Category Archives: corporations

The Myth of the Greedy Geezer

The following appeared today as an opinion piece on Al Jazeera English.

Old people are becoming everyone’s favourite scapegoat for America’s economic woes. Among the growing ranks of self-styled deficit hawks, Social Security and
Medicare are depicted as an intolerable burden to the nation’s already crippled
economy, which can only be saved through massive cuts to these so-called old-age entitlement programs. To advance this agenda, proponents of entitlement cuts have attacked not only the programs themselves, but the people who benefit from them – the selfish old folks like myself, who insist upon bankrupting the
country for the sake of their own costly health care and retirement income.

We in the over-65 set have become the present-day equivalent of Reagan’s notorious “welfare queens,” supposedly living high on the hog at the expense of the taxpayer. According to what I call the Myth of the Greedy Geezer, we lucky
oldsters spend our time lolling about in lush retirement villas, racing our golf
carts to under-priced early-bird dinner specials and toasting our good fortune
with cans of Ensure – all at the expense of struggling young people, who will
never enjoy such pleasures since the entitlement “Ponzi scheme” will collapse
long before they are old.

The fervour for entitlement-cutting remains strongest among conservatives, but these days, even President Obama is taking part, promoting the recommendations of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Deficit Commission (and to its opponents as the Cat food Commission, since that’s what old people will be eating when the Commission finishes its work).

The appointed chair of the Deficit Commission, Alan Simpson, is one of the primary promulgators of the Myth of the Greedy Geezer. A former Republican senator from Wyoming who is known for his colourful turns of phrase, Simpson insists that “This country is gonna go to the bow-wows unless we deal with entitlements, Social Security and Medicare.” The majority of the people opposed to such cuts, he claims, are “These old cats 70 and 80 years old who are not
affected in one whiff. People who live in gated communities and drive their
Lexus to the Perkins restaurant to get the AARP discount. This is madness.”…

Read the rest at Al Jazeera.

Oil and Water: The Spoils of the Libyan War

The real battle over Libya’s future has less to do with opposing political factions than with which foreign players will gain control of the country’s natural resources–oil, natural gas, and water. Europe’s leading oil firms are busy jockeying for position in the impending division of the spoils, while insiders watch for China to make its move.Overlooking it all is a growing US  network of drones which could well be the forerunner of a new,aggressive American military presence on the African continent.

A decision on Friday by the UN Security Council frees  the Libyan national oil company of restraints on its financial operations, which  opens up Libya’s ability to pay for reconstruction. That process ought to get a  further lift from Obama’s meeting on Tuesday with the interim government leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil and his decision to reopen the US embassy in Tripoli

Libya currently produces 2 percent of the world’s oil, but two  things make it a more formidable player in the world market than the numbers  would indicate. One is its location, a short trip across the Mediterranean from  Italy, France, and Spain, with ready access to European energy markets. The  other is the fact that Libya has substantial known reserves–the largest in  Africa, and ninth largest in the world–yet most of the country remains “underexplored” and unmapped, offering the possibility of  even greater supplies in the future.

To date, Italy has been the largest beneficiary of Libyan oil  supplies, for a number of reasons. The Italians invaded and colonized Libya in 1911, left it in tatters following the big tank battles of World War II, and in recent years has emerged as a major force in its oil economy and foreign policy. Before the revolt, Berlusconi enjoyed warm relations with Qadaffi. Italy and Libya worked hand in hand in an effort to slow the flow of immigrants from the Red Sea and northern Africa into Europe with the Italian coast guard intercepting boatloads crossing the Mediterranean through the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies off the Libyan coast below Sicily. Italy also drew one third of its entire oil supply from this former colony.  ENI, the Italian oil giant, is the largest foreign oil company in Libya. Recently Russia’s Gazprom joined ENI in a joint venture to drill for oil under the desert.

The giant international oil companies are socked into Libya and they all have been vying for oil and gas throughout the fighting. According to a report in the Guardian, the London oil trading firm Vitol was in close touch with the rebels, arranging fuel supplies. The new interim government has said France, Britain, and Italy will get favorable treatment compared to China and Russia. Liberation, the French newspaper, reported that Sarkozy cut a deal with the rebels in which France would get 35 percent of the country’s oil in return for military assistance—on the face of it, a pretty wild claim.

