Soda and DNA Damage?

You might already be aware of Sweet Poison, the book by Dr. Janet Starr Hull that details the huge corporate and governmental coverup of the dangers of aspartame. Back in the late ’90s, I started suffering from a mysterious illness that caused strange sensations in my legs. I could not sit for long periods of time, and I even started having trouble walking. I was in my 20s and was otherwise mostly healthy. My doctor could not find out what was causing the issue, but I eventually found some information on the web about aspartame poisoning. At the time, I was drinking one or more Diet Snapples a day, along with one or two diet sodas. As soon as I cut out the diet drinks and started drinking water instead, the symptoms eventually went away. I have since personally known two other people that have been “poisoned” in the same way and who eventually found their “cure” in the elimination of aspartame from their diet. There is plenty of information available on Dr. Starr Hull’s site if you’re interested in why aspartame is dangerous, particularly in cooked foods.

Despite the warnings, for the next ten years or so I still consumed the occasional Diet Coke (or Coke Zero, which is very tasty). I think that’s about to stop altogether though, as I just heard on the Thom Hartman Show about some research on the health effects of sodium benzoate. Apparently, when sodium benzoate is mixed with ascorbic acid, it breaks down into benzene, an industrial solvent that is classified as a carcinogen. Benzene is also a product of cigarette smoke. From Wikipedia:

Benzene exposure has serious health effects. Breathing high levels of benzene can result in death, while low levels can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness. Eating or drinking foods containing high levels of benzene can cause vomiting, irritation of the stomach, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, rapid heart rate, and death.

The major effect of benzene from chronic (long-term) exposure is to the blood. Benzene damages the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and depress the immune system, increasing the chance of infection.

Scary stuff. Most Coke products have moved to potassium benzoate so they can claim a “low sodium” product, but the acting preservative is still benzoic acid. According to, potassium benzoate and sodium benzoate both reduce to benzene when combined with ascorbic acid, so it seems the threat is the same regardless of benzoic acid’s initial formuation.

While these dangers have reportedly been well known in the beverage industry for almost two decades, as recently as last year the FDA reopened its investigation into benzene contamination of beverage products. An independent lab in NY “found benzene levels in a couple of soft drinks two-and-a-half-times and five times above the World Health Organisation limit for drinking water (10 parts per billion).” The FDA confirmed the test results and claimed that simple reformulations of certain soft drinks would solve the problem.

Over the weekend though, research from a British University found something far more alarming. Sodium benzoate itself might actually damage DNA. Time to check those labels.

U.S. Attorney Saga Order of Events

A couple friends and I have been discussing the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, only the latest of the many scandals that have plagued the corrupt Bush administration. One of them mentioned something that I heard echoed today on Air America 2.0‘s new morning program, The Lionel Show. U.S. Attorneys supposedly serve at the pleasure of the President. So why didn’t Alberto Gonzales just say this instead of hemming and hawing, saying he couldn’t remember stuff, etc.?

If you look at the actual statue mentioned in the Joe Conason article linked above (Title 28, Part II, Chapter 35, Section 541 of the U.S. Code), it reads as follows:

§ 541. United States attorneys

  1. The President shall appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a United States attorney for each judicial district.
  2. Each United States attorney shall be appointed for a term of four years. On the expiration of his term, a United States attorney shall continue to perform the duties of his office until his successor is appointed and qualifies.
  3. Each United States attorney is subject to removal by the President.

So U.S. Attorneys, after being appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, generally serve four-year terms, after which the incoming President usually swaps them all out (as the right-wing hatemongers correctly state Bill Clinton did when he came into office). But, the President can remove any U.S. Attorney he chooses, at any time. So what happens then? Before March 6, 2006, Title 28, Part II, Chapter 35, Section 546 of the U.S. Code stated the following:

§ 546. Vacancies

  1. Except as provided in subsection (b), the Attorney General may appoint a United States attorney for the district in which the office of United States attorney is vacant.
  2. The Attorney General shall not appoint as United States attorney a person to whose appointment by the President to that office the Senate refused to give advice and consent.
  3. A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the earlier of–
    1. the qualification of a United States attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title;or
    2. the expiration of 120 days after appointment by the Attorney General under this section.
  4. If an appointment expires under subsection (c)(2), the district court for such district may appoint a United States attorney to serve until the vacancy is filled. The order of appointment by the court shall be filed with the clerk of the court.

As Conason notes in his article, an aide in Senator Arlen Specter’s office, at the request of the Justice Department, had an amendment to this statue slipped into the 2005 Patriot Act renewal signed by George W. Bush. This amendment took effect on March 6, 2006, and replaced sections (c) and (d) above with the following:

(c) A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title.

Not only was Specter himself not aware of this amendment, but it looks like most of the Senate wasn’t either. Essentially, this was a request by the Justice Department for elimination of any oversight in the President’s appointment of interim U.S. Attorneys so that any new appointments made by the President could serve indefinitely. This administration doesn’t trust anyone, even its own appointees to the Courts. So as soon as the Senate realized what they had missed in the Patriot Act renewal, it voted to overturn the amendment, but of course, George Dubya hasn’t felt like signing it yet.

