<\body> Stories in America: June 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

Last night's presidential debate

Finally. Real questions about real issues: poverty, AIDS, education, incarceration, etc...thus far, the debates have lacked substance. The Democrats seem to agree more than they disagree (with the exception of Mike Gravel), but unlike the Republicans, at least they are talking about the failed war on drugs, the need for sex education, the unfair justice system, and the growing gap between the rich and poor.

I can't wait to see how Republicans answer questions about similar issues.

Check out the debate here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sign a petition to help organic farmers

This is from the Environmental Working Group, an excellent organization that works to protect public health and the environment:
Congress is about to vote on a new Farm Bill, which could be the first to include fair funding for organics. But to make this happen, our Representatives need to hear from us!

Act now. Add your name to the Grow Organics petition and join the fight for pesticide-free produce. EWG Action Fund's goal is 30,000 signatures by July 15. Tell Congress to vote for organics.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

1970 CIA documents reveal assassination plots, drug testing citizens, and spying on protesters

I love reading declassified government secrets. Imagine what we'll find out about the Bush regime in 2040:
The documents detail assassination plots against foreign leaders like Fidel Castro, the testing of mind- and behavior-altering drugs like LSD on unwitting citizens, wiretapping of U.S. journalists, spying on civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protesters, opening mail between the United States and the Soviet Union and China, break-ins at the homes of ex-CIA employees and others.

The 693 pages, mostly drawn from the memories of active CIA officers in 1973, were turned over at that time to three different investigative panels - President Ford’s Rockefeller Commission, the Senate’s Church committee and the House’s Pike committee.

The Washington Post explores the CIA's attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro:
The plot, described in detail in CIA documents released today, involved six poison pills, a bungled wire-tapping and CIA operatives working with two mob bosses on the FBI's ten-most wanted list.

The CIA's efforts to assassinate Castro were documented by the Church Committee in 1975, based on the testimony of many of the key players, but the documents show that the agency's actions in the early 1960's still have the capacity to shock.

The CIA plan was known only to a few top officials. Robert A. Maheu, an ex-FBI agent, was asked to contact Johnny Roselli, a high-ranking mobster who was an acquaintance. Maheu made the pitch on Sept. 14, 1960 in New York City. He brought along James O'Connell, who he identified as an employee, but was, in reality, chief of the CIA's operational support division. They offered to pay $150,000, but Roselli said he did not want any money.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Why are Americans so ill-informed?

This is sad, but not surprising given the amount of attention the national media spends on Paris Hilton versus the amount of time they spend on Iraq. This is from Newsweek's first What You Need to Know poll:
Even today, more than four years into the war in Iraq, as many as four in 10 Americans (41 percent) still believe Saddam Hussein’s regime was directly involved in financing, planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks on 9/11, even though no evidence has surfaced to support a connection. A majority of Americans were similarly unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a multiple-choice question about the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers were born. Just 43 percent got it right—and a full 20 percent thought most came from Iraq.

Still, seven in 10 (70 percent) are aware that the United States has not discovered any hidden weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since the war began. And perhaps because most (85 percent) are aware that Osama bin Laden remains at large, roughly half of the poll’s respondents (52 percent) think that the United States is losing the fight against his terror group, Al Qaeda, despite no military defeats or recent terrorist attacks to suggest as much.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Real Journalism About Katrina Profits

I'm sure the liberal media will catch up. This is from the Center for Public Integrity:
Three federal agencies responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita awarded more than $2.4 billion in contracts using a controversial form of pricing that critics say offers no incentive for cost savings, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Air Force and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were responsible for issuing the majority of cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts, which often are used when an agency needs to get work done quickly, but can’t predict how much that work will cost. The contracts allowed vendors to bill the government for their costs, plus receive an extra profit based upon a guaranteed amount.

The Center's analysis found that 27 percent of FEMA’s $8.4 billion in Katrina and Rita contracts were cost-plus-fixed-fee, accounting for nearly 21 percent of the EPA's $212 million and 36 percent of the Air Force's $167 million in contracts awarded through Jan. 31, 2007. In FEMA’s case, these contracts were used well after the initial disaster and accounted for nearly 94 percent of all of the hurricane-related cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts, awarded primarily for arranging and installing emergency temporary trailers for evacuees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Industry officials counter that companies often make a practical decision to use cost-plus-fix-fee contracts when the costs are difficult to estimate for a disaster, especially one as devastating as Katrina. But critics, including the Government Accountability Office (GAO), contend that companies have little incentive to cut costs or improve efficiency under cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts. In the case of FEMA’s $575 million contract with Bechtel National, Inc. to provide temporary trailers, the GAO criticized the agency and Bechtel for a delivery process that was “slow,” “horribly inefficient” and offered “no incentives to improve efficiency.”

