Thursday, April 24, 2008

Greenpeace Founder: No Proof of Human Caused Global Warming

Greenpeace Founder: No Proof of Human Caused Global Warming

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Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore says there is no proof global warming is caused by humans, but it is likely enough that the world should turn to nuclear power - a concept tied closely to the underground nuclear testing his former environmental group formed to oppose.
The chemistry of the atmosphere is changing, and there is a high-enough risk that "true believers" like Al Gore are right that world economies need to wean themselves off fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases, he said.

"It's like buying fire insurance," Moore said. "We all own fire insurance even though there is a low risk we are going to get into an accident."

The only viable solution is to build hundreds of nuclear power plants over the next century, Moore told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. There isn't enough potential for wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal or other renewable energy sources, he said.

With development of coal-fired electric generation stopped cold over greenhouse gases, the only alternative to nuclear power for producing continuous energy at the levels needed is natural gas. But climate change isn't the only reason to move away from fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels also are a major health threat. "Coal causes the worst health impacts of anything we are doing today," Moore said.

Plus, uranium can be found within the United States and also comes in large quantities from Canada and Australia. Nuclear Power reduces the reliance on supplies in dangerous places including the Middle East, he said.

Moore spoke at the chamber breakfast after an appearance in Idaho Falls Tuesday night that attracted 300 people. He also spoke to the Idaho Environmental Forum in Boise, all sponsored by the Partnership for Science and Technology.

He represents the Clean Air and Safe Energy Coalition, a nuclear energy-backed group promoting reactors for electric energy generation. He began his career as a leader of Greenpeace fighting nuclear testing and working to save whales.

In recent years, he has taken on causes unpopular with his former group, like old-growth logging, keeping polyvinyl chlorides and now nuclear energy.

He says his change of heart comes from his background in science and a different approach to sustainability.

He sees a need for maintaining technologies that are not harmful while fixing or replacing those that are harmful.

"We don't believe we have been making too much electricity," he said. "We believe we've been making energy with the wrong technologies."

His critics, like Andrea Shipley, executive director of the Snake River Alliance, say he has simply sold out.

"The only reason Patrick Moore is backing something as unsafe and risky as nuclear power is he is being paid by the nuclear industry to do so," Shipley said.

Making a 'Killing' on the 'War on Terror'

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By Ian S. Lustick

In this guest essay, the Independent Institute’s Ian S. Lustick looks at the ever-expanding size of this leviathan that is devouring tax dollars and American liberties:

Nearly seven years after Sept. 11, 2001, what accounts for the vast discrepancy between the terrorist threat facing America and the scale of our response?

Why, absent any evidence of a serious domestic terror threat, is the War on Terror so enormous, so all-encompassing, and still expanding?

The fundamental answer is that al-Qaeda’s most important accomplishment was not to hijack our planes, but to hijack our political system.

For a multitude of politicians, interest groups, professional associations, corporations, media organizations, universities, local and state governments and federal agency officials, the War on Terror is now a major profit center, a funding bonanza, and a set of slogans and sound bites to be inserted into budget, project, grant and contract proposals.

For the country as a whole, however, it has become a maelstrom of waste and worry that distracts us from more serious problems.

Consider the congressional response.

In mid-2003, the Department of Homeland Security compiled a list of 160 potential terrorist targets, triggering intense efforts by representatives, senators and their constituents to find potential targets in their districts that might require protection and therefore be eligible for federal funding.

The result? Widened definitions and blurrier categories of potential targets and mushrooming increases in the infrastructure and assets deemed worthy of protection.

By late 2003, the list had increased more than tenfold to 1,849; by 2004 it had grown to 28,364; by 2005 it mushroomed to 77,069; and by 2006 it was approximately 300,000.

Across the country, hundreds of interest groups recast their traditional objectives and funding proposals to reflect the new imperatives of the new war.

The National Rifle Association declared that the War on Terror means more Americans should own firearms to defend against terrorists. The gun control lobby argued that fighting the War on Terror means passing stricter gun control laws to keep assault weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

Schools of veterinary medicine called for quadrupling funding to train veterinarians to defend the country against terrorists using foot-and-mouth disease to decimate cattle herds. Pharmacists advocated the creation of pharmaceutical SWAT teams to respond quickly with appropriate drugs to the victims of terrorist attacks.

According to a 2005 report by the Small Business Administration (SBA) inspector general, 85 percent of the businesses granted low-interest SBA counterterrorism loans failed to establish their eligibility.

The SBA authorized 7,000 loans worth more than $3 billion, including $22 million in loans to Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in nine states.

With a half-billion dollars in homeland security funds available for bulking up the counterterrorist and intelligence capabilities of state and local police and sheriff’s departments, jurisdictions throughout the country scrambled to expand lists of potential threats.

By 2006, thanks to this flood of federal funding, more than 100 police departments had established some type of intelligence unit.

Other cities found more imaginative ways to combat terrorism.
In May 2007, Augusta, Ga., officials authorized spending $3 million to protect fire hydrants against terrorist tampering. This spending decision was recommended by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, which cited a 2004 government report labeling hydrants “a top vulnerability.”

Not surprisingly, the American Waterworks Association warmly endorsed the idea of spending nearly $60 billion to protect fire hydrants nationwide.

Universities also have benefited from the ready availability of new grant and contract funds, creating graduate programs in homeland security, institutes on terrorism and counterterrorism, and proposals for academic conferences.
It is difficult to blame scientists and researchers for responding to government appeals to devote their talents to the War on Terror.

In 2004, I attended a lecture given by the official in charge of encouraging scientists to shift their research activities in this direction. We were told that no matter what topics we worked on, and whether we were natural scientists or behavioral scientists, our work likely could help in the fight against terrorism.

The official strongly encouraged us to submit grant proposals for projects based on “outside the box” thinking because, he said, there was plenty of money available.

Officially, the terrorist threat level is always and everywhere no less than elevated. The threat is constantly dangled before us: ports, border crossings, the milk supply, cattle herds, liquid natural gas tankers, nuclear power plants, drinking water, tunnels, bridges, subways.

The result: continued support for ever-increasing funding.

Within little more than half a decade America adjusted psychologically, politically and militarily to the Soviet enemy and its capacity to incinerate our cities on a moment’s notice.

We came to know the Soviet enemy very well and were able to adopt prudent, realistic and successful policies in the face of genuine threats of national destruction posed by Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

Rather than let our fears and anxieties of Muslim fanatics drive policy, we need the same sober approach to the real but lesser threat posed by terrorists.

Mosaic News - 4/23/08: World News from the Middle East


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By Daniel Hopsicker

The biggest fish busted so far in the laundered-drug-money-for-American-planes scheme used by Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel to purchase 100 airplanes in the U.S. has cut a secret deal with federal prosecutors in Miami, and agreed to testify against others involved, the MadCowMorningNews has learned.

The news is one of a series of recent developments in the scandal, which erupted in the wake of the massive drug hauls seized on two drug planes busted in Mexico’s Yucatan just eighteen months apart carrying, between them, more than ten tons of cocaine.

Also last week, a federal judge in Mexico City ordered the extradition to the U.S. of Pedro Alatorre Damy, identified by the DEA and the Attorney General of Mexico as the main money launderer for Joaquin Guzman, “El Chapo,” leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

And in another development which hits close to home (at least for this reporter) the MadCowMorningNews has been contacted by attorneys for two figures in the case, both threatening lawsuits.

Chickens make way home to roost

The first offer to sue came in a letter from a San Antonio attorney on behalf of Dennis Nixon, Chairman of Texas bank International Bancshares of San Antonio (IBC).

Based on the border with Mexico in Laredo Texas, IBC Bank was used in the money-laundering scheme, according to an FBI affidavit filed in the case.

We knew little else about the bank, however, until we received the letter threatening a lawsuit, and we certainly had no idea at the time that the bank’s co-founder, top investor and principal owner, Tony Sanchez, had once the target of accusations that millions of dollars of drug money had been knowingly laundered through his Texas thrift, called Tesoro Savings & Loan.

Before failing in 1988, at a cost to American taxpayers of $161 million, the thrift was accused of laundering $25 million in Mexican drug money, not exactly the ideal credential for a bank founder and owner.

But, we soon discovered. it gets worse… The drug money Sanchez’s S& L was accused of raking in allegedly belonged to the very same drug traffickers who had recently witnessed, directed, recorded and participated in the infamous torture-murder in Mexico of American DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

Gaping jaws, violated rectums, buried alive

Camarena’s disappearance while on assignment in Mexico in 1985 had briefly strained relations between the U.S. and Mexico, especially after the agent’s body was found in a shallow grave, along with that of a long-time fellow agent and pilot.

