Wednesday, July 15, 2009

U.S. Senate Health Committee Passes Health Care Reform Bill that will Bankrupt America

U.S. Senate Health Committee Passes Health Care Reform Bill that will Bankrupt America

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The great lumbering health care reform gears are in motion in Washington D.C., and the Big Government machine is spitting out a new recipe for the bankruptcy of America: A "health care reform" bill that pleases all the special interest groups and pharmaceutical companies but does nothing to improve the health of ordinary Americans.

Health care reform in Washington today isn't about health, or reform. It's about mandating monopoly-priced western medicine for the masses. It's about fining people who wisely opt out of the criminally-operated health insurance industry, and it's designed to keep the American people sick and diseased while emptying their pockets of any remaining earnings they might have somehow squirreled away during the ongoing financial / real estate crash.

For starters, this Senate health reform bill would financially penalize people who take care of their own health and choose not to hand over $1,000 or month (or more) to a corrupt, criminally-operated health insurance system. This is a bill that actually punishes people for staying healthy! At the same time, it just happens to expand the monopoly of western medicine to encompass the entire U.S. population, criminalizing those who have opted out of the failed health care system.

The other joke in this health care reform is the idea of a new government-run health plan, which is being hilariously presented as a way to "drive down costs."

Since when has Big Government ever been able to drive down the costs of anything? It was Big Government, under the Bush administration, that actually made it illegal for government to negotiate price discounts with drug companies, locking in monopoly prices that filled the coffers of Big Pharma while bankrupting the taxpayers.

Even now, the FDA (under the Obama administration) continues its outright war against the natural products industry, censoring truthful information about the health benefits of dietary supplements in a tyrannical effort to eliminate Big Pharma's competition. This has the effect of eliminating choice for consumers, ultimately driving up monopoly health care costs under the system of western medicine that (laughingly) claims to provide health care today.

Life is a pre-existing condition

The one good thing in the current discussions about health care reform is the idea of barring insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. Because, after all, who doesn't have a pre-existing condition? Simply being born is a pre-existing condition, isn't it? (Hospitals consider pregnancy and childbirth to be medical emergencies requiring drugs and surgery...)

According to drug-pushing psychiatrists, life itself is a pre-existing condition requiring pharmaceutical intervention. Merely experiencing emotions like sadness or happinessdisease, they claim. Where are the reforms that would outlaw this psych drugging nonsense?

Meanwhile, there is nothing in these reforms that would actually teach Americans how to be healthy. Where are the calls for the arrest and imprisonment of Big Pharma executives, corrupt FDA officials and rogue FTC enforcers who have indirectly caused the deaths of millions of Americans through their war on natural remedies? Where is the ban on pharmaceutical TV ads, or the requirement that medical studies practice something resembling honest science instead of just making up whatever numbers they want and submitting those to medical journals for publication?

Why is aspartame still legal? Or monosodium glutamate? Or Ritalin? Where are the real reforms that Americans desperately need to raise a generation of healthy children?

Those reforms, of course, are never to be discussed. They would threaten the profits of too many powerful food and drug corporations. So they aren't even part of the discussion.

My own Health Revolution Petition (www.HealthRevolutionPetition.org) is the real pathway to health reform in America. And yet even that petition is still a long way from the needed 100,000 signatures. That's because good ideas don't get much traction in mainstream America these days. Now, if I had a movie about teenage vampires (Twilight), that would get some traction. But sensible ideas about helping teens get healthy are utterly ignored.

(or too much happiness followed by too much sadness) is a

The last sputtering gasp of western medicine in America

I've watched the health care situation in America quite closely for the past five years, and it's not difficult to see where this is heading.

The political whores and sellouts in Washington routinely and predictably trade your future for their own short-term political gain, and that means selling out to medical special interest groups that thrive on disease and disinformation. The last thing these people want is a healthy population that needs fewer medical services. They don't want a cure for cancer. They don't want natural remedies for reversing heart disease. They don't want kids to be healthy and happy without drugs.

What they want is a nation of drug addicts who play the role of helpless medical system dependants. They want people to be uninformed, nutritionally ignorant and irreversibly diseased because that's the way they make more money and stay in power.

And that's why health care reform in America is ultimately about appeasing the special interest groups of the medical-pharmaceutical-agriculture industrial complex. It's all about keeping them in power (and in the money), and it has absolutely nothing to do with improving the health of a single American.

Yes, health care in America today is a disaster. But the last thing it needs is more Big Government running the show. Think about where our nation is headed right now with Big Government:

• Big Government now owns 50% of the homes in America (through the bailout fiasco involving Freddie and Fannie).

• Big Government now owns the biggest banks and investment houses in America.

• Big Government wants to become the landlord-in-chief by turning homeowners into home renters, where half the population rents from the government (and has no ownership of the homes in which they live).

• Big Government now runs a significant portion of the auto industry.

• And now, Big Government wants to run the health care system, too!

How is this not some strange brand of American Communism? When government owns (and runs) everything, and the free choice of the citizens is stripped from them, you no longer have a free country; you have Communism.

And that, unfortunately, is where America is headed: The land of the medical-financial-economic dictatorship, where all decisions are made for you by Big Brother, and free citizens who exercise free choice are either fined or imprisoned. It's already happening with vaccines and cancer treatments. Just wait to see what happens when you dare say "no" to the new Obama health insurance plan!

Health care dictatorship

This new "health care reform" bill might as well be called the health care dictatorship bill. They say it will cover all Americans. Yes, it will, but it will cover them in a smokescreen of sickness and bankruptcy, accelerating the rapid decline of the American empire and trapping its people in a quagmire of medical enslavement from which the nation will never escape.

We are, in a very real sense, watching the slow, miserable death of a nation. Between its insurmountable financial problems ($12 trillion in debt right now, and nearly another $100 billion each month) and its health care failures (widespread degenerative disease now dominates the American population), America has positioned itself as a geopolitical failure of truly historic proportions. Yet instead of working to actually solve its problems, America has decided to spend more debt money, drug more people, take over more banks, print more fictitious money and hurl itself head-first into a brick wall with even more rapidity than anyone had previously thought possible.

It's almost as if America's leaders can't wait to kill the nation, and they'd love to take a few million more citizens with them.

The philosophy in Washington today is like this:

• If the debt is too great to bear, spend more debt money!

• If health care is a disaster due to the monopolistic medical industry, enforce the monopoly nationwide!

• If the financial system isn't working because of bad decisions made by investors, just make bigger and "badder" decisions at a higher level! (And bail out the investors while you're at it.)

• If the money runs out, just print more!

Such is the mindset dominating America's decisions today. They are beyond reckless. They are hopelessly suicidal. And what we're seeing with health care reform today is merely a reflection of the national suicide being committed by our ethically-compromised representatives in Washington who would rather shore up their own six-year terms than help protect the next hundred years for the very people they hypocritically claim to represent.

Record pay and profits at Goldman Sachs

Record pay and profits at Goldman Sachs

By Andre Damon and Barry Grey

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Goldman Sachs, which received $10 billion in government bailout cash, reported record revenues and earnings for the second quarter of 2009 on Tuesday. The Wall Street bank set aside $6.6 billion, nearly half of its quarterly revenue, for compensation, a 41 percent increase from the first three months of the year. It has earmarked $11.3 billion for salaries and bonuses for the first six months of 2009.

If Goldman’s earnings for the second half of 2009 continue at their current level, the firm will pay a total of more than $22 billion in salaries and bonuses to its 29,400 employees. Average compensation will hit $772,857, an all-time record. In 2006, before the financial crisis erupted, the company paid out $661,490 per employee.

These are average figures. The top executives and traders will get a disproportionate share of the payouts, receiving compensation packages in the millions and tens of millions of dollars.

Goldman’s profits nearly doubled, reaching $3.44 billion compared to $1.8 billion in the first quarter and $2 billion a year ago. This was 35 percent higher than a survey of economists conducted by Bloomberg News had predicted. Goldman’s net revenue reached $13.8 billion in the second quarter, up 46 percent from the same quarter of 2008.

