Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: Surprise Surprise! Another "Terrorist Attack" In Egypt
Signs of the Times
|An Egyptian woman victim of a triple bombing in Egypt's Sinai
resort of Dahab, 24/04/06. Thirty people were killed, twenty of them ordinary
Egyptian workers. Why is 'al-Qaeda', a Muslim terror organisation dedicated
to defending Middle Eastern Arabs from Western agression, attacking ordinary
Middle Eastern Arabs? Why is 'al-Qaeda' attacking and killing the traditional
enemies of the state of Israel?
One day after Osama reminded us all that he is still a threat to the entire world (and quite possibly the known universe), as if by magic, three bombs explode in Egypt's Sinai resort of Dahab, killing 30 people and wounding dozens more.
Only two of the dead were foreigners, the rest were ordinary Egyptians workers, which is simply more proof that Osama really is a nihilist and al-Qaeda have forsaken their Islamic ideology and just want to kill, anyone will do; Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Papua New Guineans, Americans, primates, all are fair game in al-Qaeda's struggle to destroy not just Western civilisation but ALL civilisation on the planet, it seems.
Initially, a Dubai based news agency quoting intelligence sources said that two suicide bombers were involved. How they came by this information is not known. Later however, Egyptian security sources said that it was unlikely that suicide bombers were involved. The simple fact is that, without a detailed forensic examination of the scene, there is no way to tell whether an explosion in a packed restaurant was the result of a bomb attached to a person or just to the table at which a person was sitting. In both cases the result is the same: body parts and fixtures strewn everywhere.
Last night's bombs were apparently packed with gunpowder and nails, exactly
the same configuration as the alleged "suicide bombing" 8 days ago in Tel Aviv. In a majority of the bombings that have occurred in Israel over the past 5 years, Israeli security forces have displayed an uncanny knack for immediate diagnosis of the attacks as a "Palestinian suicide bomb".
Yet many of these alleged suicide bombings could have involved unwitting and
Imagine a scenario where a Palestinian youth is arrested by the IDF, interrogated and released on condition that he carry out a job for Israeli intelligence. He is told to take a package in a backpack to a man at a certain falafel stand on a certain day. The youth dutifully does so and when the security guard asks him to open his bag the
Israeli intelligence agent that is watching from 50 yards across the road pushes
a button....boom! Instant Palestinian "suicide bombing" with eyewitnesses to
testify that the youth's bag exploded.
Other likely scenarios involve the pre-placing of bombs somewhere in a restaurant
or on a bus. The restaurant or bus is staked out until a likely suspect enters
and again a button is pushed. In several cases, Israeli authorities were forced
to officially announce that they were "exploring the possibility that the bombing was the work of Palestinian suicide bombers dressed as ultra-orthodox Jew." Why?
Because the details of the attack involved nothing but a bus full of ultra-orthodox
Jews and a bomb! But there just HAD to be Palestinian suicide bomber in there
somewhere so they dress on up as a Jew. Of course, the shadowy 'Islamic Jihad',
or some other mysterious 'Arab terror group' usually claims responsibility,
but even here we have no way of verifying the authenticity of such claims which
could easily come from some asset of the Israeli homeland intelligence agency
I am not, however, suggesting that every bombing that has occurred in Israel over the past 5 or 6 years was covertly carried out by Israeli intelligence. I am pretty sure that the frequent deliberate murder of Palestinian children by IDF troops has pushed a number of Palestinian men into the desperate act of sacrificing their own lives to seek revenge against Israeli citizens in the only way open to them. But such acts should be seen as a result of the brutal genocidal war that the Israeli government and military has been waging against Palestinian civilians and NOT as evidence that Palestinians are inhuman terrorists, despite the obvious desire of the Israeli government to portray them as such.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: Hostile Takeover - The Corporate Control Of Society And Human Life
by Stephen Lendman
25 April 2006
Large transnational corporations are clearly the dominant institution of our time. They're preeminent throughout the world but especially in the Global North and its epicenter in the US. They control or greatly influence what we eat and drink, where we live, what we wear, how we get most of our essential services like health care and even what we're taught in schools up to the highest levels. They create and control our sources of information and greatly influence how we think and our view of the world and them. They even now own patents on our genetic code, the most basic elements of human life, and are likely planning to manipulate and control them as just another commodity to exploit for profit in their brave new world that should concern everyone. They also carefully craft their image and use catchy slogans to convince us of their benefit to society and the world, like: "better things for better living through chemistry" (if you don't mind toxic air, water and soil), "we bring good things to life" (for them, not us), and "all the news that's fit to print" (only if you love state and corporate friendly disinformation and propaganda). The slogans are clever, but the truth is ugly.
Corporations also decide who will govern and how. We may think we do, but it's not so and never was. Those national elections, especially the last two, only looked legitimate to most people, but not to those who know and understand how the system works. Here's how it really works. The "power elite" or privileged class C. Wright Mills wrote about 50 years ago in his classic book by that title are the real king and decision makers. He wrote how corporate, government and military elites formed a trinity of power after WW II and that the "power elite" were those "who decide whatever is decided" of importance. The holy trinity Mills wrote about still exists but today in the shape of a triangle with the transnational giants clearly on top and government, the military and all other institutions of importance there to serve their interests. These corporations have become so large and dominant they run our lives and the world, and in a zero sum world and the chips that count most in their stack, they do it for their continuing gain and at our increasing expense. Something is way out of whack, and in this essay I'll try to explain what it is and why we better understand it.
The Power of Transnational Corporations and the Harm They Cause
As corporations have grown in size they've gained in power and influence. And so has the harm they cause - to communities, nations, the great majority of the public and the planet. Today corporate giants decide who governs and how, who serves on our courts, what laws are enacted and even whether and when wars are fought, against whom and for what purpose or gain. It's for their gain, who else's, certainly not ours. Once we start one, they can even make profit projections from it like on any other business venture. For them, that's all it is - another way to make a buck, lots of them.
The central thesis of this essay is that giant transnational corporations today have become so dominant they now control our lives and the world, and they exploit both fully and ruthlessly. While they claim to be serving us and bringing us the fruits of the so-called "free market," in fact, they just use us for their gain. They've deceived us and highjacked the government to serve them as subservient proxies in their unending pursuit to dominate the world's markets, resources, cheap labor abroad and our own right here. And they've done it much like what happens in the marketplace when a predator company attempts to take control of another one that prefers to remain independent. They launch a hostile takeover, going around or over the heads of the target's management, their employees and the communities they operate in. They go right to the target's shareholders and promise them a better deal, meaning a premium price on the stock they hold.
They do this, as in a friendly merger, for a variety of financial and strategic reasons, but essentially it's to achieve any possible immediate gain as well as over the longer term greater market dominance that will build future profits. But what happens in the wake of a takeover. Assets get stripped, spun-off and/or sold-off. Plants are closed. Jobs are lost. And all this is done for the primary bottom line goal - "the bottom line," higher profits, whatever the cost to people, communities or society.
Think of it this way. Large corporations today everywhere, but especially the largest ones in the Global North, are a destructive force, hostile to people, societies and the environment. They're nothing less than legal private tyrannies operating freely with virtually no restraint. Everything for them, animal, vegetable or mineral, is viewed as a production input to be commodified and consumed for profit and then discarded when no longer of use. And to achieve maximum profits, costs must be rigidly controlled. That means the lowest prices paid for goods and services, the lowest wages paid to workers (below privileged higher management who reward themselves richly), as little as possible spent on essential benefits like health care and pensions, and increasingly little or no concern about the long-term cost of exploiting, plundering or even destroying the natural environment and the future ability of the planet to sustain life. These issues, however recognized and grave, are for someone else to deal with later.
For now all that matters is today, the next quarter's earnings and keeping the stockholders and Wall Street happy. They only understand numbers on financial statements and are blind, unconcerned and even hostile to human and societal welfare or a safe environment that will protect and sustain all life forms. They call it "free market capitalism." It's really the law of the jungle. They're the predators, we're the prey, and every day they eat us alive.
Does all this make sense? And do corporate chieftains who live in a community, love their wives and children, contribute to charities, attend church and believe in its teachings really go to work every day and think - "who and what can I exploit today?" They sure do because they have no other choice. No more so than breathing in and breathing out.
How the Law Affects Corporate Behavior
Publicly owned corporations are mandated by law to serve only the interests of their shareholders and do it by working to maximize the value of their equity holdings by increasing profits. That's it. Case closed. Think of these businesses as gated communities of owners (large and small), the welfare of whom is all that matters and the world outside the gates is to be used and exploited for that one purpose only. Forget about any social responsibility or safeguarding the environment. The idea is to grow sales, keep costs low, increase profits, and if you do it well, shareholder value will rise, the owners and Wall Street will be happy, and you as a CEO or senior executive will probably get a raise, good bonus and keep your job. Try being worker-friendly, a nice guy, a good citizen or a friend of the earth and fail to achieve the above objectives and you'll likely face dismissal and even possible shareholder lawsuit for not pursuing your fiduciary responsibility. Anyone choosing this line of work has no other choice. To do the job well, you have to think only of the care and feeding of your shareholders and the investment community, ignore the law if that's what it takes to do it, and obey the only law that counts - the one that helps you grow the "bottom line."
There's nothing in the Constitution, which is public law, that gives corporations the rights they've gotten. It never mattered to them. They just crafted their own private law, piece by piece, over many years with the help of corporate-friendly lawyers, legislators and the courts. And today it's easier than ever with both major parties strongly pro-business and the courts stacked with business-friendly judges ready to do their bidding. The result is big business is now the paymaster, or puppetmaster, with government and the halls of justice their faithful servants. There's no government of, for and by the people, no public sovereignty, no democratic rights or any choices but to accept their authority and bow to their will. It's a democracy for the few alone - the privileged elite. Our only choice is to go along to get along or get out of their way.
A Profile of the World's Largest 200 Transnational Corporations
In December, 2000 The Institute for Policy Studies released a report called "The Rise of Corporate Global Power." It was a profile of the 200 largest transnationals that showed just how dominant they are. A summary of their findings is listed below.
1. Of the world's 100 largest economies, 51 are corporations.
2. The combined sales of these 200 corporations (called "The Group" below) in 1999 equalled 27.5% of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and are growing faster than overall global economic activity.
3. The Group's combined sales exceed the total combined economies of all nations in the world except the largest 10.
4. The Group's combined sales are 18 times the income of the bottom one fourth of the world's population (1.2 billion people) living in "severe" poverty.
5. Despite their combined size and percentage of world economic activity, The Group employs only 0.78% of the world's workforce.
6. From 1983 to 1999 The Group's workforce grew only 14.4% while their profits increased by 362.4% or about 25 times as much.
7. The largest employer in the world, Walmart, employed 1,140,000 in 1999 (1.6 million in 2005) or 5% of The Group's total employment. It's also a model (and increasingly a target) for corporate union-busting, widespread use of part-time workers and a practice of avoiding giving its workers needed benefits like health insurance.
8. 82 US corporations are in The Group, twice as many as Japan with 41, the next highest contributing country.
9. 44 of the US corporations in The Group didn't pay the full 35% federal tax rate from 1996 - 1998. 7 of them paid no tax in 1998 and also got tax rebates, including Enron and Worldcom now exposed as corporate criminals.
10. The percent of The Group's sales from the service sector (not manufacturing) grew from 33.8% in 1983 to 46.7% in 1999. In the US, the service sector comprised 79% of the total economy in 2004.
How Corporate Behavior Affects the Public Interest
Big corporations have almost always thrived in the US. But a crucial, defining moment happened in 1886 when the Supreme Court granted corporations the legal status of personhood in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railway - a simple tax dispute case unrelated to the issue of corporate personhood. Incredibly it wasn't the Justices who decided corporations are persons, but the Court's reporter (J.C. Bancroft Davis) who after the decision was rendered wrote it in his "headnotes." The Court did nothing to refute them, likely by intent, and the result was corporations got what they had long coveted.
That decision granted corporations the same constitutional rights as people, but because of their limited liability status, protected shareholders from the obligations of their debts, other obligations, and many of the responsibilities individuals legally have. Armed with this new legal status corporations were able to win many additional favorable court decisions up to the present. They also gained much regulatory relief and favorable legislation while, at the same time, being protected by their limited liability status. As a result, corporations have been able to increase their power and grow to their present size and dominance.
Although corporations aren't human, they can live forever, change their identity, reside in many places simultaneously in many countries, can't be imprisoned for wrongdoing and can change themselves into new persons at will for any reason. They have the same rights and protections as people under the Bill of Rights but not the responsibilities. From that right, corporations became unbound, free to grow and gain immense power and be able to become the dominant institution that now runs the country, the world and all our lives. Most important, they got an unwritten license from all three branches of the government to operate freely for their own benefit and others of their privileged class and do it at the public expense everywhere. They've exploited it fully as they're grown in size and dominance, and the result has been lives destroyed, the environment harmed and needless wars fought on their behalf because they open markets and grow profits. It's no exaggeration to say these institutions today are real "weapons of mass destruction."
In the early days of the republic it all might have been different had Thomas Jefferson and James Madison prevailed over Federalists John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson and Madison believed the Bill of Rights should include "freedom from monopolies in commerce" (what are now giant corporations) and "freedom from a permanent military" or standing armies. Adams and Hamilton felt otherwise, and the final compromise was the first 10 Bill of Rights amendments that are now the law but not the other two Jefferson and Madison wanted included. Try to imagine what this country might be like today had we gotten them all.
We didn't, of course, so the result, as they say, is history. It allowed small corporations to grow into giants and so-called "free market capitalism" to become the dominant state religion of this country and the West. We may say it's free, but it only is for those own and control it, and notice we never hear the system called "fair." That's because in most key industries a handful of corporate giants dominate and now work in cartel-like alliance with their "friendly" competitors here and abroad to control (read: exploit) the markets they serve. They're also able to co-opt the leaders and business elites of countries in the developing world, or work in partnership with them in the larger ones like China, India and Brazil, to allow them market entry. As an inducement, they offer to invest their capital and offer their technology in return for a business-friendly climate and access to the host country's cheap labor. It's an alliance based on pure exploitation for profit at the expense of people who are used, abused and discarded when they have no further value.
This essay is mainly about how these same corporate giants dominate and exploit here in the US. They can't get away with the flagrant abuses commonplace in sweatshop labor countries, but they're moving in that direction. It's no longer like the past in this country when I was young and beginning my working life (a distant memory of better times) when manufacturing was strong, jobs paid well and had good benefits, and workers were protected by strong unions that served their interests even while partnering with management and willing to do the bidding of government.
I still remember well an incident early in my working life when as a newly minted MBA I worked as a marketing research analyst for several large corporations prior to joining a small family business. At one of those companies in the early 60s, my boss called me into his office on my first day on the job. He jokingly told me he was so happy with my work he was giving me a raise. We both chuckled, and he then explained on that day everyone in the company got an inflation-based increase. It was automatic from the lowliest worker to top management because the unions (then strong) got it written into their labor contract. In that company, everyone got the same benefits as union members. Try finding anything like that today even for union members alone. It's almost unheard of.
Today, the country is primarily dominated by service industries many of which require little formal education, only pay low wages and few if any benefits, and offer few chances for advancement. The US Department of Labor projects that job categories with the greatest expected future growth are cashiers, waiters and waitresses, janitors and retail clerks. These and other low wage, low benefit jobs are what many young people entering the workforce can look forward to today. You don't need a Harvard degree for them or even one from a junior college - and for the ones listed above, no degree is needed, not even a high school one.
The continuing decline of good job opportunities is a key reason why the quality of education in urban schools has deteriorated so much in recent years and school dropout rates are so high. In my city of Chicago, half of all students entering high school never graduate and of those who do 74% of them must take remedial English and 94% remedial math at the Chicago City Colleges according to a report published in the Chicago Sun Times. The situation isn't much better in inner cities throughout the country, nor is the level of racial segregation that's grown to levels last seen in the 1960s according to Jonathan Kozol in his new book The Shame of the Nation. Again in Chicago, a shocking 87% of public school enrollment was black or Hispanic, and the situation is about as bad or even worse in most other big cities.
The lack of good job opportunities for a growing population of ill-prepared young people is also a major reason for the growth of our prison population that now exceeds 2.1 million, is the largest in the world even ahead of China with over four times our population, and is incarcerating about 900 new prisoners every week. I wrote a recent heavily documented article about this called The US Gulag Prison System.
The US Has Always Been the Unthinkable and Unmentionable - A Rigid Class Society
The US has always been what the "power elite" never admit or discuss - a rigid class society. But once there was a thriving middle class along with a small minority of rich and well-off and a large segment of low paid workers and the poor. That majority in the middle could afford their own homes, send their kids to college and afford many amenities like new cars, some travel, convenience appliances and decent health care. I can still remember buying a health insurance plan while finishing my graduate work in 1959 that cost about $100 and change total for respectable coverage for a full year. Honest, I'm not kidding.
Fewer people each year can afford these "luxuries" now, including decent health care coverage, because of the hollowing out of the economy, stagnant wage growth (to be discussed below) and skyrocketing costs of essentials like health insurance, prescription drugs and college tuition for those wanting a higher education. Services now account for nearly 80% of all business while manufacturing has declined to about 14%, and total manufacturing employment is half the percentage of total employment it was 40 years ago and falling. Also, financial services of all types now comprise the largest single sector of the economy at 21% of it. But most of it involves investment and speculation running into the hundreds of trillions of dollars annually worldwide (and the US is the epicenter of it all) just for transactions involving currencies and so-called over-the-counter and exchange-traded financial derivatives. It's not the purpose of this essay to explain the nuts and bolts of this kind of trading except to say they produce nothing anyone can go in a store and buy or that enhance the well-being of the majority public that doesn't even know, let alone understand, that this kind of activity goes on or what the inherent dangers from it may be.
The dismantling of our manufacturing base, however, is a subject that should make daily headlines but is seldom discussed in the mainstream. It's crucially important because one has to wonder how any nation can avoid eventual decline when it allows its manufacturing to be done abroad, reduces its need for a highly trained work force and ends up destroying its middle class that made it prosper in the first place. There are distinguished thinkers who believe as I do that the US has seen its better days and is now in a downward trajectory economically. Unless a way is found to reverse this destructive trend, the US will be Number One only in military spending and waging wars. And no nation in history based on militarism and conquest has ever not failed ultimately to destroy itself.
I'd like to quote two distinguished thinkers who've addressed the issue of growing inequality in the US. On most social matters they'd likely disagree, but not on this one. One was former liberal Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis who explained: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can't have both." The other was distinguished "free market" economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman. In his view: "The greatest problem facing our country is the breaking down into two classes, those who have and those who have not. The growing differences between the incomes of the skilled and the less skilled, the educated and the uneducated, pose a very real danger. If that widening rift continues, we're going to be in terrible trouble.....We cannot remain a democratic, open society that is divided into two classes."
The Downward Trajectory of American Workers
Over the past generation working people have seen an unprecedented fall in their standard of living. In the past (except for periods of economic downturn), workers saw their wages and benefits grow each year and their living standards improve. Today it's just the opposite. Adjusted for inflation, the average working person in the US earns less than 30 years ago, and even with modest annual increases is not keeping up with inflation. In addition, the federal minimum wage is a paltry $5.15 an hour and was last increased in 1997. That rate is now at the lowest point it's been relative to average wages since 1949. It's incentivized individual states to raise their own which they have the right to do, and, as of mid-year 2005, 17 of them and the District of Columbia have done it covering nearly half the US population. That helps, but not enough.
Some of the world data is especially shocking, appalling and indicative of the economic trend in the US. According to the UN 2002 Human Development Report, the richest 1% in 1999-2000 received as much income as the bottom 57% combined, over 45% of the world's population lived then on less than $2 a day, about 40% had no sanitation services and about 840 million people were malnourished. In addition, 1 in 6 grade school children were not in school, and half the global nonagricultural labor force was either unemployed or underemployed. Most shocking and disturbing of all is that many millions (likely tens of millions) of people in the less developed world die each year from starvation and treatable diseases because of abuse and/or neglect by rich nations that could prevent it. And these numbers reflect the state of things at the end of a decade of overall impressive economic growth. But it shows how those gains went mainly to a privileged upper class who got them at the expense of the majority below them, especially the most desperate and needy.
The same trend is evident in the US although not as stark as in the less developed world. Except for the mild recession in 2001-2002, overall US economic growth for the past 15 years has been strong and worker productivity high. But the gains from it went to the privileged at the top and were gotten at the expense of working people who saw their wages fail to keep up with inflation and their essential benefits decline. In 2004 the average CEO earned 431 times the income of the average working person. That was up from 85 times in 1990 and 42 times in 1980. It's hard to believe and even harder with the real life example below.
I'd like to nominate a "poster executive" who for me symbolizes classic gross corporate excess and greed. He's the chairman and CEO of Capital One Financial, the giant credit card company that's awaiting the finalizing of its acquisition of North Fork Bancorp. At completion of this deal, the Wall Street Journal reported on March 24 this lucky fellow will realize a gain of $249.3 million from stock options he exercised last year. That's in addition to the $56 million he earned in 2004. What on earth will he spend it on, and how many less fortunate ones will have to ante up to pay for this in the de rigueur job cuts that always follow big acquisitions.
And what will all those other lucky CEOs and top executives spend theirs on as well. If you're not already gagging, let me make you choke. According to a study just released by two Ivy League academics based on interviews with CEOs and top managers of the largest 1,500 public US companies, the top five executives collectively at those companies pocketed $122 billion in compensation from 1999-2003 plus at least $60 billion more in supplemental benefits from SERPs (Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans). Also, other data show average annual CEO pay rose from about $1 million a year in 1980 to an estimated $14.4 million in 2001 and rising - plus all those juicy benefits. I repeat - what on earth can they spend it on. They could never even count it.
Reasons for This Unabated Downward Trajectory
The reasons for this decline were as follows:
The shift away from manufacturing to services.
The growth of so-called "globalization" sending many jobs abroad including high-paying ones.
The decline of unions to levels last seen before the mass unionization struggles of the 1930s because of government and corporate antipathy toward them and corporations using the threat to close plants and move jobs offshore to force workers to take pay cuts and accept lower benefits. And then they still move jobs abroad.
Deregulation of key industries including transportation, communications and finance, which opened these industries to low cost competition that put pressure on unions and forced workers to accept lower pay and benefits to keep their jobs.
The growth of high technology allowing machines (mainly computers) to do the work of people, thus reducing the need for them.
The effects of racism and sexism (in a society with deep-rooted racism, sexism and classism) as seen in the data showing 30% of black workers and 40% of Latino workers earning poverty wages with women in both categories most affected. And the average black family owns only 14% as much as the average white family.
The unabated downward trajectory of workers' real income already discussed. The only family income gains have come from two income households, in many cases because wives were forced to enter the workforce out of necessity.
Statistics Documenting the Decline
Hot off the press from the latest US Federal Reserve triennial survey (and most comprehensive one of all) of household wealth published in late February, 2006:
--Median American family income grew a paltry 1.5% after inflation between 2001 and 2004, but there was a widening gap between upper and lower income households.
--While the richest 10% rose an inflation adjusted 6.5%, the bottom 25% fell 1.5%.
--Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America, explained - "While the typical American household basically ran in place, less affluent households actually lost ground."
Even hotter off the press, the US Department of Labor and Congressional Budget Office reported in late March that in the last 5 years ending year-end 2005, inflation adjusted GDP per person rose 8.4% but the average weekly wage fell 0.3%. Following a long-term trend since the 1970s, those in the upper income percentiles gained the most while those in the lower half of them lost the most. And the income gap between rich and poor continued to widen.
--The racial disparity was especially dramatic. The median white family's net worth in 2004 was $140,700 compared with $24,800 for the typical nonwhite family.
According to the 2005 Federal Poverty Guidelines, 12.7%, or 37 million people, lived in poverty in 2004. However, because of an acknowledged flawed model to measure poverty, the true number is far higher - at least many millions more and increasing even in times of prosperity.
In December, 2004 the New York Times reported the US ranked 49th in world literacy, and the US Department of Labor estimates over 20% of the population is functionally illiterate (compared to about 1% in Venezuela and Cuba, two of the countries we demonize the most). It's also true, as discussed above briefly, that the quality of public education has been in decline in urban schools for many years. In addition (also mentioned), the extent of racial segregation is now as great as in the 1960s, despite supposed but unrealized gains from the civil rights legislation of that time. Further, state and local education budgets aren't keeping up with a growing need or are being cut. It's also no better for those needing college aid as federal Pell grants have been frozen or cut for three straight years, and it was just reported in late March by public college finance officials that state higher education funding has fallen sharply from $7,121 per student in 2001 to $5,833 in 2005. It means a growing number of lower income students are now deprived of a chance for higher education - and it's getting steadily worse.
The World Health Organization ranked the US 37th in the world in "overall health performance" and 54th in the fairness of health care. And in 2004 about 46 million people had no health insurance and millions more were underinsured. These appalling numbers are in spite of the fact that the US spends far more on health care per capita than any other country. And all developed countries in the world, except the US and South Africa, provide free health care for all its citizens paid for through taxes.
The European Dream reported US childhood poverty ranked 22nd or second to last among developed nations.
The US ranked last among the world's 20 most developed nations in its worker compensation growth rate in the 1980s with conditions only slightly better in the 1990s.
The New York Times reported 12 million American families, over 10% of all households, struggle to feed themselves.
The NYT also reported the US ranks 41st in world infant mortality.
All this and many more depressing statistics are happening in the richest country in the world with a 2005 Gross Domestic Product of $12.5 trillion.
The dramatic effects of social inequality in the US are seen in the Economic Policy Institute's 2004 report on the "State of Working America." It shows the top 1% controls more than one-third of the nation's wealth while the bottom 80% have 16%. Even worse, the top 20% holds 84% of all wealth while the poorest 20% are in debt and owe more than they own.
Corporate Gain Has Come at the Cost of Worker Loss
Not coincidentally, as workers have seen their living standards decline, transnational corporations have experienced unprecedented growth and dominance. And that trend continues unabated. How and why is this happening? Begin with the most business-friendly governments the country has had over the last 25 years since the "roaring" 1920s when President Calvin Coolidge explained that "the business of America is business." He, and two other Republican presidents then did everything they could to help their business friends. But they were small-timers compared to today, and the size, dominance and global reach of big business then was a small fraction of what it is now. And back then, job "outsourcing", GATT and WTO type trade agreements, and the concept of globalization weren't in the vocabulary. Now they're central to the problem as they've put working people in corporate straightjackets and created a severe class divide in the country (not to mention the developing world where it's far worse) that keeps widening.
How World Trade Agreements Destroy Good Jobs and the American Dream
World trade between nations is nothing new, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) has been around since it was formed in Havana, Cuba in 1948. But with the signing of NAFTA that went into effect on January 1, 1994, the notion of so-called globalization emerged big time. NAFTA brought Mexico into the 1989 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement as part of a radical experiment to merge three disparate economies into a binding one-size-fits-all set of rules all three had to abide by regardless of the effect on their people. To sell it to each country's legislators and people, NAFTA's backers made lofty pie-in-the-sky predictions of new jobs that "free trade" would create. They never were nor was this a plan to do it. It was a scam to outsource jobs and thus eliminate many others, enrich the transnationals and make working people pick up the tab and take the pain.
NAFTA was just the beginning. It was planned as a stalking horse and template for the World Trade Organization (WTO), that replaced the GATT one year after NAFTA went into effect. The WTO along with an alphabet soup of trade agreements (passed and wished for) like GATS (covering all kinds of services), TRIPS (for intellectual property), MAI (on investments and most all-encompassisng and dangerous one of all if it ever passes even in separate pieces) and all the regional agreements like CAFTA and FTAA are intended to establish a supranational economic "constitution." It's to be based on the rules of trade the Global North nations want to craft that would override the sovereignty of all WTO member nations. In other words, the plan was and still is for the US primarily, along with the EU, Japan and other dominant Global North countries to establish a binding set of trade rules (a global constitution) they would write for their benefit for an integrated world economy and then force all other nations to abide by them. NAFTA, and what was to follow, were and are not intended to create jobs and raise living standards in the participating countries, despite all the hype saying they would and will. These agreements are solely plans to benefit big corporations, legally allowing them the right to dominate world markets, override national sovereignty to do it, and exploit people everywhere for their gain. Bottom line - these "agreements" mean big corporations win and people everywhere lose.
So far the jury is very much out on whether the grand plan will succeed as key countries in the Global South have caught on to the scam and aren't buying it - Brazil, India, Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia and others. And China is big enough to be a club member, agree to the rules, and then bend them at times to protect its own interests.
But if NAFTA was a template to disguise a WTO attempted world "hostile takeover," look at all the carnage it's created so far. Instead of creating jobs in all three countries, it destroyed hundreds of thousands of them. In the US alone it's responsible for the loss each year of many thousands of high paying, good benefit manufacturing jobs now exported to low wage countries like Mexico, China, India and many others. And most of the workers losing them only are able to find lower paying ones with fewer or no benefits if they can find any job at all. This is an ongoing problem in good as well as poor economic times and gets worse every year. It's also led many older workers, who wish to work but can't find jobs, to drop out of the work force or take lower paying part-time ones when they can find full-time ones.
The result has been a huge shift upward in income, wealth and power in the US (and in Canada, Mexico and all other WTO member countries) benefitting the business elites and corrupted politicians. And it's cost working people billions of dollars, many thousands of good jobs and a permanent drop in the average American worker's standard of living. It's also created an enormous migration problem all over the world comprised of desperate people looking for work because there's none at home. I wrote at length about this in the US in my recent article called The War on Immigrants. The problem gets worse every year including in the US. And here a low unemployment rate hides the fact that many workers have dropped out of the work force or must take whatever part-time jobs they can find because they can't get full-time ones as mentioned above.
