Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Closing In on the Torturers

Closing In on the Torturers

Perhaps he and Donald Rumsfeld will end up doing time together in one of the prisons also slated to host what Rumsfeld called “the worst of the worst” from Guantanamo.

That would be poetic justice of a most ironic kind. And if the two former leaders do end up in prison they can count themselves fortunate for having dodged execution for their roles in a slew of capital offenses.

You see, punishments for violations of the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441), applicable in their case, include the death penalty — often the sentence of choice if detainees die in their custody. And countless have.

Before you question my sanity, please know that I just completed the arduous task of reading the aging but devastating CIA Inspector General’s report on torture.

Sickening

You can be forgiven for holding your nose while paging through the redacted version of the “CIA Inspector General’s Special Review of Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003).” Although heavily sanitized, it is still nauseating.

You can not be easily forgiven, though, if you don’t make the effort to read with care at least some of this lurid account of the abuse of detainees held by the CIA — a narrative which is said to have sickened Attorney General Eric Holder and one which cries out for reinforced efforts toward accountability.

This is not the CIA in which I served for 27 years. I spent most of my career in the analysis directorate, but had substantial tours of duty in the other three directorates as well.

There were abuses before the Bush/Cheney administration, but Bush and Cheney thoroughly corrupted both substance and operations, and enlisted creeps and charlatans to do their bidding. There is now reason to believe that the careerists and contractors who cooperated in the criminality will be held to account.

Positive news came with the announcement that Attorney General Eric Holder has broadened prosecutor John Durham’s mandate to include cases in which CIA interrogators and contractors may have violated U.S. torture laws and other statutes.

Durham has already spent over a year investigating the destruction of CIA videotapes of interrogations and thus is in position to jump-start the process of looking into related matters.

Durham is acutely aware that the tapes were destroyed not long after word got out that the CIA Inspector General had completed a Special Review on interrogation practices. Those CIA officers with custody of the tapes were acutely aware that, if the tapes wound up in the “wrong hands,” there might well be hell to pay.

Unless someone squirreled away some duplicates, we will never see those tapes. But the IG report shines considerable light on what was done in the torture chambers the CIA was instructed to create and operate abroad.

Holder’s decision opens a hopeful new chapter in the complicated effort to hold to account those responsible for leading the country into the dark dungeons.

We can’t say we weren’t warned. Many will recall that former Vice President Dick Cheney set the tone just five days after 9/11, when he told Tim Russert:

"We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful.

“That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

Cheney tipped us off early to what he had in mind, apparently in the belief that most of us would go along. So far so good, from his perspective.

But recent months have seen him increasingly nervous and now that Holder has taken a major step forward, we can expect a vociferous and sustained reaction from Cheney and his avid supporters in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).

Indeed, Cheney did not waste a day in voicing strong criticism of Holder’s decision. And small wonder: Cheney’s DNA can be found from top to bottom of the “chain of command” on torture.

Cheney’s ace in the hole is his clearly signaled readiness to implicate former President George W. Bush, if any investigation of torture or other abuses manages to reach the most senior White House levels.

Cheney calculates that President Obama and Holder would shy away from doing that, but the former Vice President is taking no chances.

Yes, the 100-page-plus CIA IG report bears the date May 7, 2004. And yes, former Vice President Cheney’s aphorism about “the dark side” is evoked by the hundreds of paragraphs completely blackened out. (The thirsty report drank two full print cartridges). And yes, the entire four pages of the “Recommendations” section are blackened out.

Still, I think this is truly a case of better-late-than-never. And those of us who have been following this painful issue closely can readily fill in many of those paragraphs.

Right on the Mark

Unable to see beneath the black-out, it is left to us to make recommendations.

Here’s one for starters. It’s not original; rather it came in the wake of the CIA role in coups in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), and South Vietnam (1963), to mention just a few:

As former President Harry Truman wrote in a Dec. 22, 1963, syndicated article entitled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence”:

“I…would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President…and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.

“We have grown up as a nation respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.”

It is no surprise that President Truman felt very close to this, since it was he who pushed very hard to create the CIA.

His purpose was two-fold: to prevent another Pearl Harbor and to create an independent agency he could depend upon to speak to him and his senior advisers without fear or favor — an agency with guaranteed access to all significant sources of information on a given country or issue.

As he explained in the widely published op-ed:

“I decided to set up a special organization charged with the collection of all intelligence reports from every available source, and to have those reports reach me as President without department ‘treatment’ or interpretations.”

But a sentence that was shoehorned into the National Security Act of 1947 also authorized the President to use the CIA to perform “other functions and duties.” And that secret role including covert action gradually came to dwarf what was originally the primary task of speaking plain truth to power.

For much of CIA’s 62 years, that one-sentence tail has been wagging the CIA dog, marginalizing its central role to collect information, analyze it, and present the truth in as unvarnished a way as humanly possible.

Looking Back

George Tenet was a disaster as Director of Central Intelligence. Although it was a major part of his job description, before 9/11, to ensure that the entire intelligence community was functioning as an organic whole, he much preferred hobnobbing with princes and potentates abroad and backslapping senior officials in Washington.

With 15 intelligence units in the federal government, there is always a strong centripetal tendency, and Tenet’s misfeasance in managing the community resulted in important pre-9/11 intelligence falling through the cracks.

His malfeasance in “fixing” substantive intelligence to support President Bush’s wish to attack Iraq and then enthusiastically carrying out Bush/Cheney orders for torture and other abuses marks the worst chapter in Agency history — bar none.

Even so, before 9/11 Tenet did manage to give his good buddy Bush and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice quite enough in the way of repeated warnings that they should have, well, at least seen to it that the airlines put locks on cockpit doors.

CIA directors keep copies of such warnings, of course, and this made Bush reluctant to fire Tenet after the terrorist attacks.

A kind of mutual blackmail ensued, disguised as good-ol’-boy bonhomie. I won’t fire you, George, if you promise not to tell anyone how many times you warned me that something very big and very bad was going to happen. And, from now on, you’ll do exactly as I say.

Newt Gingrich, like Cheney a frequent visitor to CIA headquarters in those years, commented that George Tenet was so grateful to Bush for not firing him, that he “would do anything for him.”

Including Perjury?

The most tangible manifestation of this Faustian bargain came on April 14, 2004, when Tenet lied under oath before the 9/11 Commission to protect Bush. Tenet told the commission under the prime-time klieg lights that he had not spoken to Bush — even on the telephone — during the entire month of August 2001.

I turns out that Tenet was lying. He did visit Crawford not once but twice during August and briefed Bush again in Washington at the end of the month. After the TV cameras were shut off, Tenet’s public affairs folks phoned the commission staff to say Oops, Tenet misspoke.

The backslapping Tenet made another fast friend of FBI Director Robert Mueller. The two conspired to fulfill White House wishes to magnify the threat from al-Qaeda about which, when all was said and done, relatively little was actually known.

