Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pet food ingredient mislabeled

Yahoo! News
U.S.: Pet food ingredient mislabeled
By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press Writer

The exporter of a contaminated pet food ingredient blamed for the deaths of dogs and cats in the United States may have avoided Chinese export inspections by labeling it a nonfood product, a U.S. government report says.

The company, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., was not the original producer of the tainted wheat gluten, but may have purchased it from up to 25 different suppliers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement.

The identities of those suppliers remain a mystery and all calls to listed numbers for Xuzhou Anying on Friday rang unanswered. Investigators are also looking into the origins of a second contaminated food additive imported from China, rice protein concentrate.

The New York Times reported that Xuzhou Anying's manager, Mao Lijun, had been detained by Chinese authorities, although the paper gave no details about possible charges against him.

Calls to police and government offices in the city of Xuzhou, in eastern China's Jiangsu where the company is based, rang unanswered on Friday, which was a public holiday.

The scandal concerns the use of the mildly toxic chemical melamine as an additive to animal feed, a practice believed to be common in China, where scandals over contaminated or unsafe food are routine.

Adding the chemical to food is illegal under American law, and while no laws govern the use of melamine in China, the government last week said it was banning its application in food products.

A wave of animal deaths in the U.S. in March was blamed on melamine contamination, prompting one of the biggest recalls of pet food in American history — more than 100 brands. The recall has since been expanded to include pet food products in Canada and Europe.

The FDA on Thursday said U.S. government inspectors are checking food makers who use protein concentrates to ensure none of their products were contaminated with melamine.

There is no evidence that any of the two contaminated batches of wheat gluten and rice protein from China ended up as an ingredient in human food, "but it's prudent to look," said David Acheson, assistant FDA commissioner for food protection.

Although it has no nutritional value, melamine is high in nitrogen, making wheat gluten and other vegetable products to which it is added appear to have more protein. That allows it to be sold at a premium to farmers and those who use wheat gluten and other additives to make pet food.

The chemical, normally used to make plastics and fertilizers, is not considered a direct health risk to humans. However, scientists say they have too little data to assess how it might react with other chemicals, raising concerns about its introduction into the human food chain through the consumption of meat from animals raised on melamine-spiked feed.

"According to the Chinese government, Xuzhou Anying did not declare the contaminated wheat gluten it shipped to the United States as a raw material for feed or food," the U.S. FDA report said.

"Rather, according to the Chinese government, it was declared to them as nonfood product, meaning that it was not subject to mandatory inspection by the Chinese government," the report said.

China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week that the contaminated vegetable protein managed to get past customs without inspection because it had not been declared for use in pet food.

The FDA report said that as of April 26, the FDA had received reports of 1,950 deaths of cats and 2,200 deaths of dogs related to the complaint. Earlier, the administration said it had confirmed only about a dozen pet deaths due to kidney failure caused by melamine ingestion.

The outbreak has drawn wide concern in the U.S., where such pets are often considered members of the family. Bereaved pet owners have sued the firms involved, and FDA investigators have raided the offices of Menu Foods, a maker of pet food, and ChemNutra Inc., which supplied the wheat gluten, according to the companies.

FDA inspectors have been sent to China to investigate the contamination.


Associated Press writer Andrew Bridges in Washington, D.C., contributed to this story.

(This version CORRECTS that melamine causes kidney failure, not liver damage.)


Bush promises to veto abortion measures

Yahoo! News
Bush promises to veto abortion measures
By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer

President Bush is warning Democratic leaders that any attempt to weaken federal policies that restrict abortion will be met with a veto.

White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said Friday that the warning, issued in letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, was intended to stop abortion amendments from being added to spending bills and other legislation that Congress will be considering in the coming weeks.

"There's nothing specific pending right now," Fratto said.

The Republicans who held power in past sessions of Congress ensured that spending bills included language prohibiting federal funding for abortion except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest, and restricting funding for international family planning groups that might give advice on or provide abortions.

Now in the minority, House and Senate Republicans recently wrote the president urging him to make clear that any weakening of those restrictions would be unacceptable.

"The standing pattern is that appropriate conscience protections must be in place for health care entities, and that taxpayer dollars may not be used in coercive or involuntary family planning programs," Bush said in letters dated Thursday.

"I will veto any legislation that weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion, or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage," he wrote.

Bush has already threatened to veto legislation, passed by the House and Senate in different forms this year, that would ease restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research. He killed a similar stem cell bill last year in the first veto of his presidency.

Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, said that "if the president is serious about finding common ground on this divisive issue, he should support Sen. Reid's efforts to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in this country." Reid and others are sponsoring legislation that would improve family planning services, require insurance companies to pay for birth control and provide effective sex education for young people.

The letter was hailed by anti-abortion leaders such as Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, who said his group appreciates "that the president is drawing a bright line."

"President Bush is not the first man to occupy the Oval Office who talked about valuing preborn life, but no administration has backed up those words with as much consistent policy support as his has," said Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family Action.

On the other side, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said Bush had essentially told the new Congress "that he wants to continue denying millions of women access to essential medical services, including family planning and safe, legal abortion, even if it means jeopardizing their health."


Transportation Security Administration loses hard drive with personal info on 100,000

Yahoo! News
TSA loses hard drive with personal info
By MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writer

The Transportation Security Administration has lost a computer hard drive containing Social Security numbers, bank data and payroll information for about 100,000 employees.

Authorities realized Thursday the hard drive was missing from a controlled area at TSA headquarters. TSA Administrator Kip Hawley sent a letter to employees Friday apologizing for the lost data and promising to pay for one year of credit monitoring services.

"TSA has no evidence that an unauthorized individual is using your personal information, but we bring this incident to your attention so that you can be alert to signs of any possible misuse of your identity," Hawley wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. "We profoundly apologize for any inconvenience and concern that this incident has caused you."

The agency said it did not know whether the device is still within headquarters or was stolen.

TSA said it has asked the FBI and Secret Service to investigate and said it would fire anyone discovered to have violated the agency's data-protection policies.

In a statement released Friday night, the agency said the external — or portable — hard drive contained information on employees who worked for the Homeland Security agency from January 2002 until August 2005.

TSA, a division of the Homeland Security Department, employs about 50,000 people and is responsible for security of the nation's transportation systems, including airports and train stations.

"It's seems like there's a problem with security inside Homeland Security and that makes no sense," said James Slade, a TSA screener and the executive vice president of the National Treasury Employees Union chapter at John F. Kennedy International Airport. "That's scary. That's my identity. And now who has a hold of it? So many things go on in your mind."

The agency added a section to its Web site Friday night addressing the data security breach and directing people to information about identity theft.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (news, bio, voting record), D-Texas, whose Homeland Security subcommittee oversees the TSA, promised to hold hearings on the security breach. She said Homeland Security buildings are part of the critical infrastructure the agency is charged with protecting.

"We should expect it to be secure," she said.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., called the security breach "a terrible and unfortunate blow" for an agency he said already suffered from low morale.

It's the latest mishap for the government involving computer data. Last year, a laptop with information for more than 26.5 million military personnel, was stolen from a Veterans Affairs Department employee's home. Law enforcement officials recovered the laptop, and the FBI said Social Security numbers and other personal data had not been copied.


Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Leverett residents call for Bush impeachment

Amherst Bulletin
Leverett residents call for Bush impeachment
By Bob Dunn

LEVERETT, MA - Town Meeting voters April 28 made Leverett the second western Massachusetts town inside a week to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Following Whately's vote April 24, residents urged their town representatives to recommend to Congress impeachment action on the grounds that Bush and Cheney are responsible for unauthorized electronic surveillance, torture of prisoners, misleading the public to justify the war in Iraq, suspending due process and access to counsel for detainees, detaining non-citizens without charges and abusing the power of the executive branch.

The article passed without discussion, and with only one voice in opposition.

In earlier action, voters also approved a $4.7 million budget, put the "Right to Farm" proposal out to pasture, silenced a noise bylaw, and said hello to some new town officials.


U.S. pet food recall widens amid cross-contamination

Yahoo! News
U.S. pet food recall widens amid cross-contamination
By Susan Heavey

A major pet food recall has expanded again as manufacturer Menu Foods Income Fund revealed evidence of cross-contamination by some cat and dog food pulled since March.

About 8,500 complaints of related pet deaths have been reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by Thursday, but the agency said that only 16 deaths of cats and dogs have been confirmed.

The pet foods recalled late on Wednesday were made at the same facility at the same time as other Menu Foods products that contained wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine, the company said in statement.

Menu Foods, which initiated a recall of 60 million packages of pet food on March 16, said the additional products were not supposed to contain wheat gluten, but a customer report and study results indicated cross-contamination.

Since then, Menu Foods has expanded its recall several times.

Melamine, used in plastics and fertilizer, has turned up in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China and shipped to various pet food manufacturers. More than 100 brands of pet food have been recalled after reports of kidney failure in cats and dogs and several pet deaths.

Menu Foods makes pet food sold under a variety of labels such as Iams, Eukanuba, President's Choice and Nutro Max Gourmet Classics and store brands sold at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Safeway Inc. and Petsmart Inc.