ENI’s chief executive officer, Paolo Scaroni, told the Wall Street Journal  earlier this month that the new Libyan government insists it will honor existing contracts. The AP reported executives from Repsol, the Spanish oil firm, were in Benghazi discussing restoring existing operations. Total, the French firm, is preparing to re-enter as well.

Actually the key factor in this game could turn out to be not so much oil, but natural gas. Right now Russia has a near monopoly on gas going into Europe and at an exorbitant price, but its reliability in winter months is questioned. Libyan exports of gas through the Greenstream pipeline to Sicily, also run by ENI, have been increasing. Some industry commentators suggest that natural gas exports might dramatically expand so that Libya acts as a counterweight to the Russians. That, at least, seems to be how the Russians, who stayed well clear of the NATO air attacks, see the situation. According to the AP:

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, described its former Cold War rival’s intervention in Libya as legitimate because it was aimed at protecting civilians, but he said Russia believes the underlying reason was access to Libyan oil.

“For Russia, NATO’s operation in Libya indicated that the major interests of the alliance now lay not in Europe’s East — where its adversaries the Warsaw Treaty Pact and the Soviet Union used to be — but in oil-rich lands of Northern Africa and the Middle East,” Rogozin said in an email.

It seems hard to believe existing oil arrangements—some 50 companies have been engaged in the Libyan oil business–will be seriously affected by Quadaffi’s exit, but the sleeper here is China, which already is ensconced in the Libyan economy, and according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail, offered Quadaffi armaments during the war. These included shoulder-held rockets similar to the U.S. Stinger. They were to be shipped through Algeria or South Africa.

Libya now is China’s eleventh largest source of imports. And before the revolt, 36,000 Chinese were working on 50 different projects within the country. China played both sides during the revolt. While it was peddling arms to Quadaffi, Ma Zhaouxu, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement saying, “The Chinese side respects the choice of the Libyan people.
The Chinese side is willing to work with the international community to play a
positive role in the reconstruction process of Libya in the future.’’

Water presents an equally controversial subject in Libya. Quadaffi’s ambitious Great Man Made River, a 2,333 mile network of irrigation pipes drawing water from acquifers beneath the southern desert and turning the arid wastes into lush farmlands. It sounds like a project imported straight from the Colorado river whose diversion has transformed much of the US desert west into into green farmlands and pleasing suburban front lawns. And, in fact, it was Armand Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum that seems to have introduced earlier and smaller versions of this irrigation scheme.

There is one big hitch to this water project. The desert aquifers, as Sandra Postel of Worldwatch, points out in her book Last Oasis, were filled with water 30,000 years ago when there was considerably more rainfall than there is today. In examining this project, engineers now predict the desert aquifers will be sucked dry within 40-60 years. The water will all have been pumped up to the Mediterranean coast for agriculture.The original coastal water sources have been exhausted. So, by then the food and water purchased with oil money will be gone and the whole thing will go down in history as folly.

To defend against such an eventuality Quadaffi looked further afield to line up more water. He hit on Mali a poor country, which up to the present time, was made self sustainable by prudent use of shallow ground water wells. Fred Pearce in Environment 360, a Yale publication, describes the sorry story of what happened when Quadaffi fixed his gaze on Mali:

Libya’s wholesale move into Malian irrigation and agriculture is the result of a secret deal between Mali’s president, Amadou Toumani Toure, and Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi. Paid for by Gadaffi’s sovereign investment fund, the Libya Africa Portfolio Fund for Investment, the deal hands the land to a Libyan-controlled organization called Malibya for 50 years and gives the Libyans undisclosed rights to the region’s water. Why would the Mali president sign up to this?

Local campaigners say their government is in thrall — and hock — to Libya because it has become dependent on Libya for aid and investment. Many of its civil servants work in offices built by Libya, and international visitors stay at Libyan-built hotels. And, says Lamine Coulibaly, head of communications for the Mali small farmers’ union, CNOP, the government is so obsessed with getting investment for its agriculture that it cannot see when that investment will do more harm than good to its people.

