Friday, January 26, 2007

Libby Trial

Ex-Cheney Aide Says She Told Libby Name of CIA Operative

26 January 2007

A former spokeswoman to Vice President Dick Cheney says she informed Cheney and his former chief-of-staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, about the identity of a CIA operative married to a Bush administration critic.

Cathie Martin testified Thursday during Libby's perjury trial. Prosecutors say Libby lied to investigators trying to determine who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to reporters in 2003. Plame is married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the White House of falsifying intelligence to justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Martin testified that she informed Cheney and Libby of Plame's identity after learning it from a CIA official. She also said Cheney personally directed efforts to discredit Wilson's allegations.

Libby says he learned of Plame's identity from a prominent television reporter, Tim Russert, host NBC-TV's weekly public affairs program Meet the Press.

Martin is the first person from the vice president's inner circle to testify about Libby's role in the leak. She now serves as a communications assistant to President Bush.

Wilson says he traveled to Niger on behalf of the CIA in 2002 to investigate reports that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had tried to obtain uranium from the central African nation to build nuclear weapons. Wilson says although he found no evidence of any such transactions, President Bush still mentioned the attempted purchase in his State of the Union address in 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

Give em hell, Hagel

"You can't govern without Congress," Hagel tells White House

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), one of President Bush's toughest critics on the handling of the Iraq war, told the White House Friday that it "can't govern without Congress."

Hagel said he was "confounded" by the administration saying that it would forge ahead with its plan to add more troops, even if Congress expresses its disapproval with such a strategy.

"To say that the president is not going to listen to the Congress is astounding," Hagel said on NBC's "Today" show. "It's astounding. I've never heard a president say that."

The lawmaker pointed out that Congress is a co-equal branch of the government and a partner of the president.

"He certainly has powers of commander in chief, certain powers," the lawmaker added. "We do as well."

Hagel is the co-sponsor of a resolution that would reject the surge proposal. The non-binding measure passed the Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday. On Friday, the lawmaker again strongly criticized the surge plan.

"Are we going to just blindly continue to feed more troops into this situation, a sectarian civil war that American troops cannot win? We put these young men and women in situations where they can't win," he said.

Bush addressed Congress's concerns of his new plan Friday, following the unanimous Senate confirmation of Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as the new commander of the multinational forces in Iraq.

"I know there is skepticism and pessimism, and that some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work," Bush told reporters. "And they have an obligation and a serious responsibility, therefore, to put up their own plan as to what would work."

Hagel sees the resolution as a first step in a beginning debate on Iraq, adding that there would be many opportunities to address the issue, including the appropriations process.

- Klaus Marre

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Along for the ride

This week the state of the union speech was delivered. The next day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution rebuking the administration’s new “surge” policy in Iraq. The resolution will go to the full Senate next week. It is expected to pass with a number of republicans voting in favor of it. The resolution has no teeth; it is merely a statement of disapproval of the handling of the war.

The point of the resolution is that Bush’s support has practically evaporated. Republicans are now brazenly speaking out against the war in Iraq. Only a couple of years ago the situation was the complete opposite. Then all the republicans (except Ron Paul) and most of the democrats supported the President. Also, the majority of Americans were in support as well.

But for those who cared to delve a little deeper into the pronouncements that were being made by the White House at the time, it was clear that a disinformation campaign was being waged in the American media. So for those of us who opposed the war fundamentally from the start it was very clear that no matter what the truth really was, the vast majority of the population was behind the war and that was all that mattered. Now this is a very important point and this is what politicians know well. The facts don’t matter for the majority. If you can get a portion of the herd steered in the direction you want the rest will fall in line. They make their decisions based on the prevailing view of the public. So with a good enough marketing campaign you can get the herd to go along with practically anything. This concept is a double-edged sword however.

The people who do not follow the herd and choose to make informed decisions can only stand by and watch as folks go headlong on a fool’s errand. The pendulum will invariably swing the other way, however. As time wears on and more information begins to come to light, slowly people’s opinions begin to change. The minority group begins to grow ever so slightly. Various congressmen and senators begin to modify their positions; this reverberates out into the populace and a few more people change their stance. With the war in Iraq this process has been evolving for three years now, and this leads me back to the beginning.

What we have seen now is the shift of the herd. As the popularity of the president and the war have declined, the people who supported the war only because they perceived everyone else was supporting it, have now swung over to non-support since they perceive that to be the position of the majority.

In the congress and the senate it is no different. People that authorized the war now speak against it because they sense the herd has changed direction. Politicians who were once intimidated by the administration are now emboldened to speak up. Although I am glad to see the change taking place, I have no illusion that people have taken a thorough assessment of the situation and are making principled stands based on good information. They are just going along with the crowd.

It really begs the question, what did you think was going to happen when we invade another country? Are you genuinely surprised that war did not go as planned?

But I don’t think the majority of people thought about it then or now. They’re just along for the ride, wherever it may lead.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Militarization of the police

by Paul Craig Roberts

In recent years American police forces have called out SWAT teams 40,000 or more times annually. Last year did you read in your newspaper or hear on TV news of 110 hostage or terrorist events each day? No. What then were the SWAT teams doing? They were serving routine warrants to people who posed no danger to the police or to the public.

Occasionally Washington think tanks produce reports that are not special pleading for donors. One such report is Radley Balko's "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America" (Cato Institute, 2006).

This 100-page report is extremely important and should have been published as a book. SWAT teams ("special weapons and tactics") were once rare and used only for very dangerous situations, often involving hostages held by armed criminals. Today SWAT teams are deployed for routine police duties. In the U.S. today, 75-80 percent of SWAT deployments are for warrant service.

