March 27, 2007

Report Charges Broad White House Efforts to Stifle Climate Research

The White House is at their information control game again, out to quiet any reports, studies, or information that might paint them in a negative light, attacking one of their favorite whipping boys – the scientific community. The White House under President Bush has had a long and unprecedented history of attacking science when it happens to refute or object to their actions and the actions of their friends, donors, and business partners, so this is no new chapter from their playbook, but it bears mentioning as yet another excellent example. The target this time? Naturally – global climate change.

Bush administration officials throughout the government have engaged in White House-directed efforts to stifle, delay or dampen the release of climate change research that casts the White House or its policies in a bad light, says a new report that purports to be the most comprehensive assessment to date of the subject.

Researchers for the non-profit watchdog Government Accountability Project reviewed thousands of e-mails, memos and other documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and from government whistle-blowers and conducted dozens of interviews with public affairs staff, scientists, reporters and others.

The group says it has identified hundreds of instances where White House-appointed officials interfered with government scientists’ efforts to convey their research findings to the public, at the behest of top administration officials.

The report is slated to be released tomorrow at a hearing before the House Science Committee, which is investigating the issue.

“The evidence suggests that incidents of interference are often top-down reactions to science that has negative policy or public relations implications for the administration,” the group says in its report.

Looks about right, and completely typical of Administration behavior. Never before has a governmental body gone to such great lengths to manipulate, spin, and control what information is released to the public by similarly public agencies. It’s a rather impressive track record.

[ Report Charges Broad White House Efforts to Stifle Climate Research ]
Source: ABC News Blotter

The American Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

The editor of this piece at ConsortiumNews has a fine intro to this one man’s open statement to the American people about what their government was really interested in doing after uncovering the facts about Abu Ghraib, and the fact that they were more interested in hushing up the entire scandal to the degree that war criminals wound up getting wrist-slap sentences in prison and the heroes of the story wound up losing their shirts.

Former Army Sgt. Sam Provance was one of the heroes of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the only uniformed military intelligence officer at the Iraqi prison to testify about the abuses during the internal Army investigation. When he recognized that the Pentagon was scapegoating low-level personnel, he also gave an interview to ABC News.

For refusing to play along with the cover-up, Provance was punished and pushed out of the U.S. military. The Pentagon went forward with its plan to pin the blame for the sadistic treatment of Iraqi detainees on a handful of poorly trained MPs, not on the higher-ups who brought the lessons of “alternative interrogation techniques” from the Guatanamo Bay prison to Abu Ghraib.

The Congress, which was then controlled by the Republicans, promised a fuller investigation. Provance submitted a sworn statement. But Congress never followed through, leaving Provance hanging out to dry.

Provance has written his experiences down, and they’re compelling to read. He was, as I have been in several organizations, a “computer guy,” the guy who has to see everything and knows more than he probably should, and the type of person in a horrible position when it comes to whistle-blowing; they know the truth and they have an ethical obligation to break the information to the appropriate authorities, but if they do they’re also the most vulnerable. Provence explains how he tried to tell his commanding officers what was going on and was summarily threatened, demoted, and punished for even daring to bring it up:

In Germany, I had the surreal experience of being interrogated by one of the Army-General-Grand-Inquisitors, Major General George Fay, who showed himself singularly uninterested in what went on at Abu Ghraib.

I had to insist that he listen to my eyewitness account, whereupon he threatened punitive actions against me for not coming forward sooner and even tried to hold me personally responsible for the scandal itself.

The Army then demoted me, suspended my Top Secret clearance, and threatened me with ten years in a military prison if I asked for a court martial. I was even given a gag order, the only one I know to have been issued to those whom Gen. Fay interviewed.

But the fact that most Americans know nothing of what I saw at Abu Ghraib, and that my career became collateral damage, so to speak, has nothing to do with the gag order, which turned out to be the straw that broke this sergeant’s back.