Cadaver No. 1, as Red Cross doctors on the scene labeled it, had been that of a muscular Hispanic male in his thirties. The left side of the skull was caved in, three ribs were broken, as well as the right arm. The body also showed numerous lesions; a foreign object, possibly a stick, had been forced into the rectum.

The rectum of Cadaver No. 2, a heavyset adult male in his forties, had also been violated, the doctors said. The jaw was gaping, and the hands had broken free of their bonds, and doctors were of the opinion that the man had been buried alive.

Texas justice aside, we have decided that this is one lawsuit we will happily defend.

Guyanese pilot with U.S. all-access "hall pass"

At almost the same time as this news, we received a second letter threatening to file suit. The letter was from a Fort Lauderdale lawyer on behalf of Guyanese pilot Michael Francis Brassington, who we have reported to be linked to the massive corruption scandal roiling U.S. Customs in South Florida.

A corrupt operation run out of Florida by U.S. Customs, according to a high-ranking DEA official we spoke to in Miami, which lies at the heart of the 100 plane scandal.

Although DEA affidavits in the case suspiciously neglected to mention his name, Brassington had been the co-pilot on the Learjet belonging to terror flight school owner Wallace J. Hilliard busted on a runway at Orlando Executive Airport during July of 2000, the same month Mohamed Atta began flying lessons at Hilliard’s flight school.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, it was the biggest heroin bust in Central Florida history. The Lear was found to be carrying 43 pound of heroin, an amount which is known in the drug trade as “heavy weight,” as in "He’s moving heavy weight every week.’

In innumerable television interviews with Rudi Dekkers, Hilliard’s flight school front man, in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attack, Dekkers said Mohamed Atta told him that he was from Afghanistan, a country which at that time produced well over half (it produces a much higher percentage currently) of the world’s heroin, and was dominated by the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

"Gang-sued’ is new legal term

It goes with saying (or should) that the link between Mohamed Atta’s presence at Hilliard’s flight school simultaneous with the massive heroin seizure aboard Wally Hilliard’s Learjet has never been explained.

While the threat of being “gang-sued” from multiple directions at once is a daunting prospect for our ability to continue reporting the story, it also seems to be a sure sign of deepening scandal.

The first new development took place in a Federal court in Miami last week, where Pedro Benavides-Natera, allegedly one of the key figures in the money-laundering scheme which Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel used to finance the U.S. plane-buying spree, was about to go on trial on multiple felony money laundering charges.

Instead, he cut a deal, and will now presumably be testifying against others in the scheme, in which the ultimate target may be America’s current bete noire, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

As a result of Benavides’ plea deal, key documents to be used in his trial have now been sealed. As well, the multiple felony charges against Benavides, a Miami resident with dual Venezuelan-American citizenship, have been dropped to a single felony count, and he will learn his fate when his case is disposed sometime in the future.

Washing Medellin money in 1998

One of the people Benavides will presumably be testifying against is Pedro Alatorre Damy, owner of currency exchanges in Mexico used in the scheme, and identified as the head financier for the huge Sinaloa drug cartel.

Drug profits were allegedly funneled from Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers from Alatorre’s Mexican money exchanges to a Miami bank, then used to buy airplanes intended to ferry more cocaine shipments around the world.

Just as the first two American planes used in the scheme were discovered to have ties to the CIA, the Dept. of Homeland Security, and top Republican financiers, the Mexicans already charged in the case have ties to top officials in Mexico.

The family which controls Casa de Cambio Puebla currency exchanges that were run by the indicted Pedro Alatorre has strong links to Mexico’s ruling PAN party, as well as to Vicente Fox, who was still Mexico’s President when the planes were caught.

In fact, the Mexico City newspaper Reforma recently reported that Peter Alatorre Damy was already well-known to Mexican authorities during the 1990’s, and had been investigated and jailed, after the DEA and Mexico’s Federal Police found that he had been washing Medellin Cartel money through another now-defunct Mexican currency exchange, in August of 1998.

Must have asked for the ’good prisoner’ discount

Alatorre, after spending five months in jail, was released.

Another person who Benavides may be called to testify against is Carlos Ayala Lara, who FBI affidavits filed in the case state is a top Venezuelan drug kingpin as well as Benavides’ former boss.

The FBI affidavit states that Benavides, arrested last October, had almost immediately confessed to FBI agents that his boss Carlos Ayala Lara used Alatorre’s Mexican currency exchanges to wire million to the United States, including several million dollars traced to the purchase of American aircraft.

Carlos Ayala Lara can apparently afford some pretty good legal eagles in Miami. In a prior brush with American law enforcement, he was allowed to keep half of the drug money which authorities confiscated from him.

There is some speculation Ayala may ultimately be linked to Hugo Chavez.

More ’bad apples’ and ’rogue operations.’

Two years ago this month, an American DC9 left St Petersburg, FL and flew to Venezuela which belonged, or appeared to belong, to the Dept. of Homeland Security. Several days later, at an airport in Mexico’s Yucatan, this plane was busted carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine.

Then last September, a Gulfstream business jet took off St Petersburg, FL. and flew to Medellin, Colombia, where it presumably loaded its cargo before being forced down in the Yucatan carrying more than 4 tons of cocaine, as well as a large amount of heroin, which, except for news reports in Por Esto, a Mexican tabloid, has gone unmentioned.

The likely reason is simple: the heroin never made it into the evidence locker.

The Gulfstream had been previously used to fly extraordinary rendition, as well as a host of other tasks, for the CIA.

And the DC9 was painted to appear to be an official aircraft from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, without a word of protest from a major U.S. Coast Guard facility located less than 100 yards from where it was parked.

In an early Bush Administration reshuffling, both the Coast Guard as well as U.S. Customs had been placed under the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Maybe because they had pictures of him in a dress?

The resulting investigation led to the discovery of a scheme in which drug profits were allegedly funneled from South American traffickers through Mexican money exchanges to a Miami bank, then used to buy airplanes intended to ferry more cocaine shipments around the world.

Despite evidence to the contrary, American law enforcement has glibly pronounced innocent all of the Americans who sold planes to the Mexican cartel. They were victims of circumstance, and of the evil cunning of devious foreign drug lords.

The DEA’s assertion that there are no American drug lords is as unbelievable as the FBI’s J Edgar Hoover’s longtime insistence that there were no Mafia dons, and no organized crime in America.

Still, we wondered: Were any of the Americans who sold planes to the cartel also in business with them? Did any of the American planes’ owners have connections with the Mob? With the CIA? Or with major Republican Party financiers?

The answer to all three questions is “Yes.”

World class organized crime

The American ownership of the planes cannot withstand close scrutiny. Evidence was overwhelming that, despite some sham fast shuffling of registrations, both planes had been American-registered and controlled when they were busted, and that the names to whom the planes have recently been registered were known to have fronted in the past for a much larger enterprise, the CIA.

Collectively, the two planes from St. Petersburg carried more than ten tons of cocaine that—had they not been intercepted—would have made somebody richer than they already were by almost a half billion dollars.

This is world class crime. And no Americans are likely to be punished for it.

But observers can’t help but notice that the individuals and companies who owned the planes bought by the Sinaloa Cartel are inter-linked, and have ties to each other.

Americans who sold planes to the Sinaloa Cartel are even openly in business together, and Directors of each other’s companies.

"Scene-ster" and felon Adnan Khashoggi

Recent owners of the St Petersburg FL-based DC9, for example, have interlocking partnerships with recent owners of the St Petersburg FL-based Gulfstream II business jet.

Though only six of the planes sold to the cartel have been identified so far, they’re connected six ways from Tuesday. And their numbers include a bus-load of the usual suspects: Ramy El-Batrawi, a henchman for CIA fixer and Saudi arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi.

El-Batrawi had owned the airliners which Oliver North used to send TOW missiles to Iran, the beginning of the Iran Contra Scandal. His company, Jetborne, owned by Khashoggi, was called a CIA proprietary in the Iran Contra hearings.

However, none of the American sellers of the airplanes appear to be under investigation by any law enforcement entity in the entire united states.

Were the Americans who sold a fleet of drug planes to Mexico’s most powerful carte just innocent aviation enthusiasts? Or did they offer, instead, the best glimpse anyone of us is ever likely to get of the highly-elusive American Drug Lords?

NOTE: Recently we incorrectly reported that money was wired from Mexico to an account at Commerce Bank in Miami, whose Chairman, we incorrectly reported, was Dennis Nixon, also the South Texas Co-chair of John McCain’s campaign.

Dennis Nixon’s International Bancshares of San Antonio has no connection to Commerce Bank in Miami. We regret the error.

