Thursday, July 29, 2010

Michigan Oil Spill Raises Familiar Questions About Oversight


Nearly a million gallons of oil leaked into the Kalamazoo River in Battle Creek, Mich., this week. (Jim West/

This week, a fracture in an Enbridge Energy pipeline released nearly a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Battle Creek, Mich. The accident is drawing attention to the obscure Department of Transportation agency responsible for the regulation and oversight of the country's 2.3 million miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines: the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA.

A review of PHMSA records shows familiar ties between industry and regulators. A former legal counsel for the company responsible for the spill currently heads the oversight agency. In the last year, PHMSA has granted more than a dozen safety waivers to the companies it regulates. These waivers, industry observers say, have saved companies millions of dollars, but might have put people and property at risk.

Already, activists are drawing parallels between PHMSA and the Minerals Management Service, which had regulatory oversight over the Deepwater Horizon rig that spilled millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has disbanded MMS, arguing the agency had too cozy a relationship with the industry it regulated. And Congress is the midst of debate on broad oil spill response legislation that, in part, restructures MMS and puts restrictions on the agency's so-called "revolving door."

Questions About Quarterman's Work History

Cynthia Quarterman, PHMSA administrator, worked as legal counsel for Enbridge Energy, the owner of the pipeline that burst in Michigan, during her time as a partner at the major law firm Steptoe and Johnson. Quarterman also headed MMS from 1995 to 1999. President Obama nominated Quarterman, who served on the president's transition team at the Department of Energy, to serve as head of PHMSA last year. On his first day in the White House, Obama signed an executive order with a "revolving door ban," barring appointees from regulating companies where they worked. The White House did not return calls for comment.

"We raised concerns about Quarterman when she was nominated. She was high up in MMS and we've heard a lot about them in the last few months," says Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a non-profit group that advocates for fuel transportation safety.

Despite the criticism from some activists, Quarterman has called for reform at PHMSA. In April testimony to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Quarterman said, "We inherited a program that suffered from almost a decade of neglect and was seriously adrift. We have set a new course." She said she was implementing new standards at the safety waiver program, following a March 2010 Department of Transportation inspector general report that raised questions about it.

Activists have also raised questions about Jeffrey Wiese, PHMSA's associate administrator for pipeline safety. Before taking on his current role at PHMSA, Wiese worked at MMS, where, among a number of other positions, he directed the offshore safety management program. Years later, that program's lax oversight failed to prevent the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Calls to PHMSA for comment were not returned.

Reviewing PHMSA 'Special Permits'

A TWI review of the 16 "special permits," or safety waivers, granted since Jan. 2009 finds 12 waivers issued for natural gas pipelines, three for liquefied natural gas pipelines and one for an oil pipeline. Only one safety waiver has been granted since Quarterman took over as head of PHMSA in Nov. 2009.

PHMSA documents show that it was common practice at the agency to waive a requirement for companies to reevaluate the pressure levels in a pipeline if building has occurred on the land around it. In nine instances in the past year, PHMSA has waived companies' obligation to "confirm or revise" the pressure in pipes where new construction, such as home building, has occurred nearby. The requirement is meant to protect people from potential gas leaks.

Weimer explains: "The original pipe they put in was a type of pipe for rural areas. Now that there's houses around there, they're supposed to be either using stronger or thinner pipe, or put less pressure in the thinner walled pipe."

The waivers for the three liquefied natural gas pipelines appear to be minor, allowing the use of new technologies to test welding strength and vaporize gas.

The only oil pipeline waiver issued in the last year frees ConocoPhillips Alaska from its requirement to "fully inspect" insulated pipes if the company determines that the pipelines are not "susceptible to the influx of moisture and; therefore, atmospheric corrosion," a May 9, 2009, PHMSA document says. According to PHMSA, material and equipment failure and corrosion are the most common causes of pipeline accidents.

Lacking Inspectors, Little Industry Accountability

Weimer says PHMSA generally holds companies to a high standard in granting special permit waivers. Companies have to provide the agency with detailed engineering analyses that show that granting a waiver would not lead to safety violations. But Weiner also says that PHMSA does not have enough inspectors to ensure that companies are actually implementing the safety requirements that go along with the waiver.

"If all is done as stated in a company's plans, engineering-wise it makes sense. The problem is I don't think PHMSA has the inspectors to keep track of whether those companies are really doing exactly as they say," Weimer says. PHMSA requires that inspectors do site visits "every few years," according to Weimer, but the purpose of those visits is to review the paper records the company keeps, rather than to inspect the work the company is doing in the field.

Quarterman has called for more staff, including inspectors, at the agency. As of June, PHMSA had 88 full-time inspectors to oversee the 2.3 million miles of pipelines in the United States. PHMSA's web site says that state agencies perform "the majority" of inspections. While states inspect pipelines that begin and end within its borders, PHMSA inspectors review interstate pipelines, unless there is a special agreement in place.

Alex Moore, who focuses on oil pipeline issues for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said he believes the Michigan spill will cause lawmakers to reexamine oil pipeline safety. "Just like the Deepwater Horizon spill, this will make everybody reevaluate the dirty ways we get energy. There have been a lot of spills from pipelines recently. I think that should be showing us that pipelines are not safe either," he said.

The Obama administration should take a close look at PHMSA, Moore said. "I think the Obama administration and all federal agencies need to be putting more focus on the dangers of oil pipelines," he said. "It's another reason why we need to be transitioning to truly clean forms of energy, clean cars that are much more efficient and that are running on renewable power sources like wind and solar and not used with dirty forms of energy like oil."

Lawmakers are taking notice as well. Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.) is drafting legislation that would shorten the amount of time a company has to report a pipeline spill. The legislation would also increase the penalty for a failure to report a spill in a timely fashion.

According to PHMSA records, there were 265 "significant incidents" in the U.S. pipeline system last year, resulting in 14 deaths, 63 injuries and more than $152 million in property damage. A total of 53,000 barrels of liquid were spilled during these incidents. About 100 of those significant incidents involved "hazardous liquids" like oil. PHMSA defines significant incident as any accident involving a fatality, more than $5,000 of damage or a spill of liquid.

Implications for Other Oil Pipeline Projects

Moore has spent much of his time campaigning against a proposed oil pipeline that will stretch from Alberta, Canada, to Texas: the Keystone XL project. TransCanada has filed a request to PHMSA to receive a special permit that would allow the company to use thinner steel to build the Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada was granted a similar special permit in 1997 that allowed the company to build a prior Keystone pipeline, which stretches from Canada to Ill., using steel with a stress level below the minimum safety requirement, according to a PHMSA document.

"Everybody expects the Keystone XL pipeline to get a waiver, but it hasn't got it yet," Moore said.

The Keystone XL project has come under criticism from many in the environmental community, who note that extracting Canadian oil sands, which the pipeline would transport across the United States, emits high levels of greenhouse gases.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in a July 16 letter to the State Department, raised a wide variety of concerns about the impact of Keystone XL. Chief among those concerns is that TransCanada does not have an adequate plan in the event of an oil spill. "We believe that additional efforts to evaluate potential adverse impacts to surface and ground waters from pipeline leaks or spills, including adverse impacts to public water supplies and source water protection/wellhead protection areas, are necessary," EPA said in the letter.

In light of these concerns, the State Department this week delayed its decision on the Keystone XL permit to allow federal agencies 90 days to comment on TransCanada's final environmental impact statement. A State Department spokesperson said the decision had nothing to do with the Michigan oil spill.

Terry Cunha, a TransCanada spokesperson, said "it would be hard to speculate right now" whether the Michigan spill will have an effect on its pending permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Cunha said the company is working with the State Department to finish its environmental impact statement and will work with federal agencies going forward. Cunha confirmed that the company had submitted a special permit request to use thinner steel in its proposed pipeline. Enbridge Energy did not return calls for comment.

Lifesaving Cancer Drug 10 Times Cheaper At Costco


Scientists Find Evidence That Oil And Dispersant Mix Is Making Its Way Into The Foodchain


Scientists have found signs of an oil-and-dispersant mix under the shells of tiny blue crab larvae in the Gulf of Mexico, the first clear indication that the unprecedented use of dispersants in the BP oil spill has broken up the oil into toxic droplets so tiny that they can easily enter the foodchain.

