Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rep Ron Paul: Gen Petraeus Iraq Surge Hearing

Former Bush Administration Lawyer Asked to Testify Before Congress

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By Elana Schor

The Bush administration lawyer who provided a legal basis for the brutal interrogation tactics used by the US military and CIA was called to account today by congressional Democrats.

John Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, was asked to appear before the judiciary committee in the House of Representatives on May 6 to discuss the legal grounds for the harsh treatment of al-Qaida suspects.

"The judiciary committee will look at the legal basis for actions taken before and during the war and whether we need to write stronger laws to prevent a future imperial presidency from steamrolling Congress and the American people," the Democratic congressman who chairs the panel, John Conyers, said.

Yoo previously told Conyers' aides he was reluctant to testify publicly about the legal briefs he wrote for the Bush administration, the congressman said in a letter to his prospective witness.

But Conyers reminded Yoo that he has already given an extensive on-record interview to Esquire magazine for a profile to be published next month.

"Overall you have made such extensive public comments on these and related matters, it is difficult to understand why you would continue to decline to present your views to the committee," Conyers wrote to Yoo.

Yoo left the office of legal counsel, where he gave legal advice to the Bush administration, in 2003. Earlier that year, he drafted an 81-page memo giving the Pentagon extensive leeway to harm detainees during interrogations without fear of legal consequences.

That memo, which the administration later revoked, was made public for the first time last week and caused a stir among liberals in Congress.

In one section, for example, Yoo said US interrogators could maim detainees without fear of prosecution, depending on the body part that was injured and whether intent to harm existed.

"Just because the statute says - that doesn't mean you have to do it," Yoo told Esquire last week. "You're right, there's still the moral question - after you've answered the legal question - whether you should do it at all."

Mosaic News - 4/8/08: World News from the Middle East

Honouring The 'Unbreakable Promise'

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By John Pilger

Almost fourteen years after South Africa's first democratic elections and the fall of racial apartheid, John Pilger describes, in an address at Rhodes University, the dream and reality of the new South Africa and the responsibility of its new elite.

On my wall in London is a photograph I have never grown tired of looking at. Indeed, I always find it thrilling to behold. You might even say it helps keep me going. It is a picture of a lone woman standing between two armoured vehicles, the notorious 'hippos', as they rolled into Soweto. Her arms are raised. Her fists are clenched. Her thin body is both beckoning and defiant of the enemy. It was May Day 1985 and the uprising against apartheid had begun.

The fine chronicler of apartheid, Paul Weinberg, took that photograph. He described crouching in a ditch at the roadside as the hippos entered Soweto. People were being shot with rubber bullets and real bullets. "I looked around," he said, "and there in the ditch next to me was this bird-like woman, who suddenly pulled out a bottle of gin, took a swig, then went over the top and marched straight into the moving line of vehicles. It was the one of the bravest things I've seen."

Paul's photograph brings to mind one of my favourite quotations. "The struggle of people against power," wrote Milan Kundera, " is the struggle of memory against forgetting." Moments such as that woman's bravery ought to be unforgettable, for they symbolise all the great movements of resistance to oppression: in South Africa, the Freedom Charter, Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial, the heroism of Steve Biko, the women who somehow kept their children alive on freezing hillsides in places like Dimbaza where they had been removed and declared redundant, and beyond, the Jews who rose against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Palestinians who just the other day smashed down the walls of their prison in Gaza.

Unforgettable? For some, yes. But there are those who prefer we celebrate a system of organised forgetting: of unbridled freedom for the few and obedience for the many; of socialism for the rich, and capitalism for the poor. They prefer that the demonstrable power of ordinary people is committed to what George Orwell called the memory hole. You may ask how we can possibly forget when we live in an information age?

The answer to that is another question: Who are "we"? Unlike you and me, most human beings have never used a computer and never owned a telephone. And those of us who are technologically blessed often confuse information with media, and corporate training with knowledge. These are probably the most powerful illusions of our times. We even have a new vocabulary, in which noble concepts have been corporatised and given deceptive, perverse, even opposite meanings.

"Democracy" is now the free market – a concept itself berefet of freedom. "Reform" is now the denial of reform. "Economics" is the relegation of most human endeavour to material value, a bottom line. Alternative models that relate to the needs of the majority of humanity end up in the memory hole. And "governance" – so fashionable these days - means an economic system approved in Washington, Brussels and Davos. "Foreign policy" is service to the dominant power. Conquest is "humanitarian intervention". Invasion is "nation-building".

Every day, we breathe the hot air of these pseudo ideas with their pseudo truths and pseudo experts. They set the limits of public debate within the most advanced societies. They determine who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. They manipulate our compassion and our anger and make many of us feel there is nothing we can do. Take the "war on terror". This is an entirely bogus idea that actually means a war of terror. Its aim is to convince people in the rich world that we all must live in an enduring state of fear: that Muslim fanatics are threatening our civilisation.

In fact, the opposite is true. The threat to our societies comes not from Al Qaeda but from the terrorism of powerful states. Ask the people of Iraq, who in five years ago have seen the physical and social destruction of their country. President Bush calls this "nation-building". Ask the people of Afghanistan, who have been bombed back into the arms of the Taliban - this is known in the West as a "good war". Or the people of Gaza, who are denied water, food, medicines and hope by the forces of so-called civilisation. The list is long and the arithmetic simple. The greatest number of victims of this war of terror are not Westerners, but Muslims: from Iraq to Palestine, to the refugee camps of Lebanon and Syria and beyond.

We are constantly told that September 11th 2001 was a day that changed the world and - according to John McCain - justifies a 100-year war against America's perceived enemies. And yet, while the world mourned the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans, the UN routinely reported that the mortality rate of children dead from the effects of extreme poverty had not changed. The figure for September 11th 2001 was more than 36,000 children. That is the figure every day. It has not changed. It is not news.

The difference between the two tragedies is that the people who died in the Twin Towers in New York were worthy victims, and the thousands of children who die every day are unworthy victims. That is how many of us are programmed to perceive the world. Or so the programmers hope. In the information age, these children are expendable. In South Africa, they are the children of the evicted and dispossessed, children carrying water home from a contaminated dam. They are not the children in the gated estates with names like Tuscany. They are not covered by the theories of GEAR or NEPAD or any of the other acronyms of power given respectability by journalism and scholarship.

It seems to me vital that young people today equip themselves with an understanding of how this often subliminal propaganda works in modern societies – liberal societies: societies with proud constitutions and freedom of speech, like South Africa. For it says that freedom from poverty - the essence of true democracy - is a freedom too far.

In South Africa, new graduates have, it seems to me, both a special obligation and an advantage. The advantage they have is that the past is still vividly present. Only last month, the National Institute for Occupational Health revealed that in the last six years deadly silicosis had almost doubled among South Africa's gold miners. There are huge profits in this industry. Many of the miners are abandoned and die in their 40s – their families too poor to afford a burial.

Why is there still no proper prevention and compensation? And although Desmond Tutu pleaded with them, not one company boss in any of the apartheid-propping industries ever sought an amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They were that confident that for things to change on the surface, things would remain the same.

For young graduates these days, there is a temptation to set themselves apart from the conditions I have described and from the world some have come from. As members of a new privileged elite, they have an obligation, I believe, to forge the vital link with the genius of everyday life and the resourcefulness and resilience of ordinary people. This will allow them, in whatever way you choose, to finish the job begun by Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko and the brave woman in the photograph. In a nutshell, it means standing by one's compatriots in order to bring true freedom to South Africa.

Those who led the struggle against racial apartheid often said no. They dissented. They caused trouble. They took risks. They put people first. And they were the best that people can be. Above all, they had a social and political imagination that unaccountable power always fears. And they had courage. It is this imagination and courage that opens up real debate with real information and allows ordinary people to reclaim their confidence to demand their human and democratic rights.

Oscar Wilde wrote: "Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue". I read the other day that the South African police calculated that the number of protests across the country had doubled in just two years to more than 10,000 every year. That may be the highest rate of dissent in the world. That's something to be proud of - just as the Freedom Charter remains something to be proud of. Let me remind you how it begins: "We, the people of South Africa, declare that our country belongs to everyone...". And that, as Nelson Mandela once said, was the "unbreakable promise". Isn't it time the promise was kept?

The Fading American Economy

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By Paul Craig Roberts

Government is the largest employer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US economy lost 98,000 private sector jobs in March, half of which were in manufacturing. Today 13,643,000 Americans are employed in manufacturing, of which 9,849,000 are production workers.

Government employs 22,387,000 Americans, 8,744,000 more than manufacturing. Even the category leisure and hospitality employs 13,682,000 Americans, slightly more than manufacturing. There are as many waitresses and bartenders as production workers.

Wholesale and retail trade employ 21,467,000 Americans. Professional and business services employ 18,036,000 Americans of which 8,368,000 are in administrative and waste services. Education and health services employ 18,699,000 Americans.

