One of the key questions that the Moms [World Trade Center widows Kristen Breitweiser, Lorie Van Auken, Mindy Kleinberg and Patty Casazza] expected to be put to Mr. Powell was why over 100 members of the Saudi royal family and many members of the bin Laden clan were airlifted out of the U.S. in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks—without being interviewed by law enforcement—while no other Americans, including members of the victims’ families, could take a plane anywhere in the U.S. The State Department had obviously given its approval. But no commissioner apparently dared to touch the sacrosanct Saudi friends of the Bush family.
Top White House officials personally approved the evacuation of dozens of influential Saudis, including relatives of Osama bin Laden, from the United States in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when most flights were still grounded, a former White House adviser said today.
The adviser, Richard Clarke, who ran the White House crisis team after the attacks but has since left the Bush administration, said he agreed to the extraordinary plan because the Federal Bureau of Investigation assured him that the departing Saudis were not linked to terrorism. The White House feared that the Saudis could face "retribution" for the hijackings if they remained in the United States, Mr. Clarke said.
The fact that relatives of Mr. bin Laden and other Saudis had been rushed out of the country became public soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. But questions have lingered about the circumstances of their departure, and Mr. Clarke's statements provided the first acknowledgment that the White House had any direct involvement in the plan and that senior administration officials personally signed off on it.
The exclusively preferential treatment the Saudis received during the worst national crisis in decades and their connection to the Bush dynasty deserves further exploration. Why didn't the commission follow this line of thinking?
The entire Observer article above deserves to be read, particularly for the spectacular nature of Rumsfeld's inaction on 9-11-01, but also this:
The irony is that two of the Four Moms voted for George Bush in 2000, while another is a registered independent; only one is a Democrat. But until they felt the teeth of the Bush attack dogs, they were either apolitical or determinedly nonpartisan. Now their tone is different.
"The Bush people keep saying that Clinton was not doing enough [to combat the Al Qaeda threat]," said Ms. Kleinberg. "But ‘nothing’ is less than ‘not enough,’ and nothing is what the Bush administration did."
An unnamed spokesman for the Bush campaign was quoted as saying of Sept. 11, "We own it." That comment particularly disturbed the Four Moms.
"They can have it," said Ms. Van Auken. "Can I have my husband back now? "
Clarke should be brought back again after the ludicrous "joint" Bush-Cheney closed-door not-under-oath session, and commissioners should be free to pose the followup questions they would have wanted to ask the White House directly to Clarke.
The hesitation and cowardice of these people at the prospect of public, truthful testimony tells the real story of their incompetence if not their criminal negligence.
Attorney General John Ashcroft not only moved aggressively to reduce DoJ's anti-terrorist budget but also shift DoJ's mission in spirit to emphasize its role as a domestic police force and anti-drug force.
[late August 2001] In this request, FBI specifically asks for, among other things, 54 translators to translate backlog of intelligence gathered (line 3 under Foreign Language Services, cost of $5.1 million), 248 counterterrorism agents and support staff (line 14 entitled CT field investigations, cost of $28 million), and 200 professional intelligence researchers (line 16, entitled Intelligence Production, at a cost of $20.8 million). FBI has repeatedly stated that it has a serious backlog of intelligence data it has gathered but simply does not have the staff to analyze or translate it into usable information.
Post 9/11 – Budget Document Detailing OMB Rejection of FBI Counter-Terror Request: Internal document showing that FBI requested $1.499 billion for counterterrorism for the post-September 11 emergency supplemental but received just $530 million from the White House, despite serious counterterrorism needs.
And within three years $200 billion would be shuttled in the direction of a WMD-free Iraq.
The antiterrorism stance of the Bush administration was so swift and so thorough that it took one and a half years to get a no-fly zone approved for the tallest building in North America — long after Mickey and Minnie Mouse got their preferential no-fly zones (Chicago Tribune, March 23, 2003):
...[Chicago Mayor Richard] Daley had chastised Homeland Security officials for imposing no-fly zones over Disney amusement parks--and protecting Mickey and Minnie Mouse, as he termed it--while rejecting the request of the nation's third-largest city.
People who live and work in and visit Chicago "are already living with more than enough tension," Daley said. "There is no need to add to that tension by allowing small planes to fly near some of the nation's tallest buildings."
In addition to Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando, flight restrictions are in place in New York and Washington. Though other cities have asked, Chicago's was the only request granted, FAA spokesman Greg Martin said.
Of course Disney is a potential target, but it represents corporate theme parks, a relatively narrow interest compared to the city of Chicago. Why the ridiculous wait of eighteen months after 9-11-01 to get a no-fly zone in downtown Chicago? And what about LA and Vegas?
Bush USA: Citizens are expendable; corporations aren't.
"Did I give $1,000 to Ralph Nader because I hope and believe he will be president? No," said California business executive Charles Ashman. "I don't believe that any more than Ralph Nader does. But I was offended to see this campaign to squelch him from being a candidate."
Mr. Ashman said he remains a staunch Republican. He contributed $2,000 to the Bush campaign, the maximum allowed for the general election, according to records.
"I proudly made a contribution to the re-election of President Bush because I support him 100 percent," he said. "I hope and believe he will be re-elected."
More than 24 Nader contributors of $250 or more – about 10 percent of his total – are otherwise reliable GOP donors, The News review found.
Mr. [Jeno] Paulucci, the creator of Chun King and Jeno's Pizza Rolls, donated $2,000 in February to Mr. Nader.
The Florida frozen-food executive is a prolific contributor to the GOP, giving more than $150,000 to the Republican Party and national candidates since 2000.
As for Ben Stein's money, the television personality and outspoken advocate for the Republican Party has contributed $500 to Nader and $1,000 to Mr. Bush this year. Records indicate that over the last decade, Mr. Stein has given exclusively to the GOP.