Marine biologists started finding orange blobs under the translucent shells of crab larvae in May, and have continued to find them "in almost all" of the larvae they collect, all the way from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to Pensacola, Fla. -- more than 300 miles of coastline -- said Harriet Perry, a biologist with the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

And now, a team of researchers from Tulane University using infrared spectrometry to determine the chemical makeup of the blobs has detected the signature for Corexit, the dispersant BP used so widely in the Deepwater Horizon

"It does appear that there is a Corexit sort of fingerprint in the blob samples that we ran," Erin Gray, a Tulane biologist, told the Huffington Post Thursday. Two independent tests are being run to confirm those findings, "so don't say that we're 100 percent sure yet," Gray said.

"The chemistry test is still not completely conclusive," said Tulane biology professor Caz Taylor, the team's leader. "But that seems the most likely thing."

With BP's well possibly capped for good, and the surface slick shrinking, some observers of the Gulf disaster are starting to let down their guard, with some journalists even asking: Where is the oil?

But the answer is clear: In part due to the1.8 million gallons of dispersant that BP used, a lot of the estimated 200 million or more gallons of oil that spewed out of the blown well remains under the surface of the Gulf in plumes of tiny toxic droplets. And it's short- and long-term effects could be profound.

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BP sprayed dispersant onto the surface of the slick and into the jet of oil and gas as it erupted out of the wellhead a mile beneath the surface. As a result, less oil reached the surface and the Gulf's fragile coastline. But more remained under the surface.

Fish, shrimp and crab larvae, which float around in the open seas, are considered the most likely to die on account of exposure to the subsea oil plumes. There are fears, for instance, that an entire year's worth of bluefin tuna larvae may have perished.

But this latest discovery suggests that it's not just larvae at risk from the subsurface droplets. It's also the animals that feed on them.

"There are so many animals that eat those little larvae," said Robert J. Diaz, a marine scientist at the College of William and Mary.

Oil itself is of course toxic, especially over long exposure. But some scientists worry that the mixture of oil with dispersants will actually prove more toxic, in part because of the still not entirely understood ingredients of Corexit, and in part because of the reduction in droplet size.

"Corexit is in the water column, just as we thought, and it is entering the bodies of animals. And it's probably having a lethal impact there," said Susan Shaw, director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute. The dispersant, she said, is like " a delivery system" for the oil.

Although a large group of marine scientists meeting in late May reached a consensus that the application of dispersants was a legitimate element of the spill response, another group, organized by Shaw, more recently concluded "that Corexit dispersants, in combination with crude oil, pose grave health risks to marine life and human health and threaten to deplete critical niches in the Gulf food web that may never recover."

One particular concern: "The properties that facilitate the movement of dispersants through oil also make it easier for them to move through cell walls, skin barriers, and membranes that protect vital organs, underlying layers of skin, the surfaces of eyes, mouths, and other structures."

Perry told the Huffington Post that the small size of the droplets was clearly a factor in how the oil made its way under the crab larvae shells. Perry said the oil droplets in the water "are just the right size that probably in the process of swimming or respiring, they're brought into that cavity."

That would not happen if the droplets were larger, she said.

The oil droplet washes off when the larvae molt, she said -- but that's assuming they live that long. Larvae are a major food source for fish and other blue crabs -- "their siblings are their favorite meal," Perry explained. Fish are generally able to excrete ingested oil, but inverterbrates such as crabs don't have that ability.

Perry said the discovery of the oil and dispersant blobs is very troubling -- but not, she made clear, because it has any impact on the safety of seafood in the short run. "Unlike heavy metals that biomagnify as they go up the foodchain, oil doesn't seem to do that," she said. Rather, she said, "we're looking at long-term ecological effects of having this oil in contact with marine organisms."

Diaz, the marine scientist from William and Mary, spoke at a lunchtime briefing about dispersants on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Dispersant, he explained, "doesn't make the oil go away, it just puts it from one part of the ecosystem into another."

In this case, he said, "the decision was to keep as much of the oil subsurface as possible." As a result, the immediate impact on coastal wildlife was mitigated. But the effects on ocean life, he said, are less clear -- in part because there's less known about ocean ecosystems than coastal ones.

"As we go further offshore, as the oil industry has gone offshore, we find that we know less," he said. "We haven't really been using oceanic species to assess the risks, and this is a key issue."

(Similar concerns have been expressed about the lack of important data that would allow scientists to accurately assess the effects of the spill on the Gulf's sea turtles, whose plight is emerging as particularly poignant.)

Diaz warned of the danger posed to bluefin tuna -- and also to "the signature resident species in the Gulf, the shrimp." He noted that all three species of Gulf shrimp spawn offshore before moving back into shallow estuaries.

Diaz also expressed concern that dispersed oil droplets could end up doing great damage to the Gulf's many undersea coral reefs. "If the droplets agglomerate with sediment," he said, "they could even settle to the bottom."

Nancy Kinner, co-director of the Coastal Response Center at the University of New Hampshire, said the use of dispersants in this spill raises many issues that scientists need to explore, starting with the effects of long-term exposure. She also noted that scientists have never studied the effects of dispersants when they're injected directly into the turbulence of the plume, as they were here, or at such depth, or at such low temperatures, or under such pressure.

She also said it will be essential for the federal government to accurately determine how much oil made it out of the blown well. A key data point for scientists is the ratio of dispersant to oil, she said, and "if you don't know the flow rate of the oil, you don't know what you dispersant to oil ratio is."

After a series of ludicrous estimates, the federal government settled last month on an official estimate of about 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day, but BP is widely expected to contest that figure and some scientists think it is still a low-ball estimate.

There seems to be no doubt that history will record that the use of dispersants was good for BP, making it harder to tell how much oil was spilled, and reducing the short-term visible impact. But what's less clear is whether it will turn out to have been good for the Gulf.

Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.

Michigan Oil Spill: Oil Halfway To Lake Michigan, Mayor Daley Responds


Oil from a pipeline spill in Michigan early this week has been on the move through area waterways in recent days--and some fear that it could enter Lake Michigan.

The trouble began about 9 p.m. Sunday, when an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Liquids Pipelines sprung a leak in Marshall Township. The pipeline was shut down--but not before it leaked an estimated one million gallons of oil that began flowing down the Kalamazoo River.

The oil is now about 80 miles from Lake Michigan and moving toward the lake, the Chicago Tribune reports. During a Thursday press conference, Mayor Daley said the oil spill threatens the Midwest's drinking water. The Tribune reports:

Mayor Richard Daley today went on the offensive in his battle with Michigan, saying a Kalamazoo River oil spill trumps Asian carp when it comes to threats to Lake Michigan.


Daley said Michigan officials have been quick to take legal action against Illinois in a bid to stop Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan, so they should be especially keen to get to the bottom of what he said is a much more serious threat to the lake.

Michigan is taking the spill very seriously, and U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer called the spill the "largest oil spill in the history of the Midwest."

He also introduced legislation Thursday to improve response times to pipeline disasters, according to the Detroit Free Press. The Michigan spill was not reported until Monday morning, even though it was noticed Sunday night. The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the cause of the leak.

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Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has publicly criticized both the EPA and Enbridge Inc., calling their cleanup effort "wholly inadequate," the Kalamazoo Gazette reports.

While Michigan struggles with containing and cleaning up the oil spill (Click here for PHOTOS), Chicago's Mayor Daley made the issue personal Thursday. The city has been in a battle with Michigan for months over Asian Carp. Michigan wants Chicago to close its operating locks in the Chicago River, claiming that gates and other infrastructure will allow the invasive species to enter Lake Michigan.

Industries that rely on shipping say closing the locks would injure the regional economy.

"Oil is worse than carp," Daley said Thursday. "Michigan better do something about the investigation, the criminal and civil investigation. Who's paying for it, and who had the oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, because it's flowing into Lake Michigan."

The Tribune reports that Daley's discussion of the spill was not prompted by reporters, who attended a budget meeting for city colleges.

EPA: 1M gallons of oil may be in Mich. river


EPA says 1 million gallons of oil may have spilled in Mich. river, governor criticizes cleanup.

Federal officials now estimate that more than 1 million gallons of oil may have spilled into a major river in southern Michigan, and the governor is sharply criticizing clean-up efforts as "wholly inadequate."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the update Wednesday night, shortly after Gov. Jennifer Granholm lambasted attempts to contain the oil flowing down the Kalamazoo River. She warned of a "tragedy of historic proportions" if the oil reaches Lake Michigan, which is still at least 80 miles downstream from where oil has been seen.