Other pet food manufacturers, including Colgate-Palmolive Co., Nestle SA, and Del Monte Pet Products, have also pulled some brands.

The recalls came amid mounting reports of pet deaths and thousands of consumer complaints to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's hotline.

The agency has received about 17,000 complaints of sick pets, with deaths cited in half of them, it said.


The FDA has expanded its investigation to include livestock feed that contained tainted pet food and made its way to some 6,000 hogs and as many as 3.1 million chickens.

While both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have said food from those pigs and chickens poses little risk for humans, they have called for remaining livestock that consumed the feed to be slaughtered.

Wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate are also used in human foods such as bread and pasta, but there is "no evidence that it has ended up in baby food or for that matter any other human food as an ingredient," said FDA Assistant Commissioner for Food Protection David Acheson.

He said the FDA was continuing to hold vegetable-based proteins from China at the border pending further inspection as well as testing samples of pet foods and ingredients already in the United States.

Of 700 domestic samples tested, about 400 tested positive for melamine and were traced back to the two Chinese companies -- Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd. and Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd.

FDA investigators are in China working with officials there, Acheson said.

The FDA has said it thinks a combination of melamine and melamine-related compounds form crystals in some pets' kidneys that can cause problems. "We don't believe that the melamine alone is the cause of this," Acheson said.

(Additional reporting by Christopher Doering)


Bush Wants Phone Firms Immune to Privacy Suits
Bush Wants Phone Firms Immune to Privacy Suits
By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Bush administration is urging Congress to pass a law that would halt dozens of lawsuits charging phone companies with invading ordinary citizens' privacy through a post-Sept. 11 warrantless surveillance program.

The measure is part of a legislative package drafted by the Justice Department to relax provisions in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that restrict the administration's ability to intercept electronic communications in the United States. If passed, the proposed changes would forestall efforts to compel disclosure of the program's details through Congress or the court system.

The proposal states that "no action shall lie . . . in any court, and no penalty . . . shall be imposed . . . against any person" for giving the government information, including customer records, in connection with alleged intelligence activity the attorney general certifies "is, was, would be or would have been" intended to protect the United States from terrorist attack. The measure, which has not yet been filed, is contained in a proposed amendment to the fiscal 2008 intelligence authorization bill.

The immunity measure has stoked controversy following public uproar over news reports of warrantless access to both telephone conversations and records as part of the administration's post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism policies. It is part of a larger debate about the proper balance between guarding national security and civil liberties and the extent to which private companies have acted as an arm of the federal government. In March, the Justice Department inspector general found that the FBI had secret contracts with three telephone companies to obtain Americans' phone records, claiming "exigent circumstances," when, in many instances, none existed.

Civil liberties advocates opposed the immunity measure. They said the government had yet to disclose to Congress the attorney general's legal opinion supporting the surveillance program and what role the phone companies played in it.

The government asserts that the blanket immunity is necessary to protect sensitive national security information. "If companies are alleged to have cooperated with the government to protect our nation against another attack, they should not be held liable for any assistance they are alleged to have provided," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.

The immunity would be limited to assistance from Sept. 11, 2001, to the date the measure becomes law.

Though laws exist that could immunize companies against civil and criminal liability in surveillance cases, invoking them would acknowledge that the firm cooperated with the government. Such knowledge could allow a terrorist to adjust tactics, the government argues.

Government lawyers crafted the immunity bill using terms deliberately vague in referring to activity that "would be or would have been" aimed at protecting the country from attack to avoid indicating whether a company cooperated.

But civil libertarians charged that blanket immunity would amount to a legislative pardon to telecommunications companies and others that have aided the government's warrantless surveillance, without explaining the pardon's basis.

"To let them off the hook now sets a dangerous precedent by encouraging them to continue to engage in illegal collaborations with the government in the future," said Kevin Bankston, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which last year filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T, charging that the company allowed the government to unlawfully monitor U.S. residents.

The measure would gut Congress's efforts to conduct inquiries into the administration's surveillance program because a subpoenaed company or government official could invoke immunity, said Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the government to force a halt to its wiretapping program.

"The end result is not only will the Bush administration continue to stonewall Congress in its request for information on warrantless wiretapping, but no one who participated will have any threat above their head," Sparapani said. "You could just face a congressional subpoena and say, 'I'm sorry, I'm immunized.' "

Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said to gain his support, the measure needs to state explicitly that a person who intentionally violates the law should not be granted immunity. "If somebody intentionally breaks the law . . . that's not something you should just ignore," he said.


Former Gonzales aide praises fired prosecutors
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former deputy on Thursday praised most of the federal prosecutors Gonzales fired last year in a Justice Department shake-up that is now under congressional investigation.

In testimony before Congress, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey described five of the eight U.S. attorneys ousted by Gonzales using phrases like "one of the best," "one of my favorites" and "very able." He characterized just one as a "weak performer."

The administration contends the dismissal of eight of the country's 93 U.S. attorneys was justified, but mishandled. Congressional investigators are trying to determine if the sackings were politically motivated.

The Justice Department has offered shifting explanations of the firings, initially saying they were performance-related but later pointing to policy differences. Recently released internal documents showed loyalty to Bush was also a factor.

Comey told a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee he was unaware of the dismissal program, which originated at the White House shortly after President George W. Bush was re-elected in November 2004.

"I was not aware that there was any kind of process going on," said Comey, who served as deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005, when he left for a job in the private sector.

One of the U.S. attorneys, Bud Cummins, was ousted in Arkansas to make room for Tim Griffin, a former aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove.

"You're a good man and have handled this maelstrom with great dignity," Comey wrote in March in an e-mail to Cummins that was released by the subcommittee. "Watching it causes me great pain," Comey added.

Bush rejected bipartisan calls to fire Gonzales after the attorney general made a contentious appearance last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gonzales is to appear next week before the House Judiciary Committee, where he will face more tough questions from lawmakers who have charged he has undermined confidence in the Justice Department.

Under questioning, Comey praised five of the fired prosecutors -- David Iglesias of New Mexico, Daniel Bogden of Nevada, Paul Charlton of Arizona, Carol Lam of San Diego and John McKay of Washington state. He called just one, Kevin Ryan of San Francisco, a "weak performer."


Giuliani says repeal of abortion law would be "OK"; Other Repub candidates strongly for repeal of Roe v Wade

Giuliani says repeal of abortion law would be "OK"

SIMI VALLEY, California (Reuters) - To Sam Brownback, it would be "a glorious day," and to Tom Tancredo the "greatest day in this country's history." For Rudolph Giuliani, repeal of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion "would be OK."

Republican presidential hopefuls, at their first debate on Thursday, were asked if repeal of the Roe v. Wade decision would be a good day for America.

"It would be OK to repeal," said Giuliani, New York's former mayor, contending with his record of support for abortion rights as he courts conservative Republicans.

"I think the court has to make that decision and then the country can deal with it. We're a federalist system of government and states can make their own decisions," said Giuliani, who leads Republicans in the polls.

Giuliani, a Roman Catholic, maintains he personally thinks abortion is wrong but believes it is ultimately a woman's choice, a position that goes against the grain of the social conservatives who carry big clout in the Republican primaries.

His lawyerly response contrasted sharply with some other candidates who jumped at the chance to burnish their anti-abortion credentials.

"After 40 million dead because we have aborted them in this country, I would say that that would be the greatest day in this country's history when that, in fact, is overturned," said Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

"It would be a glorious day of human liberty and freedom," said Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney seized the chance to explain his changed position on abortion.

"Well, I've always been personally pro-life, but for me, it was a great question about whether or not government should intrude in that decision," Romney said.

He said he changed his position after the debate in his state over cloning. "It's a "brave new world" mentality that Roe v. Wade has given us, and I changed my mind," he said.

(Writing by Vicki Allen in Washington, editing by Peter Cooney; World Desk Americas)


Thursday, May 03, 2007

After the Veto

Huffington Post
Sen. Russ Feingold
After the Veto

The ink on the President's veto is barely dry, and already, a lot of Washington insiders - including some Democrats -- are saying Congress should just give in to the President. Never mind how hard people have pushed to bring Congress to this point, when we are finally standing up to the President's disastrous Iraq policy -- they want to give up on the binding language in the bill requiring the President to begin redeploying troops from Iraq.

But that's just letting the President have his way all over again. That's the kind of thinking that got us into this war in the first place, and it's not going to cut it anymore.

We can't keep giving in to this Administration on Iraq. Every time the Administration gets its way, it means that our troops will remain stuck in the middle of Iraq's civil war, and our national security will continue to be undermined. With so many Americans demanding that our involvement in this war come to an end, backing down is not the answer. No one else should die in Iraq to give political comfort to dealmakers in Washington.

I won't support a supplemental spending bill that doesn't have binding language to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq. There's a lot of talk right now about Democrats getting the President to sign a bill that only has benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. But we're long past the point when just setting benchmarks was enough. Even if funding for the Iraqi government is conditioned on it meeting those benchmarks, that misses the main point -- which is that, whether or not the Iraqis meet their benchmarks, we need to get out of Iraq so that we can focus on the national security threats we face around the world. And if those benchmarks aren't binding, then they are nothing more than suggestions. The American people aren't asking us to offer suggestions to the Iraqis -- they are asking us to bring our troops out of Iraq.

