Showing posts with label Gangsterism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gangsterism. Show all posts

December 02, 2009

Bhopal water still toxic 25 years after deadly gas leak, study finds

By Randeep Ramesh
December 1, 2009

Groundwater found near the site of the world's worst chemical industrial accident in Bhopal is still toxic and poisoning residents a quarter of a century after a gas leak there killed thousands, two studies have revealed.

Delhi's Centre for Science and the Environment said that water found two miles from the factory contained pesticides at levels 40 times higher than the Indian safety standard.

In a second study, the UK-based Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) found a chemical cocktail in the local drinking water – with one carcinogen, carbon tetraflouride, present at 2,400 times the World Health Organisation's guidelines.

Around 5,000 people were killed when clouds of toxic gas escaped from Union Carbide's pesticide plant at midnight on 3 December 1984. 15,000 more died in the following weeks, and activists say that the disaster is still poisoning a new generation of victims.

The Sambhavna clinic, a charity campaigning in Bhopal, has conducted a survey of 20,000 people and says it has found alarmingly high rates of birth defects. A preliminary study suggests as many as one child in 25 is born with a congenital defect.

"We are seeing birth defects at 10 times the incidence at national levels," said Satinath Sarangi, of the Sambhavna clinic.

"The government have been trying to say that the factory is safe and open for the public to tour it. But these results show how polluted the site has become."

Earlier studies have also pointed out that boys who were either exposed as toddlers to gases from the Bhopal pesticide plant or born to exposed parents were prone to "growth retardation".

Survivors in Bhopal have received meagre compensation: most of them got a Rs 25,000 cheque (£310) for a lifetime of suffering caused by damage to their lungs, liver, kidneys and the immune system.

Mohini Devi, 52, spent three months in hospital after inhaling the gas. For 25 years she has had difficulty breathing and suffered shooting pain through her abdomen. Her children have all been affected – one died from "gas complications" 15 years ago.

"My real worry is my grandchildren. Already some have been born without eyes. Why is nobody doing anything for us?" she said.

In Bhopal the legacy of the city's night of death is there for all to see. The disused Union Carbide factory remains a rusty symbol of bureaucratic indifference, legal actions and rows over corporate responsibility. Not only did the government wind up research into the after effects of the poison gas in 1994, it failed to gather evidence of culpability in the case against the US company.

Campaigners say the site now contains about 8,000 tonnes of carcinogenic chemicals that continue to leach out and contaminate water supplies used by 30,000 local people. Union Carbide says it is no longer responsible for the factory and pointed out it has already made a settlement of $470m (£284m).

The company's chief executive at the time, Warren Anderson, was briefly arrested after the leak 25 years ago but was released and fled India. He has been declared "untraceable" by Indian consular authorities although his address in a New York suburb is publicly listed.

The Indian government has also drawn fire for trying to pass the disused factory off as a tourist spot – with local politicians last month proposing to build a Hiroshima-like memorial there depicting a detailed account of the disaster. Adding insult to injury, India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh mocked activists on a visit to the city by picking up a fistful of waste and saying "see, I am alive".

Sarangi says the government has been trying to tempt Union Carbide's successor, Dow Chemical, back to India and to secure $1bn of investment.

In return, say campaigners, the government plans to let Dow evade its responsibility to clean up the Bhopal plant site. "This is all about the money. Politicians in India would rather do this than fight for people who suffered," Sarangi said.

December 01, 2009

Arming Goldman Sachs With Pistols Against the Public

Alice Schroeder
Commentary by Alice Schroeder

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- “I just wrote my first reference for a gun permit,” said a friend, who told me of swearing to the good character of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker who applied to the local police for a permit to buy a pistol. The banker had told this friend of mine that senior Goldman people have loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.

I called Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas van Praag to ask whether it’s true that Goldman partners feel they need handguns to protect themselves from the angry proletariat. He didn’t call me back. The New York Police Department has told me that “as a preliminary matter” it believes some of the bankers I inquired about do have pistol permits. The NYPD also said it will be a while before it can name names.

While we wait, Goldman has wrapped itself in the flag of Warren Buffett, with whom it will jointly donate $500 million, part of an effort to burnish its image -- and gain new Goldman clients. Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein also reversed himself after having previously called Goldman’s greed “God’s work” and apologized earlier this month for having participated in things that were “clearly wrong.”

Has it really come to this? Imagine what emotions must be billowing through the halls of Goldman Sachs to provoke the firm into an apology. Talk that Goldman bankers might have armed themselves in self-defense would sound ludicrous, were it not so apt a metaphor for the way that the most successful people on Wall Street have become a target for public rage.

Pistol Ready

Common sense tells you a handgun is probably not even all that useful. Suppose an intruder sneaks past the doorman or jumps the security fence at night. By the time you pull the pistol out of your wife’s jewelry safe, find the ammunition, and load your weapon, Fifi the Pomeranian has already been taken hostage and the gun won’t do you any good. As for carrying a loaded pistol when you venture outside, dream on. Concealed gun permits are almost impossible for ordinary citizens to obtain in New York or nearby states.

In other words, a little humility and contrition are probably the better route.

Until a couple of weeks ago, that was obvious to everyone but Goldman, a firm famous for both prescience and arrogance. In a display of both, Blankfein began to raise his personal- security threat level early in the financial crisis. He keeps a summer home near the Hamptons, where unrestricted public access would put him at risk if the angry mobs rose up and marched to the East End of Long Island.

To the Barricades

He tried to buy a house elsewhere without attracting attention as the financial crisis unfolded in 2007, a move that was foiled by the New York Post. Then, Blankfein got permission from the local authorities to install a security gate at his house two months before Bear Stearns Cos. collapsed.

This is the kind of foresight that Goldman Sachs is justly famous for. Blankfein somehow anticipated the persecution complex his fellow bankers would soon suffer. Surely, though, this man who can afford to surround himself with a private army of security guards isn’t sleeping with the key to a gun safe under his pillow. The thought is just too bizarre to be true.

So maybe other senior people at Goldman Sachs have gone out and bought guns, and they know something. But what?

Henry Paulson, U.S. Treasury secretary during the bailout and a former Goldman Sachs CEO, let it slip during testimony to Congress last summer when he explained why it was so critical to bail out Goldman Sachs, and -- oh yes -- the other banks. People “were unhappy with the big discrepancies in wealth, but they at least believed in the system and in some form of market-driven capitalism. But if we had a complete meltdown, it could lead to people questioning the basis of the system.”

Torn Curtain

There you have it. The bailout was meant to keep the curtain drawn on the way the rich make money, not from the free market, but from the lack of one. Goldman Sachs blew its cover when the firm’s revenue from trading reached a record $27 billion in the first nine months of this year, and a public that was writhing in financial agony caught on that the profits earned on taxpayer capital were going to pay employee bonuses.

This slip-up let the other bailed-out banks happily hand off public blame to Goldman, which is unpopular among its peers because it always seems to win at everyone’s expense.

Plenty of Wall Streeters worry about the big discrepancies in wealth, and think the rise of a financial industry-led plutocracy is unjust. That doesn’t mean any of them plan to move into a double-wide mobile home as a show of solidarity with the little people, though.

Cool Hand Lloyd

No, talk of Goldman and guns plays right into the way Wall- Streeters like to think of themselves. Even those who were bailed out believe they are tough, macho Clint Eastwoods of the financial frontier, protecting the fistful of dollars in one hand with the Glock in the other. The last thing they want is to be so reasonably paid that the peasants have no interest in lynching them.

And if the proles really do appear brandishing pitchforks at the doors of Park Avenue and the gates of Round Hill Road, you can be sure that the Goldman guys and their families will be holed up in their safe rooms with their firearms. If nothing else, that pistol permit might go part way toward explaining why they won’t be standing outside with the rest of the crowd, broke and humiliated, saying, “Damn, I was on the wrong side of a trade with Goldman again.”

(Alice Schroeder, author of “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life” and a former managing director at Morgan Stanley, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.) To contact the writer of this column: Alice Schroeder at aliceschroeder@ymail.com.