In a high percentage of the cases, the SWAT teams forcefully enter the wrong address, resulting in death, injury, and trauma to perfectly innocent people. Occasionally, highly keyed-up police kill one another in the confusion caused by their stun grenades.

Mr. Balko reports that the use of paramilitary police units began in Los Angeles in the 1960s. The militarization of local police forces got a big boost from Attorney General Ed Meese's "war on drugs" during the Reagan administration. A National Security Decision Directive was issued that declared drugs to be a threat to U.S. national security. In 1988 Congress ordered the National Guard into the domestic drug war. In 1994 the Department of Defense issued a memorandum authorizing the transfer of military equipment and technology to state and local police, and Congress created a program "to facilitate handing military gear over to civilian police agencies."

Today 17,000 local police forces are equipped with such military equipment as Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear, and armored vehicles. Some have tanks. In 1999, the New York Times reported that a retired police chief in New Haven, Conn., told the newspaper, "I was offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted." Balko reports that in 1997, for example, police departments received 1.2 million pieces of military equipment.

With local police forces now armed beyond the standard of U.S. heavy infantry, police forces have been retrained "to vaporize, not Mirandize," to use a phrase from Reagan administration Defense official Lawrence Korb. This leaves the public at the mercy of brutal actions based on bad police information from paid informers.

SWAT team deployments received a huge boost from the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which gave states federal money for drug enforcement. Balko explains that "the states then disbursed the money to local police departments on the basis of each department's number of drug arrests."

With financial incentives to maximize drug arrests and with idle SWAT teams due to a paucity of hostage or other dangerous situations, local police chiefs threw their SWAT teams into drug enforcement. In practice, this has meant using SWAT teams to serve warrants on drug users.

SWAT teams serve warrants by breaking into homes and apartments at night while people are sleeping, often using stun grenades and other devices to disorient the occupants. As much of the police's drug information comes from professional informers known as "snitches" who tip off police for cash rewards, dropped charges, and reduced sentences, names and addresses are often pulled out of a hat. Balko provides details for 135 tragic cases of mistaken addresses.

SWAT teams are not held accountable for their tragic mistakes and gratuitous brutality. Police killings got so bad in Albuquerque, N.M., for example, that the city hired criminologist Sam Walker to conduct an investigation of police tactics. Killings by police were "off the charts," Walker found, because the SWAT team "had an organizational culture that led them to escalate situations upward rather then de-escalating."

The mindset of militarized SWAT teams is geared to "taking out" or killing the suspect – thus, the many deaths from SWAT team utilization. Many innocent people are killed in nighttime SWAT team entries, because they don't realize that it is the police who have broken into their homes. They believe they are confronted by dangerous criminals, and when they try to defend themselves they are shot down by the police.

As Lawrence Stratton and I have reported, one of many corrupting influences on the criminal justice (sic) system is the practice of paying "snitches" to generate suspects. In 1995 the Boston Globe profiled people who lived entirely off the fees that they were paid as police informants. Snitches create suspects by selling a small amount of marijuana to a person whom they then report to the police as being in possession of drugs. Balko reports that "an overwhelming number of mistaken raids take place because police relied on information from confidential informants." In Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, 87 percent of drug raids originated in tips from snitches.

Many police informers are themselves drug dealers who avoid arrest and knock off competitors by serving as police snitches.

Surveying the deplorable situation, the National Law Journal concluded: "Criminals have been turned into instruments of law enforcement, while law enforcement officers have become criminal co-conspirators."

Balko believes the problem could be reduced if judges scrutinized unreliable information before issuing warrants. If judges would actually do their jobs, there would be fewer innocent victims of SWAT brutality. However, as long as the war on drugs persists and as long as it produces financial rewards to police departments, local police forces, saturated with military weapons and war imagery, will continue to terrorize American citizens.

Ron Paul on foreign aid

Former President Carter’s new book about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has raised the ire of Americans on two sides of the debate. I say “two sides” rather than “both sides,” because there is another perspective that is never discussed in American politics. That perspective is the perspective of our founding fathers, namely that America should not intervene in the internal affairs of other nations.

Everyone assumes America must play the leading role in crafting some settlement or compromise between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But Jefferson, Madison, and Washington explicitly warned against involving ourselves in foreign conflicts.

The conflict in Gaza and the West Bank is almost like a schoolyard fight: when America and the world stand watching, neither side will give an inch for fear of appearing weak. But deep down, the people who actually have to live there desperately want an end to the violence. They don’t need solutions imposed by outsiders. It’s easy to sit here safe in America and talk tough, but we’re not the ones suffering.

Practically speaking, our meddling in the Middle East has only intensified strife and conflict. American tax dollars have militarized the entire region. We give Israel about $3 billion each year, but we also give Egypt $2 billion. Most other Middle East countries get money too, some of which ends up in the hands of Palestinian terrorists. Both sides have far more military weapons as a result. Talk about adding fuel to the fire! Our foolish and unconstitutional foreign aid has produced more violence, not less.

Congress and each successive administration pledge their political, financial, and military support for Israel. Yet while we call ourselves a strong ally of the Israeli people, we send billions in foreign aid every year to some Muslim states that many Israelis regard as enemies. From the Israeli point of view, many of the same Islamic nations we fund with our tax dollars want to destroy the Jewish state. Many average Israelis and American Jews see America as hypocritically hedging its bets.

This illustrates perfectly the inherent problem with foreign aid: once we give money to one country, we have to give it to all the rest or risk making enemies. This is especially true in the Middle East and other strife-torn regions, where our financial support for one side is seen as an act of aggression by the other. Just as our money never makes Israel secure, it doesn’t buy us any true friends elsewhere in the region. On the contrary, millions of Muslims hate the United States.