The infrastructure for agribusiness is in place, and if Libya manages to siphon off water from sub-Saharan Africa into growing crops for Europe and likely the United States, it will be a major player in food as well as fossil fuel supplies. All this will provide the money for the new government, which may or may not provide some form of limited democratic rule.ilitary

There is another aspect to the future of Libya and that has to do with US military ambitions in Africa. These are driven by determination  to root out terrorrists;\ over the long term,they may well be intended to check China which sees Africa as a fuels bin and already has built up an  expansive economic network on the continent.The Washington Post’s report Wednesday morning of growing US drone operations in Africa suggests an expanded US military presence on the continent where heretofore it has been minimal.

Vitter and Koch:A lesson in Who Runs this Nation

What people often miss in following the actions of government as reported in the media is the  banality of life in Washington.  Behind the scenes Congress plods along,its real workings mostly hidden from view.

Thanks to the Institute of Southern Studies, we have a crisp civics lesson in what really goes on in the form of a detiled account of how Congress,working as so often it does,with lobbyists in tow,set about delaying reforms that would protect the public from the carcinogins leaking out from the chemical formaldehyde.

Take a minute or so to  read this. You’ll see just how our democratic government actually works:

6/10/2011Date on which the Department of Health and Human Services released a report  classifying formaldehyde — a chemical used in the manufacture of consumer goods  including carpeting, plywood, personal care products and pharmaceuticals — as  “a known carcinogen”

1989Year in which the  Environmental Protection Agency first assessed the health risks of formaldehyde

1998 Year in which the agency first tried to update that assessment, only to be repeatedly stalled by industry and  and its allies in Congress: 1998

2004:Year in which Sen. James Inhofe  (R-Okla.) pressed the EPA to delay the revised assessment, despite preliminary  findings from a National Cancer Institute (NCI) study linking formaldehyde to  leukemia.

Amount in campaign contributions Inhofe received that  same year from Koch Industries, a major chemical manufacturer: $6,000

Number of pulp mills that Koch bought that same year from Georgia-Pacific, a leading formaldehyde producer and  plywood manufacturer: 2

2005: Year in which Koch bought all of  Georgia-Pacific

2006:Year in which the International  Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified formaldehyde as a known  carcinogen

2009:Year in which the NCI released a  study linking formaldehyde exposure to cancers of the blood and lymphatic  system

Increased risk of leukemia for  workers exposed to high amounts of formaldehyde, according to the NCI study:  78%

Increased risk of death from blood  cancers for highly exposed workers: 37%

2009 Year in which both the IARC and  National Toxicology Program concluded that formaldehyde exposure is linked to  leukemia

2009:Year in which Sen. David Vitter  (R-La.)  successfully delayed the formaldehyde assessment by  placing a hold on the nomination of a key EPA appointee to force the agency to  send its draft assessment to the National Academy of Sciences for review

Average cost of an NAS review:  $800,000 to $1,000,000

Amount that  Formaldehyde Council lobbyist Charles Grizzle personally donated to Vitter’s  campaign the same day he placed the hold on the EPA nomination: $2,400

The suggested donation to  attend a fundraising party thrown for Vitter by Grizzle after EPA agreed to send  its assessment to the NAS: $1,000

Amount that Vitter’s campaign  received in 2009 from companies that produce large amounts of formaldehyde waste  in Louisiana: about $20,500

Amount Vitter’s campaign  received that same year from companies with interests in formaldehyde  regulation: about $40,000

Rank of Monsanto’s plant  in Luling, La. among top U.S. emitters of formaldehyde pollution in 2009: 1

Rank of Angus Chemical’s plant in    La. among top U.S. emitters of formaldehyde pollution in 2009:  2

4/8/2011:Date on which the NAS released its  formaldehyde review, finding that the chemical irritates the eyes, nose and  throat and causes respiratory lesions and cancer of the nose and upper throat —  but not leukemia:

Amount the federal government spent  to purchase trailers for for Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims that were later  found to have dangerously high levels of formaldehyde: $2 billion

Percent of the 134,000 FEMA  trailers provided to Katrina and Rita victims estimated by the federal  government to have formaldehyde problems: 33

6/3/2011:Date on which Rep. Cedric Richmond  (D-La.) introduced legislation to create a health registry of people who were  provided with FEMA trailers between 2005 and 2009