Granholm called on the federal government for more help, saying resources being marshaled by the EPA and Enbridge Inc., which owns the pipeline that leaked the oil, were "wholly inadequate."

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge said earlier Wednesday that it had redoubled its efforts to clean up the mess. Chief executive Patrick D. Daniel said the company had made "significant progress," though he had no update on a possible cause, cost or timeframe for the cleanup. The company didn't return messages for comment after Granholm's statements.

EPA officials said they're ramping up efforts with air and water testing. Local officials said they weren't concerned about municipal water supplies.

Tom Sands, deputy state director for emergency management and homeland security, said during a conference call with Granholm that he had seen oil past a dam at Morrow Lake. The lake is a key point in the river near a Superfund site upstream of Kalamazoo, the largest city in the region.

But his report could not be immediately confirmed. The company's latest update statement Wednesday said oil was about seven miles short of the opening to Morrow Lake. A press conference scheduled for late Wednesday, which was to include company and EPA officials, was canceled for what a company spokesman called scheduling conflicts.

State and company officials previously said they didn't believe the oil would spread past that dam.

"It's going to hit a Superfund site unless somebody like the EPA and the company get very serious about providing significant additional resources," Granholm said.

The spill has killed fish and coated wildlife as it made its way westward about 35 miles downstream past Battle Creek, a city of 52,000 residents about 110 miles west of Detroit.

Both company and EPA officials have said oil is no longer leaking.

Enbridge has been working to clean up the spill since the leak was reported early Monday.

Before the EPA announced its new estimate, Enbridge reiterated its belief that about 819,000 gallons of oil spilled into Talmadge Creek, which flows into the Kalamazoo River. State officials said they were told during a company briefing Tuesday that about 877,000 gallons spilled, but company officials disputed the number.

An 800,000 gallon spill would be enough to fill 1-gallon jugs lined side by side for nearly 70 miles. It also could fill a wall-in football field including the end zones with a 14-foot-high pool of oil.

Granholm has declared a state of disaster for some areas along the river, and President Barack Obama called Granholm to offer federal support.

An oily reflective sheen could be seen in patches along the Kalamazoo, and the affected area still had a strong odor, although not as strong as on Tuesday.

Anil Kulkarni, a mechanical engineering professor at Penn State University, said a quick response was vital to the river's ecology. Snails, frogs, muskrats and even birds eat, live and nest on or near the riverbank.

"The river banks are nearby. It has more potential to inflict damage because of the proximity to land. Anything that comes in contact with oil is going to be affected badly. It prevents the natural life of species, whether it's collecting food or anything else."

Enbridge affiliates have previously been cited for skirting environmental regulations in the Great Lakes region.

Houston-based Enbridge Energy Co. spilled almost 19,000 gallons of crude oil onto Wisconsin's Nemadji River in 2003. Another 189,000 gallons of oil spilled at the company's terminal two miles from Lake Superior, though most was contained.

In 2007, two spills released about 200,000 gallons of crude in northern Wisconsin as Enbridge was expanding a 320-mile pipeline. The company also was accused of violating Wisconsin permits designed to protect water quality during work in and around wetlands, rivers and streams, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said. The violations came during construction of a 321-mile, $2 billion oil pipeline across that state. Enbridge agreed to pay $1.1 million in 2009.

The Michigan leak came from a 30-inch pipeline, which was built in 1969 and carries about 8 million gallons of oil daily from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

The river already faced major pollution issues. An 80-mile segment of the river that begins at Morrow Lake and five miles of a tributary, Portage Creek, have unsafe levels of PCBs and were placed on the federal Superfund list of high-priority hazardous waste sites in 1990. The Kalamazoo site also includes four landfills and several defunct paper mills.


Associated Press Writers David Runk and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.

Source: AP News

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The New York Times and the Afghan documents


By Bill Van Auken
28 July 2010

The posting by WikiLeaks of some 92,000 secret documents on the Afghanistan war, together with the coverage of this material in the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel, has sparked widespread comparisons with the leaking nearly 40 years ago of the Pentagon Papers, which provided a devastating exposure of US policy in the Vietnam War.

Some of these comparisons are made by defenders of Washington's war policy, who cynically argue that the WikiLeaks material—most of it battlefield reports by US military personnel—do not, like the Pentagon Papers, provide specific evidence of top US officials having lied to the American people about the origins and conduct of the war.

This is pure sophistry. The thousands of reports relating to US operations and atrocities against Afghan civilians expose the systematic manner in which both the Bush and Obama administrations, abetted by a compliant media, have lied to the American people about the character of this war.

As for the lies used to launch the war, they are even more evident than in Vietnam. Osama bin Laden is an afterthought, and Pentagon and intelligence officials acknowledge that there are less than 100 members of Al Qaeda in all of Afghanistan, even as US troop strength rises to 100,000.

The real difference between the present exposure of official secrets on Afghanistan and the Pentagon Papers is exemplified by a media institution that has played a principal role in both episodes: the New York Times.

In 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, the New York Times was the first to publish them, defying the demands of the Nixon administration that the classified material be kept under wraps, and then fighting successfully to overturn a court injunction obtained by the Justice Department to censor the newspaper.

In the case of the Afghanistan documents, it was WikiLeaks, an Internet organization with a tiny fraction of the resources of the Times, that made them public, with the so-called newspaper of record playing a subsidiary and thoroughly contemptible role.

Since the posting of the documents on Sunday, it has emerged that the Times Washington bureau chief, Dean Baquet, accompanied by the two main reporters assigned to the story, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, made a visit to the White House last week to brief the administration on the material in the possession of WikiLeaks and to discuss what the newspaper would do with it.

"I did in fact go to the White House and lay out for them what we had," Baquet told Michael Calderone of Yahoo News. Baquet added that the Obama White House "praised us for the way we handled it, for giving them a chance to discuss it, and for handling the information with care. And for being responsible."

In a blog answering questions from readers on Tuesday, the newspaper's editor, Bill Keller, wrote: "The administration, while strongly condemning WikiLeaks for making these documents public, did not suggest that the Times should not write about them. On the contrary, in our discussions prior to the publication of our articles, White House officials, while challenging some of the conclusions we drew from the material, thanked us for handling the documents with care, and asked us to urge WikiLeaks to withhold information that could cost lives. We did pass along that message."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, responding to a reporter's question Monday, confirmed these claims. "The Times, who, I will say, came to us, I think handled this story in a responsible way. I passed a message through the writers at the New York Times to the head of WikiLeaks to redact information that could harm personnel or threaten operations or security."

Gibbs added, however, "I will say this, had only the New York Times had this story, would we have made a case and an effort, as we have with them and other news organizations, not to compromise security? Yes." He went on to explain that, as WikiLeaks was posting the documents, and the material had also gone to the Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany, such an appeal was useless.

Had it been a Times exclusive, there is no reason to doubt that the newspaper's editors would have acquiesced to any such request from the Obama White House. After all, there is a clear precedent.

In 2004, at the request of the Bush administration, the Times withheld for over a year a story on Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency's illegal domestic spying program, which subjected the telephone conversations and emails of Americans to surveillance. Discussions with the Bush administration dragged on until the very eve of the 2004 election, with Keller and others in the Times top management deciding to withhold a new draft of the exposé until after Election Day (November 2). Bush succeeded in gaining a second term, in no small measure thanks to the Times' self-censorship.

Given the circumstances in this case, the White House clearly supported the Times in running a story, so long as it dealt with the material—to use the word chosen by both the newspaper and the administration—in a "responsible" way.

The obvious question is: responsible to whom? Clearly, it was not to the newspaper's readership or the American public, but rather to the ruling elite and its government, and their pursuit of a dirty colonial war that the Times has strongly supported.

Rather than exposing the crimes of US imperialism, the Times has worked to spin the evidence of these crimes into a justification for an even greater escalation of the war, while acting as the messenger of the White House in demanding that WikiLeaks engage in the newspaper's own brand of self-censorship.

The overriding significance of the tens of thousands of documents posted by WikiLeaks is their detailed exposure of the atrocities carried out by the US occupation against the people of Afghanistan. The cumulative impact of one report after another is a portrait of a ferocious war against the civilian population, the aim of which is neither combating terrorism nor promoting democracy, but annihilating an entirely legitimate popular resistance to foreign occupation.