The next step to ending the war isn't to give in, but to step up the pressure on the President. I'm pleased to be working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on a bill to end our open-ended military commitment in Iraq. Now that the President has rejected the will of the American people with this veto, our bill, or some other proposal to end funding for a failed policy, should be the next step to end the war.

We are in the middle of a real test for the new Democratic Congress. No matter what Washington insiders say about cutting a deal or scoring political points, we need to hang tough to get our troops out of Iraq. The President has refused to budge on his Iraq policy from the beginning -- he has repeatedly gotten his way, and our country has paid a terrible price for that. Today, 150,000 U.S. troops are in the middle of a civil war that is straining our military, and hurting our ability to go after al Qaeda worldwide. Too much is at stake for us to back down -- the new Congress has got to stand firm. It's a time to listen to the American people and finally start to bring our troops out of Iraq. Their lives and our national security depend on it.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

George W Bush Does Not Support The Troops!

George W Bush Does Not Support The Troops!

On Tuesday May 1, 2007, the fourth anniversary of his "Mission Accomplished" speech on May 1, 2003 declaring that major combat was over, President Bush proved to the world once and for all that he does not support the troops. He vetoed a $124 billion bill to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Giuliani’s Tie to Texas Law Firm May Pose Risk

The New York Times
Giuliani’s Tie to Texas Law Firm May Pose Risk

For a native New Yorker mounting a first bid for national office, Rudolph W. Giuliani has shown an impressive ability to raise money in Texas, where his Republican presidential campaign collected $2.2 million in the first quarter of the year, far more than any other candidate.

Mr. Giuliani has drawn support from Texans who were notable donors to President Bush, including a former Enron president, Richard D. Kinder, and business executives who direct many of the nation’s oil, gas and energy producers.

And a good part of this success, analysts say, stems from his affiliation with a well-established and politically connected law firm that is based in Houston and bears his name, Bracewell & Giuliani.

That affiliation adds to Mr. Giuliani’s personal wealth but also could pose political risks for him. The firm is perhaps the nation’s most aggressive lobbyist for coal-fired power plants, heavy emitters of air pollutants and carbon dioxide, a gas associated with global warming. Environmentalists say the firm played a significant role in persuading the Bush administration to roll back major provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Mr. Giuliani joined the 400-lawyer firm as a name partner two years ago, and though his legal work has been limited, his association with it has provided him entree into the wellspring of Texas money that meant so much to the Bush campaigns.

In addition to collecting $89,000 in contributions from Bracewell partners and employees, Mr. Giuliani has held a fund-raiser in Houston. The firm’s managing partner, Patrick C. Oxford, is a top-shelf Bush fund-raiser with a wealth of contacts within Republican money circles.

Most significantly, perhaps, the law firm is one of the higher-profile defenders of the oil, gas and energy industries, to which it provides legal help and extensive lobbying services in Washington. It is difficult to say just how much of Mr. Giuliani’s contributions from those industries stem from his affiliation with Bracewell, but employees of companies in those sectors, including several Bracewell clients, have contributed more than $400,000 to Mr. Giuliani’s campaign so far.

Allen Blakemore, a Republican political consultant based in Houston who is not working for any of the presidential candidates, said the Bracewell affiliation must be seen as an important part of Mr. Giuliani’s fund-raising success in Texas.

“That law firm has been engaged in Houston in the energy sector for a long time, and they’ve got a platinum client list,” Mr. Blakemore said. “I think it’s safe to say that this is a law firm that is incredibly well connected in the oil patch. Pat Oxford knows those connections and can connect the dots better than anyone else.”

Texas, in fact, trailed only New York and California in Mr. Giuliani’s first-quarter fund-raising, in which he collected $16.1 million over all. His campaign raised twice as much in Texas as that of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who had been expected to do well there.

Mr. Oxford, who is chairman of Mr. Giuliani’s national campaign committee, said the Bracewell firm had no role in generating contributions from the energy industry. He said executives were giving because “Texas loves Rudy’s message.”

In public remarks, Mr. Giuliani has supported increased use of nuclear power, natural gas, Alaskan oil drilling and ethanol to reduce American reliance on foreign oil. He has also expressed support for cleaner technology in the use of coal. He has not taken a position on reducing power plant emissions, but aides have said a major statement on environmental issues is being prepared.

Scott Segal, a Bracewell & Giuliani partner and a leading energy industry spokesman, said the firm’s energy clients had kept energy affordable and spent billions to comply with environmental laws.

“We believe the work we do is constructive for the environment and our clients,” Mr. Segal said. “Experience shows that the best environmental policy is made when all sides come prepared and represented.”

But critics say the firm has been central to rolling back environmental regulations in the Bush years, when the firm’s lobbyists met with Vice President Dick Cheney.

“From clean air to mercury pollution to global warming policies,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, “Giuliani’s firm has been perhaps the most anti-environment voice in Washington, representing some of the biggest corporate polluters.”

The Giuliani campaign said in a statement that he did not engage in any energy lobbying and did not take policy cues from his law firm’s clients.

Mr. Giuliani’s consulting company, Giuliani Partners, has also represented energy clients, like the operators of the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County and a joint venture that is seeking to build a large natural gas transfer facility nine miles offshore in Long Island Sound.

Lawyers seeking public office often field questions about their clients, and Mr. Giuliani, who has been affiliated with several firms over his 38-year legal career, survived such questioning in his campaigns for mayor. But his past firms did not have high-profile roles in shaping public policy on a contentious national issue.

Other presidential hopefuls have already sought to distance themselves from the Bush administration’s environmental record. Among them is Mr. McCain, who last week renewed his call for limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Founded in 1945 as Bracewell & Patterson, Mr. Giuliani’s law firm specializes in banking, corporate finance and energy matters. It now has nine offices, including two in Kazakhstan and one in Washington, where it has a professional staff of more than 40.

“They are probably the most influential voice on behalf of big-polluting industry in Washington, D.C.,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, which regularly battles the firm’s clients. “It’s quite remarkable. They are without peer when it comes to communicating the industry position.”

Mr. Giuliani was introduced to the firm’s managing director, Mr. Oxford, by Roy W. Bailey, a former finance chairman of the Texas Republican Party who met Mr. Giuliani during his 2000 Senate campaign. Mr. Giuliani joined the firm in March 2005, and it opened its Manhattan office that year. Mr. Bailey is now the Giuliani campaign’s national finance chairman.

Bracewell has had numerous ties to the Bush White House. In addition to Mr. Oxford, who also raised money for Mr. Bush’s campaign for governor in Texas, another partner, Marc F. Racicot, a former Montana governor, was picked by Mr. Bush to lead the Republican National Committee from 2002 to 2003 and was chairman of his re-election campaign in 2004. Mr. Racicot left the firm in 2005.

Environmentalists say the firm has had considerable success in persuading the Bush administration to ease Clinton-era enforcement efforts against coal-fired plants and write policies favored by that sector over tougher alternatives.

In his third month in office, Mr. Bush reversed a campaign pledge to cap carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The administration also adopted a slower timetable for reducing mercury emissions from power plants than had been recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency’s own staff.

Bush administration officials have argued that their policies are the best course to ensure an adequate supply of affordable power while making substantial improvements to the environment. Environmentalists have credited the administration with creating one regulation, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, that will reduce power plant emissions.

Several years ago, the Bracewell firm played a significant role in an effort to block the E.P.A. from continuing a series of lawsuits filed against coal-fired electric power plants under the Clinton administration. The suits sought to enforce a rarely used provision of the Clean Air Act that required plants to install pollution controls when they altered their facilities.

Bracewell lawyers and other industry representatives argued that the E.P.A. under President Bill Clinton had retroactively redefined routine maintenance as modifications to bring the regulation into play.

Bracewell and some of its biggest clients, including the Southern Company, formed a new lobbying group, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, to fight for legislative and policy changes to kill the lawsuits. The council operates as an extension of Bracewell’s Washington office and is staffed by its partners and professionals. It also contracted with Haley Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chairman, as a lobbyist. (Mr. Barbour is now governor of Mississippi.)

During the debate in 2001, Mr. Barbour and Mr. Racicot met with Mr. Cheney and federal energy officials to suggest that the enforcement effort was misguided. An internal struggle ensued and several E.P.A. enforcement officials resigned, saying they feared that their regulatory role was being subsumed by energy industry concerns.

At one point, Christie Whitman, then the E.P.A. administrator, sent Mr. Cheney a memorandum arguing that the administration would “pay a terrible political price if we undercut or walk away from” the lawsuits.

Mr. Cheney’s task force ultimately called on the agency to review the rule, and a new regulation said utilities would have to add pollution-control devices only if construction projects were valued at more than 20 percent of the plant’s value.

Eliot Spitzer, then New York attorney general, was among many officials who took issue with the rule, later calling it “part of a Bush administration efforts to eviscerate the Clean Air Act.”

