Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Judge orders White House to find, preserve e-mails

Judge orders White House to find, preserve e-mails

Tuesday, after concluding that some White House e-mails have not been properly preserved on back-up tapes, U.S. District Court Judge John M. Facciola ordered the Bush administration to locate the missing communications on portable devices and individual workstations.

In January, RAW STORY reported on a White House chart shown to Congress which claimed that for a period of 473 days, no e-mail was archived. The chart, which was not made public, directly conflicts with White House Spokesman Ton Fratto's claim that "we have absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing."

Additionally, e-mails from Vice President Dick Cheney's office went missing during a crucial period of time when he and aides were involved in stemming the tide of the Valerie Plame scandal. Likewise, a January report by the Associated Press found that some White House e-mail back-up tapes were reused.

While the judge did not order the Executive Office of the President to make forensic copies of the workstations in question, he did say that "there likely are e-mails not currently being preserved on back-up tapes."

"We are pleased that despite the White House's plea for reconsideration, the Magistrate Judge stood his ground and recommended that the White House be ordered to locate and preserve emails that may be missing from backup tapes but were saved on individual workstations and portable media devices," commented Sheila Shadmand, counsel for the Archive, in a published report. "Each of the Judge's recent rulings in our favor has brought us one step closer to ensuring that the documentary history of this Administration is not forever lost."

Judiciary Committee approves resolution holding Rove in contempt of Congress

Judiciary Committee approves resolution holding Rove in contempt of Congress

The House Judiciary Committee has voted 20-14 to approve a contempt of Congress resolution against former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove for his failure to appear after a Congressional subpoena.

Voting along party lines Wednesday morning, the committee said Rove broke the law by failing to appear at a July 10 hearing on allegations of White House influence over the Justice Department, including whether Rove encouraged prosecutions against Democrats.

The committee decision is a recommendation. It remains unclear whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will allow a final vote.

Rove has denied any involvement with Justice Department decisions, and the White House has said Congress has no authority to compel testimony from current and former advisers.

Excerpts from the markup memo of the resolution sent to reporters follows. Rove was overseas at the time of the hearing and alleged that the trip had been planned in advance.

Anti-gays to sue over changed wording of California marriage repeal amendment

Anti-gays to sue over changed wording of California marriage repeal amendment
Apparently a little truth goes way too far for the anti-gay bigots of the religious right. They don't want voters in California to know that their ballot measure would repeal thousands of marriages of gay couples, so they're ticked that the state attorney general's office changed the wording of the description of the measure in order to explain exactly what the measure does - it doesn't define marriage as between a man and a woman, it repeals the marriages of gay couples. As Joe has noted before, the fundies are afraid to tell voters the truth because they know people don't support their extreme, intolerant views. So they sugar coat their initiatives, hoping to fool the voters with talk of traditional marriage and family values. Why can't they just tell the voters up front what the impact of the proposed legislation is and let the voters decide what they want to do? Because if they did, they'd lose. America isn't nearly as hateful as the homophobes running the religious right.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

China to censor Internet during Games: official

China to censor Internet during Games: official

China will censor the Internet used by foreign media during the Olympics, an organising committee official confirmed Wednesday, reversing a pledge to offer complete media freedom at the games.

"During the Olympic Games we will provide sufficient access to the Internet for reporters," said Sun Weide, spokesman for the organising committee.

He confirmed, however, that journalists would not be able to access information or websites connected to the Falungong spiritual movement which is banned in China.

Other sites were also unavailable to journalists, he said, without specifying which ones.

Journalists working at the main press centre for the Olympics also complained that they were unable to access Internet sites belonging to rights group Amnesty International, the BBC, Germany's Deutsche Welle, Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, and Taiwan newspaper Liberty Times.

"Our promise was that journalists would be able to use the Internet for their work during the Olympic Games," said Sun.

"So we have given them sufficient access to do that."

However, in the runup to the Games the Beijing Olympic organising committee, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, has promised full access to the Internet for thousands of reporters expected here to cover the August 8-24 Games.

Falungong is a spiritual group banned by China as an "evil cult," and many of its members have been detained, amid claims that hundreds have died in custody due to torture, abuse and neglect.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Oscar-winning director produced 'evidence' documentary at Gitmo trialReuters

Oscar-winning director produced 'evidence' documentary at Gitmo trial

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver unveiled a graphic video on Monday of the September 11 attacks and other al Qaeda operations that is likely to play a repeated role in pending war crimes cases.

The video is entitled "The Al Qaeda Plan," an echo of "The Nazi Plan" made by Oscar-winning director George Stevens as evidence in the Nuremberg war crimes trials of German leaders after World War II.

"Oh my God" was heard repeatedly as crowds watched the twin towers of the World Trade center collapse on September 11, 2001, in a vivid highlight of the movie shown over defense objections at the terrorism conspiracy trial of Salim Hamdan.

The six-member panel that will decide Hamdan's fate also saw footage of charred bodies stripped of flesh in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the body of a U.S. soldier dragged through the streets in Somalia in 2003.

Control tower conversations with one of the doomed September 11 planes were also included.

"The Al Qaeda Plan" was made for $25,000 by terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann for the Office of Military Commissions, which is conducting the trials of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo. Its 90 minutes of video clips depict the history of al Qaeda from its formation in 1988 through the September 11 attacks.

The commission's lead prosecutor, Col. Lawrence Morris, said the tape would be used in other trials but no decision had been made whether to use it in the trial of accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Hamdan's attorneys objected that the footage would prejudice the jury. "They're trying to terrorize the members," defense attorney Charles Swift told the court.

But prosecutors said the video helped illustrate the goals of al Qaeda training and ideology. "It is a very important part of the prosecution's case," said prosecutor Clayton Trivett.

Commission Judge Keith Allred approved the video, after first saying it would serve more to prejudice the case than to prove a point. "The planes crashing into the towers and the people screaming doesn't prove anything," he said.

A pivotal point of contention is the significance of Hamdan's role in al Qaeda. The Yemeni native was caught in November 2001 with two surface-to-air missiles in his car.

Defense attorneys say he was a lowly driver, but the prosecution has sought to portray him as a trusted bodyguard who helped bin Laden evade capture and stay alive.

The two sides have also skirmished over an expert's testimony on the laws of war. With Hamdan being tried as a war criminal under a 2006 U.S. law, the prosecution is seeking to show the United States was in a continuing armed conflict with al Qaeda well before the September 11 attacks.

Hamdan's attorneys have sought to demonstrate that the battle with al Qaeda did not reach the state of armed conflict until the September 11 attacks, which could make it harder for the prosecution to prove Hamdan's actions count as a war crime.

Separately on Monday, the Pentagon announced it had filed charges against another detainee at Guantanamo and released three from the detention center.

The Pentagon said Abdul Ghani was accused of attempted murder, material support for terrorism and conspiracy over accusations he fired rockets and planted bombs aimed at U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, and tried to kill an Afghani soldier in 2002.

The Pentagon said it had released three detainees -- one to Afghanistan, one to the United Arab Emirates and one to Qatar. It said more than 65 Guantanamo detainees are eligible for transfer or release subject to talks on where they will go

Honored by his country at last, man accused in WWII lynching dies in peace

Honored by his country at last, man accused in WWII lynching dies in peace


When the moment Samuel Snow waited most of his life for finally came, he didn't speak. He just took the plaque affirming his honorable discharge – an honor that had been stolen from him more than six decades ago – held it against his chest in a Seattle hospital bed, and smiled.