Was there a parallel movement among Democrats to double-dip contributions to Perot in 1992? I don't remember.
MSNBC got gigged last week when Deborah Norville reported a federal study that supposedly said 58 percent of all exercise done in the United States occurs in those TV infomercials for body-sculpting workout machines.
But the story was a spoof from The Onion, a satirical newspaper and online publication. The network said it inadvertently dropped the attribution in picking up the story, but c'mon - most of the exercise done in America is on TV? Shouldn't somebody in the control room have said, "Hey, wait just a minute ..."
That little voice in your head that screams "Bullshit!" is apparently subject to cultural cycles too. We've just gotten through three years of the American bullshit detection switch in the Off position, and now it's waking back up, thanks to catalysts like Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke.
Last week Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said he wanted to declassify 2002 testimony by Mr. Clarke, hoping to show discrepancies between his recent criticisms of the Bush administration and positive remarks he made as a White House aide.
Mr. Clarke said he "would welcome" the declassification of his testimony before a congressional committee looking into events around Sept. 11, and hopes the White House will release even more documents that he claims will bolster his credibility and his charges.
In addition to his testimony, Mr. Clarke called on the administration to release Ms. Rice's testimony; all pre-Sept. 11 e-mails between Mr. Clarke and Ms. Rice; a a Jan. 25, 2001 antiterrorism memo sent by him to Ms. Rice; and a Sept. 4 national-security directive that he says embraces his memo's recommendations. The two latter documents, he said, show the administration "wasted months when we could have had some action" in ratcheting up the war on terrorism.
Regarding Rice, as we said before, if it walks like a chicken....
A former FBI translator said Wednesday that the bureau had "real, specific" information relating to the Sept. 11 attacks before they happened. Sibel Edmonds worked for the agency working from Sept. 20, 2001 to March 2002.
Edmonds said she was hired to retranslate material that was collected prior to Sept. 11 to determine if anything was missed in the translations that related to the plot. In her review, Edmonds said the documents clearly showed that the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the country and plotting to use airplanes as missiles. The documents also included information relating to their financial activities. Edmonds said she could not comment in detail because she has been under a Justice Department gag order since October 2002.
Edmonds has testified before the Sept. 11 commission, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.
Mostly, though, he put up dorky-looking pictures of himself. A recurring joke involved photos of the president in awkward positions -- bent over as if he's looking under a table, leaning to look out a window -- accompanied by remarks such as "Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere!" and "Nope, no weapons over there!" and "Maybe under here?"
Not mentioned in his hilarious monolog were the 607 US war dead in Iraq, or the 9-11 victims in whose name those nonexistent weapons were never found.
In Washington, Wal-Mart has five lobbyists on its payroll, and a bench of hired guns led by Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., one of Capitol Hill's best-known lawyer-lobbyists. The company's political action committee was the biggest corporate donor to federal parties and candidates in 2003, with more than $1 million in contributions -- up from $182,000 during the 1997-98 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission disclosure reports. Wal-Mart's PAC ranks as the second-largest in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks political giving.
"It's hard to go to a fund-raiser in Washington for a member of the [House] Financial Services Committee without running into one or two or three Wal-Mart lobbyists," says Ron Ence, a lobbyist for community bankers.
Unlike most corporations, which contribute to both parties in rough proportion to Congress's partisan split, about 85% of Wal-Mart's checks go to Republicans. And recently Mr. [Senior Vice President Jay] Allen was named a "Pioneer" by the Bush campaign, meaning he has raised at least $100,000 by getting friends and colleagues to make contributions of up to $2,000 each.
Congressional allies rushed to offer advice [on Wal-Mart's foray into banking], including Trent Lott, then Senate majority leader. Mr. Lott arrived in Bentonville in late 1999 with a simple message, according to a congressman who attended the meeting: Increase your profile and open your wallet.
So Wal-Mart executives set out to beef up their political action committee -- an account made up of voluntary employee contributions that executives use to make political donations. (Federal law prohibits direct corporate contributions to party committees and candidates.) At an August 2000 meeting attended by thousands of Wal-Mart managers, buckets were passed around for donations, as well as forms authorizing automatic paycheck deductions for the PAC.
For some employees, the pressure to contribute became a point of contention. "With my district manager sitting 3 inches over my shoulder, you think I didn't sign up?" recalls Jon Lehman, a Wal-Mart manager who quit in November 2001 and is now working with union organizers to enlist Wal-Mart workers. Current Wal-Mart employees, who asked not to be named, also report feeling pressured to give to the PAC.
Mr. Allen says Wal-Mart doesn't force workers to give to a PAC; such an action would be illegal. "I regret" that employees felt pressured, says Mr. Allen. "That is not the intent at all."
Wal-Mart managers boosted PAC contributions to $703,500 in the 1999-2000 election cycle from $230,800 in 1997-98. When Sen. Lott issued a call for help for Republican candidates in the late summer of 2002, Wal-Mart's PAC donated $50,000 in September and $101,000 a month later -- mostly to Republicans. "They came through, and people knew it," recalls a former Republican senatorial aide.
The support brought its own rewards -- including free publicity. In November 2002 the Bush administration proposed the removal of all tariffs on manufactured goods imported to the U.S. by 2015. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick stood on a stage before the news media with two identical baskets of baby goods, prominently marked as having come from Wal-Mart. The one without tariffs was $32 cheaper.
Wal-Mart's PAC today has swelled to nearly $1.5 million, according to its March 2004 report. Nearly 19% of the company's more than 60,000 domestic managers contribute, most through payroll deductions that average $8.60 a month, says Mr. Allen.
No wonder these people are against federal taxes. Wal-Mart managers are being forced into paying a private tax to support Republicans through automatic payroll deductions to Wal-Mart's PAC.