Exaggerating threats became a major cottage industry, as former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge learned as he struggled to keep the color-coded warnings from being blatantly coordinated for Bush’s political purposes.

FBI Director Rehearses

FBI Director Mueller led the alarmist chorus, stating solemnly to Congress and anyone who would listen, “Our greatest threat is from al-Qaeda cells in the United States that we have not been able to identify.”

Please, take a minute to think that sentence through. It may parse okay; but what does it really mean?

In February 2003, Mueller warned that hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives were hiding throughout the U.S. planning potentially catastrophic attacks, but that the FBI does not know who or where they are.

The “greatest threat” but not yet identified. Does this not remind you of George Tenet’s Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq?

Sounds like a corollary to the Rumsfeldian dictum: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Truly a strange way to do intelligence. And reminiscent of the then-UN chief weapons inspector’s telling comment to U.S. officials regarding the threat of WMD in Iraq:

"It's sort of puzzling, I think, that you can have 100 percent certainty about the weapons of mass destruction's existence, and zero certainty about where they are."

And so it was with al-Qaeda cells in the U.S.

Ready for this? There were no cells.

And please, don’t conjure up “threatening” groups like the feckless one from Lackawanna — the entrapment case that was the best the FBI could do in manufacturing enemies within!

Eager to please the White House, Mueller had learned to blow smoke, as we say in the trade. Not to mention the most egregious example; i. e., the thousand immigrants detained for six to 12 months immediately after 9/11, with none — not one — being charged with terrorism.

What’s the connection here with the CIA Inspector General’s report? Just this: if the FBI director points to al-Qaeda cells — real or imagined — in the U.S. as the greatest threat to our national security, there is a high premium on what former President George W. Bush called “the hunt.”

Smoke ‘em out; and find ways to make them tell us who and where in the U.S. their compatriots are lurking.

Read the following excerpts from the CIA Inspector General report text (page 83ff) and weep:

“According to a number of those interviewed for this Review, the Agency’s intelligence on Al-Qa’ida was limited prior to the CTC (Counterterrorist Center) Program. The Agency lacked adequate linguists or subject matter experts and had very little hard knowledge of what particular Al-Qa’ida leaders — who later became detainees — knew.

“This lack of knowledge led analysts to speculate about what a detainee ‘should know,’ vice information the analyst could objectively demonstrate the detainee did know….

“When a detainee did not respond to a question posed to him, the assumption at Headquarters was that the detainee was holding back and knew more; consequently, Headquarters recommended resumption of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques].

“[a page-plus blackened] is evidenced in the final waterboard session of Abu Zubaydah. According to a senior CTC officer, the interrogation team considered Abu Zubaydah to be compliant and wanted to terminate EITs. [word(s) redacted] believed Abu Zubaydah continued to withhold information, [three lines redacted] at the time it generated substantial pressure from Headquarter to continue use of the EITs.

“According to this senior officer, the decision to resume use of the waterboard on Abu Zubaydah was made by senior officers of the DO [Directorate of Operations]. [one line redacted] to assess Abu Zubaydah’s compliance and witnessed the final waterboard session, after which, they reported back to Headquarters that the EITs were no longer needed on Abu Zubaydah.”

In their “Conclusions” section, the IG uses bloodless prose to make this painful observation:

“Agency officers report that reliance on analytical assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence may have resulted in the application of EITs without justification.

“Some participants in the Program, particularly field interrogators, judge that CTC assessments to the effect that detainees are withholding information are not always supported by an objective evaluation of available information and the evaluation of the interrogators but are too heavily based, instead, on presumptions of what the individual might or should know.”

People were tortured on the basis of “presumptions.” Nice.

A More “Robust” Approach

Back to Abu Zubaydah: his capture in March 2002 “presented the Agency with a significant dilemma,” as the IG explains the Introduction to the Special Review:

“The Agency was under pressure to do everything possible to prevent additional terrorist attacks. Senior Agency officials believed Abu Zubaydah was withholding information that could not be obtained through then-authorized interrogation techniques.

“Agency officials believed that a more robust approach was necessary to elicit threat information from Abu Zubaydah and possibly from other senior Al-Qa’ida high value detainees.”

The IG report makes it clear that these requirements “presented new challenges for CIA … including identifying qualified personnel to manage and carry out detention and interrogation activities.”

CTC implemented training programs for interrogators and debriefers. Here’s a revealing footnote to help a torturer’s apprentice distinguish between interrogators and debriefers (from page 6 of the Summary):

“An interrogator is a person who completes a two-week [!] interrogations training program, which is designed to train, qualify, and certify a person to administer EITs. An interrogator can administer EITs during the interrogation of a detainee only after the field, in coordination with Headquarters, assesses the detainee as withholding information.
“An interrogator transitions the detainee from a non-cooperative to a cooperative phase in order that a debriefer can elicit actionable intelligence through non-aggressive techniques during debriefing sessions.”

Got that? It’s the same basic rationale that former Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller introduced into Guantanamo, and then Abu Ghraib. Remember? The MPs were instructed to soften up the detainees. The preferred euphemism was “prepare the conditions for successful interrogation.”

As reluctant as President Obama seems to be to address the torture issue, the CIA Inspector General report, for which the ACLU filed a successful Freedom of Information Act suit, is impossible to ignore.

A spokesman for Obama said decisions on how to proceed with the inquiry lie in the hands of Attorney General Holder, who appears willing to take the heat. Fox News, oblivious to the irony, is already calling Holder’s announcement the beginning of an “Inquisition.”

While the inquiry is said to involve only those CIA people who went beyond the Department of Justice’s very flexible guidelines regarding harsh interrogation, in my view it will be very difficult to keep the investigation within those tight parameters.

There is a growing chance that, at the end of the day, those up the food chain will not escape being held accountable. By this point in time most observers are fully aware that the most rotten apples were at the very top, not the bottom, of the barrel.

Endangering Morale at CIA?

What Americans need to know is that only a miniscule percentage of CIA officers approve of torture. The vast majority oppose it — whether for utilitarian reasons (as we have seen, it does not work, unless you are after unreliable information); or for moral reasons (including a decent respect for the opinion of mankind, as someone once put it).

Most believe Patrick Henry had it right, when he insisted that the rack and screw have no place in the New World.

So what about morale? Let’s address head-on the self-serving canard that would have us believe that exposing torture and other abuses would damage morale at the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

You may recall that Gen. Michael Hayden, even while still CIA director, was going around town telling folks that he had warned the new President not to allow an investigation into controversial activities like waterboarding, or else “no one in Langley will ever take a risk again.” Rubbish.

Hayden was blowing smoke, as we say in the trade, but also gravely insulting the great majority of CIA employees who have served, and continue to serve, with honor.

At a public forum in late April, former Vice President Walter Mondale exposed the speciousness of the Hayden-cum-Bush-holdovers argument. Mondale was one of the senators on the Church Committee, which during the mid-1970s unearthed the unlawful activities of COINTELPRO and other serious abuses by the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Speaking out of that experience, Mondale noted that then, too, concern over the effect on agency morale was voiced both before the Church investigation got under way and while it was proceeding.