It was quickly challenged in court. Last month, the United States Supreme Court ruled against the government’s position. It remains unclear whether the administration will pursue the pending enforcement lawsuits that have been stalled for years.

Bracewell’s effectiveness in the regulatory arena has been enhanced by its hiring of experts who worked for the E.P.A. in policy-setting capacities. Last October, the firm hired Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a former E.P.A. assistant administrator who oversaw the writing of the struck-down regulation. Two other agency officials have also joined Bracewell in recent years.

“We are so pleased to welcome Jeff Holmstead to Bracewell,” Mr. Giuliani said in announcing the new executive last year. “Jeff’s familiarity with the compliance challenges facing the private sector will be a big asset to our firm.”


Iraq War Timeline: A Review Of Mission Accomplished Anniversaries

ThinkProgress has updated its Iraq war timeline. A review of past Mission Accomplished anniversaries from the timeline finds the following:

MAY 1, 2004: Bush says “daily life” of Iraqis is improving.

One year later [after Mission Accomplished], despite many challenges, life for the Iraqi people is a world away from the cruelty and corruption of Saddam’s regime. At the most basic level of justice, people are no longer disappearing into political prisons, torture chambers, and mass graves — because the former dictator is in prison, himself. And their daily life is improving. [Bush, 5/1/04]

MAY 1, 2005: Downing Street Memo revealed.

Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. [Downing Street Memo, 7/23/02]

MAY 1, 2006: Bush says Iraq has reached “a turning point.”

A new Iraqi government represents a strategic opportunity for America — and the whole world, for that matter. This nation of ours and our coalition partners are going to work with the new leadership to strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve success, a victory in this war on terror. This is a — we believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it’s a new chapter in our partnership. [Bush, 5/1/06]

These and other key events, quotes, and pictures of the Iraq war can be found here. Check it out and spread the word. And make sure to tell us what we missed in the comments section.


Pelosi calls out Bush for 1999 statement on timetable.

Pelosi calls out Bush for 1999 statement on timetable.

Reacting to President Bush’s veto of the Iraq supplemental bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted this evening that Bush once believed it was important for a president to lay out a timetable:

The president wants a blank check. The Congress is not going to give it to him. The president said, in his comments, he did not believe in timelines, and he spoke out very forcefully against them. Yet in 1999, on June 5th, then-Governor Bush said, about President Clinton, “I think it’s important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they would be withdrawn.” Despite his past statements, President Bush refuses to apply the same standard to his own activities. Standards — that’s the issue.

If the president thinks that what is happening on the ground in Iraq now is progress, as he said in his comments tonight, then it’s clear to see why we have a disagreement on policy with him. I agree with Leader Reid. We look forward to working with the president to find common ground, but there is great distance between us right now.

Watch it:


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Calif veterans, some still on active duty, speak out against U.S. presence in Iraq; See it as a matter of conscience.

Los Angeles Times
Calif veterans, some still on active duty, speak out against U.S. presence in Iraq
See it as a matter of conscience.
By Rone Tempest

WALNUT CREEK, CALIF. — Off duty in Baghdad, Army Sgt. Ronn Cantu operates an antiwar website.

When not repairing Black Hawk helicopters for the California National Guard, Jabbar Magruder conducts counterrecruiting sessions with would-be enlistees.

Fresh from two tours each in Iraq, decorated former Marines Sean O'Neill and Mike Ergo give antiwar speeches at Northern California high schools.

Although their numbers are still small compared with the draft-fueled Vietnam veterans' movement four decades ago, California's Iraq veterans are gaining a voice in opposition to America's continued military presence in Iraq. Recent antiwar demonstrations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities have seen the first sizable contingents of veterans from the conflict.

The protesters even include some soldiers — like Cantu, of Los Angeles — who are still on active duty. "I've taken a public antiwar stance," Cantu, 29, recently e-mailed from Baghdad, where he serves in intelligence with the 1st Cavalry Division, "but I didn't shirk my responsibilities."

O'Neill, a 24-year-old Marine veteran from Fremont, said he likes to take the antiwar message to conservative areas of the state "to add legitimacy and to show that it is not just crazed leftists who are against the war."

For the most part, the military has tolerated the antiwar activities of its active-duty soldiers and reservists.

"While not on duty or in uniform, our service members maintain similar rights as other Americans," said Lt. Col. Jon Siepmann, director of public affairs for the California National Guard. "There are, however, limitations that exist to ensure the good order and discipline of the service and to maintain an effective chain of command."

The only significant court case related to antiwar activity, the court-martial of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada at Ft. Lewis, Wash., ended in a mistrial in February. Watada was charged with "conduct unbecoming an officer" for antiwar statements he made before Veterans for Peace and other organizations and for refusing to deploy with his unit to Iraq. A new court-martial is set for July.

Cantu belongs to an organization called Iraq Veterans Against the War and is an active antiwar blogger. Except for a letter of admonishment he was given for his largely antiwar website , he said, "the Army has respected my rights."

After he registered his website and promised not to post pictures of himself in uniform, he was left alone.

"A lot of soldiers have the belief that freedom of speech doesn't apply to us, but that couldn't be further from the truth," Cantu said. "Since speaking out, I've been part of two Army briefings where we were explicitly told that freedom of speech applies to us."

Legal scholars sense a softening on the part of the military on free-speech issues since the discordant Vietnam era.

"There is a much more nuanced idea of what it means to 'support the troops.' Both sides now use that slogan," said Diane Amann, a constitutional law professor at UC Davis.

"It is a very different atmosphere from the last time around. It is much easier to see those in uniform as part of the great circle of society."

Iraq Veterans Against the War is modeled on Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which was founded in 1967 and played a high-profile role in the antiwar movement of that era. But the Iraq group does not yet have the same political traction as its predecessor, which had the concurrent anti-draft movement to help fill its ranks.

With an estimated 700 active members nationwide, the organization has a simple platform: the immediate withdrawal of all troops, improved treatment for soldiers upon their return and a national contribution to the reconstruction of postwar Iraq.

Sgt. Jabbar Magruder, 24, served in Iraq in 2005 and is still a member of the California National Guard while he attends Cal State Northridge as a pre-med major.

In his civilian mode, he serves as secretary of the Los Angeles chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, attends antiwar demonstrations and meets with students on college campuses. He recently traveled to Hawaii to speak to potential military recruits about the Iraq war and was one of nearly 1,000 regular military, National Guard and Reserve members who signed an Appeal for Redress that was delivered to Congress in January.

The three-sentence appeal reads: "As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases in Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."

Like most members of his organization, Magruder is not a pacifist but is opposed to the U.S. policy in Iraq. "For me, it was all about the weapons of mass destruction. When we didn't find any, that was the final straw," he said.

But during weekend and summer training drills with the National Guard, Magruder said, he is all soldier. "I can't go to drill and all of a sudden shout I'm against the war. When I'm in uniform, I have to play that role. I don't like people who proselytize anyway."

Magruder, who was posted at a U.S. airbase near Tikrit, Iraq, said he gets along well with his Guard colleagues, even those who still support the war. "I don't have any trouble in my unit," he said, "because I went with them to Iraq and they respect me for that."

Mike Ergo, a 24-year-old former Marine who served two tours in Iraq, participated in the bloody assault on Fallouja in November 2004. "I lost my best friend," Ergo said. "My battalion lost 21 people."

The solidly built Ergo, an honors student at a Bay Area community college, has a large, colorful tattoo on his right shoulder that reads "Born to Fight." His left forearm bears a tattoo of a sword-wielding St. Michael carrying the scales of justice and standing on a vanquished enemy. Ergo said he got that tattoo after he killed his first insurgent in Iraq.

Sitting at a Starbucks near his Walnut Creek home, Ergo explained how his views changed from being gung-ho on Iraq to being against the war.

"When I got back and had time to sort out Sept. 11 and the events that led to Iraq, I began to question things," said Ergo, a jazz saxophonist who gave up a college music scholarship to join the Marines.

"At first, I didn't understand that you could be proud of military service and still be opposed to a specific war. All of us are ready to die if necessary for a noble cause. I was just mad that this cause wasn't worth dying for."

Like Magruder, Ergo said his fellow Marines have responded mostly positively to his activities: "My former executive officer wrote me an e-mail saying he was proud of what I was doing."

At demonstrations, the physically fit, buzz-cut veterans stand out among protesters drawn largely from the extreme left or special-interest causes.

"A lot of us were America's poster boys," said former Air Force Sgt. Tim Goodrich, 26, president of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

O'Neill, who now studies political science at UC Berkeley, sees his mission as providing credibility and legitimacy to the antiwar movement.

"Our job," said O'Neill, the son of a University of California administrator and a schoolteacher, "is to change the image and the aesthetic and the language of the left-leaning antiwar movement to make it less polarizing."


Internet Radio Threatened By New Fees

Internet Radio Threatened By New Fees
New copyright fees threaten to push Internet radio stations out of business—but they won't go without a fight.
By Brian Braiker

April 30, 2007 - As you read these words on your monitor, there is a decent chance that you’re also streaming a little online radio. After all, with an estimated listenership of approximately 50 million Americans per month, Internet radio has become a go-to destination for a fuller spectrum of music, an alternative to FM’s mind-numbing monotony. And if you are one of those listeners, mark May 15 on your calendar: it might well be the day that the music dies.