$100,000 in protection money is extorted from Wal-Mart managers every month, a pattern of coercion worthy of Tony Soprano.
As chair of the interagency Counter-Terrorism Security Group (CSG), Clarke was known as a bit of an obsessive -- just the sort of person you want in a job of that kind. Since the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000 -- an attack that left 17 Americans dead -- he had been working on an aggressive plan to take the fight to al-Qaeda. The result was a strategy paper that he had presented to Berger and the other national security "principals" on Dec. 20. But Berger and the principals decided to shelve the plan and let the next Administration take it up. With less than a month left in office, they did not think it appropriate to launch a major initiative against Osama bin Laden. "We would be handing (the Bush Administration) a war when they took office on Jan. 20," says a former senior Clinton aide. "That wasn't going to happen." Now it was up to Rice's team to consider what Clarke had put together.
December 2000 was a pivotal month.
Clarke was putting the finishing touches on his aggressive al-Qaeda strategy at the same time that Cheney's friend Scalia was putting Dubya in the White House.
If actions speak louder than words, then al-Qaeda was evidently not a Bush priority from the get-go — it would be another five months before Colin Powell delivered a $43 million grant to the Taliban.
While Clarke was completing the strategy that was soon to be disregarded by the Bushies, the World Trade Center was still standing and its occupants were still alive. Discrediting Clarke now doesn't bring those people back to life or make America any safer from repeat performances by the people who hate us.
Merrill Lynch economists figure that a 1-cent rise in gas prices pulls roughly $1 billion a year from the pockets of American consumers. At that rate, this year's rise of 24 cents to $1.72 a gallon could "absorb almost half the expected $60 billion" of tax refunds, wrote David Rosenberg, Merrill's chief North America economist.
The net effect: $30 billion that would have supported a substantial social or educational or healthcare program (or even helped pay for a counterfeit war) will end up in Houston so some more Bush Rangers and Pioneers can build their new McMansions in River Oaks, down the street from the notoriously unindicted Ken "Kenny Boy" and Linda "Jus' Stuff" Lay.
Pagels uses her analysis of John and Thomas to discuss the struggle that went on in early Christianity between those who believed that Jesus taught that the divine light was present in all people; and those who, like the author of John, claimed that Jesus had taught that humanity inhabited a profound spiritual darkness that only he could illuminate. There was no salvation except through him. Significantly, it is to Thomas in the Gospel of John that Jesus says: "No man cometh unto the Father, but by me." The author of John won the contest, of course, and the rest is history. Except that scholars like Pagels are beginning to regret that the victory was so overwhelming and one-sided. She admires the mystical generalities of the gnostics and is temperamentally allergic to the violent certainties of the winning side in Catholic Christianity.
The fact is that humans, if they want one at all, generally craft the kind of religion that suits them. If you want a modern version of this ancient conflict you could compare the fluffy affirmations of New Age spirituality with the flinty negations of Vatican Catholicism. Some people like a spirituality that soothes and affirms their humanity, while others like a faith that has a bit of the lash to it. It usually comes down to a choice between a swamp and a hard place.
This dart misses not only the bullseye but the whole target. Gnosticism is not a fluffy form of hedonistic affirmation, as Holloway disparagingly characterizes it.
Through her cumulative work Pagels has pointed out that gnostics sought an unmediated experience of divinity, while Vatican Catholicism, St. Augustine, and the Gospel of John all demand intermediaries who must necessarily act as a bridge, or gatekeeper, or more likely a tollbooth between the believer and God.
The thrust of her insight is not the soft vs. hard dichotomy but the direct vs. politicized visions of religion. If "divine light [were] present in all people," we wouldn't need go-betweens to tint Jesus's teachings with their biases and prejudices for political gain, a sight we see daily here in the United States.
Without religious leadership, believers would be free to worship God and live virtuous lives. Period. With the onus of religious leadership, however, believers become caught up in and responsible for agendas that have nothing to do with worship or spirituality but are instead the self-directed political goals of those in power: sending missionaries to Iraq, denying birth control to impoverished Africans, or paying vast sums in legal settlements to compensate for the pedophilia of the clergy.
The leadership of the early church existed to serve itself, not Jesus. The church's forefathers had the same morally disappointing quality of political selfishness in common with today's church leaders. Challenges to Christianity's human leaders are the embodiment of heresy because they undermine not the divine universe of matter or spirit, but the power of the people who declare what scripture means and what dogma is. Faith-based inquisitions can be overt or subtle, but they are all aggressions enforcing a human hierarchy that is at its foundation not religious but political.
The biblical canon is a power structure. Gospels that challenge hierarchy are dangerous to political power. Thomas's vision was anti-hierarchical, and that is precisely why his Gospel was squelched.
Nuclear weapons plants have eliminated or reduced training for guards responsible for repelling terrorist attacks, leaving the government unable to guarantee the plants can be adequately defended, the Energy Department's internal watchdog said.
One plant has reduced training hours by 40 percent, and some plants conduct tactical training only in classrooms, according to a report from the department's inspector general.
The criticisms were the latest leveled against the government's ability to protect nuclear facilities, long considered prime targets for espionage and terrorist attacks.
The inspector general complained in January that security guards who repelled four simulated terrorist attacks at the Y-12 weapons plant in Tennessee had been tipped in advance. The plant processes parts for nuclear weapons and maintains vast supplies of bomb-grade uranium.
That earlier report also determined that at least two guards defending the mock attacks had been allowed to look at computer simulations a day before the attacks.
The newest report said some of the plants are not adequately training guards how to use handcuffs, fight hand-to-hand or defend against terrorists in vehicles.
Nah. Unheard of. Terrorists never use vehicles when conducting their terrorism.
