EPA Flying Blindfrom PEER:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unable to reliably assess the state of the environment or gauge its own effectiveness, according to a compilation of outside reviews by the agency’s Inspector General released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Unfortunately, these weak spots will likely suffer further from pending Bush administration budget cuts.
Dated August 16, 2006, the report by the EPA Office of Inspector General was done at the request of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works with an eye toward possible reorganization of the agency. The report assembles all recent reviews of agency organization and effectiveness conducted by entities such as the National Academy of Public Administration, the Government Accountability Office, as well as other private and public assessments.
The overwhelming consensus of these reviews was that inadequate information and fragmented scientific work precluded meaningful evaluation of both EPA’s present structure as well as possible reorganizations. Troubling findings cited by the Inspector General include –
- “EPA does not have the data to support its positions on the state of the environment or to measure the success of its programs”;
- “EPA’s information systems have incomplete and untimely data”; and
- EPA lacks a “clear identification and prioritization of the most important scientific questions to be addressed.”
“Right now, EPA is flying blind,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the agency is spending millions on a public relations campaign to burnish the “corporate image” of its science program even as it cuts research support. “EPA scientists describe a deliberate attempt by its current leaders to ‘dumb down’ the agency and marginalize research so it cannot be applied to any topic of controversy.”
While the deficiencies found in the reports summarized by the Inspector General have roots in earlier administrations, the actions of the Bush administration almost seemed designed to aggravate them:
- Investment in EPA science has steadily decreased to the point where the chair of EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board believes that the agency no longer fields a coherent scientific research program;
- EPA is slashing its network of technical research libraries; and
- Suppression of politically inconvenient scientific findings and rewrites of technical reports for non-scientific reasons have become commonplace.
“While Congress is not known for being a fact-based institution, it needs to reinvest in environmental information and research before it wades into any attempt to reshuffle the deck chairs at EPA,” Ruch added. “The question is whether there is sufficient political support behind rebuilding EPA’s basic scientific capabilities.”
EPA Begins Closing Libraries and Public Access
EPA BEGINS CLOSING LIBRARIES BEFORE CONGRESS ACTS ON PLAN — End of Public Access to Technical Holdings as Original Collections Shuttered
Washington, DC —The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead this summer to shut down libraries, end public access to research materials and box up unique collections on the assumption that Congress will not reverse President Bush’s proposed budget reductions, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA’s own scientists are stepping up protests against closures on the grounds that it will make their work more difficult by impeding research, enforcement and emergency response capabilities.
In an August 15, 2006 document entitled “EPA FY 2007 Library Plan,” agency management indicates that it will begin immediately implementing President Bush’s proposed budget cuts for the next fiscal year, which begins in October, without waiting for Congress to act. The memo describes what EPA terms “deaccessioning procedures” (defined as “the removal of library materials from the physical collection” ) for its network of 26 technical libraries. Under the plan—
- Regional libraries, located in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City, serving 15 Midwestern and Southern states will be closed by September 30. Other regional library hours and services will be gradually reduced;
- Public access to EPA libraries and collections will end as soon as possible;
- As many as 80,000 original documents which are not electronically available will be boxed up (“put their collections into stasis,” in the words of the EPA memo) and shipped for eventual “digitizing.”
EPA scientists represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal employee union, had previously sent a “Demand to Bargain” on the issue, but EPA managers dismissed that demand as premature. The August 15th EPA memo, however, shows that the union concern was far from premature. On August 16, the AFGE National Council of EPA Locals filed a formal grievance demanding that all library closures be put on hold until affected scientists can negotiate the matter as required in the collective bargaining agreement, writing:
“After October 1, 2007, three Regions will no longer have a physical library at all. Library hours or core library services will be reduced in other Regions that keep their physical libraries open. Management has been insisting that it can effectively ‘do more with less,’ and continue to provide the same level of library services to all of EPA’s staff members despite the reduction in the number of library contractor staff. The Council is not convinced that this is the case.”
“The central fiction is EPA’s promise to digitize its entire massive collection, making everything available online someday, without any dedicated funds amid sharply reduced budgets,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting EPA studies show the cuts will actually lose money due to additional professional staff time that will have to be spent tracking down research materials now assembled by the libraries. “The idea that library closures are a purely budgetary move is increasingly hard to swallow.”