That moment Saturday, family said, made his life complete.

A few hours later, Snow died at age 83.

"My father went home," son Ray Snow said, "to present his God his discharge papers from this life."

In 1944, Snow left Seattle as a 19-year-old in handcuffs, convicted of rioting on a night that led to an Italian POW's death. He and the other 27 convicted black soldiers knew they were innocent. During a Saturday ceremony at Discovery Park, where the slaying occurred at an Army fort 64 years earlier, a top military official formally acknowledged the men's innocence and offered words most of those convicted never lived to hear.

"We're sorry."


Courtesy of Anil Kapahi / Seattle University

Samuel Snow died in a Seattle hospital just hours after a ceremony affirming his honorable discharge from the Army, decades after he was wrongly court-martialed for the lynching of an Italian POW.

When Snow was stationed at Fort Lawton, the thousands of Italian POWs there were given more privileges than the black Army soldiers. The POWs were able to carouse in downtown Seattle, where they charmed local high school girls. White soldiers resented that, and incited a riot that ended with one shy Italian, Pvt. Guglielmo Olivotto, hanged from a cable noose.

Wanting a quick end to the largest court-martial of World War II, Army prosecutor Leon Jaworski – who later became famous as the special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal – didn't disclose evidence that likely would have cleared Snow and the others.

Instead, Snow returned to the rural, segregated town of Leesburg, Fla., with a dishonorable discharge – a "death sentence" for a black man in 1944, his son said.

He found work as a janitor. He worked in orange groves and with livestock under a scorching sun. When neighbors asked him to do handyman work, family said the deeply religious man never turned them down.

He was never bitter. "Yes I felt I had been served an injustice," Snow told the P-I's Robert Jamieson last fall. "But I decided I wasn't going to hold a grievance against anybody."

Snow spent his life in Leesburg, and for decades didn't talk about the mistreatment he received in Seattle. Instead, Ray Snow said, his father's convictions were like the words of a Maya Angelou poem:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

In 2005, a book by Seattle author Jack Hamann forced historians and Army officials to rewrite what they knew about Snow.

The book, "On American Soil" – a work he and his wife, Leslie, spent more than a decade researching – gave convincing evidence that Olivotto was lynched by a white military policeman.


Samuel Snow in his 1944 booking photograph.

The world would know Snow was innocent.

In October, the appeals court reversed the convictions of the 28 men found guilty. Three months later, Hamann and local family members of those exonerated began talking about some kind of tribute to commemorate them. That four-day tribute began last week.

About 3:30 a.m. Thursday, Snow called his son. "You ready?" he asked, barely containing his excitement to fly to the city he left in handcuffs.

Snow returned to a complimentary stay at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. During the two months of the 1944 court-martial, Jaworski had stayed there, while Snow slept in a tent near the Duwamish River and cleaned Army bathrooms on weekends.

Snow was a guest Friday night at the Northwest African American Museum, where he had dinner with sons and daughters of men he was imprisoned with.

But about 9 p.m., he told family he was having heart trouble.

Snow had double bypass surgery in the 1980s. In the past weeks, his congestive heart failure had worsened. But even around his son, Snow didn't talk of his ailing health – only of the honorable discharge that would correct the one wrong in his life.

"That meant more to him than anything else," Ray Snow said. "And the heart was just slowing, just beating it's time away."

On behalf of his dad, Ray Snow went to the ceremony and heard Ronald James, assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, say on behalf of his comrades, "I am genuinely sorry."

Ray Snow posed for pictures, shared hugs and tears, then rushed to his father's room. "I got it," he told him.

Snow read to his father the Army's proclamation, which praised his service, and told of the doubts that made Congress take another look at the prosecution. It acknowledged an egregious error was made.

It didn't matter that an Army official didn't come there personally, family said. Samuel Snow didn't need the pomp and circumstance.

He took the framed honorable discharge, wrapped it with two arms next to his heart and smiled.

A few hours later, Ray Snow was called back to the hospital, where his father lay in the critical care unit. The room was dark. Snow was breathing on a ventilator. Machines that kept beeping interrupted the silence. Ray Snow stepped out and told nurses to clear the room.

He leaned into his Dad's ear and told how he loved him. Snow's longtime sweetheart, Margaret, said the same, and said goodbye.

Snow died at 12:43 a.m. Sunday morning. His family took comfort, saying he'd returned to the God that had given him strength to endure the wrongs done in Seattle.

"Today," Ray Snow said. "Daddy went home."

He did so an honorable man.

P-I reporter Casey McNerthney can be reached at 206-448-8220 or

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Notes from the Non-Impeachment Hearings

Notes from the Non-Impeachment Hearings

BACKGROUND: some time around Monday evening, June 9, there was a giddy moment when it seemed that justice was still possible in America. On the Friday before, the Senate Intelligence committee had issued their report condemning the Bush propaganda machine efforts to kick-start the Iraq War as intentional deception. As folks had been saying along Bush lied, Thousands Died. Impeach. And by that following Monday, Dennis Kucinich stood before the assembled might of the US Congress and read 35 different, verifiable, reasons George Bush could at last be removed from office. All across America millions of citizen finally exhaled our sighs of relief and waited for history to happen. And of course it didn't.

As planned. With Speaker Pelosi sternly disapproving and Steny Hoyer dutifully leading his majority away from the topic with all post haste, it turned out the Republican party were the ones who championed hearing for impeachment, hoping to easily out debate and embarrass Dem leadership. They actually pressed to have the thing heard right there, but it wound up in committee, presumably to die.

And so we waited through June, recurring calls to the Judiciary gave no clue that their stance on why impeachment should not be discussed and when challenged as ineffective against Bush, Conyers office would refer to the ousting of Alberto Gonzales, who was embarrassed out of office over the Attorney General firings. So true to the promise he made to Congress and to the American people, when Congress failed to act for more than 30 Days, on July 11th, Kucinich again introduced impeachment but this time focusing on one charge: the deceptions of imminent threat regarding Hussein in the fall of '02.

And somehow an amazing thing happened: on the 17th Conyers Judiciary Committee announced hearings. While the bombshell flashed through the online progressive community, it remained a non-starter for mainstream media. Unlike either the Nixon Hearings over Watergate or Clinton's BJ impeachment, no mainstream media outlet had plans to cover the hearing live for the public to decide. In fact when called in a July 24th survey of the major TV news networks, NBC backpedaled through 6, count 'em, 6 different viewer service reps who didn't even know who to ask to find out if the network was covering it. And the guy who answered the phone in the ABC national news newsroom, not only had not heard about the hearings and but did not even know how to check on the Judiciary committee's schedule of upcoming hearings. When finally guided to the public notice, he grudgingly allowed they'd "do something on it, I'm sure," and hug up.

Of course not wanting to draw too much attention to the hearings in advance, the ever meek Conyers originally billed the hearing as "The Imperial Presidency" and later milded down even that, to "Executive Power and Its Constitutional Limitations." In fact when the hearings finally started after a good twenty minutes of live glad-handing, Conyers duly admonished the crowd they were not allowed to show any reaction to any statements made and both witnesses and committee members were neither allowed to speak of impeachment nor in the pejorative in general of the president or name him directly in any accusatory fashion.