2010:Year in which President Obama  signed a law establishing the first national standards for formaldehyde in  composite wood products such as plywood and particle board

2013 Year by which the U.S. will have  the most stringent standards for formaldehyde emissions in the work

This is a lesson in how government really works: not by mandating or reversing laws, but through the endless behind closed door dealing, so often fending off change for the better. In this case more than 20 years.We saw it in air pollution regulations where Robert Byrd (coal) and John Dingel (autos) succeeded for years in delaying the acceptance of emission controls. We saw it just recently in the credit card legislation,which in the name of reform,ended up raising rates for many people. And we saw it in health care where the insurance and pharmaceutical industries successfully fended off any serious reform. This is the Republic in action.

Green Is the New Red: The Crackdown on Environmental Activists

One morning back in 2002, Will Potter, a young newspaper reporter on the metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, heard three heavy knocks on his apartment door. When he opened it, two FBI agents flashed their badges. They told Potter he could either come outside and talk with them, or they would visit him at work.

Downstairs in the alley, the agents brought up a demonstration that Potter and his girlfriend, Kamber Sherrod, had participated in a month earlier. They had joined in an animal rights leafleting campaign in the high-class suburb of Lake Forest, dropping flyers on the doorsteps of houses around the home of an executive in an insurance company that covered an animal testing laboratory. Both were arrested, along with numerous others, and charged by the local police with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The charges weren’t serious, but the agents warned Potter of other possible consequences if he didn’t cooperate with them.

“He told me I could help them by providing more information about the other defendants and other animal rights groups,” Potter told me in an interview in Washington. “I had two days to decide.” Potter has described in writing what happened next: “He gave me a scrap of paper with his phone number, written on it underneath his name, Chris. ‘If we don’t hear from you by the first trial date,’ he said, ‘I’ll put you on the domestic terrorist list.’”

Potter was stunned. “I felt as if I was staring blankly ahead,” he said, “but my eyes must have shown fear. ‘Now I have your attention, huh?,’” Chris said. The agent went on to tell him, “’after 9/11, we have a lot more authority now to get things done and get down to business. We can make your life very difficult for you. You work at newspapers? I can make it so you never work at a newspaper again.’”

Potter left, and threw away the FBI’s number. The charges against him and the other demonstrators were dropped—but for years afterwards, small incidents recalled the FBI’s threats. When Kamber Sherrod went to the DMV in another state to renew her drivers’ license, “I was detained by several police officers as I was trying to leave the building, because, according to them, my name was ‘flagged’ in the system,” she told me. Before they finally let her go, they asked, “What happened in Chicago,?” and “I overheard one cop mention a ‘t-list.’” When J. Johnson’s car broke down years later in Arkansas and a cop idly ran his license plates, “flashing letters burst forth in bold: ‘member of terrorist organization, animal rights extremists, approach with caution.” And Kim Berardi, also arrested along with Potter, was blocked from boarding a flight at the Seattle airport, handcuffed, and questioned by “two SEATAC security officers, two FBI agents, two Homeland Security operatives, and two officers from the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

For Will Potter, the FBI’s visit marked the beginning of what would become a career as an independent journalist, tracking the government’s prosecutions—and persecutions—of environmental and animal rights activists, which one FBI deputy director, at the height of the war on terror in 2004, identified as “our highest domestic terrorism investigation priority.” Because of this campaign’s similarities to the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1940s and 1950s, Potter dubbed his blog on the subject, launched five years ago, “Green Is the New Red.”

Potter’s book, published last month and also titled Green Is the New Red, documents the scare tactics used by the government, often in concert with large corporations, against even patently non-violent activist groups, which they dub “animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists.” Prime targets were the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and especially Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). Far from targeting only their clandestine operations (which focused on corporate property damage), the FBI “argued that terrorism laws must be radically expanded to include the above-ground campaigns of groups like SHAC,” Potter writes. In November 2006, George W. Bush signed into law the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Activists prosecuted under AETA have in several cases ended up in the “Communications Management Units” at two federal prisons. Created secretly during the Bush administration, these “experimental” units were supposedly designed to hold high-risk inmates, including terrorists, whose crimes warrant heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications. But the reality, as a current lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights asserts, is that many prisoners end up in the CMUs “for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.”

