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Fed Bailout of Wall Street, Espionage Oversight
Weakened, FOIA Backlog
Revealing News Articles
March 19, 2008

Dear friends,

Below are key excerpts of important news articles you may have missed. These articles include revealing information on the unprecedented bailout of Wall Street investment banks by the Fed, President Bush's executive order that has weakened a key espionage oversight board, a new audit finding that the backlog of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests has not significantly diminished, and more. Each excerpt is taken verbatim from the major media website listed at the link provided. If any link fails to function, click here. Key sentences are highlighted for those with limited time. By choosing to educate ourselves and to spread the word, we can and will build a brighter future.

With best wishes,
Tod Fletcher and Fred Burks for PEERS and WantToKnow.info

Rescue Me: A Fed Bailout Crosses a Line
March 16, 2008, New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/16/business/16gret.html

What are the consequences of a world in which regulators rescue even the financial institutions whose recklessness and greed helped create the titanic credit mess we are in? Will the consequences be an even weaker currency, rampant inflation, a continuation of the slow bleed that we have witnessed at banks and brokerage firms for the past year? Or all of the above? Stick around, because we'll soon find out. And it's not going to be pretty. Agreeing to guarantee a 28-day credit line to Bear Stearns, by way of JPMorgan Chase, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York conceded last Friday that no sizable firm with a book of mortgage securities or loans out to mortgage issuers could be allowed to fail right now. It was the most explicit sign yet of the Fed's "Rescues 'R' Us" doctrine that already helped to force the marriage of Bank of America and Countrywide. But why save Bear Stearns? "Why not set an example of Bear Stearns, the guys who have this record of dog-eat-dog, we're brass knuckles, we're tough?" asked William A. Fleckenstein, president of Fleckenstein Capital in Issaquah, Wash., and co-author with Fred Sheehan of Greenspan's Bubbles: The Age of Ignorance at the Federal Reserve. After years of never allowing any of our financial institutions to fail, they have become so enormous that nobody will be allowed to sink beneath the waves. Otherwise, a tsunami would swamp the hedge funds, banks and other brokerage firms that remain afloat. If Bear Stearns failed, for example, it would result in a wholesale dumping of mortgage securities and other assets onto a market that is frozen and where buyers are in hiding. This fire sale would force surviving institutions carrying the same types of securities on their books to mark down their positions, generating more margin calls and creating more failures.

Note: This excellent article should be read in its entirety by anyone who wants to understand the impending financial meltdown and the government's response to it.

A Bailout. For Everyone.
March 12, 2008, Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/03/11/ST2008031103060.html

Last week, it was a $200 billion cash-for-bond swap for the banks. This week, it was a $200 billion bond-for-bond swap for the big investment houses. If they keep this up, pretty soon you'll be able to walk into any Federal Reserve bank and hock that diamond brooch you inherited from Aunt Mildred. Forget all that nonsense about the Bernanke Fed being too timid or behind the curve. In the face of what is turning into the most serious financial market crisis since the Great Depression, the Fed has been more aggressive and more creative in using its limitless balance sheet -- in effect, its ability to print money -- than at any time in history. We can argue till the cows come home about whether this is a bailout for Wall Street. It is -- but only to the extent that it is also a bailout for all of us, meant to prevent a financial and economic meltdown that drags everyone down with it. In broad strokes, we're going through a massive "de-leveraging" of the economy, wringing out trillions of dollars of debt that had artificially driven up the price of real estate and financial assets, and, more generally, allowed Americans to live beyond their means. Fed officials warn that this de-leveraging is nowhere near finished. It's anyone's guess how long this credit crunch will last, but the chances are that we'll have several more market meltdowns and Fed rescues before it's over, probably in the fall. Until then, the dollar will continue to get hammered and stocks will continue their fitful decline. And if the last two financially induced recessions are any guide, it will be well into 2009 before the economy hits bottom, followed by a couple of years of slow growth and "jobless" recovery.

Note: The title of this article is quite revealing. A bailout for the big banks is considered to be a bailout for everyone. If you believe this, we most highly encourage you to read our powerful two-page summary of the banking cover-up available here.