I'm now working on a new article in which I discuss the view of some US economists who explain that if the unemployment rate today was calculated the same way it was during The Great Depression when it rose to a peak of 25% of the working population, the true current figure would be about 12% instead of the reported 4.7%. The current calculation method includes part-time workers who work as little as one hour during the reporting period. It also excludes discouraged workers who wish to work but who've stopped looking because they can't find jobs.
One might logically wonder why big US corporations run by smart people wouldn't be trying to ameliorate this problem to build rather than weaken the purchasing power of people in their home country - the ones they need to buy their products and services. It's not just for their obvious need to control or reduce costs to enhance profits. It's because these companies are only nominally US ones. They may be headquartered here, but they could as easily be home based anywhere. The US may be their biggest market and most important source of revenue and profit, but their operations and markets span the globe. If they desired, they could pick up and leave and set up shop in Timbuktu or Kathmandu. That's why they're called "transnationals."
Once Our Government Protected Working People
At one time US governments had a social contract with its citizens, imperfect as it was. Most governments in Western Europe still do, although they're being weakened. But since the 1980s and especially after the election of George W. Bush, that contract here is being dissmantled, program by program, year after year with the ultimate goal of making every one self-sufficient with little or no safety net for protection. The most vulnerable poor are hurt most and their numbers grow each year, but the middle class is suffering too as those in it are declining as a percent of the total population. And the very definition of a middle class is changing as the wealth gap keeps widening between top and bottom along with the hollowing out of the middle.
Bush and his cabal of acolytes are so intent on destroying the US social contract with its citizens that their motto might as well be: "you can have anything you want - as long as you can afford to pay for it. If not, you're on your own."
The Balance Sheet Documenting Corporate Gains
Worker loss has been corporations' gain - big time. In 2004 the world's largest 500 corporations posted their highest ever revenues and profits - an astonishing $14.9 trillion in revenue and $731.2 billion in profits. And top corporate officials, mainly in the US, are raking it in, rewarding themselves with obscene amounts of salaries, bonuses in the multi-millions and lucrative stock options worth even more for many of them. That level of largesse is only possible at the expense of working people here and everywhere. Oliver Stone may have been thinking of them when he made his 1980s film, Wall Street. In it was the memorable line spoken by the character portraying the manipulative investor/deal-maker when he explained that "greed is good."
Except for two brief and mild recessions, corporations in the US have prospered since the 1980s in a very business-friendly environment under both Democrats and Republicans. The result has been rising profits to record levels, enhanced even more by generous corporate tax cuts (and personal ones as well mostly for the rich), especially after the election of George Bush. Under this president, one of their own in the White House, US corporations have never had it better. It's been so good that 82 of the largest 275 companies paid no federal income tax in at least one year from 2001-2003 or got a refund; 28 of them got tax rebates in all 3 of those years even though their combined profits totaled $44.9 billion; 46 of them, earning $42.6 billion in profits, paid no tax in 2003 and got $4.9 billion back in tax rebates. And the average CEO pay for these 46 companies in 2004 was $12.6 million.
Along with big tax cuts and generous rebates, big corporations are on the government dole big time in the form of subsidies, otherwise known as "corporate welfare." It's also known as socialism for the rich (and capitalism for the rest of us). In 1997 the Fortune 500 companies got $75 billion in "public aid" even though they earned record profits of $325 billion. They got it in many forms - grants, contracts, loans and loan guarantees and lots more. Today there are about 125 business subsidy programs in the federal budget benefitting all major areas of business.
Some examples of this government largesse include:
Selling the rights to billions of dollars of oil, gas, coal and other mineral reserves at a small fraction of their market value.
The giveaway of the entire broadcast spectrum to the corporate media, valued at $37 billion in 1989 dollars.
Charging mostly corporate ranchers (including big oil and insurance companies) dirt cheap grazing rates on over 20 million acres of public land.
Spending many billions of dollars on R & D and handing over the results to corporations free of charge. "Big Pharma" is notorious for letting government do their expensive research and then cashing in on the results by soaking us with sky-high prices and rigging the game with through WTO rules that get them exclusive patent rights for 20 years or longer when they're able to extend them through the courts.
Giving the nuclear industry over $100 billion in handouts since its inception and guaranteeing government protection to pick up the cost in case of any serious accidents that otherwise might cost the company affected billions and possibly bankrupt it.
Giving corporate agribusiness producers many billions in annual subsidies.
You and I, the individual taxpayers, pay the bill for this generosity. But we actually pay these corporations twice - first through our taxes and then for the cost of their products and services. And they don't even thank us.
The Biggest Recipient of Government Handouts
In the old game of "guns vs. butter", guess who wins? Clue - they have shareholders, and their chiefs are called CEOs. Guess who loses? You know that answer chapter and verse by now.
The Wall Street film character who explained that greed is good might have added war is even better. Call it greed made easy or without even trying. Since WW II the Pentagon and military-industrial complex have always been at the head of the handout queue to get their king-sized pound of flesh in appropriations. The amounts gotten varied in times of war and peace or with the whims or chutzpah of a sitting president, but they're always big. The Pentagon, defense contractors and all the other many and varied thousands of parasitical corporations servicing the defense industry are umbilically linked. All these corporations profit handsomely in our military-industrialized society that takes our tax dollars and hands them over to them by the hundreds of billions annually. Their gain is the public's loss. If the process were audible we'd be able to hear a "giant sucking sound" of public resources wooshing from our pockets to theirs. It's also the sound of our lifeblood being sucked away as we have to pick up the tab and give up our social benefits as well.
Once the cold war ended after the Berlin wall came down and the Soviet Union became 15 independent republics, there was some hope for a peace dividend - meaning less for the military and more social spending. That wasn't what the first Bush administration and Pentagon had in mind as they frantically searched for and easily found new potential enemies as a way to make the case for continued militarized state capitalism. Our language manipulation experts came up with and sold to the Congress and public the threat of "growing technological sophistication of Third World conflicts" which "will place serious demands on our forces" and "continue to threaten US interests," even without "the backdrop of superpower competition." Our defense strategy would thus be based on maintaining global "stability" (more code language meaning assuring obedience to US dominance).
In the 1990 National Security Strategy, the Pentagon presented its defense budget to the Congress using the above stated pretext to justify what they wanted. It called for strengthening "the defense industrial base" (code language for the high-tech industry in all its forms) through generous subsidies as incentives "to invest in new facilities and equipment as well as in research and development." They got what they wanted, and it set off the high tech stock market boom that lasted until the speculative bubble burst in March, 2000 when the economy slowed and slipped into recession. Three years later in a post 9/11 environment, the economy was again growing as was annual defense spending, and the stock market began another ascent that's so far continuing.
The many corporations now benefitting from Pentagon largesse are so addicted to it that they become the main promoters of and cheerleaders for conflicts or preparations for them because they guarantee bigger handouts that are so good for business. It's a dirty business, but isn't that the fundamental predatory nature of large-scale capitalism that relies on a state policy of imperialism to thrive and prosper. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge explained it in 1895, in an unguarded moment, when he said "commerce follows the flag." He might have added that the flag also follows commerce. The great political economist Harry Magdoff, who died this year on New Year's day, also explained it well in his 1969 book The Age of Imperialism when he wrote: "Imperialism is not a matter of choice for a capitalist society; it is the way of life of such a society." And historian Henry Steele Commager wrote about how a national security police state and its bureaucracy lends its great talents and resources "not to devising ways of reducing tensions and avoiding war, but to ways of exacerbating tensions and preparing for war." I guess the conclusion is that in a capitalist society dominated by big business this "bad seed" must be in our DNA and we can't help ourselves as a result. In another article I'm working on I refer to our addiction to war. So far we haven't found an effective antidote.
The reason, of course, is because war is so good for business. In the last 6 years alone, and especially since 9/11, along with all their other largesse and waste, the Pentagon outsourced on average $150 billion a year in work to corporations. Almost half of it was in no-bid contracts and three fourths of that was to the five largest defense contractors headed by Lockheed Martin and Boing. L-M is the undisputed king of contractors. They literally run the enterprise of empire from the inside and out. They're not only its biggest beneficiary, they also help shape the policy guaranteeing it - to the tune of $65 million every day (from our pockets into theirs). And they collect their loot even when their killing machines don't work right.
Then, of course, there's Halliburton and Bechtel. They're always big time winners in the handout sweepstakes. These two well-connected companies have been at the head of the queue in the looting of Iraq and the US Treasury. They've gotten huge no-bid contracts worth many billions which they then freely supplemented with gross (read: criminal) overcharges and gotten away with most of it. And we can't ignore the notorious Carlyle Group, the nation's largest privately held defense contractor with the tightest of ties right to the Oval Office. They practically sit in the traditional Kittinger chair there, or whatever other brand George Bush may prefer. His father, and former president, of course, is on their team (and payroll), and they use him as needed as their main "door-opener" and "wheel-greaser" (especially in the lucrative Middle East). And the old man reportedly earns a hefty half million dollars for every speech he makes on behalf of his generous employer. At that pay scale he must be hard-pressed to keep his mouth shut.
Guess How Big Funding National Defense Really Is
The Center for Defense Information reported that since 1945 over $21 trillion in constant dollars has been spent on the military. And it's been done largely to benefit US corporations even though the country had no real enemies all through those years - except for the ones we attacked with no provocation or invented to scare the public so they'd buy into the scam that we needed industrial strength military spending for national security. Ronald Reagan was very adept at scare tactics and duping the public. He fathered the Contra wars in the 80s in Nicaragua and scared half the public into believing the ruling Sandinista government was a threat to invade Texas and threaten the whole country. He tried and failed to get Mexican president Miguel de la Madrid to go along with him. The Mexican president said if he did 70 million Mexicans would die laughing. It's hard to believe the US public could ever fall for a threat about as great as I'd be (all 120 lbs. of me) in the ring against Mike Tyson in his prime. But although there was none and the nation was at peace during his tenure, Reagan expanded the military budget by 43% over what it was at the height of the Vietnam war (and ran up huge budget deficits doing it). The public suffered for it with the loss of social benefits, but business loved it and him, and the stock market took off on an 18 year bull run.
But after the 9/11 attack, the floodgates really opened wide. In fiscal year 2000 the military budget was $289 billion, but up it went steadily after that reaching $442 billion in 2006 and currently is requested to increase to $463 or higher in 2007. Add to that over $41 billion for Homeland Security in 2006 (another public rip-off as part of a move toward a full-blown national security police state) and annual multi-billions in funding off the books for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that in fiscal 2006 alone amounts to about $120 billion now and may increase. Add it up and the current budget for the military, 2 wars off the books and Homeland Security, and it comes to over $600 billion this year. That kind of spending, with billions more available at the drop of an add-on presidential emergency request gives a whole new meaning to the term "war profiteer." And while the big defense contractors reap the biggest benefits, many thousands of US corporations are in on the take as the Pentagon is a big buyer of everything from expensive R & D and high tech weapons to breakfast cereals and toilet paper. Using the false Bush slogan about leaving no child behind for his failed education program, the Pentagon for sure leaves no corporation behind in its generosity. Corporations wanting a piece of the action need only remember and abide by the scriptural message from John 16:24: "ask and you shall receive." And probably a lot as the Pentagon is notorious about being sloppy, "spilling" more than many good sized corporations earn.
Here's the 2 key questions to ask. Does anyone feel safer, and who'll pick up the tab? If you hadn't noticed, you, the average worker, didn't share in those big tax cuts, your income is losing the war to inflation, your benefits are eroding, and someone some day has to pay that $8.275 trillion national debt that keeps rising $2.2 billion every day. And along with that burden, we've never been less safe, and we, the public, have to pay the bill because corporate America never does. They're in another queue for more tax cuts, and we'll see more social benefits cut to pay for them too. In the political game of musical chairs, corporations get them all every time, and John Q. Public is always left standing (out in the cold).
How Did We Get Into this Mess, and How Can We Get Out of It
I've already explained what happened. As to how, it's because we let them. They delivered the message, and we bought it like lambs led to the slaughter or believing the "foxes" were really "guarding" us. Back in school we all learned and sang those lovely lyrics that began "Oh beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain." We believed it and most of us in our stupor still do. It's long past time we realized it was just a song intended to lull us into complacency to accept the message and go along with it. It was a false message, although there is an America the Beautiful, but only for the privileged few and no one else. And every year it gets worse - a race to the bottom with no end in sight until we either get there or wake up in time and do something about it. Unless we act to cauterize our collective wounds we'll never begin the healing process; in fact, we'll bleed to death. We have to find a way to reclaim the democracy we're always being reminded we have, but don't. If we really had it, they'd never have to remind us about it.
People Power Is How We Get Out of It
It's not too late to turn it around - yet. And it's simple to know what we need to do but always hard knowing how to go about it - take to the streets, throw the bums out (we've tried that one before and only put in new bums). Anyone have some good suggestions? I don't have sure-fire ones, but I've got a piece of good wisdom based on the past and the present. History shows that when things get bad enough people first stir and then react. If nothing changes and the pain gets bad enough, then at some point down go the barricades, and people power steps into the breach. The many always win out over the few when they're fully committed to do it. I've quoted famed Chicago community activist Sol Linowitz before who understood it and once said "the way to beat organized money is with organized people." Three recent and current examples make the point and show us how.
All over France for two months up until April, millions of angry young people and union members mainly engaged in strikes, sit-ins and mass street protests to demand the revocation of the new First Employment Contract (CPE) for workers under 26 years of age. French youth refused to become what they called "a Kleenex generation" - to be used and thrown away at the whim of employers who want the "flexibility" to do it. The law was based on the insane notion that indiscriminate firing was a way to create more jobs and reduce unemployment. If it had gone into affect, it would have given employers the right to hire young workers on a two year trial basis and fire them at will at any time during that period. The protesters understood the sham and how it would hurt them and stayed out long enough to get the Chirac government to back down and effectively cancel this outrageous law.
A second example is now happening on the streets in Nepal as many thousands of people from all walks of life including professionals have been protesting since early April in a mass civil uprising against King Gyanendra demanding an end to autocratic monarchal rule and the restoration of democracy. At this writing they still don't have it, but the king had to go on national television and promise to meet their demands. The protests continued after his first public statement forcing the king to go further and agree to the major demands of the main seven-party alliance including reinstating the lower house of parliament and giving power back to elected officials. Doing that would then clear the way to create a new constitution, hopefully a more democratic process and an end to the mass protests. At this writing it remains to be seen whether resolution has now been reached, but it appears a major step has been taken toward it.
The third example has been happening here in the US as millions of immigrants and working people of all races have taken to the streets in cities all over the country. They've seen their rights denied or threatened, their jobs exported, unions weakened or destroyed, wages stagnated and essential benefits reduced, lost or never gotten. Their protests are continuing, and they demand equity and justice. Congress has already taken note and softened some of their hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric. But it remains to be seen how this will turn out. The Congress will resume its immigration legislation debate in its post Easter break session with a final resolution now unclear. What is clear is that if a final bill emerges it will be less harsh than the original House version that passed and the Senate one still being debated prior to and during the mass protests.
The lesson is clear. Mass people actions, if large and strong enough, get results. Lots of great thinkers through the years knew this and said it many different ways. I quote some of them often for inspiration, and I'll end by doing it again - 2 jewels from one of my favorites - the Mahatma. Ghandi wisely observed that "even the most powerful cannot rule without the cooperation of the ruled." He proved it. He also famously said - "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." He proved that too.
Anyone ready for a fight? I hope you are, and if so, you and we too can win. And just in case I need to remind you what you're fighting for, it's for your future, the kind your parents hopefully had, the kind you want for your children, the kind where you know you live in a country with a real democratically elected government that works for all the people and one where there's equity and justice for everyone, not just for the privileged the way it is today. It's also to save the republic and reverse the present course we're now on that may destroy it. Think about it, and start fighting for it. Your future depends on it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog address at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: The 10 Worst Corporations of 2005
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
2005 was a good year for bad corporations.
There were no U.S. elections to worry about, with their troubling possibility of politicians running on the popular platform of curbing corporate power.
There were corporate scandals and corporate crime and violence galore, but none that rated the ongoing banner headlines of Enron and WorldCom.
Indeed, the ongoing prosecutions of individuals associated with corporate financial scandals enabled Big Business and its apologists to claim there had actually been a crackdown on corporate crime.
All leaving corporations free to buy legislation, profiteer, pollute, poison and mistreat workers without restraint.
Benefiting from the spike in oil prices associated with the tragedy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, ExxonMobil recorded the most profitable year any company has ever achieved.
Thirty years ago, when the oil giants profiteered in the wake of the first oil embargo, almost half the U.S. Senate voted to break up the integrated oil companies. In 2005, just 40 of 435 members of the House of Representatives were willing to co-sponsor the leading legislation calling for a much more modest approach, imposing a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. Eight members of the Senate co-sponsored the leading windfall profits bill there.
In the U.S. Congress, corporations were able to ram through limitations on victims' rights to sue corporate perpetrators (mislabeled class action "reform"), the NAFTA-expanding Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and an energy bill that deregulates electric utilities and actually gives tax breaks to the oil industry, among many other government gifts.
Perhaps nothing revealed Big Business's cockiness more than the Chamber of Commerce and other trade associations' efforts to undermine the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. Sarbanes-Oxley imposes very modest anti-fraud requirements on corporations. It was the only reform legislation passed after the Enron and related financial scandals.
These corporations will never stop on their own.
Asked to comment on a recent Harris poll that found 90 percent of people in the United States believe corporations have too much power in Washington, D.C., Hank Cox, a spokesperson for the National Association of Manufacturers replies, "That's a perception fostered by the news media and the entertainment industry, and if they really had any idea of how little power corporations have they would be astounded."
The corporations will never give up power, unless forced to do so by the people.
Where to start?
No better place than the 10 worst corporations of 2005, presented herewith in alphabetical order:
In November 2005, BP said that it expects to spend as much as $8 billion in alternative-energy projects, including solar, wind, hydrogen and carbon-abatement technology, over 10 years.
It is running two-page ads in major U.S. newspapers touting itself as a leader in alternative energy.
This is part of a high-energy campaign to cover up BP's dirty tricks that flow from its oil business.
To do so, it has to cover up its shoddy operations on the North Slope of Alaska, where it is seeking to bust open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, and its reckless operations at its refineries around the globe.
In March, 15 workers were incinerated, and more than 170 injured, following an explosion at BP's sprawling refinery in Texas City, Texas.
It was the third fatal accident at the Texas City BP facility in the last four years.
In September 2004, two workers were burned to death and another was seriously injured.
In 2001, a maintenance worker at the facility died after falling into a tank that had been shut down. Nationwide, BP's facilities have had more than 3,565 accidents since 1990, ranking first in the nation, according to a 2004 report by the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG).
BP has admitted it was at fault in the Texas City explosion. "We regret that our mistakes have caused so much suffering," said Ross Pillari, president of BP Products North America, after the company had completed an interim investigation in May.
"We apologize to those who were harmed and to the Texas City community," said Pillari. " We cannot change the past or repair all the damage this incident has done. We can assure that those who were injured and the families of those who died receive financial support and compensation. Our goal is to provide fair compensation without the need for lawsuits or lengthy court proceedings."
There is a case to be made that BP engaged in criminal reckless homicide, or involuntary manslaughter. To prove this, the District Attorney in Galveston County, where the deaths occurred, would have to find that BP and its executives consciously disregarded "a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a death will occur."
We believe that the families of the dead deserve a full-blown reckless homicide investigation by the District Attorney in Galveston County.
When asked about this, Mohamed Ibrahim, the first assistant district attorney in Galveston County, told us that his office had opened no such criminal investigation into the BP matter. "We have no reason to believe at this point that it was anything but an unfortunate industrial accident," Ibrahim said.
"If OSHA [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] came to us and said it was a result of criminal recklessness, we would look at an investigation," he added.
In September, OSHA fined the company $21 million for violating federal OSHA law. There was no criminal referral. Lesser workplace crimes this year have resulted in criminal convictions against smaller companies. BP gets off because it is a large multinational?
On the North Slope of Alaska, BP continues to muscle the political machinery to get its way.
Its reckless operations there - including unreported oil spills - will someday end up in an environmental disaster, long predicted by oil industry critic Charles Hamel.
BP is eager to portray itself as the good guy oil company, but it is not eager to answer tough questions.
In October, U.S. News and World Report held a press conference to announce "America's Best Leaders 2005."
The press event was paid for by BP.
BP's guy at the door wouldn't let us in.
No questions about corporate crime allowed.
"I want you to view what is happening at Delphi as a flash point, a test case, for all the economic and social trends that are on a collision course in our country and around the globe," Delphi CEO Steve Miller told BusinessWeek in October.
Miller's view of how those trends should be resolved: with a leveling down of worker wages to the lowest common denominator, and provision of huge windfalls for executives.
In October, Miller took his company into bankruptcy, with the explicit purpose of trashing the social contract between unionized auto workers in the United States and the auto industry. He proposed slashing worker wages from $27 an hour to a mere 10 bucks.
In a fit of staggering arrogance, Miller and Delphi simultaneously proposed huge bonuses for company executives.
Delphi is the world's largest auto parts supplier. In a strange arrangement, it was spun off from General Motors in 1998. Roughly half of its business remains supplying GM. Many critics say GM separated Delphi for the purpose of dumping unwanted expenses on the new company. But GM agreed to guarantee certain Delphi obligations - including healthcare and pension costs - in the event the new company was unable to meet them.
Delphi enters bankruptcy not in any severe financial crisis, but having experienced steady losses over the last several years.
In its bankruptcy filings, the company stated that three problems are driving down revenues: the wages and benefits guaranteed under existing union contracts, declining sales from GM, Delphi's main buyer, and rising commodity prices. Through bankruptcy, it sought to address only the first issue - that is, to attack the living standards of its workers.
Delphi workers have reacted with predictable dismay and anger. "It's difficult to see our middle-income jobs go away like this," said Ron Garrett, 54, who has worked at Delphi's Dayton facility for 21 years. "It's very tough to see them go out the door." Workers have picketed and demonstrated against Delphi's proposals.
Their outrage has been stoked by the executive compensation plan Delphi has proposed in bankruptcy court.
Although Steve Miller has touted the fact that he has agreed to accept a salary of just $1 a year (he also received a signing bonus of $3 million after taking over the company in the summer, and $750,000 in salary before making the $1 pledge, and is due an unspecified bonus from the board of directors when the company emerges from bankruptcy), the executive class at Delphi will make out great.
Delphi has proposed in bankruptcy court through a "Key Employee Compensation Plan" that executives be given $43 million in incentive bonuses during the two years the company expects to undergo reorganization, that the top 500 executives pocket $88 million when the company emerges from bankruptcy, and that the top 600 get 10 percent of the shares of the post-bankruptcy Delphi.
Rationales for this?
Well, the company argued in bankruptcy court, "many of the company's incentive-based compensation programs failed to provide salaried and executive workforce with total compensation that is competitive with the industry norm."
Because the company did poorly, executives made less money. The new plan is intended to remedy this perceived inequity.
Unfortunately, Delphi proposes the opposite deal for it workers.
Also, "the commencement of a bankruptcy case heightens employee concerns regarding possible job loss, and often increases employee responsibilities, creates longer hours, and imposes other burdens of an employer's status as a debtor-in-possession." In the dire time of bankruptcy, the company needs the "continued efforts and loyalty" of its executives, so they need big bonuses.
Workers' "continued efforts and loyalty" are apparently thought available on the cheap.
So, we kill Stanley Tookie Williams for killing four people.
And we fine DuPont $16.5 million for two decades' worth of covering up company studies that showed it was polluting drinking water and newborn babies with an indestructible chemical that causes cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems in animals.
Sounds like rough justice to us.
A public interest group in Washington, D.C., the Environmental Working Group (EWG), brought the disaster to the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
And the EPA sued DuPont in a civil action in July 2004.
No crime here, right?
EWG reported on the case of Glenn Evers.
Evers was a DuPont employee of 22 years, one of the company's top technical experts and the chair of an invitation-only committee of its 40 best scientists and technical experts.
He holds six patents, and his work has, to date, made the company an estimated $250 million in after-tax profits. Evers was, by his own description, a dedicated "company man."
According to EWG, he was also the company's top chemical engineer involved with designing and developing new uses of grease-resistant, or perfluorinated, chemical-based coating for paper food packaging.
Chemicals from these coatings and related sources are now in the blood of 95 percent of people in the United States.
DuPont has claimed that it does not know how the chemicals got there - and that it is not aware that the company's product is responsible.
"If we had any reason to believe that [there] was a safety issue for fluorinated telomers-based product, we wouldn't have commercialized them," DuPont Director of Planning and Technology Robert Ritchie told the Wilmington News Journal in 2003.
But Glenn Evers told EWG how his former employer hid for decades that it was polluting people's blood with a hyper-persistent chemical associated with the grease-resistant coatings on paper food packaging. (For a complete history, see www.ewg.org.)
The EPA boasted that the $16.5 million fine was the largest administrative fine it has ever levied under a weak toxic chemical law.
But as EWG noted, the fine is less than half of 1 percent of DuPont's after-tax annual profits from the Teflon product when averaged over the 20-year cover-up.
"What's the appropriate fine for a $25 billion company that for decades hid vital health information about a toxic chemical that now contaminates every man, woman and child in the United States?" asked EWG President Ken Cook. "What's the proper dollar penalty for a pollutant that will never break down, and now finds its way into polar bears in the Arctic and human babies in their mothers' wombs? We're pretty sure it's not $16 million, even if that is a record amount under a federal law that everyone acknowledges is extremely weak."
We're pretty sure it's not just a fine.
The poison is in the blood of 95 percent of people in the United States.
How many cancers has it caused?
Here is what ExxonMobil has to say about global warming:
ExxonMobil recognizes that although scientific evidence remains inconclusive, the potential impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on society and ecosystems may prove to be significant.
The earth has experienced a warming trend in global surface air temperatures during the twentieth century, but the cause of this trend and whether it is abnormal remain in dispute. Although recent temperatures are elevated, they are not unprecedented in the geological record, which shows considerable variation as well as previous periods that were as warm as or warmer than today.
Here is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-affiliated grouping of 1,800 of the world's climatologists - often needled for the extraordinarily cautious language it employs - says about global warming:
The Earth's climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era, with some of these changes attributable to human activities.
Globally, it is very likely that the 1990s was the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in the instrumental record (since 1861).
There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.
Recent regional changes in climate, particularly increases in temperature, have already affected hydrological systems and terrestrial and marine ecosystems in many parts of the world.
The rising socio-economic costs related to weather damage and to regional variations in climate suggest increasing vulnerability to climate change.
The projected rate of warming [over the twenty-first century] is very likely to be without precedent during at least the last 10,000 years.
The impacts of climate change will fall disproportionately upon developing countries and the poor persons within all countries, and thereby exacerbate inequities in health status and access to adequate food, clean water and other resources.
Unfortunately, so far, the cynical, profit-motivated, short-term and self-interested views of ExxonMobil have mattered more than the evidence-based perspective of the IPCC.
That's because the most profitable corporation on earth has lots of political power and is skilled at amplifying its views, and the climatologists do not and are not.
ExxonMobil has funded dozens of front groups, think tanks, industry associations, corporate-friendly research centers and purportedly independent scientists to spread its denialism. Greenpeace has documented the company's support for a web of more than 100 organizations - from the American Council on Science and Health to the Washington Legal Foundation - that work to cast doubt on global warming science and likely consequences.
It hasn't hurt ExxonMobil to have a (failed) oilman and the former head of Halliburton, an oil services company, as president and vice president of the richest, most powerful and biggest greenhouse-gas-emitting country, the United States. The company was not without influence during the Clinton administration, but has been able to gain complete access and shape policy during the Bush era, in ways large and small.
ExxonMobil, for example, in 2002 urged the Bush administration to push to have Dr. Robert Watson removed as chair of the IPCC, according to company documents obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Soon after, the Bush administration announced its opposition to the respected scientist who ExxonMobil said had a "personal agenda," and a new chair was selected.
The company has also collaborated with the administration on the basic denialism project. A former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute and chief of staff of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, Philip Cooney, resigned in June 2005 after the New York Times revealed he had edited government reports to challenge the link between carbon emissions and global warming. A week later, Cooney was on ExxonMobil's payroll.
ExxonMobil is not just fiddling while the world burns. The company is raking in record profits - more than $36 billion in 2005, the highest ever earned for a single company in one year - as it benefited especially from the spike in oil prices after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Given the company and the oil industry's obscene profits, many are calling for a windfall profits tax. (If just 3 percent of ExxonMobil's 2005 profits were taxed and invested in solar energy technology development, it would constitute a quintupling of the U.S. government solar R&D budget.)
But lubricated with oil industry cash, the Bush administration and Congress have chosen what might generously be called a different path. In July, the Congress passed an energy bill that showered tax breaks and other goodies on the industry - more than $4 billion worth, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
ExxonMobil is completely unashamed about this state of affairs. Outgoing CEO Lee Raymond testified before Congress about gas price hikes and industry super-profits in November. "If we are to continue to serve our consumers and your constituents, corporate and government leaders alike cannot afford to simply follow the ups and downs of energy prices," he told a Senate Committee. The basic message: don't tax us more, we need the huge earnings to find more oil to meet rising energy demand. Alternative energy is nice, but not serious.
Of course, it is not only by blocking efforts to address global warming that ExxonMobil is making the world a worse place.
It continues to stonewall on paying roughly $5 billion to fishing communities and Native Alaskans in punitive damages assessed for the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill.