A faux rule which easily fell to the wayside once the testimonies started. At first I was so dazzled by the fact that the hearings were even happening, that my wife and daughter and I got up early and gathered in front of the TV at 7am AZ time for the opening gavel on CSPAN and just stared open mouthed.

The line that eventually got me to realize I could be taking notes was, "Informed criticism, as annoying as it may be to those in positions of power, is the stuff of democracy"-Brad Miller D-NC in his opening remarks.

What follows is an attempt keep up live with the pace of the action over the nearly six hour hearing. I am not a stenographer and so many of the issues discussed required a certain amount of background info to contextualize that the quotes are few and the summaries many. However since the chances are good mainstream media may never present much coverage of this hearing historic hearing, here's my best shot:

Following Conyers' gentle often befuddled sounding opening remarks, which included the lines, "the politicization of the Department of Justice, the misuse of signing statements, the misuse of authority with regard to detention, interrogation and rendition, possible manipulation of intelligence regarding the Iraq war, improper retaliation against critics of the administration... and excessive secrecy," several committee members also made opening remarks with GOP loyalists uniformly outraged over the very essence of the hearings Ranking Repug Lamar Smith hissed loudly the mantra of the GOP objections: congressional consideration of the numerous lies, deaths, unjust imprisonments, and misspent billions of President Bush amounts to "the criminalization of political partisanship." In other words the problem is not that Bush and his supporters committed these heinous acts, but that they were members of the Republican Party and those complaining about their actions are members of the Democratic Party.

Trent Franks (my own representative, woe is me) gave the most offensive anti-hearing address complaining that the terrorists were winning because the hearings were taking up time that Congress should have been working to further restrict and invade rights in the War on Terror. Franks contended that though the president has only has a 30% approval rating Congress' approval rating is in single digits due largely to its despicable hounding of the poor president. Coincidentally later that same day MSNBC showed the latest poll which had the numbers at Bush 23%, Congress 15%.

Walter Jones D-NC complained about the signing statements which Bush has repeatedly used to, in some cases, completely undo the purpose of the legislation, noting that though signing statements go all the way back to Monroe, all presidents before Bush only totaled to 600 that Constitutionally damaging or violating and Bush alone has generated over 800 alone.

After several Dem reps talked about the various areas of neglect and abuse of the Bush admin and the bills they've introduced to try to combat these abuses, Elizabeth Holtzman, author of the book, The Impeachment of President Bush and former US rep. from New York laid out a forceful case on numerous legitimate sounding "high crimes and misdemeanors."

It is worth remembering that Bob Barr, the 2nd public witness before the committee, is a strident conservative and had been one of the key players in the Clinton impeachment process. He said there are "legions of instances ... where, to be most generous, the understanding of liberty are lacking." Barr, speaking with purposefully dispassion, clarifies that the Bush usurpations of presidential power and Constitutional abuses did not start with Bush, but his administration has taken it to new extremes. And further this is first the first step for future presidents who, he noted, typically use the excesses of previous presidents "not as a ceiling, but as a floor." Unlike the vast majority of the actual testimony in the hearing, Barr's testimony was available online within hours of the hearing and can be found here.

Former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson focused the way the extensive secrecy the Bush admin has invoked suggesting that the sheer number of things we don't know due to the intensive secrecy of the Bush Admin is perhaps the scariest part of the matters at hand. Due to that secrecy, without Congress pressing for investigation the world may never on the possible scope of "the monstrous human rights abuses" of the Bush admin.

Noted Conservative, Stephen Presser, the Northwestern University law professor who had provided the definition for the Constitutional concept of impeachment during the Clinton Impeachment in 1998, served the same role in these hearing and, in order, threw out the all 6 of the major issues that those calling for impeachment had championed: including signing statements, willful defiance of congressional subpoenas, the politicalization of the Justice Dept., the whole signing statements debate, the misrepresentation of WMDs, misuse of authority and even torture.

Assertions which the next witness, Bruce Fein, former Reagan Deputy Attorney General also a Constitutional law expert, intensely disputed, claiming the executive branch has pillaged our Constitution and civil liberties as thoroughly "as the barbarians sacked Rome."

Next celebrity DA/author, Vincent Bugliosi, whose current bestseller is called The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, attempted to summarize his whole book in a short five minute time limit and focused on the now widely documented lies the Bush Admin used in the run-up to the Iraq War, opened by saying at this stage of his career he doesn't have time to mess around: the lies that Bush has told have led directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. At this the crowd in the hearing room burst into applause. Rep. Lamar Smith returned to his role as designated killjoy asked the room be cleared. Conyers, ever polite, declined to do this, but admonished the crowd politely.

As if brought in to be a balancing act to Bugliosi's vitriol, Jeremy Rabkin, a George Mason University law professor, acknowledged he had been called in by the minority contingent, even though he didn't want to be put in a position of defending the Bush Admin. He then quite clearly dismissed the efforts of various witnesses to bring in additional issues such as FISA and signing statements, since those lesser abuses pale in comparison to the charges of lying to the public and Congress on WMD. That charge alone is enough though he personally rejects it to the point of treating it as laughable. (Coincidentally the 2nd round of Kucinich's impeachment attempt took that very other same approach and whittling the initial 35 charges to one: liar us into war.) In conclusion Rabkin condemned the hearings themselves as disloyal and out of touch with the vast majority of Americans, noting "the rest of the country is not in this bubble to think it is OK to refer to the president as Caligula."

Frederick A. O. Swartz, who had serious objections to the Bush Admin, repeatedly referred to torture and the suspension of habeas corpus among other things, noting that the "US should not adopt the methods of our enemies," called for further investigation before America completely loses her "moral luster." Still, despite his concerns with Bush's abuses, he explained that he does not support impeachment, because of the timing, not enough time before the election and the regrettable invariability of the process becoming even further political.

Lastly, Elliot Adams, president of the Noble Prize winning Veterans for Peace, opened by recounting the famed Benjamin Franklin quip from the Constitutional Convention that America now had a republic, "if we can keep it." After listing the various good works of his organization, he explained he had to break away from that stuff to focus on the war crimes of the Bush Admin, and as a soldier, he was outraged.

When given a chance to restate or give additional comment, Holtzman again called for the rejection of lesser measures because the president has been able to evade all lesser efforts to rein him in. Bob Barr comically had a heavily redacted version of the Bill of Rights warning that if we don't stop Bush we won't be able to stop some later president.

Rocky Anderson addressed points brought forward by Presser and Pence went so far as to use the word "Fraud." Presser, while complimenting the process, flatly dismissed the suggestion that the 944 false statements the Bush admin made were intentional lies. There was no proof, he contended, that the president acted "with lack of good will."

Bruce Fein warned that the shape of the war on terror and the expansion of presidential powers are timeless, timeless threats to America. Following Bugliosi's second reiteration of the lies Bush told and the contention that all subsequent deaths based on those lies, Americans and Iraqis alike, audience member Cindy Sheehan got herself ejected, in the new round of audience applause.

Rabkin simply yielded his time saying that he was not impressed with people repeating their alarmist statements with greater emphasis, so he did not intend to repeat telling them "to calm down." Frederick Swartz's second reminded us of the importance of action.