Last month the trio of Library of Congress judges that oversees copyright law’s statutory licenses decided that May 15 will be the date royalty fees owed by Web radio operators will be recalibrated. The Copyright Royalty Board changed rates from a percentage of revenue to a per-song, per-listener fee—effectively hiking the rates between 300 and 1,200 percent, according to a lawyer representing a group of Webcasters. "If this rate does not change, it will wipe out the vast majority of Web radio," Tim Westergren, founder of the music discovery service Pandora, tells NEWSWEEK. "If this stays, we’re done. Back to the stone age again." (Royalty Board Chief Justice James Sledge declined to comment on the case, which lawyers say they intend to appeal.)

The fee hike will only affect Internet radio, not terrestrial AM and FM, because of a strange wrinkle in copyright law: broadcast stations pay royalties only for the composition as a piece of intellectual property—these are the fees that go to songwriters through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. But in 1995 the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lobbied Congress to pass a law that would require an additional performance fee specifically on digital music. So Internet radio stations pay both the composition fee plus an additional royalty for the performance of the song—the actual act of streaming it online. This fee goes to record companies and artists through SoundExchange, an independent body set up by the RIAA to collect and distribute digital royalties. This is the fee that the Royalty Board has proposed raising. That there is a different fee structure for Internet and terrestrial radio strikes both Webcasters and SoundExchange boardmembers as inherently unfair—though for different reasons. Webcasters don’t want to have to pay more than their FM counterparts, while SoundExchange executive director Jon Simson would like to see terrestrial radio start paying the additional royalty. "The discrepancy doesn’t make sense," he says. "Terrestrial broadcasters should be paying performers."

Webcasters—a group that includes scrappy, do-it-yourself amateur DJs alongside deep-pocket corporations like AOL and Yahoo! Music—have gone into full counterstrike mode. The SaveNetRadio Coalition of listeners, artists, independent labels and Webcasters helped spearhead a letter-writing campaign that inundated Capitol Hill with 400,000 signatures demanding that a fairer royalty scheme be implemented. Last week that effort bore fruit: U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee, Democrat of Washington, and Donald Manzullo, Republican of Illinois, filed the Internet Radio Equality Act, which would overturn the Royalty Board’s decision. The bill would also establish an interim rate of 7.5 percent of revenue (which is what satellite radio pays) while copyright holders and Webcasters hammer out a new rate that "will allow distribution channels to crop up that would otherwise be strangled in the crib," says Inslee.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, SoundExchange’s Simson isn’t happy with the proposed legislation. "The bill is completely out of line and uncalled for," he says. "We have no interest in seeing Internet radio go away because they pay us significant royalties." Simson, and by extension the recording industry, doesn’t seem to be focused on the long tail of basement jocks and noncommercial radio sites streaming indie gems. Rather, SoundExchange claims in a statement that "the bill would ... result in a windfall of $50 million to mega-corporate Webcasters like Clear Channel and Microsoft at the expense of recording artists."

But Ian Rogers of Yahoo! Music (the Internet radio leader with 23 percent of the market’s listeners, according to Hitwise), says that "SoundExchange is just not dealing with the facts. Internet radio in its entirety is less than a $50 million industry. The amount of money I can make selling ads on my radio product is less than I will pay in royalties." Ironically, it's the smaller online DJs who really get stuck with a bill they can’t pay under a per-song, per-listener fee. The small Webcasters play lots of songs but don’t bring in as much advertising revenue as the corporate streamers—if they bring in any money at all. Rusty Hodge of Soma FM says he paid $20,000 in royalties under the old rate last year. With the Royalty Board’s decision, Hodge estimates his fees for 2007 will be $600,000 and closer to $1 million next year.

Nonprofit stations like National Public Radio affiliates pay a flat fee up until a certain number of listeners is reached, after which they have to pay the commercial rate—meaning some public radio stations may see their fees spike 10-fold. "There are some stations considering pulling the plug entirely," says NPR spokesperson Andi Sporkin. "We're the ‘No Justin Timberlake Zone.’ You're getting all these genres that aren't getting regular commercial airplay and though this decision certainly hurts the stations, it hurts listeners more."

But what about the musicians? David Byrne, the former Talking Heads frontman, offers a unique perspective as both a big-time artist and as a small-time host of his own not-for-profit online radio station. He says his station costs him about $2,000 a month in fees and estimates that once the Royalty Board decision goes into effect, his costs will jump 20 percent the first year. "I lose money on this," he tells NEWSWEEK. He also dismisses the notion that he’s giving away tunes to the detriment of performers—an argument advanced by SoundExchange and the Recording Artists' Coalition, a lobby group founded by Don Henley and Sheryl Crow. "My experience was that, yes, when a song is played a lot on the radio it generates some royalties. But what it really generates is that people know your work." Which, says Byrne, translates into album sales.

With May 15 looming large in the minds of Webcasters, Kurt Hanson of the Radio and Internet Newsletter is organizing a "Day of Silence." Tentatively scheduled for May 8, hundreds of radio sites large and small plan to take a day off from Webcasting to drum up support for their cause. Soma FM's Rusty Hodge will likely be one of them. "We’re the small guys, the pioneers," he says. Unfortunately for Hodge and his listeners, he may become a pioneer of a different kind this month: among the first to go quiet.


Secret Obama Fax Was Ethics Slip

Secret Obama Fax Was Ethics Slip
—Howard Fineman

May 7, 2007 issue - Sen. Barack Obama vows to bring a "new kind of politics" to Washington. But a copy of a 36-page fax from Obama's Senate office, obtained by NEWSWEEK, shows that the rookie presidential candidate, riding the biggest wave this side of his native Hawaii, needs to keep a sharp eye on the details of his own campaign. Senate ethics rules allow senators with active campaigns to "split" the work time and salary of official schedulers such as Obama's Molly Buford. According to Obama's campaign spokesman, Robert Gibbs, she in fact is paid by both entities. But Senate rules and federal law forbid the use of official equipment—such as faxes and phone lines—to conduct campaign business, which was what Buford was doing last Thursday when she faxed Obama's political "call list" to the senator's personal aide at a Columbia, S.C., hotel. "These are the call sheets for tomorrow's call time," she wrote on the official cover page, emblazoned with the seal of the U.S. Senate.

The transmission was an isolated mistake, Gibbs told NEWSWEEK. "It should not have happened, and we will make sure that it will not happen again." (The campaign made another misstep a few weeks ago, allowing political guru David Axelrod to be photographed chatting with Obama in the Senate office.) The fax itself shows the campaign working to round up endorsements from established party leaders. In the "talking points" for a call to Rep. William Clay of St. Louis, Obama is advised by his Chicago political team to say: "Your endorsement is important to me and I hope that you will join the movement supporting my campaign. I would like you to take an official leadership role for my campaign in Missouri." But the memo cautions Obama. "Avoid discussing specific titles," it says. "Staff will work this out later. YOU can assure him he will be one of the main leaders in Missouri for your campaign." The guidance for Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri was similar. "Carnahan is just waiting for an official ask from you to endorse publicly," the staff advises. "Assure him he will be one of YOUR leaders in the state, but DO NOT lead him to believe that he will be in an exclusive role."

At the Columbia Marriott, which served informally as hotel headquarters for last week's Democratic debate, aides from several campaigns may well have had access to incoming faxes. A copy of the one to Obama was slipped, anonymously, under the door of a NEWSWEEK reporter. But the sender clearly knew the ethics rules. The accompanying note, written on hotel stationery, said of the fax: "Unbelievable, USS, office, phone, long distance, staff, etc.—for political." With all eyes on Obama, he needs to watch out.


U.S. air pollution: less smog, but more soot in East

Yahoo! News
U.S. air pollution: less smog, but more soot in East
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

The United States is less smoggy than it used to be, but dangerous soot particles are rising in the densely populated eastern part of the country, the American Lung Association reported on Tuesday.

In its annual State of the Air report, the group applauded reductions in smog since its peak in 2002, and blamed the rise in soot -- also called particle pollution -- on coal-fired power plants in the East.

"Particle pollution is lethal, it can kill you," the association's Janice Nolen said in a telephone interview. Fine soot particles can get trapped deep in the lungs and can lead to heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and asthma attacks, Nolen said.

Major sources of soot also include emissions from diesel vehicles including school buses, barges, trucks, tugboats and construction equipment, she said.

Even as the national level of ozone declined, a key component of smog, 99 million people in the United States live in counties with failing grades for ozone, according to the report.

"We're calling on EPA (Environmental Protection Administration) to set new standards for ozone at levels that would protect public health as the Clean Air Act requires," said Terri Weaver, the lung association's chair, in a statement.

The lung association checked for three kinds of pollution: ozone and two kinds of soot -- short-term and year-round exposure -- and found that 136 million people lived in U.S. counties with unhealthy levels of at least one of the three.

Los Angeles was ranked as the most polluted U.S. city for all three categories, even though the report found pollution levels have dropped there. Houston, Dallas, New York, Washington and Philadelphia were among the worst cities for ozone pollution.

