FDA Allows Controversial Trials, EPA Undermined,
Cheney Claims Executive Privilege
Revealing News Articles
May 1, 2008
Below are key excerpts of important news articles you may have missed. These articles include revealing information on the controversial decision of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow further clinical trials of risky artificial blood products, a new GAO report that the EPA's ability to evaluate carcinogens has been undermined by the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney's most recent executive privilege claim, and more. Each excerpt is taken verbatim from the major media website listed at the link provided. If any link fails to function, click
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FDA Faulted for Approving Studies of Artificial Blood
April 29, 2008, Washington Post
A new analysis concludes that the Food and Drug Administration approved experiments with artificial blood substitutes even after studies showed that the controversial products posed a clear risk of causing heart attacks and death. The review of combined data from more than 3,711 patients who participated in 16 studies testing five different types of artificial blood, released yesterday, found that the products nearly tripled the risk of heart attacks and boosted the chances of dying by 30 percent. Based on the findings, the researchers questioned why the FDA allowed additional testing of the products to go forward and why the agency is considering letting yet another study proceed. "It's hard to understand," said Charles Natanson, a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health who led the analysis. "They already had data that these products could cause heart attacks and evidence that they could kill." An artificial blood substitute that has a long shelf life and does not need refrigeration could save untold lives by providing an alternative to trauma patients in emergencies, especially in rural areas and in combat settings. But attempts to develop such products have been marred by repeated failures and fraught with controversy, in part because some products have been studied under rules allowing researchers to administer them without obtaining consent from individual patients. After the Washington-based consumer group Public Citizen sued the FDA to gain access to data submitted to the agency, Natanson and colleagues at NIH and Public Citizen pooled data from studies conducted between 1998 and 2007.
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White House Undermines EPA On Cancer Risks, GAO Says
April 28, 2008, CBS News/Associated Press
The Bush administration is undermining the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to determine health dangers of toxic chemicals by letting nonscientists have a bigger -- often secret -- say, congressional investigators say in a report obtained by The Associated Press. The administration's decision to give the Defense Department and other agencies an early role in the process adds to years of delay in acting on harmful chemicals and jeopardizes the program's credibility, the Government Accountability Office concluded. At issue is the EPA's screening of chemicals used in everything from household products to rocket fuel to determine if they pose serious risk of cancer or other illnesses. A new review process begun by the White House in 2004 is adding more speed bumps for EPA scientists, the GAO said in its report. A formal policy effectively doubling the number of steps was adopted two weeks ago. Cancer risk assessments for nearly a dozen major chemicals are now years overdue, the GAO said, blaming the new multiagency reviews for some of the delay. GAO investigators said extensive involvement by EPA managers, White House budget officials and other agencies has eroded the independence of EPA scientists charged with determining the health risks posed by chemicals. The Pentagon, the Energy Department, NASA and other agencies -- all of which could be severely affected by EPA risk findings -- are being allowed to participate "at almost every step in the assessment process," said the GAO. Those agencies, their private contractors and manufacturers of the chemicals face restrictions and major cleanup requirements, depending on the EPA's scientific determinations.
Note: For many other revealing reports on health issues, click here.
Cheney lawyer claims Congress has no authority over vice-president
April 28, 2008, The Guardian
The lawyer for US vice-president Dick Cheney claimed today that the Congress lacks any authority to examine his behaviour on the job. The exception claimed by Cheney's counsel came in response to requests from congressional Democrats that David Addington, the vice-president's chief of staff, testify about his involvement in the approval of interrogation tactics used at Guantanamo Bay. Ruling out voluntary cooperation by Addington, Cheney lawyer Kathryn Wheelbarger said Cheney's conduct is "not within the [congressional] committee's power of inquiry". "Congress lacks the constitutional power to regulate by law what a vice-president communicates in the performance of the vice president's official duties, or what a vice president recommends that a president communicate," Wheelbarger wrote to senior aides on Capitol Hill. The exception claimed by Cheney's office recalls his attempt last year to evade rules for classified documents by deeming the vice-president's office a hybrid branch of government - both executive and legislative. Philippe Sands QC, law professor at University College, London, has agreed to appear in Washington and discuss the revelations in Torture Team, his new book on the consequences of the brutal tactics used at Guantanamo. Two [other] witnesses sought by [Congress], former US attorney general John Ashcroft and former US justice department lawyer John Yoo, claimed that their involvement in civil lawsuits related to harsh interrogations allows them to avoid appearing before Congress. In letters to attorneys representing Ashcroft and Yoo, [Rep. John] Conyers [wrote that] "I am aware of no basis for the remarkable claim that pending civil litigation somehow immunises an individual from testifying before Congress."