A key tenet of the new plan is that all research requests will be centrally controlled. The plan calls for “discouraging establishment of divisional or branch mini-libraries” so that central staff can “have knowledge of [the] location” of all research materials. In a mass letter of protest signed this June by representatives for 10,000 EPA scientists and researchers, more than half the total agency workforce, employees contend that the library plan is designed to “suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics.”
“What is going on inside EPA is positively Orwellian,” concluded Ruch.
Welcome to Neo-Fascism 101
Neo-Fascism in America
Neo-conservatives decided that World War III is to be waged against “Islamic-Fascists” or “Islamo-Fascism.”
Who is reading from the new script? William Kristol, Bill O’Reilly, Christopher Hitchens, Michelle Mankin, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Nick Cohen, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Daniel Pipes, Glenn Beck, Oliver North - even George W. Bush, prompting legitimate complaints from Muslim-Americans.
Middle Eastern powers include pan-Arab socialist dictatorships (Syria), monarchies (Saudi Arabia), constitutional theocracies (Iran), and assorted fundamentalist movements. None are “fascist.” For three decades of political scientists, “fascism” is a phenomenon of industrialized societies and exhibits features alien to the Middle East.
Classical fascism was evident in inter-war Italy, Germany and Japan, and full-blown fascism exhibits three dimensions: economic, political and cultural.
1. Economic fascism is based a merger of big business and big government. Sometimes, a formal corporatism emerges; other times, the private sector (monopolies and oligopolies) simply pass over into the public sector (as in the US), capturing the state and using it to wage that most profitable of activities: war. This later scenario is what happened in the United States, and the incestuous relationship between Big Business and Big Government ushered in a new Gilded Age of cronyism and corruption. Benito Mussolini was clear: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power.”
For the Middle East, the preconditions of mature capitalism (and thus fascism) simply do not exist.
2. Political fascism normally includes, as it did for Italy and Germany, a retreat from already-existing democratic practices - an erosion of democracy. The political class begins to express a disdain for human rights and international treaties, lashing out at pillars of civilization like France. Power is increasingly centered on the executive branch, and elections become less transparent, even fraudulent. Civil liberties are restricted, and constitutions are ground under the hobnailed boot.
Political fascism always depicts dissent as treason, and there is an obsession with scapegoats and plots. There are frequent mixed messages about the enemy: the enemy is strong, then weak; the enemy is important; then irrelevant. Today, the Party depicts Hezbollah as having unlimited funds from Iran and, simultaneously, selling pirated DVDs and fake Viagra in your town.
Political fascism is based on militant nationalism, pseudo-populism and an adoration of military power. As Huey Long said, former Governor of Louisiana: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the American flag.” For different reasons, these values tend to resonate among economic elites at the top and the lower middle class at the bottom. In the United States, however, it appears that the lower and working classes are now questioning their leadership - or losing themselves in End of Empire entertainment: pan y circo (bread and circus).
In its advanced stages, political fascism depends upon mass surveillance and, more crucially, eternal war. Italy’s mad adventures in Ethiopia and Germany’s insane and unwinnable two-front war were nursed by the ideology of eternal war.
The only ingredient of classical political fascism missing in the United States is a charismatic leader - but not for lack of trying. In Red States, billboards of George W. “Our Leader” arose, and fundamentalists synchronized Morning Prayer to those of the White House.
Middle East powers - particularly the movements neo-cons describe as “Islamofascist” - are emerging in non-democratic systems. They are also pushing for more, not less, political democracy because the popular classes will catapult them to power and keep them there.
Hamas, for example, won in an election. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would very much like to go to the polls in more transparent elections. Shia Muslims in Iraq are also keen on voting. Iran’s president won an election handily. And when the dust settles in Lebanon, the next sure winner at the ballot box will be Hezbollah, when Lebanese Christians, Sunnis and Druze will surely wait in lines for hours to endorse this radical Shia group. Democracy, it seems, is about to flourish in the Middle East - it’s just not yielding the puppet regimes hoped for in Washington, London (Airstrip One) or Tel Aviv. Tony Snow claims “they hate democracy.” Don’t be snowed.
Islamic fundamentalist groups compete at the national level, but Islamic fundamentalism is a transnational movement inherently opposed to the pseudo-nationalism necessary for fascism.