WikiLeaks' senior editor, Julian Assange, made this point forcefully at his press conference in London Monday. "The real story of this material is that it is war, it's one damn thing after another," he said. "It's the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, allied forces." He went on to say that the classified reports contained evidence of literally "thousands" of war crimes that merited investigation and prosecution.

In its treatment of the documents, it is precisely this essential element that the Times has worked to suppress. The stark contrast between the content of its articles and the ones published by the Guardian, based on their respective reviews of the same material, was not lost on the American newspaper's readers.

"The difference between the Guardian and NY Times reporting of the Afghanistan War Logs documents is absolutely astounding," one reader wrote in the question and answer blog. "[T]he information in the documents relating to civilian deaths are hardly mentioned in the NY Times reporting, and this is shameful."

Keller gave an arrogant, yet defensive reply. "I can't speak for the Guardian," he wrote, "but all the major episodes of civilian deaths described in the War Logs had been previously reported in the Times." He then included a series of links to articles on various air strikes and other atrocities.

While Keller insists that there was no news in the documents' depiction of the slaughter of Afghan civilians, the Guardian managed to find quite a bit. It produced a major article on the details revealed by the war logs on the special forces "black unit," Task Force 373, assigned to extrajudicial killings of supposed Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects. The Guardian noted that the activities of Task Force 373 had previously been "hidden behind a screen of misinformation."

It produced two other articles on the killing of civilians by US, British and other occupation forces, exposing how many of these crimes had gone unreported or been covered up by the military.

The Times, however, focused overwhelmingly on evidence of support from within the Pakistani state apparatus for Afghan factions fighting the US-led occupation forces. It followed up on Tuesday with an editorial entitled "Pakistan's Double Game," which stressed the need for Obama to persuade the Pakistani government to "cut its ties to, and then aggressively fight, the extremists in Pakistan" as essential to "defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan."

To bolster its position, the newspaper on Tuesday published an op-ed piece by Andrew Exum, a former Army captain who has become a Middle East expert at the Center for a New American Security, a Democratic Party-aligned think tank that backs Obama's war.

He dismissed the documents, saying that readers "may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about." The reports of atrocities against the Afghan population were of no significance, he argued, cavalierly dismissing them with the phrase: "civilians inevitably suffer in war." As for the assassination of alleged insurgent leaders, he wrote that this criminal enterprise would be viewed by Americans as "one of the least controversial ways in which the government spends their tax dollars."

Exum concluded by declaring that the Times "did nothing wrong in looking over the WikiLeaks documents and excerpting them." However, WikiLeaks and Assange were "another matter." Despite the supposed innocuousness of the documents, he described the web site's editor as being "as reckless and destructive as the contemptible soldier or soldiers who leaked the documents in the first place."

Here one has the unmistakable voice of the state—and of the Times—with the implicit threat of retribution, legal or otherwise.

In all of its coverage of the Afghanistan war, the Times acts as a defender and propagandist for US policy. It excludes reporting that calls into question the legitimacy and legality of the war itself, restricting its attention to tactical questions. More and more it has emerged as an advocate for "taking the gloves off"—lifting restrictions on the supposedly "hamstrung" military and extending the offensive into Pakistan.

In this, it reflects the interests of a ruling elite that sees withdrawal as impossible. It is not only a question of refusing to give up on the war's original aims—the military assertion of US hegemony in the energy-rich and geostrategically vital region of Central Asia. Under conditions of deepening social and economic crisis, fears of the domestic ramifications of a defeat in Afghanistan play an increasingly central role.

America's ruling establishment cannot be unmindful of the implications of the defeat in Afghanistan for the Soviet Union, which ceased to exist shortly after pulling its troops out of the country. A similar defeat for US imperialism would have a shattering impact on public opinion in the US and worldwide, dashing whatever remains of the myth of American invincibility and leaving every section of the ruling elite thoroughly discredited.

None of them can account for what they have done in the "wars of choice" in Iraq and Afghanistan, where millions have been killed, wounded or turned into homeless refugees. Not only Bush and his cabinet, but also Obama and leading figures in the present administration are guilty of war crimes that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives.

The editors of the New York Times, which have made the newspaper a corrupt and venal propaganda appendage of US militarism, are deeply implicated and compromised by these crimes.

“Priority Schools” in Detroit: A thin disguise for charters and privatization


By Walter Gilberti
28 July 2010

The Detroit Public Schools, headed by its financial czar, Robert Bobb, is poised to implement a sweeping reorganization of the school district that will trample on the working conditions and democratic rights of teachers. In carrying out its policy, the district enjoys the complete support of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

At a recent DFT executive board meeting, it was announced that as many as 41 schools will be designated as "Priority Schools" for the 2010-2011 school year. An additional 10 schools will be affixed with this label the next year. The scheme is aimed at eliminating hard-won gains of teachers like job security and seniority rights, and is the first step toward transforming dozens of public schools into privately run charter schools, which will exclude children requiring the most attention and resources.

In a series of "Letters of Agreement," attached to the union's contract ratified in December 2009, DFT President Keith Johnson has signed off on a host of "reforms" consistent with the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" education initiative: the unimpeded spread of charter schools, the lengthening of the school day and year, peer review and evaluations based on the narrowest of criteria, the overemphasis of standardized test scores, merit pay and other attacks on teachers.

It should be noted that at the time of the contract's ratification, the central issue was the imposition of the so-called "Termination Incentive Plan," consisting of a $10,000 pay cut over two years, a plan designed to compel older teachers to retire. So, while the complicity of the DFT-AFT leadership with education "reforms" being carried out by Robert Bobb was well known among teachers, the full content of the union's capitulation contained in the "Letters of Agreement" was not discussed—if, in fact, it was even available at the time of the ratification vote.

The establishment of these "Priority Schools," certainly in the numbers announced by Johnson, marks the beginning of the end of the DPS as a cohesive public schools system. Bobb and Johnson, at the behest of their handlers in Washington, namely the Obama administration, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and AFT President Randi Weingartner, are imposing a free market competitive business model on the public schools of Detroit.

Last year, Duncan declared the Detroit public schools as "ground zero" for his reactionary reform agenda. As he is doing in the other cities, Obama's education secretary is currently campaigning for Detroit to eliminate its school board and hand authority over the schools to the mayor when Bobb leaves his post next year—a measure that has the backing of the Democratic mayor and governor and millions of dollars from private foundations. "You need a willingness to make tough decisions," he said.

Each Priority School is in effect a "school of choice." Instead of rebuilding the neighborhood schools, Bobb will institute a period of open enrollment, allowing families with the wherewithall to transport their children to the school of their choice. Thus, families with the resources to do so will move their kids to supposedly safe and well-supplied schools located in neighborhoods relatively undisfigured by the economic calamity besetting Detroit.

One "Letter of Understanding" spells out the criteria for the "Priority School" designation: "Determination of such schools shall be based upon data inclusive of, but not limited to student performance on standardized tests, student attendance, transiency, chronic discipline and/or violence concerns, and AYP status." AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, is the requirement outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, in which schools are judged as failed if AYP, chiefly determined by improved standardized test scores, is not met over an established period of time.

Under the guidelines developed by Arne Duncan, the entire staff can be fired at a "failing" school, it can be closed permanently, or it can be transformed into a charter school or other privately managed school.

The letter continues: "Priority Schools shall not be limited to low performing schools." Indeed! There are very few schools in Detroit that are not low performing, through no fault of either the teachers who labor in these habitually underserved schools or the chiefly impoverished students who attend them. The district has suffered from a decades-long campaign of funding cuts, mismanagement and outright thievery, the byproducts of deindustrialization and the concomitant destruction of whole areas of the city.

The economic "Katrina" that has ravaged Detroit has opened the doors to those whose chief aim, as in New Orleans in the aftermath of the hurricane, is to dismantle public education in favor of the spread of charter schools, and ultimately the privatization of education.

The "Letter of Understanding" further spells out the subordination of the interests of teachers to this reckless onslaught on public education. "Staffing at Priority Schools shall be on an application basis.... There shall be an extended day/school year for the Priority Schools contingent upon funding.... Members shall be required to engage in prescriptive and prescribed (professional development) within the regular school year, and designated additional professional development days."

The letter continues that each teacher will be subject to a stringent pre-evaluation leading to a "Certificate of Qualification." Following approval, each teacher's job will be subject to constant scrutiny and demands for unquestioning compliance with whatever extraneous activites are undertaken at the school. "During employment at a Priority School, members selected shall do so with the understanding that their ongoing assignment at the Priority School shall be contingent upon staff meeting evaluative criteria in an annual review process...meeting pre-established benchmarks and targets, and making a continuous commitment to all that is prescribed in this agreement."