November 30, 2009

U.S.: Release of secret reports delayed

By Bryan Bender
November 30, 2009

President Obama will maintain a lid of secrecy on millions of pages of military and intelligence documents that were scheduled to be declassified by the end of the year, according to administration officials.

The missed deadline spells trouble for the White House’s promises to introduce an era of government openness, say advocates, who believe that releasing historical information enforces a key check on government behavior. They cite as an example the abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War, including domestic spying and assassinations of foreign officials, that were publicly outlined in a set of agency documents known as the “family jewels.’’

The documents in question - all more than 25 years old - were scheduled to be declassified on Dec. 31 under an order originally signed by President Bill Clinton and amended by President George W. Bush.

But now Obama finds himself in the awkward position of extending the secrecy, despite his repeated pledges of greater transparency, because his administration has been unable to prod spy agencies into conformance.

Some of the agencies have thrown up roadblocks to disclosure, engaged in turf battles over how documents should be evaluated, and have reviewed only a fraction of the material to determine whether releasing them would jeopardize national security.

In the face of these complications, the White House has given the agencies a commitment that they will get an extension beyond Dec. 31 of an undetermined length - possibly years, said the administration officials, who spoke on the condition they not be identified discussing internal deliberations. It will be the third such extension: Clinton granted one in 2000 and Bush granted one in 2003.

The documents, dating from World War II to the early 1980s, cover the gamut of foreign relations, intelligence activities, and military operations - with the exception of nuclear weapons data, which remain protected by Congress. Limited to information generated by more than one agency, the records in question are held by the Central Intelligence Agency; the National Security Agency; the departments of Justice, State, Defense, and Energy; and other security and intelligence agencies.

None of the agencies involved responded to requests for comment, saying they could not discuss internal deliberations.

“They never want to give up their authority,’’ said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, a research center at George Washington University that collects and publishes declassified information. “The national security bureaucracy is deeply entrenched and is not willing to give up some of the protections they feel they need for their documents.’’

The failure to meet the disclosure deadline “does not augur well for new, more ambitious efforts to advance classification reform,’’ said Steven Aftergood, a specialist on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. “If binding deadlines can be extended more or less at will, then any new declassification requirements will be similarly subject to doubt or defiance.’’

Obama laid out broad goals for reforming the system in May, when he ordered a 90-day review by the National Security Council. Government, he said, “must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment.’’

The review is part of Obama’s efforts to make all government operations more public, including his decision to release White House visitor logs and set up a new office to expedite the release of government files under the Freedom of Information Act.

Among the revisions Obama said he wanted considered were the establishment of a National Declassification Center to coordinate and speed up the process, as well as new procedures to prevent what he called “over classification.’’

But officials said an executive order that has been drafted by the White House to replace a disclosure order that Bush signed in 2003 is meeting resistance from key national security and intelligence officials, delaying its approval.

“The next phase is most crucial,’’ said William J. Bosanko, director of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives and Records Administration, who was appointed by Obama in April 2008 to oversee the government classification system. “It is a bit of a test. You have an administration that has committed to certain things and tried to shape the direction but then you have the bureaucracy which is very adept at resisting change.’’

A key concern among intelligence agencies is that they could lose what amounts to veto power over disclosure of their secrets that are maintained by other agencies, according to several officials who have been privy to the agency comments on the draft executive order.

Also, a turf war has broken out over which spy agency should be represented on a panel set up in 1996 to hear appeals from people who are seeking the release of information. Obama aides want the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, set up in 2005 to oversee all spy agencies, to replace the CIA, much to the consternation of CIA officials, the officials said.

The White House is meeting even more resistance on its position that no information shall remain classified indefinitely. Depending on the type of information involved, the White House is proposing that virtually all classified information - not just some categories - be automatically released 25 years, 50 years, or in the case of records that involve intelligence sources, 75 years after they are created. The draft Obama guidelines, a copy of which were obtained by Aftergood, include an additional five-year extension for the most sensitive documents.

Defense and intelligence information undergoes a more rigorous review before being made public - often decades after it is generated - than more general government files that do not require officials to have special security clearances to handle them. The documents in question are considered part of the nation’s permanent record, and therefore hold special historical significance. Only three percent of government records are so designated.

As the delays mount, so does the backlog of classified data to be reviewed. Aftergood and others worry that if automatic deadlines are not enforced, many documents will never reach the public because the agencies who have custody of them can continue to make the same arguments.

“The only way to get a handle on this is to allow classification to expire at some point,’’ said Aftergood. “This is information that is not just from years ago, but generations ago. The new delay is discouraging because the innovations in the Clinton order are being subverted. That means even bolder reforms that some of us hope for will be that much more difficult.’’

Still, even if such information is eventually declassified, that doesn’t mean that the public will get to see it in a timely manner. Officials estimate that there are 400 million pages of historical documents that have been declassified but remain in government records centers and have not been processed at the National Archives, where the public can view them.



CIA pulls SWIFT one to get peek at your bank records

Press TV - November 30, 2009 02:03:13 GMT


European Union governments have given in to the pressure and appear set to make a last-minute agreement with the United States to allow its intelligence agencies to monitor bank accounts and transactions across the bloc.

Actually, the EU has been clandestinely allowing US intelligence agencies to have access to these financial records since 2001, allegedly to fight terrorism.

However, EU citizens were outraged when this invasion of privacy was revealed in 2006.

Now, however, interior ministers and security officials of the 27-member bloc are going to meet on November 30 to make a decision on legally allowing the United States to have access to bank data across the EU.

According to Spiegel Online, the EU interior ministers gradually succumbed to the “massive” pressure exerted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US ambassadors in Europe, who pressed governments like door-to-door salespeople.

“They pulled out all the moral and political stops,” one EU foreign minister quipped.

Germany was initially opposed to the agreement but came around this week, and a recalcitrant Austria, one of the last holdouts, followed suit.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who is from the new coalition government, told German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberg, who belongs to the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), that he would not block the US proposal in Brussels.

There will not be a German “no” vote, but instead, he will simply abstain, Spiegel Online reported.

In what many Europeans say is a surreptitious move, the final decision on the issue is going to be made one day before the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect on December 1, since the treaty would allow the European Parliament to have a say in the matter.

However, the issue will definitely face opposition in the EU Parliament anyway since a majority of MEPs are opposed to the idea of disclosing the bank data to the US.

The new treaty envisages a host of security measures and has paved the way for many inexperienced but obedient people like Catherine Ashton, a former EU commissioner for trade, to be elevated to the very apex of European politics.

Many analysts view the entire process as an attempt by Washington to realize its security goals.

The US involvement in the EU's banking system started after it illegally got its hands on the private bank data via the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication or SWIFT.

Over 8,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries are affiliated with SWIFT. The cooperative organization is not a bank and it lacks funds but operates a network of international financial messages.

The firm is registered in Belgium but one of its two major computer servers is located in the US.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the White House decided to intercept the bank data of people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities via the SWIFT server in the US.

The CIA, the FBI, the US government, and major banks all put pressure on SWIFT until the organization “voluntarily” began to hand over millions of pieces of data.

Privacy advocates and liberal politicians are opposed to the “SWIFT agreement” because it would give US intelligence agencies access to the personal information and financial records of all EU citizens.

November 28, 2009

Climate change: the worst scientific scandal of our generation


Our hopelessly compromised scientific establishment cannot be allowed to get away with a whitewash



By Christopher Booker
The Telegraph
November 28, 2009

A week after my colleague James Delingpole, on his Telegraph blog, coined the term "Climategate" to describe the scandal revealed by the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, Google was showing that the word now appears across the internet more than nine million times. But in all these acres of electronic coverage, one hugely relevant point about these thousands of documents has largely been missed.

