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Block Bush!

New Republic, Jan. 29 The cover story says the problem with John Ashcroft is not that he’ll refuse to enforce the law but that he’ll actually try to change it. By filing briefs in the Supreme Court, he can help tip the balance on abortion, affirmative action, and voting rights. Ashcroft will also have a lot to say about whom George W. Bush appoints to the federal bench, and his record in the Senate is that of a judicial extremist. A piece doubts that Bush will govern through his Cabinet, as promised. He talks about surrounding himself with good people and holding them accountable, but Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan all used similar rhetoric before turning to West Wing-dominated presidencies. Moreover, Bush has appointed close confidants to his White House staff while filling his Cabinet with big names who play well with interest groups. An article claims that Democrats have every right to obstruct Bush. Though his legal claim to the presidency is unassailable, his dubious victory entitles him to less deference than presidents usually get. Republicans are trying to say that any assault on Bush’s legitimacy amounts to lawlessness, but they’re only trying to strengthen his weak political hand.

New York Times Magazine, Jan. 21 A piece explains why LaGuardia is “the worst airport in the history of airports.” LaGuardia is tiny, with only two runways, but every airline wants to fly there because it is a prestige destination, eight miles closer to Manhattan than Kennedy. Last year, caps limiting the number of flights at LaGuardia were lifted, and now the overcrowding is worse than ever. A former user of ecstasy praises the wildly popular drug. Customs seizures of ecstasy have increased twentyfold since 1997, and though the DEA insists it causes brain damage, most evidence shows that ecstasy is perfectly safe in moderation. When the author took the drug 15 years ago, he claims it not only made him feel good in the moment but also calmed his entire life. He worries that the rave culture that has grown up around ecstasy since then limits its mind-expanding benefits.

Atlantic Monthly, February 2001 At long last, the magazine is redesigned. An article defends electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), better known as “electroshock.” Scientists don’t understand why, but inducing seizures makes seriously depressed patients better. Still, because of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and opposition from a small group of former electroshock patients and the Church of Scientology, ECT remains stigmatized in the medical community and is against the law in certain states. The anti-ECT crowd says the procedure causes severe brain damage and memory loss, but most serious research rejects their conclusions. Fourteen writers offer their thoughts on the Clinton legacy. P.J. O’Rourke says Clinton really was the first president from the 1960s. As they bought into the myth of the 1960s, Americans bought into the notion that Clinton was cool, but he turned out to be just another over-earnest “band geek” who pretended to know everything.

Time and Newsweek, Jan. 22 John Ashcroft on both covers. Time hints that his conservatism is less down-the-line than the media have portrayed it. Many Democrats are willing to give him a hard time because they think he did the same to black judicial nominee Ronnie White. Time argues that Ashcroft voted against White more because of Missouri abortion politics than race. Newsweek views the nomination fight as the beginning of a “never-ending cultural clash.” It suggests that Bush wanted Ashcroft to rile liberals because he would unite conservatives behind the new administration. A Newsweek poll finds that Americans think less of Bush’s intelligence and leadership ability than at any time since he announced his candidacy.

A Time piece describes the growing labor militancy of America’s 6 million undocumented workers. The tight labor market has made them feel more secure, and unions facing declining membership have been courting illegals. But employers of undocumented workers often try to prevent unionization efforts by threatening to call in the INS.

Newsweek tracks the rise of online psychological therapy, which occurs on 250 to 300 Web sites. Pro: People unwilling to see a doctor face-to-face because of the stigma might be more willing to talk in a virtual setting. Con: Visual clues are often as important for therapists as verbal ones.

U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 22 The cover story compares George W. Bush to his father (for the millionth time). They both possess the same sense of service, though W. came to it later and does not share his father’s belief in work for its own sake (he will keep to a less hectic, more Reaganlike daily schedule). W. is a much better politician than his father and has better ideas about domestic policy. W. still seeks his father’s advice, especially about foreign policy and personnel (Bush père had a lot to do with the Cheney VP selection). A piece claims that cases in which homicidal doctors kill their patients are not as rare as they would seem and points out that easy statistical evaluation could have revealed many killer doctors earlier and saved lives. So, why do killer docs get away with it? One reason is that hospitals avoid reporting malpractice cases, so the national data bank is horribly incomplete.