 Even attempting to communicate with those in a Communications Management Unit can subject a person to surveillance and harassment, as Potter learned early this year when he received some documents from Public Intelligence, a Wikileaks-style organization. The documents included what appeared to be a running report to law enforcement officials around the nation from the federal Bureau of Prison’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, which monitors correspondence in and out of CMU’s. (Sample reports appear here and here).

On his blog, Potter wrote about the reports’ contents.  Acknowledging that even “mundane” prisoner letters could include “coded threats,” Potter argues “that’s not what’s going on with the reports on environmentalists labeled ‘eco-terrorists.’” In these documents, “government officials make clear they are much more concerned about bad PR.” In one instance, “The Counter-Terrorism Unit notes an August 7, 2009 email received by Daniel McGowan, an Earth Liberation Front prisoner, regarding a possible vigil to raise awareness” about the CMUs. McGowan is part of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ lawsuit against the prison units. The report also describes an email to McGowan from CCR attorney Matthew Strugar, discussing efforts to raise awareness about the CMUs and challenge them. And here, Potter discovered his own name. According to the report:

Strugar described attending the animal rights conference in Los Angeles two weeks prior, in which an individual identified as Will spoke about inmate McGowan and his co-defendants’ cases, as well as the Communications Management Units (CMU). Will is believed to be Will Potter, an independent journalist based in Washington, DC…

In his email, Strugar wrote to McGowan: “Will was on four panels, I think, and talked a bit about you and your co-defendants’ cases and the situation with the CMUs. He’s a good advocate on that issue. There is still a lot of organizing and discussion about the Green Scare generally, which is good, and I talked a bit about green scare speech repression and the like. It was interesting.”

Potter writes that “It’s unsettling to see my name in documents produced by the Counter-Terrorism Unit. What’s even more disturbing, though, is the thought of scarce government resources being wasted on such reports…Lectures, public websites and First Amendment activity by journalists and attorneys should not be the purview of the Counter-Terrorism Unit. And even if you think that it should be, and even if you think I am some kind of potential terrorist, this “intelligence briefing” is absolutely useless. Any intern could have created the same report using Google.”

When I phoned the Bureau of Prisons media relations office to ask about this report, a spokeswoman said I would have to request the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.  “I know what you mean,” she said, “but I can’t comment on it.”

New Expose of Big Oil’s Role in the Iraq War

   When it was  suggested the war in Iraq was about oil, Tony Blair,then the British prime minister, had this to say on February 6,2003

     “Let me just deal with the oil thing because… the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It’s not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons…”

  In fact, as I and numerous others, have reported on many occasions before,during and after the war, oil was a principal if not the principal reason, for going to war. The reason for thinking this comes from any reading of oil history in the Middle East. The  modern industry began in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), which today probably boasts the largest reserves in the world. Current knowledge of oil and the war in large part comes from  the work of a  researcher in the UK named Greg Muttitt. Among other things, Muttitt has had close contacts with the Iraq oil workers union. Now Muttitt has written a book–released in Britain and India this week, called Fuel on the Fire–that makes crystal clear  the role of big oil. His research had turned up hundreds of pages of heretofore secret documents and is further backed up by interviews with executives of the international oil companies.

    This book ought to rekindle interest in the secret meetings held on Bush energy policy by Dick Cheney,and its revelations about the British fears of France,may well provide clues to underlying factors in today’s fighting in Libya.More about that later.

   Here is how the Independent reported the story on April 19:

 The papers, revealed here for the first time, raise new questions over Britain’s involvement in the war, which had divided Tony Blair’s cabinet and was voted through only after his claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. ….The minutes of a series of meetings between ministers and senior oil executives are at odds with the public denials of self-interest from oil companies and Western governments at the time.

Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair’s military commitment to US plans for regime change.

The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

There is more:

Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

The minister then promised to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on her lobbying efforts.

The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post regime change”. Its minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”

After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office’s Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”

BP was concerned that if Washington allowed TotalFinaElf’s existing contact with Saddam Hussein to stand after the invasion it would make the French conglomerate the world’s leading oil company. BP told the Government it was willing to take “big risks” to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.

