Albion Monitor

+ The Clinton Administration plans to include whites in an affirmative action program, citing a 1995 Supreme Court decision barring the government from considering race when awarding federal contracts. According to the New York Times, the Small Business Administration 8(a) program awarded $6.4 billion last year to 6,115 companies, all but a fraction of them to minority owned businesses. The White House also claimed that the changes will broaden support for programs intended to correct inequality.

But no mention appeared in any media that the 8(a) program was a failure, with as many as two-thirds of the companies in the program unqualified. According to a 1995 GAO investigation, the program to help minorities and the poor appeared to be routinely abused by whites and the wealthy, often in collusion with high-ranking government officials. Unfortunately, those GAO findings were ignored by almost all of the press, with the single news story about that investigation appearing in the Monitor. (August 15, 1997)

+ Federal prosecutors have declared Columbia/HCA a target of the criminal investigation into whether the company defrauded the federal government, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The paper said in its electronic edition that the designation means the government believes it has enough evidence to indict not only Columbia executives, but the company itself.

Although the New York Times has led other media in coverage of Columbia/HCA fraud and misconduct investigations, no mention of this important development appeared in their pages, presumably because the Times routinely ignores scoops made by rivals. The Times-owned Santa Rosa Press Democrat also omitted mention of this report.

The Press Democrat has recently stepped up coverage of Columbia/HCA controversies, providing reprints of NY Times articles on August 7 and 12. A Monitor editorial appeared on August 2, criticizing the paper for a blackout of bad news about the giant hospital chain, which is a major employer in Sonoma County and advertiser in the newspaper. (August 15, 1997)

+ Asian long-horned beetles have been found in hardwood trees in Amityville, New York, confirming worst fears of USDA inspectors watching ports to catch beetle-infested wood coming in from Asia. The beetle attacks and kills hardwoods like the Norway maple, and infested trees must be immediately destroyed because there is no known pesticide.

The first beetles were discovered last year in Brooklyn, New York. Authorities first believed that the half-inch, circular holes found in some trees were being drilled by pranksters. Instead, adult Asian long-horned beetles were emerging from the heartwood center of the trees.

While the New York invasion poses a possible threat to New England's forests, E. Richard Hoebeke, Cornell entomologist, noted that the Pacific Northwest should be worried as well. "If we are importing products from China or Asia and those products come shipped with wood -- such as crates, blocking, pallets, even large spools for wire -- we've got to be concerned," said Hoebeke. "This really should become a national concern." (August 12, 1997)

+ Maryland health and environmental officials investigating the mysterious deaths of thousands of fish in the Pocomoke River last week have discovered a new species of a toxic microbe that normally kills millions of East Coast fish annually. State officials cautioned that it is not yet known if the new species is as deadly as previously identified species, or even toxic.

"This is a very serious situation and we're very concerned," Maryland Health Secretary Martin Wasserman told the American Reporter, but the state has not yet declared it a major disaster. Ten people have complained of river-related health problems but Wasserman said there is "no definite evidence yet" of a link between these illnesses and the fish. The researcher who first discovered the common microbe nine years ago believes exposure to it in the lab may have caused long-term damage to her immune system, causing several attacks of pneumonia. (August 12, 1997)

+ The Export-Import Bank of the United States is providing $425 million in financing to develop the Batu-Hijau Copper-Gold Project, one of the world's largest copper and gold deposits in Sumbawa, Indonesia. In a press release, Ex-Im Bank said its participation will leverage $1 billion of U.S. procurement for the project, which is located in a remote and sparsely populated area of Indonesia, and will involve construction of port facilities, a power plant, roads, telecommunications facilities, and a mine.

Less than two years ago, another Indonesian gold mine became the subject of controversy for environmental damage and human rights violations, including torture and murder. (August 4, 1997)

+ The Food and Drug Administration has invited comment on its waiving of informed consent for the use of experimental drugs on combat troops. In 1990, the FDA allowed the miliary to use pyridostigmine bromide (PB) and botulinum toxoid vaccine on Gulf War soldiers, although there had been no tests as to the safety and effectiveness of the drugs on humans.

Last year, a Presidential Advisory Committee issued an interim report that described a number of difficulties in DOD's application of FDA's rule, including the issue of disclosure to service personnel; problems in record keeping; lack of long-term follow up of individuals who received the investigational products; and lack of review by non-military parties.

Written comments may be submitted until October 30, 1997 to: Dockets Management Branch, HFA-305, Food and Drug Administration, 12420 Parklawn Drive, room 1-23, Rockville, MD 20857. (August 4, 1997)

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