We have since learned that court documents show that Carlos Ayala Lara, the target of the current FBI investigation, also laundered money through the Texas bank.

Iraqis see red as U.S. opens world's biggest embassy

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By Howard LaFranchi

The 104-acre, 21-building enclave was cleared for occupancy recently and will open next month.

BAGHDAD - For the average American who will never see it, the new US Embassy in Baghdad may be little more than the Big Dig of the Tigris.

Like the infamous Boston highway project, the embassy is a mammoth development that is overbudget, overdue, and casts a whiff of corruption.

For many Iraqis, though, the sand-and-ochre-colored compound peering out across the city from a reedy stretch of riverfront within the fortified Green Zone is an unsettling symbol both of what they have become in the five years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and of what they have yet to achieve.

"It is a symbol of occupation for the Iraqi people, that is all," says Anouar, a Baghdad graduate student who thought it was risk enough to give her first name. "We see the size of this embassy and we think we will be part of the American plan for our country and our region for many, many years."

The 104-acre, 21-building enclave – the largest US Embassy in the world, similar in size to Vatican City in Rome – is often described as a "castle" by Iraqis, but more in the sense of the forbidden and dominating than of the alluring and liberating.

"We all know this big yellow castle, but its main purpose, it seems, is the security of the Americans who will live there," says Sarah, a university sophomore who also declined to give her last name for reasons of personal safety. "I heard that no one else can ever reach it."

Among the Iraqi elites who have suffered so much in the chaos of the post-Hussein period – the professors, doctors, architects, and artists – the impact of the new American giant is often expressed more symbolically but sometimes using the same terms.

Castles in the sand

"Saddam had his big castles; they symbolized his power and were places to be feared, and now we have the castle of the power that toppled him," says Abdul Jabbar Ahmed, a vice dean for political sciences at Baghdad University. "If I am the ambassador of the USA here I would say, 'Build something smaller that doesn't stand out so much, it's too important that we avoid these negative impressions.' "

Yet while the new embassy may be the largest in the world, it is not in its design and presence unlike others the US has built around the world in a burst of overseas construction since the bombings of US missions in the 1980s and '90s. Efforts to provide the 12,000 American diplomats working overseas a secure environment were redoubled following the 9/11 attacks.

Designed according to what are called the "Inman standards" – the results of a 1985 commission on secure embassy construction headed by former National Security Agency head Bobby Inman – recent embassies have been built as fortified compounds away from population centers and surrounded by high walls.

In the case of larger embassies in the most dangerous environments, as in Baghdad, secure housing is included, along with some of the amenities of home – restaurants, gyms, pools, cinemas, shopping – that can give the compound the air of an enclave.

The US government cleared the new Baghdad Embassy for occupancy last week, with the embassy's 700 employees and up to 250 military personnel expected to move in over the month of May, according to Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

$1 billion a year to operate

The $740 million compound – expected to cost more than $1 billion a year to operate – was originally expected to cost $600 million to build and was to open in September 2007. Design changes and faulty construction caused repeated delays.

Congress learned last fall of problems with the site's electrical system, and early this year reports surfaced of significant problems with the fire-fighting systems.

Nevertheless, embassy personnel have been anxious for the complex, with more than 600 blast-resistant apartments, to open and give them some refuge from the mortar fire that has increasingly targeted the Green Zone this year. Last month, a mortar slammed into one of the unfortified trailers where personnel now sleep, killing an American civilian contractor. At least two US soldiers have died from rocket fire on the Green Zone since then.

But even the embassy's opening may not be assuaging diplomats' concerns about assignments in Iraq. Last week, the State Department warned that it may start ordering employees to serve at the embassy next year if more volunteers do not come forward for the 300 posts expected to open.

The State Department announcement follows a similar warning last fall of a shortfall of volunteers for about 50 Iraq positions. Candidates were eventually found without any compulsory assignments for 2008, but the prospect of ordered assignments to a war zone caused tensions at the department.

Such challenges to the full manning of the new embassy have yet to reach Iraqi ears. Still, some Iraqis who condemn the imagery of the imposing new compound say they are even more critical of what, in an indirect way, it also tells Iraqis about their own leadership.

"What does it say to Iraqis that we cannot walk along a beautiful part of the river in our own land because of this big American place?" says Qasim Sabti, an Iraqi artist and Baghdad gallery owner. "But it shows us something else about our own government," he adds. "At least the Americans could build this thing, but we Iraqis have no new buildings or streets, everything is destroyed – but still the corruption is so great that the money goes into pockets before it can build something new."

Other Iraqis say the embassy highlights the long-term interests the US has in both Iraq and the region.

"If it is so big, it is a reflection of the size of the designs they have for Iraq and the Middle East," says Maimoon al-Khaldi, an actor and professor at Baghdad's Fine Arts Academy. "It is a sign of their energy agenda and of their security agenda in this region," he adds. "This building faces the Iraqis, yes, but also the Iranians they have declared to be their enemies."

Mr. Jabbar says the Americans "surely have a right and duty to protect their delegation here." But he says he still wouldn't have built something so large.

"That is too much of a symbol," he says. "It sends a message to the Iraqis that says, 'Be careful, we removed Saddam Hussein and we can remove what has come after him anytime we want.'"

Shops Ration Sales of Rice as US Buyers Panic

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By Andrew Clark, Rory Carroll, and Julian Borger

Restaurants stockpile to guard against soaring cost. Call to maintain exports as world food crisis grows.

New York and Caracas - The global food crisis reached the United States yesterday as big retailers began to ration sales of rice in response to bulk purchases by customers alarmed by rocketing prices of staples.

Wal-Mart's cash and carry division, Sam's Club, announced it would sell a maximum of four bags of rice per person to prevent supplies from running short. Its decision followed sporadic caps placed on purchases of rice and flour by some store managers at a rival bulk chain, Costco, in parts of California.

The world price of rice has risen 68% since the start of 2008, but in some US shops the price has doubled in weeks.

Retail experts said there was little evidence of panic hoarding by the public but that restaurants and smaller retailers were buying up stocks at wholesalers in the expectation that the cost would go even higher. Shops said Filipino residents in the US were also making large purchases to send to relatives in the Philippines, where a shortage of supplies is causing concern.

"What you're seeing is people who buy in larger quantities, who have a restaurant or a corner store, stocking up because of media reports that prices could go higher," said Dave Heylen, a spokesman for the California Grocers Association.

The price of staple foods has been rising at an accelerating rate across the world, driven by what the United Nations has called a "perfect storm" of rising demand from developing countries such as China and India, the impact of climate change and policy responses by governments.

Since the beginning of the year, rice-producing countries including China, India, Vietnam and Egypt have imposed limits on exports to keep domestic prices down. This week, a top World Bank official predicted that Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, might follow in restricting shipments.

The EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, yesterday called on the World Trade Organisation to put pressure on food-producing countries to maintain exports. "If we restrict trade, we're simply going to add food scarcity to the already large problems of food shortages that exist in different countries," he told Reuters news agency.

The director of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, said the crisis had been building for decades. "The situation we are in is the result of inappropriate policies over the past 20 years," Diouf told journalists in Paris, pointing to a halving of aid to agriculture in developing countries between 1990 and 2000, while the industrialised world maintained generous farm subsidies.

British officials say they hope the food price shock will provide impetus for a long-delayed deal on liberalising world trade, known as the Doha round. They predict a possible breakthrough in the next few weeks. They also point out that the price rise could bring much-needed income to rural areas in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world if farmers are given enough support to respond.

Diouf said: "This is not Greek tragedy where fate is decided by the gods and humans can do nothing about it. No, we have the ability to influence our futures."

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez yesterday announced a $100m "food security fund", at a regional summit to agree policy as the crisis spreads instability across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Looting and riots in Haiti left at least six dead and forced the resignation of the prime minister this month, leaving the hemisphere's poorest country tense and edgy. In Guyana an 80% rise in the price of rice and 50% in the cost of chicken triggered protests and a strike by sugarcane workers. The government promised to issue seeds and urged people to cultivate idle land. Surinam set up an emergency cabinet committee to seek ways to dampen food prices.

Israelis Claim Secret Agreement With US

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By Glenn Kessler

Americans insist no deal made on settlement growth.

A letter that President Bush personally delivered to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four years ago has emerged as a significant obstacle to the president's efforts to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians during his last year in office.

Ehud Olmert, the current Israeli prime minister, said this week that Bush's letter gave the Jewish state permission to expand the West Bank settlements that it hopes to retain in a final peace deal, even though Bush's peace plan officially calls for a freeze of Israeli settlements across Palestinian territories on the West Bank. In an interview this week, Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weissglas, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed this understanding in a secret agreement reached between Israel and the United States in the spring of 2005, just before Israel withdrew from Gaza.