The reason why even the Guardian's George Monbiot has expressed total shock and dismay at the picture revealed by the documents is that their authors are not just any old bunch of academics. Their importance cannot be overestimated, What we are looking at here is the small group of scientists who have for years been more influential in driving the worldwide alarm over global warming than any others, not least through the role they play at the heart of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Professor Philip Jones, the CRU's director, is in charge of the two key sets of data used by the IPCC to draw up its reports. Through its link to the Hadley Centre, part of the UK Met Office, which selects most of the IPCC's key scientific contributors, his global temperature record is the most important of the four sets of temperature data on which the IPCC and governments rely – not least for their predictions that the world will warm to catastrophic levels unless trillions of dollars are spent to avert it.

Dr Jones is also a key part of the closely knit group of American and British scientists responsible for promoting that picture of world temperatures conveyed by Michael Mann's "hockey stick" graph which 10 years ago turned climate history on its head by showing that, after 1,000 years of decline, global temperatures have recently shot up to their highest level in recorded history.

Given star billing by the IPCC, not least for the way it appeared to eliminate the long-accepted Mediaeval Warm Period when temperatures were higher they are today, the graph became the central icon of the entire man-made global warming movement.

Since 2003, however, when the statistical methods used to create the "hockey stick" were first exposed as fundamentally flawed by an expert Canadian statistician Steve McIntyre, an increasingly heated battle has been raging between Mann's supporters, calling themselves "the Hockey Team", and McIntyre and his own allies, as they have ever more devastatingly called into question the entire statistical basis on which the IPCC and CRU construct their case.

The senders and recipients of the leaked CRU emails constitute a cast list of the IPCC's scientific elite, including not just the "Hockey Team", such as Dr Mann himself, Dr Jones and his CRU colleague Keith Briffa, but Ben Santer, responsible for a highly controversial rewriting of key passages in the IPCC's 1995 report; Kevin Trenberth, who similarly controversially pushed the IPCC into scaremongering over hurricane activity; and Gavin Schmidt, right-hand man to Al Gore's ally Dr James Hansen, whose own GISS record of surface temperature data is second in importance only to that of the CRU itself.

There are three threads in particular in the leaked documents which have sent a shock wave through informed observers across the world. Perhaps the most obvious, as lucidly put together by Willis Eschenbach (see McIntyre's blog Climate Audit and Anthony Watt's blog Watts Up With That), is the highly disturbing series of emails which show how Dr Jones and his colleagues have for years been discussing the devious tactics whereby they could avoid releasing their data to outsiders under freedom of information laws.

They have come up with every possible excuse for concealing the background data on which their findings and temperature records were based.

This in itself has become a major scandal, not least Dr Jones's refusal to release the basic data from which the CRU derives its hugely influential temperature record, which culminated last summer in his startling claim that much of the data from all over the world had simply got "lost". Most incriminating of all are the emails in which scientists are advised to delete large chunks of data, which, when this is done after receipt of a freedom of information request, is a criminal offence.

But the question which inevitably arises from this systematic refusal to release their data is – what is it that these scientists seem so anxious to hide? The second and most shocking revelation of the leaked documents is how they show the scientists trying to manipulate data through their tortuous computer programmes, always to point in only the one desired direction – to lower past temperatures and to "adjust" recent temperatures upwards, in order to convey the impression of an accelerated warming. This comes up so often (not least in the documents relating to computer data in the Harry Read Me file) that it becomes the most disturbing single element of the entire story. This is what Mr McIntyre caught Dr Hansen doing with his GISS temperature record last year (after which Hansen was forced to revise his record), and two further shocking examples have now come to light from Australia and New Zealand.

In each of these countries it has been possible for local scientists to compare the official temperature record with the original data on which it was supposedly based. In each case it is clear that the same trick has been played – to turn an essentially flat temperature chart into a graph which shows temperatures steadily rising. And in each case this manipulation was carried out under the influence of the CRU.

What is tragically evident from the Harry Read Me file is the picture it gives of the CRU scientists hopelessly at sea with the complex computer programmes they had devised to contort their data in the approved direction, more than once expressing their own desperation at how difficult it was to get the desired results.

The third shocking revelation of these documents is the ruthless way in which these academics have been determined to silence any expert questioning of the findings they have arrived at by such dubious methods – not just by refusing to disclose their basic data but by discrediting and freezing out any scientific journal which dares to publish their critics' work. It seems they are prepared to stop at nothing to stifle scientific debate in this way, not least by ensuring that no dissenting research should find its way into the pages of IPCC reports.

Back in 2006, when the eminent US statistician Professor Edward Wegman produced an expert report for the US Congress vindicating Steve McIntyre's demolition of the "hockey stick", he excoriated the way in which this same "tightly knit group" of academics seemed only too keen to collaborate with each other and to "peer review" each other's papers in order to dominate the findings of those IPCC reports on which much of the future of the US and world economy may hang. In light of the latest revelations, it now seems even more evident that these men have been failing to uphold those principles which lie at the heart of genuine scientific enquiry and debate. Already one respected US climate scientist, Dr Eduardo Zorita, has called for Dr Mann and Dr Jones to be barred from any further participation in the IPCC. Even our own George Monbiot, horrified at finding how he has been betrayed by the supposed experts he has been revering and citing for so long, has called for Dr Jones to step down as head of the CRU.

The former Chancellor Lord (Nigel) Lawson, last week launching his new think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, rightly called for a proper independent inquiry into the maze of skulduggery revealed by the CRU leaks. But the inquiry mooted on Friday, possibly to be chaired by Lord Rees, President of the Royal Society – itself long a shameless propagandist for the warmist cause – is far from being what Lord Lawson had in mind. Our hopelessly compromised scientific establishment cannot be allowed to get away with a whitewash of what has become the greatest scientific scandal of our age.

November 27, 2009

Bundesbank fears relapse as German banks face €90bn fresh losses

The Bundesbank has told German banks to take advantage of renewed confidence while they can to prepare for likely losses of €90bn (£81bn) over the next year, warning that the delayed shock waves of the economic crisis still pose a major threat to global recovery and bank finance.


By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor
The Telegraph
November 25, 2009

The venerable bank said in its Stability Report that the world had narrowly averted a "virtually uncontrollable" collapse in the late summer of 2008. While the credit system has partly stabilised, the underlying problems "are still far from being overcome" and money markets are not yet functioning properly.

"It is already clear that the financial system will be severely tested going forward. Downside risks remain pre-dominant," said the report.

The danger is that a long phase of stagnation and rising job loses in the West sets off "spiralling loan losses in both industry and in the residential and commercial real estate markets. In such an unfavourable scenario, negative feedback between the real economy and the financial system could gain added momentum."

The Bundesbank said the next wave of bank write-downs will come from loan book losses as the default rate on lower-tier companies tops 14pc in the US and 12pc in Europe. German banks alone will have to write down €50bn to €70bn of loans over the next year.

Losses from sub-prime securities are mostly in the open already. Further write-down from collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) - mostly tranches of mortgage debt packaged as securities - are likely to be €10bn to €15bn.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, told Le Figaro on Wednesday that banks worldwide have so far admitted to just half of the $3.5 trillion (£2.1 trillion) of likely damage.

"There are still large hidden losses: perhaps 50pc tucked away in balance sheets. The proportion is higher in Europe than in America. The history of banking crisis, notably in Japan, shows that there won't be healthy growth again until the banks have been cleaned up completely," he said.

The Bundesbank report came a day after Berlin agreed to inject up to €4bn to rescue WestLB, the country's third largest state bank. Commerzbank, HSH Nordbank, and Bayern LB have all run into trouble, requiring large bail-outs that have angered German taxpayers. The state Landesbanken emerged as the most reckless, building large liabilities `off-books' through Irish-based investment vehicles.

Paradoxically, Europe's bank problems help explain why the euro has risen to a 15-month high of $1.51 against the dollar. Hans Redeker from BNP Paribas said distressed banks are having to sell assets overseas and repatriate the money to shore up their capital base, pushing the euro towards the pain barrier for many European exporters.

November 04, 2009

Italian Judge Convicts 23 CIA Officers for Kidnapping

Italian Officials Complicit in 2003 'Rendition' of Cleric

by Jason Ditz, November 04, 2009

Completing one of Europe’s most high profile terror related trials, an Italian judge today convicted 23 Americans, 22 of them confirmed by the prosecutor as CIA agents, to sentences of between five and eight years in prison related to the 2003 kidnapping of a cleric from the streets of Milan.

