No-Bid Contracts, Gas Price-Fixing,
Iraq Whistleblower Retaliation
Revealing News Articles
August 29, 2007
Below are key excerpts of important news articles you may have missed. These articles include revealing information on the rise in no-bid contracts by the U.S. Federal Government, gasoline price-fixing by major oil companies, retaliation against Iraq corruption whistleblowers, 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.
Iraq corruption whistleblowers face penalties
August 25, 2007, MSNBC/Associated Press
One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted. Or worse. For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods. He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers – all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. The buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees. The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co. "It was a Wal-Mart for guns," he says. "It was all illegal and everyone knew it." So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn't know whom to trust in Iraq. For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared. "If you do it, you will be destroyed," said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. "Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, 'Should I do this?' And my answer is no. If they're married, they'll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything," Weaver said.
Music Manager, Film Producer Dies at 64
August 25, 2007, Washington Post
Aaron Russo, who managed Bette Midler and went on to produce such films as "Trading Places," has died. He was 64. Russo died from cancer before dawn on Friday, surrounded by family at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said Heidi Gregg. Russo had been battling the disease for nearly six years. "He was my best friend for 27 years," said Gregg. "Aaron was a freedom fighter, a film maker and a lover of life." Russo ... began promoting rock and roll shows at a local theater while still in high school. He later ... promoted some of the most successful rock acts of the 1960s including Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead. In the 1970s, Russo managed Bette Midler, producing the Tony award winning "Clams on the Half-Shell Revue" starring the singer. Russo eventually turned to producing feature films including "The Rose" which starred Midler in 1979 as a self destructive rock star, and later "Trading Places" in 1983 which starred Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. Russo was also a long time political activist. In 2006, Russo finished work on a documentary titled "America: Freedom to Fascism," which was billed as an expose of the Internal Revenue Service. "He was an absolutely amazing man," said Ilona Urban, his press secretary. "He was pointed and once he knew there was a direction to go, you couldn't get him to turn left or right. He was very committed."
Note: Aaron Russo was one of the few respected film makers who dared to reveal some of the major cover-ups going on behind the scenes in the world of banking and more. To view his highly popular, five-star-rated 2006 documentary on this topic, America: From Freedom to Fascism, click here.
Telecom Firms Helped With Government's Warrantless Wiretaps
August 24, 2007, Washington Post
The Bush administration acknowledged for the first time that telecommunications companies assisted the government's warrantless surveillance program and were being sued as a result, an admission some legal experts say could complicate the government's bid to halt numerous lawsuits challenging the program's legality. "[U]nder the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us," Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in an interview with the El Paso Times. His statement could help plaintiffs in dozens of lawsuits against the telecom companies, which allege that the companies participated in a wiretapping program that violated Americans' privacy rights. David Kris, a former Justice Department official, ... said McConnell's admission makes it difficult to argue that the phone companies' cooperation with the government is a state secret. "It's going to be tough to continue to call it 'alleged' when he's just admitted it," Kris said. McConnell has just added to "the list of publicly available facts that are no longer state secrets," increasing the plaintiffs' chances that their cases can proceed, Kris said. McConnell's statement "does serious damage to the government's state secrets claims that are at the heart of its defenses," said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Bruce Fein, an associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, said that McConnell's disclosure shows that "an important element of a program can be discussed publicly and openly without endangering the nation. These Cassandran cries that the earth is going to fall every time you have a discussion simply are not borne out by the facts," he said.