We may be losing the War on Terror as well as the War on Lying in the White House, but at least Janet Jackson, Tommy Chong, and Martha Stewart no longer pose a threat to God-fearing Americans.
Before the government froze about $66 million of his assets, former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling supplied his high-powered legal team with $23 million for his defense.
Combined with insurance money -- some from Enron and possibly a private policy -- that's enough money to pay his brigade of attorneys for months, perhaps years.
"Maybe his lawyers are just making sure that crime doesn't pay," joked Philip Hilder, a Houston lawyer and former federal prosecutor who represents several witnesses in the Enron cases. "I'm quite sure the entire Enron Task Force, from its inception two years ago, hasn't cost anywhere near that."
Skilling faces 35 felony counts of conspiracy to commit fraud, securities fraud, wire fraud, making false statements to auditors and insider trading. But he also has potential legal liability in about 100 conglomerated civil cases and has been sued by the Securities Exchange Commission and investigated by Congress and the bankruptcy examiner.
"Millions yes, but $23 million is hard to figure. It is stunning," said Gillian Hadfield, a Los Angeles-based University of Southern California law professor specializing in the economics of legal fees. She said the enormous fee shows Skilling is expecting a major battle -- and that the legal system will find a use for as many dollars as a participant is willing to contribute.
So what will Skilling's $23 million buy?
From the firm of O'Melveny & Myers, which has become so well known for litigation it gets plugs on HBO's The Sopranos, come four main lawyers on the trial team.
Leading is Daniel Petrocelli, a California lawyer who has done everything from winning the civil trial verdict against O.J. Simpson for the family of Fred Goldman to successfully representing Winnie the Pooh for Disney. No stranger to the spotlight, this would-be professional trumpet player doesn't blink at the idea of Skilling being his first criminal client.
"A trial is a trial. This is a business case and Jeff Skilling is no criminal," said Petrocelli.
He brings an intensity to the case shared easily by his colleague Bruce Hiler, the Washington, D.C.-based former Securities and Exchange Commission associate director of enforcement who helped prosecute Ivan Boesky and Charles Keating Jr. Hiler sat by Skilling in his congressional testimony and on Larry King Live. His zeal in claiming Skilling's innocence is palpable.
"You have to believe in your client," said Petrocelli. "Your conviction has to be so strong that you can will the verdict."
Also from the law firm is Randy Oppenheimer, a California lawyer with a general trial practice as varied as representing Carsey-Warner in a dispute with CBS over production costs of the television show Cybill, and successfully representing Exxon in a suit by Alaskan municipalities that tried to recoup cleanup costs from the Valdez spill.
Oppenheimer and Petrocelli worked together representing Unocal Corp. against accusations that it is liable for human rights violations committed by others in Myanmar because the company has a gas pipeline there. That landmark case is in midstream.
"I predict you will see, as we move forward, that there is a smoothness to how we work together," Oppenheimer said.
The two lead criminal lawyers on the team include California O'Melveny partner Mark Holscher, who prosecuted madam Heidi Fleiss and represented scientist Wen Ho Lee against charges he mishandled classified information.
Skilling also has Houston counsel Ron Woods, the former Houston U.S. attorney here and a former FBI agent. Woods defended Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing case.
Woods said the Oklahoma case was about one event but the Skilling case is so much bigger because it's about years of multiple complex financial transactions at Enron. "This case is so broad and could take so much lawyer time, $23 million could be eaten up before we even get to a verdict," Woods said.
The odd thing is that Martha Stewart may go to jail for lying about having made $200,000 in an insider trade... after she had already lost $300 million in the value of her company because the market was displeased with the scandal. She is doubly penalized. But she's a Democrat, and an independent, strong woman, both of which are out of vogue during the Bush-Cheney American Taliban regime. Meanwhile, her company chugs along without her, hurting but still viable. That's because, unlike Enron, it was a real business that didn't play three-card monte with broadband and Nigerian barges.
Skilling, on the other hand, managed to squirrel away $23 million exclusively for his lawyers before his self-made Enron house of cards came tumbling down, and before the government managed to freeze the rest of his assets (such quick thinking being a hallmark of CEOs and crooks alike). Nigerian barge co-conspirators Merrill Lynch and others are pretending none of it happened. Enron, the company, is now just a joke on life support, barely alive after the seedy machinations of Skilling and Ken Lay.
Martha leaves a viable company in her wake over a stupid but relatively small $200,000 error, and she might go to jail. Skilling got to steal the money (by leaving with his overcapitalized stock) and then crash the company, and still manages to use $23 million of that purloined cash to mount what may be the biggest defense in history. But he's had a fantastic advantage: nearly three years to destroy all the evidence.
And we will watch Skilling drive his $23 million Ford Bronco slowly, slowly, slowly... and the legal proceedings won't be pleasant, but he might just walk in the end. Because no matter how many thousands of employees he had to fuck over to get that way, he's very, very rich.
Jeff Skilling and O.J. Simpson... separated at birth?
While it's almost impossible to figure out the exact figure on Ashcroft's bill, one can estimate. Five days in an ICU unit alone at Providence Hospital in Washington, for example, would run up to $30,000. And then there's the laparoscopic gall bladder surgery and the five days in recovery -- which could cost an additional $28,000 (according to Fairview University Medical Center in Minneapolis). But there are still all the expert doctors who've visited him daily and have their own separate charges. That price tag might run Ashcroft as much as $5000 for the ten days he's in the hospital, says Dr. Quentin Young, PNHP's National Coordinator and former Director of Medicine at Cook County Hospital. Using such rough estimates, Ashcroft is told he'll have to fork over at least $63,000.
Shocked at such an outrageous figure, Ashcroft insists there's no way in hell he can pay that amount of money and begins to explain his situation.