Financial activities employ 8,228,000 Americans. The information sector employs 3,010,000. Transportation and warehousing employ 4,532,000. Construction employs 7,338,000, and natural resources, mining and logging employ 751,000. Other services such as repair, laundry, and membership associations employ 5,516,000 Americans.

This is the portrait of the US economy according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is an economy in which government is the largest employer. Manufacturing employment comprises just under 10% of total employment and about 12% of private sector employment. Everything else is services, and not particularly high level services.

Is this a portrait of a super economy?

To help answer the question, consider that US imports in 2007 were 17% of US GDP, according to the National Income and Product Account tables provided by the Bureau of Economic Affairs. In contrast, the BEA industry tables show that in 2006 (2007 data not yet available) US manufacturing comprised only 11.7% of US GDP.

If US imports actually exceed total US manufacturing output by 5% of GDP, it does not seem possible that the US can close its massive trade deficit. Even if every item manufactured in the US was exported, the US would still have a large trade deficit.

The NIPA and industry tables from which the percentages come are not calculated identically, and I do not know to what extent differences might exaggerate the differences between the percentages. However, it seems unlikely that mere calculation differences would account for US imports exceeding US manufacturing output.

If the US cannot close its trade deficit, it is unlikely that the US dollar can remain the world reserve currency. If the dollar were to lose the reserve currency role, the US government would not be able to finance its annual red ink budget by borrowing from foreigners, as the US saving rate is about zero, and the US would not be able to pay its import bill in its own currency. The rest of the world continues to hold depreciating US currency, because the dollar is the world reserve currency. The dollar is certainly not a good investment having declined dramatically against other traded currencies.

From March 2007 to March 2008 the US economy created 1.5 million new jobs (in services). Legal and illegal immigration and work visas for foreigners exceed US job creation.

During the current school year, 3.3 million high school students are expected to graduate. If we assume that half will go on to college, that leaves 1.6 million entering the work force. College enrollment in 2007 totaled 18 million. If we assume 20% graduate, that makes another 3.6 million job seekers for a total of 5.2 million. Clearly, immigration, work visas, and high school and college graduates exceed the 1.5 million jobs created by the economy. Unless retirements opened up enough jobs for graduates, the unemployment rate has to rise.

The US unemployment rate is creeping up, and according to John Williams, the official unemployment rate greatly understates the real rate of unemployment. Williams has followed the changes that government has made to the official indices over the years in order to spin a more politically palatable picture. Williams uses the original methodology prior to the decades of spin. The original way of measuring unemployment indicates the current rate of unemployment in the US to be 13%, much higher than the 5.1% official number.

Williams also calculates the CPI according to the same way it was officially calculated prior to the recent decades of spin. Williams estimates the current CPI at 12%, three times higher than the official 4% figure.

Williams reports that upward growth biases built into GDP modeling since the early 1980s “have rendered this important series nearly worthless as an indicator of economic activity.” Williams estimates that US GDP growth has been in negative territory during almost all of the 21st century. The notion that the US is just now entering a recession is nonsense if we have in fact been in recession for most of the 21st century.

America’s post-World War II economic dominance was based on the destruction of other economies by war and socialism. It is a different world now, and Americans have given little thought to the economic challenges of the 21st century.

Khalil regrets toppling statue of Saddam

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Baghdad - Ibrahim Khalil, who five years ago took part in the iconic toppling of a giant statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad, said on Wednesday he now regrets taking part in the hugely symbolic event.

"If history can take me back, I will kiss the statue of Saddam Hussein which I helped pull down," Khalil told reporters on the fifth anniversary of the statue's toppling.

"I will protect the statue more than my own self," Khalil said in Firdoos Square alongside a monument erected where Saddam's statue once stood before US marines and Iraqis strung a chain around its neck and brought it crashing down.

The action marked the end of Saddam's iron-fisted regime and served as a premonition of the dictator's own end on December 30, 2006, when he was hanged in Baghdad for crimes against humanity.

Khalil, dressed in a blue T-shirt and grey trousers, said he is now sorry he was one of the dozens of jubiliant Iraqis who pulled down the statue and cheered the end of Saddam's rule.

"All my friends who were with me that day feel the same as me," Khalil told reporters in Firdoos Square, which was virtually deserted on Wednesday amid a vehicle ban in the capital imposed by the government to prevent insurgent attack.

Describing the events five years ago, Khalil said crowds of people had gathered at the square when the invading US marines arrived.

"A few of us managed to climb up to the statue which had been placed on a tall concrete structure. The soldiers gave us a long rope which we put around the neck and started pulling," said Khalil, a stocky 45-year-old.

"But the rope broke. Then the soldiers gave us a steel chain which my brother Kadhim put around the neck. The (US) tanks then started to pull the chain and soon the head was chopped off and the statue came tumbling down."

He said the cheering crowd and some marines pounced on the concrete structure "immediately".

"We hit the face of the statue with our shoes," he said, referring to an action considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture.

"It was a historic moment. I felt like I was born again. Most Iraqis felt happy as they all were affected by Saddam's regime."

But five years on, Khalil says the jubilation has long since vanished and that the situation in the country has vastly deteriorated.

Iraqi forces are still battling bloodshed that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions of others.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the plight of millions of Iraqis who still have little or no access to clean water, sanitation or health care is the "most critical in the world".

The economy, the main concern of Iraqis after security, is also a wreck.

"Now I realise that the day Baghdad fell was in fact a black day. Saddam's days were better," said Khalil, who along with his brother runs a car repair shop.

"I ask Bush: 'Where are your promises of making Iraq a better country?'

"These days when we go out we have to carry a pistol. In Saddam's regime, we were safe. We got rid of one Saddam, but today we have 50 Saddams."

Not all milk and honey

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By Seth Freedman

From the moment we got on the bus, it was clear that our journey would set the cat among the pigeons for both us and everyone we encountered along the way. "You do know this is the bus for Ein Rafah, don’t you?" inquired the puzzled driver as fifteen Jewish gap year students clambered aboard, confused as to why any Jewish group would be making their way to the rural Israeli Arab village way out in the Jerusalem hills.

After explaining the purpose of our trip - to take part in a mifgash (meeting) between Jewish and Arab teenagers - he turned his attention back to the road, although similar bewilderment was etched on the faces of all the other Arab passengers who boarded after us and caught sight of our incongruous troupe. The bus wound its way through the lush countryside, passing through the hamlet of Ein Nequba before depositing us outside the mosque in the centre of Ein Rafah, where we were met by the town’s imam.

He took us for a tour of the mosque, patiently explaining the central tenets of Islam and answering the dozens of questions aimed his way by the inquisitive students. As he spoke, several local teens drifted into the carpeted hall, peering at the strangers in their midst from behind the safety of the pillars propping up the domed roof. Once the imam’s talk ended, we headed outside and the two groups began tentatively chatting to one another in broken Hebrew and similarly rudimentary English.

The similarities between the kids was clear - they sported the same piercings, the same brash, branded trainers and the same shy, nervous smiles as their opposite numbers, despite the Jewish group all hailing from South Africa and Australia and the Arab youth from no further afield than the roads adjoining the town square. By the time we headed into a classroom in the local primary school to hold the formal mifgash, the ice was all but broken and it was clear there was much both sides wanted to know about the other.

Sitting in a circle on undersized plastic chairs, everyone introduced themselves in turn and then began the process of quizzing one another on their respective lives. The gap year students explained that they were part of a Zionist youth movement, but that they were interested in learning about more than just the standard, saccharine Israel-friendly propaganda that most year-off courses are spoon-fed by the Jewish Agency. Therefore, they said, they didn’t want their Arab counterparts to feel embarrassed if they were critical of Israel in any way, since the point of the exercise on their part was to hear the reality of life for all of Israel’s citizens, no matter how hard the truth was to swallow.

Taking that on board, the Arab youngsters spoke candidly about life as "second-class citizens", describing the deep suspicion and distrust with which they are treated whenever they venture outside their village and into Jewish areas. "As soon as people hear us speak Arabic on the street, we’re stopped by the police and ID’d", said one boy flatly. "While I understand that they have security fears, when it happens again and again and again, in all areas of our lives, it can drive you crazy," he went on.

"Even though we live here as full citizens, we’re constantly made to feel different, which doesn’t create the possibility of feeling part of the whole," added Ada, a middle-aged woman who headed up the Arab group. She said that even though she could get on with Jewish Israelis on an individual basis, there was widespread discrimination both on a government level and in the job market, which was something she and her charges found very difficult to take.

"I don’t care if it’s an Arab or a Jew in charge of the government," said Shiriann, a recently-married girl from the village, "so long as I get my full rights and am treated like a human being here." The Jewish students were clearly uncomfortable with what they were hearing: "Which is no bad thing," according to Nic, their leader and educator, who intended the mifgash to challenge the preconceptions many of the kids had before they came to Israel about the situation on the ground.

Ahmed, one of the more vocal of the speakers from the Arab side, made the most poignant statement so far, saying: "Given the racism the Jews have faced throughout their history, they have a duty to learn from that and not discriminate against non-Jews here now that they’re in charge of the country." In response, however, some of the students asked whether it wouldn’t be better for the Arabs to escape the discrimination and move elsewhere.