3. Cultural fascism is based on a reaction against science, modernity, the arts and intellectualism. It distorts science to accomplish political aims. Cultural fascism always includes strong doses of homophobia.
In the US, for every person with legitimate objections to immigration (objections based on public policy), there must be three people objecting to it based on race, and for them “illegal” becomes a euphemism for “Mexican.” Xenophobia is basic to cultural fascism.
Cultural fascism, in the West, tends towards anti-Semitism. For now, American anti-Semitism has an anti-Arab face. In linguistics and ethnology, the term “Semitic” includes “Arabic” and “Arabs.” A Marriam-Webster definition of “Semite” is clear: “A member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs.”
Thus, when neo-con pundits, politicians and even the President employ the term “Islamo-Fascist” they are being anti-Semitic.
Middle Eastern and Islamic movements can be reactionary, but these are reactions to external powers and not to the core dimensions of their own societies, which remain traditional.
So the economic, political and cultural prerequisites of fascism do not exist in the Middle East - but they do exist in the United States. Our post-WWII, Information Age neo-fascism is much like the inter-war classical fascism but softer, lighter, friendlier. Today, instead of marching, we ritually demonstrate our political will on touch-screen pads, a ceremony organized by Party-backed corporations with secret software on private servers.
It’s a race: Will the future look like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where a “dictatorship without tears” is founded upon psychotropic drugs, false religion and biological-sexual engineering? Or will it be a world of brute force like George Orwell’s 1984? “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.” It will be both: A Brave New World for those who conform and 1984 for those who don’t. American fascism will both smile and grimace.
Neo-con pundits follow a clever strategy of deflection. They employ the term “Islamo-Fascism” when “theocracy” or “dictatorship” or “fundamentalist movement” would be more historically accurate. Why do they do this? Their political epithets are inspired by a subtle conditioning campaign.
Perhaps it’s subconscious projection. “Projection,” of course, is a defense mechanism that kicks when someone is threatened by, or afraid of, their own impulse. So they attribute these impulses to someone else. Do not be neo-conned. How can you help?
First, always replace the term “neo-conservatism” with “neo-fascism.”
Second, always charge those who use the term “Islamo-fascism” with anti-Semitism (because Arabs - most of whom are Muslims - are technically “Semitic,” too).
Third, remind people who use the term “Islamo-Fascism” that the term is historically inaccurate and that the main ingredients of classical fascism - 1) monopoly capitalism; 2) erosion of democracy; and 3) militant nationalism - are coming together in the United States like a Perfect Storm.
It’s not fair to perform a vivisection of the Bush regime without pointing to what a healthier body politic might look like - a “post-crisis” body politic.
1) The restoration of the checks and balances, and limited government, of a democratic republic. This includes voter protections and a pencil-paper-box voting system.
2) The restoration of foreign relations to open diplomacy (as envisioned by the Founders) - to the power of persuasion - unless attacked, upon which military force will be restricted to the forces demonstrably responsible. This means no foreign aid, no weapons sales, no forward bases, and no committing political adultery by dividing loyalties between the people of the United States and any foreign power. The American people can express their solidarity with people around the world with short-term disaster relief.
3) Challenging both Israel and Arab powers to follow the letter of international law. Compliance means full participation in an international economy and community (the carrot); and resistance invites the atrophy of embargoes, travel restrictions, and blockages (the stick). Under UN Resolution 181, Israel secures its right to exist according to the 1948 borders, with protection from the United Nations. Simultaneously, Israel withdraws all of its settler colonies from the West Bank, illegal under Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” And Jerusalem becomes the international city as intended in 1948.
4) Challenging the world’s people and states with a transformative proposal: universal nuclear disarmament. If states do not disarm, take the proposal to their peoples. Inspired, motivated and determined, masses of people will quickly sideline both foot-dragging politicians and terrorists. The best weapon against terror is not the US Army; it is civilized men and women everywhere. The world is ready to make nuclear weapons - and then war - extinct.
Thomas Paine: “We have it in our power to make the world new again.”