A financial counselor enters the room and tells Ashcroft that the hospital has done a little research on his "situation," and because he does have assets and a steady source of income, however small, he's not eligible for the hospital's charity fund, reserved for those who truly have no resources. The counselor says the hospital can put Ashcroft on an assistance program, where he'd be charged an incremental fee depending on his financial status. Or, if he's lucky, the hospital might eat a percentage of the bill -- again, based on his status.
The counselor doesn't mention it, but he knows that if Ashcroft doesn't make his payments he can send collection agents after him, and eventually take him to court if need be. After all, the hospital is already strapped for cash and has spent a lot of money treating Ashcroft. Besides, just letting uninsured patients walk out the door could force the hospital to close. Everyone knows what happened to D.C. General.
The D.C. Hospital Association doesn't keep track of how often its hospitals go after patients who cannot pay, but as David Sparks, Chief Financial Officer of Providence Hospital, puts it, "Collections happen every day and every week. It's part of the standard process."
In the end, says Dr. Quentin Young, there's a good chance Ashcroft will have to pay much of the money he owes in some capacity, or face a lien on everything he owns. The fact is, according to Roger Whelan, a resident scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute and a former bankruptcy judge, medical bills attributed to a lack of insurance or insufficient coverage are a leading reason why a record 1.7 million bankruptcies occurred in this country last year.
USDA Prohibits Mad-Cow Tests
By Outside Labs, Causing Outcry
By SCOTT KILMAN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Susan Brownawell, a mother of three, wants to be able to have her family's beef screened for mad-cow disease. And Missouri rancher David Luker, who supplies much of the family's meat, is willing to do just that.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is all that stands in their way.
The USDA, which conducts only limited testing on its own, doesn't allow private testing for the fatal brain-wasting disease in cattle, in part because officials worry that potential marketing for tested meat would confuse consumers. That is, if some beef is labeled as coming from cattle tested for mad cow, it may imply that untested beef isn't necessarily safe.
Federal officials also say they fear that private laboratories would report false positives, upsetting overseas customers and causing cattle prices to crash. By keeping mad-cow testing within USDA walls, officials argue, the government can confirm test results before they become public.
But with the first appearance of the disease in a U.S. cow more than two months ago, pressure is mounting on the department to give up the government monopoly on testing.
"This is ridiculous. If people want to have their beef tested, they should be able to," says Ms. Brownawell, a Web page designer in Fulton, Mo. "Isn't this how the free market works?"
The mad-cow discovery spotlights whether shoppers should be able to verify the safety of their food however they want, particularly if the government won't do it for them. The dispute pits consumer advocates and some beef entrepreneurs against the USDA and big-beef interests.
The USDA's qualms about allowing private testing reflects the agency's sometimes conflicting missions to promote the $27 billion cattle industry at the same time it is supposed to protect consumers from bad meat. Indeed, the USDA is respecting the wishes of most big meatpackers, which want a tight lid on mad-cow testing. The USDA also has a vested interest in keeping testing out of the hands of private companies, since their work could challenge the Bush administration's position that mad cow isn't a problem in the U.S.
The USDA's monopoly on mad-cow testing frustrates Mr. Luker, who owns Missouri Valley Natural Beef, in Chamois, Mo., a company that sells naturally raised beef door-to-door to customers such as Ms. Brownawell.
The mad-cow discovery prompted some of Mr. Luker's customers to ask whether he tests his cattle for the disease, because consumption of tainted meat products can trigger a very rare but always fatal brain disease in humans called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. After a lot of phone calls, he tracked down the USDA's only mad-cow testing laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Mr. Luker says he asked the laboratory to screen his cattle -- a service for which he is willing to pay -- but he says he was rebuffed and told that the beef supply is safe.
"I think the question is whether the USDA has such a far-reaching right to make such a far-reaching risk assessment for me," says the rancher, who has 160 head of cattle on his ranch. He says the inability to test for the disease, technically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, has cost him at least one potential customer.
Creekstone Farms Premium Beef LLC, a meatpacker that slaughters cattle at a plant in Arkansas City, Kan., in February said it would build its own mad-cow testing laboratory -- an announcement that prompted a USDA warning that anyone testing without its approval could face criminal charges.
Creekstone says it is trying to restart shipments to Japan, which insists on 100% testing first. The Bush administration's refusal to satisfy this request is forcing some U.S. meatpackers to lay off workers. The borders of more than 50 countries remain closed to American beef exports, which last year totaled about $3 billion.
"If we can improve food safety, keep our customers happy and protect the jobs of our workers, I would walk into jail," says Bill Fielding, chief operating officer of closely held Creekstone, which is trying to enlist support from Kansas's congressional delegation.
"Private companies should be able to test if they want," says Michael Levine, president of the meat business at Organic Valley, a nationwide cooperative of organic farmers. "I think the USDA is just petrified of finding more instances of BSE," he adds.
Meat companies already screen their products for contaminants such as pathogenic microorganisms and drug residues. But certain animal diseases are dealt with differently, thanks in part to the Virus Serum Toxin Act. The 1913 law gives the USDA authority for ensuring that veterinary diagnostic test kits are safe and accurate. The department has extraordinary powers to fight livestock epidemics -- it can eradicate animals without the consent of owners -- and the department claims the act gives it sweeping authority over how testing for animal diseases is done in the U.S.
The only laboratory in the nation testing for mad-cow disease is the USDA facility in Ames, Iowa. Scientists there analyze the samples collected for a federal mad-cow surveillance program that last year screened one out of every 1,700 cattle slaughtered in the U.S. They use a procedure called immunohistochemistry in the search for signs of the disease agent, which causes sponge-like holes to form in the cattle's brain. The process takes a few weeks.