It is lobbying hard for the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
And through a major oil development and pipeline in Chad, it is funding a dictatorial government that is using oil money to buy weapons. Amnesty International says that the ExxonMobil-led consortium operating the Chad project negotiated a deal enabling the oil companies "to effectively sidestep the rule of law in Chad and Cameroon, and limits the ability of those countries to develop effective human rights protection for their citizens over the next several decades."
For more details on ExxonMobil's sordid performance, see ExposeExxon.org, a website maintained by a coalition of environmental and public interest groups seeking to pressure ExxonMobil to "shed its past as an irresponsible oil company."
One block from the White House, on Washington, D.C.'s 15th Street, Northwest, embedded in the sidewalk, in front of The Old Ebbitt Grill, is a bronze medallion honoring the life of Booker T. Washington.
The medallion has a picture of Booker T. and reads:
"As an influential African American, living in a time of escalating segregation, Booker T. Washington negotiated a course between accommodation and progress in advocating greater civil rights for blacks. His philosophy of 'request' not 'protest' allowed him to gain the respect of presidents and politicians, but sometimes alienated those of his own race. Washington believed education was a cornerstone for the advancement of blacks and his efforts to raise money for his beloved Tuskegee Institute helped secure its well-deserved reputation as a leading educational institution for African Americans."
"My life work is the promotion of education of my race."
- Booker T. Washington
Sponsored by Ford Motor Company
The Booker T. medallion is one of a growing list of U.S. volunteer pioneers being honored by the Points of Light Foundation.
Ultimately, the medallions will form a mile-long pathway in the heart of Washington, D.C.
There are now 20 medallions embedded on the sidewalks of 15th Street and G Streets in downtown Washington.
The monument - known as The Extra Mile - was dedicated on October 14, 2005 with great fanfare in a ceremony attended by former President George Bush and many extended family members of the honorees.
Each medallion is sponsored by a major U.S. corporation.
The one honoring Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, was also made possible by Ford Motor Company.
His plaque reads in part: "Under his leadership of nonviolent protest, the UFW was able to secure improved wages and benefits, more humane living and working conditions, and better job security for some of the poorest workers in America."
Obviously, the company is no fan of Cesar Chavez - or Booker T. for that matter.
Ford is doing it to buff its image, as they say.
For one, officials in New Jersey are calling for an investigation of the company for environmental crimes.
It turns out that over a period of years, Ford Motor Company dumped millions of gallons of paint sludge into a now-residential area of northern New Jersey.
The paint sludge was from the Ford Motor Co.'s factory in Mahwah, once the largest auto assembly plant in the nation, according to an investigative report published in October in the Bergen Record.
The Record has put out a series of investigative reports on the dumping. They are compiled at www.toxiclegacy.com.
According to the series, before closing in 1980, the plant spat out six million vehicles and an ocean of contaminants - including enough paint sludge to fill two of the three tubes of the Lincoln Tunnel.
Millions of gallons of paint sludge were dumped in the remote section of Ringwood, which is now a residential area.
Children played in it.
Streams washed over it.
And early this year, New Jersey officials announced some cancer rates in the area are unusually high.
Tests commissioned by the Record found lead, arsenic and xylenes in the sludge - some at 100 times the levels the government considers safe.
The Record found that Ford repeatedly dumped in poor communities and failed to clean up its mess.
Reporters with the Record dug up documents showing that Ford executives knew as early as 34 years ago that its waste had contaminated a stream that feeds the Wanaque Reservoir.
The documents show that the company tried to evade responsibility by presenting tainted land as a "gift" to the state, the paper reported.
The Record interviewed truckers who hauled Ford's waste - they say that mob-controlled contractors dumped anywhere they could get away with it.
They bribed, threatened, even murdered to maintain control of Ford's waste, the paper reported.
Millions of gallons of hazardous waste vanished in their hands.
According to the Record, Ford says its dumping in Ringwood was legal.
Ford says others dumped in Ringwood and share responsibility for the pollution.
Well, let's have a federal prosecutor decide.
There are points of light. (www.extramile.us)
And there are points of darkness.(www.toxiclegacy.com)
Getting cheap publicity by putting your name on a plaque is one thing.
Paying for the human and environmental wreckage you've caused in northern New Jersey is something else. (Not to mention matching your rhetorical concern with climate change and environmental well-being with company actions that help take the planet off the SUV-hardened fast track to planetary overheating. See www.jumpstartford.com>.)
In honor of Booker T., we "request" that the U.S. Attorney in Newark take seriously the New Jersey hazardous waste case and open a criminal investigation of the company.
Try as we might, we couldn't keep Halliburton off a list of the worst companies two years running.
The company has effectively made a business model of crooked dealing with the U.S. government. Getting caught, over and over, doesn't seem to affect things much.
Here are the company's lowlights for the year, via Halliburtonwatch: January 10: Halliburton admitted that it expanded economic relations with Iran despite the Bush administration's insistence that the nation finances terrorism.
February 8: The U.S. Army agreed to pay Halliburton's KBR subsidiary nearly $2 billion for work that nobody can prove ever took place. Army auditors determined in 2004 that 43 percent of the $4.5 billion requested by Halliburton under a major contract could not be verified under normal accounting procedures. Despite recommendations to withhold 15 percent of payment from Halliburton, the Pentagon decided to pay the company what it requested. "This is indeed great news for KBR," said Andy Lane, chief operating officer of Halliburton, in a news release. "The Army and KBR have agreed to continue working closely together to resolve any remaining billing issues."
March 2: The U.S. Justice Department opened a criminal inquiry into possible bid-rigging on foreign contracts by Halliburton, the company revealed. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said "information has been uncovered" that former employees of KBR "may have engaged in coordinated bidding with one or more competitors on certain foreign construction projects and that such coordination possibly began as early as the mid-1980s." These bribes involve contracts in Nigeria, and occurred in the 1990s, when Vice President Cheney headed Halliburton.
March 14: Pentagon auditors found another $108 million in overcharges by Halliburton's KBR subsidiary for provision of oil in Iraq, according to a disclosure by Representative Henry Waxman, D-California.
March 16: The Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will investigate complaints by one of its engineers who said the agency purposely tampered with environmental science in order to shield a lucrative drilling technique, pioneered by Halliburton and known as hydraulic fracturing, from pollution laws.
April: the State Department issued a report concluding that Halliburton's repair work in Iraqi oil fields is plagued by serious cost overruns and "poor performance."
June 29: At a Congressional hearing, Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, then the senior contracting specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, testified, "I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR [Halliburton's subsidiary] represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career." In August, Greenhouse would be demoted for her testimony.
At the hearing, Representative Waxman released a previously secret military audit criticizing an extra $1.4 billion in "questioned" and "unsupported" expenditures by Halliburton's KBR subsidiary in Iraq.
July 22: Halliburton announced that its KBR division, responsible for carrying out Pentagon contracts, saw profits jump 284 percent during the second quarter of the year.
September 8: The Washington Post reported that former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Joseph Allbaugh, now a lobbyist for Halliburton, is in Louisiana helping his clients obtain disaster relief contracts.
But Allbaugh insisted he's not in Louisiana seeking contracts for clients. "I don't do government contracts," he told the Post. Instead, he said he's "just trying to lend my shoulder to the wheel, trying to coordinate some private-sector support that the government always asks for."
September 15: Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey reiterated his call for Vice President Dick Cheney to forfeit his continuing financial interest in Halliburton. Lautenberg points out that Cheney's Halliburton options are worth more than $9 million. Cheney insists he has no ongoing financial entanglement with Halliburton because he will donate the profits from stock sales to charity.
September 20: Former KBR employees and water quality specialists Ben Carter and Ken May told HalliburtonWatch that KBR knowingly exposes troops and civilians to contaminated water from Iraq's Euphrates River. One internal KBR email provided to HalliburtonWatch says that, for "possibly a year," the level of contamination at one camp was two times the normal level for untreated water.
October: Senator Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, charged that a Halliburton subcontractor had hired as many as 100 undocumented immigrants to clean up areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The president of the subcontractor, Alabama-based BE&K, is Retired U.S. Navy Admiral David Nash. Nash was head of the U.S. office in Baghdad which handed out Iraq contracts. "There is no connection between the hurricane-related work we are doing in Mississippi and Louisiana and Nash's involvement in Iraq," a BE&K spokesperson told Reuters.
November 15: Halliburton's KBR subsidiary and its subcontractors illegally abuse immigrants and undocumented workers in hurricane-damaged areas of the Gulf Coast, Roberto Lovato of Salon.com reported.
In an article titled "Gulf Coast Slaves," Lovato writes of his travels throughout the storm-ravaged region where KBR's cleanup contracts currently amount to $124.9 million.
He observed "squalid trailer parks where up to 19 unpaid, unfed and undocumented KBR site workers inhabited a single trailer for $70 per person, per week." Many suffer from work-related health problems, including diarrhea, sprained ankles, cuts and bruises acquired while working for KBR. Halliburton denies violating labor laws, but immigration enforcement officials discovered undocumented workers at the Belle Chasse facility in October.
November 19: The Washington Post reported that a criminal investigation of Army practices that allegedly favored Halliburton over competitors during the pre-war contract award process has been referred to the Department of Justice (DOJ). This probe follows on allegations made by Army Corps of Engineers whistleblower Bunnatine Greenhouse.
In a written statement to the Post, Halliburton said it "continues to cooperate fully with the Justice Department's investigation of certain issues pertaining to our work in Iraq." "As the investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time."
December 2: The Army Corps of Engineers paid $38 million in bonuses to Halliburton for oil transport and repair in Iraq even though the Pentagon's own auditors declared $169 million in costs for the work to be "unreasonable" and "unsupported," Representative Henry Waxman revealed.
December 27: The Chicago Tribune reported that Pentagon contractor trade groups are blocking a Pentagon proposal prohibiting defense contractor involvement in human trafficking for forced prostitution and labor. The contractors do not want to be responsible for trafficking undertaken by their subcontractors. Halliburton subsidiaries have been linked to trafficking-related controversies.
After the Tribune reported in October on the kidnapping of a dozen Nepali men and their transport to work for Halliburton subcontractors in Iraq, Halliburton said it was not responsible for the recruitment or hiring practices of its subcontractors.
The U.S. Army, for its part, said questions about alleged misconduct "by subcontractor firms should be addressed to those firms, as these are not Army issues."
It is all about perception, isn't it?
KPMG was charged in August with one felony count of conspiracy.
The Attorney General of the United States said that KPMG "has admitted to criminal wrongdoing in the largest-ever tax shelter fraud."
Yet, there was no conviction. There was no plea agreement.
For individuals, partners or executives who commit major crimes - yes. If there is a crime, there is an indictment. And there is a plea agreement. Or there is a trial.
But for major U.S. corporations or other large entities, like KPMG, if you commit a crime, you get a prosecution deferred.
Now, it's almost automatic.
Ask Skadden Arps partner Robert Bennett. He's the king of deferred prosecutions.
At the insistence of Bob Bennett, KPMG gets a deferred prosecution agreement.
Because if you indict KPMG, you might drive it out of business, à la Arthur Andersen.
But no matter, you can charge the company with a felony. And the Attorney General can get on national television and say that KPMG has admitted to criminal wrongdoing.
The U.S. Attorney in New York wanted to pursue criminal charges. But he was overruled by his higher ups at the Justice Department.
There is no doubt about it. KPMG engaged in criminal wrongdoing. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said so. But because of possible "collateral consequences," there is no conviction.
Corporate crime is now crime without conviction.
It's all about perception.
What collateral consequences? What law says that if you are convicted of a crime, you are driven out of business?
When reporters walked into the seventh floor conference room at the Justice Department for the press conference announcing the KPMG deal, they were handed a number of documents.
They were handed the Justice Department press release.
This informed us that KPMG has admitted to criminal wrongdoing and agreed to pay $456 million in fines, restitution and penalties as part of an agreement to defer prosecution of the firm.
The press release also informed us that "in the largest criminal tax case ever filed, KPMG has admitted that it engaged in a fraud that generated at least $11 billion in phony tax losses which, according to court papers, cost the United States at least $2.5 billion in evaded taxes."
Reporters were also handed a tough statement by IRS Commissioner Mark Everson. "Simply stated, if you had a multi-million dollar tax liability, KPMG would find a way to wipe it out even when the firm's own experts thought the transactions would not survive IRS scrutiny," Everson said. "The only purpose of these abusive deals was to further enrich the already wealthy and to line the pockets of KPMG partners."
"Since the income tax first came into being under President Lincoln during the Civil War, the wealthy have always paid more than average citizens," Everson said. "But not according to KPMG. KPMG's actions were a direct assault on our progressive system of income taxation, and, left unchecked, would have badly eroded the faith of hard working, taxpaying Americans in the fairness of government itself."
"At some point such conduct passes from clever accounting and lawyering to theft from the people," Everson said. "We simply can't tolerate flagrant abuse of the law and of professional obligations by tax practitioners, particularly those associated with so-called blue chip firms like KPMG that, by virtue of their prominence, set the standard of conduct for others. Accountants and attorneys should be the pillars of our system of taxation, not the architects of its circumvention."
They can't tolerate this grand theft, but they did.
If they didn't tolerate it, they would have indicted KPMG and forced a guilty plea.
Reporters were also handed an indictment of eight KPMG partners and an outside tax attorney. These were the nine individuals behind the crime, prosecutors said.
The entity gets a deferred prosecution for criminal activities. It must pay $456 million in fines and restitution. But there is no loss of freedom to operate.
The individuals face a loss of freedom. That's what prison is all about.
Why the double standard?
True, the entity must hire a monitor, in this case, former Securities and Exchange Commissioner Richard Breeden.
But who pays Breeden? KPMG.
How much? KPMG decides.
KPMG's public response to the deferred prosecution makes clear the firm does not view the deal as imposing serious punishment (let alone deterrence). It was as if the company was required to stay after school for a day.
"KPMG LLP is pleased to have reached a resolution with the Department of Justice. We regret the past tax practices that were the subject of the investigation. KPMG is a better and stronger firm today, having learned much from this experience," said KPMG LLP Chair and CEO Timothy P. Flynn. "The resolution of this matter allows KPMG to confidently face the future as we provide high quality audit, tax and advisory services to our large multinational, middle market and government clients."
What documents were reporters not handed at the Justice Department news conference?
They were not handed a 10-page, single-spaced statement of facts that laid out the criminal activity in detail. And they were not handed the information charging KPMG with a felony. They came only later, after the Attorney General was asked, Where's the charging document against KPMG?
Until recently, Swiss drug maker Roche's sales of Tamiflu were doing dismally. (Roche makes the drug on license from the patent holder, the San Francisco-based company, Gilead.)
In 2001, sales of Tamiflu, an anti-viral intended to alleviate the flu, were $76 million. Health advocates criticized the drug as offering few benefits, and encouraged people concerned about the flu to instead get a flu shot.
Then along came avian influenza, and the threat of an outbreak of bird flu among humans. There is no available vaccine for bird flu, and Tamiflu appears to be the best available pharmaceutical defense for those exposed to the disease.
For now, avian flu is not communicative among humans. More than 150 people have been infected with bird flu since 2003, when the first bird-to-human transmission was recorded, and more than half of those infected have died.
Many public health experts believe that an outbreak among humans is virtually inevitable.
An outbreak could have extremely dire consequences. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control reports that, a "'medium-level' pandemic could cause 89,000 to 207,000 deaths, 314,000 and 734,000 hospitalizations, 18 to 42 million outpatient visits, and another 20 to 47 million people being sick. Between 15 percent and 35 percent of the U.S. population could be affected by an influenza pandemic, and the economic impact could range between $71.3 and $166.5 billion." The illness and death toll would be much worse in developing countries.
Slowly, the message has begun to penetrate government officials' and the public's consciousness, and governments are, very belatedly, looking to stockpile Tamiflu in advance of a potential outbreak.
That has provided a windfall for Roche. 2005 sales of Tamiflu are expected to top $1 billion.
It has also created a bit of a problem for Roche, because it cannot make enough Tamiflu to meet demand.
Given the public health urgency of stockpiling the drug, Roche could have simply announced that it would license other companies to manufacture it, conditioned on payment of a reasonable royalty.
Instead, it chose a different course.
With no prospect of the company satisfying growing demand, it announced that it would not license others to produce the medicine. Nor could others easily make the drug, the company claimed. It said that the manufacturing process was extremely complicated and dangerous, and that the key ingredient to make the drug was in short supply.
As it turned out, all of these claims turned out to be deeply misleading, or worse.
As late as October 13, Roche insisted that it would not license the product to competitors, and that it was too complicated for them to make. These claims deterred officials at the World Health Organization from pushing for compulsory licenses enabling competitors to manufacture Tamiflu. ("There will be no way in the next two years a company would be able to produce generic Tamiflu," the head of WHO's influenza program said on October 6.)
Roche "fully intends to remain the sole manufacturer of Tamiflu,'' company spokesperson Terry Hurley told reporters. He said that the company would not reveal production figures, on the grounds that such information was "commercially sensitive." All drug makers are able to track other manufacturers' sales through commercial databases - but the information is not made available to public officials. Hurley also offered the company line on the complexity of making the drug. Manufacturing Tamiflu involves 10 complicated steps, and would take two-to-three years for a new entrant, he alleged.
But October 13 would be the last day Roche could make these claims.
On October 14, the New York Times reported that the Indian drug maker Cipla had reverse-engineered the drug two weeks earlier, and would have small commercial quantities available by early 2006.
With the spread of bird flu being reported daily, countries in Southeast Asia, where the epidemic among birds originated, started clamoring for the right to acquire greater quantities of Tamiflu. Following Cipla's announcement, many other firms soon said they could produce the drug as well.
Taiwan's National Health Research Institutes announced it had figured out how to synthesize Tamiflu in September - in 18 days.
In Thailand, the Government Pharmaceutical Organization announced in November that it had capacity to manufacture 1 million Tamiflu tablets in 10 days.
Roche's claim that making Tamiflu involved a dangerous and potentially explosive step also was revealed to be an exaggeration. Reported the Wall Street Journal: "that step - which involves a chemical reaction with sodium azide, whose explosive potential has made it the common choice in automobile air bags - turns out to be relatively routine, according to some pharmaceutical executives and scientists familiar with the chemistry. Although it is still dangerous, the process is well within the abilities of university chemistry labs, let alone the world's top generic-drug makers, these scientists say."
The shortage of a key ingredient in Tamiflu also proved a chimera. The drug is made with shikimic acid, which is found in the Chinese plant star anise (used as a spice in Chinese cooking). The limited supply of star anise placed a constraint on how much Tamiflu could be made, Roche had claimed. But it turns out that a Michigan State University professor had developed a technique to make shikimic acid without star anise - and that Roche had been using the technique under license for years.
With it increasingly plain that dozens of generic companies were capable of manufacturing Tamiflu, Southeast Asian countries were prepared to issue compulsory licenses to enable new manufacturers to start making the product.
With its posture of "fully intend[ing] to remain the sole manufacturer of Tamiflu" no longer tenable, Roche announced it would license other companies to make the drug. In December, it said it would enter intense negotiations with a dozen firms.
Many countries, it turned out, did not need to seek a license from Roche, compulsory or otherwise. As countries began moves to authorize generic competition by issuing compulsory licenses, Roche explained that Tamiflu was not patented in those countries. The governments themselves did not know what was patented, and Roche had conveniently let them operate under misperceptions that patents had been granted. This occurred in the Philippines and Indonesia, among other countries.
While production is expanded - and in addition to the generic entrance into the market, Roche has announced it has increased its manufacturing capacity 10 times over - there remains a shortfall to meet the stockpiling standard urged by many public health officials. The U.S. stockpile, for example, is sufficient to provide medications to less than 2 percent of people in the United States - about a tenth the coverage recommended by public health officials.
"Roche has had plenty of time to figure out what its options are regarding the licensing of the patents," says James Love, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Project on Technology. "There are too many potential suppliers to undertake individual negotiations with each company. Roche needs to simply identify the relevant terms it will impose on generic suppliers and offer open licenses to anyone who can comply."
If Roche refuses such an approach, says Love, "governments should issue the appropriate compulsory licenses in order to assure the competitive generics sector they can legally sell generic copies of the drug."
One of the continuous challenges of Big Business is to develop stories that explain why the private sector is good and efficient and the public sector is bad, wasteful and incompetent.
Given the scandals, criminality and wastefulness that pervades so much of corporate activity, this is no easy matter. It certainly poses a major challenge for Suez, the French services giant that is one of the world's largest private water companies.
Suez has been a leading purveyor and beneficiary of the global trend of water privatization - the selling off of public water systems to private entities, or the turning over of control and management of public systems to corporations such as Suez.
In negotiations over the World Trade Organization's services agreements, Suez has worked through trade associations to ensure that the European Union works to pry open water service markets around the world to private and foreign corporations.
And the company has worked hand in glove with the World Bank to encourage developing countries to turn control over their water systems to private business.
However, Suez walks a fine line on the public-private divide. The company wants to extract profits from water service provision, but it wants to limit its investment obligations and maintain strong public bodies that can impose high prices on consumers, and make them pay. And, if and when things go bad, it wants to blame public agencies.
Thus Suez Chair and CEO Gerard Mestrallet talks not about privatization, but "public-private partnerships."
"The success of public-private partnerships rests primarily on a sharing of roles between those parties whose skills are best suited to fulfilling them," he says. "It is perfectly clear that the decision-makers in these arrangements are the public authorities, and whether or not they seek the expertise of the private sector is entirely their decision."
To those who complain about the failure of Suez and other companies to expand and provide water service to the poor and lower-income groups, Mestrallet's line is clear: blame the public sector. "At present, 95 percent of water services worldwide are provided by the public sector, so it is hardly the fault of the private sector if 1.2 billion people have no access to water and 2 billion people have no sanitation services."
Things look a little different in the municipalities and regions where Suez has had responsibility for water provision, however.
As Public Citizen's Water for All Campaign (now part of a new organization, Food and Water Watch) shows in an April 2005 corporate profile, Suez has raised service charges, underinvested and mismanaged water projects around the globe. City after city has found out the hard way what exactly Suez has in mind by "public-private partnership."
- In El Alto, Bolivia, mass demonstrations in January 2005 led the Bolivian government to cancel a water privatization contract with Aguas del Illimani, of which Suez is a major shareholder. "The Suez contract is a classic example of 'ring fencing,' where the contract obligates service delivery only in specific areas of the city," explains the Water for All Campaign in its report. "What is termed the 'served area' in the Suez contract focuses water service provision on profitable customers and removes obligation from extending service to the newest and most marginal settlements - the areas most in need of improvements." For those who did seek new connections, the price was $445, more than eight times the monthly minimum wage. With the contract cancelled, Suez is threatening to sue Bolivia for $90 million in lost investments and future profits.
- In Atlanta, the Suez subsidiary United Water signed a 20-year deal to operate the city's water system. Maintenance backlogs accumulated, with broken water lines sometimes taking two months to fix. United Water improperly billed the city. Although privatization was supposed to avert a rate hike, combined water and sewer bills rose by about 25 percent. After only five years, Atlanta opted out of the contract.
- In Manila, the Philippines, pressure by the World Bank led the government to privatize the water system to two concessions, one led by Suez, in 1997. Within five years, water rates for Manila residents had tripled. Both the Suez and other concession won contract amendments that would weaken their performance requirements. Still, because the value of the Philippines peso dropped sharply with the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, Suez wanted steeper rate increases. When the Manila authorities refused - the drop in the exchange rate of the peso didn't mean Manila residents had more pesos to spend - Suez sought to renegotiate or abandon the contract. The company claims it is owed hundreds of millions of dollars by the Manila water authority, while the government claims Suez owes it money.
"Suez, the world's largest water corporation, places profit over the human right to water," says Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch.
What does it take to get federal prosecutors to indict an asbestos company for endangering the health of the community?
If 2005 is any guide, it takes activist citizens who pressure their elected officials to "do something" to bring justice.
It takes conscientious federal officials who shrug off bureaucratic inertia and demand that justice be done.
And first and foremost, it takes editors and reporters who are willing to stay with a story.
One such reporter is Andrew Schneider, now deputy assistant managing editor for investigations at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Before moving to St. Louis, Schneider was a reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where, in 1999, he broke the story of how W.R. Grace's vermiculite mine was killing its workers and residents.
He has written a couple hundred stories about Grace since then and was in Billings, Montana for the February announcement of the indictment against Grace.
With David McCumber, Schneider is the author of An Air That Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana, Uncovered a National Scandal.
Schneider told us that federal prosecutors and witnesses were "terrified" that Bush administration corporate connections would derail the indictment.
Prosecutors and witnesses were "terrified that it was going to be derailed at any moment," Schneider said.
"They worried about Vice President Dick Cheney, who of course had his relationship with Halliburton, which had $4.3 billion worth of asbestos claims against them," Schneider said. "They worried about his influence in killing off this prosecution. They worried about the asbestos legislation on the Hill that President Bush has been touting. Bush wins the election and goes on the stump talking about the poor corporations that have been bankrupted by these bogus cases. And that frightened the hell out of the investigators and a couple of the prosecutors."
The criminal charge against W.R. Grace and seven of its current or former executives represents the first time in the history of the industry that criminal charges have been filed against an asbestos manufacturer for endangering the lives of residents.
And Schneider says the Grace indictment may well serve as a blueprint for prosecutors in other areas of the country to criminally prosecute Grace for endangering the lives of residents in their jurisdictions.
"How widespread it will be, I don't know," Schneider said. "But I know there is a great deal of interest from prosecutors in what actually went down. I'm just basing that on the number of calls that I received from prosecutors in different states."
The indictment handed down against Grace in Billings charged the company and seven current and former Grace executives with knowingly endangering residents of Libby, Montana, and concealing information about the health affects of its asbestos mining operations.
Federal officials alleged that Grace and its executives, as far back as the 1970s, attempted to conceal information about the adverse health effects of the company's vermiculite mining operations and distribution of vermiculite in the Libby, Montana community.
The seven individual and one corporate defendant were also accused of obstructing the government's cleanup efforts and wire fraud.
Federal officials said that approximately 1,200 residents in the Libby area have been identified as suffering from some kind of asbestos-related abnormality.
Schneider says that more than 200 Libby residents have died from asbestos-related disease.
"We will not tolerate criminal conduct that is detrimental to the environment and human health," stated Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
"A human and environmental tragedy has occurred in Libby," said William Mercer, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana. "This prosecution seeks to hold Grace and its executives responsible for the misconduct alleged."
W.R. Grace operated a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana from 1963 to 1990, as part of its Construction Products Division, which was headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Vermiculite was used in many common commercial products, including attic insulation, fireproofing materials, masonry fill, and as an additive to potting soils and fertilizers.
The vermiculite deposits in Libby were contaminated with a form of asbestos called tremolite.
Studies have shown that exposure to asbestos can cause life-threatening diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Federal officials alleged that health studies on residents of the Libby area show increased incidence of many types of asbestos-related disease, including a rate of lung cancer that is 30 percent higher than expected when compared with rates in other areas of Montana and the United States.
The government claims that the defendants, beginning in the late 1970s, obtained knowledge of the toxic nature of tremolite asbestos in its vermiculite through internal epidemiological, medical and toxicological studies, as well as through product testing.
Despite legal requirements under the Toxic Substances Control Act to turn over to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the information they possessed, "W.R. Grace and its officials failed to do so on numerous occasions."
In addition to charging that the company concealed information from EPA, the indictment alleges that W.R. Grace and its officials also obstructed the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) when it attempted to study the health conditions at the Libby mine in the 1980s.
Despite their knowledge of the hazards of asbestos, the company and executives "distributed asbestos-contaminated vermiculite and permitted it to be distributed throughout the Libby community" by allowing workers to leave the mine site covered in asbestos dust, allowing residents to take waste vermiculite for use in their gardens and distributing vermiculite "tailings" to the Libby schools for use as foundations for running tracks and an outdoor ice skating rink.
And after W.R. Grace closed the Libby mine in 1990, it sold asbestos-contaminated properties to local buyers without disclosing the nature or extent of the contamination. One of the contaminated properties was used as a residence and commercial nursery.
In response to the groundbreaking series of articles in 1999 by Schneider documenting the hazards posed the Grace mine, "W.R. Grace and its officials continued to mislead and obstruct the government by not disclosing, as they were required to do by federal law, the true nature and extent of the asbestos contamination."
Ultimately, the Libby mine and related W.R. Grace properties were declared a Superfund site by EPA, and as of 2001, EPA had incurred approximately $55 million in cleanup costs. If convicted, the defendants face up to 15 years imprisonment on each endangerment charge, up to five years imprisonment on each of the conspiracy and obstruction charges, and 10 years on prison on the wire fraud charge.
W.R. Grace could face fines of up to twice the gain associated with its alleged misconduct or twice the losses suffered by victims.
Federal officials alleged that Grace enjoyed at least $140 million in after-tax profits from its mining operations in Libby. Grace also could be ordered to pay restitution to victims.
Grace denies the charges. In a company statement released after the indictment was handed down, Grace said it "categorically denies any criminal wrongdoing."
"As a company and as individuals, we believe that one serious illness or lost life is one too many. That is why we have taken so seriously our commitment to our Libby employees and the people of Libby," the company said.
"The entire W.R. Grace team is supportive of the citizens of Libby. We hope that our continued and dedicated support for their long-term health care, combined with their characteristic strength and determination, will help them through these difficult times."
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: THE CORPORATION - The Film
Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, & Joel Bakan
THE CORPORATION explores the nature and spectacular rise of the dominant institution of our time. Footage from pop culture, advertising, TV news, and corporate propaganda, illuminates the corporation's grip on our lives. Taking its legal status as a "person" to its logical conclusion, the film puts the corporation on the psychiatrist's couch to ask "What kind of person is it?" Provoking, witty, sweepingly informative, The Corporation includes forty interviews with corporate insiders and critics - including Milton Friedman, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Michael Moore - plus true confessions, case studies and strategies for change.