President weakens espionage oversight
March 14, 2008, Boston Globe
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2008/03/14/president_weakens_espionage_oversight/

Almost 32 years to the day after President Ford created an independent Intelligence Oversight Board made up of private citizens with top-level clearances to ferret out illegal spying activities, President Bush issued an executive order that stripped the board of much of its authority. The White House did not say why it was necessary to change the rules governing the board when it issued Bush's order [on February 29]. But critics say Bush's order is consistent with a pattern of steps by the administration that have systematically scaled back Watergate-era intelligence reforms. "It's quite clear that the Bush administration officials who were around in the 1970s are settling old scores now," said Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. "Here they are even preventing oversight within the executive branch. They have closed the books on the post-Watergate era." Ford created the board following a 1975-76 investigation by Congress into domestic spying, assassination operations, and other abuses by intelligence agencies. The probe prompted fierce battles between Congress and the Ford administration, whose top officials included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the current president's father, George H. W. Bush. Some analysts said the order is just the latest example of actions the administration has taken since the 2001 terrorist attacks that have scaled back intelligence reforms enacted in the 1970s. Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., the former chief counsel to the Senate committee that undertook the 1975-76 investigation into intelligence abuses, said "It's profoundly disappointing if you understand American history, and it's profoundly harmful to the United States."

Note: For many key articles on government secrecy, click here.

Audit: Bush Barely Trims FOIA Backlog
March 17, 2008, New York Times/Associated Press
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Sunshine-Week-Bush-FOIA.html

Despite ordering improvements more than two years ago, President Bush has barely made a dent in the huge backlog of unanswered requests under the Freedom of Information Act. At the same time, an audit by the National Security Archive found that Bush has provided citizens someone to talk to about how long it is going to take to get the government records they want or to be turned down. The archive, a private research group at The George Washington University, released its seventh audit ... of the 1967 law that gives people the power to request information from federal government files. The audit of 90 government agencies found mixed results from Bush's executive order on Dec. 14, 2005, to agencies to clear the backlog and be more responsive to requesters. "Behind its ambitious facade, the order lacked both carrot and stick," the audit said, because it provided no additional money to do the job and no way to force agencies to set substantial goals or step up their efforts if they fell short. "Many of the same old scofflaw agencies are still shirking their responsibilities to the public," said Tom Blanton, director of the archive, whose FOIA audits are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The archive found that unanswered requests government-wide dropped just over 2 percent, from 217,000 to 212,000, from the end of 2005 to the end of 2007. Of those agencies with backlogs, 31 percent even saw pending requests rise during the two years, including some agencies that significantly reduced very old unanswered requests but saw gains wiped out by a surge of new requests. The audit particularly criticized the Treasury Department for trying to "wait out the requester."

Note: For many key articles on government secrecy, click here.

Katrina contractor has reaped millions
March 14, 2008, Los Angeles Times/Associated Press
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-katrina14mar14,1,4559085.story

Two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, tens of thousands of homeowners are still waiting for their government rebuilding checks, and many complain they can't even get their calls returned. But the company that holds the contract to distribute the aid is doing quite well. ICF International of Fairfax, Va., has posted strong profits, gone public, landed additional multimillion-dollar government contracts -- and recently secured a potentially big raise from the state of Louisiana. In the waning days of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's administration, state officials increased the management contract ceiling from $756 million to $912 million -- this, after the Legislature wanted to fire ICF over its handling of the homeowner recovery program, called Road Home. "It is outrageous that ICF couldn't do the job for more than $750 million and that they were given a pay raise after their history of disappointing service," Blanco's successor, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, said in an e-mail Thursday. Displaced residents expressed anger. Road Home was created in June 2006 as a state-run, federally funded plan to compensate homeowners for the breach of New Orleans' government-run levees. Homeowners can apply for grants to repair their homes or to obtain buyouts if they don't want to fix things up. As of last month, 56,000 applicants -- nearly 40% of the qualified total -- had yet to receive a cent. Plagued by cost overruns and delays, Road Home is expected to cost federal taxpayers $10 billion and has become a glaring symbol of frustration in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Note: For many more revealing reports on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, click here.

FBI Found to Misuse Security Letters
March 14, 2008, Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/13/AR2008031302277.html

The FBI has increasingly used administrative orders to obtain the personal records of U.S. citizens rather than foreigners implicated in terrorism or counterintelligence investigations, and at least once it relied on such orders to obtain records that a special intelligence-gathering court had deemed protected by the First Amendment, according to two government audits released yesterday. The episode was outlined in a Justice Department report that concluded the FBI had abused its intelligence-gathering privileges by issuing inadequately documented "national security letters" from 2003 to 2006. The report makes it clear that the abuses persisted in 2006 and disclosed that 60 percent of the nearly 50,000 security letters issued that year by the FBI targeted Americans. Because U.S. citizens enjoy constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, judicial warrants are ordinarily required for government surveillance. But national security letters are approved only by FBI officials and are not subject to judicial approval; they routinely demand certain types of personal data, such as telephone, e-mail and financial records, while barring the recipient from disclosing that the information was requested or supplied. "The fact that these are being used against U.S. citizens, and being used so aggressively, should call into question the claim that these powers are about terrorists and not just about collecting information on all kinds of people," said Jameel Jaffer, national security director at the American Civil Liberties Union. "They're basically using national security letters to evade legal requirements that would be enforced if there were judicial oversight."