It’s remarkable – and soldiers generally have little to no real whistleblower protections, no way to shield themselves from the wrath of commanders who know the injustices occurring on their watch and who have little interest in seeing them rectified. Provence’s story extends to former General Janis Karpinski, who was also scapegoated to a degree over the abuses at the prison. His entire account, including the reactions of the politicians involved who said one thing to him and something completely different to the cameras, is an astounding retelling of one of the darkest periods of the Iraq War.

[ The American Ghosts of Abu Ghraib ]
Source: ConsortiumNews

Ordinary Customers Flagged as Terrorists

When government lackeys and conservative think tanks reach blindly for rationale for keeping massive, imprersonal databases full of names and personally identifiable information in order to “protect the homeland,” even though there are no accountability measures and no way for innocent individuals to correct, challenge, or alter the information that’s in the database – especially when they’ve been mistakenly caught up in it – this is a good story to point out.

According to the Washington Post, businesses from mortgage lenders to rental car agencies are the Treasury Department’s publicly searchable and available to companies looking to ensure they don’t provide goods and services to terrorists or individuals linked to terrorist groups. This would be a good thing all around if there didn’t seem to be more innocent customers being flagged and denied service than there have been terrorists caught and reported. Everyday people looking to rent a car or get a loan for a car or a home. The list was originally designed to prevent drug dealers and foreign nationals that were considered unsavory individuals to be denied services as punishment for their involvement in terrorism or illegal activities. The problem stems from the fact that it seems to be nothing more than a fishing expedition that’s been catching more dolphins than fish, so to speak.

The Office of Foreign Asset Control’s list of “specially designated nationals” has long been used by banks and other financial institutions to block financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. But an executive order issued by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has expanded the list and its consequences in unforeseen ways. Businesses have used it to screen applicants for home and car loans, apartments and even exercise equipment, according to interviews and a report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to be issued today.

“The way in which the list is being used goes far beyond contexts in which it has a link to national security,” said Shirin Sinnar, the report’s author. “The government is effectively conscripting private businesses into the war on terrorism but doing so without making sure that businesses don’t trample on individual rights.”

The lawyers’ committee has documented at least a dozen cases in which U.S. customers have had transactions denied or delayed because their names were a partial match with a name on the list, which runs more than 250 pages and includes 3,300 groups and individuals. No more than a handful of people on the list, available online, are U.S. citizens.

Yet anyone who does business with a person or group on the list risks penalties of up to $10 million and 10 to 30 years in prison, a powerful incentive for businesses to comply. The law’s scope is so broad and guidance so limited that some businesses would rather deny a transaction than risk criminal penalties, the report finds.

“The law is ridiculous,” said Tom Hudson, a lawyer in Hanover, Md., who advises car dealers to use the list to avoid penalties. “It prohibits anyone from doing business with anyone who’s on the list. It does not have a minimum dollar amount. . . . The local deli, if it sells a sandwich to someone whose name appears on the list, has violated the law.”

Wow. Remind me to tell my favorite sandwich shop that they’d better stop serving that family with the diplomat tags on their car next door. They might be facing significant fines and penalties.

[ Ordinary Customers Flagged as Terrorists ]
Source: The Washington Post

Toyota Not Among Carmakers Invited to White House

True to form, the Administration has shown profound ignorance to the real state of the American economy, while they simultaneously see fit to stand at a podium for photo-ops with the heads of the so-called “big three” auto companies; Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler. While it’s completely understandable that the White House would want to meet with the representatives of the American auto industry, it’s apparent that they either know less than they think they do, or they care more for the pocket-linings of the big three’s executives then for the actual workings of the American auto industry.

Toyota, as a prime example, is poised to surpass GM as the largest selling auto company this year, and simultaneously creating thousands of US jobs while the other three companies are closing plants, cutting jobs, and cutting off benefits and health care to its workers. Similarly, Toyota is already leading the industry in fuel-saving and environmentally friendly technology and making other friends in Washington, but for some odd reason the Administration doesn’t seem to think that Toyota is influential enough to invite to its private soiree. It would seem to me that such an influential company deserves a seat at the President’s table. Apparently the White House, divorced from reality as usual, doesn’t seem to think so.

[ Toyota Not Among Carmakers Invited to White House ]
Source: Reuters (courtesy Yahoo! News)