The concern proved totally unfounded, according to Mondale, as it quickly became apparent that agency personnel called before the Church Committee were thankful for the chance to get the truth out, get a heavy burden off their shoulders, and put the scandal behind them.

More important, the truth that was brought to light made it possible for the country to resolve how several key national security structural and legal issues were to be addressed in the future.

Much of that wisdom and many of the legal protections introduced at that time were blithely disregarded by the Bush administration. It is time to get back on the track of legality.

As veteran CIA operative Bob Baer told an interviewer on Monday, there is no reason why CIA should be considered above the law. “Indeed, the Agency does its best work when operating within the law,” said Baer.

At one point, he himself was accused and investigated on grounds that he went beyond what was permitted by law and regulation governing his operations in Iraq. Baer was able to show that he had adhered to the letter, as well as the spirit, of the law.

The investigation ended, and Baer continued to shine as one of CIA’s best operatives in the Middle East.

As for the need for holding people to account, Mondale had this to say:

"Holding people responsible in some way for what happened is very important. If the verdict here is that you can do these kinds of things and there are no consequences, then that leaves a precedent.

“I've been around the federal government long enough to know that if there is a bad precedent, it's like leaving a loaded pistol on the kitchen table. You don't know who is going to pick it up and pull the trigger. There need to be consequences for violating the law.”

So, hats off to Attorney General Eric Holder, who could have tried to keep dodging the issue; and to the President as well, for deciding to give Holder leeway to do the right thing, despite the inevitable controversy they both had hoped somehow to avoid.

In his announcement Holder was refreshingly straightforward: “As Attorney General, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law. In this case, given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take."

So let’s clean up the mess as quickly as possible. Then we will be able to move on, in due course, to address the kind of simple but sensible recommendation made by President Truman’s 46 years ago.

Manipulating the Data to Justify a Worldwide Public Health Emergency

The H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic: Manipulating the Data to Justify a Worldwide Public Health Emergency

"Over the course of the next few months, with the assistance of our partners in the private and public sector and at every level of government, we will move aggressively to prepare the nation for the possibility of a more severe outbreak of the H1N1 virus. We will do all we can to plan for different scenarios. We ask the American people to become actively engaged with their own preparation and prevention. It’s a responsibility we all share." (US Government advisory, flu.gov: Vaccines, Vaccine Allocation and Vaccine Research )



A Worldwide public health emergency is unfolding on an unprecedented scale. 4.9 billion doses of H1N1 swine flu vaccine are envisaged by the World Health Organization (WHO).

A report by President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology "considers the H1N1 pandemic 'a serious health threat; to the U.S. — not as serious as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic but worse than the swine flu outbreak of 1976.":

"It's not that the new H1N1 pandemic strain is more deadly than previous flu threats, but that it is likely to infect more people than usual because so few people have immunity" (Get swine flu vaccine ready: U.S. advisers)

Responding to the guidelines set by the WHO, preparations for the inoculation of millions of people are ongoing, in the Americas, the European Union, in South East Asia and around the World. Priority has been given to health workers, pregnant women and children. In some countries, the H1N1 vaccination will be compulsory.

In the US, the state governments are responsible for these preparations, in coordination with federal agencies. In the State of Massachusetts, legislation has been introduced which envisages hefty fines and prison sentences for those who refuse to be vaccinated. (See VIDEO; Compulsory Vaccination in America?)

The US military is slated to assume an active role in the public health emergency

Schools and colleges across North America are preparing for mass vaccinations. (See CDC H1N1 Flu | Resources for Schools, Childcare Providers, and Colleges)

In Britain, the Home Office has envisaged the construction of mass graves in response to a rising death toll. The British Home Office report calls for "increasing mortuary capacity" An atmosphere of panic and insecurity prevails. (See Michel Chossudovsky Fear, Intimidation & Media Disinformation: U.K Government is Planning Mass Graves in Case of H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic)



Table contained in an official Home Office Report, reported by the British media. The complete report has not been released


Reliability of the Data

The spread of the disease is measured by country-level reports of confirmed and probable cases.

How reliable is this data. Does the data justify a Worldwide public health emergency, including a $40 billion dollar vaccination program which largely favors a handful of pharmaceutical companies? In the US alone, the costs of H1N1 preparedness are of the order of 7.5 billion dollars.( See Flu.gov: Vaccines, Vaccine Allocation and Vaccine Research)

Following the outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu in Mexico, the data collection was at the outset scanty and incomplete, as confirmed by official statements.( See Michel Chossudovsky, Is it the "Mexican Flu", the "Swine Flu" or the "Human Flu"? Michel Chossudovsky Political Lies and Media Disinformation regarding the Swine Flu Pandemic)

The Atlanta based Center for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledged that what was being collected in the US were figures of "confirmed and probable cases". There was, however, no breakdown between "confirmed" and "probable". In fact, only a small percentage of the reported cases were "confirmed" by a laboratory test.

On the basis of scanty country-level information, the WHO declared a level 4 pandemic on April 27. Two days later, a level 5 Pandemic was announced without corroborating evidence (April 29). A level 6 Pandemic was announced on June 11.

There was no attempt to improve the process of data collection in terms of lab. confirmation. In fact quite the opposite. Following the level 6 Pandemic announcement, both the WHO and the CDC decided that data collection of individual confirmed and probable cases was no longer necessary to ascertain the spread of swine flu. As of July 10, one month after the announcement of the level six pandemic, the WHO discontinued the collection of confirmed cases. It does not require member countries to send in figures pertaining to confirmed or probable cases.

WHO will no longer issue the global tables showing the numbers of confirmed cases for all countries. However, as part of continued efforts to document the global spread of the H1N1 pandemic, regular updates will be provided describing the situation in the newly affected countries. WHO will continue to request that these countries report the first confirmed cases and, as far as feasible, provide weekly aggregated case numbers and descriptive epidemiology of the early cases. (WHO, Briefing note, 2009)

Based on incomplete and scantly data, the WHO nonetheless predicts with authority that: "as many as 2 billion people could become infected over the next two years — nearly one-third of the world population." (World Health Organization as reported by the Western media, July 2009).


Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO

The statements of the WHO are notoriously contradictory. While creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, pointing to am impending global public health crisis, the WHO has also acknowledged that the underlying symptoms are moderate and that "most people will recover from swine flu within a week, just as they would from seasonal forms of influenza" (WHO statement, quoted in the Independent, August 22, 2009).

The WHO's July 10 guidelines have set the stage for a structure of scantiness and inadequacy with regard to data collection at the national level. National governments of member States of the WHO are not required to corroborate the spread of the A H1N1 swine flu, through laboratory tests.