 

Over 1

Pay Back Time for Mubarak

The details of Mubarak’s fortune are a bit muddy, but according to various press reports, the family’s total wealth runs well into the tens of billions of dollars.

In Asia Times Online, Pepe Escobar reports:

According to a mix of United States, Syrian and Algerian sources his personal fortune amounts to no less than US$40 billion – stolen from the public treasury in the form of “commissions”, on weapons sales, for instance. The Pharaoh controls loads of real estate, especially in the US; accounts in US, German, British and Swiss banks; and has “links” with corporations such as MacDonald’s, Vodafone, Hyundai and Hermes. Suzanne, the British-Irish Pharaoh’s wife, is worth at least $5 billion. And son Gamal – the one that may have fled to London, now stripped of his role as dynastic heir – also boasts a personal fortune of $17 billion. Or some $60 billion. Some speculate the fortune is around $70 billion.’

Should Mubarak skip the country, as Corey Pein points out in War Is Business, he might well do it in a  business jet provided free of charge by the US taxpayers. “Pentagon contracts show that the US government has spent at least $111,160,328 to purchase and maintain Mubarak’s fleet of nine Gulfstream business jets. (For those keeping score, Gulfstream is a subsidiary of General Dynamics.)” War Is Busines provides copies of the actual contracts. Here is one of them:

Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., Savannah, Ga., is being awarded a $19,825,221 firm fixed price contract modification to provide for the Foreign Military Sales Program in support of FMS Case Egyptian. The Air Force provides follow-on maintenance support for the Egyptian Government’s Presidential fleet of Gulfstream aircraft. The program will provide depot maintenance support, parts and material repair, and supply, field team, and Aircraft on Ground or urgent situation support. At this time, $14,825,221 of the funds has been obligated. Further funds will be obligated as individual delivery orders are issued. This work will be complete by November 2005. Solicitation began October 2003 and Negotiations were completed October 2003. The Headquarters Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., is the contracting activity (FA8106-04-C-0001).

It’s tit for tat with Egypt. Pein again:

When the two military leaders met in May 2009 to discuss “a wide range of security issues,” Egyptian Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi presented US Defense Secretary Robert Gates with a set of gifts. They included a shotgun (with five bullets), a decorative rug and a gilded photo album.With a confidence that, in retrospect, seems dubious, Gates said “he looks forward to expanding the two countries’ military-to-military relationships in ways that promote regional stability.’Five months after that meeting, the Pentagon announced it would sell a new batch of two dozen F-16 fighter aircraft to Egypt—a $3.2 billion deal that is among the most recent of a long string of arms deliveries from America to its North African ally. These F-16s, according to the Pentagon announcement (pdf) would support “Egypt’s legitimate need for its own self-defense.”

In her blog, Sibel Edmonds,the former FBI translator who exposed corruption and incompetence at the Bureau, writes:

This is where our government takes our dollars, gives it to dictator allies, and then asks them to turn around, give that money (minus the personal share for personal wealth) to our military industrial complex corporations. Then, we have those CEO’s with $$$$$$$ salaries, and $$$$$$$ to the lobbyists and $$$$$$ to our elected representatives, who then in turn, sanction giving more money, aid, tax payers’ dollars, to these dictators; and the cycle repeats, repeats, repeats…well, it’s been repeating nonstop for more than half a century.’

Invasion of the Body Scanners: Airport Security May Not Work, But It Does Cause Cancer

On the eve of some of the busiest travel days of the year, airport scanners are causing hysteria–and with good reason. Never mind the puerile TSA screeners giggling at your naked body. It turns out that the things may pose serious health concerns. In a letter to John Pistole, administrator of TSA, New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt, a scientist and the Chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, raised the possibility that the machines might be carcinogenic.

In March, the Congressional Biomedical Caucus (of which I am a co-chair) hosted a presentation on this technology by TSA, as well as a briefing by Dr. David Brenner of Columbia University on the potential health effects of “back scatter” x-ray devices. As Dr. Brenner noted in his presentation and in subsequent media interviews, the devices currently in use and proposed for wider deployment this year currently deliver to the scalp “20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry.”