Hundreds of Iraq schemes 'failed'
April 28, 2008, BBC News
An audit of US-funded reconstruction projects for Iraq has found millions of dollars have been wasted because many schemes have never been completed. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction blamed delays, costs, poor performance and violence for failure to finish some 855 projects. Many other projects had been falsely described as complete, found the audit of 47,321 reconstruction projects. Iraq reconstruction has cost US taxpayers more than $100bn so far. USAID, the body responsible for overseeing Iraqi reconstruction, has responded that the database used for the review was incomplete. The audit by Senator Stuart Bowen found US officials had terminated at least 855 projects before completion. Of this number, 112 were ended because of the contractors' poor performance. Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said: "The report paints a depressing picture of money being poured into failed Iraq reconstruction projects. Contractors are killed, projects are blown up just before being completed, or the contractor just stops doing the work." Last year, congressional investigators said as much as $10bn (£5bn) charged by US contractors for Iraq reconstruction had been questionable.
Note: Why is the U.S. spending over $100 billion to "reconstruct" Iraq? That's over $500 for each taxpayer in the U.S., with little to show for it. For more, see what a highly decorated U.S. general has to say on all this by clicking here.
Justice Dept. OKs harsh interrogation tactics
April 27, 2008, New York Times
The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law. The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President Bush said meant that the C.I.A. would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees. While the Geneva Conventions prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity," a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments. The new documents provide more details about how the administration intends to determine whether a specific technique would be legal, depending on the circumstances involved. Some legal experts critical of the Justice Department interpretation said the department seemed to be arguing that the prospect of thwarting a terror attack could be used to justify interrogation methods that would otherwise be illegal. "What they are saying is that if my intent is to defend the United States rather than to humiliate you, than I have not committed an offense," said Scott L. Silliman, who teaches national security law at Duke University. The humiliating and degrading treatment of prisoners is prohibited by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
Note: For many disturbing reports of increasing threats to civil liberties, click here.
Congress Examines Role Of Industry in Regulation
April 27, 2008, Washington Post
Despite more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories that have raised health concerns about a chemical compound that is central to the multibillion-dollar plastics industry, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed it safe largely because of two studies, both funded by an industry trade group. The compound, bisphenol A (BPA), has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, behavioral disorders and reproductive health problems in laboratory animals. The FDA's position on the compound was called into question earlier this month when a National Institutes of Health panel issued a draft report linking BPA to health concerns. As part of his investigation, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants to examine the role played by the Weinberg Group, a Washington firm that employs scientists, lawyers and public relations specialists to defend products from legal and regulatory action. The firm has worked on Agent Orange, tobacco and Teflon, among other products linked to health hazards, and congressional investigators say it was hired by Sunoco, a BPA manufacturer. From 1997 to 2005, 116 studies of the compound were published, many of them focused on its effects in low doses. Of those funded by government, 90 percent showed a health effect linked to BPA. None of the industry-funded studies found an effect; all of them said BPA is safe. There is a clear bias in studies funded by industry, said [David] Michaels, who ... runs the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at George Washington University and wrote the book Doubt is Their Product, which details how various industries have used science to stave off regulation.
Note: For many powerful reports on corporate corruption, click here.
Bush Lawyer Won't Say if Congress can Limit President's Power
April 24, 2008, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
A Bush administration lawyer resisted a San Francisco federal judge's attempts Wednesday to get him to say whether Congress can limit the president's wiretap authority in terrorism and espionage cases, calling the question simplistic. "You can't possibly make that judgment on the public record" without knowing the still-secret details of the electronic surveillance program that President Bush approved in 2001, Justice Department attorney Anthony Coppolino said at a crucial hearing in a wiretapping lawsuit. Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker didn't rule immediately on the government's request to dismiss the suit by an Islamic charity in Oregon, which says a document that federal authorities accidentally released showed it was wiretapped. But Walker, in an extensive exchange with Coppolino, said Congress had spoken clearly in a 1978 law that required the government to obtain a warrant from a secret court before it could conduct electronic surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists or spies. "The president is obliged to follow what Congress has mandated," Walker said. The case may determine whether any U.S. court can judge the legality of Bush's covert order to the National Security Agency to intercept phone calls and e-mails between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists without seeking judicial approval. After Bush acknowledged the existence of the program, Congress temporarily extended it in August and now is debating whether to protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits for their past cooperation. Most lawsuits challenging the program have been dismissed because the plaintiffs were unable to show that they had been wiretapped.
Note: For many disturbing reports of increasing threats to civil liberties, click here.
The Global Ruling Class: Billion-dollar Babies
April 24, 2008, The Economist magazine
Who rules the world? The rise of nation states produced national ruling classes. It would be odd if the current integration of the world economy did not produce new global elites -— business people and financiers who run global companies and global politicians who steer supra-national organisations such as the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund. David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues that these elites constitute nothing less than a new global "superclass". They have all the clubby characteristics of the old national ruling classes, but with the vital difference that they operate on the global stage, far from mere national electorates. They attend the same universities. They are groomed in a handful of world-spanning institutions such as Goldman Sachs. They belong to the same clubs -— the Council on Foreign Relations in New York is a particular favourite -— and sit on each other's boards of directors. Many of them shuttle between the public and private sectors. They meet at global events such as the World Economic Forum at Davos and the Trilateral Commission or -— for the crème de la crème -— the Bilderberg meetings or the Bohemian Grove seminars that take place every July in California. Mr Rothkopf is anything but a crank, and he is right when he says that, these days, the most influential people around the world are also the most global people. He is also admirably ambivalent about his subject. He worries about surging inequality—the richest 1% of humans own 40% of the planet's wealth—and about the rumbling backlash against so much unaccountable power.