Fugitive Renditioner Robert Seldon Lady

The longest sentence went to Robert Lady, America’s former Milan CIA chief. All the Americans were tried in absentia and are now considered fugitives from justice by the Italian government. The CIA declined comment.

The incident, dubbed the “imam rapito affair” by the Italian press, involves the abduction of Milan’s imam, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian cleric who was in Italy on an asylum passport. The CIA agents kidnapped Nasr off the streets of Milan and shipped him to Egypt.

Once in Egypt, Nasr spent the next several years in and out of prison, where he was tortured repeatedly. An Egyptian judge finally ordered his release in 2007. His only charge during the whole time was membership in a banned organization, though even this was eventually dropped.

Lady has insisted he was acting on the orders of his superiors with respect to the “rendition.” Two Italian officials were also convicted today as accomplices to kidnapping, though the Italian government’s declaration of “state secrecy” prevented more serious charges and pointed to official complicity in the incident.

Source

Italy's Secret Ships of Poison

Berlusconi, the Mafia and the Radioactive Wrecks

By MICHAEL LEONARDI - November 4, 2009

The colors of the Mediterranean are strong at this time of year on the border of Calabria and Basilicata. The sun shines brightly and low in the sky. The mountains and the sea are beautiful here and rich in traditions of organic agriculture, music and art that date back to the findings of paleolithic man and the Magna Grecia civilization before the Roman Empire. But all is not well. The Mediterranean Sea, calm at times and agitated at others, holds the wrecks of “secret ships,” as it whispers and roars the hidden history of its revolutionary past. These ships are known here as the Navi Dei Veleni (ships of poison), and their contents are kept secret from the population and the world by the Italian Mafia/State. This Berlusconi led Mafia/State with its unconstitutional decrees that violate Article 32 (see note) of the Italian constitution along with others, puts the health of the population at risk through a legacy of toxic and radioactive dumping now coming to light across the sea and landscape. People are worried: about the economy, the flu, the poor conditions of the hospitals, schools constructed with contaminated building materials that poison the young, and a sea full of ships whose cargos lie unknown and uninvestigated on the sea floor.

In the city of Amantea, Calabria, on October 24, there was a mass International demonstration. Simultaneous actions were held in solidarity in France and Spain as well. Over 400 organizations, local and from all across the Italian peninsula joined together to call for an end to the intentional poisoning of our lands and waters by a criminal/political caste submersed in scandals of sex, prostitution, and corruption, both on the left and the right. The October 24th demonstration in Amantea was called by the local organizing committee which takes its name in memory of the former commander of the Italian Navy, Natale De Grazia, who died in 1995 under very mysterious circumstances at the age of 39. Commander De Grazia was at the forefront of the investigation into the trafficking of radioactive and toxic wastes and was the key point person in the investigation of the lost Ships of Poison. The 24th of October rally brought over 30,000 citizens together with buses from all across the region and as far away as Rome. On a day in Amantea where the sea roared loudly, the people voiced their anger in unison at a State that represents the interests of business and criminals before the health of its citizens and the environment.

Much contamination has poisoned the land and water throughout Calabria and Basilicata, with illegal dumpsites and government documentation of elevated levels of cancer-causing substances in the environment. These substances were mixed with building materials in the city of Crotone and toxic materials were discovered on the site of an abandoned textile factory on the shores of the sea in Praia a Mare. There is a profound lack here of effective water treatment facilities along the Calabria’s Tyrrhenian coast, and especially in the summer during high tourist season, tons of raw sewage are dumped directly into the sea. There are thought to be ships with radioactive and toxic waste sunk off the coasts of Cetraro and Maratea, a wild coastline still teaming with sea life that stretches from Calabria to Baslilicata in the north. The ship off Cetraro is though to be the Cunsky and that off of Maratea the Yvonne A. There are many others.The Italian public prosecutor says there are 40 Ships of Poison, Loyds of London says 24 ships, while Bruno Branciforte, the former head of Italian intelligence SISMI (now AISE) on the 25th of September confirmed 55 ships.

In the week following the passionate cry from Amantea, the Italian national government went to work on an investigation of a shipwreck off the coast of Cetraro. This investigation was a follow-up to one already initiated by the region of Calabria. The region’s investigation discovered and filmed a shipwreck that included what seemed to be iron drums on the sea floor. The ship was covered in fishing nets and was in the same area where analyses of fish done by the local health authority ASL (Aziende Sanitarie Locali) showed high levels of arsenic, chrome and other heavy metals. This Regional investigation was initiated in part due to the testimony of Mafia Pentito (turncoat) Francesco Fonti, and in part because fisherman had actually fished out waste drums from the sea’s depths.

The national government’s investigation was led by the National Public Prosecutor’s Anti-Mafia division and the Environmental Minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo. A research ship called the Mare Oceano was hired. The Mare Oceano is the property of a company called Geolab from Naples that is controlled by the Italian Petroleum and Mining Industry Association. Geolab is being paid 43,000 euros a day for the work of Mare Oceano by the Italian Mafia/State as this is being written. The national government’s research has been conducted with no transparency. Local and regional officials, including Calabria’s Assessor of the Environment Silvio Greco – a marine biologist - , were excluded from this investigation as were representatives of national environmental organizations Legambiente and the World Wildlife Federation.

Some of the now “state secret” findings of this investigation called “Operation Cetraro” were reported in the Italian daily La Repubblica on October 29. The Environmental Minister, Prestigiacomo, and Piero Grasso, public prosecutor and head of Italy’s Anti-Mafia division, reported their findings to the media. Equipped with photographs and a short video, they revealed: that the ship under investigation was a passenger ship called the Catania that was sunk in 1917 by a German submarine, that there was no radioactive or toxic cargo, that the mafia pentito (turncoat) Francesco Fonti who said he sank a ship off of Cetraro’s coast was an unreliable source, that the regional government had caused undue alarm in the population and that all is well beneath the waters of Cetraro. They said that the “case is closed.” This same Piero Grasso admitted for the first time this October that the Italian State has negotiated and made agreements with the Mafia to save the lives of government and judicial figures, generating a wave of condemnations and criticism of a State and Mafia working together hand in hand. The revelations of “Operation Cetraro” are not sitting well with the local population here as many discrepancies have arisen and many questions remain as to where this Mafia/State’s real intentions lie.

Italy’s Environmental Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo has a questionable past. She comes from the town of Siracusa in Sicily and was part owner of a company there called Sarplast s.p.a.. This company went into bankruptcy in 1997 as a result of diseases and injuries among its workforce from exposure to toxic chemicals and hazardous working conditions. An investigation by police into the practices of the company documented violations of worker safety regulations. Three of the workers had children with birth defects. During the investigation of this company’s bankruptcy, fraudulent activities were discovered that included the embezzlement of billions of the old Italian monetary unit, the lire. The bankruptcy investigation into this company was halted by the Public Prosecutor of Siracusa because of a law called the maxi amendment, that was made by the Berlusconi government in 2003 and which suspended punishments for these types of corporate legal infractions. Now Prestigiacomo is responsible for protecting Italy’s lands and seas.

After a couple days of media reports that all was well with the sea in Cetraro, this story still hadn’t convinced local, regional and national environmental activists and organizations, the local and regional authorities, Calabria’s Environmental Assessor Silvio Greco, or the leadership of the opposition parties in Italy. Also at the level of the European Parliament, concerns are being raised by the European Green Parties, the European Commission on the Environment and others about the Italian government’s handling of this situation. Government insiders in Rome tell me that the government is playing politics with the health of the people and environment and has only worked to obstruct the truth on the story of these ships. The spokesperson for the Environmental Minister became very defensive and incredulous when I posed the possibility of State and Mafia collusion, but could give me no clear responses to any of my questions. He ducked around the question of whether or not the minister believed that any of these ships really exists, by repeating that they didn’t find any waste on the ship they investigated. Calabria’s Environmental Assessor Silvio Greco is hoping that this story gets out across the world and that the Italian state is followed closely in this investigation by the international community.