While the method for detecting mad cow is complicated -- there are no tests that work on live cattle -- the federal government isn't the only entity with the capability. Indeed, several state-run laboratories use immunohistochemistry to look for chronic wasting disease, a similar brain illness that affects deer and elk.
Testing for mad-cow disease is getting easy enough for many private labs to do. Four testing firms make rapid diagnostic kits that can tell, in a matter of several hours, whether a dead cow was infected. They're widely used in Japan and in the European Union.
The USDA is preparing to license some of these companies to sell their wares in the U.S., but the government may end up as their only customer.
USDA officials say they worry meat companies might mislead consumers into thinking that cattle that test negative are free of the infection, of which there is no way to be sure. The disease agent -- which distorts the shape of normal body proteins called prions -- is present in cattle for years before it reaches the brain, where it multiplies so dramatically that it can be detected by today's tests.
"These tests aren't really designed to be food safety tests" but rather surveillance tests, says Ron DeHaven, the USDA's chief veterinarian.
But regulators in other countries deal with this testing limitation by simply forbidding BSE-free claims. That doesn't stop companies from saying the meat comes from cattle that has been tested. In Switzerland, some McDonald's Corp. restaurants advertise on paper place mats that the hamburger comes from screened cattle.
The discovery of a single diseased cow doesn't scare most U.S. meat eaters; retailers say beef consumption hasn't suffered. Still, a late February poll by NPD Group Inc. found 22% of the 556 people surveyed were extremely or very concerned about mad-cow disease. In hopes of reassuring consumers, the USDA is close to announcing plans to test hundreds of thousands of cattle this year, compared with about 20,000 last year. But any expansion won't satisfy the consumers who want to know that the beef on their plate came from a tested cow. About 35 million cattle will be slaughtered this year.
What's more, a controversy over the detection of the first U.S. case of mad cow is fueling fears that the discovery was a fluke. The department's testing program focuses on injured and ill cattle, called "downers," because the inability to walk is one symptom of BSE. The USDA said the infected Holstein cow was discovered at a Washington state meatpacking plant because the federal veterinarian there tagged her as a downer.
But men who claim they saw the infected cow that day say she was ambulatory. If the men are correct, say consumer advocates, the government's testing theory could go out the window.
Phyllis K. Fong, the inspector general of the USDA, told Congress last week that her office is investigating whether official records about the infected cow were illegally altered.
Cattle contract the disease by eating the remains of infected cattle. That can happen because the rendering industry grinds dead livestock into protein ingredients for the feed industry. To keep the disease out of the cattle population, the U.S. government bans feed producers from using cattle remains in products meant for cattle, but critics worry that feed meant for another animal could wind up being fed to cattle.
Updated March 9, 2004
Test your own beef, and you're a criminal. You'd think that this is one of the few cases in which food advocates of a pinko persuasion and free-market conservatives on the other side of the aisle could join into a coalition to support meaningful USDA reform.
...a drama now unfolding in both Zimbabwe and the tiny oil-producing nation of Equatorial Guinea is highlighting the growing demand for mercenaries in West Africa, a volatile region that's becoming a key exporter of oil to the United States.
The saga began March 7 when Zimbabwean officials stormed a Boeing 727 in Harare, the capital. On board they found "military materiel" and more than 60 men, including South Africans, Angolans, and Namibians. All were accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea and may face the death penalty. They are currently awaiting charges.
Equatorial Guinea's repressive regime, meanwhile, has had mercenary help of its own. In 2000 the oil-rich government hired a private American security firm called MPRI to beef up its military. The contract didn't last long, but it hints at why mercenaries - both the corporate and shadowy types - are thriving in this region.
Equatorial Guinea, nestled in the crook of Africa's west coast, is the region's third-biggest oil producer. In 1995, the year a big oil field was discovered, the country's per capita annual income was $370. By 2002, it had jumped to $5,000. But as in most of West Africa, much of the wealth is held by the ruling elite. This can spark envy - and coup attempts, thus boosting a government's desire to protect itself by hiring military muscle.
But oil is just one reason for West Africa's growing demand for guns for hire. The US, for instance, is now more engaged in West Africa. But with troops tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, it's increasingly hiring private security firms to represent it.
In a recent speech, Theresa Whelan, a top official for Africa at the US Department of Defense, put it this way: "The use of contractors in Africa ... means that the US can be supportive in trying to ameliorate regional crises without necessarily having to put US troops on the ground, which is often times a very difficult political decision."
We learn that the MPRI contract of Equatorial Guinea's repressive regime "didn't last long." It stands to reason that our oil-crazed White House wouldn't be content to let the third-biggest oil producer in West Africa collapse, unless its conversion to American interests was supervised and enforced in one way or another.
"Where are all the weapons of Mass Destruction?" Richard Dvorin demanded in his letter [to the president]. "Where are the stockpiles of Chemical and Biological weapons?" His son's life [Army 2nd Lt. Seth Dvorin], he wrote, "has been snuffed out in a meaningless war."
His is not the only military family to think so. In suburban Cleveland a few days later, the Rev. Tandy Sloan tuned in to the "Meet the Press" interview with President Bush and felt "disgust." His 19-year-old son, Army Pvt. Brandon Sloan, was killed when his convoy was ambushed last March. "A human being can make mistakes," the Rev. Sloan says of the president. "But if you intentionally mislead people, that's another thing."
In Fullerton, Calif., paralegal student Kimberly Huff, whose Army reservist husband recently returned from Iraq, makes a similar point with a wardrobe of homemade protest T-shirts that say things like "Support Our Troops, Impeach Bush."
The number of military families that oppose Operation Iraqi Freedom, though never measured, is probably small. But a nascent antiwar movement has begun to find a toehold among parents, spouses and other relatives of active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops.