So basically, what we have here is a case of the Bush Administration actually doing something they were legally entitled to do (since they changed the rules) and, typical of the completely dysfunctional nature of this administration, they manage to completely bungle answering charges brought by the Senate that they did something wrong.

I could be wrong, but here’s how I see this case broken down in very simple terms:

  1. Bush and friends are afraid of potential prosecution (at the hands of judges they, themselves, appointed) for crimes high and low, far and wide.
  2. Gonzales requests from a friend in Specter’s office that an amendment be slipped into the pending Patriot Act renewal of 2005 stating that new appointees to the U.S. Courts can serve indefinitely and aren’t subject to the “120-day” rule.
  3. Senate doesn’t notice, and passes bill, President signs.
  4. Justice Department fires Attorneys, proposes others for firing. Democrats cry foul.
  5. Justice Department and President acted legally, because they changed the law.
  6. Democrats (and some Republicans) sign legislation that will repeal the amendment.
  7. President has not yet signed this, so the law is still on the side of the Justice Department.
  8. The only scandal is that Bush/Gonzales changed the law to avoid cronies’ prosecution and the Senate didn’t catch them until it was too late, and now the Senate Democrats feel they have found something they can latch on to in order to bring down this administration (because Iraq, Katrina, etc. weren’t enough apparently).
  9. Totally un-surprisingly, and actually quite predictably, this administration is so completely and totally inept, they even bungle any attempt at answering a charge of which they are not actually even guilty.
  10. Former aide to Gonzales, Monica Goodling, in sworn testimony, admits that she “crossed the line of the civil service rules” by asking political questions of candidates interviewing for civil service jobs and “took political considerations into account on some occasions,” and was “surprised to learn that the deputy had blamed [her] for the incomplete or inaccurate information provided to the Senate.”
  11. And the saga continues…

Giuliani Endorsements

What do you do when you’re campaigning in New Hampshire and you need to show people a list of people who are endorsing you for the party’s nomination? If you’re one Rudolph Giuliani, the answer is very simple, and amazingly easy — you just make it up!

The endorsement came as quite a surprise to many on the list. Some were surprised because they hadn’t yet made up their minds about which candidate they would be backing. Others were surprised because their names were misspelled.

When I was making my very first resume, my parents were very careful to mention to me that before you put down people’s names as references, you definitely want to call them first and just check to make sure they don’t mind vouching for you. It’s just a matter of courtesy. But then, Giuliani knows nothing about courtesy. This is a guy who married his cousin, then got that marriage annulled so he could marry a second time (we recovering Catholics call that a “do over”), and then eventually tried to move his mistress into Gracie Mansion while he was still married to his second wife.

What a guy!

A Time and a Place for Everything

This year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner was a bit less controversial than last year’s, but it wasn’t without incident either. Apparently, Sheryl Crow and Laurie David got into it with Karl Rove over global warming. Here is the Crow/David account on Huffington Post.

According to both accounts, Crow and David found themselves in the same room with Karl Rove at the Correspondents’ Dinner and decided they could change his mind about global warming. They say in their post that they “were introduced” to Mr. Rove, but they don’t say how that event played out. I’m no Karl Rove fan by any means. I think he has done as much to damage this country as Mr. Bush himself. However, my guess (and this is nothing more than a guess) is that Ms. Crow and Ms. David saw an opportunity to hound a high-ranking associate of the White House regarding one of their key issues, and they took it. When Mr. Rove turned away to return to his seat, Ms. Crow reportedly “touched his arm” and he shot back, “don’t touch me.” Ms. Crow answered that “he worked for her.”

Comments on the Huffington Post blog are all positive toward Ms. Crow and Ms. David, so I am definitely in the minority here, but I think the two of them were somewhat deluded if they thought they were going to change the mind of Karl Rove (Ms. David said she thought she could really change his mind), and hounding him at a social dinner certainly wasn’t going to help their case. Also, just because Rove works for us doesn’t mean any of us has the right to grab his arm (or “touch” his arm).

I just think there is a time and place for everything, and for some reason, this story in particular struck me as an example of how not to pursue your agenda. I realize Ms. Crow and Ms. David probably thought this was an opportunity too good to let pass, but did they really think they would change Rove’s mind? Or did they just see an opportunity to badger one of the most hated figures in Democratic circles? I’m all for badgering evil people, but don’t pretend you’re doing it to further a cause.

Mission Still Accomplished?

Four years ago today, George W. Bush slipped on a military flight suit (something he had apparently been averse to doing when he was actually enlisted) and swooped down onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the co-pilot seat of a Navy S-3B Viking. According to CNN, it was the first time a president (sic) had ever arrived on the deck of an aircraft carrier by plane.

Greeted by cheers, he approached the podium and began to speak…

“Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”