Later this week, many of Goldman’s rivals, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America, will release their quarterly earnings reports and are expected to report major gains in revenues and profits.

Wall Street’s profit bonanza comes amid reports of soaring bonuses for top traders and executives at most of the banks and financial firms that have been bailed out at taxpayer expense. Last week, American International Group (AIG), the insurance giant which has received over $160 billion in government handouts, requested approval for $235 billion in bonuses for its top employees.

In June, it was reported that Goldman executives had been told they could expect to receive record bonuses, while other banks, including Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, had sharply increased compensation for their top traders.

Citigroup and Bank of America have each received $45 billion in government cash under the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) as well as guarantees on more than $300 billion of their assets. The US government presently owns 34 percent of Citigroup’s common stock.

These staggering figures demonstrate that the giant banks and financial companies--and their top executives, traders and shareholders--are exploiting the economic disaster for which they are chiefly responsible to further enrich themselves. They are doing so with the full support of the Obama administration, whose economic policies have been crafted with the single-minded goal of protecting and expanding the wealth of the financial aristocracy.

The full meaning of the administration’s insistence that the restabilization of the banks is the precondition for an economic “recovery” is becoming increasingly clear. Obama’s policy amounts to a blank check for the banks, with the cost of the explosive growth in federal, state and local budget deficits, along with the national debt, to be paid by the working class.

Obama is demanding that working people “tighten their belts” and accept a jobless recovery that will see an official unemployment rate of 10 percent or more for years to come. This is to be accompanied by an unprecedented drive to slash spending on basic social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Bank profits and pay have soared in inverse proportion to the economic security and well-being of the American people. Since Obama took office in January, the official unemployment rate has jumped by 1.9 percent, 3.3 million more jobs have been wiped out, workers’ weekly hours and earnings have declined, over half a million households have entered foreclosure, and the savings and house values of working families have continued to plummet.

Over this period, Goldman stock has soared by 77 percent.

Obama has orchestrated the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler, leading to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs in auto and related sectors and cuts in wages and benefits that spell poverty for millions of workers and retirees. The administration’s auto task force, led by Wall Street insiders, has spearheaded a further dismantling of basic industry in order to transform the auto companies into profitable sources of investment and create the conditions for a corporate offensive against the wages, jobs and living standards of the entire working class.

As Obama has repeatedly declared, he will do “whatever it takes” to pay off the gambling debts of the bankers, but there is “no money” to provide jobs or serious relief for the unemployed, stop foreclosures, or bail out state and local governments that are facing bankruptcy. While Wall Street CEOs celebrate their good fortune, California, the country’s biggest state, is paying its creditors with IOUs and shutting down essential social services.

The record profits and pay for the banks are not only the result of government cash, virtually interest-free loans and guarantees on trillions of dollars of debt, they are also the result of the refusal of the White House and Congress to place any serious restrictions on the banks’ predatory practices. As Bloomberg.com noted on Tuesday, Goldman has registered record profits by increasing its risk-taking.

The government is allowing the banks to conceal an estimated $2 trillion in bad debts in commercial real estate, credit card loans, auto loans, student loans and other forms of consumer credit that remain on their books. The banks refuse to sell off or write down these assets, whose market value is a fraction of their claimed value. This is setting the stage for another financial crash, as mass unemployment and growing poverty ripple through the financial system.

The banks rightly calculate that the government will eventually pay off these bad debts dollar for dollar, and therefore have no incentive to purge their balance sheets to the detriment of their bottom line.

A full-scale resumption of the speculative methods that led to the economic crash has gone hand in hand with policies designed to drive up profits by preying on the general population. Small businesses and households are being denied credit, or charged exorbitant interest rates. The banks have refused to lower the mortgage principal on millions of homeowners whose home values have sunk below their mortgage debt. They have driven up interest rates and fees on credit cards, adding to an already insupportable debt burden weighing on families. USA Today reported last week that the banks stand to take in over $38 billion this year in inflated fees charged for overdrafts, nearly twice their take in credit card late payment fees.

At the same time, the biggest banks, such as Goldman, are benefiting from a government policy aimed at eliminating weaker competitors and effecting a further consolidation of the banking industry. Over the past 15 months, three of Goldman’s major rivals—Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers—have disappeared, giving Goldman and a handful of other banking goliaths even greater market share and economic clout.

Goldman Sachs exemplifies the domination of the banks over government policy and both political parties. It has supplied the top personnel for government economic policy-making in the Democratic Clinton, Republican Bush and Democratic Obama administrations. Bush’s treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, formerly the CEO of Goldman, saw to it that the government bank bailout paid especially rich dividends to his former company. This included a bailout of AIG that allowed the company to pay off billions of dollars in derivatives debts to Goldman at 100 percent.

The list of former Goldman Sachs employees holding top positions in the Obama administration includes:

• Mark Patterson, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, who is the chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (himself the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York).

• Reuben Jeffery III, former managing partner at Goldman Sachs, who holds the post of undersecretary of state for economic, business, and agricultural affairs.

• Neel Kashkari, former Goldman Sachs vice president, who is the assistant secretary of the treasury for financial stability, responsible for administering the TARP funds.

• Dianna Farrell, former financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, who serves as deputy director of the National Economic Council.

There is a word to describe this type of socio-economic order: Plutocracy, i.e., rule by the rich. This is the reality behind the increasingly thin veneer of democracy in America.

The Obama administration in an instrument of the plutocrats, and the American people are the victims.

There is no way this can be reversed within the framework of capitalism. The only social force that can end the dictatorship of the banks is the working class. It must be mobilized as an independent and revolutionary political force in opposition to Obama and both parties of big business.

The fortunes obtained through fraud and socially destructive means must be expropriated and directed toward providing social relief, rebuilding industry and the country’s infrastructure, and guaranteeing jobs, education, housing and decent living standards for all. The practices of the banks, hedge funds, CEOs, big investors and speculators must be investigated and exposed to public view, and those responsible for the economic disaster held accountable.

Goldman's Back, and Why We Should Be Worried

Goldman's Back, and Why We Should Be Worried

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Should we breath a sigh of relief that Goldman Sachs has posted record earnings as revenue from trading and stock underwriting reached all-time highs (second quarter net income was $3.44 billion) -- less than a year after the firm took $10 billion directly from taxpayers and $13 billion indirectly through AIG?

In some ways, yes. That Goldman is back signals that the worst of Wall Street's recent meltdown is over. And at least New York City's economy will again benefit from the trickle-down effects of the multi-million dollar bonuses of Goldman's executives and traders.

But in another respect, Goldman's resurgence should send shivers down the backs of every hardworking American who has lost a large chunk of retirement savings in this economic debacle, as well as the millions who have lost their jobs. Why? Because Goldman's high-risk business model hasn't changed one bit from what it was before the implosion of Wall Street. Goldman is still wagering its capital and fueling giant bets with lots of borrowed money. While its rivals have pared back risks, Goldman has increased them. And its renewed success at this old game will only encourage other big banks to go back into it.

“Our model really never changed, we’ve said very consistently that our business model remained the same,” Goldman's chief financial officer tells Bloomberg News. Value-at-risk -- a statistical measure of how much the firm’s trading operations could lose in a day -- rose to an average of $245 million in the second quarter from $240 million in the first quarter. In the second quarter of 2008, VaR averaged $184 million.

Meanwhile, Goldman is still depending on $28 billion in outstanding debt issued cheaply with the backing of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Which means you and I are still indirectly funding Goldman's high-risk operations.

Goldman is skillful at playing the market. Now that most of its major competitors are out of the action or still under the strict control of the Treasury and the Fed, it has the market mostly to itself. Expect the others to jump back in to high-risk deals as soon as they can. But Goldman is also skillful at playing politics -- something its rivals aren't nearly as good at. Recall that last fall, at a closed meeting between Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (formerly Goldman's CEO), Tim Geithner (then at the New York Fed), and a handful of others to decide on the fate of giant insurer AIG, Goldman's cheif executive, Lloyd Blankfein, was at the table. The decision to bail out AIG resulted in a $13 billion giveaway to Goldman because Goldman was an AIG counterparty. Indeed, Goldman executives and alumni have played crucial roles in guiding the Wall Street bailout from the start.