The WHO table below provides the breakdown by geographical region. These figures, as acknowledged by the WHO are no longer based on corroborated cases, since the governments are not required since July 11 to "test and report individual cases". In an utterly twisted logic, the WHO posits that because the not required to test and report individual cases, which are the only means of ascertaining the spread of the virus, that "the number of cases reported actually understates the real number of cases" (See note at foot of Table). The question is: what is being reported by the countries? How do they ascertain that the cases are H1N1 as opposed to seasonal influenza.

TABLE 1

Map of affected countries and deaths as of 13 August 2009 [png 313kb]

Region

Cumulative total

as of 13 Aug 2009


Cases*

Deaths

WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO)

1469

3

WHO Regional Office for the Americas (AMRO)

105882

1579

WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO)

2532

8

WHO Regional Office for Europe (EURO)

Over 32000

53

WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia (SEARO)

13172

106

WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WPRO)

27111

50




Total

Over 182166

1799

*Given that countries are no longer required to test and report individual cases, the number of cases reported actually understates the real number of cases.

Source WHO | Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 - update 62 (revised 21 August 2009)

The WHO confirms that the above data is based on qualitative indicators:

"The qualitative indicators monitor: the global geographic spread of influenza, trends in acute respiratory diseases, the intensity of respiratory disease activity, and the impact of the pandemic on health-care services."

These qualitative indicators are, according to the WHO, as follows:

TEXT BOX 1

Geographical spread

Geographical spread refers to the number and distribution of sites reporting influenza activity.

- No activity: no laboratory-confirmed case(s) of influenza, or evidence of increased or unusual respiratory disease activity.
- Localized: limited to one administrative unit of the country (or reporting site) only.
- Regional: appearing in multiple but <50%>- Widespread: appearing in ≥50% of the administrative units of the country (or reporting sites).
- No information available: no information available for the previous 1-week period.

Trend

Trend refers to changes in the level of respiratory disease activity compared with the previous week.
- Increasing: evidence that the level of respiratory disease activity is increasing compared with the previous week.
- Unchanged: evidence that the level of respiratory disease activity is unchanged compared with the previous week.
- Decreasing: evidence that the level of respiratory disease activity is decreasing compared with the previous week.
- No information available.

• Intensity

The intensity indicator is an estimate of the proportion of the population with acute respiratory disease, covering the spectrum of disease from influenza-like illness to pneumonia.

- Low or moderate: a normal or slightly increased proportion of the population is currently affected by respiratory illness.
- High: a large proportion of the population is currently affected by respiratory illness.
- Very high: a very large proportion of the population is currently affected by respiratory illness.
- No information available.

• Impact

Impact refers to the degree of disruption of health-care services as a result of acute respiratory disease.

- Low: demands on health-care services are not above usual levels.
- Moderate: demands on health-care services are above the usual demand levels but still below the maximum capacity of those services.
- Severe: demands on health care services exceed the capacity of those services.
- No information available.

Source:
WHO | Annex 4 of the Interim WHO guidance for the surveillance of human infection with A(H1N1) virus

The entire construct involves a non-sequitur.

In the text box below are the qualitative indicators used. What is being tabulated is 1. the spread of influenza, 2. the spread of respiratory diseases and 3. the impacts on health care services activity.

The spread of the H1N1 swine flu is not being evaluated through any concrete indicator.

An examination of the maps (click links on table below) does not suggest any particular pattern or trend, which might ascertain the spread of H1N1.

For many of the reporting countries the information is not available or indicates no particular trend.

The question is: how can this information reasonably be used to ascertain the spread of a very specific form of influenza, namely A H11N1

TEXT BOX 2

Geographic spread of influenza activity during week 31 and 32

Geographic spread of influenza activity during week 31 [png 157kb]

Geographic spread of influenza activity during week 32 [png 269kb]

Trend of respiratory diseases activity compared to the previous week during week 31 and week 32

Trend of respiratory diseases activity compared to the previous week during week 31 [png 155kb]

Trend of respiratory diseases activity compared to the previous week during week 32 [png 266kb]

Intensity of acute respiratory diseases in the population during week 31 and week 32

Intensity of acute respiratory diseases in the population during week 31 [png 153kb]

Intensity of acute respiratory diseases in the population during week 32 [png 262kb]

Impact on health care services during week 31 and week 32

Impact on health care services during week 31 [png 151kb]

Impact on health care services during week 32 [png 259kb]

Source: WHO | Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 - update 62 (revised 21 August 2009)

"Confirmed and Probable Cases" in the US

On July 24, following the WHO July 10 decision to shift from quantitative to qualitative assessments and not to require governments to ascertain the data through lab testing, the Atlanta based CDC also announced that it had discontinued the process of data collection pertaining to "confirmed and probable cases":

"How many cases of novel H1N1 flu infection have been reported in the United States? When the novel H1N1 flu outbreak was first detected in mid-April 2009, CDC began working with states to collect, compile and analyze information regarding the novel H1N1 flu outbreak, including the numbers of confirmed and probable cases of disease. From April 15, 2009 to July 24, 2009, states reported a total of 43,771 confirmed and probable cases of novel influenza A (H1N1) infection. Of these cases reported, 5,011 people were hospitalized and 302 people died. On July 24, 2009, confirmed and probable case counts were discontinued. Aggregate national reports of hospitalizations and deaths will continue at this time. (See CDC, ,CDC H1N1 Flu | Questions and Answers About CDC's Online Reporting)

Instead of collecting data --which would have provided empirical backing to its assessments on how the H1N1 virus was spreading-- the CDC announced that it had developed a model "to try to determine the true number of novel H1N1 flu cases in the United States".

"The model took the number of cases reported by states and adjusted the figure to account for known sources of underestimation (for example; not all people with novel H1N1 flu seek medical care, and not all people who seek medical care have specimens collected by their health care provider)....

Why did CDC discontinue reporting of individual cases? Individual case counts were used in the early stages of the outbreak to track the spread of disease. As novel H1N1 flu became more widespread, individual case counts became an increasingly inaccurate representation of the true burden of disease. This is because many people likely became mildly ill with novel H1N1 flu and never sought treatment; many people may have sought and received treatment but were never officially tested or diagnosed; and as the outbreak intensified, in some cases, testing was limited to only hospitalized patients. That means that the official case count represented only a fraction of the true burden of novel H1N1 flu illness in the United States. CDC recognized early in the outbreak that once disease was widespread, it would be more valuable to transition to standard surveillance systems to monitor illness, hospitalizations and deaths. CDC discontinued official reporting of individual cases on July 24, 2009. (Ibid, emphasis added)

Biased Predictions

What is the precise nature of the data transmitted by the states to the CDC? The CDC calls for the transmission of "aggregate national reports of hospitalizations and deaths".

If the information is conceptually incorrect or incomplete at the outset, predictions and/or simulations will be inevitably be biased.

Without systematic lab confirmation, it is impossible to specify the nature of the virus because the symptoms of H1N1 are broadly similar to those of common influenza. In other words, do the data collected and transmitted by the states to the CDC confirm cases of H1N1 swine flu or do they indicate the prevalence of seasonal influenza?