It is time to challenge the notion that it is our job to broker peace in the Middle East and every other troubled region across the globe. America can and should use every diplomatic means at our disposal to end the violence in the West Bank, but we should draw the line at any further entanglement. Third-party outsiders cannot impose political solutions in Palestine or anywhere else. Peace can be achieved only when self-determination operates freely in all nations. “Peace plans” imposed by outsiders or the UN cause resentment and seldom produce lasting peace.

The simple truth is that we cannot resolve every human conflict across the globe, and there will always be violence somewhere on earth. The fatal conceit lies in believing America can impose geopolitical solutions wherever it chooses.

Ron Paul on Iraq

Before the US House of Representatives, January 11, 2007

Mr. Speaker, A military victory in Iraq is unattainable, just as it was in the Vietnam war.

At the close of the Vietnam war in 1975, a telling conversation took place between an NVA Colonel named Tu and an American Colonel named Harry Summers. Colonel Summers reportedly said, “You never beat us on the battlefield.” Tu replied, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.” It is likewise irrelevant to seek military victory in Iraq.

As conditions deteriorate in Iraq, the American people are told more blood must be spilled to achieve just such a military victory. 20,000 additional troops and another $100 billion are needed for a “surge.” Yet the people remain rightfully skeptical.

Though we’ve been in Iraq nearly four years, the meager goal today simply is to secure Baghdad. This hardly shows that the mission is even partly accomplished.

Astonishingly, American taxpayers now will be forced to finance a multi-billion dollar jobs program in Iraq. Suddenly the war is about jobs! We export our manufacturing jobs to Asia, and now we plan to export our welfare jobs to Iraq – all at the expense of the poor and middle class here at home.

Plans are being made to become more ruthless in achieving stability in Iraq. It appears Muqtada al Sadr will be on the receiving end of our military efforts, despite his overwhelming support among large segments of the Iraqi people.

It’s interesting to note that one excuse given for our failure is leveled at the Iraqis themselves. They have not done enough, we’re told, and are difficult to train.

Yet no one complains that Mahdi or Kurdish militias or the Badr Brigade (the real Iraq government, not our appointed government) are not well trained. Our problems obviously have nothing to do with training Iraqis to fight, but instead with loyalties and motivations.

We claim to be spreading democracy in Iraq, but al Sadr has far more democratic support with the majority Shiites than our troops enjoy. The problem is not a lack of democratic consensus; it is the antipathy toward our presence among most Iraqis.

In real estate the three important considerations are location, location, location. In Iraq the three conditions are occupation, occupation, occupation. Nothing can improve in Iraq until we understand that our occupation is the primary source of the chaos and killing. We are a foreign occupying force, strongly resented by the majority of Iraq’s citizens.

Our inability to adapt to the tactics of 4th-generation warfare compounds our military failure. Unless we understand this, even doubling our troop strength will not solve the problems created by our occupation.

The talk of a troop surge and jobs program in Iraq only distracts Americans from the very real possibility of an attack on Iran. Our growing naval presence in the region and our harsh rhetoric toward Iran are unsettling. Securing the Horn of Africa and sending Ethiopian troops into Somalia do not bode well for world peace. Yet these developments are almost totally ignored by Congress.

Rumors are flying about when, not if, Iran will be bombed by either Israel or the U.S. – possibly with nuclear weapons. Our CIA says Iran is ten years away from producing a nuclear bomb and has no delivery system, but this does not impede our plans to keep “everything on the table” when dealing with Iran.

We should remember that Iran, like Iraq, is a third-world nation without a significant military. Nothing in history hints that she is likely to invade a neighboring country, let alone do anything to America or Israel. I am concerned, however, that a contrived Gulf of Tonkin–type incident may occur to gain popular support for an attack on Iran.

Even if such an attack is carried out by Israel over U.S. objections, we will be politically and morally culpable since we provided the weapons and dollars to make it possible.

Mr. Speaker, let’s hope I’m wrong about this one.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Idiots in cars

This morning I was stopped at an intersection. I was the second car at the light. The lane we were in was to continue straight across the intersection and the left lane was a left turn lane, no one was in the turn lane. No one was behind me. Along comes a car on my left, in the turn lane. About midway the length of my car they stopped, I guess realizing that they were in the turn lane. What did they do, back up and fall in behind me? Au contraire. She beeped the horn and motioned to me that she wanted to get in the six foot space between me and the car in front of me and then proceeded to try. I checked the rear view. No traffic behind me, none coming. This idiot instead of backing up twenty feet and getting behind me or just going straight thru the light chose to just cut in front me. Hell, no! I didn’t let them in. WTF is up with these idiots?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cheney Defends Efforts to Obtain Records

January 15, 2007

Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday defended efforts by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency to obtain financial records of Americans suspected of terrorism or espionage, calling the practice a “perfectly legitimate activity” used partly to protect troops stationed on military bases in the United States.

But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee expressed concern over the expansion of the military’s domestic intelligence collection efforts and said his committee would investigate how the Pentagon was using its authority.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Cheney said “national security letters” issued to banks and credit agencies were an essential tool for investigating terrorism cases in the United States.

He said the Pentagon had crossed no legal boundaries in issuing the letters independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“There’s nothing wrong with it or illegal,” Mr. Cheney said. “It doesn’t violate people’s civil rights. And if an institution that receives one of these national security letters disagrees with it, they’re free to go to court to try to stop its execution.”

Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat who is the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said his panel would examine the matter. Mr. Reyes also indicated that he might renew efforts to pass a law requiring various agencies to get court approval before issuing national security letters.

“Any expansion by the department into intelligence collection, particularly on U.S. soil, is something our committee will thoroughly review,” he said in a statement issued to the news media.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pentagon has issued hundreds of letters to American banks and other financial institutions seeking information about suspects in counterterrorism or counterespionage investigations.