In other words, do as you are told without question or complaint, and you will keep your job. Underneath all the jargon about benchmarks and targets is the language employed by charter schools when they fill staff positions. Once hired, a teacher can be fired "at will."

What is being implemented by Bobb and Johnson is similar to what occurred in Chicago's public schools under the leadership of the then schools' CEO, Arne Duncan, Obama's current education secretary. Duncan had closed numerous neighborhood schools, established "Priority Schools" in mainly gentrified neighborhoods, and claimed success.

Meanwhile, most of Chicago's youth were subjected to a further deterioration of education, and an increase in violence, as many students were forced to attend school in economically ravaged gang-infested neighborhoods. As in Chicago, any teacher who wishes not to be placed at a Priority School, or is removed from such a school, will become a CTAL (Contract Teacher at Large), to be placed at the discretion of the district.

The "Letter of Understanding" makes clear its intent to destroy seniority rights. "District-wide layoffs shall occur in accordance with the layoff provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. However, should the district decide to retain teachers assigned to Priority Schools who would otherwise be laid off, the teachers with the next highest seniority in the applicable subject area shall be released from their current assignment and be reclassified to CTAL until a vacancy for which the teacher is certified becomes available."

Other "Letters of Understanding" elaborate the formation of joint labor-management peer review panels, dubbed "Peer Assistance and Review" (PAR), which will stigmatize and punish supposedly "incompetent" teachers based on as-yet-unspecified criteria, and "peformance-based bonuses"—what is, in effect, merit pay. Under this scenario, the DFT bureaucracy will play a key role in hiring and firing teachers and blacklisting those who they believe are not sufficiently pliable.

All these education "reforms," touted by the Obama administration, and supported by the teachers' unions, are opposed by the vast majority of teachers. No matter! In Detroit, The DFT's role is to serve as the policeman for the imposition of these policies with a minimum of disruption. The notion, promulgated by the "dissident" faction within the DFT, led by Steve Conn, that the defense of public education can be carried out by trade union organizations like the DFT, but under a new more "militant" leadership, is aimed at blocking workers from breaking with this rotten organization.

Teachers must organize to fight the attack on public education and on their livelihoods. But new forms of organization are required, including committees to unite rank-and-file teachers, school workers, parents and students independently of and opposed to the DFT and the Democratic Party. This is, above all, a political struggle against a ruling elite, and its defenders in the Obama administration, who view public education as an obstacle in the defense of its vast ill-gotten wealth.

House GOP helps Obama fund war Democrats give up efforts to tie in more spending


Republicans came to President Obama's rescue Tuesday, providing him the votes needed for quick passage of a $59 billion emergency war-spending bill to fund his 30,000 Afghanistan troop surge.

The bill cleared the House by a vote of 308-114, or well more than the two-thirds needed under expedited rules. It now heads to Mr. Obama for his signature after House Democratic leaders acceded to the administration's demand for action and gave up their hopes of tacking on billions of dollars in new stimulus spending.

Handing Mr. Obama another victory just before approving the war spending, the House overwhelmingly rejected a measure introduced by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, to remove any U.S. armed forces operating in Pakistan.

"Denying terrorists a safe haven in Iraq and Afghanistan is critical to the safety and security of our country. As our troops continue their fight, it is imperative that Congress continue to provide the resources they need and support their mission," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Lawmakers were not swayed by the recent publication of a trove of leaked documents depicting a tough slog in the war in Afghanistan.

But it took the strength of Republican votes to deliver the money — one of just a few times Mr. Obama has had to rely on his political opponents. Voting for the bill were 160 Republicans and 148 Democrats, while 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans opposed it.

Mr. Obama first requested the money in February, but for months the House, Senate and administration have been sparring over the size and shape of the package. On Tuesday, though, Democrats said they needed to "get this behind us" and move on to the rest of their agenda, including the regular spending bills to keep the government running in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Republicans said the bill could have been passed two months ago but for Democrats' desire to add more domestic stimulus spending to the measure.

"Our first job as members of Congress is to support our troops and the men and women who are in harm's way protecting our country," said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

Ahead of the vote, Mr. Obama made his own plea, telling the House to follow the lead of the Senate, which passed the bill unanimously last week.

Still, the bill deeply split House Democrats. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, voted against it, saying he doesn't have confidence that the war is still the right solution. He pointed to a recent statement by the CIA director that fewer than 100 members of al Qaeda are still in Afghanistan as evidence that the war effort there is wasted.

"I cannot look my constituents in the eye and say this operation will hurt our enemies more than it hurts us," he said.

But one of his chief deputies, Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat and chairman of the defense spending subcommittee, said the administration needed the money, and urged his colleagues to support it.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, also backed the spending, saying without it, the Defense Department could have to furlough employees and cut programs just to keep paying the troops.

The bill became a lightning rod for various fights, including war policy and stimulus spending. Emergency spending bills are considered must-pass legislation and are considered to be good vehicles to tack on other priorities.

Mr. Obey's initial version of the bill included tens of billions of dollars in stimulus spending, including money for states and localities to keep or hire teachers.

He proposed redirecting some of last year's $862 billion stimulus package to pay for the new spending, but that prompted a veto threat from the White House, which said the original Recovery Act should not be altered.

Mr. Obey's version also included hundreds of millions of dollars to fund Mr. Obama's pledge to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and to pay for more technology to catch illegal immigrants. Congressional aides said that money might be passed as a stand-alone bill.

Democrats accused Republicans of blocking the extra funding.

"They need to understand that they are obstructing our economic recovery, as well," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. "However, because it is so important to fund our troops before leaving for the August district work period, I am pleased that a majority of my colleagues chose to vote yes."

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BP to take $10 billion tax write-off for cleanup


By Tom Eley
28 July 2010

BP on Tuesday announced its intention to take $10 billion in US tax write-offs related to the cost for response and cleanup of the Gulf oil catastrophe.

The oil giant penciled in losses of $32.2 billion for its second quarter earnings statement. These include $2.9 billion for its response so far and $29.3 billion in future estimated costs that the company says will cover all further damages associated with the spill.

BP will be able to write off $10 billion in US taxes based on the claimed loss. It will also be able to write off an undetermined amount from taxes owed to the United Kingdom, where it is based.

Included in the future costs is the $20 billion BP must provide to the Independent Claims Facility escrow fund established by the Obama administration. It has yet to provide the fund with any money, "claims czar" Kenneth Feinberg admitted this week.

The $20 billion for the claims facility—"neither a cap nor a limit" according to the White House—is to be paid by BP in installments for the next four years.

Analysts anticipate that the company will easily outstrip what it pays into the claims facility through the sale of assets from its global empire. Also on Tuesday BP announced plans to sell $30 billion in assets over the next 18 months, including the $7 billion sale to Texas firm Apache Corporation of 2 percent of its global oil and gas production.

BP's estimate that its remaining costs for the disaster will be $29 billion is significant, analysts say, because it indicates that the firm has determined that its fine per barrel stipulated by the US Clean Water Act will be the minimum possible: $1,1000 per barrel.

If the federal government determines that BP was "grossly negligent" in causing the accident, on the other hand, the Clean Water Act stipulates a fine of $4,300 per barrel. This larger assessment would likely result in an additional $10 billion in liabilities for BP.

On top of this, a finding of negligence might open the floodgate for a raft of further costs, including through litigation.

BP's latest moves make clear the purpose of Obama's $20 billion escrow fund. The claims facility scheme was in reality dictated by the corporation to the White House as a means of defending its long-term viability by fending off lawsuits and prejudicing judges against those turned down by Feinberg.

Feinberg has spelled out that only a relative handful will be able to realize compensation from the fund, and he has traveled up and down the Gulf Coast urging residents not to sue BP.

In testimony last week before the US House, Feinberg ruled out assistance to those suffering mental health problems as a result of the spill, in spite of warnings from public health experts that such conditions will likely be widespread in the Gulf and among cleanup workers.

"If you start compensating purely mental anguish without a physical injury—anxiety, stress—we'll be getting millions of claims from people watching television," Feinberg said, with evident contempt for those who have seen their lives wiped out. "You have to draw the line somewhere. I think it would be highly unlikely that we would compensate mental damage, alleged damage, without a signature physical injury as well."