THE CORPORATION - DETAILED SYNOPSIS
In THE CORPORATION, case studies, anecdotes and true confessions reveal behind-the-scenes tensions and influences in several corporate and anti-corporate dramas. Each illuminates an aspect of the corporation's complex character.
Among the 40 interview subjects are CEOs and top-level executives from a range of industries: oil, pharmaceutical, computer, tire, manufacturing, public relations, branding, advertising and undercover marketing; in addition, a Nobel-prize winning economist, the first management guru, a corporate spy, and a range of academics, critics, historians and thinkers are interviewed.
A LEGAL "PERSON"
In the mid-1800s the corporation emerged as a legal "person." Imbued with a "personality" of pure self-interest, the next 100 years saw the corporation's rise to dominance. The corporation created unprecedented wealth. But at what cost? The remorseless rationale of "externalities"-as Milton Friedman explains: the unintended consequences of a transaction between two parties on a third-is responsible for countless cases of illness, death, poverty, pollution, exploitation and lies.
THE PATHOLOGY OF COMMERCE: CASE HISTORIES
To more precisely assess the "personality" of the corporate "person," a checklist is employed, using actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and the DSM-IV, the standard diagnostic tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social "personality": It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. Four case studies, drawn from a universe of corporate activity, clearly demonstrate harm to workers, human health, animals and the biosphere. Concluding this point-by-point analysis, a disturbing diagnosis is delivered: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a "psychopath."
But what is the ethical mindset of corporate players? Should the institution or the individuals within it be held responsible?
The people who work for corporations may be good people, upstanding citizens in their communities - but none of that matters when they enter the corporation's world. As Sam Gibara, Former CEO and Chairman of Goodyear Tire, explains, "If you really had a free hand, if you really did what you wanted to do that suited your personal thoughts and your personal priorities, you'd act differently."
Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, the world's largest commercial carpet manufacturer, had an environmental epiphany and re-organized his $1.4 billion company on sustainable principles. His company may be a beacon of corporate hope, but is it an exception to the rule?
A case in point: Sir Mark Moody-Stuart recounts an exchange between himself (at the time Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell), his wife, and a motley crew of Earth First activists who arrived on the doorstep of their country home. The protesters chanted and stretched a banner over their roof that read, "MURDERERS." The response of the surprised couple was not to call the police, but to engage their uninvited guests in a civil dialogue, share concerns about human rights and the environment and eventually serve them tea on their front lawn. Yet, as the Moody-Stuarts apologize for not being able to provide soy milk for their vegan critics' tea, Shell Nigeria is flaring unrivaled amounts of gas, making it one of the world's single worst sources of pollution. And all the professed concerns about the environment do not spare Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other activists from being hanged for opposing Shell's environmental practices in the Niger Delta.
The Corporation exists to create wealth, and even world disasters can be profit centers. Carlton Brown, a commodities trader, recounts with unabashed honesty the mindset of gold traders while the twin towers crushed their occupants. The first thing that came to their minds, he tells us, was: "How much is gold up?"
You'd think that things like disasters, or the purity of childhood, or even milk, let alone water or air, would be sacred. But no. Corporations have no built-in limits on what, who, or how much they can exploit for profit. In the fifteenth century, the enclosure movement began to put fences around public grazing lands so that they might be privately owned and exploited. Today, every molecule on the planet is up for grabs. In a bid to own it all, corporations are patenting animals, plants, even your DNA.
Around things too precious, vulnerable, sacred or important to the public interest, governments have, in the past, drawn protective boundaries against corporate exploitation. Today, governments are inviting corporations into domains from which they were previously barred.
The Initiative Corporation spends $22 billion worldwide placing its clients' advertising in every imaginable - and some unimaginable - media. One new medium: very young children. Their "Nag Factor" study dropped jaws in the world of child psychiatry. It was designed not to help parents cope with their children's nagging, but to help corporations formulate their ads and promotions so that children would nag for their products more effectively. Initiative Vice President Lucy Hughes elaborates: "You can manipulate consumers into wanting, and therefore buying your products. It's a game."
Today people can become brands (Martha Stewart). And brands can build cities (Celebration, Florida). And university students can pay for their educations by shilling on national television for a credit card company (Chris and Luke). And a corporation even owns the rights to the popular song "Happy Birthday" (a division of AOL-Time-Warner). Do you ever get the feeling it's all a bit much?
Corporations have invested billions to shape public and political opinion. When they own everything, who will stand for the public good?
THE PRICE OF WHISTLEBLOWING
It turns out that standing for the public good is an expensive proposition. Ask Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, two investigative reporters fired by Fox News after they refused to water down a story on rBGH, a controversial synthetic hormone widely used in the United States (but banned in Europe and Canada) to rev up cows' metabolism and boost their milk production. Because of the increased production, the cows suffer from mastitis, a painful infection of the udders. Antibiotics must then be injected, which find their way into the milk, and ultimately reduce people's resistance to disease.
Fox demanded that they rewrite the story, and ultimately fired Akre and Wilson. Akre and Wilson subsequently sued Fox under Florida's whistle-blower statute. They proved to a jury that the version of the story Fox would have had them put on the air was false, distorted or slanted. Akre was awarded $425,000. Then Fox appealed, the verdict was overturned on a technicality, and Akre lost her award. [For an update on the case see Disc 2 where we learn that at one point, Jane and Steve became liable for Fox's $1.8 million court costs, later to be reduced to $200,000.]
Democracy is a value that the corporation just doesn't understand. In fact, corporations have often tried to undo democracy if it is an obstacle to their single-minded drive for profit. From a 1934 business-backed plot to install a military dictator in the White House (undone by the integrity of one U.S. Marine Corps General, Smedley Darlington Butler) to present-day law-drafting, corporations have bought military might, political muscle and public opinion.
And corporations do not hesitate to take advantage of democracy's absence either. One of the most shocking stories of the twentieth century is Edwin Black's recounting IBM's strategic alliance with Nazi Germany-one that began in 1933 in the first weeks that Hitler came to power and continued well into World War II.
The corporation may be trying to render governments impotent, but since the landmark WTO protest in Seattle, a rising wave of networked individuals and groups have decided to make their voices heard. Movements to challenge the very foundations of the corporation are afoot: The corporate charter revocation movement tried to bring down oil giant Unocal; a groundbreaking ballot initiative in Arcata, California, put the corporate agenda in the public spotlight in a series of town hall meetings; in Bolivia, the population fought and won a battle against a huge transnational corporation brought in by their government to privatize the water system; in India nearly 99% of the basmati patent of RiceTek was overturned; and W. R. Grace and the U.S. government's patent on Neem was revoked.
As global individuals take back local power, a growing re-invigoration of the concept of citizenship is taking root. It has the power to not only strip the corporation of its seeming omnipotence, but to create a feeling and an ideology of democracy that is much more than its mere institutional version.
Along with the groundbreaking 145-minute theatrical version of the film, the two-disc set has eight hours of never-before-seen footage. All of your favourite heroes and villains are back. In addition to two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, Q's and A's, additional languages and descriptive audio for the visually impaired, 165 never seen before clips and updates are sorted "by person" AND "by topic." Get the details you want to know on the issues you care about. Then, check out the web links for follow-up research and action.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: Helping George
Artie Shaw & Tom Hat
A group of George's Texas cronies decide to help out their friend....
Aussi en français !
Comment on this Editorial
Games Playing with Iran
Israel plans to launch satellite to spy on Iran's nuclear program
04:59:08 EDT Apr 25, 2006
JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel was launching a satellite Tuesday to spy on Iran's nuclear program, an Israeli defence official said, as Iran's leader persisted with his calls for the Jewish state's destruction.
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, meanwhile, said Iran has already funnelled $10 million US to Palestinian militant groups since the start of the year, according to a newspaper report Tuesday. Israel has for years regarded Iran as the primary threat to its survival, disputing Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is peaceful.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made this threat more tangible by repeatedly questioning Israel's right to exist, most recently on Monday, when he said Israel was a "fake regime" that "cannot logically continue to live."
Later Tuesday, Israel planned to launch from Siberia its Eros B satellite, designed to spot images on the ground as small as 70 centimetres, the defence official said. That level of resolution would allow Israel to gather information on Iran's nuclear program and its long-range missiles, which are capable of striking Israel, he said.
"The most important thing in a satellite is its ability to photograph and its resolution," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter.
"This satellite has very high resolution, and (state-run) Israel Aircraft Industries has a great ability to process information that is relayed."
If the launch is successful, it will take seven to 10 days to see whether the images that are transmitted are sharp and clear, he said.
Tehran has helped to finance Palestinian militant groups as part of its campaign against the Jewish state, and appears to have stepped up funding since the Hamas militant group swept Palestinian elections in January.
At the inauguration of an Iranian studies department at Tel Aviv University, Mofaz said Iran had sent $10 million to militant groups in the first four months of the year.
"The money transferred by Iran serves as fuel for the terror groups," The Jerusalem Post quoted Mofaz as saying.
"Hamas' rise to power, coupled with Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, demonstrates the growing motivation to perpetrate anti-Israel terror attacks."
He did not say how the money was funnelled to the militants.
Iran has pledged to give the cash-strapped Hamas government money, but it has yet to deliver on its promise. Israeli experts have said that in the past, Iran had primarily funded other Palestinian militant groups, to the tune of about $10 million a year.
Iran's threatening comments about Israel had special resonance on Tuesday, which Israel marked as Holocaust remembrance day. Israeli Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres, in Poland for Holocaust observances, drew a parallel between Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
"We will haven't recovered from this (the Holocaust) and I still hear these calls from Iran to destroy Israel," Peres said.
Ahmadinejad's words, he added, "are enough to put us all on alert."
Comment on this Article
U.S. terrorism finance expert arrives to discuss measures against Iran
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent
Last Update: 25/04/2006 02:55
An official U.S. terrorism finance expert arrives here Tuesday to discuss economic measures against Iran and the Palestinian Hamas government. The official, Stuart Levey, is Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in the Department of the Treasury.
It was reported this week that Washington was planning a "financial assault" on Iran that would include targeting Iranian bank accounts in Europe and Iranian-owned financial institutions.
Israel and the U.S. are also cooperating in efforts to prevent the transfer of funds to the Hamas government.
Levey is in charge of financial aspects of the administration's war on terror, mainly blocking financial channels of international terror and imposing economic sanctions on rogue states. He previously served as anti-terror coordinator in the Justice Department.
Levey will meet senior officials in the Foreign Ministry, National Security Council, the Mossad and probably with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as well.
Livni met Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos on Tuesday and told him that as long as Hamas was running the Palestinian Authority, the international community should present a united front against it.
She cautioned that Hamas leaders would make seemingly moderate statements to obtain legitimacy and financing.
Comment on this Article
Iran Threatens to Hide Its Nuclear Program
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
April 25, 2006
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Tuesday that Tehran would halt all cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog if the Security Council imposes sanctions against it, and warned it might go further and hide its nuclear program if the West takes any other "harsh measures."
The statements by Ali Larijani were Iran's strongest statement of defiance yet before a Friday deadline the Security Council has given the country to stop all uranium enrichment. They came a day after Iran's president boldly predicted the Security Council would not impose sanctions on Tehran and warned he was thinking about dropping out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
"Military action against Iran will not end our program," Larijani said Tuesday, speaking at a conference on the energy program. "If you take harsh measures, we will hide this program. If you use the language of force, you should not expect us to act transparently."
He also said flatly that Iran would not abide by the Friday deadline to suspend uranium enrichment.
"If you take the first step wrong, the wrong trend will continue. We welcome any logical proposal to resolve the issue. They just need to say why should we suspend," Larijani said.
Iran's former President, Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaking at the same conference, claimed that Iran openly launched its nuclear program - which it insists is for peaceful energy purposes only - "but the behavior of Western countries forced it to carry out its nuclear program independently, based on local expertise and knowledge without relying on Western countries."
The International Atomic Energy Agency's chief spokesman, Marc Vidricaire, said Tuesday it would not comment on Iran's threat to scuttle all cooperation if sanctions are imposed. He said the IAEA planned no public statements ahead of agency head Mohamed ElBaradei's report to the Security Council and the agency's 35-nation board of governors, expected by the end of this week.
The United States, Britain and France maintain that Iran actually wants enriched uranium for atomic bombs, which would violate its commitments under the treaty. Iran denies the charge, but Washington is pressing fellow members of the Security Council to impose economic sanctions.
Meanwhile, an Israeli defense official said Israel was launching a satellite to spy on Iran's program, as Iran's leader persisted with his calls for the Jewish state's destruction.
Israel planned to launch from Siberia later Tuesday its Eros B satellite, designed to spot images on the ground as small as 27 inches, the defense official said. That level of resolution would allow Israel to gather information on Iran's nuclear program and its long-range missiles, which are capable of striking Israel, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter.
On Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel a "fake regime" that "cannot logically continue to live." Last year, he called the Nazi Holocaust a "myth" and declared that Israel should be "wiped off the map."
Ahmadinejad's government insists the nonproliferation treaty gives Iran the right to enrich uranium for fueling civilian nuclear power plants, and he has given no ground in the international faceoff. The fiery hardline president said Monday he was reconsidering Iran's adherence to the treaty, which is aimed at stopping the spread of atomic weapons while allowing peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
"What has more than 30 years of membership in the agency given us?" he asked at a news conference, only the second since he took office last year at which foreign journalists have been allowed to ask questions.
As a member of the IAEA, Iran is obliged to honor the agency's basic nuclear safeguards agreement. However, that agreement is limited to select declared atomic facilities and programs.
It is not the first time Iran has threatened to curb cooperation: Several months ago, Tehran announced it would not honor the U.N. nuclear watchdog's so-called "additional protocol," which gave the IAEA increased and more thorough inspection powers.
Suspicions about Iran's intentions have grown since it was discovered in 2002 that Tehran had for two decades secretly operated large-scale nuclear activities that could be used in weapons making.
The IAEA says it has since found no direct evidence of an arms program, but it also says the Iranians have not been fully forthcoming in answering questions about their nuclear activities. After repeated attempts to resolve the issue through negotiations, the IAEA reported Iran to the Security Council for noncompliance.
Iran deepened international concerns by announcing April 11 that it had for the first time enriched uranium with 164 centrifuges - a step toward large-scale production of nuclear fuel.
The United States and others are urging the Security Council to take a tougher stance by imposing a mandatory order for Iran to halt enrichment, a move that would raise the threat of sanctions.
Russian and China, which are among the five permanent members that can veto council actions, have opposed that approach, saying diplomacy has not run its course. Ahmadinejad appears to be banking on their support to dissuade Washington from pressing a sanctions vote.
Comment: The point is that the Bush administration is using the same tactics with Iran that it used on Iraq, and we all see now what really happened before and after the invasion of Iraq. Why should Iran stick to the NPT when the Bush administration and its lapdop "friends" around the world have made it abundantly clear that it doesn't matter what Iran does? If Iran right now said that they have destroyed all their nuclear projects, the world would simply claim they are lying and invade anyway. You cannot rationally discuss such matters with psychopathic types.
Comment on this Article
War Whore Rice: US still 'on a diplomatic course' on Iran nuclear dispute
April 25, 2006
ATHENS - Greeted by thousands of Iraq war protestors, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a four-day visit to southeast Europe designed to rally diplomatic support for a solution to the Iran nuclear dispute.
"The agenda is to reinforce our diplomatic effort," Rice told a news conference here after talks with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Tuesday.
"The US president does not take any options off the table, but we are on a diplomatic course here, that is the agenda that we are pursuing, that is the agenda the foreign minister and I discussed," she said.
Rice's comments came after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday that his nation would not comply with a UN Security Council demand to freeze uranium enrichment by the end of this week.
And earlier Tuesday, top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said that Iran will suspend its relations with the UN's atomic watchdog if sanctions are imposed.
"If you decide to use sanctions against us, our relations with the agency will be suspended," Larijani said of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In Athens, Rice countered that "the Iranians can threaten, but they are deepening their own isolation."
"I would just say that when the international community speaks, and says that a member state must do something, then the international community has to be credible about that demand," she said.
"We will return to the UN Security Council after the report of the IAEA. ... We will consider what measures to take next, but we can't have another presidential statement, particularly in the light of Iran's continued defiance of international norm."
She was apparently referring a March 29 Security Council document giving Iran a month to completely halt its uranium enrichment activities.
As talks between Bakoyannis and Rice were under way, police stationed around 300 metres (yards) from the foreign ministry used tear gas to disperse a left-wing demonstration of about 400 people who were attempting to break through en route to the US embassy.
A larger communist demonstration of a few thousand decided against forcing the police cordon, and turned back.
The marchers held banners proclaiming support for the Iraqi resistance forces and opposition to military intervention in Iran.
"Wanted for killing millions of people," read a banner with Rice's picture, while another played on the secretary of state's surname, replacing Rice with 'Reich' in a reference to the Nazi German regime during World War II.
Some of the scattered protesters later caused damage at shops and cars in the area, Net state television reported.
A total of around 5,000 police officers were deployed around town to regulate traffic and guard approaches to the Greek parliament, the prime minister's residence, the foreign ministry and the US embassy.
During Rice's presence in the area, police helicopters flew overhead, and even pedestrians were prevented from nearing within a block of government buildings.
After talks with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, the secretary of state is expected to spend an hour at the US embassy before departing for Ankara at 14:45 pm (1145 GMT).
Rice's visit to Athens is the first by a US secretary of state for bilateral talks since 1986, when George Schultz held the post under the Reagan administration.
During the Clinton administration, Warren Christopher visited Athens for a NATO meeting.
But Rice's immediate predecessor Colin Powell cancelled planned visits to the Greek capital on three occasions in 2004 and 2003.
Comment on this Article
Ahmadinejad: Oil Price Is Lower Than Value
By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 19, 6:25 PM ET
TEHRAN, Iran - Wading into oil politics for the first time,
Iran's hard-line president said Wednesday that crude oil prices - now at record levels - still are below their true value.
In statements likely to rattle world oil markets, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also said developed countries, not producing countries like Iran, are benefiting the most from the current high prices.
"The global oil price has not reached its real value yet. The products derived from crude oil are sold at prices dozens of times higher than those charged by oil-producing countries," state-run Tehran radio quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"The developed nations are the biggest beneficiary of the added value of oil products," he said.
The president, who is embroiled with the West and the
United Nations over Tehran's nuclear program, stopped short of saying Iran would use oil as a weapon, a tactic much feared by his antagonists on the nuclear issue. Nor did he say what oil prices should be.
Oil prices leapt above $72 a barrel Wednesday, settling at a record high for the third straight day.
"The products derived from crude oil cost over 10 times the price of oil sold by producing states. Developed and powerful countries benefit more from its value-added than any party," Ahmadinejad said.
Oil prices should be determined on the basis of market supply and demand, the Iranian leader said.
"Oil is the major asset of nations possessing it. Its price should not be lowered on the pretext that it will prove harmful to developing states, thus permitting the world powers to benefit the most from it," he said.
George Orwel, an analyst at the New York-based Petroleum Intelligence Weekly said he thought Ahmadinejad was playing the oil card to resist pressure over Iran's nuclear program.
"They are using the oil as a political football. Every time there's an issue with Iran, the oil market freaks out," he said in a telephone interview.
Earlier this week, as oil prices pushed above $70 a barrel, ABN Amro broker Lee Fader said the trigger was heightened fear about U.S. military action against Iran, which has said it would go ahead with plans to enrich uranium in defiance of the United States, Europe and the U.N. nuclear agency.
Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, but the West fears it is intent on arming itself with nuclear weapons.
If the United States were to attack Iran, Tehran might try to cripple the world economy by putting a stranglehold on the oil that moves through the Strait of Hormuz - a narrow, strategically important waterway running to Iran's south.
While discounting Ahmadinejad's seriousness in his Wednesday comments about the value of oil, Orwel conceded the oil industry could not do without the 2.5 million barrels that Iran exports daily.
"Ahmadinejad is trying to show his muscle so that the Bush administration can realize the consequences on the oil market of further confrontation with Iran," Orwel said, adding that he fully expected Iran to threaten to cut off oil if the confrontation with the West continued.
While Ahmadinejad did not say he would use oil as a weapon in his dispute with the West, Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said last month the oil card was in play.
"If (they) politicize our nuclear case, we will use any means. We are rich in energy resources. We have control over the biggest and the most sensitive energy route of the world," he said, referring to the Straits of Hormuz.
In keeping with Iranian leaders' tendency of late to contradict themselves, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki later denied Iran would adopt such a policy.
Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil-producing country and the second in
Ahmadinejad urged oil-producing countries - within and outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries - to establish a fund to help alleviate the pressure resulting from high oil prices on Third World nations.
Oppenheimer & Co. oil analyst Fadel Gheit said he considered it unlikely that Iran had any intention of cutting off its oil, the lifeline of its economy.
Gheit noted, however, that there was some truth in Ahmadinejad's comment on developed countries benefiting most from increased oil prices, though the statement would likely be seen as an attempt at "fanning the flames" of a red-hot oil market.
"What he's saying makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, the source of the comment is going to send jitters in the market," Gheit said.
"The street value (of oil) is triple what OPEC is making," Gheit added, referring to the value of a barrel of gasoline versus the value of a barrel of oil.
Gheit estimated that in London, where the retail price of gasoline is about $6 a gallon, about $150 worth of gasoline can be made and sold from every $50 barrel of oil.
"That is why Exxon Mobil and all the rest make so much money," he said.
Comment on this Article
Attack Iran, destroy the US constitution
By Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith
During the 2004 election, President George W Bush famously proclaimed that he didn't have to ask anyone's permission to defend the United States of America. Does that mean he can attack Iran without having to ask Congress? A new resolution being drafted by Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio may be a vehicle to remind Bush that he can't.
Bush has called news reports of plans to attack Iran "wild speculation" and declared that the United States is on a "diplomatic" track. But asked this week if his options included planning for a nuclear strike, he repeated that "all options are on the table".
The president is acting as if the decisions that may get Americans into another war are his to make and his alone. So the Iran crisis poses not only questions of military feasibility and political wisdom but of constitutional usurpation. Bush's top officials openly assert that he can do anything he wants - including attacking another country - on his authority as commander-in-chief.
Last October, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee whether the president would circumvent congressional authorization if the White House chose military action against Iran or Syria. She answered, "I will not say anything that constrains his authority as commander-in-chief."
When pressed by Senator Paul Sarbanes about whether the administration can exercise a military option without an authorization from Congress, Rice replied, "The president never takes any option off the table, and he shouldn't."
The founding fathers of the United States were deeply concerned that the president's power to make war might become a vehicle for tyranny. So they crafted a constitution that included checks and balances on presidential power, among them an independent congress and judiciary, an executive power subject to laws written by Congress and interpreted by the courts, and an executive power to repel attacks but not to declare or finance war.
But the Bush doctrine of preemptive war, as laid out in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States and reiterated this year, claims for the president the power to attack other countries simply because he asserts they pose a threat. It thereby removes the decision of war and peace from Congress and gives it to the president. It is, as Senator Robert Byrd put it, "unconstitutional on its face".
DeFazio is now preparing and seeking support from other House members for a resolution asserting that the president cannot initiate military action against Iran without congressional authorization.
"The imperial powers claimed by this administration are breathtaking in their scope. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues were willing to cede our constitutional authorities to the president prior to the war in Iraq. We've seen how that turned out," DeFazio told the New York-based Nation newsmagazine. "Congress can't make the same mistake with respect to Iran. Yet the constant drumbeat we're hearing out of the administration, in the press and from think-tanks on Iran eerily echoes what we heard about Iraq.
"It likely won't be long until we hear from the president that he can take preemptive military action against Iran without congressional authorization, which is what he originally argued about Iraq. Or that Congress has already approved action against Iran via some prior vote, which he also argued about Iraq," DeFazio said. "That is why it is so important to put the administration, my colleagues and the American people on notice now that such arguments about unilateral presidential war powers have no merit. Our nation's founders were clear on this issue. There is no ambiguity."
There is considerable evidence that military action against Iran has already begun. Retired air force Colonel Sam Gardiner told the Cable News Network that "the decision has been made and military operations are under way". He said the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency recently told him that the Iranians have captured dissident units "and they've confessed to working with the Americans".
Journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker that "American combat troops are now operating in Iran". He quoted a government consultant who told him that the units were not only identifying targets but "studying the terrain, giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds".
Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has written to Bush, noting, "The presence of US troops in Iran constitutes a hostile act against that country," and urged him to report immediately to Congress on all activities involving US forces in Iran.
Concern about presidential usurpation of the war power is not just a partisan matter. Former vice president Al Gore this year joined with former Republican congressman Bob Barr to express "our shared concern that America's constitution is in grave danger". As Gore explained, "In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power."
One of the stunning revelations of a recent spate of news stories is that top military brass are strongly opposed to the move toward military strikes. The Washington Post quotes a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Middle East specialist that "the Pentagon is arguing forcefully against it". According to Hersh's reporting in The New Yorker, the Joint Chiefs of Staff "had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran".
The Bush administration is putting military officials in a position where they will have to decide whether their highest loyalty is to the president or to the country and the constitution. Retired Lieutenant-General Gregory Newbold, who recently called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has criticized the US military brass for its quiescence while the Bush administration pursued "a fundamentally flawed plan" for "an invented war". Now he is calling on serving military officers to speak out.
The "generals' revolt" has not publicly targeted the plans to attack Iran. But its central critique concerns Rumsfeld's disregard for the US military's evaluation of the costs of the Iraq war and the scale of commitment it would require. Even if the generals don't speak about Iran specifically, their arguments about the costs of the Iraq war logically fit a future Iran war too.
The American people are by now deeply skeptical of Bush's reliability in matters of war and peace. In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, 54% of respondents said they did not trust Bush to "make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iran", compared with 42% who did. Forty percent said the war in Iraq had made them less supportive of military action against Iran. But Americans are being systematically deprived of any alternative view of the Iranian threat, the consequences of US policy choices, or the real intentions of the Bush administration.
Congress and the US military allowed the Bush administration to bamboozle the country with false information and scare talk prior to the Iraq war - and they share responsibility for the resulting catastrophe. Now we're hearing again talk about mushroom clouds. It's up to Congress and the military to make it clear that the president does not assume monarchical power over questions of war and peace.
Congress and the American people - who should make the decision about war and peace - haven't even heard the forceful arguments of military officials against military strikes. Calling those Pentagon officials to testify - and protecting them against administration reprisals - would be a good place to start.
Gardiner, who specializes in war games and conducted one for The Atlantic Monthly magazine that simulated a US attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, concluded, "It's a path that leads to disaster in many directions." Unless preceded by a United Nations endorsement or an imminent Iranian attack, it's also aggression, a war crime under international law and the UN Charter. If Bush or his subordinates have already ordered military operations in Iran, it should be considered a criminal act, Gardiner said.
The DeFazio resolution could provide a rallying point for a coalition to act preemptively to put checks and balances on the Bush administration's usurpation of constitutional powers. Indeed, the growing evidence that the United States is already conducting military operations in Iran demonstrates the urgency of placing limits on executive power.
Anyone in the United States who wants to avoid national catastrophe should get busy defending it. Otherwise, Bush's legacy may be: "He bombed Iran, and the collateral damage wiped out the constitution."
Legal analyst Brendan Smith and historian Jeremy Brecher are the editors, with Jill Cutler, of In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt, 2005) (www.americanempireproject.com), and the founders of www.warcrimeswatch.org .
Comment on this Article
THE ROVING EYE
What's really happening in Tehran
By Pepe Escobar
26 April 2006
"Tehran appears hell-bent on defying the international community and pursuing a nuclear program that is of growing concern."
- Sean McCormack, US State Department spokesman. This followed a rare press conference with the international media in Tehran on Monday in which Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad suggested that Tehran might withdraw from the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and also said "there is no need" for US-Iranian talks on Iraq.
Because of the opacity of Iran's theocratic nationalism, outsiders may be tempted to assume that the official Iranian position is the one expressed last week in Baku, Azerbaijan, by Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar: "The United States has been threatening Iran for 27 years, and this is not new for us. Therefore, we are never afraid of US threats."
President George W Bush and other US administration officials have frequently said that "all options are on the table" with regard to Iran's nuclear program, which the United States suspects is designed to develop nuclear weapons.
Last month, the United Nations Security Council passed a statement asking Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei to report simultaneously to the council and the IAEA board by April 28 on whether Iran had halted enriching uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear warheads. To date, Tehran has refused to do so.
Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the UN, has repeatedly relayed the official position. Iran's nuclear program is peaceful; there is no proof of a military development; the religious leadership opposes atomic weapons; and Iran has not invaded or attacked any nation for the past 250 years.
The power spheres in Iran seem to bet that even in the event of a shock and awe of B-2s, missiles and bunker busters, that simply is not enough to snuff out accumulated Iranian nuclear know-how and the quest to master the nuclear fuel cycle. So the only real question would be for how many years the US would be able to slow down Iran's nuclear program.
Is that all there is? Not really.
As some Iranian analysts and ministry officials have told Asia Times Online in Tehran off the record, there are reasons to believe the leadership is misreading an avalanche of US signs related to the military and psychological preparation for a possible war.
For instance, fundamentalist Christians in the US - who support Zionism for theological reasons - unleashed a ferocious media campaign depicting Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad as the Antichrist who wants to destroy Jerusalem and prevent Jesus' comeback.
There are even indications that the Iranian leadership has not taken the Bush administration's explicit desire for regime change seriously. It's as if the leadership is persuading itself Washington would never dare to escalate the situation - especially after such US bodies as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Academy of Sciences have stated that a tactical nuclear strike could kill more than a million Iranians.