Banks are not required to hand over the information, but Pentagon officials said that financial institutions usually complied.

The C.I.A. also uses the letters as an investigative tool, but issues them far less frequently than does the Pentagon, intelligence officials said.

The use of the national security letters by the Pentagon and the C.I.A. was first reported in The New York Times yesterday.

By law, the Pentagon and the C.I.A. are barred from any domestic law enforcement activities. But government officials said that their authority to issue the letters dated back several decades and was strengthened by the USA Patriot Act, an antiterrorism law passed in 2001.

Mr. Cheney said yesterday that the letters were valuable for protecting American forces stationed at hundreds of bases in the United States.

Since Sept. 11, the Pentagon has increased its domestic intelligence collection efforts to help ensure that American bases are protected from potential terrorist attacks.

The efforts have been criticized by civil liberties organizations, who say the Pentagon is using “force protection” to spy on Americans and collect information on groups like war protesters.

The American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that it had “serious concerns” about the use of the letters by the Pentagon and the C.I.A., and it called for a Congressional investigation to examine the frequency and legal basis for the records demands, along with civil liberties safeguards in place.

“This country has a long tradition of rejecting the use of the C.I.A. and the Pentagon to spy on Americans, and rightfully so,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the A.C.L.U.’s Washington office. “Today’s published report that the Pentagon and C.I.A. have been relying on ‘national security letters’ to collect the financial records of Americans without judicial supervision or Congressional oversight raises a host of questions that need to be answered.”

Pentagon officials said the financial documents obtained through the national security letters usually did not establish an individual’s links to terrorism or espionage and had rarely led to criminal charges.

But officials said the records still had intelligence value, and the Pentagon plans within the next year to incorporate the records into a database at its Counterintelligence Field Activity office.

With the Democrats now in charge of both houses of Congress, the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees are planning hearings on various intelligence programs conducted by the Bush administration since Sept. 11, 2001.

At the top of the agenda are hearings on the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program and the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects.

Mr. Reyes indicated yesterday that the military’s domestic collection efforts could also be a priority for his committee.

“We want our intelligence professionals to have strong tools that will enable them to interrupt the planning process of our enemies and to stop attacks against our country,” his statement said.

“But in doing so, we also want those tools to comply fully with the law and the Constitution.”

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Capitol Hill Mystery: Who Aided Drug Maker?

Published on Friday, November 29, 2002 by the New York Times

by Sheryl Gay Stolberg

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 — Lobbyists for Eli Lilly & Company, the pharmaceutical giant, did not have much luck when they made the rounds on Capitol Hill earlier this year, seeking protection from lawsuits over a preservative in vaccines. Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, tucked a provision into a bill that went nowhere. When lawmakers rebuffed a request to slip language into domestic security legislation, a Lilly spokesman said, the company gave up.

Now, in a Washington whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie, the provision has been resurrected and become law, as part of the domestic security legislation signed on Monday by President Bush. Yet in a city where politicians have perfected the art of claiming credit for deeds large and small, not a single member of Congress — or the Bush administration — will admit to being the author of the Lilly rider.

"It's turning into one of Washington's most interesting parlor games," said Dave Lemmon, spokesman for Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, who has promised to introduce legislation to repeal the provision. "There's a lot of guessing, a lot of speculation as to who did this."

The provision forces lawsuits over the preservative, developed by Eli Lilly and called thimerosal, into a special "vaccine court." It may result in the dismissal of thousands of cases filed by parents who contend that mercury in thimerosal has poisoned their children, causing autism and other neurological ailments. Among them are Joseph and Theresa Counter of Plano, Tex., devoted Republicans whose party allegiance has run smack into family ties.

The Counters' 6-year-old son, Joseph Alexander, was normal and healthy until he was 2, they say. Then he took an unexplained downward slide. Today, the boy struggles with words. He cannot zip his pants, snap buttons or tie his shoes. His parents say tests eventually showed that he had mercury poisoning, which they attribute to vaccines. They sued last year.

"I know that our legislative system can be very, very messy at times," said Mr. Counter, a political consultant, who with his wife has spent many thousands of dollars on medical care and therapy for their son. "But for them to attempt this, in the dead of night? It disgusts me. This morning, I am ashamed to be a Republican."

With lawmakers now scattered across the country, Washington is rife with speculation about who is responsible for aiding Lilly, a major Republican donor. During the 2002 election cycle, the company gave more money to political candidates, $1.6 million, than any other pharmaceutical company, with 79 percent of it going to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group that monitors campaign finances.

Critics of the provision, mainly Democrats and trial lawyers, are quick to point out that the White House has close ties to Lilly. The first president Bush sat on the Lilly board in the late 1970's. The White House budget director, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., is a former Lilly executive. The company's chairman and chief executive, Sidney Taurel, was appointed in June by President Bush to serve on a presidential council that will advise Mr. Bush on domestic security.

The White House, however, has said that it did not ask Congress for the provision. Rob Smith, a spokesman for Lilly, said that the company's lobbyists "made absolutely no contact with Mitch or anyone in his office about this," and that Mr. Taurel "did not at any time ask" for any favors.

"It's a mystery to us how it got in there," Mr. Smith said of the provision.

Senator Frist has said it is a mystery to him as well. As the Senate's only doctor, he sought to include the provision in legislation that would promote the availability of vaccines. But the vaccine bill is stalled; Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Senate health committee, opposes it. Mr. Frist's spokesman said he did not seek to have the provision included in the domestic security bill.