U.S. officials say no such agreement exists, and in recent months Rice has publicly criticized even settlement expansion on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which Israel does not officially count as settlements. But as peace negotiations have stepped up in recent months, so has the pace of settlement construction, infuriating Palestinian officials, and Washington has taken no punitive action against Israel for its settlement efforts.

Israeli officials say they have clear guidance from Bush administration officials to continue building settlements, as long as it meets carefully negotiated criteria, even though those understandings appear to contradict U.S. policy.

Many experts say new settlement construction undermines the political standing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - who is to meet with Bush today at the White House - and adds to Palestinian cynicism about the peace process. Palestinians view the settlements as an Israeli effort to claim Palestinian lands, and in a meeting yesterday with Rice, Abbas said settlement construction was "one of the greatest obstacles" to a peace deal.

U.S. and Israeli officials privately argue that Israel has greatly restricted settlement growth outside the settlements it hopes to retain in a peace deal with the Palestinians, and Olmert has said Israel has stopped building new settlements and confiscating Palestinian lands.

Housing starts - not counting the Jerusalem settlements - have declined 33 percent since 2003, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. But officials say it is politically damaging for Olmert to admit that, so instead he publicly emphasizes that he is adding to the settlements, which now house about 450,000 Israelis.

"It was clear from day one to Abbas, Rice and Bush that construction would continue in population concentrations - the areas mentioned in Bush's 2004 letter," Olmert declared in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, published Sunday. "I say this again today: Beitar Illit will be built, Gush Etzion will be built; there will be construction in Pisgat Ze'ev and in the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem," referring to new settlement expansion plans. "It's clear that these areas will remain under Israeli control in any future settlement."

In a key sentence in Bush's 2004 letter, the president stated, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."

In a companion letter to "reconfirm" U.S.-Israeli understandings, Weissglas wrote Rice that restrictions on the growth of settlements would be made "within the agreed principles of settlement activities," which would include "a better definition of the construction line of settlements" on the West Bank. A joint U.S.-Israeli team would "jointly define the construction line of each of the settlements."

Weissglas said that the letter built upon a prior understanding between then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, which would allow Israel to build up settlements within existing construction lines. But Powell denied that. "I never agreed to it," he said in an e-mail.

Daniel Kurtzer, then the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said he argued at the time against accepting the Weissglas letter. "I thought it was a really bad idea," he said. "It would legitimize the settlements, and it gave them a blank check." In the end, Kurtzer said the White House never followed up with the plan to define construction lines. "Washington lost interest in it when it became clear it would not be easy to do," he said.

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, at a news briefing in January, suggested that Bush's 2004 letter was aimed at helping Sharon win domestic approval for the Gaza withdrawal. "The president obviously still stands by that letter of April of 2004, but you need to look at it, obviously, in the context of which it was issued," he said.

Weissglas said that in 2005, when Sharon was poised to remove settlers from Gaza, the Bush administration made a secret agreement - not disclosed to the Palestinians - that Israel could add homes in settlements it expected to keep, as long as the construction was dictated by market demand, not subsidies. He said the agreement was necessary because Sharon needed the support of municipal leaders in the main West Bank settlements. The settlement leaders, he said, focused on the "inner contradiction" of Bush's letter, mainly that it made no sense to have a settlement freeze in places that Bush said would become part of Israel.

Weissglas said he then negotiated a "verbal understanding" with deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams that would permit new construction in those key settlements; Rice and Sharon then approved the Weissglas-Abrams deal. "I do not recall that we had any kind of written formulation," Weissglas said.

"There is no understanding," said White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Indeed, as settlement starts soared after the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis in November, Rice said "the United States doesn't make a distinction" among settlement locations.

Powell said that in 2004, he did not anticipate that Bush's letter would be perceived as a green light by Israel for adding to the settlements. "I consistently spoke against settlement growth, but as you know all I could do is talk against it," Powell said. "There would be no consequences and there still aren't."

Barack Obama Still Takes in Oil Money

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By Dan Morain

The Illinois Democrat received $46,000 in donations from executives and workers last month. In a campaign ad, he said he took no money from oil companies.

Sen. Barack Obama continued accepting donations from oil company executives and employees last month even as he aired ads in which he stated he took no oil company money, his campaign finance reports show.

Obama has taken at least $263,000 from oil company executives, family members and employees since entering the presidential race last year, including $46,000 last month. At least $140,000 has come in chunks of between $1,000 and $2,300, the maximum permitted under federal law.

Texas oil executive Robert L. Cavnar of Milagro Exploration and his wife, Gracie, have helped the Illinois Democrat raise at least another $50,000 by helping host a fundraiser earlier in the campaign.

Other oil industry donors have included Sinclair Oil President Ross Matthews of Texas and John B. Hess, chairman of Hess Corp., a New York-based oil producer and retailer with operations worldwide. Hess, who has given to other presidential candidates, including Sen. John McCain, gave $2,300 to Obama last year, as did his wife, Susan. Hess gave $14,000 to Obama's Senate run in 2003. The oil executives did not return phone calls.

In the weeks leading up to the Pennsylvania primary, Obama aired a campaign spot in Indiana and Pennsylvania that sought to reinforce his theme that he would change the Washington culture, while also tapping into voter distress about the high price of gasoline. In the ad, he called for a windfall profits "penalty."

"Since the gas lines of the '70s, Democrats and Republicans have talked about energy independence but nothing's changed - except now Exxon's making $40 billion a year and we're paying $3.50 for gas. I'm Barack Obama. I don't take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won't let them block change anymore," says the spot, which aired as recently as April 8.

Obama's ad is factually correct. He does not take money from oil companies. A 1907 federal law bars all corporations from giving money to political candidates. However, oil company employees can make donations.

As the ad aired, Obama took $12,400 from oil company executives and employees in increments of $1,000 or more. Altogether, people who identify themselves as working for oil and gas companies donated $46,000 in March.

Obama spokesman Ben Labolt said unlike Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and McCain, Obama refused to take money from federal lobbyists and political action committees.

"He accepted no contributions from oil and gas company political action committees, or from those who are paid to lobby Congress on behalf of oil and gas companies - the money that is intended to purchase influence and access on behalf of corporate interests," Labolt said.

Clinton countered Obama's ad with one detailing his oil company-related donations from employees and executives of Exxon and other major petroleum companies., part of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, also chastised Obama for airing the spot.

"From our perspective, if there is a distinction between oil company PACs and lobbyists, and their executives, it is a mighty fine line," said Sheila Krumholz, director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations. "They all represent the same interest - oil."

Clinton has taken $336,000 from oil company executives and employees since entering the presidential race, including $27,000 in March. McCain took $41,000 last month, for a total of $445,000.

Donors who spoke with The Times said their contributions were not directed by their employers.

Bill Mintz, communications director for Apache Corp., a Houston-based oil company, said his decision to give - he contributed $2,300 in February before Obama's ad aired - was neither solicited by his company executives nor by Obama's campaign.

Mintz said in an interview that the Obama ad did not make him regret his donation. But he also said the spot underscored what he saw as a persistent problem in the political discourse over energy.

"I don't think either party is addressing the country's and world's energy needs realistically," Mintz said. "We're not going to produce our way out of this and we're not going to solve the problem with conservation and alternative energy."

Six Suspects Will Be Tried a Third Time in Sears Plot

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By Carmen Gentile

Miami - Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that they would try for a third time to convict six men accused of conspiring to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago and join the ranks of Al Qaeda.

Judge Joan A. Lenard said the next trial would proceed in "the late fall or early winter."

In the previous trials, government lawyers contended that the men - Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Burson Augustine, Rotschild Augustine, Naudimar Herrera and Stanley G. Phanor - wanted to wage a "ground war" against American citizens and had pledged their loyalty for Islamic extremism to F.B.I. informants posing as members of Al Qaeda.

Defense lawyers asserted that their clients had been goaded into making radical remarks and vows of allegiance by the informants. Testimony in the trials revealed that an F.B.I. search of the group's headquarters in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami yielded no weapons or evidence of preparation for a large-scale attack.

In his appeal for a third trial, the prosecutor Richard Gregorie recalled how Mr. Batiste had been heard in taped conversations saying he "wanted to kill all the devils," a reference to Americans, prosecutors say. "The United States has decided it is necessary to proceed one more time," Mr. Gregorie said.

At the first trial, which ended in December 2007, a seventh defendant, Lyglenson Lemorin, was acquitted, and the jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision about the remaining six. A second trial ended last week with jurors again unable to decide.