On Saturday, October 31, a press conference was held in Cetraro by representatives of the coalition that organized the October 24 demonstration in Amantea. They outlined their concerns about the discrepancies and doubts left by the Italian Mafia/State’s “Operation Cetraro” investigation. There concerns included: notable differences in the videos of the ships from the region and the state, different coordinates for where the research was conducted, and a complete absence of transparency on the part of the national authorities. One notable difference in the State’s video is that the fishing nets are no longer visible and nor are the iron drums. They voiced perplexity as to why the Ministry of the Environment would want to throw water on this and other burning environmental emergencies across the region instead of working on solutions to the grave health risks that face the population here in Calabria. The participants in this press conference included environmental expert Francesco Cirillo who has followed these issues for over a decade, Mauro de Marco of the organization Zero Rifiuti (i.e., Zero Garbage), and Gianfranco Posa representing the Natale de Grazia committee among others.

The health risks here are caused by serious and documented ecological emergencies. In the city of Crotone a school, roads and other buildings were built using materials mixed with toxic wastes. Analyses administered by the local health authorities revealed high levels of cancer causing heavy metals in blood samples taken from children that attend the school, now known as the “School of Poisons” in Crotone. In Praia a Mare near the border of Basilicata and Maratea, an abandoned textile factory sits on lands contaminated by toxic dumping, also on sea coast. In Aiello Calabro near Amantea and along the river Oliva, radiation levels 6 times higher than normal have been measured and a population plagued with cancerous tumors seeks the truth about the cargo of the Jolly Rosso. The Jolly Rosso beached on the shore of Amantea in 1990 after a failed attempt to sink it at sea and then disappeared after two days. Numerous other stories were documented, as well as the analysis of the fish off the coast of Cetraro. The analysis of the fish off Cetraro was done by the regional health authorities ASL and showed levels of heavy metals like arsenic, cobalt and chrome at higher than levels considered safe by Italian standards. In April of 2007, based on the findings of these analyses, the regional health authorities and the head of the Port of Cetraro banned fishing in certain areas. Then in August of 2008 this ban was mysteriously lifted despite the fact that no other analyses of the fish were taken. At the October 31 press conference the participants asked that the entire population of Calabria be given a health screenings to determine the risk factors posed by the environment.

On the first of November, the first major reports of problems with the Italian government’s “Operation Cetraro” began to surface in the regional media. Domenico Micelli reported in the daily newspaper Calabria Ora that there are at least three ships sunk off the coast of Cetraro and the coordinates of the ship investigated by the region did not match those of the ship investigated by the state. On the November 2, the World Wildlife Federation of Italy asked for the case of the ship off Cetraro to be re-opened by Minister Prestigiacomo and Piero Grasso. WWF also pointed out discrepancies in the videos made by the region and the state. They asked for an explanation as to why the coordinates of the area investigated by the Region and the State are over 6 kilometers apart. They call on the government to carry out their investigation with transparency and involvement of independent researchers from national environmental organizations and regional and local governments.

On November 3, this sequence of discrepancies was reported in the national press. The Italian daily La Repubblica reports that a secret document has come to light from 2006 that confirms at least 3 different shipwrecks off the coast of Cetraro, thus bringing into question the State’s quick investigation and closing of the case. There are also serious questions being posed by Environmental Assessor Silvio Greco about the research methods employed by the Mare Oceano, he points out that the research vessel does not have the correct equipment to measure certain types of radionucliedes. There are also discrepancies about the timing of Prestigiacomo’s revelations to the media. She said that the ship was not the presumed Cunsky even before the robot was sent down to shoot the images of the Catania, giving the Mafia/State’s version a prefabricated veneer.

Italy is facing difficult times. The economy shows no signs of rebound and the stagnancy of wages keeps the majority of people struggling to make ends meet. The mass media are dominated by scandalous reports on prostitutes and transsexuals. Berlusconi faces the imminent risk of prison for corruption and fraud and says that even if he is found guilty by the “communist” judges he will not leave his post. On the October 22, after being arrested for having 20 grams of marijuana, a young man named Stefano Cucchi was beaten to death at the hands of state authorities in the Regina Coeli prison in Rome sending shockwaves throughout the peninsula. Social and ecological justice are hard to find in Italy, and while much of the population seems content with their football games and material distractions, a growing and very well informed mass movement is afoot. Here in Calabria the voices are clamoring for the truth about what dangerous secrets the Mafia/State is hiding beneath the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The restless citizenry here is also proposing their own investigation into this matter and is coming up with all types of creative solutions to the problems facing this area. There is a strong streak of resistance in the people here as they refuse to allow a corrupt political class to play games with the health of the people and the future of our beautiful mountains and sea.

Note: Article 32 [Health]

(1) The republic protects individual health as a basic right and in the public interest; it provides free medical care to the poor.

(2) Nobody may be forcefully submitted to medical treatment except as regulated by law. That law may in no case violate the limits imposed by the respect for the human being.

Michael Leonardi currently lives in Calabria. He teaches English at the University of Calabria in Cosenza and at the Vocational Highschool in Maratea for training hotel and restaurant workers. He can be reached at mikeleonardi@hotmail.com

Source

November 03, 2009

Goldman left foreign investors holding the subprime bag

NEW YORK — Inside the thick Goldman Sachs investment circular were the details of a secret, $2 billion deal channeled through a Caribbean tax haven.

The Sept. 26, 2006, document offered sophisticated U.S. and European investors an opportunity to buy into a pool of supposedly high-grade bonds backed by residential, commercial and student loans. The transaction was registered through a shell company in the Cayman Islands.

Few of the potential investors knew it, but the ratings of many of the mortgage securities hid their true risks and, in some cases, Goldman's descriptions exaggerated their quality.

The Cayman offering — one of perhaps dozens made through the British territory — occurred as Goldman began to ditch the subprime mortgage business before the U.S. housing market collapsed under an avalanche of homeowner defaults.

In all, Goldman sold more than $57 billion in risky mortgage-backed securities during a 14-month period in 2006 and 2007, including nearly $39 billion issued from mortgages it purchased. Meanwhile, the firm peddled billions of dollars in complex deals, many of them tied to subprime mortgages, in the Caymans and other offshore locations.

Many of those securities later soured, but the sales allowed Goldman to become the only major U.S. investment bank to escape the brunt of the subprime meltdown.

One bond analyst who reviewed the 2006 Cayman deal dismissed it in a report to clients as "a not so cleverly disguised way for Goldman Sachs & Co. to unload its unwanted exposures to the subprime real estate market onto foreign investors."

Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally said that the firm "sold mortgage securities only to sophisticated investors" and disclosed "all the appropriate information available."

McClatchy also found at least two instances in which Goldman appeared to mislead investors. In one, the firm said that $65.3 million in securities were backed by safe "prime" mortgages when the same loans had been labeled a cut below prime in a U.S. offering. In the other, Goldman listed $10 million as "midprime" loans when the underlying mortgages had been made to subprime borrowers with shaky finances.

DuVally said that the descriptions were consistent with the standards set by Moody's, the bond-rating agency.

The secret Cayman Islands deals provide a window into one method that Goldman and other Wall Street firms used to draw European banks and other foreign financial institutions into investing hundreds of billions of dollars in securities tied to risky U.S. home loans.

Experts estimate that Wall Street investment banks sold 25 percent to 50 percent of these bonds and related securities overseas, resulting in massive losses in Europe and elsewhere when the market collapsed.

Last spring, the International Monetary Fund projected that global write-downs on "U.S.-originated assets" stemming from the subprime disaster could reach $2.7 trillion.

Underscoring the role of tax havens as a Wall Street marketing tool, a Treasury Department report found that as of June 30, 2008, $164 billion in U.S. mortgage-backed securities were held in the Cayman Islands and $22 billion more were held in Luxembourg, another tax-friendly zone.

