments).

In the final tally, the two largest California utility companies -- PG&E and Edison International. parent company of Southern California Edison -- spent about $17.5 million each to kill Prop 9.

If you live in California, you'll see a little reminder on every utility bill: Look for the "CTC" (Competition Transition Charge) expense, which is how much you will pay for bailout of past bad investments. Also look for "TTA" (Trust Transfer Amount) which is the interest that consumers are paying to finance the 10 percent rate "reduction" made in 1996.

Don't feel left out if you've already thrown away this month's receipts: You'll find the same items on the bill next month -- and on every one of your bills for the next ten years. (November 23, 1998)

+ Battlin' Bob Dornan goes to the mat   In the days following the election, Minnesota's governor-elect and former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was fodder for jokes on late night TV. Typical was Letterman's election-night top ten list, which offered campaign slogans for Ventura (#2: "Vote For Me Or So Help Me God I'll Piledrive You"). But the real action that Tuesday night was the ruckus caused by former Congressman Bob Dornan, which went unreported outside of three election-wrapup stories. Could it be because editors were afraid of offending his vocal right-wing fans?

First, some background for newcomers: "B-1" Bob was long a champ for those on the distant right, famous for rambling speeches on the House floor that might clump together themes of romantic patriotism, militant christianity, and the traitorous villainy of Bill Clinton. (One of these muddle-headed talks appeared in the very first issue of the Monitor, and is still read by someone almost daily.)

In 1996, Dornan lost his bid for re-election to Loretta Sanchez by just 984 votes, and immediately charged that a Latino civil rights group had illegally registered Mexican citizens to vote. An unprecedented 14-month investigation by the Republican-controlled House turned up a few hundred illegal ballots, but an Orange County grand jury found no conspiracy to commit voter fraud.

His 1998 rematch against Sanchez became a Cause for many hard conservatives. Most of his contributions came from out- of- state anti-abortion groups and political / ideological PACs. Sanchez matched his spending with mostly funds from Californian labor and business interests, and together they spent more than $6.3 million, making it the most expensive 1998 campaign anywhere in the country. Dornan's "stolen election" also became a theme on talk radio nationwide, with listeners certain that Battlin' Bob would win handily in a fair election.

Sanchez won, 56 to 39 percent.

The events on election night described below were culled from the Orange County Register, LA Times, and Sacramento Bee, which independently reported on some aspects of the rally.

The Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach was Republican Center that night, as all of the major California GOP candidates gathered for an expected victory party. Since almost all of them were losing, however, there was little to celebrate. Wrote the OC Register, "Republican staffers described the mood as similar to the first 15 minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan.' Republican candidates Lungren, Matt Fong and Tim Leslie moved glumly through the crowded corridors of the hotel, their entourages looking more like pallbearers than celebrants."

About 200 of the faithful were listening just after 9PM as Dornan took the stage. Scheduled to talk for six minutes, Dornan showed his characteristic grace and good manners by vowing never to concede to Sanchez. As the"last fighting Irishman left out there," Dornan promised to carry out his mission. "I'm going to be Bob Dornan unfettered by political restraints, a man of total truth," he said. "I'm not going to be walking on eggshells anymore." Again speaking of himself in third-person, he said, "Dornan speaks with his heart and his brain. And some people want to cut and quarter him (for it). " Dornan also impersonated President Clinton.

Dornan again brought up his 1996 defeat, this time blaming California secretary of state Bill Jones for failing to uncover voter fraud. An aide to the Republican Jones remarked to a Sacramento Bee reporter: "Bob Dornan has obviously snapped."

With Dornan now 25 minutes into his six-minute speech, defeated Senatorial candidate Matt Fong waited for the microphone and the opportunity to make his concession speech. Someone began chanting, "Fong! Fong! Fong!" Dornan's son, Bob Jr., 42, confronted Fong's supporters: "Show some class." ("I'm not going to let someone be rude to my dad," Bob Jr. told reporters later.)

A fight began at the side of the stage. In explaining the melee that followed, Bob Jr. also said that a security guard knocked his sister Kate "flat on her ass." A shoving match between a California Highway Patrol officer and her boyfriend led to his being wrestled to the ground and later arrested for slightly injuring the officer.

Meanwhile, the audience watching all this began singing "God Bless America" to drown out the racket.

GOP leaders tried to downplay the incident. Party spokesman Tony Bell later told the Sac Bee that there was a bright side: "There was no blood." (November 8, 1998)

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