So the fact that Goldman has reverted to its old ways in the market suggests it has every reason to believe it can revert to its old ways in politics, should its market strategies backfire once again -- leaving the rest of us once again to pick up the pieces.

Are Our Markets Being Manipulated By "Rogues" Or Firms?

Are Our Markets Being Manipulated By "Rogues" Or Firms?

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There's New Evidence to Suggest that Crime In The Financial Markets is Rife

New York, New York: Everyone has heard of the Wikipedia but not everyone knows about the Investopedia, a Forbes website, that monitors finance for market players. One of the issues it is concerned about is market manipulation, actions by rogue and not so rogue players who, working alone or together, unduly influence the way our supposed "free" markets function.

It is a fascinating source of information for the uninitiated who hear the daily reports on the ups and downs of the Dow and believe that somehow it is all part of the natural order of the universe.

It isn't

Thanks to an even more informative web site, Gamingthemarket.com, we learn that in fact markets are subject to, prone to, and characterized by all sorts of manipulative practices. Here's one you may not have heard of.

"Ghosting: An illegal practice whereby two or more market makers collectively attempt to influence and change the price of a stock. Ghosting is used by corrupt companies to affect stock prices so they can profit from the price movement.

This practice is illegal because market makers are required by law to act in competition with each other. It is known as "ghosting" because, like a spectral image or a ghost, this collusion among market makers is difficult to detect. In developed markets, the consequences of ghosting can be severe." -Investopedia

It looks like we have gone from the age of the trustbuster to the era of the ghost buster as fiction once again turns into "faction."

Last week, the price of oil mysteriously shot up. There were reports of yet another "rogue" trader. The New York Times later reported:

"Reacting to recent swings in oil prices, federal regulators said they were considering limits on "speculative" traders in markets for oil and other energy products." Of course, the big banks and Wall Street firms are expected to zealously oppose more oversight.

Some things don't change. Anyone remember Nicholas Leeson, a one man engine of speculation who lost over a billion dollars and brought down his own bank before going to jail? He later gloated on his website; "How could one trader bring down the banking empire that had funded the Napoleonic Wars?"

On July 4th, Bloomberg News reported:

"Sergey Aleynikov, an ex-Goldman Sachs computer programmer, was arrested July 3 after arriving at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. officials said. Aleynikov, 39, who has dual American and Russian citizenship, is charged in a criminal complaint with stealing the trading software. At a court appearance July 4 in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Facciponti told a federal judge that Aleynikov's alleged theft poses a risk to U.S. markets. Aleynikov transferred the code, which is worth millions of dollars, to a computer server in Germany, and others may have had access to it, Facciponti said, adding that New York-based Goldman Sachs may be harmed if the software is disseminated."

The next sentence is particularly eye-opening: "The bank has raised the possibility that there is a danger that somebody who knew how to use this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways," Facciponti said."

J.S. Kim who runs an independent investment research and wealth consultancy firm commented on the financial site, Seeking Alpha:

"It's curious to note that Goldman Sachs has admitted that it has developed trading software that could be used to, in their own words, "manipulate markets in unfair ways", yet nobody in the mainstream media has questioned whether Goldman Sachs was / and is using its proprietary trading platform to manipulate markets in unfair ways. Only extremely naive investors with zero understanding of how global stock markets operate would deny that there has been continual and excessive intervention into US stock markets to prop them up over the past several months."
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I spoke with Christian Angelich, the founder or Gaming the Market.com, a former airline pilot turned trader, who told me that in recent years efforts to manipulate markets have become pervasive and, yet, are mostly illegal.

He too cited Goldman when I asked how it often works.
Without prodding, he came up with one possible scenario involving a firm like Goldman Sachs that had 00 millions of shares of Intel it wanted to offload. So they issue a report predicting it will sell for $50 a share. As a major player at the New York exchange where they do l out of ever ten shares, and have become even more powerful now that competitors like Bear, Lehman and others are out of business, their recommendations are given lots of weight even though in this case they really want to just dump the shares.
"None of this is new," he told me, "its been going on for years. Even the founding Fathers warned about it, but is more egregious today in part because of all the technology these firms have." He says it is illegal and has been winked at, citing one example: former Senator Phil Gramm attaching a plan to kill the Glass Steagall act as an amendment to a bill that then sailed through the Congress while his wife was on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission."
"We will only have a real bottom," he believes' when the masses are out in the streets like they are in parts of Europe. For change, pressure from below is needed."
Sometimes unexpected events can take over markets too, as Michael Jackson's untimely demise's meteoric impact on the music market shows. His sales went from nowhere to everywhere confirming one jaded pundit's cynical comment that "he was more valuable dead than alive."
In making a new film on the financial crisis as a crime story, I spoke with Moe Saceriby, a former lawyer and VP of Standard and Poors who went on to become a UN Ambassador. I knew him as a credible analyst of current affairs, an experienced professional. We spoke on Wall Street.
He told me:
'I think we had a transition from what truly was a free-market system to something now that is out of control and probably what I would define as a predatory system where we are not so much dealing anymore about the notion of fair prices, and the notion of markets that -- that work transparently an open late but in fact frequently markets that are manipulated for the end of maybe a few out there -- a few investors, mega-investors. It's even -- even that's very difficult to tell. "

This was new to me---the whole system being described as predatory which smacks of criminal.

He went on:

"And these market movements may not be necessarily reflective of the underlying value of that real asset whether it be a commodity or whether it be in equity. What I mean by that is frequently you see prices wildly fluctuating. As an example: how could oil be at $147 in July of 2008 and all of a sudden fall to below $40 a barrel at the end of that same year? We all knew that in fact the whole economic system was in trouble over a year ago. But the price of oil kept rising sharply. The price of foods kept rising sharply.

Question: "Manipulated?"

Answer: "I think it was manipulated. There is a lot of debate whether it's about speculation or manipulation but there is an old expression among traders which is 'the trend is your friend.' What that means is that in fact a few people can use significant resources, financial resources, freely as a weapon."

Umm, weapons on Wall Street? Already credit default swaps have been compared to financial hydrogen bombs as financial terms merge with military language. Does anyone doubt that these Wall Street manipulations have become form of warfare and that, until now, the wrong side has been ahead.

Surely, all this demands a serious investigation and serious regulation. Will it happen?

Flu Shots Put Children in the Hospital

Flu Shots Put Children in the Hospital

by S. L. Baker

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At the 105th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society recently held in San Diego, researchers presented a study showing that the flu vaccine widely touted as a "must have" for children with chronic illnesses isn't effective in preventing influenza-related hospitalizations in children, especially ones with asthma. But here's the most damning evidence that flu shots aren't the safe, helpful vaccine the Centers for Disease Control ( CDC) and other government agencies claim: the researchers also found that children who get the flu vaccine are more at risk for hospitalization than their peers who do not get the vaccine.
Scientist Avni Joshi, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told the meeting, "The concerns that vaccination may be associated with asthma exacerbations have been disproved with multiple studies in the past, but the vaccine's effectiveness has not been well-established. This study was aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of the TIV (trivalent inactivated flu vaccine in children overall, as well as the children with asthma, to prevent influenza-related hospitalization."

Paradoxically, he then presented the results that appeared to show the vaccine did cause health problems serious enough to result in children being admitted to hospitals for care.

The children were harmed by influenza vaccines

To see if the vaccine actually reduced the number of hospitalizations for all children, especially those with asthma, over eight consecutive flu seasons, Dr. Joshi and his research team conducted a cohort study of 263 children. All the youngsters had been evaluated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota between the ages of six months to 18 years and each had had laboratory-confirmed flu between 1996 to 2006. The scientists documented which of the children had been vaccinated against the flu, and those that had not received the flu jab. The kids' asthma status was also noted along with records of and who did and did not require hospitalization.