Gary Kopff, a securitization expert who analyzed unpublished industry data, said that Goldman packaged or marketed offshore deals worth at least $83 billion from 2002 to 2008. These deals, called collateralized debt obligations, amounted to a $1.3 trillion global market, and Goldman reaped as much as $1.66 billion for assembling and selling them.

Some of Goldman's subprime mortgage securities wound up in the hands of financially struggling Eastern European governments such as those in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia, said a Wall Street expert involved in trading those types of securities who declined to be identified because of the matter's sensitivity. This person said that one Slovakian bank's multimillion-dollar investment wound up worthless.

DuVally said the company could find no record of marketing the bonds in those countries, but that the securities may have gotten there through the resale market.

Subprime-backed mortgage securities that were sold at the crest of the housing market in 2006 and 2007 have shown the most precipitous drop in value, with default rates on the underlying mortgages exceeding 30 percent. For many cash-strapped borrowers, it was easy to walk away from soaring monthly payments when their mortgage balances exceeded the lower value of their homes.

The 2006 Cayman deal was part of a flurry of Goldman activity in the hidden, unregulated parts of the securities industry. Goldman's traders also made huge bets that those securities would lose value by buying insurance-like contracts, called credit-default swaps, with private parties. Beginning early in 2007, they bought swaps on a London-based exchange.

Every Goldman bet on the exchange's subprime index, which was run by the London-based financial services company Markit, was on a basket of bonds that included a bundle of its own subprime-related securities.

Germany's Deutsche Bank, the trustee holding mortgages for scores of Goldman's bond offerings, also lists more than 50 private Goldman deals on its Web site. Of those, 42 were backed by risky mortgages.

In marketing exotic deals that typically include subprime mortgage-backed securities, Goldman and other Wall Street firms have long used the Caymans as a gateway to European investors, said an official of a German bank, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly and declined to be identified.

The 2006 Cayman deal was outside the reach of U.S. tax laws and free of U.S. regulation. Goldman circulated the deal under the names of Cayman-based Altius III Funding Ltd., and a sister firm registered in Delaware, both created for the sole purpose of facilitating the transaction.

The offering drew a scornful reaction from the bond analyst who warned investment clients to stay away. The analyst's report, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, described Goldman as "a single underwriter solely interested in pushing its dirty inventory onto unsuspecting and obviously gullible investors."

". ... In this case, it is a foregone conclusion that many relatively senior bondholders will suffer severe losses," said the analyst's report, which was made available on the condition of anonymity because the offering barred unauthorized disclosure.

McClatchy also learned of a second private Goldman deal, in which it sought in May 2007 via another Cayman company to sell $44.6 million in bonds related to subprime loans written by New Century Financial, a mortgage lender that weeks earlier had careened into bankruptcy after California regulators closed it.

For foreign banks, the lure was spelled AAA. Under both public and private deals, experts said, 80 percent or more of the bonds carried top grades from financial rating companies, assuring investors that the securities were among the safest plays in the financial world.

The triple-A rating was "the clincher," said an official of another German bank, who also wasn't authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

Few investors, however, knew that Goldman and other Wall Street dealers were paying the biggest U.S. financial ratings firms for grading the risky bonds.

Sylvain Raynes, a former analyst for Moody's Investors Service, the largest U.S. rating firm, likened the Wall Street firms' relationships with the rating agencies to hiring "a high-class escort service."

Typically, he said, an investment banker would meet with analysts for a ratings agency, describe a mortgage pool "and propose his dream result."

"The agency would call back after the meeting and intimate that they 'could get there' sight unseen," Raynes said. "Both parties understood what that meant, and the agency would be hired to rate the deal."

After bestowing untold numbers of triple-A ratings on subprime-backed bonds, Moody's and the second- and third-largest rating agencies, Standard & Poor's and Fitch, began to downgrade hundreds of pools of the securities in the summer of 2007, including the offshore deals known as collateralized debt obligations.

That set off a chain reaction that culminated in last year's Wall Street meltdown. Since then, both Moody's and S&P have downgraded slices of the Altius III deal several times.

U.S. pension funds that have lost money on subprime mortgage-backed bonds have filed suits accusing Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch of failing to inform them of the bonds' true risks. (Merrill is now part of Bank of America.)

Many European institutions that lost money on the securities, however, have fewer legal options.

Few of them are pointing fingers at Goldman or other U.S. investment banks. McClatchy contacted several European banks about their subprime losses and got similar responses when the banks were asked where they'd bought them.

Germany's IKB Deutsche Industriebank, whose 2007 near-collapse from subprime losses awakened Europe to the impending financial crisis, has written off about $19 billion (in current U.S. dollars) related to U.S. mortgages. A spokeswoman for the bank declined to say which investment banks sold it bonds.

Several of Germany's seven regional "landesbanks," or land banks, also took a pounding. With $7.2 billion in aid from the state of Bavaria, Munich-based Bayern LB, Germany's sixth-largest bank, has reserved $8.95 billion for losses in its asset-backed securities portfolio, which includes subprime loans. A Bayern spokesman declined to say who sold the bank the risky bonds.

Spokespeople for the Royal Bank of Scotland, which bought a Dutch subprime subsidiary and has reported tens of billions of dollars in losses, and the French bank Societe General, which lost more than $6 billion, also declined to identify any U.S. investment banks as the source of their problems.

"Are we angry against the U.S. banks?" a German bank official said, requesting anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity. "We looked at the triple A's like the other banks, and we bought this, yeah. It doesn't help much to be angry."

(Tish Wells contributed to this article.)

Israel was all too willing to sell out for Gaydamak's billions

Landmine victims in Angola play soccer
Photo: Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation
Ha'aretz - Anshel Pfeffer
Source
October 30, 2009

...Arcadi Gaydamak has been sentenced to six years in prison and a hefty fine for selling hundreds of millions of dollars of arms to war-torn Angola [
whose weapons had kept one of Africa's most murderous conflicts going for years]. Not that he is planning to serve any time. The millionaire is holed up in Moscow where as long as he does nothing to anger the Kremlin, he is safe from extradition...

...Gaydamak was feted by the entire country [Israel] ... politicians, senior officers, journalists and businessmen all flocked to his extravagant parties... town council members joined his nonexistent political party in the belief that he would sweep them to electoral victory - first on the local level, then the national. How thousands went into a frenzy, cheering for him in Jerusalem's soccer stadium and at the mass Independence Day party he organized.

...
his very first blatant attempt to buy political power, almost four years ago... Gaydamak signed an agreement with then-chairman of the Jewish Agency, Zeev Bielski, by which the Russian businessman was to donate $50 million over a five-year period to a Jewish education fund to be administered jointly with the Agency. In return, Gaydamak was to receive a seat on the Agency's most senior decision-making panels...

...
Gaydamak is not the only Jewish tycoon in recent years who tried to change the course of Israeli politics and society by force of his money. Casino owner Sheldon Adelson has poured millions into a new free newspaper, Yisrael Hayom, currently the second-highest circulation paper in the country, with a singular agenda - pushing Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister and, once there, keeping him in power. Angolan diamond dealer Lev Leviev, by offering free teaching assistants, managed to get secular primary schools around the country to teach a Lubavitch-inspired Orthodox curriculum of Jewish studies. Full story

November 01, 2009

Texas Governor's Secret Jerusalem Trip Raises Questions

By Bennett Cunningham
October 29, 2009

The city of Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and it has a new defender: Texas Governor Rick Perry.

In August, Perry was given the "Defender of Jerusalem" award. So Perry and his wife flew first class to Israel at more than $5,000 per ticket. The governor's security detail of four Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers was also along for the trip.

They all took the 7,000 mile journey to accept the award at a time when the governor was asking everyone else in state government to cut back on travel. During a speech in Houston, Perry directed state agencies to "curtail taxpayer funded travel."

According to state documents, the taxpayers' bill just to take Perry's security officers on the 5-day trip was more than $70,000. The breakdown includes $17,000 for rooms at the swanky King David Hotel, nearly $13,000 for food and more than 350 hours of overtime.