"Why should we?", retorted Hani, as the atmosphere in the room grew palpably tense. "It’s our land - it’s where our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers came from; someone else took over and now you ask why we don’t leave?" His words provoked a flurry of responses which - while no one left fully satisfied with the other side’s replies - at least opened the eyes of both groups to how the other side felt about the situation, on both an intellectual and emotional level.

In the main, the experience was a positive one for all involved, with the discussions continuing long after the meeting broke up, phone numbers being exchanged, and positive noises made by the Jewish students on the bus journey back to Jerusalem. As the man chairing the session told them, "since you’re all your movement’s youth leaders of tomorrow, it’s your duty to deal with the complications that come from Jews being given a homeland here."

Despite the uneasiness caused by hearing from the horse’s mouth what life under Israeli rule is like for those physically on the inside but in all other regards out in the cold, the issues raised in the space of one morning shone more light on the conflict than any amount of sanitised museum visits and trips to the Dead Sea.

At the same time, showing their faces in a village all but bereft of interested Jewish visitors showed the local youth that their plight is by no means overlooked or ignored by groups such as this. And since these kids will more than likely make aliyah themselves in the future, it’s essential that they get to see the country, warts and all, rather than be conned into believing it’s all milk and honey in the Holy Land.

Can Criticism of Israel Be Stoped?

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By Alan Hart

How can criticism of Israel be stopped? By labeling it as anti-Semitism, or so supporters of Israel right or wrong believe. This has always been Zionism’s game but now the U.S. State Department, no doubt under immense pressure from the Zionist lobby and its Christian fundamentalist allies, is playing it, too. In my view the State Department’s 94-page study, Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism, is a disengenuous and dangerous document which might well make all Jews everywhere more not less vulnerable.

In his report of the study, Ron Kampeas of the JTA (“The Global News Service of the Jewish People”) says: “U.S. diplomats and other officials will be expected to take their cues from this forceful language in how they deal with political groups and individuals overseas.”

The “forceful” language of the State Department study includes the following two paragraphs (my emphasis added for comment below)

“Anti-Semitism has proven to be an adaptive phenomenon. New forms of anti-Semitism have evolved. They often incorporate elements of traditional anti-Semitism. However, the distinguishing feature of the new anti-Semitism is criticism of Zionism or Israeli policy – whether intentionally or unintentionally – has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel’s perceived faults to its Jewish character.

“Regardless of the intent, disproportionate criticism of Israel as barbaric and unprincipled, and correspondingly discriminatory measures adopted by the UN against Israel, have the effect of causing audiences to associate negative attributes with Jews in general, thus fuelling anti-Semitism.”

I am very much aware that telling the truth of history as it relates to the making and sustaining of conflict in and over Palestine could provoke classical anti-Semitism, this because the truth of history includes the fact that Israel was created, mainly, by Zionist terrorism and ethnic cleaning. Though the two crimes against humanity were different in scale, the denial by supporters of Israel right or wrong of Zionism’s ethnic cleansing in Palestine is as obscene as the denial of the Nazi holocaust.

The question is… How can the truth of history be told, and Israel be criticised, without provoking classical anti-Semitism? The short answer is that the context must explain the difference between Judaism and Zionism. As I never tire of writing and saying, knowledge of this difference is the key to understanding why it is perfectly possible to be passionately anti-Zionist (opposed to Zionism’s colonial enterprise) without being in any way shape or form anti-Semitic; and, also, why it is wrong to blame all Jews everywhere for the crimes of the hardest core Zionist few in Israel.

If citizens of all faiths and none in the nations of the mainly Gentile Judeo-Christian world were aware of the differencies between Judiasm and Zionism, and how Zionism has made a mockery of and has contempt for the moral values and ethical principles of Judaism, there would be no danger of the truth of history and criticism of Israel provoking anti-Semitism.

As it relates to those of us who, with our books and public speaking, are on the frontline of the war for the truth of history and are by definition anti-Zionist, the State Department’s assertion (emphasised above) that we attribute Israel’s “perceived faults” to it’s “Jewish character” is libellous nonsense. We say the very opposite - that Israel is a Zionist state, not a Jewish state.

In conversation with me for a forthcoming television production, Professor Ilan Pappe, Israel’s leading “revisionist” or honest historian, offered a most penetrating observation. He was talking about the principle of the One State solution and he said:

“The One State would replace the racist and apartheid state with a shared democracy, a state for all of its citizens. This would create a state that was far more Jewish than the Zionist state because the Zionist state is not a Jewish state and abuses the principles of Judaism.” (My emphasis added).

As emphasised above, the State Department’s study also asserts that regardless of intention, “disproportionate criticism of Israel” (what the hell is that?) has the effect of “causing audiences to associate negative attributes with Jews in general.” This could not happen if audiences were aware of the difference between Judaism and Zionism.

Memo to the State Department: If you really want to play a part in stopping the monster of classical anti-Semitism going on the rampage again, take the lead in explaining the difference between Judaism and Zionism. (And read my two-volume book, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews).

Basra Strike Against Shiite Militias Also About Oil

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By Sam Dagher

Iraq's oil minister says the assault helped curb oil smuggling.

Baghdad - The recent fight in Basra between Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen was about more than a government bid to reassert itself in a city where Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army was digging in. It was also about oil - and smuggling.

Before the assault began on March 23, the Iraqi government drew up a list of about 200 suspected oil smugglers it hoped to round up - including the brother of the governor of Basra Province and, according to Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, several leaders linked to Mr. Sadr's militia.

For the government, which relies on oil revenues to fund most of its budget, the financial stakes are immense. While there are no accurate figures, an Iraqi parliamentary committee says that losses from oil smuggling run $5 billion a year.

"We have cleansed large swaths on both sides of Shatt al-Arab that were being used to smuggle oil products and other materials," says Mr. Shahristani, who spoke during an interview at the Oil Ministry in Baghdad on Monday, describing the government achievements in Basra so far.

"Many of the gangs are colluding with local officials, powerful parties, or militias; it's a web of interrelations," he says.

Shatt al-Arab, a haven for smugglers, is the 120-mile waterway formed by the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers at Qurnah in Basra Province and runs to the Persian Gulf.

Shahristani says the Basra assault, which was led by Iraqi forces and backed up by the US and British militaries, will allow better control of vital oil resources and facilities, curb smuggling, and help boost production to 3 million barrels per day (b.p.d.) by the end of the year, which would be the highest level in 20 years.

For rival Shiite groups - from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition to the members of Sadr's movement - the equation is simple. Whoever controls the oil speaks in the name of the Shiite south and has the leverage to map the country's future and work out deals with the two other competing groups: the Sunnis and the Kurds.

The potential income from Iraq's vast oil is only beginning to be realized. Already, more than 90 percent of the revenues of this year's budget of $48 billion will come from oil exports. And just three months into the year, the government is reaping a $5.4 billion windfall on top of this from rising oil prices that are now hovering above $100 per barrel.

US lawmakers estimate that Iraqi oil revenues for 2007 to 2008 will total $100 billion. Iraq now produces an average of 2.5 million b.p.d., the bulk of it in Basra. Of that amount, an average 1.6 million b.p.d. is exported via the southern province and only 0.3 million b.p.d. via the northern pipeline, according to Shahristani.

To be sure, many question the government's power and will to stop oil theft and smuggling since the botched operation in Basra. The government would also have to convince average Iraqis that its crackdown on smuggling is being done for their benefit - and that of the economy as a whole - and not to serve the agenda of ruling Shiite political parties.

Shahristani says responsibilities for protecting oil facilities and guarding against smuggling and theft in Basra shifted at the start of the year from the Oil Ministry's Oil Protection Force (OPF), which has been abolished, to a newly created unit of the Interior Ministry known as the Oil Police. The Interior Ministry is widely viewed as being dominated by Mr. Maliki's Shiite allies.

The OPF in Basra was under the sway of the Fadhila Party of Gov. Muhammad Mosabeh al-Waeli. Shahristani says tribesmen loyal to the government are being actively recruited now into the Oil Police.

The governor's brother, Ismail al-Waeli, was believed to be Basra's No. 1 smuggler, says Shahristani. "He has fled outside Iraq ... his name was among the gangs involved in oil smuggling, in fact he was at the top of the list."

The word in Basra is that Governor Waeli is under some sort of house arrest and that his brother Ismail has fled to Kuwait. The head of the local provincial council, Muhammad Sadoun al-Abadi, who belongs to a branch of Maliki's Dawa Party, is now running day-to-day affairs in close coordination with Maliki, according to a Basra-based scholar familiar with the situation.

Shahristani says among those arrested so far are Yussif al-Mussawi, the head of a small party in Basra called Thaar Allah (God's Revenge), because of his involvement in "kidnapping, extortion, and several smuggling rackets including oil."

The Basra-based scholar, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, says that while government forces control Basra's center and several other areas, the Mahdi Army remains largely intact in its traditional strongholds - poor working-class areas of the city.