Feinberg also hinted that those who emerge with chronic conditions years from now may also be barred from lawsuits if they accept a claims payout now, calling it "the toughest of all" questions he must resolve.

Also not eligible for compensation, according to Feinberg, are tourism industry and real estate losses caused by the "perception" of damage but not actual oil, and fishermen who operated on a cash basis. Feinberg has also declared that the pay of cleanup workers will be counted against whatever claim they might realize.

In fact $20 billion, even if it is realized, is a pittance compared to the economic, ecological, and public health disaster caused by the spill. A new study carried out by Oxford Economics, a British consulting firm, estimates that the Gulf coast will lose $22.7 billion in tourism revenue alone over the next three years.

Hate Radio and the War on Immigration


Unless the courts prevent it, the contentious Arizona immigration law Senate Bill 1070 , which gives police power to racially profile people of color, will go into effect Thursday, July 29.  Both friends and foes of the law are girding for battle, and the war of words is escalating.  Language from opponents of the law like the Border Action Network, which plans protests and acts of civil disobedience in Arizona and across the country, is measured: they promise "civic engagement campaigns all over the state encouraging people to register to vote and to vote by mail." The language from SB1070 supporters, however, is more virulent: a press release from Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project states they are rushing a delegation of lawmakers to the border. "We will be accompanied by armed Minutemen. Our guests are appraised of the situation and have made additional safety arrangements as well. The day of picnics and ice cream at the border is over," says Gilchrist.       

Anti-immigrant rhetoric is ramping up on the public airwaves as well.  On July 10, Arizona Republican Sheriff Paul Babeu told listeners of the openly "pro-white" Political Cesspool radio show they should apply for his department's "posse" program.  (It is worth noting that, according to research from Media Matters,  Babeu has appeared at least 18 times to promote the controversial law on Fox News, while two Arizona border sheriffs who spoke out against the law have never been invited to appear.)  The Clear Channel radio station in Columbus, Ohio has been running the following contest:"610 WTVN would like to send you where Americans are proud and illegals are scared, sunny Phoenix, Arizona! You'll spend a weekend chasing aliens and spending cash in the desert, just make sure you've got your green card! Win round trip airfare to Phoenix, hotel accommodations, and a few pesos in spending cash." Rush Limbaugh, predictably prevaricating on 600 radio stations, has targeted Flagstaff's City Council for their opposition to the law, resulting in death threats to council members.  The list of hate radio rhetoric goes on and on and on.       

Perhaps that's why Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) at the recent Netroots Nation convention (aimed at the progressive blogosphere) in Las Vegas told me he is targeting the media as a significant factor in the escalating war over immigration reform.  "You've got Dobbs, you've got Beck...  Dobbs for six to seven years has consistently been demonizing every immigrant as a criminal."  Talk radio falsehoods such as increased border crime and beheadings in the desert are typical.  "When people think that is 'news,' it's a problem," Grijalva says. "We're closed out of that media.  There is no equal time."       

The issue of media consolidation was a theme at the convention. Sen. Al Franken, (D-MN), told the audience in his keynote, "Resisting this trend towards media consolidation, resisting attacks on net neutrality – we should throw ourselves behind these causes with the same energy and urgency that we showed in 2006 and 2008."  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-NV),  echoed those sentiments, deriding media consolidation and encouraging the bloggers to fight for net neutrality and "keep calling out the Right Wing on misinformation."       

Tuscon Congressman Grijalva brought up Congress' rewrite of the Communications Act as a needed solution to the media misinformation problem.  The 1996 rewrite of the Act deregulated radio ownership, changing the rule which capped radio ownership at 40 stations per person (corporate or otherwise,) and allowing companies like Clear Channel to buy unlimited numbers of radio stations.  (Clear Channel snapped up 1200 stations at the time, and programmed most of them with "Conservative" Talk Radio.)  The current rewrite, led by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Rockefeller (D-WV) and Reps. Waxman (D-CA)  and Boucher (D-VA), is mainly focusing on issues of net neutrality and broadband.  "As we struggle with the Communications Act," say Grijalva, "it's all about new media.  We need to take this opportunity to fix what's wrong with old media."

One day after WikiLeaks exposures of US war crimes Congress ratifies Obama escalation of Afghanistan war


By Patrick Martin
28 July 2010

Little more than 24 hours after the release of 91,000 documents detailing US military atrocities in Afghanistan, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives gave final approval to a funding bill to pay for the escalation of the war.

By a margin of 308-114, well over the two-thirds majority required under an expedited procedure known as "suspension of the rules," the House backed a $60 billion supplemental funding bill passed by the Senate last week.

More than half the Democratic caucus joined forces with a near-unanimous Republican minority to pass the bill. The comfortable two-thirds majority was significant since 162 Democrats voted earlier this month for a resolution to require the Obama administration to begin significant troop withdrawals by July 2011. If that many Democrats had opposed the funding bill, it would have failed to win a two-thirds vote, but as always in such parliamentary maneuvering, just enough Democrats switched their votes to provide the margin required to sustain the war policies of American imperialism.

The bill includes more than $33.5 billion for the additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and to pay for other Pentagon operational expenses, $5.1 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund, $6.2 billion for State Department aid programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Haiti and $13.4 billion in benefits for Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Domestic spending initiatives added to the supplemental bill to win passage through the House earlier this month were removed in the Senate after they failed to win even majority support, let alone 60 votes. Among these were $10 billion for state governments to avert mass teacher layoffs.

In a public statement in the White House rose garden, after a morning meeting with congressional leaders of both parties, President Barack Obama appealed for the House to pass the emergency funding bill.

Obama addressed the release of documents by WikiLeaks for the first time, while deliberately evading the evidence of war crimes by US forces in Afghanistan. Instead, he joined in the pretense that there was "nothing new" in the leaked documents, the line peddled by the White House to the American media and adopted by newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as the television networks.

"While I'm concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations," Obama said, "the fact is these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan; indeed, they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall."

Given that the WikiLeaks documents include reports on hundreds of incidents in which US forces killed innocent Afghan civilians, many of which were covered up or censored in the US media, Obama's claim is a flat-out lie. These atrocities have not "already informed our public debate on Afghanistan," since the public was not allowed to know about them.

There is no doubt that Obama himself, his top aides in the White House and Pentagon and the leading circles in the media were well aware of these atrocities. That makes all the more criminal the president's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, pouring in 47,000 troops over the past year and a half and authorizing a major increase in the level of violence—knowing that thousands more innocent lives will be destroyed.

Obama reiterated his determination to stay the course in Afghanistan, declaring, "We've substantially increased our commitment there, insisted upon greater accountability from our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developed a new strategy that can work and put in place a team, including one of our finest generals, to execute that plan. Now we have to see that strategy through."

He described Afghanistan as "the region from which the 9/11 attacks were waged and other attacks against the United States and our friends and allies have been planned." This repeats the hoary mythology of the Bush administration, which sought to use 9/11 as an all-purpose pretext for US military aggression around the world.

US officials have conceded that the total number of Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan is less than 100, an estimate that makes nonsense of the claim that the war is being waged to avenge the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

There are more than 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan because Obama, like Bush, is pursuing an agenda of using American military power to seize control of key strategic regions, particularly in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia, to uphold the world position of American imperialism against its major rivals.

Public opinion in the United States and in most of the countries participating in the NATO intervention has turned decisively against the war in Afghanistan. But this shift in mass sentiment finds no reflection within the two parties of big business that control Capitol Hill.

The so-called antiwar faction of the House Democrats issued an open letter Monday decrying the removal of social spending from the bill and citing the WikiLeaks material as a reason to oppose the funding bill—but only because the leaked documents show the difficulties facing the U.S. occupation, not because they provide evidence of war crimes.

The open letter of the "antiwar" Democrats—signed by, among others, former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Progressive Caucus—criticizes the war as a failure in a good cause, not an atrocity in a bad one.

The letter does not call for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Instead it credits the US military and the Obama administration with "trying to build a modern, democratic state in an area divided by tribal and ethnic identities," only expressing regret that this mission is unlikely to succeed. This is not genuine opposition to imperialist war, but rather an effort to save American imperialism from a humiliating defeat.

Kucinich & Co. want a gradual pullback of US forces before the entire operation culminates in a Vietnam-style debacle, with American helicopters plucking the frightened remnants of a US puppet regime from rooftops in Kabul. In the meantime, their participation in the congressional charade gives a "left" cover for the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.