The CDC posits that the data sent to them by the states is "underestimated". It then hikes up these figures of "unconfirmed" cases, many of which are cases of seasonal influenza. The "corrected figures" are then inserted into the model:

Using this approach [CDC model], it is estimated that more than one million people became ill with novel H1N1 flu between April and June 2009 in the United States. The details of this model and the modeling study will be submitted for publication in a peer reviewed journal. (Ibid)

The model is then used to predict the spread of swine flu and to justify a national health emergency. "Swine flu could strike up to 40 percent of Americans over the next two years and as many as several hundred thousand could die if a vaccine campaign and other measures aren't successful." (Official Statement of the US Administration, Associated Press, 24 July 2009).

Anybody who is familiar with model building and computer simulations, is acutely aware that if the data and assumptions which are fed into the model are incorrect at the outset, the results will inevitably be biased.

What we are dealing with is a process of statistical manipulation, which has far-reaching implications and which could potentially create an atmosphere of panic, particularly if it is coupled, as in the UK, with announcements that "mass graves are being set up to deal with a rising death toll.

Vaccination

The Atlanta based CDC's model's simulations and predictions as to the spread of H1N1 swine flu are then used to plan the implementation of a nationwide vaccination program.

Based on the model's "predictions", mass vaccination of half of the US population is required, with the possible provision for quarantines under civilian and/or military jurisdiction. In the case of the United Kingdom, confirmed by British press reports, the government has predicted a rising death toll requiring the provision of mass graves.




According to reports, the US government expects to have 85 million doses of the new vaccine by the end of October. In total, the US government has ordered 195 million doses from Big Pharma.

"Recommendation: Priority groups to receive the novel H1N1 vaccine

On July 29, 2009, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—an advisory committee to CDC—recommended that novel H1N1 flu vaccine be made available first to the following five groups (News Release)

Pregnant women Health care workers and emergency medical responders
People caring for infants under 6 months of age
Children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years
People aged 25 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions (e.g. asthma, diabetes)

Combined, these groups would equal approximately 159 million individuals." (See Flu.gov: Tests, Vaccines, Medications, & Masks

According to the WHO, Western countries have already ordered one billion doses of the vaccine.

"Northern hemisphere countries have so far ordered more than one billion doses of swine flu vaccine, the World Health Organisation said Tuesday, sparking warnings over shortages," Agence France-Presse reports. While some countries, including Greece, The Netherlands, Canada and Israel, have ordered enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, "[o]thers, such as Germany, the United States, Britain and France, have put in orders that would cover between 30 and 78 percent of people," (AFP, August 19, 2009).

The WHO has made similar predictions: "Vaccine makers could produce 4.9 billion pandemic flu shots per year in the best-case scenario", Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO), quoted by Reuters, 21 July 2009)

The United Kingdom: "Suspected Cases" versus "Confirmed Cases"

Even prior to the WHO decision to suspend reporting and compilation of confirmed cases, the process of data collection in the UK revealed some highly unusual patterns.

"There are big gaps in UK data on swine flu, many of them because so few virological confirmations of H1N1 seem to be being undertaken anywhere. But virology matters - and if more tests had been done, we might begin to understand why the number of people in hospital for swine flu in England is so much greater than in Scotland." Where have all the virologists gone? | Straight Statistics

In Scotland, the collection of data was based on "confirmed cases" (lab testing), whereas in England it was based on "suspected cases" (no lab testing). In both cases, we are dealing with hospitalization. For the same time period, according to the study, England had 3,906 incident hospitalizations for "suspect swine-flu", compared with Scotland’s 43 for "confirmed H1N1".

England has approximately ten times more population than Scotland. On a per capita basis, however, there are 9.1 times more people in England with "suspected H1N1" flu than in Scotland, based on "confirmed cases": 43 confirmed cases in Scotland, 3906 in England (suspected cases), a ratio of more than 1 to 9.

Has the H1N1 epidemic "evolved differently in Scotland and England, in extent and/or timing."? There is no evidence to this effect. Or is this discrepancy of 90 to 1, partially the result of bias in the data for England which is based on "suspected cases". Where have all the virologists gone? | Straight Statistics See also Call for more H1N1 data | Straight Statistics

It is on the basis of these "suspected cases" that unsubstantiated and irresponsible statements are being made by senior government health officials.

What this implies is that the hospital based data on "suspected cases" referred to above, which was already the source of bias is no longer being collected by health personnel.

Self-Categorization

In Britain, the collection of "suspected cases" (which is known to be biased) was abandoned in favor of a system which does not require a diagnosis by a health professional, nor the testing of a lab specimens.

Since the WHO ruling on July 10, establishing new guidelines for data collection, the British authorities no longer focus on hospital based "suspected cases", they are now collecting the data through "dedicated call centres".

They have launched a national service where if you have flu like symptoms, you can call up dedicated call centres or check online whether you have swine flu. So, you don't have to go to your GP, you can access antivirals quickly and don't infect others by travelling around. (Most rapid spread of H1N1 virus in UK)

In Britain, the transition has been from "confirmed cases" (lab confirmation) to "suspected cases" (established by health professional, not requiring testing) to "self categorization"

As the pandemic progresses, the process of data collection becomes increasingly loose and unprofessional. One would normally expect the opposite, that following the announcement of Worldwide level 6 pandemic, that the process of data collection would be developed and improved as means to formulating a public health action plan. .



The process of data collection under the National Pandemic Flu Service is now based on "self-assessment" or self-categorization. Anybody who thinks he/she has flu-like symptoms can contact the National Pandemic Flu Service, by telephone ou through the internet, and can receive an antiviral prescription (e.g. Tamiflu) without the intermediation of a health professional and without even seeing a doctor. You can do it on the internet or by calling up the phone help line:

"The [British] National Pandemic Flu Service is a self-care service that will assess your symptoms and, if required, provide an authorisation number which can be used to collect antiviral medication from a local collection point. For those who do not have internet access, the same service can be accessed by telephone"

According to British health sources communicated to this author, persons who receive a prescription for Tamiflu through the National Pandemic Flu Service over the phone or through the National Health Service Telephone Call Service will be categorized and recorded as a "suspected case" of H1N1 swine flu.




Typical symptoms:
sudden fever (38C or above) and sudden cough
1. Other symptoms include: Tiredness and chills
2. Headache, sore throat, runny nose and sneezing
3. Stomach upset, loss of appetite, diarrhoea
4. Aching muscles, limb or joint pain
Source: NHS and BBC.

The moment you enter your name into the system over the internet or by phone, which allows you to collect anti-viral medication (e.g. tamiflu), you may be categorized as a suspected or probable case of H1N1. (see the UK National Pandemic Flu Service guidelines in Annex 1 below)

As discussed in the England versus Scotland analysis, there is already a 9 to 1 discrepancy between "suspected" and "confirmed" cases, both of which are hospital based.