"I expect lots of assassinations and sleeper cells to act up. There is a strong desire for revenge now," he says.

The intra-Shiite struggle for power and resources in the south is nothing new and has been under way since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But the battle in Basra has now drawn a clear line between those Shiites in the ruling coalition - including Maliki and the powerful cleric Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim - and two main rivals that split from it last year: Sadr's movement and the Fadhila Party.

Although Basra is largely quiet at the moment, the fighting between US-Iraqi forces and the Mahdi Army militia has intensified again in Baghdad, with at least 30 people killed since Sunday. The government is demanding that the Mahdi Army disarm; Sadr is refusing this before US troops leave Iraq and is now threatening to escalate the fight further.

Muhammad-Ali Zainy of the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies, says it's a positive development for Iraq's future - and its oil industry - that Maliki is targeting militias and exerting control in Basra. But it remains to be seen, he adds, whether Maliki is willing to go all the way or whether he's just carrying out the agenda of Mr. Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) party, which sees Basra's economic might as giving it greater influence in the south.

"The government must act evenhandedly and make sure the smuggling enterprise is not simply taken over by other militias," he says, adding that smuggling continues to be a highly lucrative business. The average price of one gallon of gas in Iraq is $0.40 versus $2 to $3 in Iran and neighboring countries.

Shahristani, who is very close to Maliki, says the security situation in Iraq continues to prevent foreign companies from doing much-needed repair work to facilities nationwide, not just in Basra. He says vital pipelines linking the country's largest refinery in Baiji, in the Sunni heartland, with Baghdad and Mosul are badly damaged by sabotage.

He says a substantial number of fuel tankers leaving Baiji end up falling prey to insurgents and gangs. Maliki's government is also at loggerheads with the Kurdish regional government over the authority to sign oil contracts, thereby stalling the passage of a new oil law.

The Ministry of Oil itself is in a fortress-like compound in Baghdad on the edge of Sadr City. Three mortar rounds fell on the nearby home of the interior minister Monday, sending a thick black plume of smoke into the air.

In Justice Shift, Corporate Deals Replace Trials

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By Eric Lichtblau

Washington - In 2005, federal authorities concluded that a Monsanto consultant had visited the home of an Indonesian official and, with the approval of a senior company executive, handed over an envelope stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. The money was meant as a bribe to win looser environmental regulations for Monsanto's cotton crops, according to a court document. Monsanto was also caught concealing the bribe with fake invoices.

A few years earlier, in the age of Enron, these kinds of charges would probably have resulted in a criminal indictment. Instead, Monsanto was allowed to pay $1 million and avoid criminal prosecution by entering into a monitoring agreement with the Justice Department.

In a major shift of policy, the Justice Department, once known for taking down giant corporations, including the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, has put off prosecuting more than 50 companies suspected of wrongdoing over the last three years.

Instead, many companies, from boutique outfits to immense corporations like American Express, have avoided the cost and stigma of defending themselves against criminal charges with a so-called deferred prosecution agreement, which allows the government to collect fines and appoint an outside monitor to impose internal reforms without going through a trial. In many cases, the name of the monitor and the details of the agreement are kept secret.

Deferred prosecutions have become a favorite tool of the Bush administration. But some legal experts now wonder if the policy shift has led companies, in particular financial institutions now under investigation for their roles in the subprime mortgage debacle, to test the limits of corporate anti-fraud laws.

Firms have readily agreed to the deferred prosecutions, said Vikramaditya S. Khanna, a law professor at the University of Michigan who has studied their use, because "clearly it avoids a bigger headache for them."

Some lawyers suggest that companies may be willing to take more risks because they know that, if they are caught, the chances of getting a deferred prosecution are good. "Some companies may bear the risk" of legally questionable business practices if they believe they can cut a deal to defer their prosecution indefinitely, Mr. Khanna said.

Legal experts say the tactic may have sent the wrong signal to corporations - the promise, in effect, of a get-out-of-jail-free card. The growing use of deferred prosecutions also suggests one road map the Justice Department might follow in the subprime mortgage investigations.

Deferred prosecution agreements, or D.P.A.'s, have become controversial because of a medical supply company's agreement to pay up to $52 million to the consulting firm of John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, as an outside monitor to avoid criminal prosecution. That agreement has prompted Congressional inquiries and calls for stricter guidelines.

Defenders of deferred prosecutions say that they have been too harshly criticized lately and that they play a crucial role in allowing the government to secure the cooperation of a company while avoiding the time, expense and uncertainty of a trial. The agreements, government officials say, also avoid the type of companywide havoc seen most acutely in the case of Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that was shuttered in 2002 after being indicted in the Enron scandal. The firm's collapse threw 28,000 employees out of work.

At a Congressional hearing last month, Mr. Ashcroft defended the agreements, saying that they avoided "destroying entire corporations" through criminal indictments. "Prosecutors understand that a corporate indictment can be a corporate death sentence," he said. "A deferred prosecution can avoid the catastrophic collateral consequences and costs that are associated with corporate conviction."

Paul J. McNulty, a former deputy attorney general who put new guidelines in place in 2006 for corporate investigations at the Justice Department, said in an interview, "There's a fundamental misapprehension with D.P.A.'s to think that they're a break for the company."

With the imposition of fines and an outside monitor, "the reality is that for the government, it gets pretty much everything without the difficulty of going forward with an indictment," said Mr. McNulty, who is now in private practice. "I think companies are beginning to wonder whether they ought to fight more, because they are pretty burdensome."

But critics of the agreements question that assertion. Charles Intriago, a former federal prosecutor in Miami who specializes in money-laundering issues, said that huge penalties, like the $65 million fine for American Express Bank International in 2007, were "peanuts" compared with the damage posed by a criminal conviction. The company was accused of failing to enact internal controls to guard against laundering of drug money and other reporting problems.

The agreements were once rare, but their use has skyrocketed in the current administration, with 35 deals last year alone by the Justice Department, lawyers who follow the trend said. Banks, financial service companies and auditors have frequently entered into such agreements, including recent ones involving Merrill Lynch, the Bank of New York, AmSouth Bank, KPMG and others. Beyond financial crimes, deferred agreements have been used in lieu of prosecuting companies - though not individuals - for export control violations, obscenity violations, Medicare and Medicaid fraud, kickbacks and environmental violations.

In general, such agreements result in companies acknowledging wrongdoing by not contesting criminal charges, but without formally admitting guilt. Most agreements end after two or three years with the charges permanently dismissed.

Monsanto, for example, while not admitting guilt, agreed to abstain from further violations of bribery laws. In an e-mail message, Lori Fisher, a spokeswoman, said that Monsanto had cooperated with the Justice Department and fully complied with the agreement, leading to deferred charges being permanently dismissed in early March.

The trend has led to increased speculation about how the Justice Department might use the agreements in investigations against financial companies in the mortgage lending scandal, which has become a top law enforcement priority for the department as the economy has withered.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has 17 open inquiries into accusations of corporate fraud in connection with the subprime scandal, and Neil Power, who leads the bureau's economics crime unit, said in an interview that the number was certain to grow. The F.B.I. has publicly identified only one target - the Doral Financial Corporation, a mortgage company based in Puerto Rico whose former treasurer has already been indicted - but major companies like Countrywide Financial, once the nation's biggest mortgage lender, have also been reported to be under criminal investigation.

Mr. Power said the investigations were a reflection of the "environment of greed" that allowed companies to package mortgages into securities they sold to investors without sufficient documentation of the borrower's ability to repay. One line of criminal inquiry focuses on whether bond companies gave accurate information to investors.

"What we're looking at," he said, "is the fact that they may be performing accounting fraud."

Justice Department officials would not discuss the role that deferred prosecution agreements may play in their ultimate handling of the mortgage investigations. One official said it was "way too early" to begin speculating about such possibilities.

But the prospect already has some experts in the field worried.

Michael McDonald, a former Internal Revenue Service investigator in Miami who is a private consultant and has given seminars on deferred prosecutions, said such deals "should not be on the board" in the subprime mortgage investigations.

"In light of what this did to our economy, people shouldn't just be able to write a check and walk away," Mr. McDonald said. "People should be prosecuted for it and go to jail."

Timothy Dickinson, a lawyer in Washington who was the outside monitor for Monsanto, agreed. Corporate lenders caught up in the mortgage scandals should not assume they will be given the chance for a deferred prosecution, Mr. Dickinson said, and the Justice Department should "insist on a guilty plea" rather than offering a deal.

"It's a tool that will remain to be used by prosecutors in appropriate circumstances, but not every circumstance," he said. "It depends how egregious the conduct is."

Chances of Homeowner Relief Losing Momentum in Senate

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By David M. Herszenhorn

Washington - A bipartisan effort in the Senate on tax breaks to stabilize the housing market and other aid for homeowners at risk of foreclosure began to crumble on Tuesday, as the White House threatened a veto, saying the bill would only make things worse.

House Democrats, meanwhile, said they would pursue their own, more expansive homeowner assistance bill, and would support only a few provisions in the Senate measure.