Then the investigators checked the records for each child research subject to see who had been vaccinated before experiencing a flu-related episode that lead to a hospitalization during that illness. The results showed that youngsters who had received the flu vaccine had three times the risk of hospitalization, as compared to children who had not received the vaccine. For kids with asthma, there was even a higher risk of hospitalization in subjects who received the flu shot. No other measured factors, which included insurance coverage or severity of asthma, was found to impact the risk of hospitalization.

So does this raise a red flag against vaccinating children, especially those who are asthmatic, against the flu? Incredibly, despite the findings of his own study, Dr. Joshi refused to find fault with the flu shot. "While these findings do raise questions about the efficacy of the vaccine, they do not in fact implicate it as a cause of hospitalizations," Dr. Joshi said in a statement to the media. "More studies are needed to assess not only the immunogenicity, but also the efficacy of different influenza vaccines in asthmatic subjects."

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continue to recommend annual influenza vaccination for all children aged six months to 18 years. Moreover, the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (3rd revision) pushes annual flu vaccination of asthmatic children older than six months. However, as reported last fall in Natural News (http://www.naturalnews.com/024624.html) there's little evidence flu shots work for youngsters. . A large study reported in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews of 260,000 children between 23 month and six discovered that the flu vaccine is no more effective that a placebo.

The Dog That Didn't Bark

The Dog That Didn't Bark

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Though the punters (that's you, dear reader) aren't usually let in on the secret, it is a truth universally acknowledged among journalists that any story belonging exclusively to the competition must be rubbish. This has nothing to do with politics: in the early days of the Watergate scandal the New York Times, which had endorsed George McGovern, ran fewer than a third as many column inches on the story as the Washington Post.There are (very rare) exceptions: one of the many pleasures of Robert Caro's The Power Broker is his account of the way Fred Cook, the great muckraking reporter at the New York World-Telegram (and a longtime contributor to The Nation) kept his expose of Robert Moses alive by sharing the material with a friend (and competitor) at the Post. But so far the Guardian, which last Wednesday broke the news of how two newspapers belonging to Rupert Murdoch illegally hacked into the mobile phone accounts of "two or three thousand" people, as well as "gaining unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemized phone bills [belonging to] Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars" has the story pretty much to itself.

On the surface this is surprising. Here, after all, is a story that combines boldface names like Gwyneth Paltrow, Elle MacPherson, Nigella Lawson and George Michael with the official spokesman of the Conservative Party (Andy Coulson, media strategist for Tory leader David Cameron, was editor of the News of the World when the paper allegedly paid private investigators for access to the celebrities' accounts) and Rupert Murdoch, the world's most powerful media baron. The BBC put the story at the top of its world news lineup, and followed up the next day with a story about how some of famous targets were contemplating lawsuits. So why has the Guardian's incredible scoop turned out to be a 2 day wonder?

Partly, I suspect, precisely because it was a scoop. London has five "quality" papers: The TimesDaily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Independent and the Daily Mail. No American city has anything to match the cut-throat competition of British journalism, and though papers here are bleeding financially just as badly as those in the US, fighting over a shrinking market has only increased their mutual ferocity. The story was also just complicated enough to need a lot of space--not something most editors want to give to a rival. The hacking part was straightforward, but the story seems to have originated in sealed court documents that formed part of a settlement between the News of the World and its Murdoch tabloid stablemate, the Sun, and the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, the soccer players' union. And while the BBC has every reason to rejoice in any potential embarrassment to Murdoch, owner of its rival Sky, there is no evidence that the Australian billionaire was himself aware of how his underlings were spending his money. (owned by Murdoch), the

Still, in a society increasingly sensitive to surveillance, but just waking up to the idea that Big Brother may not work for the state after all, this is a story that deserves to run and run. So here's a suggestion for reporter Nick Davies and his bosses: when it comes time to break the next piece of this puzzle, maybe instead of splashing "exclusive" on the front page you should consider giving part of it away. And if the thought of sharing with one of your direct competitors is too distasteful, you know where to find me.

Of Breadlines and Banks

Of Breadlines & Banks

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President Obama was elected with a large enough mandate for fundamental change that he could forge a fresh social compact, lock in place a new set of mutual obligations and rewrite the relationship between the state and the populace.

Sasha Abramsky's comments in his book Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It (which I'm paraphrasing there) would be striking enough on any day. The need for change is obvious. In 2008 the official poverty line stood at a shameful $10,590 for a single person and $21,203 for a family of four. And according to the Census 37 million Americans were living at or below those numbers. In 2008, 28.4 million Americans were receiving food stamps, a number that's risen 19 percent since today's recession started.ir?t=lauraflanders-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0981709117

The need for change is obvious, and last November, the appetite for it became palpable. "President Barack Obama's election was an astounding transformative moment," writes Abramsky. "Tens of millions of voters, from the most liberal to the most conservative regions of the country, stood up and said no more to the divisive greed-driven policies and priorities of the recent past."

But then there's this, from today's news. Analysts report that the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, a major recipient of government cash, has earned a staggering $2 billion in the last three months. The bank's stock value has soared 68 percent and the Wall Street Journal predicts that it's on track to pay out as much as $20 billion this year, in compensation and benefits to its employees -- or about $700,000 per person.

As formerly homeless mom, Franceska Dillella told GRITtv today -- poor Americans, like those in her New York shelter, celebrated on election night. But well-connected Goldman didn't just get hugs or hope when they fell on hard times: Goldman received $13 billion from the Bush bailout of the failed insurance giant AIG and $28 billion more in low-interest loans -- plus insurance worth untold billions more -- thereafter. Now the bank's repaid that loan and bounced back: how? The Times says Goldman "Brilliantly" capitalized on chaos--making a fortune trading bonds and buying and selling volatile currencies in a shifting market, and making out from gambling on commodities like oil -- raising prices for everyone.

Back to Abramsky. In Breadline USA Sasha writes that if Obama rewrites the social contract and all the rest, he might be able contain the calamity of the 2008 economic collapse. "But if he fails that calamity will haunt the next several decades..."

What's more too big to fail: The banks or the country?

Bush's Hit Teams

Bush's Hit Teams

Despite the new controversy over whether a global CIA “hit team” ever went operational, there has been public evidence for years that the Bush administration approved “rules of engagement” that permitted executions and targeted killings of suspected insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In effect, President George W. Bush transformed elite units of the U.S. military – including Special Forces and highly trained sniper teams – into “death squads” with a license to kill unarmed targets on suspicion that they might be a threat to American occupying forces.

In the recent public debate over whether Bush also authorized the CIA to assemble teams of assassins to roam the world hunting al-Qaeda suspects, the U.S. news media has cited the distinction between such face-to-face executions and the CIA's use of remote-controlled Predator drones firing missiles to kill groups of suspected insurgents in or near the war zones.

However, the evidence is that the Bush administration also permitted U.S. military units to engage in close-quarter executions when encountering alleged insurgents, even if they were unarmed and presented no immediate threat to American or allied troops.

This reality surfaced in 2007 with the attempted prosecutions of several U.S. soldiers whose defense attorneys cited “rules of engagement” that permitted killing suspected insurgents.

One case involved Army sniper Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., who was acquitted by a U.S. military court in Baghdad on Sept. 28, 2007, in the murders of two unarmed Iraqi men – one on April 27, 2007, and the other on May 11, 2007 – because the jury accepted defense arguments that the killings were within the approved rules. (Sandoval was convicted of lesser charges relating to planting evidence on a victim to obscure the facts of the homicide.)

The Sandoval case also revealed a classified program in which the Pentagon’s Asymmetric Warfare Group encouraged U.S. military snipers in Iraq to drop “bait” – such as electrical cords and ammunition – and then shoot Iraqis who picked up the items, according to evidence in the Sandoval case. [Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2007]

Afghan Execution

Another case of authorized murder of an insurgent suspect surfaced at a military court hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in mid-September 2007. Two U.S. Special Forces soldiers took part in the execution of an Afghani who was suspected of leading an insurgent group.