The system of data collection in the UK through "self-categorization" has no scientific basis whatsoever. It is totally meaningless, given the fact that the H1N1 has the same symptoms as seasonal influenza. (We have, however, not been able to ascertain at the stage the extent to which the self-assessment information is being tabulated and used to establish trends pertaining to the H1N1 flu pandemic)

The pattern in other countries differs from that outlined in relation to Britain. In the US, a system of testing at the state level still prevails.

Concluding Remarks

Reports from Britain by prominent physicians (to the author) suggest that doctors and epidemiologists in the UK are being threatened. They risk being fired by the National Health authorities if they speak out and reveal the falsehoods underlying the data as well as government statements.

It is essential that physicians, epidemiologists and health workers speak out through their respective associations and refute the statements of government health officials who are tacitly acting on behalf of Big Pharma, as well as denounce the manipulation of the data. It is also important to warn the public on the dangers of untested H1N1 flu vaccines.

What we are dealing with is a big lie. A process of generating fake data which is then used to justify a nationwide vaccination program.

The political and corporate interests behind this Worldwide public health emergency must be the target of citizens' actions.

This public health emergency is not intended to protect humanity.

The World is at the crossroads of a major economic and social crisis. The Worldwide public health emergency serves to divert public opinion from the real crisis which is affecting the World's people. This crisis is characterised by rising poverty and unemployment an the collapse in social services, not to mention a a US-NATO multitrillion dollar high tech "war without borders" which includes the preemptive "first strike" use of nuclear weapons.

The dramatic causes and consequences of the "real crisis" which in real sense threaten the future of humanity must remain unheralded. Both the Economic Crisis and the Middle East Central Asian war are the object of routine and persistent media distortion and camouflage. In contrast, the H1N1 swine flu --despite its relatively mild and benign impacts-- is depicted as major "Save the World" endeavor.


Author and economics professor Michel Chossudovsky is Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization, Montreal, He has taught at universities and academic institutions in North America, Western Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. He has also worked as a consultant on issues pertaining to public health and the economics of health for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). He has also acted as adviser to governments of developing countries.


ANNEX 1

The guidelines of UK National Pandemic Flu Service are indicated below:

If you have flu-like symptoms and are concerned that you may have swine flu:

- you have a serious underlying illness

- you are pregnant

- you have a sick child under one year old

- your condition suddenly gets much worse

- your condition is still getting worse after seven days (or five days for a child)

Note: The National Pandemic Flu Service is a self-care service that will asses your symptoms and, if required, provide an authorisation number which can be used to collect antiviral medication from a local collection point. For those who do not have internet access, the same service can be accessed by telephone on:

  • Telephone: 0800 1 513 100
  • Minicom: 0800 1 513 200

For more information on the National Pandemic Flu Service go to Flu Service – Q&A

Key actions

Swine flu is spreading fast in the UK. Prepare now by:

  • Learning to recognise the symptoms of swine flu
  • Establishing ‘flu friends’ - friends and relatives who can help if you fall ill
  • Keeping paracetamol-based cold remedies in the house
  • Having a thermometer available so you can check your temperature if needed

Note: If you have elderly or vulnerable neighbours please check on them. They may need your help but be reluctant to ask for it. It is important you do what you can.

Source Swine flu alert from the NHS

Rhode Island Governor to Shut Down State Government for 12 Days

RI gov to shut down state government for 12 days

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Rhode Island will shut down its state government for 12 days and trim millions of dollars in funding for local governments under a plan Gov. Don Carcieri proposed Monday to balance a budget hammered by surging unemployment and plummeting tax revenue.

The shutdown would force 81 percent of the roughly 13,550-member state work force, excluding its college system, to stay home a dozen days without pay before the start of the new fiscal year in July.

The closures come as the worst recession in decades has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax collections and pushed unemployment to 12.7 percent, the second-highest jobless rate in the nation behind Michigan.

Carcieri predicted the state's fiscal future could grow even bleaker.

"There are going to be inconveniences for the public, and there are going to be sacrifices, as I said, for state employees," Carcieri said at a Statehouse news conference. "These steps right now are unavoidable if the state is to live within its budget, live within its means."

Critical workers such as state police, prison guards and child abuse investigators still will report to work during the shutdown, Carcieri said. He ruled out raising taxes to balance the budget and said the state cannot lay off more workers since it deeply trimmed its work force last year.

At least 19 other state governments have proposed furloughing workers or shutting down government offices to save money amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Carcieri said he is willing to negotiate a different deal with state employee unions so long as it saves the same amount of money, roughly $22 million. But time is short: the first shutdown day has been scheduled for Sept. 4. Additional shutdown days have been scheduled every month through June.

His plan is certain to spark a legal fight with state employee unions that contend it violates their contracts. In bargaining last year, state workers agreed to give up a pay raise and pay more for their health insurance as state leaders struggled to balance the budget. They also took a day without pay.

"We did what we think is all we can do as taxpayers and state workers," said J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, a state employee union that represents around 4,000 workers. "We're saying to them that enough of the budget problems have been taken on the backs of state employees."

Besides shutting down state government, Carcieri asked lawmakers to grant him the power to unilaterally cut spending approved in the budget. State lawmakers rejected a similar request from Carcieri earlier this year.

Governors in 38 other states have at least limited powers to cut state spending without legislative approval, according to a survey last year by the National Association of State Budget Officers. State lawmakers stripped that power from Rhode Island's governor in 1997.

If approved, Carcieri said he would cut about $33 million in local funding for city and town governments.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Haiti Hurricane Devastation Remains One Year Later

Haiti Hurricane Devastation Remains One Year Later

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Until the summer of 2008, Orlande Noel supported his family of eight by operating a trucking business in Gonaives, Haiti, a town of around two hundred thousand people. Then, four huge tropical storms and hurricanes slammed into Haiti in 30 days. Massive mudslides and flooding roared down the deforested mountains into Gonaives. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed and people were trapped on rooftops for days. When the waters receded, over two million cubic meters of mud remained. Severe clean water and food shortages, malnutrition and serious illness plagued the country. Eight hundred people died, hundreds of thousands were homeless and overall damage was estimated at one billion dollars.

One year later, Noel's two big trucks remain overturned in front of his mud-caked house. His pick-up truck is stuck in his front yard. High mounds of mud - that citizens have had to shovel out of their own homes without assistance - have been piled everywhere outside, transforming residential streets into an uneven terrain of dirt mounds, overgrown with weeds. Now, no vehicles can move. It is even difficult to walk. Noel stands next to his demolished vehicles and explains the obvious: His business is ruined. Asked what he does now, he states, "I do nothing. There's no work here." A year later, only 30 percent of the mud that covered the city of Gonaives has been removed. A year later, people still have no free, clean water; it must be bought from vendors on the street. A year later, people are still going hungry in Gonaives. The local economy remains too weak to enable people to meet their basic needs. According to Felix, a motorcycle driver who did not give his last name, a full day's work as a driver brings in, on average, 50 or 60 Haitian gourdes (between $1.25 to $1.50 US dollars), which only affords him and his pregnant girlfriend one meal a day. Felix's story is the story of the average Haitian; the UN reports 78 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day.