The specific price tag for the governor and his wife are secret. So when CBS 11 asked to see the governor's expense records for the trip, we received four pages and no specifics. Perry refused to do a formal interview with us and would only say, "Going to Israel or other countries is a wise investment for the state of Texas."

Keith Elkins is executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Elkins and his organization fight for government transparency. Elkins says, "This Governor operates under the premise of 'believe what I say, not what I do.'" While Elkins suggests, "There is something else going on here," he doesn't know what that 'something' is.

Records obtained by CBS 11 show the governor's airfare and trip costs for he and his wife were paid for by Irwin Katsof, a financier for energy companies around the world. And the man who presented Perry with the Defender of Jerusalem award, Guma Aguiar, owns a company that made billions of dollars in the Texas natural gas industry. Aguiar also created the award given to Perry.

Just two weeks before Aguiar and Perry posed for pictures in Israel, Aguiar posed for a mug shot in Florida. He was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. Aguiar pleaded no contest.

Sheila Krumholz is the executive director of the Washington D.C. based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the effect of money on public policy. She says, "There is just too much of a potential for a conflict of interest with these trips particularly with privately sponsored trips." Krumholz also wonders, "Is this the real deal or a sleight of hand to provide political cover of those attending?"

CBS 11 obtained a list of people on the trip. The organizers describe those attending as "an elite cadre of 20 executives in, gas and oil, biotech, finance and technology." The list includes an out of state Congresswoman and Texas Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, whose agency regulates the oil and natural gas industry in Texas.

Carrillo says he paid his own way but refused to show CBS 11 any of his expenses. Also on the list of travelers: a host of energy executives, the governor's family -- which included his son's fiancée -- and a member of the State Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. Hinojosa told us the trip was not about energy. "I don't recall discussions about oil and gas with the business people there," he said.

The governor and others met with the President of Israel, the Prime Minster and Israeli soldiers. They toured the old city of Jerusalem and snapped photos of Aggie souvenirs (the governor is a graduate of Texas A&M). Perry even took time to do an interview with an Israeli TV station. Remember, the governor is doing all this while asking other state employees to "curtail travel."

Like the governor, State Senator Hinojosa's entire trip was paid for by Katsof, the financier. Hinojosa also received the Defender of Jerusalem Award. But unlike the governor's four pages of documents, Hinojosa gave us everything he had -- fully disclosing the nature of the trip.

Hinojosa maintains there was no conflict of interest by accepting the trip. "We as public officials have to make decision on public policy. Not who contributes money or pays for a trip," he explained. But Krumholz disagreed, saying, "This trip raises real concerns for the potential for a secret junket."

The trip also had its share of perks. CBS 11 obtained private emails and found the organizer, Katsof, asked attendees what kind of scotch they preferred for a "scotch and cigar bar" where they would admire "a starry Jerusalem." Krumholz says trips like this "can be a lucrative way to conduct business. You pay for vacation and in return you may get contracts or government brokered deals worth millions of dollars."

In late May a Texas appellate court ruled that all DPS expense reports for the governor's security detail were to be made public. A few days later, the state legislature passed a bill to get around that court ruling, allowing DPS to hide the expense reports of the governor's security detail from public view. The law took effect immediately.

(© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.) - Source

Second autopsy: Hampton's death likely murder

Press TV - November 1, 2009 12:36:39 GMT

British nuclear expert Timothy Hampton who died mysteriously in Vienna

A doctor who carried out a second post-mortem examination on the body of Timothy Hampton says the nuclear expert's fall from the UN building in Vienna was murder.

The 47-year-old British scientist, who was involved in monitoring nuclear activities, was found dead last week at the bottom of a staircase in the United Nations' building.

The doctor who first examined Hampton's body concluded that there were 'no suspicious circumstances'. Following objections raised by his widow, Olena Gryshcuk, and her family as to the reliability of the assessment, another physician was asked to repeat the autopsy.

The new doctor, Professor Kathrin Yen, of the Ludwig Institute in Graz, Austria, says she has found evidence that Hampton did not commit suicide.

She believes one possible theory is that Hampton was carried to the 17th floor from his workplace on the sixth floor and thrown down from the height.

“In my opinion, it does not look like suicide. My example is that somebody took him up to the top floor and threw him down.

“At the moment I don't have the police reports. We did a CT scan. From the external exam, I saw injuries on the neck but these were not due to strangulation,” she explained.

At the time of his death, Hampton was an employee of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which monitors tremors around the world to uncover illegal nuclear tests.

Initial reports said that Hampton may have been involved in the Vienna talks between Iran and world powers in the Austrian capital, but a CTBTO spokesman later said that he was not connected with discussions.

October 29, 2009

Israel denies illegal diamond trade

Press TV - October 29, 2009 06:32:37 GMT

A UN report accuses Israel of involvement in trade of
blood diamonds, used to re-arm rebels in Ivory Coast.


Israel has criticized a UN report which accuses Tel Aviv of involvement in illegal diamond trade from the Ivory Coast that could be helping re-arm rebels there.

Israel's Diamond Controller Shmuel Morderchai dismissed the accusations in a Wednesday statement, insisting Israel has never dealt in diamond trade with the Ivory Coast.

"We are shocked by these false accusations and completely refute them," he said.

The experts report was presented to the UN Security Council on international compliance with sanctions imposed by the international body on the Ivory Coast

The UN sanctions on the African nation's diamond trade came four years ago, after rebels took control of the country's north in a deadly civil war.

The world body's investigation team on Tuesday urged Israel to 'investigate fully the possible involvement of Israeli nationals and companies in the illegal export of Ivorian rough diamonds'.

The panel also named the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Guinea and Liberia as some of the countries that needed to step up efforts to enforce the embargo on buying rough diamonds mined in the Ivory Coast.

But Israel insisted it had never imported conflict diamonds from the Ivory Coast or any other countries that are not members of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS).

The watchdog was set up in 2003 in a bid to stem the trade in 'blood diamonds' in the wake of civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, which were largely financed by illegal diamond trade.

Israel has threatened to lodge an official complaint about its inclusion in the UN report at the upcoming meeting of Kimberley Process members scheduled for November 2-5 in Namibia.

October 28, 2009

Jail terms for 'Angola-gate' guilty

October 27, 2009

Jean Christophe Mitterand, left, was given a suspended sentence and a $550,000 fine [AFP]

Arkadi Gaydamak, a Russian-born Israeli businessman and Pierre Falcone, his French associate, have been sentenced to six-year jail terms for organising the illegal trafficking of weapons to Angola.

Gaydamak, who fled France before the trial, and Falcone were among 42 politicians, businessmen and members of the Paris elite accused of defying a UN embargo to arm the Angolan government during a civil war in the 1990s.

Charles Pasqua, France's former interior minister, was handed a one-year jail term on Tuesday for his involvement in the case dubbed "Angola-gate".

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the son of France's late president, was handed a two-year suspended sentence and fined $550,000 for receiving commissions linked to the illegal arms deals.

Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from the court in Paris, said many people do not believe that justice has been carried out.

"Many people that I've spoken to here ... say that really they've only half-lifted the veil - that many people have escaped justice and they've escaped the spotlight," he said.

But he added that Gaydamak, who is now believed to be in Russia, "has escaped the long arm of French justice", and that Pasqua, who is now in his eighties, will find it hard to cope with his jail sentence.

Gaydamak had initially fled to Israel from France, even standing for mayor of Jerusalem during attempts to extradite him.

Falcone, who holds French, Canadian and Angolan citizenship, and was Angola's ambassador to the UN cultural body Unesco, had claimed diplomatic immunity in the case, but this was overturned by the judge.

Weapons arsenal

The alleged weapons arsenal, which included 420 tanks, 150,000 shells, 170,000 anti-personnel mines, 12 helicopters, and six warships, is said to have propped up the government of Eduardo Dos Santos, the then-president, during its war against the US-backed Unita rebels.

Angola is littered with mines, a legacy of the civil war that killed thousands of people [EPA]
The arms sales began in 1993, when Francois Mitterrand was president, and continued into 1998, three years into the presidency of his successor, Jacques Chirac.