The Center’s analysis also includes an updated Katrina contracts database searchable by the name of the vendor, place of performance or name of the contracting agency.

Iraq Now Ranks as Second Most Unstable Country

Another mission accomplished:
Despite billions of dollars in foreign aid, and the presence of more than 150,000 American troops, Iraq has been on a steady decline over the past three years, according to the index. It ranked fourth last year, but its score dropped in almost all of the 12 political, economic, security and social indicators on which the index is based. "The report tells us that Iraq is sinking fast," said Fund for Peace President Pauline Baker.

"We believe it's reached the point of no return. We have recommended - based on studies done every six months since the US invasion - that the administration face up to the reality that the only choices for Iraq are how and how violently it will break up."

14 Troops Dead in the Last 48 Hours

The U.S. military said 14 American troops have died in several attacks in the past 48 hours, including five slain Thursday in a single roadside bombing that also killed four Iraqis in Baghdad.

Elsewhere, a suicide truck bomber struck the Sulaiman Bek city hall in a predominantly Sunni area of northern Iraq, killing at least 16 people and wounding 67, an Iraqi commander said.

The latest U.S. deaths raised to at least 3,545 the number of American troops who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Soldier in Iraq Resists the Occupation

From Iraq Vets Against the War:
Yesterday, June 19, 26 year old SPC Eli Israel put himself at great personal risk by making the courageous decision to refuse further participation in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Eli told his commanding officer and sergeants that he will no longer be a combatant in this illegal, unjustified war. Eli believes that the U.S. government used the attacks of September 11, 2001 as a pretense to invade Iraq and that "we are now violating the people of this country (Iraq) in ways that we would never accept on our own soil." Eli is stationed at Camp Victory in Baghdad with JVB Bravo Company, 1-149 Infantry of the Kentucky Army National Guard. This soldier's decision to refuse orders puts him at great risk, especially because he is in Iraq, isolated from legal assistance and other support. The following is a message that Eli sent yesterday to a friend back home:

"I have told them that I will no longer play a 'combat role' in this conflict or 'protect corporate representatives,' and they have taken this as 'violating a direct order.' I may be in jail or worse in the next 24 hours.

Please rally whoever you can, call whoever you can, bring as much attention to this as you can. I have no doubt that the military will bury me and hide the whole situation if they can. I'm in big trouble. I'm in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by people who are not on my side. Please help me. Please contact whoever you can, and tell them who I am, so I don't 'disappear.'"

Eli is taking an incredible risk by refusing orders in Iraq and will most likely be court martialed. Please help him by contacting his Senator and requesting that he take any steps necessary to support and protect this soldier and ensure that the Army respects his rights and does not illegally retaliate against him.

Senator Mitch McConnell:
Washington Office
361-A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2541
Fax: (202) 224-2499

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Iraq Violence Leads to Abortions

Another depressing mission accomplished:
Pregnant Iraqi women who have been forced from their homes by worsening violence are obtaining illegal abortions because they are unable to get medical care for themselves and their unborn, according to a new report by a national humanitarian group.

A record number of Iraqis -- most of them women and children -- are fleeing their homes to escape the bloodshed of sectarian violence and anti-U.S. attacks, according to a new report by the Iraqi Red Crescent organization, the largest aid group operating in Iraq.

Health care is inadequate and difficult to access for those people, according to the IRC report.

"Pregnant women, infants and children are unable to get...required medical care," states the report, which was translated from Arabic, "and criminal abortion became [sic] the norms."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Iraqi Boy Faces Sexual Abuse on the Streets of Baghdad

From IraqSlogger:
BAGHDAD: Mahmoud Rafid, 13, says he is afraid to go on selling goods on the streets of Baghdad, after being sexually harassed and abused.

He lost his father a year ago and his mother has cancer so Mahmoud, his two sisters, 14 and 11, and brother, 9, had to find ways of feeding themselves. After selling many of their possessions to raise money, they can now be seen at traffic lights selling chocolates, newspapers and pens.

“My mother is very sick and if we lose her our situation is going to be even worse. We were all forced to leave our school to help boost our household income but the situation is dangerous and sometimes I have the impression that one day I won’t return home.

“My sisters are the ones who suffer most. There are many very bad men in Baghdad who want to do bad things to them. They stay near me when we are working and I always carry a knife with me to defend them in case someone wants to sexually abuse them. I have suffered that, and don’t want this to happen to them too.

“I have to keep working to help my family despite being abused. Our relatives have turned their back on us and my father didn’t leave us enough money.