Next came the committee members turn to ask questions. When ranking Republican Lamar Smith, R-TX, cross-examined he focused, too little surprise, on Presser and Rabkin, the witnesses that supported his assertions that the whole thing was an overblown waste of time and stain on the great Republican Administration of George Bush. Presser was focused on the non-criminal nature of Bush abuses of power. Rabkin simply listed other presidents who had led the country into wars on less than truthful statements (such as McKinley, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson) doubted that the public would take accusations against those presidents either.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler D-NY flat out rejected Presser's and Rabkin's defense of Bush lies as innocent unintentional mistakes based on good intentions and pointed out that there is considerable proof (such as the Senate Intelligence Committee report of June 4th or the Center for Public Integrity's exhaustive listing of 935 documented "false statements.") that Bush consciously lied to Congress in Oct. of '02, and so it doesn't matter what his intentions were, a lie is a lie. Next, cross examining Bruce Fein, Nadler explored possible future Constitutional remedies for presidential abuses and ways to limit presidential pardon powers, to which Fein replied that the necessary and proper clause, our friend from Article I, Section , 8, paragraph18. Nadler, feeling very enthused, then moved on to Holtzman to compare the current process to her role in Nixon's aborted impeachment. Again animated Holtzman exclaimed the process started with the Saturday night massacre and the American people." She further noted that back in the day, parties were more willing to address the issues of the president's behavior, not their own party loyalties. "Maybe I'm a cockeyed optimist ... Impeachment inquiry itself handled fairly with the full participation of the minority party ... with everyone participating ... with Constitutional scholars there so no one has feel that we're out to get someone ... it can work, we have to make it work for the good of the country."

Rep. Steve King, R-IO, noted Holtzman's call for non-partisan participation of both parties. He then scolded that if the shoe were on the other foot, the Dems wouldn't play along well, either. He then focused on the famous 16 words from the 2003 State of the Union address, you remember the whole Nigeria yellow cake issue, noting that Joseph Wilson's original debriefing from his fact-finding trip to investigate the claim Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Africa appears to support the contention, though it is worded as heresay. He later showed a previously secret report claiming that in 2007 the US army shipped 550 tons of yellow cake uranium from Iraq, showing that the government was just in their claims. He then attempts to use the old Republican ruse of pointing out all the Dems who signed on the Bush wagon including Obama back in 2004.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA, asked if there were available measures short of impeachment since there are clear abuses that should be redressed. Scott also dismissed Presser and Rabkin's dismissals of the importance of Bush's abuses, especially torture issues and the politicalization of the Justice Dept. and used a variety of witnesses, including Fein, Barr and Holtzman, to show they are important after all. First Fein clarified that during discussions in the Watergate hearings, the Justice dept. concluded that a president couldn't be criminally prosecuted while in office, impeachment was the only recourse. Holtzman agreed and further went on to note that on the issues of torture, or any deaths resulting from that torture, there are "no statutes of limitations for any US national including the people at the highest rung of our government." She concluded, "The real remedy for a president who continues to act as if he believes he were above the law is impeachment and there is no running away from that." Bugliosi stepped in to remind all present that though Bush is protected from prosecution while in office, the Jan. 20th he is fair game and America has the right to start pursuing the prosecution now.

Trent Franks stuck to his message of dismay that the terrorists are winning and that there were many notable Democrats who also called for a War on Iraq based on claims of WMDs. He also did a rousing review of quotes to demonstrate how much the terrorists hate us for our freedom. "And somehow we're going after this president you has done everything in his power to protect us." Of course, in putting together his terror routine, Franks failed, as so many GOP leaders do, to mention that the American public and politicians were operating on intelligence supplied by Bush in the first place. When Swartz tried to comment Franks concluded his turn rather than let him speak. He also mentioned that by focusing on "fairytales" instead of terrorists, all there that morning should be ashamed.

Mel Watt, D-NC, asked who was protecting us from those who claimed they were protecting us from the bad guys. After a quick shout out to his old buddy Bob Barr, Watt stated he would not lead a call for impeachment, having been through the Clinton impeachment. Watt felt it wasn't worth attempting to impeachment when there could be no nonpartisan investigation, even though "this is the most important issue I believe this Congress could be pursuing ... I am convinced the Republicans were wrong when they did it, I'm not saying we would be wrong to try it ... but I'm not sure it would be a practical matter ... it's clear to me we would not have the votes ...I wish we could raise the standard for the president ... If somebody brings the resolution I'll be right here ... I want the American people to 'impeach' this president in November of 2008 and this whole administration ... and the idea that a president can protect me from terrorists by doing whatever the hell he wants."

Rep. Louie Gohmert R-TX condemned most of the witnesses, reminding them that if misleading to congress is a criminal offense they should consider their "brash allegations." Gohmert focused on Clinton's earlier failures and poor President Bush who "naively" "accepted" "Clinton's lies" about Iraq WMDs. He further claimed that Joe Wilson started speaking out to protect his friends in France who were scamming the UN oil for food deal. He also added, like Franks that the focus of the day should have been on the terrorists, not the innocent, though naïve president. The biggest problem right now is that the Supreme Court had just voted to "release terrorists on American soil."

Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, who also was on hand for the Watergate hearings, hoped to use the current hearings to "curb future abuses." Lofgren reflected on watching when, Chuck Wiggins, a major Nixon supporter on the Watergate committee finally realized that Nixon had been lying and "his faith and his president had been betrayed." She wasn't sure she wanted to support impeachment as a practical matter considering the time available, but was unsure of other means of address. She still laments when Congress abdicated habeas corpus because the president said he was trying to make us safer.

Swartz, finally getting to comment, laid out some precepts of how a commission could created to investigate the Bush admin after they've left office. Barr got a nod to champion his proposed methods of redress if he should become president. "It's hard to know where to start," Barr chuckled. He talked about repairing a variety of abuses including revising the "doctrine of state secrets," FISA and signing statements.

Dan Lungren, R-CA, addressed Holtzman and Bugliosi and returned to the popular Republican phrase, the criminalizing of political difference of opinion. He looked back to earlier presidential abuses including the little mentioned tale of Wilson having political cartoonists imprisoned for unfavorable cartoons..He also likened Japanese Internment to Nixon's post-presidential tax investigations and said the Democrats were "tantamount to overcharging the case." He asked if impeachment is the proper tool. Turning to Rabkin and Presser for support, Lungren interrupted Presser and himself to complain that people in the audience were holding signs. Aides and security then circulated through the crowds until members of the crowd broke out in loud, but unfocused protests, including, of all things, paper throwing. After a couple of minutes of chaos, Conyers asked upset audience members to just leave. King again recessed for a recess. Then Presser pressed on despite the background noise. "Do you have a president who acted in good faith or do you have a president who just wasn't interested in doing that?" Rabkin disputed the assertion that there were no other recourses other than impeachment. He further suggested that if we were to impeach the president, there are numerous others who should also get the boot.

Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX, echoed Barbara Jordan (who had the same congressional seat, and seat in the Judiciary during Watergate) that the role of the hearings was to protect the rights of "simple people." Jackson Lee briefly returned to the issue of signing statements then explained, while she wouldn't call directly for impeachment, she "believes we have a very firm basis for suggesting high crimes and misdemeanors," but she did call for other lesser commissions to look into abuses, though timing is an issue. She asked Fein to clarify the president war powers of congress, as opposed to the powers of the president. Fein noted that the founding fathers asserted that a president who either lies or conceals information from Congress, thus preventing Congress from acting properly, has committed a great crime against the country and that is an impeachable offense. "A popular government without popular knowledge is a farce." Bush concealed information from Congress, thus impairing Congress' ability to responsibly act on their power to declare war.