Though the Afghani, identified as Nawab Buntangyar, responded to questions and offered no resistance when encountered on Oct. 13, 2006, he was shot dead by Master Sgt. Troy Anderson on orders from his superior officer, Capt. Dave Staffel.

According to evidence at the Fort Bragg proceedings, an earlier Army investigation had cleared the two soldiers because they had been operating under “rules of engagement” that empowered them to kill individuals who had been designated “enemy combatants,” even if the targets were unarmed and presented no visible threat.

The troubling picture was that the U.S. chain of command, presumably up to President Bush, authorized loose “rules of engagement” that allowed targeted killings – as well as other objectionable tactics including arbitrary arrests and indefinite detentions, “enhanced interrogations” otherwise known as torture, kidnappings in third countries with “extraordinary renditions” to countries that torture, secret CIA prisons, and “reeducation camps” for younger detainees.

Typical of Washington politics, however, the loudest arguments have been over whether the Bush administration adequately notified Congress of covert aspects of these operations, including the reported CIA-assassination plan which allegedly was ordered kept hidden from the House and Senate intelligence oversight committees by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Some Republicans have said Democrats proved that they don’t have the toughness to defend U.S. national security by raising questions about the hit team, while pro-Democratic pundits note that the Bush administration apparently demonstrated its incompetence by failing to get the assassination program off the ground. In other words, the debate is centered on peripheral issues, not on the substance of extrajudicial murders.

Similarly, Attorney General Eric Holder is said to be leaning toward appointing a special prosecutor to investigate some CIA personnel for torturing detainees, but only if they went beyond the parameters of torture that had been spelled out by Bush administration lawyers. In other words, senior government officials who sanctioned limited waterboarding and other torture techniques would not be held to account, only overzealous interrogators who went even further.

A Sordid History

Like torture, assassinations and the use of other lethal force against unarmed suspects and civilians violates a variety of laws and has a notorious history in irregular warfare, both regarding cross-border murders and violent repression of an indigenous resistance in which guerrillas and their political supporters blend in with the local population.

And, at least inside and near the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s “global war on terror” appears to have recreated what was known during the Vietnam War as Operation Phoenix, a program that assassinated Vietcong cadre, including suspected communist backers.

Through a classified Pentagon training program known as “Project X,” the lessons of Operation Phoenix from the 1960s were passed on to Third World armies, especially in Latin America, giving a green light to some of the “dirty wars” that swept the region, causing tens of thousands of political murders, widespread use of torture, and secret detentions.

Bush’s alleged plan for global hit teams also has similarities to “Operation Condor” in which South American right-wing military regimes in the 1970s sent assassins on cross-border operations to eliminate “subversives.”

Despite quiet support and encouragement for Latin American “death squads” through much of the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. government presented itself as the standard-bearer for human rights and criticized American adversaries that engaged in extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detentions.

That gap between American rhetoric and reality widened after 9/11 as Bush announced his “global war on terror,” while continuing to impress the American news media with pretty words about his commitment to human rights – as occurred in his address to the United Nations on Sept. 25, 2007.

Under Bush’s double standards, he took the position that he could override both international law and the U.S. Constitution in deciding who would get basic human rights and who wouldn’t. He saw himself as the final judge of whether people he deemed “bad guys” should live or die, or possibly face indefinite imprisonment and torture.

Yet, whatever Bush and other higher-ups approved as “rules of engagement,” the practice of murdering unarmed suspects – especially after they’ve been detained – violated the law of war and could have opened up the offending country’s chain of command to war-crimes charges.

However, while such actions by leaders of, say, Serbia or Sudan would provoke demands for war-crimes tribunals, other rules apply when the offending nation is the United States. Given its “superpower” status, the United States and its senior leadership appear to be effectively beyond the reach of international law – and in the case of Bush, beyond domestic accountability.

Downplaying a Slaughter

By and large, the U.S. military also has failed to impose serious punishments on American troops implicated in extrajudicial killings and massacres, even high-profile ones like the killing of two dozen Iraqis in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, after one Marine died from an improvised explosive device.

According to published accounts of U.S. military investigations, the dead Marine’s comrades retaliated by pulling five men from a cab and shooting them, and clearing two homes where civilians, including women and children, were slaughtered.

The Marines then tried to cover up the killings by claiming that the civilian deaths were caused by the original explosion or a subsequent firefight, according to investigations by the U.S. military and human rights groups.

One of the accused Marines, Sgt. Frank Wuterich, gave his account of the Haditha killings in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” including an admission that his squad tossed a grenade into one of the residences without knowing who was inside.

“Frank, help me understand,” asked interviewer Scott Pelley. “You’re in a residence, how do you crack a door open and roll a grenade into a room?”

“At that point, you can’t hesitate to make a decision,” Wuterich answered. “Hesitation equals being killed, either yourself or your men.”

“But when you roll a grenade in a room through the crack in the door, that’s not positive identification, that’s taking a chance on anything that could be behind that door,” Pelley said.

“Well, that’s what we do. That’s how our training goes,” Wuterich said.

Eight Marines were initially charged in the Haditha case, but six cases were dropped, one Marine was acquitted, and Wuterich’s case has been delayed by legal skirmishing. As in earlier cases, such as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, courts martial have mostly focused on rank-and-file soldiers.

The lack of high-level accountability appears to stem from the fact that the key instigators of both the illegal invasion of Iraq and the harsh tactics employed in the “global war on terror” were former President Bush, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials. President Barack Obama has made clear he doesn’t want Bush and his top aides punished.

Yet, not only did Bush order an aggressive war – what World War II’s Nuremberg Tribunal called “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” – but Bush pumped U.S. troops full of false propaganda by linking Iraq with the 9/11 attacks.

Bush’s subliminal connections between the Iraq War and 9/11 continued years after U.S. intelligence dismissed any linkage. For instance, on June 18, 2005, more than two years into the Iraq War, Bush justified the invasion by telling the American people that “we went to war because we were attacked” on 9/11.

Little wonder that a poll of 944 U.S. military personnel in Iraq – taken in January and February 2006 – found that 85 percent believed the U.S. mission in Iraq was mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks.” Seventy-seven percent said a chief war goal was “to stop Saddam from protecting al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Bush’s rhetorical excesses had the predictable effect of turning loose a revenge-seeking and heavily armed U.S. military force on the Iraqi population.

‘Salvador Option’

By early 2005, with the Iraqi insurgency growing, an increasingly frustrated Bush administration also debated a “Salvador option” for Iraq, an apparent reference to the “death squad” operations that decimated the ranks of perceived leftists who were opposed to El Salvador’s right-wing military junta in the early 1980s.

According to Newsweek magazine, President Bush was contemplating the adoption of that brutal “still-secret strategy” of the Reagan administration as a way to get a handle on the spiraling violence in Iraq.

“Many U.S. conservatives consider the policy [in El Salvador] to have been a success – despite the deaths of innocent civilians,” Newsweek wrote.

The magazine also noted that many of Bush’s advisers were leading figures in the Central American operations of the 1980s, such as Elliott Abrams, who became an architect of Middle East policy on the National Security Council.

In the Iraqi-sniper case, Army sniper Sandoval admitted killing an Iraqi man near the town of Iskandariya on April 27, 2007, after a skirmish with insurgents. Sandoval testified that his team leader, Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, ordered him to kill a man cutting grass with a rusty scythe because he was suspected of being an insurgent posing as a farmer.

The second killing occurred on May 11, 2007, when a man walked into a concealed location where Sandoval, Hensley and other snipers were hiding. After the Iraqi was detained, another sniper, Sgt. Evan Vela, was ordered to shoot the man in the head by Hensley and did so, according to Vela’s testimony at Sandoval’s court martial.

Sandoval and Hensley were acquitted of murder charges because a military jury concluded that their actions were within the rules of engagement. (Like Sandoval, Hensley was convicted of lesser charges relating to planting evidence.) But Vela was convicted of killing an unarmed Iraqi civilian and planting evidence on the body, leading to a 10-year prison sentence.