On Capitol Hill, Congressional aides-turned-detectives have traced the emergence of the provision to the Veterans Day weekend. Flush from their party's victories on Election Day, and with a mandate from President Bush to pass a domestic security bill, Republican negotiators in the House and Senate holed up for three days in the Capitol to hammer out the details, said Richard Diamond, spokesman for the retiring House majority leader, Representative Dick Armey of Texas.

One aide said the language mysteriously appeared in the House version of the bill in entirely different type than the rest of the measure, as though someone had clipped it out of Mr. Frist's legislation and simply pasted it in. Mr. Diamond said all the negotiators supported the move, but would not say who was responsible.

"If you want to give somebody credit for it," he said, "Mr. Armey takes ultimate credit. It's his bill. We are happy to wrap ourselves around it, but Mr. Armey is not a doctor, like Senator Frist. He's the source of the language."

Whether thimerosal is truly harmful is the subject of intense scientific controversy. Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report saying there was no scientific evidence either to prove or disprove a link between thimerosal and brain disorders like autism. But the academy did find that such a link was "biologically plausible," and so it urged pharmaceutical companies to eliminate thimerosal, which has already been removed from many vaccines, as quickly as possible.

The Lilly rider closes a loophole in a 1986 law that requires victims to file claims with the vaccine court, which awards payments from a taxpayer-financed compensation fund, before going to civil court. But the law covered only vaccines themselves, not their ingredients, which meant people like the Counters could sue ingredient manufacturers like Lilly directly.

While Washington debates the origins of the provision, families are fuming. Some say the government fund will do them no good, because they have missed the statute of limitations — three years from the date symptoms first appear — for filing claims. Scott and Laura Bono of Durham, N.C., say that while their son Jackson, now 13, showed symptoms similar to autism six or seven years ago, it was not until August 2000 that they learned he had mercury poisoning. They filed suit just the other day.

Aware of the controversy, lawmakers in both parties have pledged to alter the thimerosal rider, but are arguing about how to do so. While many Democrats want it repealed, Republicans have suggested that they may simply alter the language to apply to future cases only.

"I'll believe it when I see it," said Mr. Waters, the Counters' lawyer.

In the meantime, Mr. Smith, the Lilly spokesman, said his company would soon go to court to seek dismissal of the suits.

That news made Theresa Counter cry.

"It just makes me sick," she said. "I cannot tell you how devastating it is to think that we might have to start all over."

Copyright The New York Times Company

Sam Bodman's Smokestacks

Bush's Choice for Energy Czar is One of Texas's Worst Polluters


In the bizarro world that President Bush lives in, it pays-literally-to be a miserable failure, a criminal and a corporate con man. Those are just some of the characteristics of the dastardly men and women who were tapped recently to fill the vacancies in Bush's second-term cabinet.

But one of the President's most outrageous decisions (besides naming Alberto Gonzales, who concocted a legal case for torturing foreign prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General) has got to be choosing 66 year-old Sam Bodman to serve as Secretary of Energy. This is a guy who for a dozen years ran a Texas-based chemical company that spent years on the top five lists of the country's worst polluters.

It's not just a few clouds of smoke emanating from an oil refinery or a power plant that got Bodman's old company, Boston-based Cabot Corporation, those accolades. It was the 54,000 tons of toxic emissions that his company's refineries released into the air in the Lone Star state in 1997 alone that made Cabot the fourth largest source of toxic emissions in Texas. Cabot is the world's largest producer of industrial carbon black, a byproduct of the oil refinery process.

In 2000, the year Bodman left Cabot to join the Bush administration as Deputy Commerce Secretary, Cabot accounted for 60,000 of the more than half-a-million tons of toxic emissions released into the Texas air, according to report by the Texas State Summary of Emissions.

A loophole created in the 1972 Texas Clean Air Act exempted or "grandfathered" industrial plants built before 1971 from new, stricter pollution control rules. But in the mid-1990s companies such as Cabot were supposed to curb the pollution coming from its refineries. Environmentalists demanded that then Gov. Bush rein in the polluters and close the so-called grandfather loophole as the air in Texas became smoggier.

Instead, in 1997, then Gov. Bush asked two oil company executives to outline a voluntary program that allowed the grandfathered polluters to decide on their own exactly how much to cut the pollution at their plants. The oil execs summoned a meeting of two dozen industry reps at Exxon offices in Houston and presented them with the program.

In a memo obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, one executive wrote that "clearly the insiders from oil and gas believe that the Governor's office will 'persuade' the (Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission) to accept what program is developed between the industry group and the Governor's Office."

"And they did. And two years later this joke of a program was enacted into law by a bill written by the general counsel for the Texas Chemical Council who also lobbies for energy and utility companies. The bill was denounced by newspapers across the state," according to a March 5, 2000 report in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

According to people familiar with the legislation, Sam Bodman was part of the original working group that drafted legislation that then Gov. Bush signed into law that basically permitted Cabot and other companies to continue to emit the same level-and in some cases more-toxic emissions as they had been years earlier without so much as receiving a slap-on-the-wrist by then Gov. Bush.

Bodman personally contributed $1,000 to Bush's presidential campaign and $20,000 to Republican committees in the 1999-2000 election. Bodman is the wealthiest member of the Bush administration. His net worth is estimated to be between $42 million and $164 million, the bulk of it in Cabot stock, deferred compensation and other benefits.
Bodman shoddy environmental record aside, he may also be complicit in one of Africa's deadliest wars.

In October 2002, Bodman's former company came under fire when a United Nations Panel of Experts produced a report accusing the company, along with several other US corporations, of helping to fuel the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while he ran Cabot by purchasing coltan from Congo during the conflict and illegally plundering the country's vast natural resources.