Two Senate committee hearings Tuesday demonstrated the all-out support for the Afghanistan war in both the Democratic and Republican parties. The Senate Armed Services Committee rubber-stamped the nomination of Marine General James Mattis to succeed General David Petraeus as the head of the US Central Command, which oversees military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the question of whether and under what circumstances it would be possible for the US to negotiate with the insurgents in Afghanistan. Committee chairman John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 and an erstwhile antiwar activist during the Vietnam War, dismissed the significance of the WikiLeaks exposure of US atrocities in Afghanistan.

It was "important not to over-hype or get excessively excited about the meaning of those documents," he said. "To those of us who lived through the Pentagon Papers, there's no relation to that event or these documents. People need to be very careful in evaluating what they read there."

The lead witness at the hearing, former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, warned that US public opinion was turning against the war. "Impatience is on the rise again in this country," he told the committee, warning that a collapse of domestic political support for the war was "what our adversaries are counting on now." In that context, he expressed reservations about the July 2011 date set by Obama for beginning a limited drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan.

Australian counterinsurgency specialist David Kilcullen, a key adviser of US General David Petraeus during the Iraq "surge," called for the Obama administration to "stop talking about 2011, start talking about 2014." He added that the main necessity is "a big tactical hit on the Taliban," inflicting "very significant damage." The bloodshed would be "unpleasant, but unavoidable."

This view was echoed by Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the committee. "For the negotiating to be successful, we have to demonstrate strength," he said. "As bloody as this sounds, it's critical that we kill a lot of Taliban." He called for inflicting "a rather significant casualty toll, observed by all parties including the Taliban and those we're negotiating with."

The leading Democrat in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, came to Obama's defense over the WikiLeaks documents, saying, "they do not address current circumstances. A lot of it predates the president's new policy."

Actually, of course, Obama's "new policy" calls for much more killing, not less. The after-action reports of the slaughter of civilians through bombing, missiles, artillery and small arms have no doubt doubled and tripled as the US military has gone on the offensive in the Taliban strongholds in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Another House Democratic supporter of the war, Adam Smith of Washington state, openly defended the operations of Task Force 373, the military death squad whose brutal activities caused much of the devastation detailed in the WikiLeaks documents.

"This is a war. The enemy is shooting at us, and we're shooting at them," Smith told the Associated Press. U.S. troops are "aggressively targeting" the insurgents, he said, but "condemnation of our troops is completely wrong and brutally unfair."

The bloody-minded consensus in official Washington was summed up in an editorial Tuesday in the Washington Post, which denounced claims that the WikiLeaks documents constituted "evidence for war crimes prosecution." The newspaper dismissed the tally of 144 cases where US and NATO forces killed civilians, concluding "the 195 deaths it counts in those episodes, though regrettable, do not constitute a shocking total for a four-year period."

What WikiLeaks did was brilliant journalism; Thank God for the Whistle-Blowers


Thank God for the Whistle-Blowers

Posted on Jul 27, 2010

By Robert Scheer

What WikiLeaks did was brilliant journalism, and the bleating critics from the president on down are revealing just how low a regard they have for the truth. As with Richard Nixon's rage against the publication of the Pentagon Papers, our leaders are troubled not by the prospect of these revelations endangering troops but rather endangering their own political careers. It is our president who unnecessarily sacrifices the lives of our soldiers and not those in the press who let the public in on the folly of the mission itself.

What the documents exposed is the depth of chicanery that surrounds the Afghanistan occupation at every turn because we have stumbled into a regional quagmire of such dark and immense proportions that any attempt to connect this failed misadventure with a recognizable U.S. national security interest is doomed. What is revealed on page after page is that none of the local actors, be they labeled friend or foe, give a whit about our president's agenda. They are focused on prizes, passions and causes that are obsessively homegrown. 

Our fixation on al-Qaida has nothing to do with them. President Barack Obama's top national security adviser admitted as much when he said last December that there were fewer than 100 of those foreign fighters left in Afghanistan. Those who do remain in the region are hunkered down in Pakistan, and as the leaked documents reveal, that nation is just toying with us by pretending to cooperate while its intelligence service continues to support our proclaimed enemies. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal made clear in his famous report, the battles in Afghanistan are tribal in nature and the agendas are local—be they about drugs, religion or the economic power of military blackmail. The documents contain a steady drumbeat of local hustles that are certainly deadly but rise to the level of a national security threat against the U.S. only when we insist on making their history our own.

It has ever been so with the Afghans, and our continued attempt to bend their passions to our purposes will always lead to horrid results. That is, in fact, just how their nation came to be the launching pad for the 9/11 attacks, which is the ostensible purpose of our occupation. We meddled in their history in a grand Cold War adventure to humble the Soviets by attacking the secular government in Kabul with which Moscow sided.

When presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs intones, "We are in this region of the world because of what happened on 9/11," he is mouthing a dangerous half-truth. The opposite is the case: 9/11 happened because the U.S. was in the region, and not the other way around. Entanglement with Afghanistan has been based on a tissue of lies since day one, when Jimmy Carter first decided to throw in with the religious fanatics there, as current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revealed in his 1996 memoir. Gates had served on Carter's National Security Council and in his book exposed what the publisher touted as "Carter's never-before revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen—six months before the Soviets invaded."

Our government recruited terrorists from the Arab world to go to Afghanistan and fight in that holy war against godless communism with even greater enthusiasm during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who proclaimed the Muslim fanatics "freedom fighters." As the 9/11 Commission report stated, those freedom fighters included Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks.

Three years before that attack, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security adviser, was asked in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur if he regretted "having given arms and advice to future terrorists," and he answered: "What is most important to the history of the world? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

One of Carter's advisers back then was Richard Holbrooke, now Obama's top civilian adviser on Afghanistan. Clearly he knows quite a bit about stirring up Muslims, and someone should ask him about the brilliant decision to give heat-seeking Stinger rockets to those same fanatics who then turned them against our side, according to the recently disclosed documents. They never learn. It was Holbrooke who helped design the Vietnam-era assassination programs exposed in the Pentagon Papers and now replicated in the Afghanistan documents.

Thanks to Daniel Ellsberg, who risked much to make the record of the Vietnam War public, we learned about the madness that Holbrooke and others were creating. We should be grateful to the whistle-blowers who gave us the Afghanistan war documents for once again letting us in on the sick joke that passes for U.S foreign policy.

Lew and Mullen

AP / Maya Alleruzzo

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew, left, and Adm. Mike Mullen at a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was "appalled" by the leak and "there is a real potential threat there to put American lives at risk."

New questions raised about prosecutor who cleared Bush officials in U.S. Attorney firings


Four days before Nora Dannehy was appointed to investigate the Bush administration's U.S. attorney firing scandal, a team of lawyers she led was found to have illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case. Andrew Kreig writes that this previously unreported fact calls her entire investigation into question as well as that of a similar investigation by her colleague John Durham of DOJ and CIA decision-making involving torture.

(A report for Nieman Watchdog by the Justice Integrity Project.)

By Andrew Kreig

In September 2008, the Bush Justice Department appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate allegations that Bush officials in 2006 illegally fired nine U.S. attorneys who wouldn't politicize official corruption investigations.

But just four days before her appointment, a federal appeals court had ruled that a team of prosecutors led by Dannehy illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case in Connecticut. The prosecutors' misconduct was so serious that the court vacated seven of the eight convictions in the case.

The ruling didn't cite Dannehy by name, and although it was publicly reported it apparently never came up in the news coverage of her appointment.

But it now calls into question the integrity of her investigation by raising serious concerns about her credibility -- and about whether she was particularly vulnerable to political pressure from within the Justice Department.

Now, almost two years later, Dannehy has provided arguably the most important blanket exoneration for high-level U.S. criminal targets since President George H.W. Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra convicts post-election in late 1992.

The DOJ announced on July 21 that it has "closed the case" on the nine unprecedented mid-term firings because Dannehy found no criminal wrongdoing by DOJ or White House officials.

But the official description of her inquiry indicates that she either placed or acceded to constraints on the scope of her probe that restricted it to the firing of just one of the ousted U.S. attorneys, not the others -- and not to the conduct of the U.S. attorneys who weren't ousted because they met whatever tests DOJ and the White House created.

And although reaction to the closing of the inquiry has been muted, some observers are accusing her of a whitewash.