A group called Military Families Speak Out -- which will figure prominently in marches and vigils at Dover Air Force Base, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the White House next week -- says more than 1,000 families have signed up online and notes that new members join daily. Other outspoken family members -- Dvorin, for example -- have never heard of the group but, for a variety of reasons, share its founders' conviction that the war is a "reckless military misadventure."
Most frequently cited, when military families explain their antiwar sentiments, is the absence to date of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. "They'd have these inspections and they'd find nothing," says Jenifer Moss, 29, of Lawton, Okla. Her husband, Army Sgt. Keelan L. Moss, died in November when a missile downed his Chinook helicopter, leaving her with three children and the belief that "he was sent out there on a pretense."
They are also angry at the Bush administration's insistence that its policies are nonetheless justified. Cherice Johnson's husband, Navy Corpsman Michael Vann Johnson Jr., was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade last March. "I'd love to say I back [the president] 100 percent, but I can't," she says, weeping during a telephone interview. "How many more people are going to die because he can't say, 'I'm sorry, I made a terrible mistake'?"
The confusion and pain that these families are feeling is one of the chief reasons the current administration must not only be voted out of office, but held accountable for their policies. The noble calling that once motivated members of these families to defend our country has been violated by the crony capitalism of the oil industry and the misguided political ambitions of a handful of neoconservatives who launched this war without a justifiable or verifiable basis.
The thousand families that have signed up online so far probably include those of most of the 579 Americans killed in Iraq as of yesterday.
As military and congressional investigators continue to pore over Halliburton's books, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is raising questions about cost estimates that fluctuate by as much as $700 million or that rely on information from sacked subcontractors.
The House Government Reform Committee is scheduled to quiz a slate of Pentagon officials today about the military's contracting woes in Iraq.
Waxman and other Democrats on the panel want the military brass to address questions raised by auditors at the Defense Contract Audit Agency in a Dec. 31 "flash report" concerning a $2.7 billion Halliburton proposal to provide logistical support for U.S. troops.
Those auditors, Waxman said, found that Halliburton violated federal acquisition rules by failing to provide "current, accurate and complete data regarding subcontractor costs."
"This new information ... depicts a situation where costs are virtually uncontrolled, and Halliburton can overcharge the taxpayer by phenomenal sums," Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Committee, wrote in a memo to his Democratic colleagues on the panel.
$700 million in "fluctuations" leaves a fair amount of latitude for crookedness and lying by the civilian contractor of a war orchestrated by its CEO.
American teenagers who take the pledge to remain virgins until they marry have almost the same rate of sexually transmitted disease as other young people, a new study of adolescent behaviour says.
The finding destroys a key rationale for the abstinence crusade - that it prevents disease - and poses a strong challenge to a social engineering project that has been embraced by the White House.
The eight-year study of 12,000 young people by two American sociologists found that the graduates of abstinence programmes were nearly as likely as other young people to catch sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
Other findings, yet to be published, also suggest that abstinence programmes do not prevent early pregnancy, Hannah Bruckner, a sociologist at Yale University and co-author of the study, said.
That challenges the very underpinnings of a movement that has attracted 2.5 million American teenagers in recent years, and which is endorsed by church organisations and the Christian right.
Few of those teenagers continue to save themselves for marriage - 88% have sex before they reach the altar. However, the study found they start having sex later and have fewer partners than other teenagers.
Even so, Dr Bruckner said she was initially surprised to discover that there was virtually no statistical difference in their susceptibility to infection. That was because such teenagers are less likely to use condoms, and are less aware of sexually transmitted infections, largely because they have been indoctrinated to believe they are not going to have sex.
Under US law, abstinence programmes risk losing federal funding if they stray into the realm of sex education. Church-based abstinence programmes are openly hostile to condoms and preach that they do not guard against disease.
They can deny reality as loudly as they like, but sex among head-burying ostriches still carries a big whoops! factor.
They've monitored voting in Haiti; now they're on their way to El Salvador. Their next stops? Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
For the first time, international monitors will be in the United States to make sure votes are cast and counted correctly. Members of the Catholic peace movement Pax Christi announced Monday that they will post monitors at polling places in four Florida during the Nov. 2 general election.
"We have assisted groups in other nations who fear that their voices will not be heard and that the powerful will manipulate the process to suit their own aspirations unless the eyes of the world are watching," said Dave Robinson, national coordinator of Pax Christi USA. "But as evident in the elections of 2000, particularly in the state of Florida, we in the United States have our own difficulties in assuring an election atmosphere that is transparent, open, honest and free of controversy."
Presidential brother Neil Bush -- putting aside remnants of a scandalous divorce, paternity questions and a scorned ex-wife -- married Maria Andrews Saturday night in the Memorial-area mansion of Rania and Jamal Daniel, longtime Bush family friends.
Close to 150 guests joined the newlyweds after a small family ceremony that included former President George Bush and Barbara Bush, parents of the groom. President George W. Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did not attend.
Standing with their father for the nuptials were Pierce, 17, and Ashley, 14. His eldest daughter, model and Princeton University student Lauren, did not attend.
Joining Andrews in the ceremony were her two older children, Elizabeth, 12, and Pace Andrews, 10.
The cocktail-attire evening included a seated dinner and dancing.
Neil Bush met Andrews several years ago when she was working as a volunteer in Barbara Bush's Houston office. They became engaged in December during a romantic dinner in a French chateau.
Meanwhile, his fake cowboy brother kisses up to real cowboys who apparently can't tell the difference between the one brother's pandering and the other's philandering enough to know that neither of them shares an iota of their own values.
And for dinner Dubya will take another $1 million on the way to his fundraising goal of $170 million for an unopposed campaign within his party.
Even now, Enron still plays an important financial role in the Bush campaign. The new Pioneer ($200,000+ donors) "list includes investor Peter Coneway, former Enron executive Nancy Kinder and businessman Fred Zeidman."