Note: For many key reports from major media sources on increasing threats to civil liberties, click here.

Ozone Rules Weakened at Bush's Behest
March 14, 2008, Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/13/AR2008031304175.html

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened one part of its new limits on smog-forming ozone after an unusual last-minute intervention by President Bush, according to documents released by the EPA. EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents. "It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference for the president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air Act leaves exclusively to EPA's expert scientific judgment," said John Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The president's order prompted a scramble by administration officials to rewrite the regulations to avoid a conflict with past EPA statements on the harm caused by ozone. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement warned administration officials ... that the rules contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court, according to sources familiar with the conversation. As a consequence, administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for the weakened standard. The dispute involved one of two distinct parts of the EPA's ozone restrictions: the "public welfare" standard, which is designed to protect against long-term harm from high ozone levels. The other part is known as the "public health" standard, which sets a legal limit on how high ozone levels can be at any one time. The two standards were set at the same level Wednesday, but until Bush asked for a change, the EPA had planned to set the "public welfare" standard at a lower level.

Note: For a treasure trove of reports from reliable, verifiable sources on government corruption, click here.

EPA Closure of Libraries Faulted For Curbing Access to Key Data
March 14, 2008, Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/13/AR2008031303649.html

A plan by the Environmental Protection Agency to close several of its 26 research libraries did not fully account for the impact on government staffers and the public, who rely on the libraries for hard-to-find environmental data, congressional investigators reported yesterday. The report by the Government Accountability Office found that the EPA effort, begun in 2006 to comply with a $2 million funding cut sought by the White House, ... hurt access to materials and services in the 37-year-old library network. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, said the report reveals a "grim picture" of mismanagement at the EPA. The libraries provide technical information and documentation for enforcement cases and help EPA staff members track new environmental technologies and the health risks associated with dangerous chemicals. They also are repositories of scientific information that is used to back up the agency's positions on new regulations and environmental reports and data that are tapped by people such as developers and state and local officials. The collections include hard-to-find copies of documents on federal Superfund hazardous waste sites, water-quality data and the health of regional ecosystems. Under the plan, EPA closed physical access to three regional office libraries in Chicago, Kansas City and Dallas, and to the headquarters library and the Chemical Library in Washington. Operating hours were reduced at libraries in Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Boston. Investigators noted that users of the Chemical Library -- which served EPA scientists who review industry requests to sell new chemicals -- did not learn of the facility's closure until after it occurred.

Note: For many key articles on government secrecy, click here.

Ashcroft Defends Contract That U.S. Steered to Him
March 12, 2008, Washington Post
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/12/washington/12ashcroft.html

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft responded angrily Tuesday to Congressional Democrats who suggested that a no-bid private contract directed to him by the Justice Department last year amounted to a "back-room sweetheart deal" worth tens of millions of dollars to his consulting firm. "There is not a conflict; there is not an appearance of a conflict," Mr. Ashcroft said at a hearing of a House Judiciary subcommittee exploring the circumstances of the contract. He repeatedly tried to talk over the panel's Democratic chairwoman, Representative Linda T. Sanchez of California, who offered the severest questioning. Mr. Ashcroft stepped down from the Justice Department three years ago and now runs a Washington consulting and lobbying firm that bears his name. Ms. Sanchez opened the hearing by suggesting the appearance of a conflict of interest in the department's decision last year to steer a monitoring contract worth $28 million to $52 million to Mr. Ashcroft's firm as part of an out-of-court settlement with a medical supply company under criminal investigation. The Indiana company, Zimmer Holdings, hired the Ashcroft firm as the settlement monitor at the direction of Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney in New Jersey, who had pursued the investigation and had worked under Mr. Ashcroft at the Justice Department. "You don't believe that it may be a conflict of interest in a former employee hiring the former boss, or suggesting that he be hired, for a very lucrative contract?" she said of the 18-month contract, which requires Mr. Ashcroft to make sure that Zimmer complies with the terms of its settlement of kickback allegations. Ms. Sanchez described the contract as a "back-room sweetheart deal" in which "Mr. Ashcroft was selected with no public notice and no bidding."