Federal No-Bid Contracts On Rise
August 22, 2007, Washington Post
Last year, officials at the Department of Homeland Security's counter-narcotics office took a shortcut that has become common at federal agencies: They hired help through a no-bid contract. And the firm they hired showed them how to do it. A contract worth up to $579,000 was awarded to the consultant's firm in September. Though small by government standards, the counter-narcotics contract illustrates the government's steady move away from relying on competition to secure the best deals for products and services. A recent congressional report estimated that federal spending on contracts awarded without "full and open" competition has tripled, to $207 billion, since 2000, with a $60 billion increase last year alone. The category includes deals in which officials take advantage of provisions allowing them to sidestep competition for speed and convenience and cases in which the government sharply limits the number of bidders or expands work under open-ended contracts. Government auditors say the result is often higher prices for taxpayers and an undue reliance on a limited number of contractors. "The rapid growth in no-bid and limited-competition contracts has made full and open competition the exception, not the rule," according to the report, by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said that in many cases, officials are simply choosing favored contractors as part of a "club mentality." "Contracting officials are throwing out decades of work to develop fair and sensible rules to promote competition," Ashdown said. "Government officials are skirting the rules in favor of expediency or their favored contractors."
Suit: Oil giants fixed prices for 23,000 gas station owners
August 22, 2007, USA Today/Associated Press
Nearly two dozen gas station owners in California [have] sued Shell Oil, Chevron (CVX) and Saudi Refining ... claiming the companies conspired to fix prices for 23,000 franchise owners nationwide. The plaintiffs ... say chairmen of the three oil companies met privately nearly every month starting in March 1996 for the "purpose of forming and organizing a combination." The lawsuit alleges executives destroyed documents from the meetings, and a defunct joint venture violated U.S. antitrust laws and caused artificially high wholesale gas prices in nearly every state from 1999 to 2001. The lawsuit hinges on a marketing deal that, plaintiffs say, allowed former rivals to collude on prices starting in 1998, when Shell and Texaco formed Equilon Enterprises [and] Motiva Enterprises LLC. Equilon and Motiva began operating when ... crude oil prices hit their lowest levels since the Great Depression, according to ... lawyer Joseph M. Alioto, who [represents] the plaintiffs. Yet gas prices soared for franchise owners, forcing them to pass on the cost to consumers or cut profit margins. "These executives get together and say, 'OK, we're going to raise Texaco's price to Shell's price, then we're going to raise both of them 50 to 75%, and we're going to do it after we've already had all these cost savings,'" Alioto said. [He] argues wholesale prices were higher by at least 20 cents a gallon and possibly as much as 40 cents per gallon from 1999 to 2001. Station owners had little choice but to pay higher prices. Franchises typically sign long-term contracts with oil suppliers, making it tough to switch to another brand or an independent supplier.
Some Amish in Mich. resist electronic ID tags for cattle
August 19, 2007, Associated Press
Some Amish farmers say a state requirement that they tag cattle with electronic chips is a violation of their religious beliefs. Last year, the state Department of Agriculture announced that Michigan cattle leaving farms must be tagged in the ear with electronic identification as part of an effort to combat bovine tuberculosis. That has drawn some resistance from the Amish, who typically shun technology. In April, Glen Mast and other Amish farmers appeared before the state Senate Appropriations Committee, urging it to block the program. "We're never happier than when we're just left alone," said Mast, whose farm in Isabella County operates without electricity. "That's all we're asking." State officials say the ability to trace food sources is increasingly important in the global economy. State officials said cattle are to be tagged if they are leaving the farm to be sold or change ownership. Kevin Kirk, who coordinates the program for the state agriculture department, said Amish farmers produced a "very, very small" percentage of the nearly 397 million pounds of beef sold by Michigan farmers last year. "Our No. 1 goal is animal health, human health and food safety," Kirk said. "I know it's hard sometimes to trust the government, but that's what we're asking is trust us." So far, the state has not forced the Amish to use the electronic tags but said they can wait until the animals arrive at an auction before having them applied, the newspaper said. Animal identification has traditionally involved a plastic or metal tag, or tattoo. Electronic ID uses a radio frequency device with a number unique to each animal, and speeds up the ability to locate or trace animals.
Note: To read an article that explains in more depth how the attitude of the Amish to the use of electronic chips on their cattle is that it is the "mark of the beast" in Bible prophecy, click here.