Dr. Brenner has pointed out that the majority of the radiation from X-ray backscatter machines strikes the top of the head, which is where 85 percent of the 800,000 cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed in the United States each year develop. According to Dr. Brenner, excessive x-ray exposure can act as a cancer rate multiplier, which is why our government should investigate thoroughly the potential health risks associated with this technology.V

Various experts have questioned whether older people and children ought to be subjected to scanners, and whether people susceptible to or having melanoma and cataracts should undergo the scan. 

Holt also questioned the efficacy of the body scanners, which would come as no surprise to critics who’ve been lambasting them for years. Last January, when the government’s appetite for body scanners got a big boost from the underwear bomber, there was skepticism about their ability to detect the types of explosives favored by would-be airline bombers. As I wrote at the time:

Known by their opponents as “digital strip search” machines, the full-body scanners use one of two technologies—millimeter wave sensors or backscatter x-rays—to see through clothing, producing ghostly images of naked passengers. Yet critics say that these, too, are highly fallible, and are incapable of revealing explosives hidden in body cavities—an age-old method for smuggling contraband. If that’s the case, a terrorist could hide the entire bomb works within his or her body, and breeze through the virtual strip search undetected. Yesterday, the London Independent reported on “authoritative claims that officials at the [UK] Department for Transport and the Home Office have already tested the scanners and were not persuaded that they would work comprehensively against terrorist threats to aviation.” A British defense-research firm reportedly found the machines unreliable in detecting “low-density” materials like plastics, chemicals, and liquids—precisely what the underwear bomber had stuffed in his briefs.

Just to be sure I am not going off the deep end on this subject, I emailed Steve Elson, the intrepid former Navy Seal who worked on the federal government’s Red Team, which was deployed  in the years before 9/11 to test airport security by infiltrating through check points. This they did with ease; but noone ever paid any attention to their reports. Since 9/11 Elson has worked on and off with television crews, continuing to penetrate airport security carrying with him all manner of guns and IEDs, and for the most part avoiding detection. In a CBC program last year at this time, the Canadians reviewed the air security situation and found it to be wanting. The reporters also got hold of a redacted report from the Canadian transport people which raised questions about the effectiveness of full body scanners, especially when they are used in combination with metal detectors: A person passing through one machine after another would have to place their arms in different positions and the Canadians found the body scanners would fail to detect objects like rings or bracelets on extended arms because the mechanism could not reach high enough to take them in.

This morning’s Washington Post carried a list of people exempt from body scanning, including cops and military in uniform. I asked Elson about this, and he replied:

When I was traveling through Chicago last January on my way to Toronto to do an interview, I had some time between planes. Got a sandwich. No place to sit down so I literally walked into the back of a checkpoint that was enclosed by glass so everyone could see what was going on, sat down on a bench and ate my sandwich, and  watched. Noone touched the pilots. Ergo, all I needed was a pilot’s uniform, bought or stolen, and a photoshop badge. Put explosives on my body, no metal, walk through, pick up my stuff and off to the plane. Likewise, I could do something similar on the ramp. Best time is in cold weather and snow storms. Do it as night approaches. People don’t care about security, just getting the job done and getting out of the weather. Steal a bag tag, make an unauthorized entry (no problem), walk up to a plane and throw it in with 50 lbs explosive.

Elson has always contended that the body scanner couldn’t detect explosives in body cavities. In his email he added this: “The machine can see through a thin layer of clothing and probably detect explosives strapped to the body.” But he pointed out that Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes” worried about exposing private parts, but  noted she could see a woman’s bra. “If she could see the bra, that means she could not see through the bra. A bra bomb or explosives molded to the breast wouldn’t be seen,” he continues. “And a woman, because of her anatomical construction, could easily… bring a several pound IED fully assembled with timer, detonator, power sources right through the checkpoint. If scanned or patted down it would make no difference. Once on the plane she has the option to leave it in  the plane…and get off.” Ellison warns that a well planned Al Qaeda operation, “if they did it right, could knock down 50 planes in 30 minutes. Think about what that would do to US air operations.”

In my opinion, the best answer to airport security is the mass deployment of dogs. Give me a friendly German Shepherd, and I’ll gladly submit to being sniffed, rather than patted, wanded, or scanned. But unlike the scanner companies, dogs have no powerful lobbyists, like former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, to advocate on their behalf.

Make room for Fido