Regarding the Afghanistan case, Special Forces Capt. Staffel and Sgt. Anderson were leading a team of Afghan soldiers when an informant told them where a suspected insurgent leader was hiding. The U.S.-led contingent found a man believed to be Nawab Buntangyar walking outside his compound near the village of Hasan Kheyl.

While the Americans kept their distance out of fear the suspect might be wearing a suicide vest, the Afghanis questioned the man about his name and the Americans checked his description against a list from the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan, known as “the kill-or-capture list.”

Concluding that the man was insurgent leader Nawab Buntangyar, Staffel gave the order to shoot, and Anderson – from a distance of about 100 yards away – fired a bullet through the man’s head, killing him instantly.

The soldiers viewed the killing as “a textbook example of a classified mission completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement,” the International Herald Tribune reported. “The men said such rules allowed them to kill Buntangyar, whom the American military had designated a terrorist cell leader, once they positively identified him.”

Staffel’s civilian lawyer Mark Waple said the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command concluded that the shooting was “justifiable homicide,” but a two-star general in Afghanistan instigated a murder charge against the two men. That case, however, floundered over accusations that the charge was improperly filed. [IHT, Sept. 17, 2007]

The U.S. news media has given the Fort Bragg case only minor coverage concentrating mostly on the legal sparring. The New York Times’ inside-the-paper, below-the-fold headline on Sept. 19, 2007, was “Green Beret Hearing Focuses on How Charges Came About.”

The Washington Post did publish a front-page story on the “bait” aspect of the Sandoval case – when family members of U.S. soldiers implicated in the killings came forward with evidence of high-level encouragement of the snipers – but the U.S. news media treated the story mostly as a minor event and drew no larger implications.

The greater significance of the cases is that they confirm the long-whispered allegations that the U.S. chain of command had approved standing orders giving the U.S. military broad discretion to kill suspected militants on sight.

Whatever the full story about President Bush’s CIA hit team, the facts are already clear that his “global war on terror” had morphed into an international “dirty war” with Bush now having passed off command to President Obama.

Cheney Sweats Out the Summer

Cheney Sweats Out the Summer

So far the summer has been mild in the Washington, D.C., area. But for former Vice President Dick Cheney the temperature is well over 100 degrees. He is sweating profusely, and it is becoming increasingly clear why.

Cheney has broken openly with former President George W. Bush on one issue of transcendent importance — to Cheney. For whatever reason, Bush decided not to hand out blanket pardons before they both rode off into the sunset.

Cheney has complained bitterly that his former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby should have been pardoned, rather than simply having his jail sentence “commuted.”

Cheney told the press that Bush left Libby "sort of hanging in the wind" by refusing to issue Libby a pardon before Bush left office. Libby had been convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal agents investigating the leak of a former CIA operations officer's identity.

"I believe firmly that Scooter was unjustly accused and prosecuted and deserved a pardon, and the President disagreed with that," Cheney said. He would disclose no details of his efforts to lobby Bush on Libby's behalf, saying they would be "best left to history."

It is getting close to history time. You do not need to be a cracker-jack analyst to understand that Cheney is feeling betrayed — that he is thinking not of Libby, but of himself, and fearing that, if our system of justice works, he could be in for some serious, uncommuted jail time.

His situation has grown pathetic. Aside from the man himself, it has fallen almost solely to faithful daughter Liz to defend her dad and to start a political backfire to keep him out of prison. She is to be admired for her faithfulness. In the process, though, she has unwittingly given much away.

Liz on the Offensive

On Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio program Monday, Liz acted again as designated hitter, responding to the recent New York Times report that her father had given “direct orders” to the CIA to withhold “information about a secret counterterrorism program for eight years.”

Not for the first time, Liz Cheney disclosed what has her father so worried and agitated. She said he is “very angry” over recent press reports that Attorney General Eric Holder may be about to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate “the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation practices.”

She branded this “shameful” — worse still, “un-American.” Not the interrogation practices, mind you, but the notion that her father should be held to account for them.

Typically, Ms. Cheney did well in sticking closely to her talking points, arguing that the issue is “somebody taking office and then starting to prosecute people who carried out policies that they disagreed with, you know, in the previous administration.”

As if unprecedented decisions to torture, in violation of international law and the War Crimes Act of 1996, can be accurately described as “policies” over which there can be honest disagreement. This is about crimes, not “policies.”

Pulling out all the stops, Ms. Cheney worried aloud over what this does to “morale at the CIA,” where the practitioners of what Bush called “an alternative set of procedures” for interrogation believed they were acting with the blessing of the Justice Department. (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity addressed that bromide frontally on April 29, 2009, in a Memorandum to our new President.)

Liz Cheney went on to argue that this could in the future inhibit CIA functionaries from various actions, out of fear of criminal liability. (To me, that sounds like a distinct plus.)

The Decider

What has pretty much escaped notice in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) is that the former Vice President has also reminded us all that President Bush was the “decider.

That unusual word sounded quite macho as Bush strutted about reminding us often that he was also “commander in chief.” But now, it could be the kiss of death — for Bush, as well as for Cheney.

Here’s what Cheney allowed himself to tell Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer about “enhanced interrogation techniques” on May 10.

SCHIEFFER: How much did President Bush know specifically about the methods that were being used? We know that you – and you have said – that you approved this…

CHENEY: Right.

SCHIEFFER: … somewhere down the line. Did President Bush know everything you knew?

CHENEY: I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew — he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the President. He signed off on it.

Small wonder that Republicans are wincing, although the winces have been largely suppressed. The Washington Post reported recently that many Republicans now consider Cheney a major problem, but cannot say so.

The Post quoted one Republican strategist on the Cheney dilemma: “He continues to be a force among many members of our base, and while he is entirely unhelpful, no one has the standing to show him the door."

Spending four days in Dallas last week, I learned that George W. Bush continues to be a lofty hero among many folks there — with the notable exception of the hardy activists of the Dallas Peace Center and Code Pink.

Hefty donations keep pouring in for his library and institute, and any “mistakes” that may have been made during the Bush/Cheney administration are laid at the door of the former Vice President.

Leading Republicans are passionate about this. And the phenomenon is not limited to Dallas. Cheney is smart enough to know that he too may soon be “sort of hanging in the wind” along with his former subordinate, Libby.

It’s Also About “Fixing” Intelligence

Approval of torture, assassination, warrantless eavesdropping — hey, there is quite enough to go on, and increasing signs that Cheney will be called on the carpet.

What we have been focusing on, however, glosses over Cheney’s key role in purveying lies to get our representatives in Congress to approve a war that qualifies for what the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime” — a war of aggression.

We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) were on to Cheney very early. Six years ago today, we took the unusual step of sending a formal recommendation to President Bush that he “ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”

Our unprecedented appeal even caught the eye of the FCM, since our Memorandum for the President reviewed some of the deceit engineered by the Vice President in conjuring up a concocted rationale for war on Iraq and leading the cheerleading for it.

We noted that Cheney, skilled at preemption, had stolen a march on his vacationing colleagues by launching, in a major speech on Aug. 26, 2002, a meretricious campaign to persuade Congress and the American people that Iraq was about to acquire nuclear weapons.

That campaign mushroomed, literally, in early October, with Bush and senior advisers raising the specter of a “mushroom cloud” threatening our cities. On the inside of the synthetic clouds one could almost read the label — “manufactured out of thin air in the Office of the Vice President.”

In his memoir, the pitiable former CIA Director George Tenet complains that Cheney’s assertion that Iraq would acquire nuclear weapons “fairly soon” did not square with the intelligence community’s assessment.

Tenet adds, “I was surprised when I read about Cheney’s assertion that, ‘Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.’”

Tenet whines that the Vice President did not send him a copy of the speech for clearance. But the malleable CIA director quickly got over it, and told CIA analysts to compose the kind of National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that would provide ex post facto support for Cheney’s bogus assertions. Just what Cheney (and Bush) ordered.

Tenet explains lamely, “I should have told the Vice President privately that, in my view, his speech had gone too far ... and not let silence imply agreement.”

Yes, George; and you should have resisted White House pressure for a dishonest NIE to grease the skids to unnecessary war.

