1. Are Diane Sawyer, Scott Pelley and Brian Williams hooked on Cymbalta?

Every time I suffer through the (simultaneously timed) commercial breaks on one of the network evening news shows I wish I could read a story about prescription drug advertising on television. I’ll bet these ads now account for two-thirds or more of revenues for the network news shows, whose viewer demographics are apparently perfect targets for drugs directed at older people with erectile dysfunction, withering bones, dry eyes, insomnia, lung malfunction (as illustrated by an elephant sitting on some guy’s chest), incontinence, and whatever it is that is cured by something called Cymbalta, whose ads I think I saw on all three shows the other night.

To what extent does the federal government’s decision to allow, beginning in the mid-1990s, such direct-to-consumer ads keep these once-revered nightly news shows afloat? (A sidebar should also cover how these ads boost the economics of struggling magazines, in large part because the rules require a page of small print detail about dosage and side effects following the glitzy image ad.) At a time when healthcare costs are a national crisis, does the American policy of allowing these ads, which most countries prohibit, create unnecessary demand and needless expense? Or do they give patients important information? Does telling me I might have a disease that I had never heard of help me address a malady before it gets worse, or does it make me a prescription-guzzling hypochondriac? How does the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates such advertising, evaluate all that, and what kind of lobbying do the networks and drug companies do to influence that debate? Or is there no longer a debate?

And what are the rules governing the hilarious recitations of possible side effects? How fast is the announcer allowed to breeze through describing the risk of suicide, hives, sleepwalking, backache, swelling of the tongue, depression, migraines, miscarriage or four-day (or is it four-hour?) erections?

2. Will the U.S. education secretary help determine control of the Senate?

There’s a showdown looming this fall over President Obama’s most highly touted domestic policy initiative, and it could end up deciding a Senate race in Hawaii – and perhaps even control of the Senate.

Some pundits scoping out the 2012 Senate races have started to look at Hawaii, where the retirement of three-term Democrat Daniel Akaka has created an open seat. Former two-term Republican Governor Linda Lingle is likely to win her primary in August and face either Democratic congresswoman Mazie Hirono or former Democratic congressman Ed Case, who are competing in their party’s primary. Current polls suggest that Lingle, who was more popular than Neil Abercrombie, the Democrat who has replaced her, has at least a fighting chance to buck Hawaii’s tradition as a Democratic stronghold and become only the second Republican senator Hawaii has ever elected.