At Monday's press conference, Ahmadinejad, asked about possible military strikes, smiled broadly and dismissed the notion. "Military attacks? On what pretext?" he asked, adding that Iran was strong and could defend itself.
Earlier, Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said any US military attack over Iran's nuclear program would result in a humiliating defeat for the United States, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.
But what if the Bush administration and the Ahmadinejad presidency were bluffing each other into a nuclear war?
Pick your faction
The key question is which Iranian leadership will have the final say. There are at least four main factions in the complex Iranian game of power politics.
The first faction is a sort of extreme right, closely aligned from the beginning to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and involved with a rapprochement with Sunni Arabs in general, while opposing even a tactical rapprochement with the US.
The faction includes the dreaded hojjatieh (a semi-clandestine, radically anti-Sunni organization) and the Iranian Hezbollah, which supports both the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Arab nationalism of Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq. Former defense minister Ali Chamkhani - whom Asia Times Online was told in Tehran could not talk to the foreign press - is very close to this faction. They are very conservative religiously and socialist economically.
The difference between the Iranian and the Lebanese Hezbollah is that in Beirut Hezbollah is much more active, pushing to be at the heart of political life and improving people's living conditions.
The role of Ahmadinejad - a former Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) middle-rank official - in molding this first faction has been crucial. In 2005, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had the support of former president and Machiavellian master of ambiguity, Hashemi Rafsanjani, at the highest levels of power - the Expediency Council.
But as a balancing act the supreme leader also decided to boost the profile of Ahmadinejad, who happened to be totally opposed to the pragmatist Rafsanjani. To add more arabesques to this Persian miniature, Khamenei's favorite candidate in the 2005 presidential elections was actually Baqer Qalibaf, a former chief of police - basically a conservative but in favor of a controlled opening of political life, the supreme leader's own policy.
What this all means is that Ahmadinejad - even winning against Rafsanjani and Qalibaf - and as the new leader of the extreme right is not really in charge of the government. It's an open secret in Tehran that the Pasdaran intervened in the elections through massive fraud. This has led in the past few months to the formation of an anti-Ahmadinejad coalition that ranges from Qalibaf supporters to - believe it or not - pro-secular intellectuals close to former president Mohammad Khatami.
The supreme leader knew that Ahmadinejad would revive the regime with his populist rhetoric, very appealing to the downtrodden masses. But the ruling ayatollahs may have miscalculated that since they control everything - the Supreme National Security Council, the Guardians Council, the foundations, the army, the media - they could also control the "street cleaner of the people". That was not the case, so now plan B - restraining the president, and the powerful Pasdaran - is in order.
The second key faction is composed of provincial clerics, whose master is the supreme leader himself. These are pure conservatives, attached to the purity of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and more patriotic than the first faction. They are not interested in more integration with Sunni Arabs. Faithful to the supreme leader, they want to keep both progressives and extremists "in the same house" (Ahl al Bait) , with the velayat-e-faqih - the role of jurisprudence - as the supreme law of the land. Ever since the 2004 parliamentary elections - largely boycotted by the Iranian population - an association of clerics totally dominates the majlis (parliament).
But there are huge problems behind this appearance of unity. Iranian money from the bonyads - foundations - badly wants a reconciliation with the West. They know that the relentless flight of both capital and brains - which is being actively encouraged by the Rafsanjani faction - is against the national interest. But they also know this can hurt Ahmadinejad's power. Some Western-connected Iranians are even comparing Ahmadinejad's current days to the Gang of Four in China a little while before the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
The Pasdaran for their part want to keep their fight against Zionism and go all the way with the nuclear program. This entails the extraordinary possibility of a US attack against Iranian nuclear sites counting on the complicity of a great deal of the mullahcracy - which does not hide its desire to get rid of Ahmadinejad and his Pasdaran "gang".
All going the Machiavellian's way?
The third faction is the left - initially former partisans of the son of ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ahmad Khomeini, who died in mysterious circumstances in the 1990s. After that they operated a spectacular mutation from Soviet-style socialism into some sort of religious democracy, which found its icon in former president Khatami of "dialogue of civilizations" fame. They became the so-called progressives - and even if they lost the 2004 and 2005 elections, they are still a force, although already debilitated by the slow awakening of a younger, more secular and more radical opposition.
The fourth and most unpredictable faction is Rafsanjani's. The consummate Machiavellian masterfully retained his own power from the late 1990s, juggling between Khamenei and Khatami. He may be the ultimate centrist, but Rafsanjani is and will always remain a supporter of the supreme leader. What he dearly wants is to restore Iran's national might and regional power, and reconcile the country with the West, for one essential reason: he knows an anti-Islamic tempest is already brewing among the youth in Iran's big cities.
As head of the Expediency Council, fully supported by the supreme leader, and in his quest to "save" the Islamic Revolution, Rafsanjani retains the best possible positioning.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad holds as much power as his predecessor - the urbane, enlightened and sartorially impeccable Khatami: that is, not much. What Ahmadinejad's obvious excesses are doing is to solidify the support the Rafsanjani faction is getting from the intelligentsia as well as the urban youth, not to mention the "enlightened police" faction of Qalibaf. This does not mean that another revolution is around the corner - as the Bush administration's wishful thinking goes.
Apart from these four factions, there are two others that are outside the ironclad circle of supreme-leader power: the revolutionary left and the secular right. Clerics call them biganeh (eccentric), and the denomination may be correct to a point, as both these groups are mostly disconnected from the majority of the population, although they also support the nuclear program out of patriotism.
The extreme left hates the mullahcracy, but has also derided Khatami's moderately progressive agenda. As for the Westernized liberals - which include former supporters of deposed prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh and members of the Freedom Movement of Iran, an opposition party, they are becoming increasingly popular with Tehran students, who are more and more pro-American (if not in foreign policy at least in behavior and cultural preferences).
The regime may in essence be unpopular - because of so much austerity and the virtual absence of social mobility - but for millions it is still bearable. No one seems to be dreaming of revolution in Iran. What is actually happening is the slow emergence of a common front - bent on the restoration of the power of the Iranian state through an alliance with Shi'ism in Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon.
This may be interpreted as a Shi'ite crescent by alarmist Sunni Arabs, but there's no military, expansionist logic behind it. The common front is also in favor of moving toward a more market economy and a progressive liberalization of morals and public opinion. This is what one hears in Tehran from young people, women, workers in the cultural industry, and philosophers - and it is Tehran that always sets the agenda in Iran.
If the regime does not open up, the Iranian economy will never create enough jobs over the next few years to fight unemployment among its overwhelmingly young population. A great deal of the non-oil-dependent private sector is controlled by the bonyads, whose managers are usually incompetent and corrupt clerics.
Many Iranians know that an economic crisis - high oil prices notwithstanding - will rip the heart out of the lower middle class, the regime's base, and more crucially the industrial working class, which used to be aligned with the Tudeh, Iran's communist party.
There is a way out
They key to solving most of Iran's problems lies in finding a compromise with the West - especially the Americans - regarding the nuclear dossier. For all his vocal, popular support in the provinces, if Ahmadinejad and his Pasdaran hardliners go against this national desire for stability and progress, they will be sidelined.
Demonizing Western parallels of Iran enriching a few grams of uranium as akin to Adolf Hitler's march into the Rhineland is positively silly. So far Iran has only disregarded a non-binding request from the UN Security Council. The uranium-enrichment program may be under the operational control of the Pasdaran, but Ahmadinejad does not set Iran's nuclear policy: the supreme leader does, his guidelines followed by the Supreme National Security Council, which is led by the leader's protege, Ali Larijani. Khamenei and Larijani have both substantially toned down the rhetoric; Ahmadinejad hasn't.
The point is not that Ahmadinejad is a suicidal nut bent on confronting the US by all means available. The point is that the president leads just one of four key factions in a do-or-die power play, and he is following his own agenda, which is not necessarily the Iranian theocratic leadership's agenda. Washington neo-conservatives for their part may want regime change - but that won't happen with another shock and awe.
Ahmadinejad is playing the typical Bonapartist - using a political deadlock to go all the way toward dictatorship. Rafsanjani may also be a Bonapartist, but the difference is he's not interested in dictatorship.
The ideal outcome of this whole "nuclear crisis" would be an Iran moving to a moderately liberal alliance between eternal pragmatist Rafsanjani - the only one capable of subduing the Pasdaran - and the semi-secular left, which still regards Khatami as the least bad of all possible models. It may not be paradise, but it certainly beats war.
Comment on this Article
How 'They' See 'Us'
Human trafficking is 'slavery that shames world'
By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor
Published: 24 April 2006
Almost every country in the world is affected by the scourge of human trafficking, a UN report will reveal today.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has compiled the first such study from open sources, there are 127 countries of origin, mainly developing countries, and 137 destination countries, mainly in the industrialised world.The report also highlights 98 transit countries.
"The fact that slavery - in the form of human trafficking - still exists in the 21st century shames us all," said UNODC's chief, Antonio Maria Costa.
The report, to be presented to the UN crime commission meeting in Vienna, calls for the protection of victims, particularly women and children, and for the systematic prosecution of offenders. "Traffickers are evil brokers of oppressed people whom they deliver in the hands of exploiters," Mr Costa said. "They capitalise on weak law enforcement and poor international co-operation. I am disappointed by the low rates of convictions for the perpetrators of human trafficking."
Germany, Greece and France are among about a dozen countries identified as having a "high" incidence of acting as transit countries. Ten countries are named as the top destinations for trafficking victims: Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey and the US. Britain is on the "high" index of destination countries.
Human trafficking for sexual exploitation is reported more frequently than trafficking for forced labour at the global level, the report says. It calls for governments to publicise the risks to vulnerable people through information campaigns. "A main challenge is to reduce demand, whether for cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops, or for under-priced commodities produced by bonded people in farms and mines, or for services provided by sex slaves. If people are aware of the dangers of human trafficking, the chances of avoiding its consequences should be improved," Mr Costa said.
The absence of data has been a major handicap in tackling the crime of human trafficking, the report says. "Some countries of destination have great difficulty in acknowledging the level of trafficking within and across their borders," Mr Costa said. He urged governments to "try harder" in reporting abuse, saying that efforts to understand the scale of the problem have so far been inefficient and uncoordinated.
The report also acknowledges possible dangers in interpreting the available data. Some countries could appear to have a serious problem because their data are honest and accurate, while others "could appear in an unduly favourable light because of inadequate statistics", Mr Costa said. But he said it was "difficult to name a country that is not affected in some way."
Comment on this Article
Only 'best residents' to be allowed back in St. Thomas complex
By Bill Walsh
WASHINGTON - U.S. Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson shed little light Monday on the future of public housing in hurricane-battered New Orleans, but said that "only the best residents" of the former St. Thomas housing complex should be allowed into the new mixed-income development that replaced it.
In a wide-ranging interview with reporters, Jackson was asked about the relatively small number of apartments in the 60-acre River Gardens development in Uptown that have been set aside for former residents of St. Thomas. Jackson estimated it was 18 to 20 percent, although housing advocates said it is less.
"Some of the people shouldn't return," Jackson said. "The (public housing) developments were gang-ridden by some of the most notorious gangs in this country. People hid and took care of those persons because they took care of them. Only the best residents should return. Those who paid rent on time, those who held a job and those who worked."
The blunt-spoken Jackson, who is black, acknowledged his comments might be seen as racially offensive because virtually all of the former St. Thomas residents were African-American. He told a white reporter, "If you said this, they would say you were racist."
He went on to say, "I don't care what color they are, if they are devastating a community, they shouldn't be allowed to return."
His comments drew a sharp response from housing advocates in New Orleans who have accused Jackson's agency, the U.S. Department of Urban Development, of giving public housing residents short shrift as it replaces traditional public developments such as St. Thomas with planned, mixed-income communities.
"I find that very disappointing," Lucia Blacksher, general counsel for the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Center, said. "When people say things like we only want the best people who don't do drugs or commit crimes, there is an implication that many of people in public housing are in fact criminals who don't work. That simply is not true. It is an unnecessary stereotype and an alarming stereotype to be voiced by secretary of HUD."
Jackson also had some tough words for black leaders he said are stoking racial fires in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina.
"I'm a little disturbed that even today they want to bring a racial component into the hurricane. This isn't about racism, this is about people suffering," said Jackson, pointing to the large number of Vietnamese fishers along the Gulf Coast whose livelihoods were ruined by the storm. "It's important (to remember) that everybody suffered in this disaster, not just black people. It bothers me tremendously when I see the so-called leadership in the black community, the liberal community zeroing in (on) how much more difficult it was for African-Americans than it was for white Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans."
Jackson's comments may presage a renewed, get-tough policy when it comes to public housing in post-hurricane New Orleans.
Jackson recently oversaw a shakeup of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, which is in receivership and controlled by his agency. He replaced the receiver and the board chairman with two officials from agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.
HANO spokesman Adonis Expose also confirmed Monday that the agency is considering a long-rumored policy change that would require all public housing residents in New Orleans to have a job or be in a job-training program.
Eight months after Hurricane Katrina, the future of the 10 public housing complexes in New Orleans remains an open question. Times have never been tougher for low-income people as a shortage of rental housing after Hurricane Katrina has seen rents to historic levels.
While HUD has re-opened some complexes, such as Iberville, most of the others remain closed and surrounded by protective fencing. Eager to return, former residents have marched in protest to force the government to open more, but HUD has so far refused.
Asked about it Monday, Jackson said that complexes that suffered severe damage will likely be torn down and redeveloped. Although, he said it will be up to the mayor, whoever it is after the May 20 runoff, to make the key decisions on rebuilding.
"We will rebuild, if that's what the mayor wants," Jackson said. "Do we rebuild the same way? Probably not."
Echoing Bush administration statements in recent months, Jackson said that despite the need for affordable housing, New Orleans' infrastructure remains too fragile to re-open the public housing complexes.
"Most of public housing developments are in areas where electricity has not been turned on, schools are not open, there are no grocery stores and we have a serious mold and lead problem in some of those buildings," Jackson said. "If tomorrow, all those factors came together, we would open them up. We're willing to do that ... (But the former residents) already lived in pretty much sub-standard conditions, I'm not going to condone further sub-standard conditions. I think that is inhumane and wrong."
Housing advocates say that HUD could help drive the repopulation of New Orleans by opening apartments, some of which received only minor damage in the hurricane. If complexes were open, the subsequent boost in population, they say, would prompt businesses and schools to reopen as well.
But those critics say that HUD has no interest in reopening the complexes, only redeveloping much as was done with St. Thomas. Their fear, they say, is that redevelopment of public housing does not always work to the benefit of public housing residents who can end up getting squeezed out by higher rents of the new housing that is built.
"I think they are getting ready to demolish public housing," said Laura Tuggle, an attorney with New Orleans Legal Assistance. "One of the hardest parts of redevelopment is having to relocate residents of public housing. That job was done for them."
Before Katrina, many former St. Thomas residents were on the waiting list for low-rent apartments at River Gardens. They had been screened to make sure they had jobs and didn't have criminal records.
After the storm, HANO installed its own employees in some of the vacant apartments. Expose, the HANO spokesman, said it was so they would have some place to stay while they worked to make other public housing available around the city.
Fair housing groups have filed administrative complaints to force HANO to open more spaces in River Gardens to former St. Thomas residents or other low-income public housing residents. They took issue with Jackson's estimate that a fifth of River Garden's apartments have gone to those people and estimated that it could be as low as 10 percent.
They say that they have grave concerns if the development ends up being the face of public housing in New Orleans.
"If the model is River Gardens, it has failed miserably," said James Perry, executive director of the New Orleans Fair Housing Council.
Comment on this Article
via Winds of Change in the Middle East
"A man was lying in two pieces. There was a woman who was pregnant and I could see the arm and leg of her unborn baby poking out of her stomach. There was a man who had shrapnel in his head. He was not dead but you could see a piece of metal in his neck, like he'd had his throat cut. He told his daughter to come to help him and lift him up. And I heard her say: 'Wait a minute, I'm trying to put my brother together -- he's in two pieces.' There was another brother holding a child in his arms. The child had no head..." - Fawzieh Saad, survivor of the 18th April 1996 Qana massacre
(Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, p. 669)
When Peres had launched this latest war -- 'Grapes of Wrath' was its malign name -- we were treated to the usual nonsense about a war on 'terror', a war against 'international terror', about Israel 'not sitting idly by'. Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists; the same brainwashing that had so affected the Israeli soldiers who invaded Lebanon 14 years earlier. The Israelis firing the shells into Qana were probably schoolboys in 1982. But they still believed the same fantasies. On the very first day of the bombardment, the Israelis fired a missile at the 'Hezbollah terrorist headquarters' in Beirut. But they missed the Hezbollah's offices and the rocket beheaded a little girl in a neighbouring apartment. Then they fired at a car carrying a 'terrorist' to Beirut. But there was no 'terrorist'. Their missile killed the driver -- a young woman -- as she stopped to buy a sandwich at a shop opposite the Jiye power station.
Then just five days before the Qana massacre, another Israeli Apache helicopter pilot fired a missile into an ambulance south of Tyre. It was carrying 'terrorists', the Israelis announced. But it was not. The vehicle was packed with families fleeing their shelled village, obeying the instructions to leave which they had heard over the Israeli-run militia radio station. Two women and four young children were killed in the ambulance. I would later identify and meet every survivor. None was a member of Hezbollah. [...] But the Israelis went on claiming that 'terrorists' were in the car. They never apologised.
(Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, p. 672)
The Hezbollah had by [the evening of April 16] fired exactly 120 Katyusha rockets over the border. Israelis along the border spent nights in shelters. By contrast, Israel was firing 3,000 shells a day into Lebanon while its air force were launching 200 missile raids every 24 hours and 400,000 Lebanese civilians were straming up the roads to Beirut, often under fire from two Israeli gunboats that cruised the shoreline, firing at vehicles on the coastal highway -- because, of course, the 'terrorists' were using the roads.
(Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, p. 673)
I spoke to hundreds of UN troops about the story of the mysterious videotape. Did it exist? And if so, why had it not surfaced? Why hadn't the UN publicised it? Then I learned that the film existed, but that it had been given to General van Kappen and that the soldier had been instructed never to give it to anyone. I heard, too, that the UN's final report on the massacre would be kept secret under what was described as American pressure on the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali.
(Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, p. 681)
Then two days [after the mass funeral of the massacre victims at Qana], I was sitting at home in Beirut when my mobile phone rang. A voice gave me a map reference and added: '1300 hours.' I ran to the front room where I kept my files on southern Lebanon, tearing open the large-scale map of the region. The reference was to a crossroads near Qana. I have never driven so fast to southern Lebanon. And at 1300 hours, I saw in the rear-view mirror a UN jeep, pulling up behind me.
A soldier in battledress and blue beret walked up to me, shook hands and said: "I copied the tape before the UN took it. The plane is there. I have made a personal decision. I have two young children, the same age as the ones I carried dead in my arms at Qana. This is for them." And from his battledress blouse he pulled a video-cassette and threw it on the passenger seat of my car. It was, I think in retrospect, the most dramatic individual personal act I have ever seen a soldier take. The mighty powers may try to cover up, but the little people can still sometimes win.
I drove at speed back to Beirut and slammed the cassette into my recorder. Zooming into the smoke over Qana, the amateur cameraman caught the explosion of shells above the camp. From the distance the film was taken, it was still possible to make out the individual shellbursts. Norwegian troops can be seen close to the camera. Then one of them looks into the sky and the camera pans up. There is a buzzing sound and into focus comes the 'drone', trailing smoke from its engines, flying low over the base. As it moves, the sound of explosions can still be heard and a UN radio in the background can be heard. On it, Commandant Smyth is passing on the message that "Fijibatt headquarters is under fire". The camera zooms again and there is the conference room, burning like a torch. So it was all true.
I made stills of the crucial pictures. The UN had no idea I had the film. Nor had the Israelis. But if The Independent printed all the details -- with photos from the tape -- then the UN would be forced to publish its report. There could be no denying these images. [...] At the same time, and at no profit, we arranged to distribute copies of the tape to every television station which requested it -- British, American, French, Arab, and Israeli, all of whom showed the sequence of the 'drone' over Qana during the shelling. The UN, mainly on the basis of the film -- of which they had, of course, all along had a copy -- concluded that the slaughter was unlikely to have been caused by an error, a gentle way of saying it was deliberate. The Israelis, confronted with the film by van Kappen, then changed their story. "In their eagerness to cooperate with the United Nations," they said, they had given wrong information to the major-general. There was indeed a 'drone' over Qana, they said, but it was not photographing the camp. It was on 'another mission'. The Israelis did not say what this 'other mission' was. They also said that the pilotless aircraft with its live-time television cameras only arrived after the shelling had ended -- a claim the videotape clearly shows to be untrue.
What followed was predictable. The UN was accused by some Israeli lobby groups in the United States of 'anti-Semitism'. American reporters at the press conference held to publish the UN report asked hostile, almost insulting questions of UN officials, often implying racist motives behind the report's conclusions. A New York daily told its readers that the UN had been insensitive to ask the Dutch general to write the report because Holland had allowed its Jewish population to be sent to Auschwitz in the Second World War. Once more, the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis were being employed to protect Israel's misdeeds.
(Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, p. 682-683)
The Palestinians are like crocodiles, the more you give them meat, the more they want. - Ehud Barak
Comment on this Article
Congress cracking down on U.S. leaks
By Siobhan Gorman
Originally published April 25, 2006
WASHINGTON // Amid intense debate over how far the government can go to keep its secrets secret, Congress is taking up an expansive intelligence measure that proposes tougher steps in cracking down on leaks of classified information and authorizes broad arrest powers for security officers at intelligence agencies.
Provisions tucked into the legislation, which the House is expected to vote on as early as tomorrow, represent a major departure from traditional intelligence agency roles in plugging leaks and conducting domestic law enforcement, according to government watchdog groups and intelligence professionals.
If the measure is approved by Congress, the nation's spy chief would be ordered to consider a plan for revoking the pensions of intelligence agency employees who make unauthorized disclosures. It also would permit security forces at the National Security Agency and the CIA to make warrantless arrests outside the gates of their top-secret campuses.
The new proposals, which have received little public attention, dovetail with an ongoing Bush administration crackdown on unauthorized leaks.
Last week, the CIA fired an employee accused of leaking classified information. Meanwhile, the government is testing the limits of its punishment powers in the courts, where it is prosecuting two pro-Israel lobbyists for receiving defense secrets.
Separately, a special prosecutor triggered a debate about First Amendment protections after he jailed a New York Times reporter last year until she agreed to testify in his investigation into the unmasking of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Lawyers for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney accused of perjury in the Plame case, are seeking reporters' notes and other records in connection with his defense.
Critics described the potential penalties outlined in the measure as "draconian."
"In a moment when the intelligence community should be looking forward toward what it does best, the arrest powers represent a step back toward the Nixon-era abuses," said Jason Vest, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group.
The plan by Congress to target the pensions of intelligence agency employees would harm the overall spy effort, according to critics. Some, including former senior intelligence officials, warned that it would create an overly repressive environment within the agencies that could inhibit officers from speaking up, even internally, and discourage risk-taking.
The proposal to penalize leakers with loss of pension will do nothing "but keep good people from going to work in the [intelligence community] agencies," according to a senior intelligence official, who was quoted anonymously yesterday in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee from the Project on Government Oversight.
But a spokesman for the committee, Jamal Ware, said that stronger measures are necessary because "we have a serious problem with illegal leaks."
The pensions provision is a "first step" in a renewed effort to quash leaks, because current efforts have "not been an effective deterrent," according to a report by the House Intelligence panel. But it is unclear how such a penalty might be applied.
At least one retired intelligence officer, now working for the government as a private contractor, said that such a provision could apply to people like him.
The retired officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he recently received a call from an intelligence agency official "reminding" him that, as a private contractor, he was required to adhere to the same secrecy rules that apply to employees.
But he doubts that threatening pensions would stop leaks.
"All it's going to do is make people more sneaky," he said.
The measure also directs Congress to conduct a study of possible new sanctions against those who receive leaks of classified information, including journalists.
Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said that such sanctions would represent a significant departure by the government, which usually targets only the person who leaks information, not the recipient.
"That is not the prevailing understanding under the law," he said. "If it were, [Washington Post reporter] Bob Woodward would not be a wealthy, best-selling author. He would be serving a life sentence."
At the request of National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte, the legislation would allow agency security forces at the NSA and CIA to make arrests outside the grounds of those agencies. Ware said the measure is "just clarifying the authority" of agency security officers "to arrest individuals."
It would apparently overrule a written opinion by the Maryland attorney general's office, which stated that the NSA's police powers are limited to the agency's grounds and to streets within a 500-foot perimeter of its Fort Meade campus.
The June 2005 opinion concluded that, under Maryland law, NSA officers "may make a citizen's arrest" and would have no immunity from liability for their actions if they are outside their jurisdiction. It notes that NSA officers can only carry firearms within that jurisdiction. The bill would allow them to carry guns.
Critics of the new arrest provision said it would create the potential for abuses.
Loch Johnson, a top Senate aide on the Church Committee, which investigated CIA abuses in the 1970s, called it a "worrisome" expansion of power.
"That's why we have the FBI and other law enforcement officials," he said. "I don't know that this needs to be an intelligence officer's function. I wouldn't think it should be."
Aftergood termed the proposal "shocking" and said "it raises the specter of a secret police force that is unaccountable and operates outside of the normal law enforcement parameters."
He said it would allow CIA and NSA security officers to arrest someone for drunken driving or tax evasion.
"If the committee thinks we need more police on the street, let them legislate that. But don't turn the CIA and NSA into auxiliary police forces," he said.
Asked about concerns raised by watchdog groups that the measure would greatly expand the police powers of the CIA and NSA, Intelligence Committee spokesman Ware said: "I don't know it to be true; I don't know it to be untrue."
Vest, of the Project on Government Oversight, said that even if the arrest powers were not used beyond the agencies' grounds, he is concerned about a "slippery slope" toward wider arrests in the future. He raised concerns about the potential for abuses, noting that Nixon-era programs known as Resistance and Merrimac, which investigated domestic political groups, were carried out by the CIA's Office of Security.
CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said he could not comment on pending legislation. NSA spokesman Don Weber also declined to comment on the measure.
But Weber emphasized that the NSA security force "is not a part of the national intelligence mission; they are here to protect assets, including NSA employees."
Comment on this Article
Dangerous Times Ahead
By DAVE LINDORFFApril 24, 2006
The noose is tightening around George Bush and his gang of White House crooks and liars, with prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald reportedly getting closer to an indictment of Karl Rove, and now with the Illinois and California state legislatures considering resolutions that would have those states submit bills of impeachment to the U.S. House of Representatives--an alternative means of bringing an impeachment case against a president when, as now, the sitting members of Congress don't have the courage or conviction to do so themselves.
These are dangerous times, because the Bush family history, and the Rove M.O., are to attack viciously and without restraint when cornered.
At a book signing on Friday at Columbia University, a number of journalists told me they worried that Bush, Rove and Cheney, if they thought they were going to lose the House in November and face serious investigations into their crimes and deceits, would do something treasonous, like launching a war against Iran, or perhaps allowing another major terrorist attack against a U.S. target, so that they could then clamp down further on domestic freedom and ramp up jingoistic support among their wavering base.
The time for vacillating, cowering Democrats is over. The only way to defeat this threat is to warn about it and resist it openly now.
Democrats also need to stop waffling about voter security and vote fraud. It is essential that all voting machines in November have paper records, and that an army of activists begin now preparing to block Republican efforts to confuse and intimidate progressive voters to keep them from even getting to the polls.
Italians and other people in nations around the globe have shown the way, standing up to fraud and intimidation to insist on honest elections, and throwing out charlatans.
November 2006 will be America's turn.
Will the American people be up to the task?
Three state representatives in Illinois--Rep. Karen A. Yarbrough (217-782-8120), Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (217)- 782-8062), and Rep. Eddie Washington (217-558-1012)-- have struck the first blow in defense of liberty, and have shown us all the way. They were quickly followed over the weekend by California Assemblyman Paul Koretz (310-285-5490), who introduced a bill calling for impeachment of both Bush and Cheney.
Comment on this Article
House softens lobbying measure
By Jim Drinkard
Mon Apr 24, 2006
House Republican leaders have quietly scaled back their plan to limit the political influence of lobbyists, dropping proposed requirements that lobbyists disclose which lawmakers and aides they have contacted and how they have raised money for politicians.
The changes were made public in an amended bill posted on the House Rules Committee website Friday while Congress was wrapping up a two-week recess. Even before the latest move, political ethics experts had called the House plan weaker than a lobbying bill the Senate passed last month.
The legislation is to be considered this week as Congress returns to address a political influence scandal that has gripped Washington. The House bill would leave unchanged current rules that allow members of Congress and their staffs to accept gifts from lobbyists.
In addition, the measure would:
- Freeze junkets paid for by private interests, but only until after the November elections.
- Place no new restrictions on lawmakers and aides who leave Capitol Hill to become lobbyists.
- Leave enforcement of the rules in the hands of a House ethics committee that is paralyzed by partisan tensions.
Ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff landed in legal trouble for wooing members of Congress with lavish trips, expensive meals and sports and entertainment tickets, and by luring top aides to the lobbying world to try to influence their former bosses.
The House bill, like the Senate version approved last month, relies heavily on disclosure to police ties between lobbyists and policymakers. It would require lobbyists to file reports quarterly, rather than semiannually as they do now.
Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the bill would make the ties between lobbyists and lawmakers more transparent and "rebuild the trust between Congress and the American public."
The House bill is "sleight of hand from a Congress that is more concerned with facing the voters than with facing the problem," said Gary Kalman of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a government watchdog organization. Added Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause: "They are maintaining the status quo and calling it reform."
Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Boston University, said major rule changes usually come only when a scandal hits peak intensity. Congress, he said, is "still clearly hesitating to do anything."
The revised plan finished Friday dropped requirements that lobbyists specify which lawmakers and aides they have contacted; disclose their sponsorship of lavish parties for lawmakers at political conventions; and report their fundraising for candidates for federal office.
Comment on this Article
Emergency spending bill spotlights GOP division
By Richard Wolf
Mon Apr 24, 2006
The White House and Senate Republican leaders are gearing up to oppose a $106.5 billion spending bill for the war in
Iraq and Hurricane Katrina this week because some lawmakers have added unrelated aid for farmers and fisheries, highways and ports.
The unusual battle pits President Bush and Republican leaders concerned about rising federal budget deficits against members of the Senate Appropriations Committee who have attached dozens of items sought by individual lawmakers. Even more new spending will be sought by senators during the weeklong debate. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wants to add veterans health care; Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., wants to add border security.
The fight comes in an election year when members of Congress are under pressure to show they're getting federal spending under control, especially members' hometown and home-state spending. Senate floor debate was scheduled to begin today.
"This is more evidence of the dysfunctional nature of the Republican majority in the Senate," says Pat Toomey, president of the conservative Club for Growth. "The leadership is right this time, but the question is will they be able to hold enough of the rank-and-file members to do the right thing."
The committee that approved the increases is headed by Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran, who has battled to ensure his state gets its fair share of Katrina relief funds. His spokeswoman, Jenny Manley, says the Bush administration "does not have the sole authority to say what needs remain in the Gulf Coast. Members of Congress have more direct accountability to their constituents and know well what needs remain."
Bush sought $92.2 billion to pay ongoing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast. The House approved $91.9 billion in March, but the Senate Appropriations Committee added about $14 billion to the measure in early April by inserting numerous items, including money for disasters back to 1999.
"The Senate committee's add-ons were astonishingly higher than the president's request," says Scott Milburn of the White House Office of Management and Budget. "That has caused serious concern."
"We would like to get it back down closer to the original request of $92 billion," says Bill Hoagland, a budget analyst for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
Senators have added projects large and small because they know money for wars and hurricane relief will run low and have to be replenished - which makes this a must-pass bill.
Among the projects:
- $700 million to relocate a freight railroad line from a section of Mississippi's Gulf Coast that developers want for casinos.
- $600 million for highways in states from Alabama to Alaska affected by natural disasters, some as long as seven years ago.
- $23 million for flood control in Sacramento and Hawaii.
- $20 million to help New England shellfishers recover from last year's toxic red tide.
- $15 million to help promote the sale of Gulf Coast seafood.
"Anything that isn't nailed down, they pick up and take home to their districts," says Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, one of several budget watchdog groups opposing the measure.
If the Senate approves the additional money, House Republicans will try to erase it during negotiations to produce a compromise bill. "We passed a clean bill, and we want to keep it as close to the president's request as possible," says House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield.
White House opposition has emboldened Senate critics, led by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who charge that the war and hurricane funding bill has attracted "pork barrel" projects. The cost will get added to the federal budget deficit, estimated by the White House budget office at $423 billion this year. That's up from $318 billion in 2005.
Gregg, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, was the only senator to oppose the bill in the Appropriations Committee. He says the measure "has ballooned out of control." To pay for more border security, he plans to propose cuts elsewhere in the bill.
The largest new item is a $4 billion bailout of farmers affected in part by Katrina - but far more by high gas prices, and by droughts, floods, fires and mudslides as far away as Hawaii. The bailout includes a 30% increase in federal payments to the affected farmers and ranchers. Similar bailouts were passed in 2003 and 2004.
"This is an emergency," says Matt Mackowiak, spokesman for Sen. Conrad Burns (news, bio, voting record), R-Mont. "Hurricane Katrina has devastated farmers and ranchers, particularly in the Midwest." Hoagland, Frist's budget and agriculture expert, says the farm aid is "not needed."
Critics say droughts and floods and pests are part of the risks of farming. "When the Atkins Diet became a rage and people stopped eating carbohydrates, we didn't do something to protect pizza parlors," Ellis says.
Senators also were generous to governors from Gulf Coast states that asked for more money. They increased a special Katrina housing fund by $1.2 billion, largely to give Mississippi money to move families out of temporary trailers and into special new houses called "Katrina cottages."
They sought to reserve $4.2 billion in housing aid for exclusive use by Louisiana by adding another $1 billion for use by Louisiana's neighbors.
The committee included nearly $900 million, much of it for Texas, as compensation for the costs of educating thousands of Katrina evacuees.
"They're extorting extra funding under the theory that (Bush) will never veto it," says Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Bush has yet to cast his first veto.
Comment: As if President Bush and Republican leaders actually care about the rising federal budget deficits!! They've pushed through numerous war spending bills to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars while simultaneously shortchanging programs that actually benefit the American people.
Comment on this Article
Worlds in Chaos
Nepalese king backs down and restores parliament
April 24, 2006
KATHMANDU - King Gyanendra, buckling after 19 days of violent protests, agreed to reinstate Nepal's parliament, sparking jubilant scenes as thousands poured on to the streets of the capital.
"We declare the reinstatement of the House of Representatives," he said in a televised address just hours before opposition parties were to stage a huge rally in Kathmandu demanding a return to multi-party democracy.
King Gyanendra took absolute power after sacking the government in February last year saying it was corrupt and had failed to tackle a bloody 10-year Maoist insurgency.
The announcement he was restoring the parliament he dissolved four years previously was greeted enthusiastically by a seven-party opposition alliance who said Tuesday's planned protest would now become a victory rally.
Thousands took to the streets of the capital as soon as the king had completed his short, five-minute address shouting "Long live democracy!" and dancing within a few hundred metres (yards) of the king's palace.
The driver of a water truck heading into the city leaned out of the door and asked those celebrating "Have we got democracy?" and they shouted back "Yes!"
The move to restore parliament, a key demand of opposition parties leading the protests, would be effective from Friday, the king said.
"The session of the House of Representatives will take place on April 28," a nervous-looking King Gyanendra said.
"We call upon the seven-party (opposition) alliance to bear the responsibility of taking the nation on the path of national unity and prosperity while ensuring permanent peace and safe-guarding multi-party democracy."
The party of former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was sacked in February 2005 after King Gyanendra accused his administration of corruption and failing to quell the Maoists, welcomed Monday's news.
"It's positive. Now the responsibility of a reinstated parliament and the political parties is to bring the Maoists into the mainstream of democracy and peace," said a spokesman for Deuba's Nepali Congress (Democratic) party.
The parliament was dissolved in May 2002 as it looked set to refuse the extension of a six-month state of emergency that gave the king sweeping powers to tackle the Maoist insurgency.
Maoists started their campaign in 1996 and have taken effective control of swathes of the countryside in a campaign that has left more than 12,500 people dead.
King Gyanendra's television appearance was his second in four days after he had earlier promised to return executive power to the people and asked the seven-party opposition alliance to recommend a prime minister.
The international community gave a qualified welcome to the move but it was snubbed by the opposition sidelined by his power grab in 2005, which said it did not go far enough to restrict his wide-ranging powers.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including all classes of society, continued to hit the streets after Friday's first national address to chant anti-monarchy slogans and burn effigies of the king.
The royal government responded with curfews and warned of a shoot-to-kill policy as clashes left at least 14 people dead since April 6. Hundreds were injured and even more arrested.
King Gyanendra expressed his condolences over the deaths of people during the street protests in Monday's address.
But he failed to mention the opposition's demand for a constituent assembly to try to limit the powers of the world's only Hindu monarch, setting the stage for further potential conflict.
US officials reacted warily Monday to the pledge by Nepal's king to restore parliament.
Washington was looking for signs that Gyanendra was ready to return to a ceremonial role in his Himalayan kingdom.
"This obviously is a step forward but does it go far enough?" a senior state department official said.
Comment on this Article
22 dead in bombings in Egypt's Dahab resort
April 24, 2006
CAIRO - At least 22 people were killed and 150 wounded in three bomb attacks just minutes apart in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Dahab at the height of the tourist season, state television said.
The interior ministry said several foreign tourists were among the victims of the bombings, the third such attacks to strike the Sinai peninsula in 18 months.
"Around 7 pm (1600 GMT), we heard three explosions close to the seafront alongside a supermarket in the centre of Dahab," French tourist Frederic Mingeon told AFP from the town.
"There was a plume of smoke and people started running and screaming."
The interior ministry said the blasts ripped through the Ghazala supermarket and the Nelson and Aladdin restaurants in central Dahab, which lies on the southeast of the Sinai peninsula about 530 kilometres (330 miles) by road from Cairo.
"There was blood everywhere but the victims were evacuated very quickly," said Cecile Casey, a young French tourist who was spending a few days in Dahab.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pledged that the perpetrators of the attacks would be punished, while US President George W. Bush condemned the bombings as a "heinous act".
Dahab, which means gold in Arabic, is popular with Western backpackers, budget Israeli tourists and was also packed with Egyptians enjoying a public holiday. It is renowned for its diving, snorkeling and windsurfing.
The bombings struck on Sham el-Nessim, a traditional holiday which marks the beginning of spring, and a day before Sinai Liberation Day, which celebrates Israel's withdrawal from the peninsula in 1982.
Belgian tourist Quentin d'Aspremont told AFP the blasts "took place at very short intervals, in the busiest part of town. The street was littered with debris and I could see pools of blood."
The streets of Dahab were immediately sealed off by police and Egyptian security sources said the border with Israel, which lies only around 100 miles north of Dahab, was closed to prevent the attackers from fleeing.
State television said the blasts appeared to have been the result of remote-controlled bombs, not suicide bombers.
The border between Egypt and Israel was sealed off to prevent any suspects from fleeing, an Egyptian security source said.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz offered to send army rescue teams and doctors, while hundreds of Israeli tourists were rushing home after the blasts.
A state of alert was declared at the main hospital in the Israeli border town of Eilat to handle any casualties sent for treatment there and to free up doctors for dispatch to the scene.
Some 20,000 Israeli holidaymakers were believed to have been in the Sinai at the time of the blasts despite repeated warnings from their government of the risks of attack by Islamic militants.
But public radio quoted Israeli ambassador in Cairo Shalom Cohen as saying he had been informed there were no immediate reports of Israeli casualties.
The resorts of Egypt's south Sinai peninsula have been repeatedly hit by Islamic militants in recent years.
Multiple bombings in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh at the tip of the Sinai killed some 70 people in July 2005, the deadliest to have hit Egypt since a major wave of Islamist terrorist attacks in the mid-1990s.
At least 34 people were killed in several simultaneous attacks in and around the resort of Taba further up the Red Sea coast in October 2004.
Four groups claimed the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings, including Al-Tawhid wal Jihad, an Islamist movement which said the attacks were revenge for the invasions of Iraq and
Afghanistan and out of allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
In April last year, two French tourists and an American were also killed and some 20 people wounded in a bomb attack in the Al-Azhar area of the Egyptian capital.
Seven people were wounded in an attack later the same month in Cairo's Abdel Moneim Riad Square, and two women assailants were killed in a failed attack on a tourist bus.
Comment on this Article
French thieves targets copper, nickel as prices soar
Mon Apr 24, 2006
LE HAVRE, France - A hold-up gang in northern France has been targeting shipments of copper and nickel, hoping to profit as the metals' prices hit record highs, judicial officials said.
Posing as police officers, a dozen armed men broke into a metal recycling plant in the northeastern town of Reims last week, taking the director and his staff hostage.
The gang ordered a crane operator to fill two open-backed trucks with copper scrap, before making off with the booty -- 40 tonnes of metal worth some 200,000 euros (250,000 dollars).
Four thieves -- also posing as police -- commandeered trucks carrying sheets of nickel near the northern city of Le Havre, once in January and again in March, taking the drivers captive and releasing them in the Paris area.
Investigators believe the thieves were drawn by the soaring prices currently fetched by both metals.
Nickel has jumped from 5,000 dollars per tonne in 2000 to highs of 19,000 dollars, while copper surged by 50 percent last year, driven partly by high demand from China.
Comment on this Article
Clashes in Athens as War Whore Rice visits
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Athens police have fired teargas during a clash with anti-war demonstrators protesting against a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Some protesters hurled petrol bombs, sticks and stones in return.
Ms Rice is meeting Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis as part of a five-day trip to Europe that also includes Turkey and Bulgaria.
Thousands of protesters are said to have gathered in Athens. Some 5,000 riot police have been deployed.
Television pictures showed protesters throwing petrol bombs and using sticks as riot police advanced, the air thick with tear gas.
The protesters were trying to reach the buildings where Condoleezza Rice is meeting Mr Karamanlis and her Greek counterpart, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni, but many retreated under the police pressure, reports said.
Self-styled anarchists trailing the demonstrators continued fighting police, burning cars and smashing shop fronts, Reuters news agency reported, but there were no reports of injuries or arrests.
Police helicopters circled the city centre.
"We are not protesting just against Rice, but the imperialist, war-mongering US government," school teacher Panayiotis Hiundis told Reuters.
A senior figure from Greece's Communist Party accused Ms Rice of using the one-day visit to drum up support for an offensive against Iran, which the US accuses of trying to build a nuclear bomb.
Some 5,000 riot police were deployed for Ms Rice's visit
At least six people were detained on Monday after they managed to unfurl a giant banner reading "Condoleezza Rice go home" on the Athens concert hall, adjacent to the US embassy, the AP news agency reported.
The US war in Iraq has triggered strong opposition in Greece. In addition, say commentators, many Greeks are still bitter at Washington for backing the right-wing military junta which ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974.
Ms Rice told reporters accompanying her to Europe that she would discuss Balkan peacekeeping, the future of the divided island of Cyprus, and the threat of terrorist attacks along the Turkey-Iraq border.
But in her first reported public statements from Athens, Ms Rice said Iran was isolating itself from the international community by threatening to suspend co-operation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, if sanctions are imposed.
She will leave for Ankara on Tuesday evening.
The date of Ms Rice's visit was changed to try to circumvent huge rallies against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which were planned to coincide with it.
Noisy anti-war protests marked a visit by Ms Rice to the north-west of the UK at the beginning of April.
Comment on this Article
Islam's role in France fuel for latest firestorm
PARIS, April 24, 2006 (AFP)
A claim by a French politician that Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris has been infiltrated by Islamic militants ignited a fierce controversy Monday.
A union representing workers at the airport called the allegation a "political stunt", while the opposition Socialist Party and a national Muslim group labelled the politician responsible an Islamophobe.
Philippe de Villiers, the head of the right-wing Movement for France (MPF) party, made the contentious assertion in a book released last week titled 'The Mosques of Roissy'.
In it he rails against radical Islam in France and alleges that Islamic militants have found jobs among the airport's personnel in secure areas through which luggage and passengers transit.
Some of the luggage-handling firms contracted by the facility employ "predominantly Muslims and are organised on ethnic and religious criteria under a mafia-like system," he wrote.
Elaborating on his claims in a broadcast interview Sunday, Villiers said: "The presence of Islamic radicals is not marginal, it's real, deeply-rooted and dangerous."
Villiers, whose movement rallies Catholic and nationalistic tendencies in French politics, also confirmed he would be a candidate in next year's presidential elections. The last time he ran, in 1995, he scored less than five percent of the vote in the first of two rounds.
France's police intelligence and surveillance service, the Renseignements Généraux (RG), cast doubt on one document Villiers said it had produced to support his allegation and which he reproduced in his book.
RG chief Pascal Mailhos told the interior ministry, in a note quoted by Le Monde newspaper, that the document in Villier's book did not come from his service and that it contained "several flagrant inconsistencies".
Sud Aérien, a union at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, said in a statement that "it's obvious we're dealing with a political stunt by a future candidate" in next year's elections.
It accused Villiers of trying to secure the far-right vote "by developing racist and paranoid themes on Islamic radicals".
"While the danger of a terrorist attack can't be ignored, the main danger for the unions is that this risk might be used as a pretext for ethnic discrimination and as a weapon against strikes," it said.
The head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Dalil Boubakeur, who is also rector at the mosque in Paris, said Villier's allegations created "an outrageous caricature" of Islam, and demanded that they be fully investigated.
The spokesman for the Socialist Party, Julien Dray, told a media conference that Villier's comments stigmatised the estimated five million Muslims living in France and said they were "not compatible" with the country's secular traditions.
Coincidentally, the furore over Villier's book blew up as the state-owned operator of Roissy and other airports around the capital, Aéroports de Paris, said Monday that it was preparing for privatisation if the government so orders.
The finance ministry said last Friday it would sell ADP shares in the coming months in an offering expected to raise up to EUR 1.5 billion.
Comment on this Article
China acts to secure oil reserves amid record crude prices
Apr 24, 2006
Beijing's desire for a Saudi-fed strategic oil reserve in China underlines the Asian nation's drive to secure crude supplies amid rocketing energy prices, analysts here said.
However, they added that any deal between the two nations was unlikely to put pressure on global crude inventories.
Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed a proposal to set up an oil stockpile in China during a weekend visit to Saudi Arabia, a Chinese official said Sunday.
China plans to fill the first of its strategic oil reserve facilities by the year end, a senior planning official said in March, adding that three other reserves would be ready in 2007-2008.
China had planned to begin accumulating oil reserves, which are to be used in the event of an emergency, last year.
However with oil prices soaring to record high points -- New York crude matched its record high of 75.35 dollars per barrel on Monday -- China has been forced to delay its plan by almost two years.
China knows it cannot delay for ever with its energy demand accelerating owing to the country's economic boom. Consumption of oil in China is forecast to jump 6.0 percent this year after consumption of 6.4 million barrels per day in 2005.
"The Chinese authorities are quite familiar with how their domestic production is being outstripped by demand, and that there's always going to be a measure of vulnerability and reliance on foreign production," Global Insight analyst Steven Knell said.
"Having strategic reserves creates a buffer that will allow them to mitigate some of the sharper consequences of that reliance should there be any disruption of supply," he added.
The China-Saudi plan was raised during Hu's talks with King Abdullah on Saturday and both sides want to see it through, the Chinese official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The reserve would be on top of the oil supplies Saudi Arabia exports to China for its daily needs.
Saudi Arabia is the world's biggest exporter of crude oil and the biggest supplier to China, which imports about 15 percent of its oil from the Arab nation.
Knell said he believed such a tie-up between the two countries would unlikely hurt major oil consumers such as the United States and Europe.
"Given the volume of this facility, I don't think it's going to make such a difference. It will come as a separate delivery, on top of the current demand, but the scale will not result in major shortages elsewhere or compromise other deliveries," he said.
"The most profound impact will be on the Chinese domestic market. This is another contribution to the reserve capacity that they've thought for some time and they've actually been vulnerable for so long that this makes a very positive step for the stability of their energy balance."
According to the Chinese spokesman, the reserve would be set up in a coastal city in southeast China.
The official did not say how much oil would eventually be stockpiled. But he said Riyadh and Beijing were discussing the feasibility of the plan and ways of cooperating to carry it out.
Calyon analyst Mike Wittner doubted also that there would be any major impact on global supplies, and therefore prices.
"I don't think it has any significance for the short-term market, and perhaps not even for the longer term," he said.
"Saudi Arabia is already a large and growing supplier of Chinese crude oil imports, and this is a logical development and a logical extension of that trend," he said.
Comment on this Article
U.S. museum exhibit focuses on anti-Semitic 'Protocols'
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - A century-old forgery used to justify ill-treatment of Jews in Czarist Russia and widely circulated by the Nazis is distributed even today in many languages to stoke hatred of Israel, says an exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
Colorfully bound editions of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" have appeared recently in Mexico and in Japan, where there are few Jews, says exhibit historian Daniel Greene. High-school texts in Syria, Lebanon and schools run by the Palestinian Authority use the book as history, he says.
Its 24 chapters profess to record discussions by Jewish leaders of plans to take over the world. Historians have traced parallels in the text to a 19th-century French book, directed against supporters of Emperor Napoleon III, which does not mention Jews.
"The Internet has about 500,000 sites where the book is discussed - about half and half for and against," Greene estimated.
The exhibit cites a quote from Joseph Goebbels, a decade before he became Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister:"I believe that 'The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion' are a forgery. (However) I believe in the intrinsic, not the factual truth of the 'Protocols."'
In the United States, the exhibit points to the Rev. Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest whose popular radio sermons in the late 1930s opposed war with Nazi Germany. His periodical, "Social Justice" serialized the "Protocols" in 1938.
When Egyptian government-sponsored TV showed a series based on the "Protocols" in 2002, the State Department condemned it.
In 2005, a new edition of the book was published in Syria and shown at the Cairo International Book Fair. The edition suggests, the museum says, that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were organized by a Jewish conspiracy.
Last October, an Iranian bookseller exhibited an edition published by his country's Islamic Propaganda Organization at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. The Holocaust Museum exhibit notes the display violated German law, which forbids libel against any religious group.
Comment: Change "The Elders of Zion" for "Pathocrats" in this infamous text, and you have a very accurate description of the strategy and tactics of the pathocracy to rule over and divide the rest of the population of the planet. The pathocrats, that is, the psychopaths in power the world over, use every religion as a mask. They use race and language and culture to focus our attention on the obvious physical differences among us in order to hide the fundamental difference: that between people of conscience and people who have no conscience.
There is the real distinction, the one that must be made "visible" if people with conscience are to ever live free in the world. The psychopath has no moral compass, no inner voice to distinguish right from wrong. What is "right" is whatever furthers his or her needs. What is "wrong" is any impediment to those needs.
Think of the Bush administration and the ever-growing list of lies they have told to justify invading Afghanistand and Iraq, as well as the lies they continue to tell to justify a war against Iran. Think of the lies told by Israel about the Palestinians, their double standard where the death of a Palestinian child is of no importance, while the death of an Israeli child demands retribution.
The pathocrats are everywhere. It is time that they were unmasked and shown for who and what they are.
To understand more on this crucial topic, read Political Ponerology by Andrew Lobaczewski, available at qfgpublishing.com.
Comment on this Article
Noam Chomsky, champion of Israel?
ERIK SCHECHTER, THE JERUSALEM POST
Apr. 22, 2006
What do Noam Chomsky and the neocons have in common? They both stand accused of protecting the enormously powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington from legitimate criticism. That's right, hell has frozen over. Professor Chomsky - the far-left MIT linguist who has consistently (and often quite viciously) criticized Israel since the early 1970s - is apparently a big softie when it comes to Zion.
Or so say assorted left-wing critics.
The brouhaha began in late March when two American academics published in The London Review of Books a paper critical of the Israel lobby. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that neither idealism nor hard-nosed practicality justified American support of the Jewish state. Nevertheless, a "loose coalition of individuals and organizations" has been steering US policy in that direction for years.
Though hardly a novel idea, the essay caused a wave of controversy because the authors were not your run-of-the-mill, paranoid kooks. Mearsheimer sits on the international academic advisory board at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, at Bar-Ilan University, and both he and Walt are leading lights of the realist school of international relations. Their critique simply could not go unanswered.
Indeed, following the publication of the article, professors and pundits of all stripes took to their keyboards.
Now, I will not address the many errors of the M-W piece or explain how arguing that lobbies drive foreign policy upends the whole realist paradigm; that's been done elsewhere and by people far smarter than me. What's interesting is where Noam Chomsky stepped out on the controversy.
Writing in Z Magazine, the aging anarchist commended Mearsheimer and Walt for their "courageous stand" but then attacked their notion of an informal, far-flung lobby as an empty label. "M-W focus on AIPAC and the evangelicals," wrote Chomsky, "but they recognize that the Lobby includes most of the political-intellectual class - at which point the thesis loses much of its content."
Max Boot, a neoconservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted the very same thing when he quipped, "In Mearsheimer-Walt's telling, the Israel lobby seems to include just about every American politician, think tank and newspaper." Now who could have imagined Chomsky manning the same barricade as the neocons?
BUT NOT to worry, he won't be joining the GOP or Likud anytime soon. He still thinks Israel serves as the brutal attack dog of American imperialism - having first helped the oil companies back in 1967 when it smashed an uppity Nasser and, thus, discredited secular Arab nationalism. Likewise, Chomsky still bleeds for the Palestinians. It's just that he objects to the part about capitalists needing to be goaded into regional domination.
And, the MIT linguist is not alone on this point; radical journalist Salim Muwakkil and Columbia professor Joseph Massad also dismiss the blame-the-lobby argument. In the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, the latter wrote, "The record of the United States is one of being the implacable enemy of all Third World national liberation groups... Why then would the US support national liberation in the Arab world absent the pro-Israel lobby is something these studies never explain."
The problem is that, while Muwakkil is African-American and Massad is Palestinian, Chomsky is a Red Sea pedestrian - and that raises suspicions in some left-wing circles.
Veteran pro-Palestinian activist Jeffrey Blankfort, for example, has taken issue with Chomsky's early experiences in the Marxist-Zionist Hashomer Hatza'ir movement, saying that they somehow blinded him to the political machinations of his fellow American Jews.
Amazingly, Blankfort - himself Jewish - has lambasted Chomsky as "a boon for AIPAC" and, by extension, "Israel's position in the United States."
Like Blankfort (and post-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe), James Petras also disagrees with Chomsky on the M-W paper. In fact, the Marxist sociologist gets downright nasty in his critique, suggesting that Chomsky's analytic skills "are totally absent when it comes to discussing the formulation of US foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly the role of his own ethnic group, the Jewish pro-Israel lobby and their Zionist supporters in the government."
Once again, Chomsky is covering for the tribe.
One would think that the Jewish anarchist has already paid his dues. Chomsky has attacked Israel time and again; described French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson as "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort"; commended the scholarship of the late Israel Shahak, author of the vile Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, and claimed that the charge of anti-Semitism is used to stifle criticism of Israel.
Yet the tragedy of Chomsky is that, for people like Blankfort and Petras, all this counts for nothing. The latter still accuses him of playing with the evidence in order to hide the role of the pro-Israel lobby and the "ZionCons" in hatching the current Iraq war.
Though Chomsky never answered the e-mail I sent him, I asked anti-Zionist firebrand and DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein what he thought of these unseemly attacks on his mentor. "I see no point in probing motives," he told me, "One should judge any argument on its merits."
All true, and still the fracas with Chomsky proves that, if you're Jewish, no matter what you say and do, you're always just one essay away from being labeled a pro-Israel lobbyist.
Comment on this Article
Top White House posts go to Jews
By NATHAN GUTTMAN
Apr. 25, 2006
After appointing Joshua Bolten to be the White House chief of staff, US President George W. Bush nominated another Jewish staffer, Joel Kaplan, to serve as Bolten's deputy, putting him in charge of the daily policy planning.
The fact that White House policy is now in the hands of two Jews is not seen as significant by activists in the American Jewish community.
"He is simply appointing the best people for the job," said Nathan Diament, who heads the Washington office of the Orthodox Union. Another Jewish activist added that he "wouldn't read too much into it."
Bolten, who first served as head of the Office of Management and Budget, was the first Jewish member of Bush's cabinet. Ever since Bush took office, there has been a custom of opening cabinet meetings with a brief prayer and so, before his first cabinet meeting, Bolten's assistant contacted Diament and asked for help in finding a Jewish prayer for the security and well-being of the cabinet members. The Orthodox Union provided him with the text in English and in Hebrew and Bolten read it aloud at the next cabinet meeting.
Bolten and Kaplan will probably be the most prominent Jewish members of the Bush administration, but not the only ones. Apart from Bolten, there is another Jewish cabinet member, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and there are other Jewish senior staff members, including Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams and White House staffer Jay Lefkowitz.
In the past year, several Jews who were holding senior posts in the administration have left, among them deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense Doug Feith, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby and political adviser Ken Mehlman, who now heads the Republican National Committee.
Yet the policy of the administration has little to do with the religious beliefs of the staffers. "The president sets the policy goals and it is now the job of Josh [Bolten] and Joel [Kaplan] to help achieve these goals," said Noam Neusner, who served as the liaison to the Jewish community in Bush's White House from 2002-2005.
Other Jewish activists, both Republican and Democrat, agree that the nomination of Bolten and Kaplan have no affect on policy.
For Republicans, there is still a feeling that Bush does not receive the credit he deserves from the Jewish community. "We have Israel's best friend and it still hasn't changed the way the Jewish community sees him," said Fred Zeidman, a close friend of Bush and chairman of the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. "I keep hoping that one day our community will see the light and support President Bush."
Neusner recalled that in the Bush White House there was always great respect for religious practices of the staffers and predicted that this policy would remain now that Bolten is running its daily operations.
One tradition likely to go on is the reading of the Purim megilla led by Chabad Rabbi Levi Shemtov, which attracts many of the Jewish staffers.
The relatively small number of Jews in Bush's cabinet became an issue largely due to the comparison with his predecessor, Bill Clinton. The former administration had such Jewish cabinet members as Robert Reich, Robert Rubin, Sandy Berger, Lawrence Summers and Madeline Albright and State Department officials Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Aaron Miller.
"I don't support this idea of bean counting," said Jay Footlik, who was Clinton's liaison to the Jewish community. He sees the fact that the former administration had many Jewish members as significant to the policy the president had in regard to the Jewish community. According to him, the reason Jews were so visible in Clinton's administration was merely a result of the community being "drawn to public involvement and political activity."
Comment: Israeli Lobby? What Israeli Lobby? What this article fails to point out is that it isn't Jews in the Bush administration that are the problem; it is Zionists in the Bush gang that result in the "take no prisoners" attitude of blind support for Israel. Many Jews in the US and Israel don't even consider Zionists to be real Jews.