Ruling for the Law
from the NYT via truthout:
Ever since President Bush was forced to admit that he was spying on Americans’ telephone calls and email without warrants, his lawyers have fought to keep challenges to the program out of the courts. Yesterday, that plan failed. A federal judge in Detroit declared the eavesdropping program to be illegal and unconstitutional. She also offered a scathing condemnation of what lies behind the wiretapping - Mr. Bush’s attempt to expand his powers to the point that he can place himself beyond the reach of Congress, judges or the Constitution.
“There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution,” wrote Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the United States District Court in Detroit. Her decision was based on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
She said Mr. Bush violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when he ordered the National Security Agency to spy without a warrant on international phone calls and e-mail by Americans and foreign residents of the United States. She noted that the surveillance law was passed to prohibit just this sort of presidential abuse of power and provided ample flexibility for gathering vital intelligence. She also said that the program violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the rights of free speech and association granted by the First Amendment.
The ruling eviscerated the absurd notion on which the administration’s arguments have been based: that Congress authorized Mr. Bush to do whatever he thinks is necessary when it authorized the invasion of Afghanistan.
It’s good news that this ruling exists at all. Mr. Bush’s lawyers tried to have the entire suit thrown out on national security grounds, a tactic they have used in an alarming number of cases. In one particularly appalling example, they persuaded federal judges to refuse to hear a lawsuit filed by an innocent German citizen of Lebanese birth who was snatched out of his private life, illegally imprisoned for five months and tortured by American jailers.
In this case, the administration told Judge Taylor that merely arguing its case would expose top secret information. Judge Taylor said she had reviewed the secret material and concluded it was not relevant. The secrecy claim, she said, was “disingenuous and without merit.”
No sooner had this ruling been issued than Mr. Bush’s loyalists in Congress, who have been searching for ways to give legal cover to an illegal spying program, began calling for new laws to overcome Judge Taylor’s objections. Republicans quickly pointed out that Judge Taylor was appointed by President Jimmy Carter and that some of the many precedents she cited were written by liberal judges. These efforts to undermine Judge Taylor’s arguments will undoubtedly continue while the White House appeals the decision, and the outcome in the conservative Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is uncertain.
But for now, with a careful, thoroughly grounded opinion, one judge in Michigan has done what 535 members of Congress have so abysmally failed to do. She has reasserted the rule of law over a lawless administration and shown why issues of this kind belong within the constitutional process created more than two centuries ago to handle them.
Will Paula Jones force Dick Cheney to testify on Plame?
Oh, the irony. This is sure to make the wingnuts squeal.
A Self-Defeating “War”
from the WSJ:
By GEORGE SOROS
The war on terror is a false metaphor that has led to counterproductive and self-defeating policies. Five years after 9/11, a misleading figure of speech applied literally has unleashed a real war fought on several fronts—Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia—a war that has killed thousands of innocent civilians and enraged millions around the world. Yet al Qaeda has not been subdued; a plot that could have claimed more victims than 9/11 has just been foiled by the vigilance of British intelligence.
Unfortunately, the “war on terror” metaphor was uncritically accepted by the American public as the obvious response to 9/11. It is now widely admitted that the invasion of Iraq was a blunder. But the war on terror remains the frame into which American policy has to fit. Most Democratic politicians subscribe to it for fear of being tagged as weak on defense.
What makes the war on terror self-defeating?
• First, war by its very nature creates innocent victims. A war waged against terrorists is even more likely to claim innocent victims because terrorists tend to keep their whereabouts hidden. The deaths, injuries and humiliation of civilians generate rage and resentment among their families and communities that in turn serves to build support for terrorists.
• Second, terrorism is an abstraction. It lumps together all political movements that use terrorist tactics. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi army in Iraq are very different forces, but Bush’s global war on terror prevents us from differentiating between them and dealing with them accordingly. It inhibits much-needed negotiations with Iran and Syria because they are states that support terrorist groups.
• Third, the war on terror emphasizes military action while most territorial conflicts require political solutions. And, as the British have shown, al Qaeda is best dealt with by good intelligence. The war on terror increases the terrorist threat and makes the task of the intelligence agencies more difficult. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large; we need to focus on finding them, and preventing attacks like the one foiled in England.
• Fourth, the war on terror drives a wedge between “us” and “them.” We are innocent victims. They are perpetrators. But we fail to notice that we also become perpetrators in the process; the rest of the world, however, does notice. That is how such a wide gap has arisen between America and much of the world.