Jackson likened Bush Iraq run-up to the current Whitehouse effort towards Iran. Fein also took the opportunity to note the president's limitation of WMD info in 2002-2003 set the tone for the whole nations' interpretation of the issue at the time. Jackson Lee also gave Bugliosi a chance to expand on the Bush concealment of dissenting opinions by 16 different US agencies who each said Hussein was not an imminent threat as Bush and company continued to insist that he was and needed to be stopped by force. According to Bugliosi, the WMD issue is less important than the Bush charge of imminent threat.

Mike Pence, R-IN, choose to use his time to prop up the credentials of Steven Presser, presumably to reinforce Presser's legal opinions as law, Pence, "fascinated with [Presser's] analysis," also lauded Madison and Mason at length, noting the founding fathers' rejected "maladministration" as an impeachable offense because we couldn't have presidents impeached over policy issues. Pence then, tossed off a couple of props for of all people Dennis Kucinich, then revisited the distinction between the obstruction of justice charges against Clinton and those against Bush. Presser again asserted Bush had not pursued personal interests.

Robert Wexler, D-FL, one of the co-sponsors of the Kucinich's impeachment measures, refuted that torture, among other offenses, are not simple "policy issues, they go to the issue of abuse of presidential power." No matter what else Congress looked at, wasn't the president's repeated instructing his staff to refuse to cooperate with Congressional investigations. That is not a policy issue, it is a Constitutional action." After reiterating that the president cannot put himself above the law, he gave the floor to Rocky Anderson who also listed a litany of ways where the president and his staff have clearly and repeatedly refused to even appear despite numerous congressional subpoenas while Congress "cavalierly ignored" it. Fein weighed in that all by itself Bush's refusal to cooperate with Congress is all enough for a quick, clear-cut, impeachment. Holtzman adamantly concurred, noting that refusing to appear on congressional supeonas 'subverts the Constitution" which is, all by itself, an impeachable offense.

Steve Cohen D-NY asked first if Holtzman was sure Bush had committed clear impeachable offenses; then if the vice-president is impeachable and could be actually done at the same time, despite the Whitehouse assertions that the vice president cannot be impeached because of his Constitutional, though underserved, role as president of the Senate. Holtzman smiled as she explained they could "do a two-for." Cohen concluded, "There's not a method to their madness, just madness." Bruce Fein came back on to discuss whether disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales himself had committed impeachable offenses and then built on the idea that there was still plenty of time for a full-scale impeachment since many of Bush's clear actions on FISA, habeas corpus, and other "blatant" refusals to follow US law are widely documented, would be easily proven, and "rise to the standards of high crimes and misdemeanors." Fein further explained that an impeachment on various Bush actions which were clearly in violation of Congress are indeed crimes where Bush has already confessed. "You don't need an archeological investigation."

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-GA, brought Presser back to clarify the difference between impeaching Clinton for lying and impeaching Bush for lying and, despite Presser's repeatedly saying that he "didn't see the facts the same way." "It seems to me that you take the position that we shouldn't even be looking at the facts. Is that it?" Johnson eventually got Presser, through extensive use of double negatives to eventually acknowledge that the gravity of the issues at hand and the possibility of "probable cause" showed it would be responsible to further investigate, which is the purpose of an impeachment in the first place. Johnson then asked the same question to Holtzman who said Congress would be shirking their responsibility if they did not hold impeachment hearings.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA, opened by lamenting that "Congress has become an advisory board to the president;" then made some sort of joke about Jesse Jackson and his threat to the nuts of Barack Obama. When no one laughed along, Sherman focused in on the Bush Admin's "nonfeasance" to see if that was an impeachable offense. Bruce Fein started to give a long answer, which Sherman helped him summarize as "yes." He talked further on how to protect future congresses from future signing statements. Sherman also visited Holtzman asking if it was proper for a prosecutor to press for a trial when they knew they couldn't get a conviction, but she wouldn't bite and declined a clear answer.

Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, addressed the concerns of Bush's expansion of the presidential powers with a metaphor based on Washington building a toolbox out of the cherry tree he did not actually chop down, and then asked about Congress's lack of action to prevent it. Once again Bruce Fein was brought in explain that the Congress has its own self to blame. Fein contended "the founding fathers would be shocked to find one man claiming the power of war." Baldwin further noted that she has no reason to trust Bush to behave during these the last six months of his term and wonders if we should use an impeachment proceeding to contain him. Rocky Anderson said nothing short of "criminal sanctions" could stop Bush from attacking Iran and Bugliosi when called on to expand, declined to speculate.

Adam Schiff, D-CA, called for an investigation, a Church-style inquiry, and not one limited to this term of Congress and asked "what steps can we take today?" He further wanted to focus on the issue of signing statements and the Office of Legal Counsel and their use of legal opinions to protect Bush staff from accountability. "is there legal accountability? If not how do we instill legal accountability?" He brought back Frederick Schwarz to clarify that the secretive nature of the OLC and Bush's use of signing statements. Schiff, then worried about running out of time, asked if Schwarz felt that suit could be brought against members of the Bush admin to get them to release more info. Schwarz, referring to the district court efforts to get Harriet Miers to stop refusing to cooperate with Congressional subpoenas. Fein explained that he had been in the OLC earlier, and all the earlier work of that office was public, and Congress should insist on a return to that practice "shoddy scholarship is so embarrassing they change their mind ... Sunshine is the best disinfectant."

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, revisited the GOP complaints about the 45 different hearings the committee, noting that "members on the other side of the aisle are lamenting" the massive workload had to do with the backload from the first six years of the GOP dominated Congress ignored Bush abuses. She then asked for an opinion on the degree of egregiousness of Bush's use of singing statements. Schwarz explained that the breadth of the president's use of signing statements to contradict and often negate Congressional laws (nearly 1100 so far and still counting). Schwarz contended the president's use of signing statement could be, by itself, sufficient cause for impeachment and "unprecedented in its audacity." Wasserman Schultz then asked if signing statements could be removed altogether. Schwarz was unsure, but Bruce Fein suggested that Congress simply cut the purse strings for any law a president countermands the intent of with his signing statement. Wasserman Schultz quipped, "This president has no shame."

The next questioner, Keith Ellison, D-MN, got Fein to clarify that even if Congress were to pass a law restricting the use of signing statements, Bush could still write a signing statement refusing to follow the law. Fein wryly grinned and acknowledged it could happen. Ellison then brought Kucinich back to the microphone, to reiterate his initial claims he made of purposeful deceptions on the Bush Admin's part regarding WMDs, a Hussein/ Al-Qaida link, and other claims Bushies made that contradicted existing intelligence. Kucinich started to slowly explain to how he had analyzed the two versions of the Oct 2002 in which Congress passed its war-making powers over to the president. Ellison hurried him along. Kucinich laid out the list of claims Bush was making in the laws that the Whitehouse already knew was untrue even as they were pressing for war. Kucinich compared the existing prewar intelligence compared to the claims that Bush was making at the time. Ellison then asked Stephen Presser to whether or not Kucinich's assertions, if accurate, "would form the basis for an inquiry for impeachment." Presser agreed; but Jeremy Rabkin would not accept Kucinich's charges enough to even consider whether or not if true, they were impeachable, though if Kucinich was correct it would justify an impeachment inquiry. "The only reason I'm here is to get to the truth. Let's get to the truth."