“My mother stays at home waiting for us, crying, desperate and afraid that something might happen to us on the streets. Her cancer is developing fast and if she dies we will have to rely on ourselves and maybe we’ll have to sleep on the streets.

“I miss the time I was at school and if I had the opportunity to go back I would just grab it. I was a good student, with good marks and many friends. But now even my friends have abandoned us because we work the streets. Their families think we aren’t good company for them.

“Many times people come to us offering money and food in return for us selling drugs, but we never agree to do it. My brother tried drugs twice and got very sick. We couldn’t do anything. Thank God, after my mother took good care of him he gave up this bad thing.

“I hope one day we can have a good and safe life again. I would like to see my brother at school again and eat a nice piece of meat. But until this happens, we will keep working, trying to afford some food for my mother in her last days.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On the Record: Mike Gravel

On today's Your Call (listen from 10:00-11:00 am PST on KALW 91.7 FM or online - you can also listen to archives or sign up for the podcast):

After the first presidential debate in April, The Washington Post wrote in an editorial that "voters trying to sort out their presidential choices aren't helped by debates cluttered with the likes of Mike Gravel."

Former Democratic Party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan recently told the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire: "I believe that going forward the networks should politely dis-invite Mr. Gravel. He just detracts from the time from the other candidates. He's not a serious candidate."

Mike Gravel was the first Democrat to enter the presidential race. The 77-year-old is from Springfield, Massachusetts. He moved to Alaska in the 1950s. After Alaska became a state in 1959, Gravel served in the state House of Representatives. He served as a U.S. Senator from Alaska from 1969-1981. In 1981, he lost his reelection campaign to Republican Frank Murkowski and has been largely absent from the political stage ever since.

Mike Gravel is best known for releasing the Pentagon papers during the Vietnam War and leading a five-month filibuster to end the draft.

He says he initially entered the presidential race to push his National Initiative System, which would allow citizens to bring proposals to a popular vote. But once he was in, he says he realized voters needed a serious alternative to his fellow candidates.

In case you’re not familiar with what the Washington Post calls clutter, watch Mike Gravel at the first debate in April taking a question from NBC’s Brian Williams.

On today’s Your Call, we’ll continue our On the Record series, where we move beyond the stump speeches and rhetorical promises and instead focus on candidates’ voting records and campaign contributions. Each month, we will highlight three of the 20 candidates running in for their party’s nomination.

Today we’re focusing on Mike Gravel. He’s not getting equal time in the media, but he’s getting a lot of attention online. After the South Carolina debate, Mike Gravel was the 15th most popular search on the Internet. He’s appeared on the Colbert Report and on Digg.com, where users post links to articles they think others should read, the two top political items recently were about Mike Gravel.

The former Senator was running his campaign out of a 300 square foot apartment. Thanks to donations from citizens, he now has a campaign office.

What are Mike Gravel’s top priorities? How did he vote when he was in the Senate over 20 years ago?

Senator Gravel will be joining us at 20 after the hour.

Also joining me are two guests who are following Mike Gravel’s presidential bid. Greg Giroux is senior political writer for Congressional Quarterly.

Joe Lauria is an independent reporter who’s writing has appeared in the Progressive, the Boston Globe and the Sunday Times of London.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Is the U.S. Food Supply Safe?

On today's Your Call (listen from 10:00-11:00 am PST on KALW 91.7 FM or online - you can also listen to archives or sign up for the podcast):

Since last Fall, confidence in food safety has plummeted. E. coli was found in packaged spinach. Salmonella was found in peanut butter in February. More recently, tainted pet food ingredients from China led to one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history. In April, the FDA detained 107 food imports from China, including dried apples preserved with a cancer causing chemical agent. What is happening to our food supply? How safe is it? It’s difficult to tell because the Food and Drug Administration is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago. Consumer groups say a food safety crisis is on the horizon. So what’s the solution?

Confidence in the US food supply took a big hit this spring after pet food ingredients imported from China turned out to be laced with a plastic called melamine. The tainted food caused 16 deaths and thousands of cats and dog illnesses, causing the FDA to issue the largest pet food recall in U.S. history.

Then came troubling news for human health.

According to a report in the Washington Post, in April alone, the U.S. government detained 107 food imports from China, including dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical, frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics, scallops and sardines coated with bacteria, and mushrooms containing illegal pesticides.

Last month, the U.S. issued warnings about toothpaste made in China because it contained a toxic chemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid.

These developments have led to hearings in Washington and calls for banning food imports from China.

How safe is our food supply? It’s difficult to tell because between 2003 and 2006, FDA food inspections dropped 47 percent, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

Are domestically produced foods intrinsically safer than imported ones? And why are we importing so much food in the first place?