But even as the White House reiterated its opposition to government help for irresponsible lenders and speculators, there were signals that it was prepared to endorse broader aid for struggling homeowners - provided that it did not involve new legislation sought by Democrats.

In a draft of testimony to be delivered before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, Brian D. Montgomery, the commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration, said the administration would look to expand a program to help refinance the mortgages of borrowers struggling with subprime adjustable-rate mortgages. But the draft urges Congress not to overreach.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Stephen C. O'Halloran, cautioned that the draft text could change. But the testimony seemed likely to set the stage for continued wrangling over the competing homeowner-aid proposals in the weeks ahead.

The relatively modest Senate bill contains tax breaks for struggling businesses, including home builders; a $7,000 tax credit for buyers of foreclosed properties; $10 billion in tax-exempt bonds for local housing agencies to refinance troubled loans; $4 billion for local governments to buy foreclosed properties; and $100 million to counsel borrowers.

In an effort to speed the bill's passage, Senate Democrats had agreed to delay a broader effort to assist troubled homeowners by authorizing up to $300 billion in federally insured mortgages, enough to help as many as 1.5 million borrowers refinance expensive adjustable rate loans into more stable and affordable 30-year loans.

The dimming prospects of the relief package seemed incongruous with the 92-to-6 vote on Tuesday afternoon, by which the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans, including all three leading presidential candidates, voted to curtail debate and move toward its final passage on Wednesday.

At the White House, however, the press secretary, Dana M. Perino, called the legislation ill-conceived. "The bill will likely do more harm than good," she said, "by bailing out lenders and speculators and passing on costs to other Americans who play by the rules and honor their mortgage debt obligations.".

Ms. Perino also suggested that the Senate bill could be irrelevant, citing a desire of many House Democrats to go further. "Fortunately, it doesn't appear that likely that this bill will come to the president's desk," she said, "as the House has indicated that it plans to go its own way."

The comments from the White House seemed to blindside Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, who earlier in the day repeated his strong support for the housing bill.

At a news conference, Mr. McConnell said he was not prepared to respond to the criticism from the Bush administration. "It was unclear that the White House had a stated position yet on this bill," he said.

House Democrats did not dispute Ms. Perino's assertion that they planned to pursue a more aggressive rescue plan for homeowners.

Those efforts are expected to accelerate throughout the week as hearings begin on a Democratic plan to expand the availability of loans insured by the federal government and to help troubled borrowers refinance.

Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who is the main author of that plan, said House Democrats were prepared to endorse some aspects of the Senate bill, including the money for local governments to buy foreclosed properties, bonds for refinancing and a proposal to "modernize" the F.H.A.

House Democrats also have their own version of a provision in the Senate bill that will create a property-tax deduction up to $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples who do not itemize deductions on their tax returns.

Mr. Frank, who has forged a solid working relationship with Henry M. Paulson Jr., the Treasury secretary, said in an interview that he remained hopeful of winning administration support for his more expansive plan to help borrowers with more insured loans.

Also in the House on Tuesday, Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, introduced tax legislation aimed at helping homeowners and first-time home buyers.

Mr. Rangel's bill would give individuals and families a refundable credit, akin to an interest-free loan, of as much as $7,500, or 10 percent of the purchase price of the home. The money would have to be repaid over 15 years in equal installments.

House Republicans issued a set of House Principles on Tuesday that they said should frame the debate over any legislation. Among them: "The best way out of the housing crisis is to get Americans purchasing homes again. The housing market needs a jump-start, not a bailout."

The Republicans also said they opposed "a taxpayer bailout that rewards reckless behavior."

Mr. Frank said that Democrats shared many of those goals, and noted that his proposal would not use tax revenue to pay off troubled mortgages.

But whatever common ground House Republicans and Democrats might share, the parties seemed likely to clash over the housing issue for weeks to come. A recent Gallup poll showed sharply different views on the issue among voters. A majority of Democrats favored government help for troubled homeowners; a majority of Republicans opposed it.

Veteran Battles Pentagon's Vaccine, Seeks "Justice for All"

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By Thomas D. Williams

US Air Force Reserve Maj. Thomas "Buzz" Rempfer, a 43-year-old Connecticut native, is hoping he is nearing the end of nearly a decade’s perpetual and unprecedented battle with the Pentagon over the legality, safety and effectiveness of mandatory anthrax vaccinations.

His and others’ efforts have already netted favorable federal court rulings. They invalidated the original Department of Defense mandate and the vaccine’s initial licensing.

Now Rempfer, formerly of West Suffield, Connecticut, and now of Tucson, Arizona, awaits a ruling from the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records. The board could award him back pay for lost time and promotions in the Air National Guard. If the board does not, he is likely to appeal back to the federal court. It was that court which decided in his favor by forcing another ruling from the Air Force panel.

However, much more significant to Rempfer is a broader public service goal. Rempfer and his deceased close friend, US Air Force Reserve Maj. Russell "Russ" E. Dingle, both pilots, fought their battle for others adversely affected by the vaccine. It was their belief that any victory, legally, must become a crucial military servicewide precedent, clearing all other vaccine-resisting veterans from punishment. Rempfer is acting as executor of Dingle’s East Hartford, Connecticut, estate.

In more than five years of research, Dingle and Rempfer concluded the anthrax vaccine was improperly licensed and ineffective. They found it created thousands of adverse reactions and was unnecessary. The threat of a foreign anthrax attack is extremely remote, they discovered. And, if there ever is such an attack, those exposed can take antibiotics afterward, they confirmed. That would avoid six anthrax vaccinations over 18 months as well as annual booster shots.

Significantly, the infamous 2001 anthrax powder attacks, killing five people and sickening 17 others after 9/11, were domestic and not foreign in nature. They were allegedly inspired by laboratory insiders who mailed the powder to the offices of two US senators, a number of national news offices in New York City, and elsewhere. The incidents are still under active FBI investigation.

That probe, says Fox News, recently identified three or four new suspects at an Army bioweapons lab intricately involved in helping to support the need for the mandated vaccine. They include a deputy commander, an anthrax scientist and a microbiologist. Curiously, at that point in time, the vaccine’s continued use was being threatened by closer scrutiny from the US Department of Defense and other Bush administration officials. That review withered away after the attacks. However, the DOD then used the domestic incidents to claim the foreign threat was "real." and

In the years before and after those episodes, Dingle’s and Rempfer’s findings that the vaccine was improperly licensed and thus unnecessarily mandated were eventually vindicated by a combination of a federal judge’s rulings and subsequent events. After the two officers’ initial investigations, the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported that the vaccine’s systemic adverse reaction rate was 100 times higher than the 0.2 percent rate reported on the product’s label.

Adverse vaccine reactions include immune disorders, muscle and joint pains, headaches, rashes, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, chills and fever. At least half a dozen deaths and a warning against birth defects were listed on the vaccine’s January 31, 2002, package insert, but they have never been proven to be vaccine-related. The vaccine is not recommended for use by pregnant women or for those who have experienced a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. And, last October, the GAO identified a potential $100 million in government waste annually. The anthrax vaccine stockpile for civilian emergencies had been improperly administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, the GAO report said.

Rempfer said he does not want to comment about the prospective Air Force panel’s ruling. He said full attention now must be on restoring the honor and the health of all the dedicated servicemen and women who were either punished for refusing to comply with the illegal order to take the vaccine, or who became sick from it. If the Air Force panel rules in Rempfer’s favor, the simple, overwhelming legal question will be: how can two military officers win damage awards and nullify their punishments for refusing the vaccine without all others similarly disciplined being cleared as well?

Despite scores of protests against the vaccine nationwide, hundreds of military service members have been punished to varying degrees for failing to obey orders to be vaccinated. Some have been court-martialed, others fined or demoted and still others removed from the service. Most prolonged attempts to resist or overturn the penalties have met with failure. And yet, a federal survey in 2002 indicated that "two-thirds of the Guard and reserve pilots and air crew members did not support DOD’s mandatory (anthrax vaccinations) or any future immunization programs planned for other biological warfare agents."

Meanwhile, thousands of service members have developed sicknesses, some extremely debilitating, that have been linked by them or others to one or more of the six-shot vaccine series or the annual boosters.

Rempfer’s and Dingle’s efforts marked one of the most prolonged, persistent high-level bureaucratic military policy fights waged in modern times. Three other former military service members, Paul A. Sullivan of Cedar Park, Texas; Doug Rokke of Rantoul, Illinois, and Denise Nichols, a North Carolina resident, all veterans of the first Iraq war, are known likewise for incredible persistence in the face of the powerful and intractable federal bureaucracy. They, as well, continue, after more than a decade of work, to lobby the Pentagon and the US Department of Veterans Affairs for failing to recognize veterans’ hazardous exposures to deadly chemicals as well as the dust from explosions of US depleted uranium munitions.