The last to speak, Dan Lungren, R-CA, came back to the microphone to say that "there is an essential difference between an misstatement of facts and an intentional misstatement;" and as a former prosecutor he knows such allegations are easily made and hard to prove, it's "a long road;" only to find himself cross-examined by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, on whether or not the faulty and misleading intelligence reports Bush gave to Congress rises to the level of lying. Again Lungren used the opportunity to complain about the crowd behavior. Conyers apologized for the crowd's behavior and said disrupters would not be invited back to this chamber. After that, citing Eisenhower's memoirs, he justified Bush's choice to have faith in the intelligence we had and we should accept his good will and intentions. Like Eisenhower, Bush merely "made a decision based on the best intelligence he had."

"The way this has been portrayed as a president chomping at the bit to violate the Constitution is just unreasonable," Lungren concluded. Nadler countered that the issue wasn't about the quality of the intelligence Bush had, but that prima fascia Bush selected the information he wanted to use and hid the rest from the world community. Lungren stuck to his guns despite a final effort to challenge him by Rep Scott.

Conyers concluded the hearings by echoing Mel Watt in calling the hearings the most important that the committee had held. Immediately following the hearing CNN continued to broadcast an interview with John McCain that did not address the hearings. Headline News cut away from a fluff piece on salmonella in Mexican jalapenos, to dismiss briefly the hearings and erroneously report that the Judiciary had held "hundreds of hearings and none had lead to any action." Obviously ignoring the committees own count of 45 hearings, which among other things, have led to the ouster of Alberto Gonzales.

Later that evening when CSPAN ran the hearings a second time I was able to fine tune some of the notes and check on the major coverage of the hearings. As expected, none of them actually interrupted ad time TV to do the public service of covering the hearings, though Keith Olbermann ran a segment in the 3rd slot of Countdown, disparaging the sincerity of the hearings and mostly giving Bob Barr who left the hearings early a chance to campaign. An occasional scan of various network scrolls showed no evidence of the hearings whatsoever, EXCEPT by 11:16pm AZ time (after 2am in DC) a brief scroll "Kucinich Presses for Bush Impeachment, Republicans Scoff." A final check of the major network websites showed ABC had the hearings in the lower portion of their homepage, while CNN had it as their lead article thought, their rendition discussed nothing more than the opening two remarks by Conyers and Smith. There was no mention at all on CBS, NBC or MSNBC.

--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ



Our understanding of Jewish and Christian history has changed dramatically with the publication of Caesar’s Messiah by Joseph Atwill (Ulysses Press), which had previously been privately published under the title The Roman Origins of Christianity. According to Atwill, the Gospels are not accounts of the ministry of a historical Jewish Jesus compiled by his followers sixty years after his death. They are texts deliberately created to trick Messianic Jews into worshipping the Roman Emperor ‘in disguise’. The essence of Atwill’s discovery is that the majority of the key events in the life of Jesus are in fact satirical: each is an elegant literary play on a military battle in which the Jewish armies had been defeated by the Romans. This is an extraordinary claim-but supported by all the necessary evidence.

Why would the Romans go to the trouble of writing and disseminating such a text? The Jewish War, culminating in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, had devastated the Mediterranean economy, and the Romans were anxious to prevent another messianic outbreak, which could easily lead to another 500,000 deaths-as the Bar Kochba revolt would demonstrate a generation later. In order to make any reconstruction of the country lasting, the Romans needed to offer the Jews alternative stories that would distract them from the messianic messages inherent in the Torah, and persuade them to accept Roman values.

According to Atwill, the Romans’ solution to these problems was to create a special kind of post-war propaganda. They called it in Greek evangelion, a technical term meaning “good news of military victory.” In English, it is translated as “gospel.” The name is in fact ironic humor: the Romans were amusing themselves with the notion of making the Jews accept, as the actions of the Messiah Jesus, what were in fact literary echoes of the very battles in which the Romans had defeated the Jews’ armies. A further joke was buried in unmistakable parallels between the life of Jesus and that of Titus: in worshiping Jesus, the Jews who adopted Christianity, as it came to be called, were in fact hailing the Emperor of their conquerors as god.

To replace the Torah, then, the Romans created a literary equivalent, the gospel of Matthew (and shortly thereafter the Hellenistic and Roman versions known as Luke and Mark). The central literary character, called Jesus (or Joshua) inhabits a plot with various peculiar features: he begins his efforts by the Lake of Galilee; sends a legion of devils out of a demon-possessed man and into pigs; offers his flesh to be eaten; mentions signs of the destruction of Jerusalem; in Gethsemane a naked man escapes; Jesus is captured at Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives; Simon denies knowing him; he is crucified with two other men and only he survives; he is taken down from the cross by a man called Joseph of Arimathea; his disciple John survives but his disciple Simon is sent off to die in Rome; after his death his disciple Judas dies by eviscerating himself.

Each of these peculiar events has a parallel in the writings of Josephus, our main record of the military encounter between the Judeans and their Roman conquerors-even to the unusual crucifixion in which three men are crucified, and a man named Joseph takes one, who survives, down. To give a flavor of the humor buried in this grand Roman joke, we see that where, in Josephus, the crucifixions take place at Thecoe, which translates as the "Village of the Inquiring Mind," the gospel's satiric version takes place at Golgotha, or the "Hill of the Empty Skull."

Events at the Lake of Galilee launch the Judean careers of both Titus and Jesus. There Jesus called his disciples to be 'fishers of men'. There the Roman battle took place in which Titus attacked a band of Jewish rebels led by a leader named Jesus. The rebels fell into the water and those who were not killed by darts "attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands" (Jewish War III, 10). Men were indeed pulled out of the water like fish.

As for the episode of the Gadarene swine-in which demons leave a Gadara demoniac at Jesus' bidding and then enter into a herd of 2,000 swine, which rush wildly into the lake and drown-Josephus recounts the Roman campaign in which Vespasian marched against Gadara. In the same way that the demons were concentrated in one demoniac, Josephus describes the faults of all the rebels being concentrated in the one head of the rebel leader John. Then, rushing about "like the wildest of wild beasts," the 2000 rebels rushed over the cliff and drowned.

To take a third example, Josephus describes how Titus went out without his armor (and therefore to a soldier metaphorically naked) in the garden of Gethsemane, was nearly caught and had to flee. The parallel in the gospel of Mark is a naked young man who appears from nowhere in the Garden of Gethsemane and flees.

So far over dozen of these parallels have been identified -many of which had already been discovered by other scholars. But Atwill is the first researcher to have identified the overall pattern. The pattern in each case is the same. This fulfills the criterion for 'good' parallels set out by James R. Davila in his paper 'The Perils of Parallels', University of St Andrews Divinity School, (April 2001), which states that "patterns of parallels are more important than individual parallels" and "the larger and more complex the pattern of parallels, the more we should take them seriously."

Since the events occur in Josephus in exactly the same order as their counterpart events in the Gospels, probability theory can then be used to assess the likelihood that this might be due simply to chance, or instead, that one source copied the other. The calculation shows that it is over 99.9999% certain that one account was written based upon the other. This calculation takes a conservative approach that assumes that, once used, each of the eleven items could not be used again. The probability is thus calculated as 11 factorial, or 11x10x9x8x7x6x5x4x3x2x1 .This would equal 1 chance in 39,916,800. Expressed as a percentage, this means that it is 99.999997% certain that one account influenced the other. In other words, the likelihood that these parallel sequences occurred by chance is less than 0.000003%--effectively zero. (The alternative approach would assign truly random possibilities for each of the events, in which case the odds are calculated as eleven to the eleventh power, or one chance in 285,311,670,611, for an even more remote probability of 0.0000000003%.)