On Tuesday, Mr. Herrera was released on $50,000 bond. Rotschild Augustine, an illegal immigrant, was denied bond. The other four had not filed applications for bond.

Prof. Jonathan Turley of George Washington Law School, a critic of the Bush administration's handling of terrorism-related cases, said that by seeking a new trial the government was hoping to justify "previous headlines" about evidence - including wiretaps and informant reports - presented by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales after the suspects' arrest in June 2006.

"These are the types of prosecutors Las Vegas is built on," Mr. Turley said. "They keep returning to the table with the same losing hand."

Military "Analysts," the Media, and the Selling of Bush's Wars

Go to Original
By Max J. Castro

The Bush administration has made a mess of many things, from the Iraq war to Katrina. Yet there is one area in which Bush and his people have met with, at least, limited success - namely the manipulation of public opinion, especially when it comes to the "war on terror."

In this regard, the selling of the Iraq war by exacerbating the fears and channeling the rage of the American people after 9-11 was a tour de force. Much of the mainstream media collaborated, in one way or another, with this endeavor by failing to examine dubious administration claims, passing on propaganda as fact, embedding its reporters with American troops, adopting the official language, and shamelessly cheerleading. While even in the mainstream media there always have been individual journalists who questioned the administration’s story, overall the media’s complicity in the war began to wane only when the debacle of Iraq became too obvious to ignore.

Now, a fresh New York Times investigation has revealed an outrageous and previously unreported Bush administration campaign to influence public opinion on Iraq and the war on terror through the media ("Message Machine Behind Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand," by David Barstow, April 20, 2008).

The Times story details how the administration and the Defense Department have and continue to use the talking heads that appear on television in the guise of unbiased military "analysts" to shape the portrayal of the war in the media.

Based on extensive interviews, the Times uncovered what amounts to a massive and well-orchestrated psychological warfare operation perpetrated by the administration and the Pentagon. In this case, however, the targets of the psychological warfare operation were not citizens of an enemy state; the target was the American people.

Here is the gist of the story presented in last Sunday’s edition of The New York Times:

"To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as ’military analysts’ whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

"Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance… "

In order to ensure that the retired military officers used as analysts by the television networks and cable channels to do its bidding, the administration not only has employed the granting or denying of access to officials and information - a tool frequently used to influence reporters - but a powerful financial weapon as well. "Most of the analysts," the New York Times reports, "have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air."

The conclusions of the Times examination, which used both records and interviews, reveal the workings of a propaganda campaign the paper describes as still going on. The following are verbatim extracts:

  • the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse - an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

  • military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants.

  • the companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies…scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror.

  • Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters…

    In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated.

    Records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated. Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as "message force multipliers" or "surrogates" who could be counted on to deliver administration "themes and messages" to millions of Americans "in the form of their own opinions."

  • This latest Bush administration attempt to shape and distort public perceptions of the realities of the wars it has engineered is one of the most outrageous of all. Yet, while shocking, it is not really surprising given the track record of the Bush-Cheney regime. The question that arises, however, as a result of these new revelations, is where was the media - during this campaign of disinformation rife with conflicts of interests and other transgressions which often serve as its fodder - when all of this was happening under their very noses? How could they have missed this story of such a colossal propaganda campaign being waged on the American people through them? What is their explanation?

    It comes down to the same reason most of the media used to explain failing to inform the public regarding the huge holes in the administration’s weak case for attacking Iraq: ignorance. According to the Times, "...some network officials…acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration."

    It is a sorry excuse. But maybe there is another explanation. Perhaps too many in the mainstream media are still willing to look the other way when fed propaganda for fear of being stuck with the dreaded labels of liberal or unpatriotic. Perhaps, also, some anchors and reporters have been too busy uncovering such momentous news as how the candidates really feel about their faith or why Barack Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin on his lapel to notice the huge Trojan Horse camped in their midst.

    The good news in all of this is that all the perfidy and skill of the administration and all the collusion by some sectors of the media have failed to prevent most of the people of this country from seeing through the administration’s lies, albeit only belatedly and partially. According to a new Washington Post ABC News poll, six out of ten Americans now reject the official Bush line that winning in Iraq is necessary to successfully fight the war on terrorism. The bad news in all this is, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, that you get news about a presidential campaign or about a war from the media you have not the one you would like to have.

    The Real Matrix

    Go to Original
    By Nick Turse

    The Pentagon Invades Your Life

    Rick is a midlevel manager in a financial services company in New York City. Each day he commutes from Weehawken, New Jersey, a suburb only a stone’s throw from the Big Apple, where he lives with his wife, Donna, and his teenage son, Steven. A late baby boomer, Rick just missed the Vietnam era’s antiwar protests, but he’s been against the war in Iraq from the beginning. He thinks the Pentagon is out of control and considers the military-industrial complex a danger to the country. If you asked him, it’s a subject on which he would rate himself as knowledgeable. He puts effort into educating himself on such matters. He reads liberal websites, subscribes to progressive-minded magazines, and is a devotee of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

    In fact, he has no idea just how deep the Pentagon rabbit hole goes or how far down it his family already is.

    Rick believes that, despite its long reach, the military-industrial complex is a discrete entity far removed from his everyday life. Now, if this were 1961, when outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country about the "unwarranted influence" of the "military-industrial complex" and the "large arms industry" already firmly entrenched in the United States, Rick might be right. After all, he doesn’t work for one of the Pentagon’s corporate partners, like arms maker Lockheed Martin. He isn’t in the Army Reserve. He’s never attended a performance of the Marine Corps band (not to mention the Army’s, Navy’s, or Air Force’s music groups). But today’s geared-up, high-tech Complex is nothing like the olive-drab outfit of Eisenhower’s day: It reaches deeper into American lives and the American psyche than Eisenhower could ever have imagined. The truth is that, at every turn, in countless, not-so-visible ways Rick’s life is wrapped up with the military.

    So wake up with Rick and sample a single spring morning as the alarm on his Sony (Department of Defense contractor) clock interrupts his final dream of the night. Donna is already up and dressed in fitness apparel by Danskin (a Pentagon supplier that received more than $780,000 in DoD dollars in 2004 and another $456,000 in 2005) and Hanes Her Way (made by defense contractor and cake seller Sara Lee Corporation, which took in more than $68 million from the DoD in 2006). Committed to a healthy lifestyle, she’s wearing sneakers from (DoD contractor) New Balance and briskly jogging on a treadmill made by (DoD contractor) True Fitness Technology.

    Rick drags himself to the bathroom (fixtures by Pentagon contractor Kohler, purchased at defense contractor Home Depot). There, he squeezes the Charmin, brushes with Crest toothpaste, washes his face with Noxzema; then, hopping into the shower, he lathers up with Zest and chooses Donna’s Herbal Essences over Head & Shoulders -- "What the hell," he mutters, "I deserve an organic experience." (The manufacturer of each of these products, Procter & Gamble, is among the top 100 defense contractors and raked in a cool $362,461,808 from the Pentagon in 2006.)

    In go his (DoD supplier) Bausch and Lomb contact lenses and down goes a Zantac (from DoD contractor GlaxoSmithKline) for his ulcer. Heading back to the bedroom, he finds Donna finished with her workout and making the bed -- with the TV news on -- and lends her a hand. (Their headboard was purchased from Thomasville Furniture, the mattress from Sears, the pillows were made by Harris Pillow Supply, all Pentagon contractors.) They exchange grim glances as, on their Samsung set (another DoD contractor) the Today Show chronicles the latest in chaos in Iraq. "Thank god we never supported this war," Rick says, thinking of the antiwar rally Donna and he attended even before the invasion was launched. NBC, which produces the Today Show, is owned by General Electric, the 14th-largest defense contractor in the United States, to the tune of $2.3 billion from the DoD in 2006, and has worked on such weapons systems as the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and F/A-18 Hornet multimission fighter/attack aircraft, both in use in Iraq.

    A Who’s Who of Your Life

    Of course, the Pentagon has long poured U.S. tax dollars into private coffers to arm and outfit the military and enable it to function. At the time of Eisenhower’s farewell address, New York Times reporter Jack Raymond noted that the Pentagon was spending "$23,000,000,000 a year for services and procurement of guns, missiles, airplanes, electronic devices, vehicles, tanks, ammunition, clothing and other military goods." Today, that would equal around $200 billion. In 2007, the Department of Defense’s stated budget was $439 billion. Counting the costs of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number jumps to over $600 billion. Factoring in all the many related activities carried out by other agencies, actual U.S. national security spending is nearly $1 trillion per year.