Comment on this Article
Congress readies broad new digital copyright bill
By Declan McCullagh
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
April 24, 2006
For the last few years, a coalition of technology companies, academics and computer programmers has been trying to persuade Congress to scale back the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Now Congress is preparing to do precisely the opposite. A proposed copyright law seen by CNET News.com would expand the DMCA's restrictions on software that can bypass copy protections and grant federal police more wiretapping and enforcement powers.
The draft legislation, created by the Bush administration and backed by Rep. Lamar Smith, already enjoys the support of large copyright holders such as the Recording Industry Association of America. Smith, a Texas Republican, is the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees intellectual-property law.
A spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee said Friday that the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006 is expected to "be introduced in the near future." Beth Frigola, Smith's press secretary, added Monday that Wisconsin Republican F. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the full House Judiciary Committee, will be leading the effort.
"The bill as a whole does a lot of good things," said Keith Kupferschmid, vice president for intellectual property and enforcement at the Software and Information Industry Association in Washington, D.C. "It gives the (Justice Department) the ability to do things to combat IP crime that they now can't presently do."
During a speech in November, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales endorsed the idea and said at the time that he would send Congress draft legislation. Such changes are necessary because new technology is "encouraging large-scale criminal enterprises to get involved in intellectual-property theft," Gonzales said, adding that proceeds from the illicit businesses are used, "quite frankly, to fund terrorism activities."
The 24-page bill is a far-reaching medley of different proposals cobbled together. One would, for instance, create a new federal crime of just trying to commit copyright infringement. Such willful attempts at piracy, even if they fail, could be punished by up to 10 years in prison.
It also represents a political setback for critics of expanding copyright law, who have been backing federal legislation that veers in the opposite direction and permits bypassing copy protection for "fair use" purposes. That bill--introduced in 2002 by Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat--has been bottled up in a subcommittee ever since.
A DMCA dispute But one of the more controversial sections may be the changes to the DMCA. Under current law, Section 1201 of the law generally prohibits distributing or trafficking in any software or hardware that can be used to bypass copy-protection devices. (That section already has been used against a Princeton computer science professor, Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov and a toner cartridge remanufacturer.)
Smith's measure would expand those civil and criminal restrictions. Instead of merely targeting distribution, the new language says nobody may "make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess" such anticircumvention tools if they may be redistributed to someone else.
"It's one degree more likely that mere communication about the means of accomplishing a hack would be subject to penalties," said Peter Jaszi, who teaches copyright law at American University and is critical of attempts to expand it.
Even the current wording of the DMCA has alarmed security researchers. Ed Felten, the Princeton professor, told the Copyright Office last month that he and a colleague were the first to uncover the so-called "rootkit" on some Sony BMG Music Entertainment CDs--but delayed publishing their findings for fear of being sued under the DMCA. A report prepared by critics of the DMCA says it quashes free speech and chokes innovation.
The SIIA's Kupferschmid, though, downplayed concerns about the expansion of the DMCA. "We really see this provision as far as any changes to the DMCA go as merely a housekeeping provision, not really a substantive change whatsoever," he said. "They're really to just make the definition of trafficking consistent throughout the DMCA and other provisions within copyright law uniform."
The SIIA's board of directors includes Symantec, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Intuit and Red Hat.
Jessica Litman, who teaches copyright law at Wayne State University, views the DMCA expansion as more than just a minor change. "If Sony had decided to stand on its rights and either McAfee or Norton Antivirus had tried to remove the rootkit from my hard drive, we'd all be violating this expanded definition," Litman said.
The proposed law scheduled to be introduced by Rep. Smith also does the following:
- Permits wiretaps in investigations of copyright crimes, trade secret theft and economic espionage. It would establish a new copyright unit inside the FBI and budgets $20 million on topics including creating "advanced tools of forensic science to investigate" copyright crimes.
- Amends existing law to permit criminal enforcement of copyright violations even if the work was not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Boosts criminal penalties for copyright infringement originally created by the No Electronic Theft Act of 1997 from five years to 10 years (and 10 years to 20 years for subsequent offenses). The NET Act targets noncommercial piracy including posting copyrighted photos, videos or news articles on a Web site if the value exceeds $1,000.
- Creates civil asset forfeiture penalties for anything used in copyright piracy. Computers or other equipment seized must be "destroyed" or otherwise disposed of, for instance at a government auction. Criminal asset forfeiture will be done following the rules established by federal drug laws.
- Says copyright holders can impound "records documenting the manufacture, sale or receipt of items involved in" infringements.
Jason Schultz, a staff attorney at the digital-rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the recording industry would be delighted to have the right to impound records. In a piracy lawsuit, "they want server logs," Schultz said. "They want to know every single person who's ever downloaded (certain files)--their IP addresses, everything."
Comment on this Article
Fox Anchor Tony Snow likely to take White House post
By Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Sources close to the White House said Monday that Fox anchor Tony Snow is likely to accept the job as White House press secretary, succeeding Scott McClellan.
The sources said they expect him to announce his decision within the next few days.
A source familiar with the discussions said Monday that newly appointed Chief of Staff Josh Bolten asked Snow to make a decision by early this week.
Two sources familiar with the discussions said Bolten wanted to fill the post this week, as early as Tuesday.
Sources familiar with Snow's deliberations said he has been focusing on family, finances and his health, as he battles colon cancer.
Neither Snow nor the White House would comment.
Sources familiar with the matter said the White House approached the Fox anchor several weeks ago. Snow then met with Bolten and other officials at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Snow serves as a political analyst for Fox News Channel, which he joined in 1996.
He was a nationally syndicated columnist with The Detroit News in Detroit, Michigan, from 1993 to 2001 and was a columnist for USA Today from 1994 to 2000.
Before that, he was an editorial writer at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia; editorial page editor of The Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia; deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News; and editorial page editor of The Washington Times.
The conservative radio talk show host, who was born in 1955, served as a speech writer for President Bush's father in 1991.
In a separate personnel matter, discussions are also continuing about replacing Treasury Secretary John Snow, said two sources familiar with the issue and a third GOP source close to the White House.
Republicans familiar with the discussions said David Mulford, currently U.S. ambassador to India and a former Treasury Department official who also was the European chief of Credit Suisse First Boston, is considered a candidate for the job.
Comment: What could possibly be more appropriate than a Fox News anchor as Bush's White House Spokesman??
Comment on this Article
Oddz n Endz
12-year-old charged in triple murder
April 24, 2006
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Two people, one of whom is a 12-year-old girl, have been charged with killing three members of a Medicine Hat, Alberta, family, police said on Monday.
The girl and a 23-year-old man were arrested in Leader, Saskatchewan, a day after the bodies of an adult couple and young boy were found in a house in the southeastern Alberta community.
The two people arrested have both been charged with three counts of first degree murder.
Police did not speculate on a motive for the killings, or provide details on how the victims were killed.
Comment on this Article
Scholar says Bach's wife may have composed some of his work
Last Updated Mon, 24 Apr 2006 17:37:59 EDT
A researcher from Darwin, Australia, says he believes that many works attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach were actually written by the composer's second wife.
Martin Jarvis, a professor at Charles Darwin University School of Music, has been studying Bach's work for more than 30 years.
Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach, is traditionally believed to have been a copyist for Bach and her handwriting is known from many of his original scores.
But Jarvis believes she may actually have written some of the best-loved pieces herself, including Six Cello Suites, some of the Goldberg Variations, and the first prelude of the Well-tempered Clavier Book I.
Jarvis says it's known that Anna Magdalena was a talented musician and a student of Bach's. Born in 1701, she married him in 1721, 17 months after the death of his first wife. She bore him 13 children, seven of whom died.
"I found Anna Magdalena's handwriting in places where it shouldn't have been," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "In other words, assuming that the idea that it's her handwriting is correct, then it's in places where we really shouldn't be finding it."
Jarvis used forensic techniques to analyze the handwriting, saying the notations in her hand indicate she was working on a draft composition. Many works have no "original" score in Bach's hand.
He also studied the structure of the music before coming up with his theory. The British-born professor said he has felt there was something different about the Cello Suites since he studied them at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
"It doesn't sound musically mature. It sounds like an exercise, and you have to work incredibly hard to make it sound like a piece of music," he said.
He put forward the theory that the young woman wrote them when she was a music student. A woman's work as a composer would never have been acknowledged in Bach's time, he said.
Jarvis presented his ideas at an international symposium in London last week and will publish them in a doctorate paper later this year.
Bach scholars did not immediately dismiss Jarvis's claims. Yo Tomita, a Bach scholar based at Queen's University in Belfast, said the findings were "highly important." Others were more skeptical and said the theory could never be proven.
Bach, who lived from 1685 to 1750, was a prolific composer of more than 1,100 works, and is regarded as a great master of Baroque music.
Comment on this Article
Why Rice Krispies Go Snap, Crackle, Pop!
Mon Apr 24, 2006
There's a bumper sticker out there that reads, "I do whatever my Rice Krispies tell me to." Before taking orders, you might want to consider that no one really knows how the crispy cereal gets its commanding voice.
In fact, we may never understand the full story behind the snap, crackle, and pop, because finding money for experiments on cereal noises isn't easy.
"I have not seen anyone fund this," said food scientist Ted Labuza of the University of Minnesota. "It's not rocket science."
However, over the years Labuza and other cereal scientists have come up with some pretty good suggestions to explain where the noises come from.
A Rice Krispie behaves like a piece of glass. If you hit it hard, it'll break into a puzzle of a million pieces that, if you had the patience, you could put back together again.
The high temperature at which the cereal's cooked creates extremely strong bonds that hold the rice's starch molecules together. The strong bonds make the rice act like glass.
During the cooking process, each piece of rice expands and a network of air-filled caves and tunnels form inside.
When you pour milk into your breakfast bowl, the cereal absorbs the milk. As milk flows into the crispy kernel, the liquid puts pressure on the air inside and pushes it around.
The air shoves against each pocket's walls until they shatter, forcing out a snap, or a crackle, or, as you, know, sometimes a pop.
You can also see tiny air bubbles escaping to the surface.
The race is now on. Because once the rice is wet enough, all the air pockets have burst, the sounds stop, and you're left in peace and quiet to eat soggy cereal.
Comment on this Article
Fatal Disease From Butter Flavoring Raises Flags
Mon Apr 24, 2006
BALTIMORE - A potentially fatal lung disease linked to chemicals used in food flavorings poses a growing health risk, according to government scientists who are questioning the food industry's willingness to protect its workers.
Bronchiolitis obliterans first emerged as a threat within the food industry in 2000, when the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health was called to a southwest Missouri popcorn plant to investigate lung illnesses among workers.
Investigators subsequently found the disease among popcorn workers throughout the Midwest. They linked it to diacetyl, a substance that is found naturally in many foods but which also is artificially produced and widely used as a less expensive way to enhance flavor or impart the taste of butter.
NIOSH has linked exposure to diacetyl and butter flavoring to lung disease that sickened nearly 200 workers at popcorn plants and killed at least three.
"Now we've got cases of bronchiolitis obliterans among workers in other plants that use flavorings and in plants that make the flavorings," said Dr. Kathleen Kreiss, chief of the field studies branch of NIOSH's division of respiratory disease studies.
Bronchiolitis obliterans causes inflammation and obstruction of the small airways in the lung by rapid thickening or scarring. The irreversible condition is progressive and often fatal without a lung transplant.
Recent cases that NIOSH scientists have learned about include a man who worked at a small Baltimore-area flavoring company, a man who worked at a North Carolina potato chip plant, and an employee at a Chicago candy maker, and workers at a Cincinnati flavoring plant.
"We need to get into some of these plants because we don't have confidence that the flavoring industry has taken steps to actually prevent this disease, and we need to determine how widespread the exposure may be," Kreiss told The (Baltimore) Sun.
But while scientists at NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration want to intensify investigations, agency leaders say they don't plan to act because they believe enough is being done now.
"OSHA advises its inspectors that workers may be at risk of overexposure to vapors of artificial flavorings in a variety of food processing work sites," said Al Belsky, a Labor Department spokesman.
"There is nothing to indicate that additional regulations are needed," Belsky added.
David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University's School of Public Health who examined OSHA's handling of the popcorn workers' sickness, called its inaction "criminal."
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed flavoring producers and sellers to decide which chemicals are safe, and California's occupational safety agency has delegated health examinations of flavoring workers to an industry-paid doctor.
The difficulty of assessing workplace illness is further complicated by employees who fear reprisal for complaining about hazards and by physicians who lack the training to recognize bronchiolitis obliterans and other occupational threats.
About 70 U.S. companies are involved in the making and sales of flavorings, according to the Flavor and Extract Manufacturing Association, the largest trade group for the $3 billion-a-year industry. Of more than 8,000 employees, only about 3,000 are engaged in the actual production of flavorings. In the much larger food processing industry, however, tens of thousands of workers are estimated to work with flavorings.
More than 150 former popcorn plant workers have sued companies supplying or making the butter flavoring, and more than $100 million has been awarded in jury verdicts or paid in settlements. At least 30 suits are still pending.
The latest suit, filed in February, charges that the Flavor and Extract Manufacturing Association conspired with the other defendants to fraudulently conceal information about the health risks of butter flavoring.
"There is no conspiracy," said John Hallagan, the trade association's lawyer and former science director.
In 1985, consultants for the trade association produced a data sheet indicating that breathing diacetyl is harmful to the respiratory tract and is "capable of producing systemic toxicity."
Hallagan said his organization has cooperated with government scientists, held workshops for its members, and issued an August 2004 report on respiratory health and safety that remains on its Web site.
"I'm not sure what more we could have done to get the word out," he said.
Comment on this Article
TV Seance: Lennon Asks for...Peace
By Sue ZeidlerTuesday, 25 April 2006, 01:25 CDT
That's what the producers of a pay-television seance to contact John Lennon claimed the former Beatle said when communicating with them from beyond the grave.
The show aired on Monday on pay-TV service In Demand and was organized by the producers of a failed 2003 attempt to channel the late Princess Diana's spirit, a show that earned scathing reviews but was estimated to have grossed close to $8 million.
People who paid $9.95 to watch the pay-per-view Lennon special from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. saw audio crew members, a psychic and an expert in paranormal activity claim that the late Beatle's spirit made contact with them through what is described as an Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP).
The EVP was discovered during a taping of a seance at La Fortuna restaurant in New York, which Lennon frequented.
The show's organizers said psychic Joe Power's voice feed went dead for a few seconds and the message was found on it when the tape of the voice feed was played back.
EVP is based on a belief that spirit voices communicate through radio and TV broadcast signals.
On the television show, filming at La Fortuna suddenly stopped and a narrator said something odd has happened. Show participants said that a mysterious voice can be heard on Power's voice feed.
The producers called in "EVP specialist" Sandra Belanger to examine the voice and she proclaimed it Lennon's.
Producer Paul Sharratt, who heads Starcast Productions and calls himself a skeptic, said hearing the voice has made him a believer.
The program was made without the knowledge or consent of Lennon's estate or his widow Yoko Ono, who declined comment.
Ono's long-time friend and spokesman Elliot Mintz has called the entire exercise "tacky, exploitative and far removed" from Lennon's way of life. "A pay-per-view seance was never his style," said Mintz.
Lennon was assassinated by a deranged fan in New York 25 years ago.
Comment on this Article
U.S. to Free 141 Terror Suspects
By Carol J. Williams
LA Times Staff Writer
April 25, 2006
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL STATION, Cuba - The Pentagon plans to release nearly a third of those held at the prison for terrorism suspects here because they pose no threat to U.S. security, an official of the war crimes tribunal said Monday.
Charges are pending against about two dozen of the remaining prisoners, the chief prosecutor said. But he left unclear why the rest face neither imminent freedom nor a day in court after as many as four years in custody.
Only 10 of the roughly 490 alleged "enemy combatants" currently detained at the facility have been charged; none has been charged with a capital offense.
That leaves the majority of the U.S. government's prisoners from the war on terrorism in limbo and its war crimes tribunal exposed to allegations by international human rights advocates that it is illegitimate and abusive.
The decision to release 141 detainees - the largest group to be reclassified and moved off the island - follows a yearlong review of their cases in which interrogators also determined that they could provide no further intelligence. It was unclear when or where the detainees would be released.
About 250 detainees have been released since the prison camps were established in 2002.
Longtime critics of the Guantanamo facility said the announcement of the planned release marked a milestone in the four years the base had held suspected terrorists.
The prison has been dogged by allegations of torture and has brought choruses of international condemnation, including calls from a United Nations panel and the European Parliament to shut it down.
The detainees determined by last year's Administrative Review Boards to pose no threat to U.S. national security are "no longer enemy combatants," explained Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler of the Pentagon office in charge of reviewing detainee status.
He contended that the men's detention had been justified. Battlefield commanders in Afghanistan and Pakistan had determined when the men were arrested that they were a threat to U.S. forces in the region, he said.
"Every detainee who came to the Combatant Status Review Tribunals went though multiple reviews" before their arrival at Guantanamo, Peppler said.
Although Peppler said the majority would be leaving the island "in the near future," he noted that some detainees who had been cleared might remain until an appropriate release site could be found. The government decided, for example, that minority Muslim Uighurs from China should not be handed over to their governments because they could face persecution, torture or execution.
Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said the full significance of freeing the detainees could not be assessed until their fates were clear. Because of pressure from their governments, most European nationals have been released or transferred.
Many of the remaining detainees are from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, Malinowski said.
Afghanistan has a process for granting amnesty to low-level Taliban members and prosecuting senior leaders of the old regime, making it an appropriate place to release the prisoners, he said.
"If they have committed crimes, we support their prosecution," Malinowski said. "If their crime was that they were Taliban, then they should be sent back to Afghanistan." Officials in Guantanamo would not release any information about the nationalities of the men cleared for release.
Pentagon officials have said previously that most of the men being held here were likely to be freed.
The former chief of interrogations, Steve Rodriguez, said in January 2005 that the majority held no further intelligence value.
Officials in Washington indicated last week that a group of about 120 Saudi prisoners could be released to their government.
A defense lawyer for one Saudi suspect said the government in Riyadh was doing little to expedite repatriation of its nationals.
"I believe the Saudi government could do much more like the British government has done" to take its citizens home, said Lt. Col. Bryan Boyles, whose client, Jabran Said bin Al-Qahtani, was to make his first appearance before the tribunal today.
The Army defense lawyer said Riyadh was being "unhelpful" by refusing to get involved.
He noted that the British government's activism had resulted in the transfer and release of all British suspects who had passed through the prison network created by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Malinowksi of Human Rights Watch said transferring detainees into Saudi custody was troublesome.
"Saudi Arabia is not a struggling democracy," he said. "Anyone sent to a Saudi prison ... is in a worse place than Guantanamo."
Announcement of the pending releases coincided with a considerable drop in the number of detainees likely to be charged, suggesting that the U.S. government either lacks the evidence to convict more or - as defense lawyers and human rights monitors contend - feels little pressure to accord the terror suspects a speedy trial or due process.
Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor, said earlier this month that the government was actively pursuing charges against about 70 additional prisoners.
But in a meeting with journalists on Monday, he said charges would be forthcoming on "about two dozen" other jailed suspects, including some who would face the death penalty.
Davis was responding to media questions as to why so few of the detainees - all described by defense attorneys as "small fry" - have been formally charged as the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks approaches.
"We're working on about two dozen additional cases," Davis said.
"I anticipate some of these will certainly present the possibility of death penalty cases."
The man steering the government's cases against war-crimes suspects insisted that some big fish had been ensnared in the U.S. counter-terrorism net.
"I think it's pretty significant when you're specifically training to build bombs to kill coalition forces," he said of three men who will appear before the tribunal this week on charges of having plotted to build remote-controlled explosive devices at an alleged Al Qaeda safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
Davis conceded, though, that "they're certainly not Osama bin Laden, if you look at that as the top of the pyramid."
Boyles, Al-Qahtani's lawyer, expressed bafflement at the government's proceedings.
"I can't for the life of me figure out how they picked the people they've picked," he said. "If these are the worst of the worst, as the secretary of Defense alleges, then someone other than Osama bin Laden's chauffeur would be here."
He was referring to Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemen native whose challenge of the Guantanamo tribunal's legality is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and is expected to be decided in late June.
The high court could take one of three paths, Davis noted: uphold the whole process, order modifications or deem the entire Guantanamo tribunal illegitimate.
Comment on this Article
Mother Nature's Revenge
Thousands evacuated as more Romanian dikes burst
By Martin Dokoupil
Mon Apr 24, 2006
BUCHAREST - Thousands of Romanians fled their homes overnight and thousands more faced the same fate on Monday when the swollen river Danube breached waterlogged dikes and threatened to break through more defenses.
The evacuations dashed hopes that the worst was over as Europe's second-longest river retreated more slowly than expected from its highest levels in a century.
Fed by rain and melting snow, swollen waterways have swamped vast tracts of land in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary this month, driving thousands of people from their homes.
In Romania, the worst-hit country where tens of thousands of hectares are submerged, some 2,800 people moved to high ground overnight after dikes near the southern villages of Bistret, Spantov and Oltina collapsed under the flood water's pressure.
More people were on the move on Monday with furniture and belongings crammed into army trucks, tractors and horse carts, and authorities said some 4,600 in all were expected to flee in the coming hours.
"The water is close to Bistret. We have to evacuate all the villagers this evening," Mayor Constantin Raicea told Reuters.
Soldiers set up tents on higher ground near Bistret to house some 1,000 refugees, but Raicea said most of the 1,600 people evacuated were staying with relatives in neighboring villages.
President Traian Basescu, touring the area, urged local officials to act quickly: "The villagers from Bistret need to be evacuated immediately. We have to evacuate the area using force because some people do not want to leave their houses."
Some 40 km (25 miles) downstream in Bechet, a village of 5,200, rescuers geared up to take more people to safety as another dike crumbled in a nearby village.
"Around 30 families have moved to a neighboring village and we are now going to evacuate some 1,200 people," Bechet mayor Constantin Oclei told Reuters.
Soldiers and civilians built new berms and reinforced existing dikes to protect low-lying settlements in the area.
The floods forced hundreds of Romanians to spend Orthodox Easter Sunday -- a closely observed holiday in the Balkans -- in a bleak refugee camp away from their flooded village with little idea when they would be able to return home.
Officials said the Danube had receded where it leaves Serbia and enters Romania but there might be more breaches of dikes.
"Water pressure is very high on these earth dikes and there are more in danger of collapse," said Elena Anghel, from Romania's National Hydrology Institute.
In Hungary, more large cracks had appeared by Monday morning in the dikes at the confluence of the Tisza and Koros rivers, where 6,000 soldiers and civilians battled the floods overnight.
Both rivers ebbed very slowly, by around 2 to 8 centimeters (1 to 3 inches) from the peak in the worst-hit area, and there was still pressure on the dikes, state news agency MTI reported.
The Danube originates in Germany and flows through or forms borders with 10 countries before emptying into the Black Sea.
In Bulgaria's Nikopol, a town of 4,000 which is half under water, several families evacuated over the weekend as water flooded their houses. In all, 61 people have fled the village.
"It's really difficult to make a prediction for the coming days," said Georgi Linkov, head of civil defense in Pleven, northern Bulgaria.
"We hope the rains the meteorologists forecast will not be pouring down, because there's a risk of soaking the dikes."
Comment on this Article
Tornadoes Touch Down in Central Oklahoma
By ASHLEY GIBSON
Tue Apr 25, 2006
OKLAHOMA CITY - A powerful storm system spawned at least two tornadoes and several severe thunderstorms, causing damage in central and northeastern areas of the state Monday, authorities said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
West of Oklahoma City, two tornadoes tore through sparsely populated areas of Canadian County, damaging hangars at the municipal airport south of El Reno.
Television footage showed debris from the buildings being lifted and flung about as the tornado moved overhead. Parts of the hangars' roofs were ripped away and a couple of airplanes were moved outside.
Damage from the storms, which formed near U.S. Highway 81 and Interstate 40 about 40 miles west of Oklahoma City, appeared to be isolated, Lt. Stewart Meyer, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman said.
Nearby, employees and patrons watched as the twisters danced west and south of the Denny's Restaurant along I-40, restaurant manager Danielle Landers said.
"We had about seven tables at the time," she said. "There were a few people that wanted to go outside and see the tornadoes, but most people waited inside until the storm passed. We didn't see any damage."
Near Tulsa, a storm toppled trees and damaged at least one house, a mobile home and an auto dealership as it moved through around 1 p.m.
Resident Leslie Shanks said he saw a tornado twist a tree in his front yard and noticed that another tree had fallen onto the back of his house.
"It hit and was gone," Shanks told the Tulsa World.
Some 2,618 Oklahoma Gas & Electric customers and between 3,000 and 4,000 AEP-PSO customers lost electric power at the height of the storms. Service had been restored to all but 1,200 AEP-PSO customers by 8 p.m., officials said.
Comment on this Article
Global warming behind record 2005 storms: experts
By Thom Akeman
Mon Apr 24, 2006
MONTEREY, California - The record Atlantic hurricane season last year can be attributed to global warming, several top experts, including a leading U.S. government storm researcher, said on Monday.
"The hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change and it's no longer something we'll see in the future, it's happening now," said Greg Holland, a division director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
Holland told a packed hall at the American Meteorological Society's 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology that the wind and warmer water conditions that fuel storms that form in the Caribbean are "increasingly due to greenhouse gases. There seems to be no other conclusion you can logically draw."
His conclusion will be debated throughout the week-long conference, as other researchers present opposing papers that say changing wind and temperature conditions in the tropics are due to natural events, not the accumulation of carbon dioxide emissions clouding the Earth.
Many of the experts gathered in the coastal city of Monterey, California, are federal employees. The Bush administration contends global warming is an unproven theory.
While many of the conference's 500 scientists seem to agree that a warming trend in the tropics is causing more and stronger hurricanes than usual, not all agree that global warming is to blame.
Some, like William Gray, a veteran hurricane researcher at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, attributed the warming to natural cycles. Gray said he believes salinity buildups and movements with ocean currents cause warming and cooling cycles. He predicted the Caribbean water will continue to warm for another five to 10 years, then start cooling.
MORE WARMING TO COME
Whatever the cause, computer projections indicate the warming to date -- about one degree Fahrenheit (half a degree Celsius) in tropical water -- is "the tip of the iceberg" and the water will warm three to four times as much in the next century, said Thomas Knutson, explaining projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey.
Adam Lea, a postdoctoral student at Britain's University College London in Dorking, Surrey, presented research based on British, German, Russian and Canadian studies that concludes half of the increased hurricane activity in the tropics could be attributed to global warming.
Holland, director of the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division of the federal research center, said tropical storm anomalies in the 1940s and 1950s can be explained by natural variability.
But he said carbon dioxide started changing traceable patterns in the 1970s and by the early 1990s, the atmospheric results were affecting the storm numbers and intensities.
"What we're seeing right now in global climate temperature is a signature of climate change," said Holland, a native of Australia. "The large bulk of the scientific community say what we are seeing now is linked directly to greenhouse gases."
Hurricane Katrina, which tore onto the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts on August 29, was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in 77 years and the costliest ever, with property damages estimated at $75 billion.
This year, the weather service's Tropical Prediction Center expects more hurricanes than usual, but not as many as last year's record 14.
Comment on this Article
Nicaraguan Volcano San Cristobal Spews Cinders Gas
Apr 25, 2006
Managua - The San Cristobal volcano near here has entered an eruption phase with cinder and gases spewing from its crater amid increased seismic activity, according to the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (Ineter) Monday.
The volcano, 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of Managua, has had "moderate explosions in its crater that have released gases and volcanic cinder" carried by winds toward towns 25 kilometers (16 miles) away, the institute said.
The 1,745-meter (5,745-feet) San Cristobal volcano has been active for several years, but seismic activity, small eruptions and gas releases in the crater, have increased since Friday.
"In every period there is a phase of strong activity with high tremors" during which explosions can occur inside the crater, Ineter said.
Between 30,000 and 50,000 people live around the volcano. The last time a significant eruption phase occurred was November 1999, with moderate explosions coming from the crater.
Comment on this Article
More damage feared for coral reefs
By Mat Probasco
April 23, 2006
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands - Higher sea temperatures could worsen the widespread destruction of coral reefs that hit the Caribbean in 2005, scientists fear.
In the waters around the U.S. Virgin Islands, as much as 40 percent of coral died in some reefs last year, and the coral that survived probably isn't healthy enough to survive another hot summer, said Caroline Rogers, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist.
"It worries me. It's looking so similar" to last year, said Rogers, who has studied coral in the Virgin Islands for 22 years. "It's impossible to overstate how important this is."
Reefs are vital habitat for fish, lobsters and other sea life that feed and breed in the sheltered waters. The reefs also deflect storm waves that might otherwise wash away the beaches that are at the heart of the region's multibillion dollar tourism industry.
Bleached and infested with disease, coral off Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is in poor shape, scientists said in interviews last week. They said further bleaching wouldn't be apparent before summer and it would take some time after that before they would know if more coral died.
"You don't know how scary it looks down there," said Zandy Starr, who monitors coral and sea turtles in St. Croix's national parks. "All of us thought that by now, with all the cooler temperatures in January and February, we would have seen recovery, but they're still sick."
Glassy, calm seas have permitted coral-killing ultraviolet rays to penetrate to the ocean floor, warming water temperatures and making the fragile undersea life more susceptible to disease, Starr said.
A record 9 percent of elkhorn coral -- vital for reef building -- died last year and more was damaged, Rogers said. Growing some eight inches a year, elkhorn is one of the faster generating coral, while other coral grows just a half-inch or so each year.
Scientists haven't pinpointed what caused coral to become sick or led to the warm water, which stresses coral and makes it more susceptible to disease. They can't say whether global warming is a factor.
"We don't really have the data. You need a record over decades. There's a lot of research that needs to happen," said Alberto Sabat, a biology professor at the University of Puerto Rico.