Since it is impossible to imagine that the Romans would have invented accounts of battles taking place in locations marked 50 years earlier by the ministry of Jesus, we need an alternative explanation, of which there is really only one, and it is Atwill's in Caesar's Messiah. The Gospels were written in the late 70s and 80s CE, about the same time as Josephus' The Jewish War. Key events in the life of Jesus were written as literary satires of the Roman battles, ambushes, crucifixions, cannibalisms, etc., in the military campaign of Titus Caesar, as recounted in Josephus. Rather than four different communities separated in time and space writing the NT Gospels (the traditional understanding), they were written together as a single literary undertaking-possibly at the Imperial Court. The Jews who ended up following the false Messianic literary character 'Jesus' would, unbeknownst to them, really be worshipping the Emperor Titus.

Perhaps the most important new evidence for the ahistoricity of Jesus is the reading that Caesar's Messiah provides of a critical passage in Josephus' other major work, Jewish Antiquities. This is the famous 'Testimonium' passage in which is supposedly the major independent textual source for the historical existence of Jesus. Atwill demonstrates that this text is genuinely by Josephus. However, when read in context with the surrounding passages, it amounts to a confession admitting that the Flavian emperors invented the character of Jesus to deceive the Jews into worshipping a false messiah. The reader merely has to read the text as it was originally composed, using a well-known Hebrew compositional technique found in the Book of Leviticus, and known as 'pedimental composition'. This technique gives emphasis to the central passage of text by framing it with mirrored passages either side. (Thus, Leviticus 19, which concerns righteous dealing, is framed by two chapters about prohibitions).

Applied to Jewish Antiquities, the Testimonium passage about Jesus is evidently the left hand side of a triptych. The right hand side passage is about Paul, and the figure in the central panel , who is a composite of all three Flavian Emperors, wears the mask of a false god to have sex with a woman he could not persuade with gifts and money. The central focus of the triptych is that the Roman Emperors did not care about 'this business of names' but were willing to pretend to be a false god in order to be worshipped by the Jews. Patterns of word parallelisms link across the three panels of the triptych, to reveal the true story. (For example, the word hedone used for the Emperor's sexual enjoyment is also used-quite inappropriately-for the way that Christ's followers worship him, thereby linking the two stories).

Professor Robert Eisenman of California State University describes Atwill's research as rendering contemporary Christian scholarship so challenged that it is now "looking into the abyss". It is worth noting, in this regard, that the general scholarly consensus that there was a historical, Jewish Jesus is itself largely a recent historical idea, traceable to Abraham Geiger in the 1860's. He persuaded scholars that the Gospels were an account of a historical Jewish Jesus, a typical Pharisee of his day. Since then this view, and with it the notion of Christianity as a development of Judaism, has become the dominant paradigm in Christianity. However, as the new discoveries in Caesar's Messiah make clear, this is not just misleading, but a dangerous concession to a false system of belief. The Romans created this new religion deliberately to humiliate the Jews and to keep them in submission. For contemporary Jewish scholars to collude with this Roman literary invention, and to even pretend that this fictional character had historic reality, is the height of irony.

In the past, evidence had been put forward to suggest that the NT gospels are literary accounts containing mythological accretions. However, Christians have been able to dismiss that evidence on the grounds that underneath it all there 'must' be a Historical Jesus. Atwill's discovery changes all that. There was no historical Jesus and the Gospels were Roman imitations of Jewish sacred texts created by the Flavian Emperors as ironical 'good news' to deceive the Jews. It is one thing for Christians to use works of literature as their sacred documents. It is quite another for them to continue using what have now been discovered to be deliberate Roman fakes about a non existent Messiah.

Unearthed: News of the Week the Mainstream Media Forgot to Report

Ashcroft Claims Waterboarding Isn't Torture

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee last week that waterboarding is not torture. Ashcroft also claims waterboarding is more effective than other interrogation techniques and has served a "very valuable" purpose.

"I believe a report of waterboarding would be serious, but I do not believe it would define torture," Ashcroft testified. He added, "the Department of Justice has on a consistent basis over the last half-dozen years or so, over and over again in its evaluations, come to the conclusion that under the law in existence during my time as attorney general, waterboarding did not constitute torture."

Republican Representative Howard Coble of North Carolina asked Ashcroft, "Waterboarding, as we all know, is a controversial issue. Do you think it served a beneficial purpose?"

"The reports that I have heard, and I have no reason to disbelieve them, indicate that they were very valuable," Ashcroft replied, adding that CIA Director George Tenet indicated the "value of the information received from the use of enhanced interrogation techniques -- I don't know whether he was saying waterboarding or not, but assume that he was for a moment -- the value of that information exceeded the value of information that was received from all other sources."

More Details Emerge On How White House Blocked CO2 Cuts

Jason Burnett, a former Bush EPA appointee, told the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming last week that the White House was persuaded by "individuals working for particular oil companies, Exxon Mobil," and oil industry trade associations to delay and ultimately block EPA's efforts to regulate CO2 during the remainder of Bush's term in office.

Burnett said that White House officials initially supported EPA's efforts to create a framework to regulate CO2 emissions, but reversed course after a carefully choreographed lobbying campaign by representatives from Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association, who argued that Bush should not undermine his legacy by regulating greenhouse gases. Burnett, the former EPA deputy associate administrator, claims that the coal and oil industries successfully persuaded the White House to block the EPA's determination that CO2 and other greenhouse gases pose a significant threat to public health and the climate and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Burnett explained to the committee how the electric power industry, particularly the Edison Electric Institute, "thought their members would be better served by getting out in front and actively engaging" regulators trying to shape CO2 standards, "rather than trying to fight what they judge to be inevitable."

Burnett said he and other EPA staff were ordered by administration officials to downplay the risk of global warming: "We were told . . . that the [document] should not establish a path forward or a framework for regulation, but should emphasize the complexity of the challenge."

EPA announced last week that the agency has no intention of regulating global warming emissions until after President Bush's term ends. Days later, the agency issued detailed warnings confirming that global warming poses "substantial" threats to the United States. Heat waves, hurricanes and infectious diseases will increase and "it is very likely" that more people will die during extremely hot periods in future years, with the greatest impacts on the elderly, the poor and those in inner cities, according to the new EPA report.

Closing Coal Plants Benefits Children's Brain Development

A new study by researchers at Columbia University's Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) concludes that shutting down coal-fired power plants has a direct, positive impact on infant brain development.

The study, published in the July 14th edition of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, tracked the development of two groups of children in China - one in utero while a coal-fired power plant was operating in the city of Tongliang and one in utero after the Chinese government had closed the same plant. The group exposed to coal plant emissions in the womb had significantly lower average developmental scores and reduced motor development at age two than children in the control group with no exposure to the coal plant emissions.

"This study provides direct evidence that governmental action to eliminate polluting coal-burning sources benefits children's neurodevelopment," said Dr. Frederica Perera, lead author of the study and Director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health. "These findings have major implications for environmental health and energy policy as they demonstrate that reduction in dependence on coal for energy can have a measurable positive impact on children's development and health -- in China and elsewhere," said Perara.