    Back in Eisenhower’s day, arms dealers and mega-corporations, such as Lockheed and General Motors, held sway over the corporate side of the military-industrial complex. Companies like these still play an extremely powerful role today, but they are dwarfed by the sheer number of contractors that stretch from coast to coast and across the globe. Looking at the situation in 1970, almost 10 years after Eisenhower’s farewell speech, Sidney Lens, a journalist and expert on U.S. militarism, noted that there were 22,000 prime contractors doing business with the U.S. Department of Defense. Today, the number of prime contractors tops 47,000 with subcontractors reaching well over the 100,000 mark, making for one massive conglomerate touching nearly every sector of society, from top computer manufacturer Dell (the 50th-largest DoD contractor in 2006) to oil giant ExxonMobil (the 30th) to package-shipping titan FedEx (the 26th).

    In fact, the Pentagon payroll is a veritable who’s who of the top companies in the world: IBM; Time-Warner; Ford and General Motors; Microsoft; NBC and its parent company, General Electric; Hilton and Marriott; Columbia TriStar Films and its parent company, Sony; Pfizer; Sara Lee; Procter & Gamble; M&M Mars and Hershey; Nestlé; ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney; Bank of America; and Johnson & Johnson among many other big-name firms. But the difference between now and then isn’t only in scale. As this list suggests, Pentagon spending is reaching into previously neglected areas of American life: entertainment, popular consumer brands, sports. This penetration translates into a remarkable variety of forms of interaction with the public.

    Rick and Donna’s home is full of the fruits of this incursion. As they putter around in their kitchen, getting ready for the day ahead, they move from the wall cabinets (purchased at DoD contractor Lowe’s Home Center) to the refrigerator (from defense contractor Maytag), choosing their breakfast from a cavalcade of products made by Pentagon contractors. These companies that, quite literally, feed the Pentagon’s war machine, are the same firms that fill the shelves of America’s kitchens.

    Today, just about every supermarket staple -- from Ballpark Franks (Sara Lee) and Eggo waffles (Kelloggs) to Jell-O (Kraft) and Coffee Mate (Nestle) -- has ties to the Pentagon. The same holds for many household appliances. In Rick and Donna’s dining room, a small Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner buzzes around the floor. Rick thought it would be cute to have the little mechanical device trolling around the house making their hectic lives just a tad easier. Little did he know that Roomba’s manufacturer, iRobot, takes in U.S. tax dollars ($51 million of them from the DoD in 2006, more than a quarter of the company’s revenue) and turns them into PackBots, tactical robots used by U.S. troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and Warrior X700s -- 250-pound semiautonomous robots armed with heavy weapons such as machine guns, that may be deployed in Iraq this year.

    In addition to selling millions of Roombas to civilian consumers, the company uses government tax dollars to make money on the civilian side of its business. According to the company’s December 2006 annual report (which listed as its "Research Support Agencies" the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA], the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center), government funding "allows iRobot to accelerate the development of multiple technologies." Yet iRobot retains "ownership of patents and know-how and [is] generally free to develop other commercial products, including consumer and industrial products, utilizing the technologies developed during these projects." It’s a very sweet deal. And iRobot is hardly alone.

    Entering the Digital World with Guns Blazing

    Sitting on the dining room table is Rick’s HP (Hewlett-Packard) notebook computer. HP is another company that has grown its civilian know-how with generous military contracts, like the multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal it signed in 2005 with DARPA to "develop technologies to improve the performance of mission-critical computer networks used during combat and other vital operations." A spokesman for the company noted, "Our work for DARPA is aimed at significantly improving the performance of the Internet.... If we can successfully create new approaches to the way Internet traffic is detected and routed, we may start seeing the Internet used as the de facto communications and information network in areas where it previously would’ve been thought too risky." Success would certainly translate into more lucrative civilian work, as well.

    Meanwhile, Rick and Donna’s son, Steven, is still upstairs, having a hard time tearing himself away from his computer game. His room is a veritable showcase of the new entertainment/sports/high tech/pop culture dimension of the twenty-first-century Complex: there are NASCAR posters (in 2005, more than $38 million in taxpayer money was spent on U.S. armed forces’ racecars); National Football League (NFL) jerseys and baseball caps (the NFL has partnered with the Pentagon to create military profiles aired during TV broadcasts of regular and postseason games, while individual NFL teams have hosted "military appreciation" events); X-Men comic books (the Pentagon teamed up with Marvel Comics to produce limited-edition, "military-exclusive" comic books, with pro-Pentagon themes, that are now sought after by civilian collectors); and a wastebasket filled with empty Mountain Dew bottles (the Air Force was one of the sponsors of the Dew Action Sports Tour, a traveling show featuring skateboarding, BMX, and freestyle motocross contests).

    During Ike’s time, when civilian firms like Ford and AT&T were the big military suppliers, the payroll showed an utter lack of cool companies. Now, the Pentagon is reaching into virgin territory in new ways with new partners. Today, hip firms like Apple, Google, and Starbucks are also on DoD contractors’ lists. And while Ike’s complex was typified by brass bands and patriotic parades, today’s variant is a flashy digitized world of video games, extreme sports, and everything cool that appeals to potential young recruits.

    Steven finally shuts down Tropico: Paradise Island -- a nation-building simulation video game where the player, as "El Presidente," attempts to lure tourists to his/her fun-in-the-sun resort. Neither father nor son is remotely aware that the software maker, Breakaway Games, does taxpayer-funded work for such military clients as DARPA, the Joint Forces Command, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the United States Air Force -- as well as having developed 24 Blue, a simulator used to improve aircraft carrier-based operations. They are blissfully unaware of even the existence of Breakaway’s Pentagon-funded video game that could conceivably lead to more effective bombing of targets abroad.

    Steven grabs his iPod MP3 player (from DoD contractor Apple Computer) and heads downstairs to leave with his father. On his way to the door, Rick goes to his bookshelf and scans a selection of progressive texts whose publishers just happen to be DoD contractors, including a reissue of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin), Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America by Lou Dubose and Molly Ivins (Random House), and Jon Stewart’s America (The Book) (Warner Books), before choosing the Hugo Chavez-approved Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky (ahem, Metropolitan Books from Macmillan publishers). As the last one out, Donna sets the ADT alarm system. (ADT took in more than $16 million from the Pentagon in 2006, while its parent company, Tyco International, cleaned up to the tune of over $187 million.)

    The Pentagon on Wheels

    Rick and Steven hop into the Saturn parked in the driveway. Rick is proud of his car choice -- after all, Saturn has such a people-friendly (even anti–Detroit establishment) vibe. Admittedly, he is aware that General Motors owns not only the Saturn but the Hummer brand -- the civilian version of the U.S. military’s Humvee -- but he believes that, in this world, you can’t be squeaky-clean perfect. But Hummer isn’t the half of it.

    How could Rick have known that, in 1999, GM formally entered the Army’s COMBATT (COMmercially BAsed Tactical Truck) vehicle development program? Or that GM actually had its own military division, General Motors Defense, when his Saturn was made? Nor could Rick have known that GM Defense formed a joint venture with defense giant General Dynamics to create the GM-GDLS Defense Group (which was awarded in excess of $1.5 billion in DoD contract dollars in 2005). Or that GM took in $87 million from the Pentagon in 2006. Or that, in 2007, GM entered into a 50-year lease agreement to build a $100 million test track on the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds. Or that the maker of his Saturn’s tires, Goodyear, was America’s 69th-largest defense contractor in 2004, with DoD contracts worth nearly $357 million.

    Rick might be an aging baby boomer, but he still tries to look cool (to Steven’s embarrassment). As he pulls the Saturn out of the driveway, he dons a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Oakley supplies goggles and boots to U.S. troops. And while the military purchased goggles from firms such as the American Optical Company during the 1940s, it’s unlikely that anyone ever called that company’s designs "badass," as Powder, a skiing magazine that runs Army recruitment ads on its website, called one of Oakley’s products.

    Driving along, Rick glances over at his son. "Are those the Wolverine boots we just got you?"

    "Yeah, Dad," answers Steven, looking down at his now-ratty footwear.

    Rick’s already thinking about the next pair he’ll need to buy his son, not about the five-year, multimillion-dollar contract the company signed in 2003 to supply the Army with an upgraded infantry combat boot, or the other deals, worth tens of millions of dollars, that Wolverine signed with the Pentagon in 2004, 2006, and 2007.

    As they drive to his school, Steven perks up. "That’s it, Dad!" he says, pointing at a Ford Escape that just pulled into the high school parking lot. "Whaddaya say, Dad? Next year, when I get my license?"