Journalist Wadner Pierre visited Gonaives last month. "Entering the city I was overwhelmed by images of filth and destruction, of people wading through or leaping around puddles of water.... The most galling images were of UN vehicles that quite uselessly patrolled the wreckage of Gonaives." Pierre writes that the Haitian government agency in charge of reconstruction "has made no obvious impact in the months that it has been operating - much like the countless foreign NGOs who have hovered around Gonaives for years."

Extreme poverty has created a vicious cycle. Years of cheaply imported food under US trade deals undercut Haitian farmers, who have since left their lands to go to the cities. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports Haiti now grows only 40 percent of the food it needs. Impoverished families seeking wood for charcoal have driven the deforestation of the mountains. Haiti, where three quarters of families use charcoal for cooking, now has only 4 percent of its land in forest, compared to 33 percent of the US. The UN agency for disaster reduction says that, worldwide, as more and more poor people live in urban areas, environmental degradation accelerates, which in turn leaves poor communities more and more vulnerable to natural disasters. Together, these vulnerabilities mean the number of victims of natural disasters is, on average, 40 times higher in poor countries than in rich countries.

A recent Guardian article blames Haiti's inability to withstand and recover from tropical storms on "a constellation of factors – crushing poverty and environmental degradation, political instability and bad governance, ill-conceived international aid efforts and sheer geographical bad luck."

Nearly every international charitable organization in the world works in Haiti. Their new cars and trucks can be seen in every part of the country. Though perhaps well-intended, these agencies often bypass the public sector and create their own individual financial kingdoms dispensing money and jobs as they see fit. These efforts result in a further weakening of the role of the Haitian government, which has been continuously undermined by foreign interference since its founding 200 years ago. Meanwhile, the universal human rights to food, work, education, health and water remain woefully unfulfilled for the people of Gonaives and most of Haiti's other nine million people. What to do? A small network of US human rights and social justice groups working with Haiti insists that future international assistance must increase the ability of the Haitian government to fulfill its human rights responsibilities. Dysfunction or corruption by the government must be challenged and rooted out. But bypassing the government entirely to create private parallel institutions robs the people of their ability to monitor and hold accountable those who distribute the relief they seek.

International civil society must also challenge government prioritization of the interests of foreign corporations and investors over the basic needs of Haitian citizens. For example, Haiti President Rene Preval recently opposed minimum wage increases from $1.25 to $5.00 a day in order not to scare off foreign investors. With such an approach, there must be mechanisms for engagement and accountability to better plan, implement and track internationally-funded projects in Haiti. Transparency must be part of international assistance. That means answering the questions of how much has been raised for hurricane relief, from whom, and where has it gone. A rights-based approach means that the people of Haiti are entitled to the resources needed to provide a life of human dignity for themselves. This means not charity, but justice. The Haitian people are not objects of charity nor are their rights something they have to apply for or stand in line to secure. A rights-based approach means that the people of Haiti have the same right to opportunity as the people of any other country.

A rights-based approach to assistance from foreign governments and international organizations means the people of Haiti are empowered to be agents of their own development. Empowerment seems like a wonderful word, except that it implies that current power arrangements must be shifted. Those who have the power in Haiti, but who are not taking direction from the people of Haiti, have that power unjustly and must give that power back to the people. This applies both to governments and it applies to nongovernmental organizations. A year later, Gonaives and other Haitian communities remain wracked by the storms of the summer of 2008. The people of Haiti need the solidarity of people and organizations that will work with them not as objects of charity but as partners in human rights solidarity. Those who look upon the people of Haiti as objects of charity do well to remember the demand of the indigenous people of Australia, who warned outsiders: "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, let us struggle together."

Let those of us who do not live in Gonaives join with Haitians to struggle together in a human rights approach that will offer opportunities, not just hand-outs, to people like Orlande Noel and Felix. Collectively, we have the creativity, the resources and the organizational potential to effectively channel the strong determination so apparent in Gonaives into positive new models of human rights work in the spirit of making this world better for all of us.

Expert Who Warned Levees Would Burst Fired

Expert Fired Who Warned Levees Would Burst

Hurricane George, Four Years Later

by Greg Palast

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For Crooks and Liars

This week, download for free, Palast's film for Democracy Now!, "Big Easy to Big Empty: How the White House Drowned New Orleans."

Tonight on Air America: Greg Palast joins Crooks and Liars' John Amato, guest host of "Clout!" on your local progressive station or streaming live on AirAmericaRadio.com at 9pm Eastern.

There's another floater. Four years on, there's another victim face down in the waters of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Ivor van Heerden.

I don't get to use the word "heroic" very often. Van Heerden is heroic. The Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, it was van Heerden who told me, on camera, something so horrible, so frightening, that, if it weren't for his international stature, it would have been hard to believe:

"By midnight on Monday the White House knew. Monday night I was at the state Emergency Operations Center and nobody was aware that the levees had breeched. Nobody."

On the night of August 29, 2005, van Heerden was shut in at the state emergency center in Baton Rouge, providing technical advice to the rescue effort. As Hurricane Katrina came ashore, van Heerden and the State Police there were high-fiving it: Katrina missed the city of New Orleans, turning east.

What they did not know was that the levees had cracked. For crucial hours, the White House knew, but withheld the information that the levees of New Orleans had broken and that the city was about to drown. Bush's boys did not notify the State of the flood to come which would have allowed police to launch an emergency hunt for the thousands that remained stranded.

"Fifteen hundred people drowned. That's the bottom line," said von Heerden.
He shouldn't have told me that. The professor was already in trouble for saying, publicly, that the levees around New Orleans were no good, too short, by 18". They couldn't stand up to a storm like Katrina. He said it months before Katrina hit - in a call to the White House, and later in the press.

So, even before Katrina, even before our interview, the professor was in hot water. Van Heerden was told by University officials that his complaints jeopardized funding from the Bush Administration. They tried to gag him. He didn't care: he ripped off the gag and spoke out.

It didn't matter to Bush, to the State, to the University, that van Heerden was right— devastatingly right. Exactly as van Heerden predicted, the levees could not stand up to the storm surge.

In 2006, I met van Heerden in his office at the University's hurricane center; a cubby filled with charts of the city under water. He's a soft-spoken, even-tempered man, given to understatement and academic reserve. But his words were hand grenades: the Bush White House did nothing about the levees, despite warning after warning.

Why? A hurricane is an Act of God. But a levee failure is an Act of Bush - of the federal government. Under the Flood Control Act of 1928, once the levees break, it's Washington's responsibility to save lives -- and to compensate the victims for lost homes and lost loved ones.

By telling me this, the professor had to know he was putting his job on the line.
This week marks the fourth anniversary of the drowning of New Orleans.