Earlier studies conducted by the CCEH on coal's health impacts found that newborns with high levels of prenatal exposure to air pollution from coal-fired power plants have smaller head circumference at birth, lower growth rate in childhood, and significantly worse performance on developmental tests at two years of age. Additionally, newborns in utero during operation of the coal burning power plant had higher levels of DNA damage due to prenatal exposure to air pollutants than newborns in either New York City or Krakow, Poland.

Green Energy Sector Jobs Surge, Coal Industry Employment Continues Falling

A new report by the Worldwatch Institute confirms that a transition to renewable energy sources will lead to significant global job gains. Meanwhile, coal industry employment continues to plummet. In the United States alone, coal industry employment has fallen by half in the last 20 years, despite a one-third increase in production.

An estimated 2.3 million people worldwide currently work either directly in renewables or indirectly in supplier industries. The solar thermal industry employs at least 624,000 people, the wind power industry 300,000, and the solar PV industry 170,000. More than 1 million people work in the biomass and biofuels sector, while small-scale hydropower employs 39,000 individuals and geothermal employs 25,000.

These figures are expected to swell substantially as private investment and government support for alternative energy sources grow.

Ford Finally Shifts Focus to Offer More Fuel Efficient Vehicles In the U.S.

Ford Motor Company's two-decade obsession with selling Americans millions of gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks is finally waning. The company announced plans to drastically shift its focus to building more fuel-efficient cars. Ford plans to convert three of its North American assembly plants from producing trucks to cars, and to realign its factories to manufacture more fuel-efficient engines. Ford will also begin domestic production and sales of six of the car models it currently sells only in Europe.

Many Americans are reacting to high gas prices by purchasing smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and since Detroit had little to offer to meet those priorities, Japanese automakers have capitalized on surging consumer demand for their more fuel-friendly cars and hybrids.

Ford posted the worst quarterly performance in its history this week, losing $8.67 billion in the second quarter. The company lost $15.3 billion in 2006 and 2007 combined. Ford slashed more than 40,000 jobs in the past three years, and sold off three of its European luxury brands to raise money to cover the losses from declining SUV and truck sales.

The company is faring only slightly better than General Motors, which is facing the possibility of bankruptcy thanks to Detroit's collective gamble that Americans would keep buying big trucks and that gas would remain cheap. Honda announced record profits for the quarter, and Toyota beat General Motors in worldwide sales in the first half of the year, setting a pace to strip GM of its long-standing title as worldwide auto sales leader.

Judge Restores Endangered Species Act Protections for Yellowstone Wolves

Yellowstone area gray wolves are once again protected by the Endangered Species Act, after a federal district court judge restored the wolf's endangered status last week. The protections were lifted by the Bush administration earlier this year as ranching and hunting interests prevailed over science. Environmental groups sued the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service to re-list the species, which faced the possibility of irreparable harm if planned hunts had proceeded this fall, when hunters in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were set to kill 500 wolves.

The district court judge restored the protections after a review of the science, calling the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to de-list the wolves "problematic." The judge criticized FWS approval of Wyoming's plans to allow the wolf population to fall to just eight breeding pairs instead of the 15 pairs the federal government once required based on the science. The judge pointed out that federal authorities previously rejected Wyoming's plans based on the science and that the FWS move to de-list the wolf "represents an agency change of course unsupported by adequate reasoning."

Relief for the wolves may be temporary, as the judge's preliminary injunction could be reversed. Since the Bush administration delisted the wolf in late March, more than 100 wolves have been killed in the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Wolves Return to Oregon Wilderness

Oregon state officials confirmed last week that the state's first wolf pack appears to have settled into the Grants Pass area, a century after federally-funded bounty hunters eradicated the species from the west. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf coordinator Russ Morgan identified at least two adults and two pups last week when they answered his early-morning howls in the Umatilla National Forest. The pack likely descended from reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone, and either swam or found a bridge across the Snake River to reach the Oregon wilderness.

Thousands of gray wolves roamed the Rocky Mountains before being slaughtered and eliminated from 95 percent of the lower 48 states by the 1930s. The reintroduction of wolves by the federal government 12 years ago has measurably improved the natural balance in the Northern Rockies and benefited bird, antelope and elk populations, according to NRDC. Wolf tourism contributes at least $35 million to the local Yellowstone area economy each year.

Texas Approves a $4.93 Billion Wind Power Transmission Upgrade

Texas regulators approved a $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project last week, a move that will help ease a transmission bottleneck and deliver far more wind energy to Texas customers. The infrastructure expansion will enable the transport of 18,500 megawatts of electricity from remote west Texas wind farms to the state's major population centers, providing enough power for 3.7 million homes on a hot day with peak demand.

Currently, some Texas wind turbines are shut off while the wind is blowing because existing transmission capacity can't handle the load, a problem also hindering wind development in other states. The transmission infrastructure expansion is expected to lower electricity costs, ease pollution and create jobs, while also providing relief for Texans whose electric bills have soared along with rising natural gas prices.

White House Tries to Define Contraception As Abortion

Catering to the religious right, Bush administration health officials are attempting to redefine many forms of contraception as abortion. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposes to allow any federal grant recipient to deny a woman's access to contraception, undermining recent state laws enacted to ensure that women can get contraception when they want or need it.

The federal government previously followed the definition of pregnancy endorsed by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; both agree that pregnancy begins at implantation. The new regulations would cut off federal funds to hospitals and states where medical providers are obligated to offer legal abortion and contraception to women.

The HHS proposal states that "the conscience of the individual or institution should be paramount in determining what constitutes abortion, within the bounds of reason. ... The Department proposes, then, to allow individuals and institutions to adhere to their own views and adopt a definition of abortion that encompasses both views of abortion."

The regulations would enable anyone working for a federal clinic, or a health center that receives federal funding -- even in the form of Medicaid - to deny access to contraception at any time.

Shoddy KBR Electrical Work Threatens Soldiers at U.S. bases in Iraq

Internal Army documents confirm that the Pentagon hid the extent of deaths and injuries from fires and shocks caused by shoddy electrical work by defense contractor KBR on U.S. military bases in Iraq. Soldiers housed on KBR-built bases face much more widespread and dangerous risk of electrocution and fire than the Pentagon and KBR have admitted publicly. While the Pentagon previously reported only 13 electrocutions in Iraq, the documents show that many more have been injured, some seriously, by shocks resulting from poor electrical work. No single document tracks the exact number of deaths and injuries, making it impossible to determine the exact toll from KRB's shoddy performance.

KBR's own internal study found a "systemic problem" with its electrical work, although the company denies any link between its work and the electrocutions. Electrical problems are the most urgent noncombat safety hazard for soldiers in Iraq, according to a 2007 Army survey. A log from one Baghdad building complex detailed soldiers complaints of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters on an almost daily basis.

But the Pentagon did little to address the issue until a Green Beret, Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth, was electrocuted in January while showering. KBR and other contractors have collected millions of dollars to repair and upgrade military facilities in Iraq, including their electrical systems. The documents reveal that KBR and other firms delegated electrical work and other duties to subcontractors who hired unskilled Iraqis who were paid only a few dollars a day.

The Bush administration's heavy reliance on private contractors in Iraq led to rampant abuse by contractors, particularly KBR which is also accused of overbilling taxpayers, providing unsafe water to soldiers and failing to protect female employees who were sexually assaulted.