In their own struggle, Rempfer and Dingle pressed and complained their way through almost every branch of state and federal government during two presidential administrations. They were supported by others, including retired Air Force Lt. Col. John Richardson, of Pittsboro, North Carolina, Maine’s Dr. Doctor Meryl Nass and Washington, DC, attorneys John J. "Lou" Michaels and Mark S. Zaid. As their mission progressed, they picked up the continuing support of Connecticut’s Democratic attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, and US Rep. Christopher Shays, a Stamford, Connecticut, Republican. Both Blumenthal and Shays attempted unsuccessfully to block use of the controversial vaccine.

"Two federal judges have now confirmed the Pentagon broke the law by forcing service members to take anthrax vaccine from 1998 to late 2005," said Richardson, a 1991 Gulf War F-16 pilot. "The military could have lawfully used the vaccine all along simply by asking the president to waive service members’ right to informed consent about the risks of this dangerous vaccine," he said. "Instead, military and civilian leaders willfully misled the troops to protect Presidents Clinton and Bush - not the troops."

"Since 2005," Richardson said, "mandating the vaccine is now lawful only because of the FDA’s willingness to ignore clear evidence in military medical records of the deaths and disabilities associated with the anthrax vaccine. Just as the government misled the American people about the threat from Iraqi anthrax and the source of the anthrax letter attacks, it continues to mislead the troops about the safety and efficacy of the anthrax vaccine."

Blumenthal jumped into the vaccine fray again three years ago by filing a friend of the court brief in a federal lawsuit brought by six anonymous service members challenging the drug. At that time, he said: "Major Rempfer has performed an extraordinary public service, a very noble and significant service in alerting the nation to the dangers of the anthrax vaccine at a time of tremendous stress on our military. He has selflessly stepped forward and volunteered to serve his country.... He has unquestioned expertise and skill as well as impressive dedication and patriotism."

But Rempfer, who is writing a book on the vaccine dispute, has always credited Dingle with the critical research, ultimately leading to federal court rulings temporarily blocking mandatory vaccine use. "Lt. Col. Dingle’s career," Rempfer wrote in an obituary, "was uniquely distinguished by his noble advocacy for soldier’s health rights, testifying as an expert witness for the US Congress in 1999, as well as serving as an expert for the Government Accountability Office and the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office. He is missed dearly, but we will eternally benefit from his life’s accomplishments, courage, service, leadership, and most importantly, his honor."

Dingle considered the vaccine program and its punishments incredibly unjust. He wrote: "When the US military no longer allows for professional dissent within its ranks; when the US military mandates that any and all orders be obeyed regardless of their moral or legal basis; when the US military allows its members to defend themselves with ’I was just following orders,’ then the US military will cease to attract men and women of principal and honor.... It will end up resembling the military organizations that we have fought for the last 60 years."

In October 1998, Dingle and Rempfer first became "Tiger Team Alpha." Col. Walter Burns, a former commander of the 103rd Fighter Wing of the Connecticut Air National Guard, created the two-man team to investigate the history, safety and legality of the anthrax vaccine. The antigens stimulating immunity had been mandated for all 2.4 million military service members only weeks earlier. After a couple of months’ of intensive research, Dingle and Rempfer concluded the vaccine was improperly licensed, and potentially a health danger to the troops. Those findings are still supported by many today. (Original Tiger Team Alpha Research)

However, BioPort Corporation, now Emergent BioSolutions, the vaccine’s manufacturer, insists the drug is safe and effective. That position is fully endorsed by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Pentagon. Nonetheless, the manufacturer’s health warnings and precautions are intricate, including what are characterized as rare, unproven serious reactions.

The vaccine has a long history of controversy over its safety and licensing dating back to before the 1991 Gulf War, and especially in the years after the conflict, when scores of service members taking it complained of adverse reactions. BioPort purchased the vaccine and its plant in 1998 from the former Michigan Biologics Products Institute, created in 1996 by the State of Michigan. That purchase inspired its own public flak.

Two of the purchasers were formerly part of the state operations. A third was former US Adm. William Crowe, first head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under former President George H.W. Bush, then ambassador to Great Britain in the presidential administration of Bill Clinton. Crowe was said by ABC News to have acquired his interest without investing a penny of his own money.

His influential ownership interest was useful politically and security-wise, since Fuad El-Hibri, a Lebanese Arab with German and US citizenship with lengthy business experience became the company’s CEO.

Despite the Tiger Team’s thumbs down on injections, Colonel Burns decided it was unwise to oppose the across-the-board mandate announced by then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Ironically, it was US Senator Cohen who ten years earlier had participated in a Congressional investigation deeming that the very same vaccine had classically created too many adverse reactions and was ineffective for inhalation exposures.

As a result of Burns’s decision, half a dozen pilots, rejecting the vaccine in light of Dingle’s and Rempfer’s probe, were forced out of the National Guard in January 1999. Rempfer and Dingle were then pressured to resign. Despite their loss of National Guard status, Rempfer and Dingle switched to the Air Force Reserve where their superiors promoted them. Rempfer continues to fly today.

Dingle, 49, died of cancer in September 2005 after retiring from the Reserve. His double career included more than 16 years of service as a pilot and captain for American Airlines in the Boeing 767 and 737 and the McDonnell-Douglas S-80, and 21 years as an instructor pilot and flight commander in the Air Force.

Eleven months after Burns banished them, Blumenthal tried to force reinstatements for all of the pilots. But then State Adjutant Gen. William Cugno denied the request, and Republican Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell refused to back up Blumenthal’s opinion.

Rempfer and Dingle began their complaint to clear their names in the US Court of Claims three years ago. It ultimately moved into the federal court and finally to Air Force adjudicators. The two men insisted they were "coerced" out of the Guard in the spring of 1999 by Colonel Burns, their former commander, after their vaccine inquiry. Yet, it was an investigation Burns himself had requested, and it showed the vaccine was improperly licensed. At the time, Burns insisted Rempfer, Dingle and six other pilots resigned on their own with "no bad blood." But Rempfer has produced a transcript of Burns’s comments saying the word "traitor" came to mind when Burns thought about their resistance to taking the vaccine. Burns nonetheless simultaneously admitted the vaccine had its problems.

On March 14, Washington, DC, US District Judge James Robertson remanded Rempfer’s and Dingle’s complaint back to the Air Force panel, which had rejected Rempfer’s appeal to rescind his and Dingle’s punishment. The panel failed to properly consider the evidence before it, Robertson ruled. Robertson’s decision followed an April 2005 finding from US District Judge Emmet Sullivan, inspired in part by Rempfer’s, Dingle’s and their colleagues’ extensive research. Sullivan temporarily halted the Defense Department mandatory anthrax vaccine inoculations for all 2.4 million service members. They had been initially ordered in 1998 by former US Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

Sullivan declared that the anthrax vaccine is being used for an unapproved purpose and thus is "an investigational drug." It was initially approved for combating anthrax obtained through human skin contact with animals, yet it is instead being used for manufactured anthrax spores inhaled through the nose, he said. It thus requires consent from those vaccinated, he wrote. However, the judge left untouched an emergency authorization from federal health officials which allowed voluntary vaccinations. Sullivan’s edict required that service members be told about the unlicensed drug’s possible side effects, and ordered the consent of those soldiers, sailors and airmen if they were to be vaccinated. He decided the vaccine was not licensed property for its intended military use and remanded the complaint back to the FDA for remedial action. His final order was issued April 6, 2005.

Later, the FDA made vaccine licensing adjustments to comply with Sullivan’s orders, and after a mandatory vaccine hiatus, allowed mandatory vaccinations to be restarted. The forced inoculations continue today, even though Rempfer and seven other servicemen brought still another federal court lawsuit challenging the FDA’s remedial license changes. Their challenge was rejected February 29 by Washington, DC, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who ruled the FDA had not acted "arbitrarily or capriciously."

Four decades ago, the vaccine was largely used by agricultural workers, veterinarians and some in the wool industry. It had been scientifically tested and manufactured to protect veterinarians and those in the leather industry against skin-to-skin wound contact with infected farm animals. An initial scientific study in 1962 included an insufficient number of inhalation exposures of those working in goat hair mills to reach any conclusions of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Yet, once the military began to use it, the vaccine was aimed at protecting service members against inhalation of manufactured anthrax spores spread by enemy explosions or devices. Defense Secretary Cohen and other federal officials supporting the vaccine pointed to its successful scientific tests with animals. But the laboratory animals’ health, ultimately, was not closely observed for as long a time as armed service veterans claiming sicknesses from inoculations were. Also, some of animal tests were inconclusive.

Despite the forced vaccinations, history reveals no successful enemy attacks worldwide - only an unsuccessful Tokyo spore release from a building laboratory by the terrorist group known as the Aum Shinrikyo cult in June 1993. Again, according to the FBI, the US mail and other anthrax spore attacks soon after the 9/11 terror attacks were reported by the FBI to be inspired by a domestic lab operation. Anthrax powder is very expensive and dangerous to manufacture, while some other unrelated biological agents are more easily created in the lab. Those exposed to the US spores in 2001 were successfully treated with ciprofloxacin or doxycycline antibacterial drugs. Yet, government officials still insisted some exposed to the deadly anthrax powder should be vaccinated, even though the vaccine is not said to be effective after spore exposure.