No word on where radioactive Neil and Maria are honeymooning.
In 2002, a survey of girls age 15 to 19 found that 97 of every 1,000 girls in the United States was pregnant, compared to 113 of every 1,000 girls in Texas, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Looks like those Texas Christian moms are doing a bang up job...if you'll excuse the expression.
You can't be a little bit pregnant, but you can be a little bit more pregnant.
...Kerry's always struck me as someone who was a fighter, someone who'd never give up, give in, let himself get hit without fighting back or flag in the home stretch.
Compare Kerry's competitive quality with the lack thereof in his opponent George W. Bush, who has managed throughout his entire life to win only on a playing field tilted in his favor. And, in Vietnam and in his political career, by having others do his fighting for him (Poppy, James Baker, Cheney, Scalia, Rove, etc.).
Families who lost relatives in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks voiced outrage on Thursday at President Bush's first ads of his re-election campaign that use images of the devastated World Trade Center to portray him as the right leader for tumultuous times.
"Families are enraged," said Bill Doyle, 57, of New York, who is active in several Sept. 11 family groups. "What I think is distasteful is that the president is trying to use 9/11 as a springboard for his re-election."
"It's entirely wrong. He's had 3,500 deaths on his watch, including Iraq," said Doyle, whose 25-year-old son Joseph died at the trade center.
Ron Willett of Walnut Shade, Missouri, said he was disgusted when he saw the ads. Willett, who lost his 29-year-old son, John Charles, said he is now so upset, "I would vote for Saddam Hussein before I would vote for Bush."
"I think it is an atrocity," his wife, Lucy, added. "He should not be allowed to use those images at all."
With Republicans holding their political convention in New York in late August, victims said they hope Bush does not make it worse by speaking at the site now known as Ground Zero, which many view as sacred.
"If he does, there will be a protest and it could get ugly," said Doyle.
Several family members said their annoyance stemmed in part from Bush's refusal to testify publicly before the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The Bush administration will not cooperate fully with the 9/11 commission and at the same time they are trying to invoke and own 9/11 and use it for his re-election," said Stephen Push from the Washington office of "Families September 11th." His wife died on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon that day.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed and campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, denounced the spots as "hypocrisy at its worst."
The 3,500 deaths on Bush's watch, including Iraq, neglect thousands of others: Iraqi civilians, Afghani civilians, and soldiers of other countries in the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" who were tricked into the Bush/Blair vortex of lies.
At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that "people are poor because they are lazy." He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to "free market competition." To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was "socialism."
[In the McKinley Gilded Age, which Bush is attempting to replicate] ...there was no Securities & Exchange Commission to check "creative accounting" and Enron-WorldCom like malfeasance of corporations. America had poor public schools and medical care. There was no minimum wage or labor standard. Both federal and state governments and courts were hostile to labor unions and civic groups protesting the "injustices" of the society. The natural environment was ravaged by railroads, mining, lumbering, and newly emerging oil and gas firms. Abortion was illegal. Women did not even have the vote. In the South, Christian fundamentalists were pressuring public schools to stop teaching Charles Darwin's evolution theories. During the McKinley-Gilded Age, America's democracy atrophied. And America embarked on her imperialistic expansions of colonising Cuba, Panama, and the Philippines.
Funny how his logic doesn't seem to work in reverse. Somehow, Bush is and was lazy but never poor.
Amid this conjecture [of Kerry's choice for vice president], however, one name is conspicuously absent: Bill Clinton.
Clinton's strengths would compensate for Kerry's weaknesses almost perfectly. Not only is Clinton the most talented campaigner of his generation, but he is also a Southerner -- and since 1948, when Harry S. Truman chose Sen. Alben Barkley of Kentucky as his running mate, every successful Democratic ticket has included a citizen of a Southern state.
Besides, people might even pay to watch Bill Clinton debate Dick Cheney. So why not?
The first objection, the constitutional one, can be disposed of easily. The Constitution does not prevent Clinton from running for vice president. The 22nd Amendment, which became effective in 1951, begins: "No person shall be elected to the office of the president more than twice."
No problem. Bill Clinton would be running for vice president, not president. Scholars and judges can debate how loosely constitutional language should be interpreted, but one need not be a strict constructionist to find this language clear beyond dispute. Bill Clinton cannot be elected president, but nothing stops him from being elected vice president.
True, if Clinton were vice president he would be in line for the presidency. But Clinton would succeed Kerry not by election, which the amendment forbids, but through Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which provides that if a president dies, resigns or is removed from office, his powers "shall devolve on the vice president." The 22nd Amendment would not prevent this succession.
Not that Bill Clinton would want the job, but the speculative weight of this idea is golden.
Xymphora on the Haitian coup: "The one good thing that has come out of the attempted coup in Venezuela and the kidnapping in Haiti is that all the peoples of the Caribbean and Central and South America now know that the United States is an enemy of democracy and human rights, and will act ruthlessly to continue its exploitation."
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday he supports U.S. President George W. Bush's call for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, even though one of his daughters is gay and he has said in the past the issue should be left to the states.
"The president's taken the clear position that he supports a constitutional amendment," Cheney said in an interview with MSNBC. "I support him."
Cheney said during the 2000 campaign, and again last month, that he prefers to see states handle the issue of gay marriage. His openly lesbian daughter, Mary Cheney, is an aide in the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, but the vice president declined to discuss her.
"One of the most unpleasant aspects of this business is the extent of which private lives are intruded upon when these kinds of issues come up," he said. "I really have always considered my private - my daughters' lives private and I think that's the way it ought to remain."
Private lives should remain private — exactly right. So why publicize your denial of her equal status with a constitutional amendment?