In fact Cheney, as well as Tenet, knew very well that Cheney’s assertions were lies.

How? Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, whom Saddam had put in charge of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as missile development, told the United States when he defected in mid-1995 that all (that’s right, all) such weapons had been destroyed at his order by the summer of 1991.

In mid-2002, the Iraqi foreign minister, whom CIA operatives had recruited and persuaded to remain in place, was telling us the same thing.

Unwelcome Intelligence

When they briefed the President and his senior advisers on this, CIA operations officers were astonished to learn first-hand that this intelligence was unwelcome.

These officers, who had used every trick in the book to “turn” the foreign minister and get him working for us, were told that further reporting from this source was not needed: “This isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change,” they were told.

Tenet was hardly astonished at reports of the non-existence of WMD. From documentary evidence in the Downing Street Minutes we know that Tenet on July 20, 2002, told the chief of British intelligence that the intelligence was being “fixed” around the policy.

And former UN inspectors like Scott Ritter could verify that some 90 percent of the WMD Iraq earlier possessed had been destroyed — some during the Gulf War in 1991, but most as a result of the inspections conducted by the UN.

The reporting from Hussein Kamel and the Iraqi foreign minister, sources with excellent access, was suppressed in favor of “evidence” — from forgeries, for example, like the infamous Iraq-Niger yellowcake report.

When finally U.S. officials were forced to concede that the Iraq-Niger information was based on a forgery, lawmakers like Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, protested loudly — but too late.

Three days before President Bush let slip the dogs of war, NBC’s Tim Russert braced Cheney with the assertion by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Saddam Hussein did not have a nuclear program.

Cheney strongly disagreed and cited support for his view from the CIA and other parts of the intelligence community. He even ratcheted up his bogus assessment of Iraq’s nuclear capability: “We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

We? Maybe his wife, Lynne, and Liz were on board for that judgment; few others believed it.

Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired CENTCOM commander but still enjoying access to the most sensitive information on Iraq, was sitting in the audience on Aug. 26, 2002, and later described himself as astonished at the Iraqi threat as described by Cheney.

The most knowledgeable analysts — those who knew Iraq and nuclear weapons — scoffed at Cheney’s faith-based intelligence.

In our July 14, 2003, appeal to President Bush to ask for Cheney’s resignation, we warned of the likelihood that intelligence analysts would conclude that the best way to climb the ladder of success is to acquiesce in the cooking or “fixing” of their judgments, since neither senior nor junior officials would ever be held accountable.

This remains as acute a concern as the tolerance for torture and the like.

We shall have to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder do his duty and move quickly to start the process to hold accountable those responsible for dragging our country down into a moral abyss.

Peak Oil and the Remaking of Iraq

Peak Oil and the Remaking of Iraq

Go To Original

Anthony Shadid has, without a doubt, been the finest American mainstream journalist to cover Iraq in the period after the 2003 invasion. He's now back in Baghdad for the Washington Post, telling the saddest story of all ("In the City of Cement"). Here's part of what he wrote just after American troops largely withdrew to the outskirts of town:

"Augustus boasted that he found Rome a city of bricks and made it a city of marble. Baghdad was another city of bricks, and a coterie of American generals turned it into a city of cement. Their concrete is everywhere -- from the sprawling Green Zone to the barriers and blast walls that line almost every street -- reorienting the physical, spiritual and social geography that for more than a millennium was dictated by the lazy bends in the Tigris River.

"In time, though, those walls may matter less than the deeper forces that six years of an American presence hastened. Baghdad is now a city divided from itself. Shiite neighborhoods rarely have Sunnis. Sunni ones, far less numerous today, no longer have Shiites. Christians have all but left. Potentates seek refuge in fortresses, and the poor fend for themselves... The Americans created none of it, but facilitated all of it, giving space to the region's worst impulses."

In what follows, Michael Klare, energy expert and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, offers another, quite different version of this same sad tale: what if, after all the sound and fury, what happened really did signify next to nothing, despite the devastation of Iraq and the loss of so many lives? What if the new Iraq is now fated to be, as Klare suggests, just another service station at a rest stop on the global road to... well, where? Tom

Will Iraq Be a Global Gas Pump?

The (Re)Making of a Petro-State
By Michael T. Klare

Has it all come to this? The wars and invasions, the death and destruction, the exile and torture, the resistance and collapse? In a world of shrinking energy reserves, is Iraq finally fated to become what it was going to be anyway, even before the chaos and catastrophe set in: a giant gas pump for an energy-starved planet? Will it all end not with a bang, but with a gusher? The latest oil news out of that country offers at least a hint of Iraq's fate.

For modern Iraq, oil has always been at the heart of everything. Its very existence as a unified state is largely the product of oil.

In 1920, under the aegis of the League of Nations, Britain cobbled together the Kingdom of Iraq from the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul in order to better exploit the holdings of the Turkish Petroleum Company, forerunner of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Later, Iraqi nationalists and the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein nationalized the IPC, provoking unrelenting British and American hostility. Hussein rewarded his Sunni allies in the Baath Party by giving them lucrative positions in the state company, part of a process that produced a dangerous rift with the country's Shiite majority. And these are but a few of the ways in which modern Iraqi history has been governed by oil.

Iraq is, of course, one of the world's great hydrocarbon preserves. According to oil giant BP, it harbors proven oil reserves of 115 billion barrels -- more than any country except Saudi Arabia (with 264 billion barrels) and Iran (with 138 billion). Many analysts, however, believe that Iraq has been inadequately explored, and that the utilization of modern search technologies will yield additional reserves in the range of 45 to 100 billion barrels. If all its reserves, known and suspected, were developed to their full potential, Iraq could add as much as six to eight million barrels per day to international output, postponing the inevitable arrival of peak oil and a contraction in global energy supplies.

Nailing Down the Energy Heartland of the Planet

Iraq's great hydrocarbon promise has been continually thwarted by war, foreign intervention, sanctions, internal disorder, corruption, and plain old ineptitude. Saddam Hussein did succeed for a time in elevating oil output, in the process raising national income and creating a well-educated middle class. However, his ill-conceived invasions of Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 led to devastating attacks on Iraqi oil facilities, as well as trade embargoes and crippling debt, erasing much of his country's previous economic gains. The trade sanctions imposed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the wake of the First Gulf War only further eroded the country's oil-production capacity.

When President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, his overarching goals all revolved around the geopolitics of oil. He and his top officials were intent on replacing Saddam Hussein's regime with one that would prove friendly to American oil interests. They also imagined that, greeted as liberators by a grateful population, they would preside over a radical upgrading of Iraq's petroleum capacity, thereby ensuring adequate supplies for American consumers at an affordable price. Finally, by building and manning a constellation of major military bases in a grateful Iraq, they saw themselves ensuring continued American dominance over the oil-soaked Persian Gulf region, and so the energy heartland of the planet.

All of this, of course, proved to be a mirage. The U.S. invasion and ensuing occupation policies provoked a bitter Sunni insurgency that quickly overshadowed all other American concerns, including oil. As a result, no matter how much money they poured into the task, the Bush administration and its Baghdad agents found themselves incapable of boosting petroleum output even to the levels of the worst days of Saddam Hussein's regime -- and so their plans to use oil revenues to pay for the war, the occupation, and the reconstruction of the country all vanished into thin air.

The data provided by BP on yearly production tallies cannot be starker when it comes to the impact on oil output of the insurgency, rampant corruption, the loss of the nation's oil professionals (many of whom fled into exile amid sectarian warfare), and other related factors. Prior to the American invasion, Iraq was pumping 2.6 million barrels of oil per day, already significantly below its pre-invasion peak of 3.5 million barrels per day. In the first year of the ill-starred U.S. occupation, production quickly plunged to a paltry 1.3 million barrels per day. Only in 2007 did it finally top the two million mark and, with improved security, 2.4 million in 2008. Assuming conditions continue to improve, Iraqi output could, for the first time, exceed pre-invasion levels, though barely, in 2009 or 2010 -- six years or more after Baghdad fell to American forces.