Washington and Philadelphia were also on the list of the cities with the most soot. Others were Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Baltimore.

The report, available online at, is based on data from 2003 to 2005, Nolen said.

It was released hours after the Environmental Protection Administration offered preliminary data from 2006 that levels of six pollutants, including ozone and particulate matter, have declined 54 percent since 1970, when the U.S. Clean Air Act became law.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments from the Bush administration and industry to change part of the Clean Air Act that requires coal-fired power plants to install modern pollution safeguards when updating the rest of their facilities.


Venezuela 'to withdraw from IMF' and World Bank

Venezuela 'to withdraw from IMF'
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he wants to pull his country out of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In a speech to mark 1 May, Mr Chavez said he wanted the move to take effect as soon as possible.

As the country has settled its IMF debt, the withdrawal is largely a symbolic gesture, correspondents say.

President Chavez also announced an almost 20% increase in the minimum monthly wage.

"We don't need to be going up to Washington... we are going to get out," Mr Chavez said.

"We are going to withdraw before they go and rob us," he went on.

The president said he had ordered Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas to begin formal proceedings to withdraw from the two international bodies.

Mr Chavez said Venezuela would seek repayment of money owed to it by the IMF and World Bank - presumably a reference, correspondents say, to contributions which member countries pay.

"We still have a few bucks there," he said.

President Chavez has spoken of his ambition to set up what he calls a Bank of the South, backed by Venezuelan oil revenues, which would finance projects in South America.

Ecuador, led by another left-wing president, Rafael Correa, has also spoken of leaving the IMF, and recently expelled World Bank representatives from the country.


Price tag for war in Iraq on track to top $500 billion

Price tag for war in Iraq on track to top $500 billion
By Ron Hutcheson
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - The bitter fight over the latest Iraq spending bill has all but obscured a sobering fact: The war will soon cost more than $500 billion.

That's about ten times more than the Bush administration anticipated before the war started four years ago, and no one can predict how high the tab will go. The $124 billion spending bill that President Bush plans to veto this week includes about $78 billion for Iraq, with the rest earmarked for the war in Afghanistan, veterans' health care and other government programs.

Congressional Democrats and Bush agree that they cannot let their dispute over a withdrawal timetable block the latest cash installment for Iraq. Once that political fight is resolved, Congress can focus on the president's request for $116 billion more for the war in the fiscal year that starts on Sept. 1.

The combined spending requests would push the total for Iraq to $564 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

What could that kind of money buy?

A college education - tuition, fees, room and board at a public university - for about half of the nation's 17 million high-school-age teenagers.

Pre-school for every 3- and 4-year-old in the country for the next eight years.

A year's stay in an assisted-living facility for about half of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older.

Not surprisingly, opinions about the cost of the war track opinions about the war itself.

"If it's really vital, then whatever it costs, we should pay it. If it isn't, whatever we pay is too much," said Robert Hormats, author of "The Price of Liberty," a newly published book that examines the financing of America's wars.

Before the war, administration officials confidently predicted that the conflict would cost about $50 billion. White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey lost his job after he offered a $200 billion estimate - a prediction that drew scorn from his administration colleagues.

"They had no concept of what they were getting into in terms of lives or cost," said Winslow Wheeler, who monitors defense spending for the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan research institute.

Bush and his economic advisers defend the growing cost as the price of national security.

"It's worth it," Bush said last May, when the tab was in the $320 billion range. "I wouldn't have spent it if it wasn't worth it."

For war opponents, the escalating cost is a growing source of irritation. A Web site showing a running tally of the war's cost,, attracts about 250,000 visitors a month, according to the National Priorities Project, the site's sponsor.

"It comes down to the question, how do you want to spend a half trillion dollars? Do you want to spend a half trillion dollars on this or would you rather spend it on something else?" said economist Anita Dancs, the organization's research director. "It's all a matter of costs and benefits."

As wars go, Iraq is cheap. World War II cost more than $5 trillion in today's dollars. Korea and Vietnam each cost about $650 billion in today's dollars, but spending on those wars took a much bigger share of the economy when they were fought.

"For the average American, there's really been no economic consequence of the country being involved in a war," said Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International). "It doesn't have as much impact on the economy as those previous wars did."

But the painless approach to financing the Iraq war could cause problems in the future. Hormats worries that the decision to cut taxes and increase domestic spending while fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will complicate efforts to deal with the financial strains that threaten to bankrupt Social Security and Medicare.

Calling for sacrifice now, in a time of war, would give Americans more of a psychological stake in the long war on terrorism and prepare them for the sacrifices that will be needed to shore up Social Security and Medicare, he said.

"When you go into a war, you have to figure out how you're going to pay for it and be candid with Americans about it," Hormats said. "You can't have business as usual."


U.S. sees sharp rise in global terrorism deaths

U.S. sees sharp rise in global terrorism deaths
By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of people killed by terrorism around the world surged by 40 percent to more than 20,000 last year largely because of greater violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, a U.S. report said on Monday.

Global terrorism fatalities rose to 20,498 in 2006 from 14,618 in 2005 with the vast majority in Iraq, according to the U.S. State Department's annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" publication.

The number killed by terrorism in Iraq rose to 13,340 from 8,262 in 2005, Russ Travers, an official with the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center that compiled the figures for the State Department, told reporters.

In the latest incident, a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives killed 32 people when he blew himself up among mourners at a Shi'ite funeral in the town of Khalis in volatile Diyala province north of Baghdad, Iraqi police said.

Since U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a security crackdown in Baghdad in February, militants including Sunni Islamist al Qaeda have increasingly staged attacks outside the capital.

The State Department said the number of such incidents worldwide rose to 14,338 last year from 11,153 in 2005.

Of these, attacks in Iraq nearly doubled to 6,630 from 3,468 in 2005 and represented about 45 percent of the total.

The report described Iraq as at the center of the U.S. "war on terror," with coalition forces battling al Qaeda in Iraq and insurgents as well as "militias and death squads increasingly engaged in sectarian violence and criminal organizations taking advantage of Iraq's deteriorating security situation."

The number of attacks also jumped to 749 from 491 in Afghanistan, where U.S., NATO and other forces are fighting a revived Taliban insurgency more than five years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime that harbored al Qaeda.

The number killed in these incidents in Afghanistan was 1,040 last year, up from 684 in 2005, Travers said.


The numbers, which are based on "open sources" or public information, were compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center and included in a State Department report that assesses such violence around the world.

The report cited some progress in global efforts to combat terrorism since the September 11 attacks against the United States, including enhanced border security, a crackdown on "terrorist" financing and the dismantling of some violent groups.

Because of this, it said al Qaeda has adapted, moving toward local "guerrilla" violence by local recruits rather than "expeditionary" attacks like September 11, where it sent militants from abroad to crash commercial aircraft in the United States.

"What they can't get by force, they want to take by lies," said Frank Urbancic, the State Department's acting coordinator for counterterrorism, describing what he called a heightened al Qaeda focus on propaganda and "misinformation."

"It applies classic insurgent strategies at the global level," he said, calling al Qaeda "the most immediate national security threat to the United States."

"A deeper trend is the shift in the nature of terrorism, from traditional international terrorism of the late 20th century into a new form of transnational non-state warfare that resembles a form of global insurgency," the report added.

The report listed the five countries that the United States has long branded as state sponsors of terrorism -- Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

"Iran remains the most significant state sponsor of terrorism and continues to threaten its neighbors and destabilize Iraq by providing weapons, training, advice and funding to select Iraqi Shia militants," it said, saying Syria also lets militants "transit through its borders into Iraq."


EU-U.S. summit call for "urgent" climate action

EU-U.S. summit call for "urgent" climate action
By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The European Union and the United States agreed on Monday that global warming is an "urgent" priority, and President George W. Bush conceded he must work to convince Russia of the need for a missile shield in Europe.

At a White House summit, Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also said they were firmly dedicated to reaching agreement on a global trade pact under the often-stalled Doha round of talks.

They kept up pressure on Iran to forswear nuclear weapons given Tehran's refusal to stop uranium enrichment despite U.S.-EU pressure.

Bush said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's message to Iran, should she meet Iran's foreign minister at a regional summit this week on Iraq in Egypt, would be to repeat the offer that Washington would join European talks with Iran if Tehran would suspend uranium enrichment.

It was Merkel's first visit to Washington since she took over the rotating EU presidency, and she pushed global climate change in hopes of making it a big part of the agenda at a Group of Eight summit she is hosting in Germany in June.


At a joint news conference in the Rose Garden, the European side said it felt progress was made on the issue, despite an absence of concrete steps the EU and the United States can take together to address the problem.

"I really welcome the fact that there was progress in this meeting," said Barroso. "We agree there's a threat, there's a very serious and global threat. We agree that there is a need to reduce emissions. We agree that we should work together."

Bush, who critics charged was late to recognize climate change as a problem, made clear he felt any agreement between the United States and Europe would have a limited impact as long as developing countries like China are not included.

"The United States could shut our economy and emit no greenhouse gases, and all it would take is for China in about 18 months to produce as much as we had been producing" to make up the difference, he said.