Robot wars are a reality
August 18, 2007, Guardian (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
The deployment of the first armed battlefield robots in Iraq is the latest step on a dangerous path - we are sleepwalking into a brave new world where robots decide who, where and when to kill. Robots are integral to [the U.S.'s] $230bn future combat systems project, a massive plan to develop unmanned vehicles that can strike from the air, under the sea and on land. Congress has set a goal of having one-third of ground combat vehicles unmanned by 2015. Over 4,000 robots are serving in Iraq at present, others in Afghanistan. And now they are armed. Predators and the more deadly Reaper robot attack planes have flown many missions ... with inevitable civilian deaths, yet working with remote-controlled or semi-autonomous machines carries only the same ethical responsibilities as a traditional air strike. But fully autonomous robots that make their own decisions about lethality are high on the US military agenda. They are cheap to manufacture, require less personnel and, according to the navy, perform better in complex missions. This is dangerous new territory for warfare, yet there are no new ethical codes or guidelines in place. Policymakers seem to have an understanding of [Artificial Intelligence] that lies in the realms of science fiction and myth. Their answer to the ethical problems is simply, "Let men target men" and "Let machines target other machines". In reality, a robot could not pinpoint a weapon without pinpointing the person using it or even discriminate between weapons and non-weapons. Autonomous robots are not like other weapons. We are going to give decisions on human fatality to machines that are not bright enough to be called stupid.
No buyer for voting machine unit
August 16, 2007, BBC
US cash dispenser and security company Diebold has admitted that it has failed to find a buyer for its troubled electronic voting machine business. Diebold and other manufacturers of such voting machines have been hit by criticism that they are unreliable and vulnerable to tampering. Growing unease about the machines in the US has led to a number of delayed orders from states. Diebold said that as a result, its 2007 revenues would fall $120m (�61m). It added that it would now allow the unit to operate more independently, with a separate board of directors and, possibly, a new management structure. Diebold said it had not ruled out another attempt at a full or partial sale. Some 50 million Americans, about 30% of registered voters, used electronic machines to cast their vote in the 2004 presidential election. The machines were introduced in the aftermath of the problems caused by antiquated punch-card systems in the 2000 presidential election. However, there has since been growing concern that electronic machines may be equally as unreliable.
Note: For more reliable information on the serious problems with the new electronic voting machines, click here.
When a US soldier in Iraq won't soldier
August 13, 2007, Christian Science Monitor
No one looked comfortable at the sentencing hearing. Not family and friends who packed the US military courtroom's straight-backed benches. Not the rookie Army prosecutor in stiff dress greens who flushed with every "Your Honor." Not Judge R. Peter Masterton, whose usually animated face was now grave. And not the convicted deserter – Army medic Agust�n Aguayo – on the stand in a US military court in central Germany last March, pleading for understanding. "I'm sorry for the trouble my conscience has caused my unit," Private 1st Class Aguayo said, his voice thick with emotion. "I tried to obey the rules, but in the end [the problem] was at the very core of my being." Aguayo craned to face the judge. "When I hear my sergeants talking about slashing people's throats," he said, crying openly, "if I'm not a conscientious objector, what am I when I'm feeling all this pain when people talk about violence?" Every war has its deserters, troops who abandon their posts. And every war has its converts to pacifism. The Defense Department reports that 5,361 active-duty service members deserted the US Armed Forces last year; nearly 37,000 since October 2001. In today's all-volunteer force, that means a desertion rate of less than half a percent – much lower than the Vietnam War draft era, when it reached a 1971 high of 7.4 percent. In the past six years, 325 Army soldiers have applied to be recognized as conscientious objectors, soldiers who no longer believe in war; 58 percent were accepted. Still, Aguayo's story is revealing of the mental battles of these thousands who change their minds during a bloody war – and, arguably, of many who don't.
Note: For a powerful statement about the reality of war written by a highly decorated U.S. general, click here.