"This is an outrageous act of cowardice and cover-up!" former Alabama governor and alleged political prosecution victim Don Siegelman emailed me regarding DOJ's decision and the failure to interview him.

(The Supreme Court vacated much of Siegelman's conviction last month after years of controversy, including charges by Republican whistleblowers that he was prosecuted primarily because he was a Democrat. As a result, House Judiciary Committee leaders and Siegelman's first trial judge, U.W. Clemon, last year separately urged Attorney Gen. Eric Holder to investigate suspected DOJ prosecution irregularities in what Clemon called "the most unfounded" prosecution he'd witnessed in nearly three decades on Alabama's federal bench.)


Dannehy's probe, my reporting suggests, was compromised from the beginning.

She was appointed by Bush Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on Sept. 29, 2008. On Sept. 25, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City found misconduct in a 2003 trial she had led.

The court found that the prosecution suppressed evidence that could have benefited the defendant, Connecticut businessman Charles B. Spadoni. Spadoni had been convicted of bribing former state Treasurer Paul Silvester to invest $200 million of state pension money with his firm.

But the appeals court found that prosecutors had failed to turn over to the defense an FBI agent's notes of a key interview they conducted with Silvester's attorney. In doing so, the court ruled, "the government deprived Spadoni of exculpatory evidence going to the core of its bribery case against him."

The court reversed Spadoni's convictions on seven counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, leaving intact only an obstruction of justice conviction.

Prosecutors found by a court to have committed misconduct typically face some sort of internal investigation within the Justice Department. Whether there was any such investigation, and why or why not, is not publicly known.

As it happens, the Spadoni case also raises concerns relative to the ongoing federal probe of potential Bush administration wrongdoing in covering up torture that is being led by John H. Durham, another prosecutor from Connecticut. Durham supervised Dannehy's decade-long prosecution of Spadoni.

He also was appointed by Mukasey in 2008. Durham's initial charge was to investigate suspected destruction of torture tapes by CIA personnel. In 2009, Holder expanded that probe to other decision-making, including by DOJ personnel.

Until now, neither DOJ nor anyone else has linked Dannehy and Durham by name to the prosecutorial misconduct against Spadoni, as far as I can determine. The court decision doesn't cite specific actions by the two. But it clearly refers to their case, and the information is readily available online in Lexis and in any good law library.

In April, as the acting U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, Durham signed a DOJ filing denying the merit of the appeals court finding of prosecution misconduct, while calling for Spadoni's continued prosecution for the remaining charge of obstruction of justice for deleting computer files in advance of a potential subpoena.

I sought additional comment beyond the court filings from Dannehy, Durham and Thomas Carson, DOJ's spokesman for its Connecticut office. Carson wrote me, "We have no further comment, as the matter is still pending.


The DOJ's letter said Dannehy found that the evidence "did not demonstrate any prosecutable criminal offense" in the 2006 firing of former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, and stated that there was no basis to broaden the investigation beyond his circumstances.

Iglesias, a Bush appointee whose 2008 book In Justice had a chapter entitled, "All Roads Lead to Rove," wrote me last year that he largely wants to put his ordeal behind him. Now returned to his original field of working in military justice, he told investigative reporter Jason Leopold this week:

I'm glad the matter is finally over. I'm gratified the Justice Department took the matter seriously enough to appoint an experienced corruption prosecutor to investigate. I will not second-guess her findings. I hope this scandal prevents future administrations and political leaders from attempting to politicize U.S. Attorneys.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers issued this comment:

It is clear that Ms. Dannehy's determination is not an exoneration of Bush officials in the U.S. attorney matter as there is no dispute that these firings were totally improper and that misleading testimony was given to Congress in an effort to cover them up.

One such official, former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, who was forced out over the scandal, commented to CNN, "I feel angry that I had to go through this. That my family had to suffer through and what for?"

But several close observers of the case cried cover-up.

Human rights attorney and Harper's blogger columnist Scott Horton wrote, in a post titled, "Another Audacious Whitewash at DOJ":

Rather than look at the entire U.S. attorneys scandal, Dannehy settled on a probe of a single case: that involving New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. This is the one case in which the available evidence showed that the decision was taken by President Bush himself, in the White House….

The probe should have examined the entire pattern of terminations as a common scheme and taken it as a basis for action. Instead, other related cases were – as I am informed by persons involved in them – shunted off to the Justice Department's "roach motel," the Office of Professional Responsibility, where they will likely languish without any serious investigation, much less any action.

Nora Dannehy's decision to take no action, coupled with all the lame rationalizations of inaction that preceded it, is another self-administered bullet wound to the integrity of the Justice Department...How can a Justice Department hold its own personnel to a lower standard under the law than they hold other public officials? This is a formula for disaster.

Investigative reporter Wayne Madsen repeated this week in a subscription-only post his 2009 report that Dannehy and her family have benefited from career-building decision-making that sometimes conflicts with her "tough" reputation. In charting the Dannehy family's career progressions during the past decade, Madsen cited, for example, her husband's appointment in 2007 to become director of the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center.

In addition, Alabama legal affairs blogger Roger Shuler, who has closely documented what he has described as political prosecutions in the Deep South, last week published "Shirley Sherrod Is Not the Only One Who Has Been 'Put Through Hell.'" The article compared the plight of Alabama DOJ whistleblower Tamarah Grimes to that of Sherrod, the Georgia employee of U.S. Department of Agriculture who was fired after false accusations were made against her this month.

Grimes was fired in June 2009 from her job as a paralegal in the Middle District of Alabama, eight days after writing a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder outlining misconduct in the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman. Grimes remains without a job and says she has faced significant financial and emotional stress….Tamarah Grimes has an important message for the Obama administration. It did, to its credit, try to get things right in the Shirley Sherrod matter. But its double standard on matters of "injustice" is glaring.

My Justice Integrity Project published a profile of Grimes that includes background on her and DOJ's reaction, which is to deny all of her allegations of government misconduct or that she was falsely accused of saying she had taped a colleague.

A Republican, Grimes has told me that she has wanted to testify to Congress or any other official body about the waste and unfairness she witnessed, including by the Bush political holdover Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who continues to run the office that prosecuted Siegelman. Grimes is now out of work and about to lose her home to foreclosure.

What's next? "Nora Dannehy has not contacted me," Grimes wrote me of DOJ's nationwide probe. "If the DOJ is conducting its own 'inquiry' history tells us that it is one hundred percent whitewash."


The nine U.S. Attorney firings by the Bush administration led to a firestorm in Congress upon their disclosure in 2007, partly because of fears that many of the remaining U.S. attorneys in the nation's 93 offices were forced to make politicized decisions to keep their jobs. Then-attorney general Alberto Gonzales's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, had recommended to White House senior advisor Karl Rove that they populate prosecution offices with "loyal Bushies."

For years, defendants in official corruption cases around the nation have been counting on DOJ to investigate any wrongdoing involved in the purge. A study by University of Missouri professor of investigations of official corruption investigations during the Bush administration involving local officials, candidates and fund-raisers showed that the 1,200 targets were nearly 5:1 Democrats. The impact of so many investigations, many resulting in convictions that deeply affected the nation's political map and policy-making, is important not simply to defendants but to a wider group of those concerned about government policy across the range of potential decision-making.

I set up the Justice Integrity Project to investigate such cases under both the Bush and Obama administrations. In this I have followed the March 2007 words of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who said the real story isn't the firing of nine prosecutors. Instead, he warned, the public needs to know what the remaining 84 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys were doing to keep their jobs.

Dannehy never contacted obvious witnesses who may have been victimized by wrongdoing. Is there a good reason for that, or is it part of a pattern in which prosecutors tend to find scant wrongdoing against their colleagues? A question reporters need to pursue is whether a culture of error and cover-up prevailed in the Department of Justice under Bush and continues under President Obama. It is one thing to want to look forward, as Obama stated as he took office. But it is wrong and immoral for our criminal system not to examine what appear to be obvious abuses that discredit the justice system, local and regional politics, and, indeed, our nation's standing in the world as a beacon of democracy and civil rights.

Ironically, the appeals court finding of misconduct by Durham and Dannehy leaves only a disputed obstruction of justice count against Spadoni, focusing on his deletion of files from his computer. This action by a businessman fearful of receiving a subpoena parallels in certain ways the conduct Durham is investigating by CIA personnel, who allegedly destroyed videotapes showing the torture of terror suspects.