The New Yorker, Jan. 22 An article explains how junk-bond king Michael Milken continued to make deals after he got out of jail and signed a consent decree not to work in the securities business. Working as a consultant, Milken brokered agreements for Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, and Jack Welch and earned tens of millions in fees each year. The SEC eventually made him pay back $42 million plus $5 million in interest, but now many backers are urging President Clinton to pardon Milken, mostly because of his extensive charitable work. A piece predicts Bush’s foreign policy by examining his options in Iraq. Because he lacks international experience, he will rely on two teams of advisers, who will pull him in different directions. Old-schoolers Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney favor intervention in staunchly anti-democratic countries such as Iraq. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice prefer a “realist” policy that would promote containment of Iraq instead of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow.

The Nation, Jan. 29 An article praises Paul O’Neill, Bush’s nomination for treasury secretary, because as an executive with an old-line manufacturing firm (ALCOA), he enjoyed a good relationship with labor and demonstrated his willingness to buck Republicans on tax policy. However, his non-Wall Street background could hurt him now, as the stock-market bubble bursts and world financial markets teeter. A piece criticizes defense nominee Rumsfeld for his willingness to annoy American allies (especially Russia) in order to defend the United States against the overblown threat of rogue nations. Rumsfeld convinced Bob Dole to run on national missile defense in 1996, and he was an important adviser to Bush on the same issue, but his plan to restructure the armed forces could derail decades of progress on disarmament. An article uses data to prove that while Bill Clinton cut the size of most government agencies, he increased the size of its investigative units, including the FBI and the INS. He has prosecuted the drug war with increasing zeal while allowing investigations of tax evaders and white-collar criminals to languish.

Weekly Standard, Jan. 22 An article blames the California energy crisis not on deregulation but on environmentalists. Californians have repeatedly refused to allow the construction of power plants in their state, but they also have failed to decrease their consumption. The laws of supply and demand caught them and led to the current crisis. A piece blasts Democrats for giving the dot-com billionaires of the 1990s a free pass on the greed question that so plagued the fat cats of the 1980s. Now that a Republican is back in office, Democratic interest groups are sure to recycle the crises of homelessness and hunger to highlight the ostentatious materialism of moneyed Republicans. An article claims that the nomination fights have so far shown that while Bush is willing to try a bipartisan approach to governance, congressional Democrats are not. While they have made all manner of ridiculous complaints about Bush’s nominees, he has kept his mouth shut. But if the character assassination of Ashcroft and Gale Norton continues, Bush may respond in kind. 

Vanity Fair, February 2001 A piece traces the exploitative history of the South Florida sugar industry, where Jamaican workers were imported to cut sugar, paid less than the minimum wage, and allegedly deprived payment for many hours worked. Attorneys have spent the last decade attempting to recover these wages in a class-action suit. The sugar industry, most notably magnates Alfy and Pepe Fanjul, denies any wrongdoing. An article recounts the 70-year journalism career of Ruth Gruber, who escorted the only group of World War II Jewish refugees allowed to enter America during the war and subsequently devoted her reporting career to Holocaust survivors and Israeli history. Want to be a pundit? A piece gives 10 how-to tips based on talking heads who’ve abandoned writing for the airwaves. The best advice: Suck up to Don Imus. 

Wired, February 2001 The cover story predicts that a human will be cloned within the next year (if one hasn’t been already), and what’s more, it’s no big deal. Animal-cloning researchers and in-vitro fertilization experts work with the necessary technology every day, and the market for human cloning is growing (most members of the substantial underground cloning community want to bring back dead relatives). The author of the piece was able to find several scientists with clients in the planning stages of human cloning projects. There are still strong taboos and laws against the practice, but in scientific circles, the logic behind them is starting to crumble. Because they would be born at different times and raised in different environments, clones of a single person would actually be very different from each other. And with technologies such as artificial wombs and genetic engineering on the horizon, human cloning is the least of our ethical problems.

Economist, Jan. 13 The cover editorial, a Clinton retrospective, echoes all the other presidential assessments. “Mr. Clinton’s presidency has been both better, and worse, than we foresaw,” the editors write. He deserves some credit for the booming economy, but most of it goes to Alan Greenspan. His foreign policy moved in the right direction, but he demonstrated interest in international affairs too late. And, of course, in the end, scandal sapped his effectiveness. “With more discipline and less self-indulgence,” the editors conclude, “how good eight years of Bill Clinton could have been.” (For the only presidential assessment you’ll ever need, click here.) A special report warns against the increasing regulation of the Internet. The Web flourished precisely because it was unregulated, but governments and businesses are now developing new technologies to limit online privacy. Filtering software gets more advanced all the time, and governments have started synchronizing their Internet laws so they apply across borders. E-commerce companies are leading the anti-privacy charge, developing software that finds personal information about users for marketing purposes.