The attacks came at a time when the vaccine’s effectiveness was being questioned on a number of fronts. For instance, at the time, the GAO’s inquiry found: "Diplomatic security officials in the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency analysts agree that they have no clear evidence that US missions or interests overseas are threatened by foreign state or terrorist attacks using biological or chemical agents at this time."

While the vaccine is the only one to be mandated by the Pentagon and other US agencies to protect against such attacks, there are twenty to thirty known similar potentially deadly, infective biological agents available in many countries. And, the anthrax vaccine is inappropriate for all of them. Some 18 of them are listed by the Federation of American Scientists.

Dems Shy Away from Iraq Money Fight

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By Jason Leopold

Despite posing some tougher-than-usual questions at hearings on George W. Bush’s open-ended Iraq War strategy, congressional Democrats have signaled they will give the President $100 billion more in war spending without insisting on timetables for bringing U.S. troops home.

Democratic leaders, who vowed in 2006 and 2007 to deny Bush any more “blank checks” for the war, now concede that a new supplemental war appropriation bill will almost surely pass without any meaningful constraints on Bush’s war policies.

Rather than challenge Bush over that funding, Democratic leaders fired off a letter asking Bush to reconsider his approach.

“The current Iraq strategy has no discernible end in sight and requires the United States to spend additional hundreds of billions of dollars despite urgent national needs in education, health care, and infrastructure improvement, and when high oil prices have provided the Iraqi government with billions in additional revenue that could pay for their own redevelopment and security," says the letter, signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.

“This strategy is neither sustainable nor in our broader national security or economic interest,” the Democratic leaders said. “We are deeply concerned that you and the congressional Republican leadership are intent on staying the current course throughout your administration and then handing the Iraq war off to future presidents.”

Not surprisingly, Bush did not respond to the letter. However, his two top officials in Iraq – Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker – made clear in testimony to the House and Senate this week that Bush has no intention of changing course.

Petraeus said he would recommend to Bush that the post-surge troop drawdown stop with about 140,000 U.S. soldiers still in Iraq. That means the American troop levels will be about 8,000 higher than the 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in early 2007 when the “surge” began.

Both Bush and congressional Democrats appear to be pushing the Iraq War issue off until after the November elections. While Bush hopes Sen. John McCain will win the presidency and keep the war going, Democrats are counting on winning larger majorities in the House and Senate and putting a Democrat in the White House who then will move to end the war.

'Power of the Purse'

Still, if Democratic lawmakers were serious about changing the direction of U.S. military operations in Iraq now, they have several legislative options at their disposal, according to a recent 52-page report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the investigative arm of Congress.

The report, “Congressional Authority to Limit U.S. Military Operations in Iraq,” says that “Congress’s ability to deny funds for the continuation of military hostilities is not contingent upon the enactment of a positive law, though such a denial may take the form of a positive enactment.”

In other words, Congress can compel an end to a conflict simply by refusing to appropriate money for it. That approach would circumvent the threat of a presidential veto, which requires two-thirds majorities to override.

“Although the President has the power to veto legislative proposals, he cannot compel Congress to pass legislation, including bills to appropriate funds necessary for the continuation of a military conflict,” the report says.

The report notes that “a simple majority of a single House could prevent the appropriation of funds necessary for the continuation of a military conflict,” but it suggests that legislation might be needed to prevent the President from shifting funds from other operations.

(Theoretically, Bush’s Iraq War funding could even be stopped by a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, which would require only 41 of the 100 senators to block a new appropriations bill.)

However, with the presidential campaign in full swing and with bitter memories of “soft on national security” taunts, Democratic leaders are unwilling to confront Bush on war funding.

Still, the CRS report is a reminder that Congress has the authority to contest Bush’s assertions that his commander-in-chief powers allow him to do almost whatever he wants when it comes to fighting wars.

“There has been some suggestion in the past that the President’s responsibility to provide for troops in the field justifies further deployments without prior authorization from Congress, with some arguing that the President has an independent implied spending power to carry out these responsibilities,” says the CRS report.

“These arguments do not easily square with Congress’s established prerogative to limit the scope of wars through its war powers, and do not conform with Congress’s absolute authority to appropriate funds.”

The CRS report, issued last Feb. 28, continues: “At least two arguments support the constitutionality of Congress’s authority to limit the President’s ability to increase or maintain troop levels in Iraq.

“First, Congress’s constitutional power over the nation’s armed forces provides ample authority to legislate with respect to how they may be employed. Secondly, Congress has virtually plenary constitutional power over appropriations.

“Article I provides that ‘No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.’ It is well established, as a consequence of these provisions, that ‘no money can be paid out of the Treasury unless it has been appropriated by an act of Congress’ and that Congress can specify the terms and conditions under which an appropriation may be used.”

In past wars, Congress has succeeded in forcing an administration to change its military strategy by using the “power of the purse,” the CRS report says.

“In cases of significant differences with the President over foreign policy, especially deployments of U.S. military forces abroad, Congress has generally found that use of its constitutionally-based ‘power of the purse’ to be the most effective way to compel a President to take actions regarding use of U.S. military force overseas that he otherwise might not agree to."

CRS notes that historically Congress has imposed limits on presidential war-making powers through legislative constraints:

"Two well-known proposals – the McGovern-Hatfield amendment and the Cooper-Church amendments – were also part of this jockeying between the administration and Congress.

“The first prohibited expenditure of previously appropriated funds after a specified date ‘in or over Indochina,’ except for the purpose of withdrawing troops or for protection of U.S. troops during the withdrawal, while the second prohibited the expenditure of any funds after July 1, 1970, to retain troops in Cambodia unless specifically authorized by law …

“Overall, funding restrictions have generally proven more effective than the War Powers Act, which has been challenged by the Executive Branch on constitutional grounds."

Timid Democrats

But key Democrats, such as Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have ruled out an Iraq War showdown with Bush if it involves a possible cutoff of war funding.

Levin has insisted that the only acceptable course for Congress ending the war is through legislation that sets a timetable for troop withdrawals. However, that approach can be blocked by a Republican filibuster or Bush can veto the bill, as happened in 2007.

Once a timetable bill is stopped by a filibuster or vetoed (with the Democrats lacking the votes for an override), the Levin strategy leaves no alternative but to surrender and give Bush the war funding he demands without strings. That was the end result of legislative battles in 2007.

In a conference call with reporters last Friday, Levin indicated that he expects a similar result this time.

"I expect most of our troops to still be there" until at least the end of the year, Levin said. "Until there's either a big enough majority in the Senate or a change in the president's (strategy), I don't see a significant improvement" in the situation in Iraq.

Fed maestro hearing sour notes

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By Thomas S. Mulligan

Praise for former Chairman Alan Greenspan has been muted by critics who blame him for current economic troubles.

NEW YORK — Alan Greenspan retired in January 2006 as one of history's most lauded Federal Reserve Board chairmen, the subject of accolades that stopped just short of deification.

But just as markets have a way of overshooting both on the way up and on the way down, the needle on Greenspan's Fed tenure has swung from adulation to denunciation in a matter of months.

With the economy now sputtering, Greenspan has increasingly been tagged as "Mr. Bubble" -- the ideologue whose loose-money policies and lax regulation are blamed for the continuing real estate collapse, the near-meltdown of the mortgage industry and the toppling of some Wall Street giants.

The 82-year-old economist, once dubbed "the maestro" for guiding the economy during its longest postwar boom, is responding to the backlash with a vigorous defense. In newspaper and television interviews and in Internet forums, Greenspan has accused critics of applying unfair hindsight to problems that no one could have foreseen.

"I have no regrets on any of the Federal Reserve policies that we initiated back then," Greenspan said Tuesday in an interview on CNBC.

Although the consequences were sometimes unexpected, he said, the Fed reached its decisions rationally.

"In retrospect, do I think it would've been nice to have a higher record of forecasting accuracy? Of course. Do I think that it's possible? No."

In this and other recent interviews, Greenspan has clung to his contention that too-strict regulation is a bigger threat to economic well-being than are the periodic blowups to which free markets are prone.

Greenspan, who declined to comment for this article, told the Wall Street Journal that he was "being blamed for things I didn't do."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said one of the things Greenspan didn't do -- to his discredit -- was exercise the Fed's regulatory power over the mortgage industry when there was still a chance of averting the sub-prime loan mess.

Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said in a recent interview that he found Greenspan's thinking oddly "bifurcated."

On the one hand, Greenspan was seen as intellectually flexible enough to cast off the traditional Fed notion that whenever the unemployment rate fell below 5%, interest rates had to be raised to head off inflation.

Frank credited Greenspan with having the insight to realize that technology-fueled productivity gains in the 1990s were keeping inflation in check even when jobless rates dipped to postwar lows, so there was no need to slam the brakes on the economy.

But when it came to bank regulation, Frank said, Greenspan could be "a very rigid ideologue."