Cabot has publicly denied the allegations in the UN report, but a report by the Belgian Senate states that Eagle Wings Resources International had a long-term contract to supply Cabot with coltan, which it too purchased from Congo during the war. Eagle Wings was also identified in the UN report as contributing to the war.

In response, environmental Friend of the Earth United States (FOE) and the UK-based human rights group Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) filed a complaint with the US State Department last August against Cabot and several other western corporations for its role in aiding the rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo by conducting business there, essentially inadvertently aiding a violent conflict that contributed to widespread human rights abuses.

RAID and FOE filed a complaint with the U.S. State Department last August claiming Cabot and other western corporations having violated the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) "Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises," a set of international standards for responsible corporate behavior.

The UN panel said in its report that a "three-year investigation found that sophisticated "elite networks" of high-level political, military and businesspersons, in collaboration with various rebel groups, intentionally fueled the conflict in order to retain control over the country's vast natural resources. The Panel implicated many Western companies for directly or indirectly helping to fuel the war."

The State Department is the agency in charge of deciding whether US companies breach the OECD guidelines. Despite the allegations included in the UN report and the complaint filed by the two activist groups, the State Department has refused to launch an independent investigation into whether Cabot, under Bodman's leadership, and the other US companies might have contributed to the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the UN report, an increase in the export of columbo tantalite, otherwise known as coltan from which the metal tantalum is extracted, in 1999 and 2000 resulted in "a sharp increase in the world prices of tantalumleading to a large increase in coltan production in eastern DRCWhile the processors of coltan and other Congolese minerals in Asia, Europe and North America may not have been aware of what was happening in the DRC, the Panel's investigations uncovered such serious concerns that it was decided to raise the international business community's awareness"

Cabot is the world's largest refiner of coltan. The other US corporations identified in the UN report, Kemet and Vishay, both purchase processed tantalum from Cabot. Under Bodman's leadership an unknown amount of the coltan Cabot Corporation was purchasing could have originated from the DRC. Cabot Corporation has stated publicly that "to the best of its knowledge none [of its coltan came] from environmentally sensitive areas in Africa, but it can't be sure."

As Energy Secretary, Bodman will be looking out for the energy behemoths he used to commiserate with while he was chairman and chief executive of Cabot, Vice President Dick Cheney being one of them. Many of those energy corporations have donated millions to fund President Bush's inaugural parties. And Cheney wants Bodman to reward their pals by making a convincing case why the President's controversial energy policy should sail through Congress, the environment be damned.

Jason Leopold is the author of the forthcoming book Off the Record: An Investigative Journalist's Inside View of Dirty Politics, Corporate Scandal, and a Double Life Exposed (Rowman & Littlefield). He can be reached at Visit his website at

Daily Reckoning excerpt

"A banana republic is also characterized by a ruling class that curtails
people's personal freedoms and is moving toward a heavy-handed military
dictatorship under the excuse of fighting guerilla (or terrorist)
opposition groups or enemies. Moreover, the fact that the ruling class or
elite comes from different political parties isn't a relevant factor in
classifying a country as a banana republic; what IS relevant is the
determination of the elite, irrespective of which party its members belong
to, to shift wealth from the majority of the people (the masses) to
themselves, usually through simply printing money and incurring chronic
budget deficits, and frequently also through senseless warfare."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I hate to get off on a rant....

I hear liberals constantly bemoan the fact that inequality exists in society due to the fact that the wealthy in the country continue to grow wealthier at an increasing rate while the wage earning public’s real wages have been stagnant for a great while. What’s the answer? Why get government involved of course by increasing the minimum wage and such other nonsense.

They can never see that the real reason that a privileged few reap vast amounts of money while others fall behind is due to the fact that government, contrary to what liberals would have us believe, has a vested interest in making sure that corporations are protected from competition and awarded monopolies in certain sectors of the American economy. The banking industry, petroleum, defense and pharmaceuticals just to name a few are a virtual protectorate of the government. With high government positions and advisory panels being stacked with industry insiders such as the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Henry Paulson being the Secretary of the Treasury.

The unholy alliance between government and certain big business in the United States creates the conditions that allow the gigantic disparities between the haves and have nots to become further exacerbated each year. The villain du jour this Christmas season was the executives working for the banking industry who received eight figure bonuses.

What does one expect when the fed has been creating liquidity in the market place ever since the tech bubble burst in 2000? The business of finance(ing), i.e. writing and selling mortgages has been in a bull market since interests rates were brought down by the Federal reserve beginning in 2000. The majority of mortgages get bundled up and sold to the J.P. Morgans and Goldman Sachs of the world who then sell them into the international market as mortgage backed securities, or derivatives. The windfalls earned by investment houses recently are directly attributable to the rise in speculation brought on by the federal reserves low interest rates.

Now that it seems the air has begun to leak out of the housing bubble leaving millions of Americans holding mortgages greater than the actual value of their home, or in car lingo, “upside down.” Wild speculation drove the housing market up past sustainable levels, leaving middle America holding the bag.

Even if the derivatives markets crash due to the underlying assets being over valued and many mortgage lenders and banks go under, which has begun to happen already, who gets hurt? Certainly not Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein who received a $53 million bonus this year.

No it’s the people on the bottom who will suffer, the roofer, the electrician, the carpenter, the bricklayer. And then, because of the public outcry, politicians will seize a greater portion of the economy, but this time it will be health care and insurance companies that will receive the spoils of government policies and their CEO’s will have windfall bonuses until they fall out of favor with the public and the cycle will start all over again. No matter who’s in charge, if you aren’t connected with the privileged class or a Washington insider, you will schlep harder and for less money. Because whether its democrats or republicans in charge the government must inflate the currency to pay its debts, and the subsequent inflation is like a thief picking your pocket. Convert your money to something else and move before it’s too late!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bush Claims Right to Open Mail

By Dan Froomkin

Special to
Thursday, January 4, 2007; 12:38 PM

The New York Daily News today reports on a signing statement President Bush quietly issued two weeks ago, in which he asserts his right to open mail without a warrant.