    Rick remembers hearing on the radio that Ford makes an Escape hybrid-electric vehicle. "You know what, son? I think maybe we just might look into it." He experiences a little burst of satisfaction. Not only can he feel like a good dad, but as a bonus he can even help the environment. (Ford Motor Company and its subsidiaries have, of course, garnered rafts of defense contracts and aided the Army and Navy in various projects.)

    Overjoyed, Steven shoots his father a big smile as he opens the car door, "Alright! Well, I’ll see you tonight, Dad."

    "Do you have your cell phone?" Rick asks. Steven whips a Motorola from his pocket. (Motorola made almost $308 million from the Department of Defense in 2004, while the phone’s service provider, Verizon, took home more than $128 million in DoD contracts, and $50 million more from the Department of Homeland Security, in 2006.)

    The Real Matrix

    With Steven at school, Rick heads for work. He gives the local Exxon station (ExxonMobil took in more than $1.17 billion in DoD dollars in 2006) a pass and instead pulls into Shell, which likes to portray itself as a kinder, greener oil giant. As he signs the receipt of his Bank of America credit card (a firm which issues special credit cards to Pentagon employees to streamline the process of buying supplies for the DoD), Rick has no way of knowing that Shell’s parent company, N.V. Koninklijke Nederlansche, was the 31st-largest defense contractor in 2006, reaping more than $1.15 billion dollars in DoD contracts.

    Entering the Holland Tunnel on his way to Manhattan, Rick realizes that, with Steven driving next year, he can start taking mass transit to work. The PATH train into the city -- recently restored under the watchful eye of Bechtel, the 15th-largest defense contractor of 2004 and the recipient of more than $1.7 billion in DoD contracts that year -- will, he believes, lessen his "footprint" on the planet.

    Keep in mind, Rick is now only a couple of hours into his long day. In fact, no part of the hours to come will be lacking in products produced by Pentagon contractors -- from the framed photographs of Donna and Steven on his desk (taken by an Olympus camera and printed on Kodak paper) to the beer he drinks with lunch (Budweiser) to most of the products around his office, including: 3M Post-It notes, Microsoft Windows software, Lexmark printers, Canon photocopiers, AT&T telephones, Maxwell House Coffee, Kidde fire extinguishers, Xerox fax machines, IBM servers, paper from International Paper, Duracell batteries, an LG Electronics refrigerator, and paper towels by Marcal Paper Mills.

    Rick is, of course, a fiction, but the rest of us aren’t -- and neither is the existence of the real Matrix.

    In the 1999 sci-fi movie classic of the same name, the Matrix is an artificial reality (resembling the Western world at the dawn of the twenty-first century) created by sentient machines. Humans, who are grown as energy sources and wired in to the Matrix using cybernetic implants, are kept in a coma-like state -- ignorant of the very existence of the artificial reality that they "live" in. In explaining the situation to Neo, the movie’s protagonist, Morpheus, a leader of a group of unplugged free humans who wage a guerrilla struggle against the machines, reveals:

    "The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

    At one point in his farewell speech, Eisenhower presaged this point, suggesting, "The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- [of the conjunction of the military establishment and the large arms industry] is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government." But only Hollywood has yet managed to capture the essence of today’s omnipresent, all-encompassing, cleverly hidden system of systems that invades all our lives; this new military-industrial-technological-entertainment-academic-scientific- media-intelligence-homeland security-surveillance-national security-corporate complex that has truly taken hold of America.

    Nick Turse is the associate editor of He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Adbusters, the Nation, and regularly for Tomdispatch. His first book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, has just been published in Metropolitan Books’ American Empire Project series. His website is To view a short video interview with Turse, click here.

    The Single-Payer Solution

    Go to Original
    By Amy Goodman

    As the media coverage of the Democratic presidential race continues to focus on lapel pins and pastors, America is ailing. As I travel around the country, I find people are angry and motivated. Like Dr. Rocky White, a physician from a conservative, evangelical background who practices in rural Alamosa, Colo. A tall, gray-haired Westerner in black jeans, a crisp white shirt and a bolo tie, Dr. White is a leading advocate for single-payer health care. He wasn’t always.

    He told me in a recent interview: “Here I am, a Republican, thinking about nationalizing health care. It just went against the grain of everything that I stood for. But you have to remember: I didn’t come to those conclusions with lofty ideals of social justice.”

    In the early 1990s, his medical group started falling apart. White, a keen student of economics and the business of medicine, determined that it wasn’t just his practice but the system that was broken.

    “You’re seeing an ever-increasing number of people starting to support a national health program. In fact, 59 percent of practicing physicians today believe that we need to have a national health program. I mean, that’s unheard of, even 10 years ago. It’s amazing to see a new generation of physicians coming up who are disgusted with our current health-care system. You know, we’re trained to be advocates of patients, we’re trained to save lives, we’re trained to practice medicine. And instead, what we’re doing is we’re practicing Wall Street economics.”

    Single-payer is not to be confused with universal coverage, which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both support. In fact, in a recent debate, when Clinton raised the issue of single-payer, the audience interrupted with applause. She immediately countered, “I know a lot of people favor [it], but for many reasons [it] is difficult to achieve.”

    Why? One of the most powerful industries in the country opposes it—the insurance industry. Under universal coverage, insurance profits are preserved. Under single-payer, they are not. Dr. Rocky White, who now sits on the board of the nonprofit Health Care for All Colorado, has switched his political affiliation. He also has updated and reissued Dr. Robert LeBow’s book on single-payer called “Health Care Meltdown: Confronting the Myths and Fixing Our Failing System.”

    He described possible solutions: “There are a lot of different types of single-payer systems—you could have purely socialized medicine. That’s kind of like what England has. The government owns the hospitals, the government owns the clinics, the government finances all the health care, and all the doctors work for the government. That is truly socialized medicine, as opposed to the Canadian system, where the financing comes through their Medicare program, but all the doctors are in private practice.”

    The economics are complex, but this plain-spoken country doctor explains it clearly:

    “You know, this industry is a $2-trillion industry, and the profits in the for-profit insurance industry are so huge and it’s so deeply entrenched into Wall Street ... but until we move to a single-payer system and get rid of the profit motive in financing of health care, we will not be able to fix the problems that we have.”

    What would it take? Dr. White has spent his life dealing with the high winds on the high plains, from Nebraska to Colorado, and describes the challenge the country faces in familiar terms:

    “I think that our current presidential candidates understand that ideally single-payer would be the best, but they don’t have the political will to move that forward. Their job is to feel which way the wind is blowing. Our job is to turn that wind.”

    Subsidizing Corporate Crime and Rewarding Constitutional Abuses

    Go to Original
    By Shahid Buttar

    Government handouts to corporations might seem untenable at a time when more and more Americans suffer every day from the impacts of a mounting economic crisis. Yet efforts to bolster the economy have largely taken the form of corporate welfare -- much like an appalling effort, in the closing days of the Bush administration, to subsidize corporate violations of the rule of law and individual liberties.

    After the Federal Reserve’s $30 billion bailout for investment bank Bear Stearns last month came the Senate’s recent decision to set aside $25 billion in tax breaks for corporate homebuilders, and then last week’s revelation of "a historic collapse in audits" of major corporations by the IRS. All three stories prompted outrage from observers noting the implications for American workers.

    But even these insults pale next to another round of corporate welfare currently considered by Congress for the telecom industry -- a handout that, despite a smaller price tag, even more thoroughly degrades the public interest by both undermining national security and offending our nation’s fundamental interests in transparency and the rule of law.

    Subsidy Via Amnesty

    Both houses of Congress recently authorized a constitutionally suspect domestic spying program that violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The Senate also approved, although the House patriotically rejected, a further give-away to telecom companies.

    Unlike loan guarantees for Bear Stearns or tax subsidies for condo developers, the Senate’s handout to telecom companies including AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon takes the form of an amnesty: retroactive immunity from nearly 40 pending lawsuits alleging that their participation in the Administration’s surveillance activities illegally (and possibly unconstitutionally) invaded the privacy of millions of law-abiding Americans.

    Given the pervasive secrecy surrounding government surveillance, concerned citizens across the country initiated the litigation largely to learn more about the government’s activities. But even the limited information known to the public suggests that the Senate bill effectively subsidizes corporate crime, encourages secrecy, denigrates transparency, offends the rule of law, rewards constitutional subversion -- and also undermines national security.

    Secret Government and Censorship

    First and foremost, the so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program" (TSP) is the mere tip of an iceberg that remains mostly secret.

    Enacted over the dramatic objections of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the TSP is the only domestic surveillance program confirmed by government sources. Other programs -- for which potential challenges could loom in the future -- continue to operate in secret, including a data-mining scheme run by the National Security Agency (NSA) that reportedly duplicates the "Total Information Awareness" program affirmatively rejected by Congress.