Congress in 1994 gave the Fed authority to curb excesses and abuses in the nonbank mortgage lending sector. But the Fed failed to intervene a few years ago when lenders began offering zero-down payment mortgages with super-low "teaser" rates and "no-doc" applications under which people could qualify for loans without proving they had the income to support them.

The easy terms fueled speculation and encouraged people to stretch for mortgages they couldn't afford, thinking they could refinance later when home prices inevitably rose. As such dubious loans got packaged into securities that were eagerly snapped up here and abroad, the stage was set for a crisis.

All it would take was a drop in housing prices or a rise in interest rates -- and both things happened.

In Frank's view, the Greenspan Fed refused to rein in irresponsible lending because of its chairman's belief that markets correct their own problems more effectively than regulators can.

Greenspan, a longtime devotee of free-markets guru Ayn Rand, hasn't backed off that position an inch.

In a back-and-forth with critics -- most of them economists -- on the Financial Times website this week, Greenspan said bank regulators know less about the markets they patrol than do bank risk managers and loan officers.

Far from anticipating problems, Greenspan said, regulators tend to keep fighting the last war.

"Most regulatory activity focuses on activities that precipitated previous crises and that investors have long since largely abandoned," he wrote, acknowledging that "new laws may prevent recurrences."

Greenspan's critics also fault him for keeping interest rates too low for too long after the brief recession of 2001. The Fed brought short-term rates down to 1% in 2003 and didn't reverse course until the following year. The loose-money regime encouraged reckless lending, critics contend.

Money became so cheap that it was easier for borrowers to keep up with their payments, said banker Charles R. Morris, author of "The Trillion Dollar Meltdown."

The resulting drop in default rates temporarily made risky assets look safer than they were, Morris said, causing many investors to plunge into securities they normally would have shied away from.

When the crash finally came, it was far broader than it otherwise might have been. For example, banks in Europe nearly got knocked over by investments related to U.S. mortgages.

Billionaire financier George Soros, who has a new book out on the financial crisis, said in an interview that Greenspan was "definitely responsible for the housing bubble" both because of the sustained low rates and the Fed's failure to issue stricter mortgage-lending rules.

Greenspan has countered the loose-money critique by noting that housing bubbles emerged in more than a dozen developed nations during the same period and with about the same characteristics as in the United States.

If the Fed inflated the U.S. bubble, he has asked, how did the divergent policies of overseas central banks all produce a similar result in their own countries? It is more likely, Greenspan has said, that the bubble resulted from a historically long period of low interest rates -- determined not by regulators, but by global markets.

In the CNBC interview, Greenspan endorsed the use of taxpayer dollars to help ease the mortgage mess. He envisioned a vehicle like Resolution Trust Corp., which was created to liquidate mortgages and real estate assets in the aftermath of the 1980s savings and loan crisis.

He also said it made sense for the government to intervene last month to prevent brokerage Bears Stearns Cos. from collapsing.

Such views are at odds with the sink-or-swim philosophy of the most extreme free-market adherents.

Morris noted the discrepancy. Greenspan, he said, believes that "asset prices are determined in highly sophisticated markets, and the government has no business interfering. Except when asset prices go down, and the government has to step in and set a floor."

CBS layoffs signal a financial squeeze on TV stations

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By Matea Gold and Meg James

The economic slowdown and migration of the audience to the Internet are taking their toll on staffing at the local level.

When veteran Los Angeles news anchors Harold Greene and Ann Martin were felled by a round of jobs cuts last week, they were in good company.

At least 160 employees at CBS Corp.-owned television stations in 13 cities were let go, including such seasoned broadcasters as prominent Chicago anchor Diann Burns, renowned Boston sportscaster Bob Lobel and longtime Minneapolis meteorologist Paul Douglas.

The jettisoning of such experienced on-air talent exposed the weakening of the once-robust local station business, which historically has enjoyed some of the fattest profit margins in the media industry. It marked a dramatic shift from the days when television stations paid top dollar to attract big-name anchors such as Greene and Martin, who have been TV mainstays in Los Angeles for three decades.

Today, stations are feeling the same financial squeeze as their newspaper and network news brethren. An economic slowdown, combined with changes in news consumption patterns and the migration of advertisers to the Internet, have contributed to a lean start to a year that was supposed to benefit from a gush of political advertising.

"What is happening is that 2008, on the local level, is not as strong as people had expected," said Michael Nathanson, media analyst for Bernstein Research.

CBS insists that the quality of its news won't suffer because of the cuts, which hit three-quarters of the company's 27 stations.

"We still have plenty of seasoned reporters and anchors," said Tom Kane, chief executive of the CBS Television Stations group. "We have a lot of very strong talent."

Even so, critics contend that news coverage could be further diminished because of the latest layoffs. They were particularly concerned that experienced reporters were also sacrificed.

"The message being sent is, if you succeed in your job, you succeed in your craft, look out! You're too expensive," said Tom Petner, a former local broadcasting executive who edits's ShopTalk, a daily industry newsletter. "I think it's shameful, because in the end the viewer loses out."

In a report released in July, the Writers Guild of America, East, reported that CBS and ABC news writers said recent workforce cutbacks had led to fewer investigative stories, less fact checking and an increased use of promotional video news releases at their news outlets.

"You can't lose people with that experience and contacts without suffering a price," Hofstra University TV analyst Robert Papper said. "You notice that no one is cutting back on newscasts -- only the people to do them."

Kane said the layoffs were not only a result of the economic downturn. Investments in new technology -- including $500 million spent companywide over four years for new facilities, high-definition broadcast equipment and digital editing tools -- enable the stations to operate with fewer workers.

"Change is never easy for a business," Kane said. "But this was an opportunity that we have been moving toward. . . . We think this will help us compete better in the long term and manage our costs."

Still, there's no question the bottom line is hurting. Television stations typically take in at least 25% of their ad revenue from local car dealerships and dealer associations, which have dramatically cut their advertising budgets amid a slowdown in sales.

The top advertiser to local stations -- General Motors Corp. Dealer Assn. -- reduced its ad spending by 20.7% in the fourth quarter compared with the same 2006 period, according to TNS Media Intelligence data released by the Television Bureau of Advertising.

Consolidation in the retail and telecommunication sectors, which have shifted more of their advertising to national efforts, has lowered local revenue. AT&T Inc. cut its fourth-quarter ad spending to local stations by 15.9%, while the outlay for McDonald's Corp. was down 24.2%, according to the TNS survey.

On top of that, this year's presidential campaign hasn't yet produced the kind of advertising bonanza that many stations expected, largely because of the compressed primary schedule.

TV stations in major markets such as New York and Florida did not experience windfalls as big as stations in states with more competitive contests, such as Texas and Pennsylvania.

"Political money is fickle. Candidates are spending money in places where there are tight races," said Jon Swallen, lead research analyst at TNS Media Intelligence, which tracks ad spending. "It won't be until the general election that spending will pick up."

Ratings for local evening and late-night newscasts have declined for the last two years, according to a report released in 2008 by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In Los Angeles, the company's flagship station, KCBS-TV Channel 2, was slammed by the writers strike this year. The CBS network heavily relied on reruns in prime time and millions of viewers turned the channel.

Locally, the audience for KCBS' 11 p.m. newscast plummeted 40% in February compared with the same month last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. But with the strike resolved, CBS expects to regain ground now that it has returned to original episodes.

The local station business is still relatively healthy.

"It's true that profit margins have plummeted into the 20s, but most industries would kill for a profit margin like that," said Hofstra's Papper, a journalism professor who oversees an annual survey cataloging the state of local television and radio. "I think the CBS stations are paying for the network's pain."

CBS has been hurt by a 23% decline in prime-time ratings in the key adult demographic this season. Shares of CBS, which is heavily dependent on ad revenue, are down nearly 18% this year, in part because of weakness at the broadcast network and its other key divisions, including radio.

The network news division has been undergoing its own cost cutting. Last week, CBS News laid off a little more than 1% of its 1,500-person staff. Executives have also been seeking to lower expenses at the network's Baghdad bureau, which costs the news division $7 million a year.

In recent weeks, CBS News executives had been in negotiations with CNN to license the cable news channel's coverage from Iraq when CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was not there. The deal fell apart over the issue of international rights, according to an executive familiar with the discussions.

Although the number of CBS station employees laid off in the last few weeks is a fraction of the 25,000 people employed in the local television news industry, the fact that high-ranking veterans in cities such as San Francisco, New York and the Dallas-Fort Worth area felt the ax triggered alarm.

March 31 was dubbed "Black Monday" at KCBS and KCAL-TV Channel 9. In addition to the two anchors, the two stations laid off four reporters, including veterans Jaime Garza and Jennifer Sabih. In all, more than a dozen people were shown the door, and station executives are looking to cut more staff through buyouts, according to people familiar with the company's plans.

TV journalists lamented the trend.

"Like everyone else, I'm concerned and worried," said KTLA-TV reporter Eric Spillman, who wrote about the layoffs on his . "Some people believe you can do this with young people paid less. I think that's misguided. When we have another disaster here, whether it's a big quake or another big fire, they're going to be sorry those people aren't around, because that kind of experience is just invaluable."