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Iraqis see red as U.S. opens world's biggest embassy
April 24, 2008, Christian Science Monitor
For the average American who will never see it, the new US Embassy in Baghdad may be little more than the Big Dig of the Tigris. Like the infamous Boston highway project, the embassy is a mammoth development that is overbudget, overdue, and casts a whiff of corruption. For many Iraqis, though, the sand-and-ochre-colored compound peering out across the city from a reedy stretch of riverfront within the fortified Green Zone is an unsettling symbol. "It is a symbol of occupation for the Iraqi people, that is all," says Anouar, a Baghdad graduate student who thought it was risk enough to give her first name. "We see the size of this embassy and we think we will be part of the American plan for our country and our region for many, many years." The 104-acre, 21-building enclave – the largest US Embassy in the world, similar in size to Vatican City in Rome – is often described as a "castle" by Iraqis. "We all know this big yellow castle, but its main purpose, it seems, is the security of the Americans who will live there," says Sarah, a university sophomore who also declined to give her last name for reasons of personal safety. The US government cleared the new Baghdad Embassy for occupancy last week, with the embassy's 700 employees and up to 250 military personnel expected to move in over the month of May, according to Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Embassy personnel have been anxious for the complex, with more than 600 blast-resistant apartments, to open and give them some refuge from the mortar fire that has increasingly targeted the Green Zone this year. Last month, a mortar slammed into one of the unfortified trailers where personnel now sleep, killing an American civilian contractor.
Note: For many reports of the reality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, click here.
EPA Scientists Decry Political Pressure
April 23, 2008, CBS News/Associated Press
Hundreds of Environmental Protection Agency scientists complain they have been victims of political interference and pressure from superiors to skew their findings. The Union of Concerned Scientists said that more than half of the nearly 1,600 EPA staff scientists who responded online to a detailed questionnaire reported they had experienced incidents of political interference in their work. Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Program, said the survey results revealed "an agency in crisis" with low morale, especially among scientists involved in risk assessment and crafting regulations. "The investigation shows researchers are generally continuing to do their work, but their scientific findings are tossed aside when it comes time to write regulations," said Grifo. The group sent an online questionnaire to 5,500 EPA scientists and received 1,586 responses, a majority of them senior scientists who have worked for the agency for 10 years or more. The survey included chemists, toxicologists, engineers, geologists and experts in the life and environmental sciences. The report said that 60 percent of those responding, or 889 scientists, reported personally experiencing what they viewed as political interference in their work over the last five years. Senior managers and the White House Office of Management and Budget frequently second-guess scientific findings and change work conducted by EPA's scientists, the report said. Nearly 400 scientists said they had witnessed EPA officials misrepresenting scientific findings, 284 said they had [witnessed] the "selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome" and 224 scientists said they had been directed to "inappropriately exclude or alter technical information" in an EPA document.
Note: For a treasure trove of reports from reliable, verifiable sources on government corruption, click here.
Electric car for the masses to be made in Southern California
April 22, 2008, Los Angeles Times
Norwegian automaker Think Global said Monday it planned to sell low-priced electric cars to the masses and will introduce its first models in the U.S. by the end of next year. The battery-powered Think City will be able to travel up to 110 miles on a single charge, with a top speed of about 65 mph, the company said. It will be priced below $25,000. Oslo-based Think said venture capital firms RockPort Capital Partners and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers had made investments to fund its entry into the U.S. under the auspices of Think North America. "This is not a toy," said Wilber James, RockPort managing partner. "This is a serious car that we expect to sell." Although technology for electric cars has been advancing -- and consumer interest has been rising amid growing concern over gasoline prices and greenhouse gases -- few vehicles have come to market. Last month, San Carlos, Calif.-based Tesla Motors began production of its Roadster, an electric vehicle that costs $100,000. The Think City "is a mass-market vehicle," said Kleiner managing partner Ray Lane, dismissing comparisons to the Roadster. Tesla's car is being produced in relatively small numbers, with roughly 300 expected by the end of this year. "Our desire is to be selling 30-40-50,000 of these cars in a couple of years." Think Chief Executive Jan-Olaf Willums said the company would bring test vehicles to the U.S. in the coming months. The Think City runs on sodium batteries, but future versions could use lithium ion batteries, Willums said. The Think City, a two-seater that can be fitted with two additional seats for children, has a mostly plastic exterior and is 95% recyclable. Willums said a convertible was in development. "Women want to buy it immediately," he said.
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