Something in the air

Transparent radiation: More than 200,000 combat veterans from the first Gulf War have registered with the American Legion’s Gulf War Illness database. Symptoms of Gulf War illness range from immune-system disorders to birth defects. Depleted uranium munitions, which create toxic, radioactive dust when exploded, are high on the list of potential causes of the sickness. It’s thought by some researchers that soldiers in the vicinity of DU explosions may have breathed in the dust and become ill. Some studies have validated this theory.

Yet the Department of Defense continues to insist that DU is relatively safe—as long as you’re not on the receiving end, of, say, a 120 mm tank buster. In the Pentagon’s opinion, Gulf War disease is simply the whining of a few—200,000 or so—malingering malcontents.

Fortunately for our sickened troops, Lauren Moret, an international expert on radiation and public-health issues, has been working tirelessly to educate legislators about the hazards of DU. So far, she’s helped initiate legislation in 18 states requiring soldiers returning from battle to be screened for DU contamination. In California, S.B. 1720, sponsored by state Senator Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on September 29.

“There’s plenty of official government and mainstream studies that demonstrate depleted uranium and uranium are terrible biological toxins,” said Moret, who lives in Berkeley and presented a primer on DU and other WMDs in the U.S. arsenal at the Newman Center in Davis, November 13. When Bites asked if the government has information that definitively proves DU isn’t harmful, she was adamant. “Of course they don’t have it,” she said.

Jack off: By the time you read this, Jack Abramoff, the high-powered Republican lobbyist who in January pleaded guilty to defrauding the United States, mail fraud and tax evasion, will be in prison. You’d think Jack would be pretty busy packing, considering he’s going to be out of circulation for six fricking years. But the corruption king took time out to drop Bites an e-mail one day before the midterm election, urging a no vote on Proposition 89.

Proposition 89, if it had passed, would have used a small tax on corporations to help publicly fund elections, taking jackass lobbyists like Abramoff out of the equation. Naturally, Jack found the initiative more than a little threatening.

“If Prop. 89 becomes law, lobbyists like me will not have the power we once did,” Abramoff wrote in the e-mail, which was titled “Thoughts on Prop. 89 As I Prepare for Prison.” That would be a huge problem for his friends and his clients, he noted. “Do you really want tougher laws to put politicians and lobbyists in jail?” he asked. “Aren’t California’s jails overcrowded enough?”

The e-mail was actually a spoof put out by the California Nurses Association, which sponsored the proposition. Frankly, Bites would prefer to free pot junkies held on misdemeanor possession charges in exchange for incarcerating a few more Abramoffs. But alas! Seventy-five percent of California’s electorate, perhaps swayed by the millions corporations spent to defeat the measure, voted no on Proposition 89.

Just Pruitt: The daily newspaper industry continues to flounder as younger readers flock away in droves. The Chandler family continues to search for financial backing to buy back the L.A. Times from the Tribune Company, before the latter turns the Times into a skeleton of its former self. The San Francisco Chronicle, despite massive staff reductions, continues to wallow in red ink. And Wall Street continues to remain bearish on Sacramento-based McClatchy Company’s purchase of Knight Ridder earlier this year. McClatchy’s stock remains mired in the low 40s after reaching a high of 65 exactly one year ago. That’s a decline of some 35 percent, and it’s a safe bet that McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt better just do it—something, anything, to jog the lagging stock price—or risk joining former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on the list of failed business geniuses.