Taken together, these four factors ensure that the war on terror cannot be won. An endless war waged against an unseen enemy is doing great damage to our power and prestige abroad and to our open society at home. It has led to a dangerous extension of executive powers; it has tarnished our adherence to universal human rights; it has inhibited the critical process that is at the heart of an open society; and it has cost a lot of money. Most importantly, it has diverted attention from other urgent tasks that require American leadership, such as finishing the job we so correctly began in Afghanistan, addressing the looming global energy crisis, and dealing with nuclear proliferation.
With American influence at low ebb, the world is in danger of sliding into a vicious circle of escalating violence. We can escape it only if we Americans repudiate the war on terror as a false metaphor. If we persevere on the wrong course, the situation will continue to deteriorate. It is not our will that is being tested, but our understanding of reality. It is painful to admit that our current predicaments are brought about by our own misconceptions. However, not admitting it is bound to prove even more painful in the long run. The strength of an open society lies in its ability to recognize and correct its mistakes. This is the test that confronts us.
Voter Suppression in Missouri
from the NYT:
Missouri is the latest front in the Republican Party’s campaign to use photo ID requirements to suppress voting. The Republican legislators who pushed through Missouri’s ID law earlier this year said they wanted to deter fraud, but that claim falls apart on close inspection. Missouri’s new ID rules — and similar ones adopted last year in Indiana and Georgia — are intended to deter voting by blacks, poor people and other groups that are less likely to have driver’s licenses. Georgia’s law has been blocked by the courts, and the others should be too.
Even before Missouri passed its new law, it had tougher ID requirements than many states. Voters were required, with limited exceptions, to bring ID with them to the polls, but university ID cards, bank statements mailed to a voter’s address, and similar documents were acceptable. The new law requires a government-issued photo ID, which as many as 200,000 Missourians do not have.
Missourians who have driver’s licenses will have little trouble voting, but many who do not will have to go to considerable trouble to get special ID’s. The supporting documents needed to get these, like birth certificates, often have fees attached, so some Missourians will have to pay to keep voting. It is likely that many people will not jump all of the bureaucratic hurdles to get the special ID, and will become ineligible to vote.
Not coincidentally, groups that are more likely to vote against the Republicans who passed the ID law will be most disadvantaged. Advocates for blacks, the elderly and the disabled say that those groups are less likely than the average Missourian to have driver’s licenses, and most likely to lose their right to vote. In close elections, like the bitterly contested U.S. Senate race now under way in the state, this disenfranchisement could easily make the difference in who wins.
The new law’s supporters say its purpose is to deter fraud. But there is little evidence of “imposter voting,” the sort of fraud that ID laws are aimed at, in Missouri or anywhere else. Groups in Missouri that want to suppress voting have a long history of crying fraud, but investigations by the Justice Department and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others, have refuted such claims in the past. If the Legislature really wanted to deter fraud, it would have focused its efforts on absentee ballots, which are a notorious source of election fraud — and are not covered by Missouri’s new ID requirements.
Because of the important constitutional issues these laws raise, courts will have the final say. Federal and state judges have already blocked Georgia’s ID law from taking effect, and although Indiana’s law was upheld earlier this year, that ruling is on appeal. Missouri voting-rights advocates recently filed suit against their state’s law.
Unduly onerous voter ID laws violate equal protection, and when voters have to pay to get the ID’s, they are an illegal poll tax. They are also an insult to democracy, because their goal is to have elections in which eligible voters are turned away.
Sea Levels Already Rising along Florida Coast
Federal and state policymakers are turning a blind eye toward unmistakable evidence of rising sea levels affecting Florida coastal areas, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Within the next twenty years, predicted sea level rises will begin to inundate much of the Florida coastline, as well as low-lying open lands, starting with the Everglades.
Sea level rises are already being recorded in Florida, about 10 inches during the last century (at a rate of 2.3 millimeters per year as measured by tide gauge data). Due to global warming, melting ice caps and thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm, the rate of sea level rise is predicted to accelerate. Based upon data developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), estimated sea level rises for Southwest Florida will range from 2.8 inches to 10.6 inches by 2025. At that rate, sea level increases would double to 2 feet this century and rise another 3 feet next century – for a net rise of 5 feet by 2200. An EPA report titled “The Probability of Sea Level Rise” has a predicted a range of sea level rise from as low as 21 inches with a 90% probability to 177 inches with a 1% probability.