Signing statements have historically been used by presidents mostly to explain how they intend to enforce the laws passed by Congress; Bush has used them to quietly assert his right to ignore those laws.

James Gordon Meek writes about the latest: "President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the New York Daily News has learned.

"The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a 'signing statement' that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

"That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it. . . .

"Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval."

The signing statement said, in part:

"The executive branch shall construe subsection 404(c) of title 39, as enacted by subsection 1010(e) of the Act, which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."

Meek notes that White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any new authority.

Here is the signing statement in question. Here is information on the bill in question.

It shouldn't be a surprise that although Meek was almost two weeks late with this story -- which was a matter of public record -- he still got a scoop.

Bush's signing statements have been widely ignored by the traditional media, with the significant exception of Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage, who is on book leave right now.

And sadly, most of the questions about signing statements that I raised in a Nieman Watchdog essay last June still remain unaddressed. Foremost among them: Are these signing statements just a bunch of ideological bluster from overenthusiastic White House lawyers -- or are they actually emboldening administration officials to flout the laws passed by Congress? If the latter, Bush's unprecedented use of these statements constitutes a genuine Constitutional crisis.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

07 Predictions: James Kunstler

I will be so bold to say that I called the housing crash correctly last year, though the worst symptoms are slow to present for technical reasons. There's no question that the action on the real estate scene changed drastically in mid-year. The implosion of this mighty structure of fraud, folly, and misinvestment so far has taken place in such breathtaking slow-motion that its victims have not really felt the pain from the falling bricks yet. By late summer, buyers started evaporating. Real estate signs planted in lawns last June are still sitting there on New Years. Prices have come down a bit in many markets, including most of the hotties such as Florida, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Boston. But the buyers are still not bidding. Meanwhile, the sellers have dug in, determined to get something at least close to their wished-for inflated prices, egged on by their representatives, the realtors. This mutually reinforcing psychology cannot hold indefinitely. Many of these sellers don't have the luxury to wait around forever. Some have had to move to other houses in other places because of job changes, and are stuck paying two mortgages. Many are stuck with "creative" mortgages that all the evil ingenuity of the human mind conjured in recent years to enable the feckless to live above their means -- adjustable rate, payment optional, no money down contracts that suckered buyers into booby-trapped obligations whose initial low-interest terms lured them in and are now set to blow up in their faces as terms automatically re-set upwards to higher rates and "optional" deferred payments get backloaded onto the principal, putting the mortgage holders so far underwater on their contracts that a tour of the Titanic would feel like a day at the beach.
The trouble is, when both the sellers and their agents decide to get with the reality program and lower their prices, they will only stimulate a massive death spiral of house price deflation as buyers see the numbers go lower and hold out longer in the expectation that prices will go down even further. That would, of course, put more sellers into gross distress and lead them either to dump their properties or enter the cold waters of default and foreclosure. The whole process could run for a couple of decades, and as that occurs it will be made much much worse by oil depletion -- as so many suburban houses drastically lose locational value, combined with the consequences of poor construction carried out in cheap materials like vinyl and chipboard.
Add to this that the late stages of the hyper-boom caused so much "product" to be brought onto the market by the "production home builders" that there now exists an unprecedented oversupply of exactly the kind of crappy suburban houses (in all price ranges) that are bound to lose value going just a little bit forward. Foreclosures will only add more to the oversupply. In the subprime mortgage niche, defaults are officially reported to be running at 20 percent. Foreclosures are trailing because the process is so awkward, and many have not yet shown up in the housing markets. I predict that foreclosures on subprime mortgages will run above the 50 percent range when all is said and done.
As the music stops in the lending rackets, liquidity in the form of mortgage backed securities and other sources of hallucinated "money" will dry up, and will start to make itself felt in all the other arenas and regions that "money" has been migrating to. Jobs associated with house-building and all those ancillary enterprises -- big box shopping, chain restaurant revenues, car sales -- will disappear and incomes with them. Many home sales in past decade were made to people benefiting directly from the housing bubble. (The sheer number of real estate agents in America more than doubled since 2001.) This evaporation of both credit and incomes will impact the so-called "consumer economy", said to make up 70 percent of the total US economy. In other words, the term "depression" might be applicable as this economy lurches into actual contraction of more than a few percentage points.
This scenario suggests that earnings in corporations listed on the public stock exchanges -- the companies that elude acquisition by "private equity" -- would necessarily see severe drops in earnings, and therefore in stock value. While many commentators view the rise in the Dow as just another symptom of inflation -- asset inflation -- the activity in these assets -- companies making, doing, and selling things -- must be reported on a quarterly basis. And if that activity is trending strongly downward, then stock prices will trend down even if the value of the dollar is going down and it takes more dollars to buy an equivalent share of stock year-over-year. So I would conclude by again predicting a substantial drop in the Dow and other equity markets. To some extent, it seems to me that the 2006 blow off in stock prices was just another symptom of the finance sector being decoupled from economic reality since real GDP probably contracted one percent in the second half of the year while misreporting and delusional thinking drove stock prices up.
One would think that the US dollar is poised to take a beating, and indeed the signs have been abundant that this is underway -- especially when the value of the dollar started to implode against the Euro around Thanksgiving. It has leveled off since then. But since then there have been other moves around the world to de-link commodity prices from the US dollar and restate them in Euros, especially oil, and the dollar's plunge will probably continue. A lot of commentators around the web have pointed out the side benefit for the US government to promote dollar inflation: to inflate itself out of crushing debt. But the government can't accomplish this without destroying the purchasing power of ordinary Americans and whatever remains of their meager savings. I'd have to conclude that the Federal Reserve is out of tricks for goosing economic activity. Their last major trick was hitching a jive economy to a real estate bubble by making loan money available to any jabonie with a pulse and promoting the demise of lending standards. The gambit lasted five years and is now blowing up in America's face.