A Sea Change in Iraqi Oil Production?

Until recently, most analysts assumed that Iraq would continue, at best, to make modest progress in its efforts to increase daily output. There were too many obstacles, it was argued, to achieve dramatic breakthroughs. These included continued insurgent attacks on pipelines and production facilities; corruption in the Oil Ministry and major energy production enterprises; the failure of parliament to adopt a national hydrocarbons law; differences between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the central government over who has the right to award what sort of oil contracts in Kurdish-controlled territories; and the reluctance of major foreign oil firms to venture into, or invest in a major way in such a dangerous and unstable place.

Recently, however, the Oil Ministry has made noticeable progress in overcoming at least some of these obstacles. Under the leadership of Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist who was jailed and tortured by Saddam Hussein for refusing to assist in the development of nuclear weapons, corruption has been substantially reduced and various production bottlenecks eliminated. Shahristani has also won support from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for the participation of foreign firms in the development of Iraqi oil fields, even though this has alienated many in Iraq who oppose any such involvement. Once derided for ineptitude, the Oil Ministry is beginning to be viewed as a functioning, professional operation.

As a result, there are clear indications that Iraq's oil industry could be poised for a major turnaround. Among the most significant recent developments:

* Late last year, Iraq's state-owned North Oil Company signed a $3.5 billion, 20-year service contract with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to develop the Adhab oil field in Wasit province, southeast of Baghdad. Originally negotiated under the Saddam Hussein regime, the deal was put on hold after the 2003 invasion and only given final approval in November 2008. This is the first major contract the government in Baghdad has signed with a foreign oil firm since the Iraq Petroleum Company was nationalized in the 1970s. It also represents the first significant investment by a company from China in Iraq. Under the agreement, CNPC and its partners will develop the Adhab field and deliver all resulting crude oil to state refineries; as the field's main operator, CNPC will be paid a fee by the Iraqi government for its engineering work and all delivered petroleum.

* In May, the Oil Ministry reached an accord with the Kurdistan Regional Government that, for the first time, will allow the Kurds to export oil from fields under their control. Previously, the Baghdad government had refused to recognize any contracts signed by the KRG with private oil firms to develop fields in their territory and had prevented the Kurds from exporting oil from these fields through pipelines controlled by the central government. Under the accord, the KRG will initially be allowed to export 100,000 barrels per day from the Tawke and Taq Taq fields, with higher rates expected in the future; 73% of the resulting revenues will go to the central government, 15% to the Kurds, and 12% to the foreign oil companies that signed production contracts directly with the KRG, bypassing the central government in Baghdad. This agreement paves the way for a significant increase in output from Kurdish-controlled areas, which are thought to hold substantial reserves of untapped petroleum.

* In June, the Oil Ministry conducted its first auction of rights to operate existing fields in the country's major producing areas. This represented a major -- even staggering -- shift in policy, opening the door for the first time in three decades to the participation of major international oil companies in the operation -- if not the ownership -- of the country's nationalized oil fields. Although opposed by many key groups in Iraq, ranging from the oil workers' union to significant factions in parliament, the move was taken to secure outside expertise in modernizing and upgrading the country's crumbling oil infrastructure, thereby boosting output in a country that still relies on oil for more than 75% of its gross domestic product and about 95% of its revenues. In fact, many foreign companies chose not to bid in the auction's opening round, finding the returns being offered insufficiently attractive. Nevertheless, one Western firm, BP, won the right (in partnership with CNPC) to operate the giant Rumaila field, Iraq's largest. The Oil Ministry has since indicated that it will conduct additional auctions, including one for the right to explore for oil, on terms as yet unrevealed, in the country's undeveloped south and west -- possibly laying the groundwork for significantly more intrusive participation by foreign firms.

Taken together, these steps -- aimed at securing the necessary external financing and expertise to achieve a significant boost in production -- represent a genuine sea change in the way the Oil Ministry has been overseeing the country's hydrocarbons industry. If all goes as planned, it intends to increase output by 1.5 million barrels per day, and another four to five million barrels by 2017. These efforts, if successful (and given recent history, that remains a big "if"), would place Iraq among the world's top four or five oil producers, along with Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States.

A New Petro-State Servicing the Global Economy?

No one should underestimate the potential obstacles in the way of this objective. Any number of factors -- a rise in opposition to giving away any part of the national "patrimony" to foreigners, a significant increase in insurgent violence, heightened factional fighting in Baghdad, a sharpening of tension between Baghdad and the Kurds, an increase in corruption -- could prevent the realization of these ambitious goals. Moreover, pending the passage of a national oil and gas law (a goal pursued by U.S. officials for years), the major foreign oil companies will remain reluctant to sink too much money into Iraq, fearful that their assets will not be protected.

Nevertheless, it appears that, for the first time since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, the stars in the energy firmament are aligning in ways that may favor Iraq's reemergence as a major oil producer. Whereas the major powers once competed among themselves for influence in Iraq or backed one or another of Iraq's local rivals in efforts to weaken or contain that country, all now seem inclined to invest in, and benefit from, the reconstruction of its energy infrastructure. The Bush administration, which looked with alarm at Saddam Hussein's growing ties to Russia and China, invaded the country in part to reassert American dominance in the Persian Gulf region and diminish the role played by Moscow and Beijing. Today, Washington appears to welcome the growing role of Chinese and Russian firms in the rehabilitation of Iraq's dilapidated energy infrastructure.

It's a reasonable assumption that behind this unprecedented shift lies an acknowledgement of the inescapable reality of peak oil. As things stand now, the world will soon reach a maximum level of sustainable daily oil output, followed by an inevitable contraction in available supplies. Many experts believe that the peak in conventional (liquid) oil output is likely to occur in the very near future, perhaps in the 2010-2015 timeframe, with global output topping out about 5 to 10 million barrels per day higher than today's 85 million barrels.

Hitting the peak moment in that timeframe, and at that level, would prove devastating to the world economy, as global energy demand is expected to climb far higher, thanks to rising consumption patterns in China, India, and other dynamos of the developing world. It's not hard, then, to do the math. An addition of perhaps six million supplemental barrels per day from Iraq would make a striking difference in the energy equation. In fact, it might prove the difference between squeaking by and a catastrophic worldwide shortage. Under such circumstances, it is understandable that -- no matter what their governments felt about the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq -- the major powers now share a common interest in facilitating that country's recovery as a major oil exporter.

For devastated Iraq, of course, these last years were a disaster and real reconstruction of the country still remains a long way off. For the United States, gone are expectations of converting Iraq into a model Middle Eastern democracy, or of inserting a Western-trained, pro-U.S. regime in Baghdad. Nor is there any expectation that the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company will be completely privatized -- once the dream of Bush-era neocons. Nonetheless, the (re)emergence of a functioning Iraqi petro-state working closely with foreign energy firms to boost global oil supplies (with American troops, whether based in Iraq or neighboring countries, providing ultimate security) would be an outcome that could be sold to Congress and, presumably, a majority of the American public.

Within Iraq itself, conditions may favor such an outcome. Although various Iraqi factions have enormous differences, all recognize that their future prosperity rests on the successful development of the nation's hydrocarbon reserves. While Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds may each hope to benefit disproportionately from this great treasure, they all realize that some degree of cooperation -- for example, in the construction and maintenance of export facilities -- is essential to their ambitions, however disparate. While the bargaining over the terms of cooperation may seem endless, and violence may sometimes accompany these negotiations, it is likely that some sort of collaborative structure will, in the end, emerge. A gradual drawdown, if not total departure, of American forces will, in all likelihood, only accelerate this process.

So it has finally come to this dismal possible end point: after all the blood and tears, all the death and destruction, almost all interested parties seem to be returning to the only vision of the country, however depressing, that has demonstrated any viability. In the future, Iraq is likely to be an oil-fueled petro-state with no function other than to service global markets and enrich local elites as well as the technocrats that assist them. This may be not be an inspiring vision -- especially for Iraqis who have suffered so much -- but it might possibly be the only reality available that will circumvent the horrific bloodletting of the past 30 years.