But Merkel retorted that the developed world must lead the effort to reduce carbon emissions.

"If the developed countries with the best technologies do nothing, then it will be very tough to convince the others. Without convincing the others, worldwide CO2 emissions won't go down," she said.

The U.S. and EU leaders met against a backdrop of Russian criticism of U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe and a vow from Russian President Vladimir Putin to take "appropriate measures" to counter the system.

Bush said Merkel had previously expressed to him German and European concerns about the missile shield and that he should explain what he envisions to Putin.

As a result, Bush said he sent Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Moscow last week to meet Putin to offer Russia the opportunity to be included in a shield that Washington sees aimed at countering the threat of terrorist attack and not a resurrection of the Cold War.

"Therefore, we have started a dialogue...that hopefully will make explicit our intentions, and hopefully present an opportunity to share with the Russians, so that they don't see us as an antagonistic force but see us as a friendly force," Bush said.

(Additional reporting by Noah Barkin, Tabassum Zakaria and Matt Spetalnick)


Ex-CIA director faces criticism over memoir

Ex-CIA director faces criticism over memoir
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ex-CIA Director George Tenet faced accusations of hypocrisy from former espionage officials on Monday for not speaking out earlier against the White House's push to invade Iraq, which he criticizes in his new memoir.

Six former CIA officials, including former top terrorism experts, called on Tenet to return his presidential Medal of Freedom award for failing to speak out in 2002 and 2003 as the administration pressed the case for war based on flawed intelligence.

"We also call for you to dedicate a significant percentage of the royalties from your book to the U.S. soldiers and their families who have been killed and wounded in Iraq," the officials said in a letter issued over the weekend.

"By your silence you helped build the case for war," the letter said.

Tenet also came under fire from former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, who headed the agency's hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"The former director of central intelligence is out to absolve himself of the failings of 9/11 and Iraq," Scheuer said in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post. "We shouldn't buy his attempts to let himself off the hook."

But the CIA itself came to Tenet's defense, saying he captained the spy agency through challenging times.

"Through it all, he never wavered in his concern for the mission of the agency or in his dedication to its people," said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield.

Tenet, whose book "At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA," went on sale on Monday, led the CIA during the September 11 attacks and played a prominent public role during the months preceding the Iraq invasion.


He resigned in 2004 as the second-longest-serving director of central intelligence. Bush later awarded him the presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award, for his service to the United States.

But only now has Tenet criticized the Bush administration's preparations for war and accused the White House of ruining his reputation by falsely asserting that he told President George W. Bush finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would be a "slam dunk." The reference was published in journalist Bob Woodward's 2004 book "Plan of Attack."

"It was obvious to me that this whole Oval Office arm-waving, jumping-off-the-sofa, slam-dunk scene had been fed deliberately to Woodward to shift the blame from the White House to CIA for what had proved to be a failed rationale for the war in Iraq," Tenet wrote in the book.

Tenet said he used the phrase "slam dunk," sports slang for a virtual certainty, to describe how easily a stronger case for war could be made to the U.S. public.

"We do not believe he was scapegoated, but it certainly is his First Amendment right to lay out his view," White House spokesman Tony Snow said on Monday.

Tenet responded to critics by saying he sought to work from inside the political system in the months leading up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"I had a job to do. We had a war on terrorism, we had conflict in Iraq. I thought I could best serve my country by continuing to do my job every day," he told NBC.

"People think, well, why are you talking now? Why were you silent for so long? I certainly wasn't silent within the purview of my job and in the counsels of the administration in terms of what we said and how we said it."


Top court won't hear power plant pollution rule

Top court won't hear power plant pollution rule

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a Bush administration appeal defending its rule that would allow older factories, refineries and coal-burning power plants to upgrade their facilities without installing the most modern pollution controls.

The justices declined to review a U.S. appeals court ruling in March 2006 that struck down the Environmental Protection Agency's rule for violating the federal Clean Air Act.

According to the rule that was adopted in 2003 but has never taken effect, modern antipollution controls would have to be installed only if plant upgrades cost more than 20 percent of the replacement cost of the plant.

At issue is the ability of U.S. electric companies to overhaul and expand their aging fleet of about 500 coal-fired power plants to keep them running.

Utilities want to modify their aging power plants, some decades old, without triggering Clean Air Act rules that require them to spend billions of dollars on emission-reduction equipment. Oil refineries and other industrial factories are also subject to those rules.

Environmental groups said the plan would allow plants to spew more nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide -- precursors of acid rain and smog linked to respiratory diseases like asthma.

The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a utility group that has lobbied hard in favor of the rule changes, said the Supreme Court decision was "not totally unanticipated," because the court recently ruled on a similar case involving power plants owned by Duke Energy Corp.

Environmental groups and 14 states sued in challenging the rule. They argued it would allow plants to expand production without cutting pollution emissions and would undermine the Clean Air Act's new source review enforcement provisions.

The appeals court agreed. It said the rule was "contrary to the plain language" of the Clean Air Act, and said the EPA's rules make sense "only in a Humpty Dumpty world," a reference to the children's nursery rhyme.

"Looks like all the king's horses and men at the EPA could not put Humpty Dumpty together again," quipped John Walke, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has opposed the EPA's rule change.

The Bush administration appealed to the Supreme Court and said the appeals court had erred in invalidating the rule. A group representing auto manufacturers backed the appeal by the Bush administration, as well as a separate appeal by a group representing electric utilities.

The 14 states, led by New York, and the various environmental groups opposed the appeals. The Supreme Court rejected both appeals without any comment or recorded dissent.

(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Washington)


Monday, April 30, 2007

Bush's New Way Forward -- Again and Again

Huffington Post
Bill Katovsky
Bush's New Way Forward -- Again and Again

When it comes to meeting, if not surpassing lowered expectations, George W. Bush embodies the traits of a true champion. Miraculously, he remains an island of serene, optimistic calm amid administration scandals and incompetence. Yet he refuses to let down the American people by going negative on himself. His philosophy of "what me worry?" has served him well for over six years in the Oval Office.

Why alter a good thing?

He's a half-glass filled kind of guy, except that his tumbler is bone dry. If he too is suffering from Bush fatigue, he's showing few visible signs.

Still, it's been a rocky patch the past few weeks for the president. That spectacle of grief as exhibitionism with Laura at Virginia Tech only highlighted his own duck-and-cover approach towards publicly acknowledging the lives of American soldiers who've been needlessly sacrificed in Iraq.

Nor is it a slam dunk that Bush, who boasts about his passion for books on history, will want to read former CIA Director Tenet's memoir which rips to shreds his Iraq war team.

His top lawman, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, discovered that testifying on Capitol Hill is about as pleasurable as being detained at Gitmo. After Gonzo's thirtieth or fortieth "I don't recall," senators should have threatend him with water-boading to pry meaningful answers from him. Yet only Dubya stands 100 percent behind the man whom The New York Times labeled a "dull-witted apparatchik."

To his credit, loyalty is Bush's strongest asset. So is unbridled stubbornness, granite-headed obstinacy, inflexibility, uncompromisiong, and a win-at-all-costs mentality that demonizes his foes and shamelessly plays with facts for partisan advantage.

He likes going tete a tete with his adversaries: Osama, Saddam, Kerry, Pelosi, Reid, etc. It fuels his testosterone. It brings out his nasty, competitive side. Because he avoids nuance and complexity -- in speech or thought -- he reduces everything to "you are either with me or against me" which is his common fallback position on just about everything, ranging from stem cells and abortion to Iraq and global warming. This is a character defect found in schoolyard bullies.

Bush exasperates us because he wields tremendous executive power and yet professes so little recognition of anything that might challenge his calcified convictions. It's tempting to want to knock some sense into his thick skull, like one of those West African drums he was flailing upon.

Lately, he's been pounding away at his pledge to veto the $124 billion war spending bill passed by Congress because it includes a timeline for withdrawing American troops from Iraq. His coy acnowledgment that he might be willing to effect a compromise with Democratic leaders is a ruse.

Back in November, December and January, he made a similar hollow promise when he offered to seriously consider other viewpoints before committing to a troop surge. He was only buying time and playing politics.

On Friday, Bush said, "I invite the leaders of the House and Senate, both parties, to come down, you know, soon after my veto, so we can discuss a way forward."

But the "way forward" has always been his way forward. Bush's way forward is nothing less than being stuck on an elliptical trainer that he religiously uses every day. He might be burning calories, but he's not going anywhere.

Bill Katovsky is also the editor of which debuted in March.


Why Didn't George Tenet Just Resign?

Huffington Post
Arianna Huffington
Why Didn't George Tenet Just Resign?

Does this sound familiar? A senior Bush administration official plays a key role in selling the Iraq war debacle to the American public, resigns a few years later, and then tries to distance himself from Bush and the war by writing a book or talking to Bob Woodward, portraying himself as a poor, hapless victim who knew the truth at the time and really, really wanted to tell it, but, somehow, just had no choice but to go along.

What else could he do?

Each story shares the same fatal flaw. It requires that the remedy that was readily available -- resignation -- did not exist.