Prosecutors argued that the shipment was in itself illegal, although the main defendants disputed this, and claim that millions of dollars were skimmed off the contract to pay bribes to senior French and Angolan figures.

Although no Angolan officials have been indicted, court papers allege that Dos Santos and his inner circle received millions of dollars in kickbacks.

Several defendants have also said the trade was carried out in full view of the French authorities, but that the government kept quiet to protect an important source of oil.

Angola pushed to have the trial abandoned as relations soured between the countries.

In 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, visited Angola in an effort to mend ties strained by the case.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

October 26, 2009

Are You Ready for the Next Crisis?

By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS - October 26, 2009

Evidence that the US is a failed state is piling up faster than I can record it.

One conclusive hallmark of a failed state is that the crooks are inside the government, using government to protect and to advance their private interests.

Another conclusive hallmark is rising income inequality as the insiders manipulate economic policy for their enrichment at the expense of everyone else.

Income inequality in the US is now the most extreme of all countries. The 2008 OECD report, “Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries,” concludes that the US is the country with the highest inequality and poverty rate across the OECD and that since 2000 nowhere has there been such a stark rise in income inequality as in the US. The OECD finds that in the US the distribution of wealth is even more unequal than the distribution of income.

On October 21, 2009, Business Week highlighted a new report from the United Nations Development Program concluded that the US ranked third among states with the worst income inequality. As number one and number two, Hong Kong and Singapore, are both essentially city states, not countries, the US actually has the shame of being the country with the most inequality in the distribution of income.

The stark increase in US income inequality in the 21st century coincides with the offshoring of US jobs, which enriched executives with “performance bonuses” while impoverishing the middle class, and with the rapid rise of unregulated OTC derivatives, which enriched Wall Street and the financial sector at the expense of everyone else.

Millions of Americans have lost their homes and half of their retirement savings while being loaded up with government debt to bail out the banksters who created the derivative crisis.

Frontline’s October 21 broadcast, “The Warning,” documents how Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt blocked Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, from performing her statutory duties and regulating OTC derivatives.

After the worst crisis in US financial history struck, just as Brooksley Born said it would, a disgraced Alan Greenspan was summoned out of retirement to explain to Congress his unequivocal assurances that no regulation of derivatives was necessary. Greenspan had even told Congress that regulation of derivatives would be harmful. A pathetic Greenspan had to admit that the free market ideology on which he had relied turned out to have a flaw.

Greenspan may have bet our country on his free market ideology, but does anyone believe that Rubin and Summers were doing anything other than protecting the enormous fraud-based profits that derivatives were bringing Wall Street? As Brooksley Born stressed, OTC derivatives are a “dark market.” There is no transparency. Regulators have no information on them and neither do purchasers.

Even after Long Term Capital Management blew up in 1998 and had to be bailed out, Greenspan, Rubin, and Summers stuck to their guns. Greenspan, Rubin and Summers, and a roped-in gullible Arthur Levitt who now regrets that he was the banksters’ dupe, succeeded in manipulating a totally ignorant Congress into blocking the CFTC from doing its mandated job. Brooksley Born, prevented by the public’s elected representatives from protecting the public, resigned. Wall Street money simply shoved facts and honest regulators aside, guaranteeing government inaction and the financial crisis that hit in 2008 and continues to plague our economy today.

The financial insiders running the Treasury, White House, and Federal Reserve shifted to taxpayers the cost of the catastrophe that they had created. When the crisis hit, Henry Paulson, appointed by President Bush as Rubin’s replacement as the Goldman Sachs representative running the US Treasury, hyped fear to obtain from “our” representatives in Congress with no questions asked hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars (TARP money) to bail out Goldman Sachs and the other malefactors of unregulated derivatives.

When Goldman Sachs recently announced that it was paying massive six and seven figure bonuses to every employee, public outrage erupted. In defense of banksters, saved with the public’s money, paying themselves bonuses in excess of most people’s life-time earnings, Lord Griffiths, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, said that the public must learn to “tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all.”

In other words, “Let them eat cake.”

According to the UN report cited above, Great Britain has the 7th most unequal income distribution in the world. After the Goldman Sachs bonuses, the British will move up in distinction, perhaps rivaling Israel for the fourth spot in the hierarchy.

Despite the total insanity of unregulated derivatives, the high level of public anger, and Greenspan’s confession to Congress, still nothing has been done to regulate derivatives. One of Rubin’s Assistant Treasury Secretaries, Gary Gensler, has replaced Brooksley Born as head of the CFTC. Larry Summers is the head of President Obama’s National Economic Council. Former Federal Reserve official Timothy Geithner, a Paulson protege, runs the Obama Treasury. A Goldman Sachs vice president, Adam Storch, has been appointed the chief operating officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Banksters are still in charge.

Is there another country in which in full public view so few so blatantly use government for the enrichment of private interests, with a coterie of “free market” economists available to justify plunder on the grounds that “the market knows best”? A narco-state is bad enough. The US surpasses this horror with its financo-state.

As Brooksley Born says, if nothing is done “it’ll happen again.”

But nothing can be done. The crooks have the government.

Note: The OECD report shows that despite the Reagan tax rate reduction, the rate of increase in US income inequality declined during the Reagan years. During the mid-1990s the Gini coefficient (the measure of income inequality) actually fell. Beginning in 2000 with the New Economy (essentially financial fraud and offshoring of US jobs), the Gini coefficient shot up sharply.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

October 22, 2009

Nozette's Israel connections

Christian Science Monitor - October 20, 2009

According to the criminal complaint, between 1998 and 2008 Stewart Nozette worked as a technical consultant for an aerospace company that was wholly owned by the Israeli state.

During much of that time the company requested that Nozette provide it with technical data. Once a month, Nozette answered these questions. In return he received payments of approximately $225,000, according to the US government.

On January 6, 2009, Nozette flew out of Dulles Airport, outside of Washington, to an unnamed foreign country. Security officers searched his luggage and found two small computer "thumb drives" in his possession.

Upon his return three weeks later, US agents thoroughly searched his luggage. Those computer drives were nowhere to be found, according to the criminal complaint.

Near the end of his initial conversation with the FBI agent who was posing as his new Mossad handler, Nozette also said this:

"I thought I was working for you already. I mean, that's what I always thought, [the foreign company] was just a front."


October 19, 2009

Berlusconi's TV company filmed bribery case judge

The Telegraph
October 18, 2009

Days after Judge Raimondo Mesiano ordered the Italian prime minister's holding company to pay 750 million euros (£680 million) in damages to a rival, the media mogul's Canale 5 channel aired footage of the judge taking a walk, smoking and having a shave at the barber.

Dubbing the judge's behaviour "eccentric", a narrator pointed to him smoking his "umpteenth" cigarette, called his turquoise socks "strange" and said: "He's impatient ... he can only relax at the barber's."

The incident has further raised tensions between the Italian government and the judiciary, after Mr Berlusconi accused the constitutional court of being packed with Leftists when it stripped him of immunity from prosecution.

The court's action means that cases for alleged fraud and corruption linked to Mr Berlusconi's Mediaset business empire can proceed.

Furious that the judge was shadowed during his leisure time without his knowledge, the National Association of Magistrates asked the privacy authorities to intervene. The authorities said they were evaluating the matter.

"We don't think there are similar precedents in Italy, of denigrating a person and delegitimising an essential and delicate function," the association said in a statement.

Coupled with anger over Mr Berlusconi's remark on Friday that he wanted to modify the constitution on judicial issues, the magistrates' union on Saturday declared a "state of protest".

It also denounced a "climate of constant tension" that it said risked altering the balance among the powers of the state.

Mediaset, which owns Canale 5, responded angrily, saying it would not accept reprimands and that the clip showed a magistrate who "objectively has acquired national and international notoriety".

Some magistrates are debating a "turquoise socks" protest, while others have been collecting signatures for a letter of support for their colleague, Italian media reported.

Some Italian commentators and the centre-Left opposition were also outraged, with one Democratic Party senator likening the incident to a "horrible television movie".