US doles out millions for street cameras
August 12, 2007, Boston Globe
The Department of Homeland Security is funneling millions of dollars to local governments nationwide for purchasing high-tech video camera networks, accelerating the rise of a "surveillance society" in which the sense of freedom that stems from being anonymous in public will be lost, privacy rights advocates warn. The department ... has doled out millions on surveillance cameras, transforming city streets and parks into places under constant observation. A Globe [investigation] shows that a large number of new surveillance systems, costing at least tens and probably hundreds of millions of dollars, are being simultaneously installed around the country as part of homeland security grants. Federal money is helping New York, Baltimore, and Chicago build massive surveillance systems that may also link thousands of privately owned security cameras. Boston has installed about 500 cameras in the MBTA system, funded in part with homeland security funds. Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said [the] Homeland Security Department is the primary driver in spreading surveillance cameras, making their adoption more attractive by offering federal money to city and state leaders. The proliferation of cameras could mean that Americans will feel less free because legal public behavior -- attending a political rally, entering a doctor's office, or even joking with friends in a park -- will leave a permanent record, retrievable by authorities at any time.
Key Articles From Years Past
CIA Commander: U.S. Let bin Laden Slip Away
August 15, 2005 Newsweek magazine
During the 2004 presidential campaign, George W. Bush and John Kerry battled about whether Osama bin Laden had escaped from Tora Bora in the final days of the war in Afghanistan. Bush asserted that U.S. commanders on the ground did not know if bin Laden was at the mountain hideaway along the Afghan border. But in a forthcoming book, the CIA field commander for the agency's Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, says he and other U.S. commanders did know that ... bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora ... and could have been caught. Asked to comment on Berntsen's remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks. "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001," Franks wrote in an Oct. 19 New York Times op-ed. "Bin Laden was never within our grasp." Berntsen says Franks is "a great American. But he was not on the ground out there. I was." In his book–titled "Jawbreaker"–the decorated career CIA officer criticizes Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department for not providing enough support to the CIA and the Pentagon's own Special Forces teams in the final hours of Tora Bora. Berntsen ... has sued the agency over what he calls unacceptable delays in approving his book. "They're just holding the book," which is scheduled for October release, he says. "CIA officers, Special Forces and U.S. air power drove the Taliban out in 70 days. The CIA has taken roughly 80 days to clear my book."
Note: For a concise summary of reliable, verifiable information questioning the official account of 9/11, click here.
Taking Stock of Family Business
April 29, 2004, USA Today
Family mission statements are a way of transferring your highly effective business habits to your home life. Finding the time to assemble a document that outlines a family's goals and philosophy might seem unrealistic ... but believers urge a closer look at what they hail as a method for getting unwieldy modern lives back on track. Laura Puryear was introduced to the concept when her mother handed her Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. In Habits, the well-known motivational guru asks couples to consider questions such as: "If our family is a plane, are we on course?" Conflicting answers are OK; the point is to discuss differences en route to a common destination. "The pace of life, technology and culture all put greater pressure on us to decide what's really important," says Covey. "We all have values that guide us, but 95% of us never write them down. It's precisely the act of writing that imprints it in the subconscious." Start from a family foundation of trust and openness, where everyone feels welcome to participate. Schedule a time to share the mission statement concept, keeping in mind that even young children can understand and contribute. Brainstorm together about ideas for the statement. Encourage even the most off-the-wall contributions. Record all such suggestions in writing. Revisit the list regularly and pare it down to the most important ideas. Once everyone agrees on a final draft that truly summarizes the family's values and vision, make copies accessible to all. Avoid rushing your family, favoring any one person's agenda, or forgetting about the final product once you're done. The mission statement carries weight only if you actively pursue your stated goals.
Note: For a concise guide to developing your own personal mission statement or life intentions, click here.
Special Note: No big media covered an important gathering of leaders from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The Toronto Sun did have a good article on Aug. 21st stating "both the left and right wing of the political spectrum have all gathered to condemn the gathering and SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership) as everything from undemocratic to a move toward a North American union and a common currency called the Amero." To read this revealing article, click here. Why wasn't this important news get reported by the major media?
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No-Bid Contracts, Gas Price-Fixing, Iraq Whistleblower Retaliation