But the trend of warmer waters isn't limited to the Caribbean. The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration said waters were warmer than usual in the South Pacific, mid-Atlantic and Indian Ocean in mid-April.
Rogers said coral fared far better after hurricanes that devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1989 and 1995 because the storms cooled the sea, allowing reefs to recover more quickly from damage.
Rising temperatures appear to be "something new that the corals aren't used to," said Tyler Smith, a marine researcher at the University of the Virgin Islands.
The scientists worry that the problem is being overlooked.
"People just don't know that much about coral because it's underwater. If 40 percent of the trees in one of our national parks died, people would take notice," Rogers said.
Comment on this Article
Seven car bombs rock Baghdad as US steps up pressure
Mon Apr 24, 2006
BAGHDAD - Car bombings and shootings killed 20 people and wounded more than 100 in Baghdad Monday as Washington stepped up pressure for Shiite premier designate Jawad al-Maliki to form a government and halt Iraq's slide into civil war.
Insurgents set off seven car bombs, two of them at a Baghdad university, security officials said. Five people died in the coordinated attack on the Mustansiriya University that also wounded 25.
A car bomb in the north Baghdad neighbourhood of Bab al-Muhaddam killed three people and wounded 25, while another in Tahrir Square in the city centre wounded 15.
Two car bombs also went off within minutes of each other in east Baghdad, wounding nine. A seventh bomb exploded in the upscale Mansur neighborhood, wounding seven.
Six people died in a series of shootings in south Baghdad's restive Al-Dura district, while one civilian was killed near the restive city of Baquba, north of the capital.
Late Sunday, police found the bodies of 15 young men near
Abu Ghraib on Baghdad's western outskirts.
"All the men had bullets in their heads," an interior ministry official said.
Further north, four police and two insurgents were killed in clashes near ousted president Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, police said.
The latest wave of violence came as US President George W. Bush stepped up pressure on Maliki to quickly form a national unity government, with the US military facing one of its bloodiest periods in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
About 60 US servicemen have been killed in Iraq already this month, taking the military's death toll since the invasion to 2,392, according to an AFP count based on
More than four months after the December election for Iraq's first full-term post-Saddam government, political leaders have yet to form a working cabinet after protracted bickering over who should be the next prime minister.
On Saturday, the deadlock appeared broken when the dominant Shiite bloc, the United Iraq Alliance, nominated Maliki as a compromise candidate after the withdrawal of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's candidacy.
On Sunday, Bush telephoned Maliki, as well as re-selected President Jalal Talabani and new parliament speaker Mahmud Mashhadani, urging them to form a national unity government.
"I told them they have awesome responsibilities to their people," Bush said. "They have a responsibility to defeat the terrorists. They have a responsibility to unite their country and I believe they will."
Heavy US military casualties and an upsurge in sectarian violence alongside the longrunning Sunni Arab insurgency have emerged as the major obstacles to US hopes of withdrawing its 130,000 troops three years after the invasion.
US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also put pressure on Maliki.
"We want him to form as quickly as possible a good, strong cabinet," Khalilzad said Sunday. "It is important that there be a cabinet made up of ministers who will work for all Iraqis and bring Iraqis together."
Hundreds of Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, have died in sectarian violence since the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in February.
Most of the killings have been blamed on Shiite militias and forces from Baghdad's Shiite-led interior ministry.
Khalilzad renewed calls for the militias to be dismantled.
"We regard the unauthorised military formation as infrastructure of civil war," he said. "Military formations must be in the hands of authorised Iraqi government forces."
Maliki, considered a hardliner, has vowed to rein in militias by integrating them into the security forces.
"Arms must be in the hands of the government. There is a law to integrate militias into the security forces," he said.
Khalilzad is the only US envoy authorised by President George W. Bush to speak to Iranian officials but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday there was no longer any need for talks with Iran's arch foe on the situation in Iraq.
"Now we think that, God willing, with the establishment of a stable government in Iraq, there is no more need to do so," the hardline Iranian president said.
Any direct meeting would have marked a break in a near three-decade pause in open bilateral contacts between US and Iranian officials.
Comment on this Article
Cadets hear a voice from the left wing
By Greg Bruno
West Point - Considering the venue, heckles might have been expected for a guy who once called the United States "a leading terrorist" country.
But at the U.S. Military Academy, where soldier-scholars are born, even left-wing political dissidents are given an ear.
So it was yesterday evening.
Amid an army of white over gray, renowned political theorist Noam Chomsky took on an issue of paramount importance for the 4,000 cadets training to wage the nation's battles: What defines a just war?
It's an issue scholars disagree on. But for Chomsky, Iraq is not even close.
"I think it was aggression," he told the cadets assembled in Thayer Hall. "The administration presented it as pre-emption. But it certainly wasn't, in any stretch of the imagination. The world didn't think so either."
A rebuke of American policy is nothing new for the famed intellectual.
Chomsky's "leading terrorist" comment came just two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In defending his remark, Chomsky later told CNN he was referring to America's support of the Contras in Nicaragua.
"The World Court condemned the United States for what it called 'the unlawful use of force and violation of treaties,'" he said. "That's international terrorism."
Born in Philadelphia, Chomsky, 77, has lectured widely on foreign affairs, from Middle East peace to terrorism. Widely considered an expert in the scientific study of language, Chomsky has been an outspoken critic of American wars before, including Vietnam.
He has authored or co-authored more than 200 books and papers in a career that spans five decades, holds a doctorate in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania and teaches linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Still, Chomsky's stature doesn't mean universal agreement, especially among future soldiers.
"In the military, you ultimately have to follow orders," said Matt Yarnall, a junior from Broken Arrow, Okla. Just war or not, "That decision is made at the top levels of government."
Comment on this Article
Iraq Can't be Compared to Post-World War II
by Gene C. Gerard
April 24, 2006
In the past three years the Bush administration has vigorously made comparisons between reconstruction in Iraq and post-World War II Germany and Japan. Many of the administration's analogies have been forced, at best. A variety of historians, political scientists, and even former government officials have suggested that the comparisons are rather tenuous. But a new report by the Congressional Research Service has essentially demolished the administration's analogies.
Condoleeza Rice, as National Security Advisor, gave a speech to the American Legion convention in 2003 in which she made comparisons between Iraq and German reconstruction. She cautioned, "There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes, [but] 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable. SS officers engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them - much like today's Baathist."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld went even farther at the convention. He told the audience, "Nazi regime remnants... plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government buildings. Does this sound familiar?" The only problem with these comparisons is that they're false. The Congressional Research Service (CRS), which acts as the nonpartisan public policy research office of Congress, notes in a new report comparing the occupation of Iraq with that of Germany and Japan, "Iraq faces an insurgency that deliberately sabotages the economy and reconstruction efforts, whereas there were no resistance movements in either Germany or Japan."
In fact, to say that there were no organized resistance movements in post-World War II Germany and Japan is an understatement. Former Ambassador James Dobbins, along with the RAND Corporation, authored a study entitled America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq, which determined that there was not a single post-war American combat casualty in Germany or Japan.
In 2003 President Bush gave a speech in which he said, "Following World War II, we lifted up the defeated nations of Japan and Germany, and we stood with them as they built representative governments. We committed years and resources to this cause. America today accepts the challenge of helping Iraq in the same spirit." In reality, there are significant differences between both Germany and Japan and Iraq. Prior to the emergence of militarism in the 1920s, Japan essentially functioned as a constitutional monarchy. And before Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, Germany had a democratic parliamentary government. Iraq, by comparison, has never had a democratic government.
Only a few months ago, Mr. Bush made another comparison when he stated, "After World War II, President Truman believed that the way to help bring peace to Asia was to plant the seeds of freedom and democracy in Japan. Like today, there were many skeptics. Fortunately, President Truman stuck to his guns. The spread of freedom to Iraq requires the same confidence and persistence, and it will lead to the same results." But the CRS report demonstrates that we've already done much more for Iraq than we ever did for Germany or Japan. And it's produced far less results to date.
According to the CRS report, U.S. aid allocations for Iraq over the last three years are $28.9 billion, all of which has been in the form of grants. Almost 62 percent of this went for economic and political reconstruction assistance. The remaining 38 percent was intended to strengthen Iraqi security. For post-World War II Germany, the U.S. provided $29.3 billion (in 2005 dollars) in assistance between 1946 and 1952, consisting of 60 percent in economic grants, 30 percent in economic loans, and 10 percent in military aid.
In Japan, post-war U.S. aid amounted to $15.2 billion (in 2005 dollars) during the same time frame, of which 77 percent was grants and 23 percent was loans. Almost a third of the aid was targeted at economic reconstruction. Comparatively, a greater proportion of Iraqi aid has been provided for economic reconstruction than was the case for Germany or Japan. Total U.S. grant assistance to Iraq over the last three years is approximately equivalent to total loan and grant assistance provided to Germany and almost double that provided to Japan, over a seven year period. And yet the administration has accomplished so little.
It's clear that the Bush administration's analogies between the flawed reconstruction efforts in Iraq and the occupation history of Germany and Japan are inaccurate, if not false. But it should come as no surprise that the Bush administration is attempting to re-write the history of the aftermath of World War II. This administration loves revisionist history. For much of the last three years, the administration has tried to re-write the history surrounding its decision to go to war.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book "Americans at War," by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the world news website OrbStandard at www.orbstandard.com/GGerard.
Comment on this Article
Bush was warned there were no WMD, says former CIA man
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Published: 24 April 2006
The Central Intelligence Agency tried to warn the Bush administration on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein did not appear to have weapons of mass destruction but the warning was dismissed because the US political leadership was not interested in what the intelligence showed, according to a retired senior CIA operative.
The revelation, by the CIA's former European chief Tyler Drumheller, was broadcast on CBS's news magazine Sixty Minutes last night and added to the body of evidence that US and British leaders saw the weapons of mass destruction issue only as a selling point for a war they had already decided to wage for other reasons.
According to Mr Drumheller, Western intelligence services were told about Iraq's lack of chemical and biological weapons by Naji Sabri, a former Iraqi foreign minister. The CIA director of the time, George Tenet, took this information straight to President George Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and other senior officials, but it made no impression on them.
* Three American soldiers were killed yesterday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb north-west of Baghdad. Twenty-three Iraqis also died in other violence yesterday, the day after Iraq's parliament elected a president, two vice-presidents, a parliament speaker and two deputies, which ended a long-standing political deadlock.
Comment on this Article
Bad Times for Dubya
Mick beats George to suite
By THOMAS WHITAKER
April 25, 2006
PRESIDENT George Bush can't get no satisfaction - after Mick Jagger grabbed his hotel room.
The Rolling Stone splashed out £3,600 a night for the suite days before the US leader tried to book it.
Now Mick, 62, who has been a fierce critic of the Bush-led war in Iraq, is refusing to give it up.
The veteran rocker hired the luxury Royal Suite at the five-star Imperial Hotel in Vienna, Austria, for June when the Stones are due to play a gig in the city.
Bush's aides then tried to book it to tie in with a summit meeting.
But Mick put his foot down and insisted he was keeping the booking.
A source close to the millionaire singer said last night: "White House officials had wanted to reserve the suite and all the other rooms on the first floor.
"But Mick and the Stones had already booked every one of them.
"Bush's people seemed to be under the impression that they would just hand over the suites but there was no way Mick was going to do that."
The classically-designed suite is said to be among the top 100 hotel rooms in the world. It boasts a 7ft 4in bed, chandeliers and oil paintings.
Former presidents Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy and George Bush Snr all stayed there while they were in office.
The hotel last night admitted US secret service agents vetted the accommodation - and confirmed that Bush would no longer be staying there.
An American Embassy official refused to say where he was now staying for "security reasons".
Mick takes a swipe at Bush, 59, on the latest Stones album A Bigger Bang, savaging his Iraq War policy.
Comment on this Article
California Becomes Second State to Introduce Bush Impeachment
By David Swanson
Joining Illinois, California has become the second state in which a proposal to impeach President Bush has been introduced in the state legislature. And this one includes Cheney as well.
California Assemblyman Paul Koretz of Los Angeles (where the LA Times has now called for Cheney's resignation) has submitted amendments to Assembly Joint Resolution No. 39, calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney. The amendments reference Section 603 of Jefferson's Manual of the Rules of the United States House of Representatives, which allows federal impeachment proceedings to be initiated by joint resolution of a state legislature.
The resolution, in the words of Koretz's press release, "bases the call for impeachment upon the Bush Administration intentionally misleading the Congress and the American people regarding the threat from Iraq in order to justify an unnecessary war that has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives and casualties; exceeding constitutional authority to wage war by invading Iraq; exceeding constitutional authority by Federalizing the National Guard; conspiring to torture prisoners in violation of the 'Federal Torture Act' and indicating intent to continue such actions; spying on American citizens in violation of the 1978 Foreign Agency Surveillance Act; leaking and covering up the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, and holding American citizens without charge or trial."
Koretz submitted amendments gutting AJR No. 39, a resolution unrelated to impeachment, to the Assembly Rules Committee. The Rules Committee may take up the bill this week for referral, allowing him to formally introduce the amended resolution.
AJR 39 is a bill introduced in January by Koretz calling for a moratorium on depleted uranium: Link
"At both the state and national levels," Koretz said, "we will be paying for the Bush Administration's illegal actions and terrible lack of judgment and competence for decades-not only in the billions of dollars wasted on the war and welfare for the rich, but in the worldwide loss of respect for America and Americans. Bush and Cheney must be impeached and removed from office before they undertake even deadlier misdeeds, such as the use of nuclear weapons. There are no bounds to their willingness to ignore the Constitution and world opinion-we can't afford to wait for the next disaster and hope that we can survive it."
For more information and to thank this American hero, contact Paul Michael Neuman in Koretz's District Office: (310) 285-5490 email@example.com or go here:
Here is a kit to help with promoting this resolution and with passing others in your towns and cities and states. Also on this page is information on activities in other states and localities:
Get organized in California to pass this bill!
Illinois Legislators Were First to Introduce Bill for Bush Impeachment
Three members of the Illinois General Assembly have introduced a bill that urges the General Assembly to submit charges to the U. S. House of Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States, George W. Bush, for willfully violating his Oath of Office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and if found guilty urges his removal from office and disqualification to hold any other office in the United States.
The Jefferson Manual of rules for the U.S. House of Representatives makes clear that impeachment proceedings can be initiated by a state legislature submitting charges. The state of Illinois is on its way toward forcing on the House what not a single one of its members has yet had the courage to propose: Articles of Impeachment.
The text of the Illinois bill and information on its status are available here:
The bill takes up the issues of illegal spying, torture, detentions without charge or trial, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, and the leaking of classified information.
Please thank these sponsors of the bill:
Rep. Karen A. Yarbrough, phone (217) 782-8120 or (708) 615-1747; fax (708) 615-1745
Rep Sara Feigenholtz , phone (217) 782-8062 or (773) 296-4141; fax (217) 557-7203 or (773) 296-0993
Rep. Eddie Washington phone (217) 558-1012 or (847) 623-0060, fax (847) 623-6078
Here is a kit to help with promoting this resolution and with passing others in your towns and cities. Also on this page is information on activities in other states and localities: http://www.impeachpac.org/resolutions
Get organized in Illinois to pass this bill! http://pdamerica.org/statecaucus.php?s=IL
Source article http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/node/9249
Comment on this Article
Bush's approval ratings drop to new low
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-25 10:06:46
WASHINGTON, April 24 (Xinhua) -- The approval ratings for U.S. President George W. Bush have dropped to a new low, with only 32 percent of Americans saying they approve of his job performance, a new poll released on Monday showed.
The survey, released by the Cable News Network (CNN) on its website, found that 60 percent of those polled said they disapproved the way the president was handling his job, and 8 percent said they did not know.
In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll carried out April 29-May 1, 2005, Americans were split on their assessments of Bush's performance, with 48 percent saying they approved and 49 percent saying they disapproved.
Americans were evenly split on whether Bush was "competent," with 47 percent saying yes, 47 percent saying no and 6 percent expressing no opinion, according to the new poll.
Recent gas price hikes were partially responsible for Bush's sluggish job approval ratings, the poll found, as more than two-thirds of Americans - 69 percent - said recent increases in the cost of gasoline had caused them hardship, while only 28 percent said they had not, and 1 percent said they had no opinion.
The poll was one of four conducted within the past 10 days thathave yielded similar results: a Pew Center poll carried out April 7-16 gave Bush a 35-percent approval rating; a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll carried out last Tuesday and Wednesday gave him a 33-percent approval rating; and an American Research Group poll carried out last Tuesday through Friday gave him a 34-percent approval rating.
The poll of 1,012 adult Americans was carried out last Friday through Sunday, and had a sampling error of plus-or-minus three percentage points.
Comment on this Article
Bush aims to boost ratings and halt gas price rise
By Patricia Wilson
April 25, 2006
WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush, his popularity sinking while gas prices soar, hopes to stave off a potential election-year problem for fellow Republicans with a drive to stop price gouging and push alternative fuels.
With oil prices hitting record highs and gas topping $3 a gallon at some pumps, Democrats hoping to win control of Congress in November have used the issue to slam White House energy policy and Republicans' ties to big oil companies.
Bush's public approval rating has fallen to 32 percent, a new low for his presidency, according to a CNN poll released on Monday. Sixty percent of Americans said they disapproved of the way Bush was handling his job, the poll showed.
In a 10:05 a.m. EDT speech on Tuesday, the president will push a four-part plan to ensure fair treatment for motorists, promote fuel efficiency and alternative fuels, and boost U.S. gas supply, his spokesman said.
"We have a strong economy, but high gas prices are like an additional tax on families that are trying to live within a budget," spokesman Scott McClellan said. "It puts a strain on working families, farmers and small businesses."
Bush will call on energy companies to reinvest their profits into expanding refining capacity, developing new technologies and researching alternative energy sources.
Critics aim to tap into public anxiety caused by rising gas prices as a way to blunt the White House push to take credit for overall good economic numbers.
Bush, a former Texas oilman, has called for the United States to kick its "addiction" to oil and predicted a "tough summer" for drivers, but there is not a lot he can do to reduce gas costs quickly and some parts of his plan have been in place for months.
Bush will say that in recent days he asked the Energy and Justice departments to look into possible cheating or illegal manipulation of gasoline markets.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be sending letters on Tuesday to all 50 states "to remind them to stay on top of this," McClellan said.
"It's important to make sure that there's not any price gouging," he said. "The federal government has a responsibility to act."
Republican leaders in Congress, worried that high fuel costs will turn voters against them, urged the Bush administration to investigate.
"Anyone who is trying to take advantage of this situation while American families are forced into making tough choices over whether to fill up their cars or severely cut back their budgets should be investigated and prosecuted," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert wrote in a letter to Bush on Monday.
Bush also will talk about how, at his direction, the FTC is investigating whether the price of gasoline has been unfairly manipulated, an order that has been in place since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last year.
Democrats said Republicans would be held accountable for "turning a blind eye" to soaring gasoline costs and for failing to support legislation to give the FTC more authority to go after oil companies for price gouging.
"Bush will call on energy companies to reinvest their profits into expanding refining capacity, developing new technologies and researching alternative energy sources." Even if oil companies DID reinvest their profits in this way, it would take far too long for any new technologies or energy sources to become widespread enough that it would have an effect on the average American's wallet.
In any case, how willing will oil companies be to shoot themselves in the financial foot? Not very, we suspect.
As such, Bush's latest measures seem to be nothing more than a weak attempt to fool the people into believing that he actually cares about them and that "everything's going to be fine"...
Comment on this Article
Veterans Drawn Into Immigration Debate
By ELLIOT SPAGAT
April 24, 2006
Marcial Rodriguez, a U.S. Marine who grew up in a Mexican farming village, is offended that the country he went to war for might deport his relatives who are living here illegally.
Three months after the lance corporal returned to Ohio from the fighting in Iraq, the U.S. House adopted a bill that would make Rodriguez's cousin a felon for being one of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.
Rodriguez, 20, said he enlisted in the Marine reserves to repay the debt he felt owed to a country that had given him an education and a home for his family.
"People from many different countries are fighting, not just from Mexico," he said. "We want to participate in this country."
It is unclear how many soldiers find their loyalties similarly divided, but at a time when Pentagon has stepped up recruiting of Hispanics to fill recruiting quotas, experts say a crackdown on illegal immigration would undoubtedly cause resentment in the ranks.
"How do you tell them we're going to deport their parents and grandparents?" asked Hector Flores, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a group that has encouraged Hispanics who do not plan to attend college to join the military. "That's not America."
Hispanics are increasingly joining the military as their numbers have grown, according to a 2004 study on Marine recruitment by CNA Corp., a research firm in Arlington, Va. The study found Hispanics have done exceptionally well in the Marines, with boot-camp attrition rates well below average.
Hispanics accounted for 16.5 percent of Marine recruits last year, up from 13.4 percent in 2002 and 11.7 percent in 1997, the firm said.
Soldiers and veterans have been a popular presence at a wave of pro-immigrant rallies across the country in recent weeks. In Houston, speakers at a rally this month repeatedly pointed to people in uniform on a nearby bridge, and they received roaring applause, said Eliseo Medina, a top official of the Service Employees International Union.
"They stick out like a sore thumb," Medina said. "When (demonstrators) see people in uniform, it gives them tremendous pride and validates that we are contributing to this country."
At a pro-immigration rally April 9 that drew 50,000 people in San Diego, Hispanic veterans from World War II carried signs that read "We Fought in Your Wars," said Jorge Mariscal, a Vietnam veteran.
"After serving our country, to see our relatives now criminalized through this legislation is provoking a lot of people," said Mariscal, director of Chicano studies at the University of California, San Diego.
Rodriguez enlisted in 2004 after graduating from high school in Painesville, Ohio. Nine months later, he was combing Iraq for insurgents near the Syrian border. He barely escaped death when three friends of his were killed by a roadside bomb last June.
Rodriguez is now a freshman at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, where he is studying international relations. He said he has dreamed since boyhood of joining the
CIA. He speaks English and Spanish and is learning French.
His father, Ernesto Rodriguez, crossed illegally into the United States in 1976 after deciding that he would never be able to support a family in Mexico. He had dropped out of school after third grade and had been farming corn in the Mexican state of Guanajuato from age 16. After getting caught by the Border Patrol, he made it on a second try and worked on a chicken farm near Dallas.
The elder Rodriguez, now 47, became a permanent resident under a 1986 law that gave legal status to 2.6 million immigrants. He moved to Ohio to find work and in 1998 got permission to bring his wife and three children this country. Marcial was 13 at the time.
Marcial's cousin Eli Rodriguez illegally crossed the border in 1999 and moved in with Marcial's father. Eli Rodriguez paid a smuggler $1,200 to bring him across the Arizona desert.
"He's like a brother," Marcial Rodriguez said. "He's just working for a better life, nothing more. Mexico has nothing to offer him."
Eli, 24, married a Mexican woman he met in Ohio, rented an apartment and makes $10 an hour as a landscaper. He said he hopes to obtain legal status and join the military.
"I want to join the military, but I can't. This country has given me a lot," he said. "I would like to serve."
Comment on this Article
Feds Arrest 183 Illegal Immigrants in Fla.
Mon Apr 24, 2006
MIAMI - Federal immigration authorities arrested 183 fugitives and other illegal immigrants in Florida alone last week, the state's largest roundup in a single week, officials said Monday.
The arrests included people convicted of sex offenses, child abuse, cocaine trafficking and weapons violations. They were originally from 26 countries and most eventually will be deported.
"Anybody who is a fugitive from justice is a danger to the community," said Michael Rozos, the field director in Miami of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "Operation Phoenix" effort to find and deport fugitive illegal immigrants.
"These operations have been going on for years, but they have become more focused," he said.
Of the 183 arrested, 130 were fugitives who had already been ordered deported by an immigration judge. The remaining 53 were also illegal immigrants who happened to be present when fugitives were taken into custody, Rozos said.
The fugitive operation is separate from another ICE-led crackdown on employers who hire and harbor illegal immigrants. Rozos said both are part of the Secure Border Initiative, a Homeland Security Department plan intended to beef up enforcement of existing immigration laws inside the U.S. and toughen border security.
Ninety-five of those arrested were in South Florida, 35 were arrested in Tampa, 30 in Jacksonville and 23 in Orlando, according to ICE.
Comment on this Article
Bush: Massive Deportation Is Unrealistic
By JENNIFER LOVEN
Apr 24, 2006
IRVINE, Calif. - President Bush had a blunt message Monday for fellow Republicans focusing only on get-tough immigration policies: He said sending all the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants back to their home countries is not the answer.
"Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic - it's just not going to work," Bush said. "You know, you can hear people out there hollering it's going to work. It's not going to work."
With Congress coming back from a two-week spring recess to a long election-year to-do list and tensions flaring nationwide over immigration, Bush urged lawmakers to adopt a middle-ground policy. He called a Senate bill, which creates a way for illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States and for many to eventually become citizens, an "important approach."
"It's just an interesting concept that people need to think through," Bush said of the bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., which stalled before the congressional break.
As for Bush's comment on deportation, a Time magazine poll in January found 50 percent of the country favored deporting all illegal immigrants. But even Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., one of Congress' most outspoken advocates for tougher immigration laws, does not advocate mass deportation.
Well aware that November elections could end GOP control of Congress, Bush is walking a fine line on the emotional immigration issue, between his party's conservative base which wants a clampdown on illegal immigration and business leaders who believe the economy needs immigrants to fill jobs.
All sides are exerting pressure.
With armed citizen patrols popping up in border states, leaders in Arizona and New Mexico have pleaded for better policing of U.S. borders while other communities complain about the pressure that burgeoning immigrant populations are placing on local services. At the same time, tens of thousands of Hispanic and others - a potentially important voting bloc - have taken to streets across the country in the past few weeks to demand more immigration-friendly policies.
Reflecting that debate, when Bush turned to the audience assembled by the Orange County Business Council for questions, three of the eight queries he took were on immigration, including one from a woman who asked for his solution to emergency rooms crowded with poor people seeking routine care. Southern California's Orange County is a heavily Republican swath of sprawling Los Angeles suburbs that has been known - even parodied - as white, rich and conservative. But minorities now make up a majority of residents.
Bush said community health centers are the best place for the poor to get primary care. "There needs to be a campaign to explain what's available for people so that they don't go to the emergency rooms," he said.
He sought to highlight the contributions of immigrants to American society, and lamented the harsh - and sometimes deadly - conditions that many people face trying to illegally enter the country.
"One thing we cannot lose sight of is that we're talking about human beings, decent human beings that need to be treated with respect," the president said.
The House has passed a law-and-order immigration bill that would erect fences along the Mexican border and treat people who sneak across as felons to be deported. An alternative Senate measure would set up a temporary guest worker program, like the McCain bill, but require all illegal immigrants to leave the United States before they could apply for the visas.
As he has before, Bush stopped short of directly endorsing the McCain bill. The White House will go no further than to call it an attractive vehicle to keep negotiations moving.
The bill, also sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would boost border security but also create three-year visas for guest workers. Those who have been in the country longer than five years would not have to return home to apply for the visas. It would also allow for the workers to apply for legal permanent residency after paying a $2,000 fine, learning to speak English and working six years.
In an apparent, though indirect reference to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Bush said the McCain measure had been derailed by "needless politics." Republicans have been blaming Reid, D-Nev., for blocking the bill because he failed to reach agreement with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. on a procedure for voting on amendments sought by GOP opponents of the legislation.
"President Bush likes to point his finger on immigration and many other issues. Isn't it about time we moved beyond that?" Reid said Monday on the Senate floor. "The Senate can move forward on immigration if the president will stand up to those in his party who are filibustering."
Bush's immigration speech, and a later event at a Las Vegas casino that raised $400,000 for Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., ended a four-day stay in California. Bush is to meet at the White House Tuesday with a bipartisan group of senators on immigration.
Comment on this Article
Bush touts guest worker program in California speech
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-25 08:52:54
LOS ANGELES, April 24 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President George W. Bushon Monday touted the idea of a guest worker program to business leaders in a California county, where illegal immigration has become particularly divisive, even among his own Republican Party.
Bush, wrapping up a four-day California visit, said that a rational, temporary guest worker program would make sense for both businesses and immigrants.
The president said in his speech to the Orange County Business Council in Irvine, some 70 km south of Los Angeles, that a "tamper-proof ID card" for guest workers would allow the border patrol to focus on drug and gun smugglers and not people who just want to work.
"A tamper-proof card all of a sudden makes interior enforcement work," Bush said.
Bush has been criticized for appearing mostly before groups that agree with his views, but among the audience at Monday's event were some Republicans who disagree with Bush's immigration policies.
Opposition to illegal immigration is high in California's Orange County, where Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist lives.
The president supports a guest worker program but also strengthening border enforcement.
When the Senate reconvenes this week, it is expected to take up immigration legislation that stalled two weeks ago.
The legislation contained provisions to bolster border security, start a temporary guest-worker program and provide a path for legalization of some illegal immigrants, now estimated to be as many as 12 million across the United States.
The issue has sparked demonstrations in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, as it has nationwide, with protesters particularly critical of a plan in Orange County to train police officers to enforce immigration law in connection with felony investigations.
During his speech, Bush lamented the difficulty of patrolling the border and said businesses should not lose sight that the people "sneaking across the border to do jobs" were "decent human beings."
He said that under a temporary worker plan, people "don't need to sneak across the border to do a job Americans won't do."
"So you don't have to burden our borders. We want our border patrol hunting down gun smugglers and dope runners," said Bush.
Comment on this Article
Remember, we need your help to collect information on what is going on in your part of the world!
Send your article suggestions to: sott(at)signs-of-the-times.org