Shakoor Aljuwani of the Rebuilding Lives Coalition reminds me it is also the fourth year of exile for more than half of the low-income Black residents who once lived in the Crescent City. In the Lower Ninth Ward, 81% have yet to return.

And it marks the end of Dr. van Heerden's career at LSU. They got him. Once the network cameras were turned away from New Orleans, as America and Anderson Cooper shifted attention to Brad and Angelina and other news, the University put an end to Dr. van Heerden. "In 2006 they started the nonsense - they stopped me from teaching. They tried last year to get faculty to vote me out."

His contract was not renewed; he was forced out too, dumped along with the chief of the Hurricane Center who led the academics who supported van Heerden's research.
The Man Who Was Right was fired.

Cronies and Contracts

I did not seek out professor van Heerden about Bush's deadly silence. Rather, I'd come to LSU to ask him about a strange little company, "Innovative Emergency Management," a politically well-connected firm that, a year before the hurricane, had finagled a contract to plan the evacuation of New Orleans.

Innovative Emergency Management knew a lot about political contributions, but seemed to have zero experience in hurricane response planning. In fact, their "plan" for New Orleans called for evacuating the city by automobile. When Katrina hit, 127,000 wheel-less New Orleans folk were left to float out.

And van Heerden knew all about it. Well before the hurricane, I discovered, he'd pointed out flaws in the "Innovative" plan - and was threatened for the revelation by a state official. The same official later joined the payroll of Innovative Emergency Management.

When I asked the company, at their office, for a copy of the plan, they body-blocked our Democracy Now! camerawoman and called the cops.

Not everyone shared the harsh fate of van Heerden. Just this month, Innovative Emergency Management, the firm with the drive-for-your-life plan, was handed a fat contract by the State of Alabama to draft - you guessed it - a hurricane evacuation plan for Mobile.

The City That Care Forgot

After the flood, I filmed the uplifting story of Common Ground, the commune of Katrina survivors who, under the leadership of the community organizer Malik Rahim, rebuilt a shattered hulk of a building with their own sweat and donated materials. They housed 350 displaced families.

Malik RahimSince I broadcast that film in 2006, Rahim and the tenants were evicted by speculators who bought the building. Just before Christmas, elderly residents were carried out and dumped in the street, literally, by marshals. The speculators paid the families who build their new edifice not one dime.

We also filmed the story of Patricia Thomas, a woman fighting to return to her home in the beautiful Lafitte public housing project. Speculators have long lusted for this property on the edge of the French Quarter.

And now the speculators have it. Patricia's home, unscathed by Katrina, was nevertheless bulldozed. As Rahim puts it, "They wanted them poor niggers out of there and they ain't had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no poor niggers." Their plan succeeded. Patricia, homeless, died last year.

This Friday, take a moment to remember a courageous professor, an indefatigable activist and the refugee families who once lived in what was once called, "The City That Care Forgot."

Now, in 2009, you could call it the city that everyone forgot.

Part 2 tomorrow. A new warning; the next Katrina and Big Oil

For one week only, the International Humanities Center is offering, free of charge, a download of Greg Palast's investigative report for Democracy Now!, "Big Easy to Big Empty - the untold story of how the White House drowned New Orleans" at www.GregPalast.com.

Download the film or make a donation to support these investigations and get a copy signed by Palast at www.gregpalast.com/bigeasy.

Government Office Projects More Severe Downturn

PDF document: Government Office Projects More Severe Downturn

Judge gives Federal Reserve five days to disclose bailout loan details

Judge gives Federal Reserve five days to disclose bailout loan details

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Ruling on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by a reporter with Bloomberg News, a U.S. district court judge has given the Federal Reserve five days to produce a list of financial firms that received emergency loans late last year.

Loretta Preska, chief judge of the Manhattan U.S. District Court, ruled Monday that the Fed had “improperly withheld agency records” in response to the FOIA request, according to Bloomberg reporter Mark Pittman.

In her ruling, Judge Preska also struck a blow to the assertion that transparency at the nation’s central bank would somehow be dangerous to the U.S. economy.

“The Fed has refused to name the financial firms it lent to or disclose the amounts or the assets put up as collateral under 11 programs, most put in place during the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression, saying that doing so might set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders,” Bloomberg reported.

The financial news agency continued: “Bloomberg said in the suit that U.S. taxpayers need to know the terms of Fed lending because the public became an ‘involuntary investor’ in the nation’s banks as the financial crisis deepened and the government began shoring up companies with capital injections and loans. Citigroup Inc. and American International Group Inc. are among those who have said they accepted Fed loans.”

However, the Fed had argued that “disclosure will cause substantial harm to the competitive position of Federal Reserve System borrowers,” writes Judge Preska in her ruling. On those grounds, its board of directors insisted to the court that key information held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) was not subject to the FOIA request.

The judge disagreed.

“The Board has not conducted an adequate search of its agency records because the Board did not search any FRBNY records,” she ruled. “In other words, the Board improperly withheld agency records in response to a FOIA request by conducting an inadequate search.”

Preska added that the Fed’s argument of danger to the financial system was based merely on “conjecture” and the court remained unconvinced because the Fed had failed to provide adequate evidence of this.

“[The] risk of looking weak to competitors and shareholders is an inherent risk of market participation; information tending to increase that risk does not make the information privileged or confidential,” she wrote.

The judge ordered the board to “search forthwith” records held at the New York Fed that are responsive to Bloomberg’s FOIA and to produce them within five business days. She further ordered the Fed to confer with the news agency and report back to the court in writing no later than Sept. 14.

“The Fed’s balance sheet has swelled to more than $2 trillion, doubling over the last year,” noted The Lost Angeles Times.

The Times added: “The decision could give more impetus to a bipartisan group in the House that is pushing a bill to have the Government Accountability Office audit the Fed’s operations. Bernanke has vehemently opposed the idea, asserting that it would lead to the politicization of monetary policy by giving Congress an easy way to second-guess any decision the Fed makes.”

President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second term, citing the chairman’s expertise on the Great Depression. Bernanke was nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan four years ago.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, was quoted by Bloomberg saying, “The Federal Reserve has to be accountable for the decisions it makes. It’s one thing to say that the Federal Reserve is an independent institution. It’s another thing to say that it can keep us all in the dark.”

Among members of the U.S. House of Representatives, over half have signed on to H.R. 1207, a bill that would audit the Federal Reserve, as proposed by popular Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul.

In a recent dialog with social bookmarking Web site Digg.com, U.S. Treasury Secretary and former New York Federal Reserve Chairman Timothy Geithner said that he’s sure “people understand that you want to keep politics out of monetary policy.” He added that auditing the Fed is “a line that we do not want to cross,” raising the specter of danger to the U.S. economy — very similar to the argument which Judge Preska rejected as being based on “conjecture” and not evidence.

The Associated Press noted in late July that a special inspector general’s report claimed the total taxpayer burden for the bailouts could amount to over $24 trillion, “or $80,000 for every American.”