Today's guests:

William Hubbard has been warning about food safety since the 90s. Dr. Hubbard is former Associate Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. He's testified at some of the hearings in Washington and has urged more inspections and tighter regulation. Dr. Hubbard is also senior advisor to the Coalition for a Stronger FDA - a coalition of business, consumer and public health organizations.

Dr. Roger Clemens is a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, an organization that conducts the world's largest annual convention on food grown, processed, manufactured, distributed, and eaten worldwide. Dr. Clemens holds a PhD in nutrition and biochemistry from UCLA and has been working in the field for more than 30 years.

Caroline Smith-DeWaal is Food Safety Director at the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that advocates for food safety. The organization's Nutrition Action Healthletter has close to a million subscribers and is the largest-circulation health newsletter in North America.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On the Record: Congressman Ron Paul

Last night, the Republican presidential nominees took the stage in Manchester, New Hampshire for another debate. The first question about Iraq was directed to all candidates except Congressman Ron Paul of Texas -- the lone Republican candidate who opposes the war and openly criticizes U.S. foreign policy.

On my radio show, Your Call, we're doing an “On the Record” series about presidential candidates’ voting records and campaign contributions. Today, we focused on Congressman Ron Paul.

On May 3rd, during the first presidential debate, Congressman Paul had a heated exchange with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani about the root causes of terrorism.

When asked about his opposition to war in Iraq, Congressman Paul blamed U.S. interventionist foreign policy for creating the “blowback” that gave rise to Al Qaeda and attacks like 9/11.

Giuliani denounced Paul, saying: “I don't think I've heard that before and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11.”

Following the debate, Congressman Paul compiled a reading list for Giuliani, including Chalmers Johnson’s book "Blowback," which examines the unintended consequences of U.S. foreign policy; and the 9/11 Commission Report, which says that Osama bin Laden was angered by the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

Congressman Paul is one of the *only* politicians who actually understands and talks about the consequences of U.S. foreign policy.

The day after that debate, Congressman Paul’s website got over 700,000 visitors and according to his campaign, the number of people donating to his campaign increased fourfold.

In most national polls, he gets one percent or less of the vote. But in online polls, he’s frequently in first place.

But what else do voters know about Congressman Paul other than his opposition to war and U.S. foreign policy?

Congressman Paul was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1976. He ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 1988. As a practicing OB/GYN, he is often called “Dr. No” because of his propensity to oppose any bill he finds contradictory to the constitution.

Where does Congressman Paul stand on domestic issues?

Today's guests:

Justin Raimondo first met Congressman Paul in 1977 and has been following his political career ever since. Justice is the editorial director of antiwar.com and author of the forthcoming book, “Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.”

T.J. Aulds is a producer with Channel 11's KHOU.com in Houston. He is a former editor for The Daily News and The Texas City Sun.

Monday, June 04, 2007

14 Dead American Soldiers in First Three Days of June

The U.S. military says at least 14 American soldiers were killed in Iraq in the first three days of June.

The fourteen includes six troops killed in incidents in the Baghdad area Sunday. In each attack, the troops' vehicles struck roadside bombs or were hit by improvised explosive devices.

The military said 8 U.S. troops were killed in incidents Friday and Saturday.

This comes after 127 U.S. troops were killed in May, the third-deadliest month for U.S. forces since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Immigration Wakes Up Conservatives

The silence from conservatives over the past six years has been deafening. It seems they are finally fed up over Bush's immigration bill. Peggy Noonan, the conservative columnist, who used to gush over Bush's manliness, is out with a biting column about Bush and his rapidly disappearing base. Are his cheerleaders finally waking up?
What political conservatives and on-the-ground Republicans must understand at this point is that they are not breaking with the White House on immigration. They are not resisting, fighting and thereby setting down a historical marker--"At this point the break became final." That's not what's happening. What conservatives and Republicans must recognize is that the White House has broken with them. What President Bush is doing, and has been doing for some time, is sundering a great political coalition. This is sad, and it holds implications not only for one political party but for the American future.

The White House doesn't need its traditional supporters anymore, because its problems are way beyond being solved by the base. And the people in the administration don't even much like the base. Desperate straits have left them liberated, and they are acting out their disdain. Leading Democrats often think their base is slightly mad but at least their heart is in the right place. This White House thinks its base is stupid and that its heart is in the wrong place.

For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome. You don't like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don't like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad. You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad.

Now conservatives and Republicans are going to have to win back their party. They are going to have to break from those who have already broken from them. This will require courage, serious thinking and an ability to do what psychologists used to call letting go. This will be painful, but it's time. It's more than time.