    In late 2005, The New York Times exposed the TSP in an investigative report that the White House stonewalled for over a year and attempted to censor. Like the revelation of the Nixon administration’s (far less ambitious) surveillance operations, the story deeply shook the Washington establishment. However, in sharp contrast to the Watergate era, the contemporary abuses have only grown worse since their revelation.

    The Watergate scandal led to the formation of the Church Committee, the FISA statute (for whose violations telecom companies now seek a public subsidy), and the threatened impeachment and resignation of the President. In contrast, the revelation of today’s domestic spying scandal culminated in congressional permission for previously illegal acts committed by executive officials.

    Even before evading accountability for secret programs violating the rights of millions of Americans, Administration officials threatened to prosecute the journalists who exposed their abuses to the public. The reporters pursued both ends and means at the core of the First Amendment, and even delayed publication of their story for over a year based on objections fabricated by the administration. Yet they were framed as criminals, rather than guardians of the public interest.

    Transparency and Checks & Balances

    Among the principles protected by the Constitution, few compare with the transparency sought by the First Amendment. The reason is simple: government secrecy impedes democracy.

    Controversial government programs are theoretically restrained by checks and balances, like legislative oversight and judicial review. But neither Congress nor the courts have a way to check a secret program.

    Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) faced this problem when reviewing the TSP in a closed 2003 briefing. After the meeting, he wrote to Vice President Dick Cheney to "reiterate [his] concerns," noting that "the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues," but that, because he is "neither a technician nor an attorney," his "inability to consult staff or counsel on [his] own" rendered him "unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities."

    Nor is Congress the only branch stymied by secrecy. Domestic spying faced no legal challenges in court until 2006 only because, until then, the TSP had been secret. And the Senate’s bill effectively forces courts to dismiss the numerous suits filed after the program was revealed.

    As Sixth Circuit Judge Damon Keith wrote in another context, it is because "[d]emocracies die behind closed doors....[that] the Framers of the First Amendment....protected the people against secret government." But secrecy pervades the TSP’s history, animates the Administration’s threat to prosecute the journalists who courageously exposed it, and continues to hide from scrutiny the government’s other unconfirmed -- but ongoing -- surveillance programs.

    Each obstruction violates bedrock democratic principles by denying the opportunity for either a legislative or judicial check. Put another way, executive secrecy leaves the President unrestrained by precluding other branches of government, as well as civil society, from pursuing checks and balances.

    Secret programs recall those of former Soviet bloc countries during the era of totalitarian rule. The Constitution -- and our Republic -- has been turned on its head.

    Executive Aggrandizement vs. The Rule of Law

    Setting aside how secrecy offends democracy, domestic spying also assaults the rule of law on multiple fronts and aggrandizes executive power.

    At the outset, the Senate’s immunity provision effectively declares the FISA law void -- but only after the fact of violation, and only as it pertains to specific violators. Such procedural arbitrariness makes a mockery of the Rule of Law, even setting aside the substantive illegitimacy of rewarding criminal behavior.

    In addition, the TSP shares the same legal pedigree as the infamous "torture memo" recently repudiated by Attorney General Mukasey. Its concoction roiled the executive branch, inspired resistance culminating in threats by senior officials to resign, and bears the fingerprints of the same arch-conservatives whose view of executive power bears no limit. The program embodies a deeply controversial theory attacked from across the ideological spectrum.

    The only court to publicly examine the program on its merits declared the TSP unconstitutional, and a separate ruling by a secret court struck down portions of the program, although its precise contours remain unknown. A conservative appellate court dismissed the first ruling on a legal technicality, and since the Supreme Court rejected a petition to appeal the case, the TSP has been effectively insulated from judicial review despite grave concerns about its legal basis.

    The TSP stood on thin legal ice -- until Congress lay itself (and the American people) at the President’s feet.

    Thus, a scheme invading the privacy of millions of law-abiding Americans continues unchecked, despite the constitutional abuses implicit in warrantless surveillance. Private suits pending against the program’s telecom enablers present the only remaining opportunity through which to check the administration’s surveillance activities, especially now that Congress has authorized them to continue.

    Moreover, unless suits against the telecom companies are allowed to proceed, the full scope of warrantless surveillance -- and the extent to which it may have been abused by an administration already known for politicizing various institutions, including the Justice Department and even the Centers for Disease Control -- may never be known.

    Finally, the Bush administration’s other surveillance programs stand effectively immune from judicial review or congressional oversight as long as they, too, remain secret. Regarding unconfirmed secret data-mining by the NSA, Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden (D-OR) recently argued, "There’s not been as much discussion in the Congress as there ought to be."

    Especially given this lack of oversight, private interests should be discouraged from compromising individual liberty interests. The Senate bill instead invites them to disregard their customers’ privacy with impunity.

    Immunizing telecom companies for enabling the TSP thus sends the wrong message to other companies that, through other secret programs, continue to help authorities spy on Americans -- as well as those, like Qwest, that tried to protect their customers from prying government eyes.

    Dragnets vs. Real Security

    Transparency, democratic checks & balances, and the rule of law are not the only values undermined by domestic spying. The TSP also hinders counterterrorism efforts. Put simply, sweeping domestic surveillance undermines security by inundating analysts with false leads.

    Throughout the debate about re-authorizing FISA, Administration apologists have falsely claimed that domestic spying is necessary to protect the country from a future terrorist attack. Intelligence analysts have repeatedly rejected such red herrings.

    Earlier this month, senior counter-terrorism officials and intelligence analysts from agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the National Counterterrorism Center hosted a briefing on their assessments of domestic terrorism. One analyst captured a point of consensus by explaining that "having too much data is as much a problem as having too little."

    According to The Washington Post, "Even with 38,000 employees, the NSA is incapable of translating, transcribing and analyzing more than a fraction of the conversations it intercepts." The New York Times confirms that, in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, "F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the [NSA], which was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans’ international communications and conducting computer searches...that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators."

    Domestic surveillance not only violates several constitutional principles and tears at the very fabric of our constitutional Republic, but also fails to achieve its purported ends.

    Government Handouts to Repeat Recipients

    By granting immunity for participating in this ineffective and potentially illegal scheme, the Senate offered the telecom industry -- which is no stranger to government largess -- yet another corporate handout.

    In 2004, Philadelphia announced a municipal wireless plan enabling wi-fi service for its residents at a fraction of the retail cost. The plan enhances efficiency by leveraging economies of scale and encouraging economic development, while also seeking equality by diminishing the digital divide.

    But, lobbied by telecom companies, the Pennsylvania state legislature banned other cities from following Philadelphia’s lead. The ensuing state-by-state march against municipal wireless began shortly after Congress passed the 2003 Medicare legislation, which similarly maximized health care costs by prohibiting collective bargaining by government purchasers. Each measure represented an enormous -- though politically covert -- give-away to corporate interests.

    The TSP itself entails corporate handouts to telecom companies. As security analysts monitor, review and track the telephone calls of millions of Americans, they incur millions of dollars in fees. Beyond those charges known to the rogue authorities who oversee the program, companies also have at least sometimes overcharged the government, and some law enforcement authorities have embezzled funds.

    Congressional Co-optation

    After enabling the most secret and intrusive government program since COINTELPRO, running roughshod over the Fourth Amendment, expanding Presidential power without congressional or judicial authorization, and reaping immense profits while doing so, telecom companies now demand immunity from law-abiding Americans seeking to vindicate their rights.

    And instead of responding assertively to defend the Constitution -- or even simply maintaining the statutory protections erected by the Watergate-era Church Committee -- Congress instead perversely debates whether retroactive immunity is necessary to encourage such corporate crime and constitutional subversion in the future.

    Corporate welfare may be offensive in the abstract, but it is even more galling when supporting chronic recipients, and downright odious when used to reward constitutional subversion.

    The House bill is the lesser of two evils. Like its Senate counterpart, it abdicates Congress’ responsibility to check the executive and sacrifices constitutional liberties violated by warrantless surveillance. But by allowing in camera (i.e., sealed) judicial review of classified evidence, it at least leaves the courthouse doors open, while allowing corporate defendants to challenge their accusers without violating the Administration’s secrecy.

    Policymakers have already abandoned the freedom sought by the framers of the First Amendment, and their successors who passed FISA, by authorizing domestic surveillance in the first instance. But the suits against telecom companies enabling surveillance should proceed. With corporate welfare having already richly padded the telecom industry’s pockets, it should not receive from Congress yet another subsidy for abusing Americans and the Constitution.