The latest in this tawdry lineup is George Tenet.

Poor George Tenet. Flogging his book, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, on 60 Minutes, Tenet tells Scott Pelley about how his phrase "slam dunk" was misused by the Bush administration. Tenet, you see, didn't mean that Hussein had WMD, he only meant it was a "slam dunk" that a public case could be made that Hussein had WMD.

I can't really see that the distinction matters, but Tenet apparently does. "I became campaign talk," Tenet tells Pelley, "I was a talking point. 'Look at what the idiot told us, and we decided to go to war.' Well, let's not be so disingenuous. Let's stand up. This is why we did it. This is why, this is how we did it. And let's tell, let's everybody tell the truth."

Great -- except he's about four years too late. Tenet seems to believe there's a major distinction between lying and standing by silently while others lie, and then proudly receiving a Medal of Freedom from the liars.

He could have simply resigned and freed himself to "tell the truth." Tenet acts as if resignation were not an option. But it was. And the passion and anger he displays now in the service of book sales could have been used then in the service of his country.

"It's the most despicable thing I've ever heard in my life," Tenet tells Pelley. "You don't do this... You're gonna throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection? Is that honorable? It's not honorable to me."

The problem is, the honorable train left the station a long time ago, and Tenet wasn't on board.

But others were. Like John Brady Kiesling, a career U.S. diplomat, who resigned from the State Department. And wrote in his resignation letter to Colin Powell:

"I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the world we share."

That, Mr. Tenet, is how it's done.

It's now too late for George Tenet. But can someone please remind Paul Wolfowitz and Alberto Gonzales, as they are pathetically fighting tooth and nail to cling to their jobs, that there is another option.

And how long do you think it's going to be after the end of the Bush administration before we are treated to General Petraeus' memoir explaining how the surge would have worked "if only he had been given the troops he needed to implement it properly."

So here is a plea to all Bush administration officials: Now is the time. If, like John Brady Kiesling, you're finding it hard to reconcile what you see going on around you with what you know to be the truth, do the right thing and resign. While it matters.

As Tenet says on 60 Minutes: "At the end of the day, the only thing you have is trust and honor in this world. It's all you have. All you have is your reputation built on trust and your personal honor. And when you don't have that anymore, well, there you go."

George Tenet and I are both Greek and there is a great word for it: filotimo.

There are still lives to be saved if a few administration officials have the guts to do what they know is right now -- instead of five years from now while flogging their books.

Any takers?


Melamine-Spiking "Widespread" In China; Human Food Broadly Contaminated

Huffington Post
David Goldstein
Melamine-Spiking "Widespread" In China; Human Food Broadly Contaminated

Who knows what kind of shit is adulterating our imported and domestic food supply? But whatever it is, it's about to hit the fan.

Months after dogs and cats started dropping dead of renal failure from melamine-tainted pet food, American consumers are beginning to learn how long and how wide this contaminant has also poisoned the human food supply.
Last week, as California officials revealed that at least 45 people are known to have eaten tainted pork, the USDA announced that it would pay farmers millions of dollars to destroy and dispose of thousands of hogs fed "salvaged" pet food.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Through the salvaging practice, melamine-tainted pet food has likely contaminated America's livestock for as long as it has been killing and sickening America's pets -- as far back as August of 2006, or even earlier. And while it may seem alarmist to suggest without absolute proof that Americans have been eating melamine-tainted pork, chicken and farm-raised fish for the better part of a year, the FDA and USDA seem to be preparing to brace Americans for the worst. In an unusual, Saturday afternoon joint press release, the regulators tasked with protecting the safety of our nation's food supply go to convoluted lengths to reassure the public that eating melamine-tainted pork is perfectly safe.

In a fit of reverse-homeopathy the press release steps us through the dilution process, tracing the path of melamine-tainted rice protein through the food system. The rice protein is a partial ingredient in pet food, we are told, which is itself only a partial ingredient in the feed given to hogs, who then "excrete" some of the melamine in their urine. And, "even if present in pork," they reassure us, "pork is only a small part of the average American diet."

How comforting. But the press release reaches its Orwellian best in its insistence that there is no evidence of any "human illness" due to melamine exposure:

"While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention systems would have limited ability to detect subtle problems due to melamine and melamine-related compounds, no problems have been detected to date."

Translation: "We are unable to detect such problems, but don't worry, no such problems have been detected."

It is hard to read this as anything but a preemptive press release, a calculated effort to reassure the public that it is safe to eat trace quantities of melamine... just days before they inevitably reveal that Americans have in fact been consuming it unawares for months. Menu Foods, the company at the center of the controversy, has recalled product dating back to November 8, 2006. Manufacturing forty to fifty percent of America's wet pet food, the salvaged product from their massive operations must have surely contaminated livestock feed nationwide.

And it gets worse. Tomorrow the New York Times will report from China, detailing how nitrogen-rich melamine scrap, produced from coal, is routinely ground into powder and mixed into low-grade wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins to inflate the protein analysis of animal feed:

The melamine powder has been dubbed "fake protein" and is used to deceive those who raise animals into thinking they are buying feed that provides higher nutrition value.

"It just saves money," says a manager at an animal feed factory here. "Melamine scrap is added to animal feed to boost the protein level."

The practice is widespread in China. For years animal feed sellers have been able to cheat buyers by blending the powder into feed with little regulatory supervision, according to interviews with melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.

[...] Many animal feed operators advertise on the Internet seeking to purchase melamine scrap. And melamine scrap producers and traders said in recent interviews that they often sell to animal feed makers.

"Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed," says Ji Denghui, general manager of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company. "I don't know if there's a regulation on it. Probably not. No law or regulation says 'don't do it,' so everyone's doing it. The laws in China are like that, aren't they? If there's no accident, there won't be any regulation."

"The practice is widespread in China," the Times reports, and has been going on "for years." And it is not just wheat, corn, rice and soybean proteins that should be suspect, but the animals who feed on it, including all imported Chinese pork, poultry, farm-raised fish, and their various by-products. Despite FDA and USDA efforts to allay concerns about consuming melamine-tainted meat, the health effects are unstudied, and the permissible level is zero. If China could impose a three-year (and counting) ban on the import of U.S. beef after a single incident of Mad Cow disease, then surely the U.S. would be justified in imposing a ban on Chinese vegetable protein and livestock products due to such a prevalent, industrywide contamination.

And if in the coming weeks this ban is finally imposed, the question we must ask government regulators is... why so late? Why did they wait until our children licked the last remaining drop of bacon fat off their fingers before alerting the public to the potential health risk, however low? It seems inconceivable that the regulators tasked with overseeing the safety and purity of our nation's food supply did not at least imagine the potential scope of this crisis back in early March when they first learned that Chinese wheat gluten was poisoning dogs and cats. Indeed, the very fact that they were so quick to focus in on melamine as the adulterating agent suggests they at least suspected what they were facing.

It may make for entertaining TV, but popular shows like CSI get forensic toxicology exactly backwards. You don't run a substance through a mass spectrometer and 30 seconds later get a complete readout of its chemical makeup. Rather, you painstakingly look for specific chemicals or groups of chemicals one at a time, until you find the offending toxin. Once you get beyond the basic "tox screen," forensics is as much art as science -- investigators use evidence and intuition to narrow the search to those compounds that are most likely to be the culprit.

And so it begs the question as to why -- in the face of an apparent wheat gluten contamination that reportedly killed nine out of twenty dogs and cats in Menu Foods' quarterly taste test -- would FDA scientists test for melamine, a chemical widely believed to be nontoxic?

Why? Because they thought they might find it.

Lacking adequate cooperation from FDA officials one is constantly forced to speculate, but given the circumstances it is reasonable to assume that the search for melamine was prompted by the "nitrogen spiking" theory, rather than the other way around. Based on their knowledge of the evidence, Chinese agricultural practices, the globalizing food industry, and perhaps prior history, the FDA hypothesized that unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers may have intentionally adulterated low quality wheat gluten in an effort to pass it off as a high-protein, high-value product. And nothing would do the job better than melamine.

According to one synthetic organic chemist, melamine is by far the perfect candidate. It is high in nitrogen (66-percent by weight), nonvolatile (ie, it doesn't explode,) and dirt cheap. It is also -- at least according to both the scientific literature and chemical supply catalogs -- widely considered to be nontoxic. For FDA officials, the mystery never seemed to be how melamine made its way into wheat, rice and corn protein, but rather, why it was suddenly killing dogs and cats.

The technical answer may center on the unexpected interaction between melamine, cyanuric acid, and other melamine by-products, but the practical answer may be much more pedestrian. Some samples of adulterated wheat gluten reportedly tested as high as 6.6-percent melamine by weight, an off the chart concentration that was likely the accidental result of some less than thorough mixing. Had this accident never occurred -- had cats, with their sensitive renal systems, not been the canary in the coal mine of melamine toxicity -- we might never have known that our children and our pets were being slowly poisoned by Chinese capitalism.

Well, despite the FDA's best efforts, now we know.

The New York Times article referenced above originally appeared in the online edition of the the International Herald Tribune. It has since been pulled.

[Read more from David Goldstein at]