Note: For a treasure trove of reports from reliable, verifiable sources on government corruption, click here.

AP Probe Finds Drugs in Drinking Water
March 9, 2008, Associated Press
http://edition.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/03/10/pharma.water1.ap

A vast array of pharmaceuticals – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones – have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows. To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. But the presence of so many prescription drugs ... in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health. In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas – from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky. Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. How do the drugs get into the water? People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue. And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies – which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public – have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife. "We recognize it is a growing concern and we're taking it very seriously," said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Note: For many informative reports on health issues, click here.

Iceman on Everest: 'It Was Easy'
March 7, 2008, ABC News
http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=4393377

Wim Hof [is] known as 'The Ice Man." Scientists can't really explain it, but the 48-year-old Dutchman is able to withstand, and even thrive, in temperatures that could be fatal to the average person. It's an ability he discovered in himself as a young man 20 years ago. "I had a stroll like this in the park with somebody and I saw the ice and I thought, what would happen if I go in there. I was really attracted to it. I went in, got rid of my clothes. Thirty seconds I was in," Hof said. "Tremendous good feeling when I came out and since then, I repeated it every day." It was the moment that Hof knew that his body was different somehow: He was able to withstand fatally freezing temperatures. Hof began a lifelong quest to see just how far his abilities would take him. In January of 1999 he traveled 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle to run a half-marathon in his bare feet. Three years later, dressed only in a swimsuit, he dove under the ice at the North Pole and earned a Guinness World Record for the longest amount of time swimming under the ice: 80 meters, almost twice the length of an Olympic-sized pool. When he didn't experience frostbite or hypothermia, the body's usual reactions to extreme cold, his extraordinary ability started to get the attention of doctors who specialize in extreme medicine. Dr. Ken Kamler, author of Surviving the Extremes, has treated dozens of people who tried to climb Mount Everest, and instead nearly died from the frigid temperatures. He couldn't believe it when he got word of a Dutchman making the ascent with no protection other than a pair of shorts. "People are always looking for new firsts on Everest. It's been climbed so many times now, people climb it without oxygen, they climb it with all different kinds of handicaps. But no one has come close to climbing Everest in those kinds of conditions," Dr. Kamler said. "It's almost inconceivable."

Note: Wim Hof's charity foundation, Happy People of the World, is based in the Netherlands. Visit the Web site by clicking here.

Dolphin rescues stranded whales
March 12, 2008, CNN/Associated Press
http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/03/12/nz.whales.ap/

A dolphin swam up to two distressed whales that appeared headed for death in a beach stranding in New Zealand and guided them to safety, witnesses said. The actions of the bottlenose dolphin -- named Moko by residents who said it spends much of its time swimming playfully with humans at the beach -- amazed would-be rescuers and an expert who said they were evidence of the species' friendly nature. The two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and her calf, were found stranded on Mahia Beach, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) northeast of the capital of Wellington, said Conservation Department worker Malcolm Smith. Rescuers worked for more than one hour to get the whales back into the water, only to see them strand themselves four times on a sandbar slightly out to sea. It looked likely the whales would have to be euthanized to prevent them suffering a prolonged death, Smith said. "They kept getting disorientated and stranding again," said Smith, who was among the rescuers. "They obviously couldn't find their way back past (the sandbar) to the sea." Along came Moko, who approached the whales and led them 200 meters (yards) along the beach and through a channel out to the open sea. "Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales," Juanita Symes, another rescuer, told The Associated Press. "She got them to head toward the hill, where the channel is. It was an amazing experience. The best day of my life." Smith speculated that Moko responded after hearing the whales' distress calls. "They had arched their backs and were calling to one another, but as soon as the dolphin turned up they submerged into the water and followed her."

Note: To watch a video featuring Moko's rescue of the whales, click here.


Special note:
WantToKnow.info team member David Ray Griffin has just published an exciting new book, 9/11 Contradictions: An Open Letter to Congress and the Press, which analyzes the most serious internal contradictions within the government's official conspiracy theory. To read reviews and purchase the book, click here. To watch a riveting video of Griffin's recent presentation of his findings before a hearing of the European Parliament, click here. For a powerful two-minute video clip revealing the unbelievable cost of the Iraq war, click here.

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Fed Bailout of Wall Street, Espionage Oversight Weakened, FOIA Backlog