The Energy Predicament

Oil ended 2006 roughly where it began, at just over $60 a barrel. This reassured the public that all talk about Peak Oil was hysterical blather from a lunatic fringe. It was reinforced by publication of the mendacious Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) report issued this fall -- a tragic document put out by a giant public relations firm representing the oil industry -- with the mission of staving off windfall profits taxes and other regulatory moves that a true resource emergency might recommend.
But beyond this debate, in the background, another ominous trend can account for the stalling of oil prices in 2006 -- totally unrecognized by the public and ignored by the news media: prices on the oil futures market leveled off because the Third World has effectively dropped out of bidding for it -- and using it. They cannot afford it at $60-a-barrel. The Third World has entered an era of energy destitution and it is manifesting in symptoms such as local resource wars, genocides, falling life expectancies, and in many places a near-total unraveling of the sociopolitical order. American mall-walkers and theme park visitors are oblivious to this tragic process, but it is perhaps the major reason why we are not now suffering from $100-per-barrel (or greater) oil prices (with the consequent unraveling of our sociopolitical and economic order).
The major trend on the oil scene the past 12 months is the apparent inability of the world to lift total production above 85 million barrels a day -- with demand now rising above that line. It is unclear how much more demand destruction will come out of the Third World before bidding intensifies between the developed nations. One commentator in particular, Dallas geologist Jeffrey Brown --a frequent contributor on the web's best oil debate site, -- is advancing the idea that we are entering an oil export crisis that will presage a more general permanent world-wide oil emergency. Brown holds that the major oil exporting nations are using so much of their own product, because of rising populations, that their net exports are falling at an alarming rate, perhaps as much as 9 percent annually. This trend combines with general depletion rates now said to be around 3 percent a year.
The question of total oil reserves around the world remains somewhat murky, but Brown, Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton, and others using a straightforward mathematical model, have stated that the world is roughly at the same point in all-time production as the Lower-48 United States was at in 1970, when America passed its all-time production peak. We know for certain that three of the four super giant oil fields (Daqing in China; Cantarell in Mexico; Burgan in Kuwait) are past peak and there is plenty of evidence that the greatest of them all, 50-year-old Ghawar in Saudi Arabia is not only past peak but perhaps "crashing" into a super-steep decline.
Discovery of new oil to replace the production from declining fields remains paltry. Chevron announced it's "Jack" discovery in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico with great fanfare this year, but neither conclusively demonstrated that all the wished-for oil was down there (between 3 and 15 billion barrels, Chevron said) or that they could get it out of there in a way that made sense economically, since the oil was extraordinarily deep and difficult to lift up.
Meanwhile, companies developing tar sand production in Alberta announced that their costs of production were rising substantially, while a reckoning lay ahead as to how much of Canada's fast-disappearing natural gas reserves will be squandered in melting tar. The oil shale project is going nowhere. American corporate farmers have entered into a racket with congress to subsidize ethanol production from corn and biodiesel fuel from soybeans. The American public remains ignorant of the tragic futility of this project, which depends on oil-and-gas "inputs" to keep the crop yields up and ultimately is a net energy "loser." As the world crosses into the uncharted territory of "The Long Emergency," Americans will find themselves having to chose between eating food and making fuel to keep the car engines running.
The signal failure of public debate in this country is embodied in our obsession with this particular theme -- how to keep the cars running by other means at all costs. Everybody from the greenest enviros to the hoariest neoliberal free market pimps believe that this is the only thing we need to worry about or talk about. The truth, of course, is that we have to make other arrangements for virtually all the major activities of everyday life -- farming, commerce, transport, settlement patterns -- but we are so over-invested in our
suburban infrastructure that we cannot face this reality.
The bottom line for oil in 2007: expect the bidding on the futures markets to regain intensity between the US, China, Europe, and Japan. A contracting US economy could take some demand out of the picture, but the sad truth is that we burn up most of the oil we use in cars, and American life is now so hopelessly based on incessant motoring that citizens cannot even go down to the unemployment office without driving. Geopolitical events can only make the oil supply situation worse and probably will. (See ahead.)
We are probably also in the early stages of a natural gas crisis in the US. Over the next decade, the gap between US demand for natural gas and dwindling supply may amount to one-and-a-half times the current equivalent of our oil imports. This is a staggering deficit. Natural gas is used for heating in more than half the houses in the US and accounts for just under 20 percent of our total electricity production. Domestic supply is crashing. We are drilling as fast as we can, with more and more rigs each year, just to to keep up. To make matters worse, the means of gas delivery -- through a vast web of pipeline networks around the nation -- makes "just-in-time" delivery the norm and, tragically, also makes "just-in-time" pricing normal, too. Thus, gas prices are responding only to the shortest-term signals -- for instance, unusually mild winter weather -- rather than to the catastrophic long-term reserve picture. Finally, we are unlikely to solve our natural gas problems with imports for technical reasons having to do with the cost and difficulty of moving the stuff by means other than pipelines and for geopolitical reasons, namely that most of the remaining gas in the world is in Asia. Bottom line: we could enter a home heating and electricity production crisis anytime. Massive price increases are likely to be required in order to reduce demand to the level of available supplies. This will be one of the major factors in the disabling of suburbia -- which is to say, normal American life.