In the near-term, higher sea levels will lead to higher hurricane storm surges, resulting in greater property damage. In addition, saltwater intrusion will compromise the quality and available quantities of fresh water, as well as change vegetation patterns. In the long-term, coastal areas, wetlands and many other undeveloped lands will simply disappear altogether, or exist only behind sea barricades.
“Florida will be a modern Atlantis with its most expensive real estate under water,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, noting that much of the $12 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration now under construction may be underwater in less than 50 years. “We had better begin planning now for how to handle these rising tides.” ...[go to rest of article]
The Political Corruption of Science
By Gene C. Gerard
Unions representing thousands of scientists and other specialists employed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently complained that EPA officials are ignoring science. The unions indicated that agency administrators are allowing numerous toxic substances to be used in agricultural pesticides. This revelation comes on the heels of a survey of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists which found that the agency has become so political that it’s no longer protecting public safety. While all presidential administrations, by their very nature, are political, it’s increasingly clear that the Bush administration is using politics to corrupt science.
Nine unions comprised of 9,000 EPA scientists maintained that multiple agricultural pesticides are dangerous for pregnant women, children, and the elderly. In a letter to EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson, union leaders indicated that agency officials seem to believe that “the concerns of agriculture and the pesticide industry come before our responsibility to protect the health of our nation’s citizens.” An EPA scientist warned that the agency often ignores scientific studies that disagree with industry-funded studies. This isn’t surprising, given that the EPA’s own inspector general acknowledged earlier this year that the agency had failed to protect children from pesticide exposure.
Late last month, the Union of Concerned Scientists released the disturbing results of its survey of FDA scientists. The survey was sent to almost 6,000 FDA scientists, of whom about one-fifth responded. The responses revealed that 20 percent had been asked explicitly by FDA administrators to provide incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information to the public. And 60 percent of the scientists reported that commercial interests have inappropriately induced or attempted to induce the reversal, withdrawal or modification of FDA actions.
Almost 20 percent of FDA scientists in the survey indicated that they had been asked, for non-scientific reasons, to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or conclusions in a scientific document. There was ample evidence of this in 2004 when the FDA prevented an agency scientist from publicly criticizing antidepressants. In February of that year agency officials prevented Dr. Andrew Mosholder from testifying at a public hearing on the increased risk of suicide among children who take antidepressants.
Dr. Mosholder conducted an FDA review of 22 studies on children and antidepressant medication. He concluded that these children were twice as likely to become suicidal. After being slated to present his findings at a public hearing, FDA officials removed him from the agenda. In the fall of 2004, a Congressional committee discovered that agency administrators forced Dr. Mosholder to delete data regarding the risks of antidepressants from documents he submitted to Congress. Essentially, FDA officials put the health and safety of America’s children at risk by promoting the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. But that shouldn’t be shocking, given that drug makers spent $158 million in 2004 to lobby the Bush administration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Almost half of the FDA scientists in the survey indicated that the agency isn’t effectively protecting public health. The FDA’s involvement in the now discredited drug Vioxx is glaring proof of this. Dr. David Graham, the associate director of the FDA Office of Drug Safety, complained in 2004 that officials attempted to suppress the results of his study on Vioxx. He found that as many as 139,000 people had suffered heart attacks or strokes and approximately 55,000 people died as a result of taking the drug.
Ironically, late in 2004 the manufacturer of Vioxx, Merck, removed the drug from the marketplace after clinical studies demonstrated an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. According to Dr. Graham, the FDA is “virtually incapable of protecting America.” Merck made almost half a million dollars in political contributions in 2004, with 70 percent going into Republican coffers. It seems likely that the FDA’s actions toward Vioxx were attributable to politics.
More than half of the agency’s scientists who participated in the survey reported that the FDA doesn’t routinely provide complete and accurate information to the public. The agency was certainly guilty of this concerning its involvement with the drug Ketek. In 2001 an FDA panel recommended its approval to treat pneumonia, although the panel had concerns about potential liver damage. Consequently, the drug’s manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis, agreed to conduct a study of the drug’s effect on the liver. It was later discovered that the study was fraudulent.
However, FDA officials continued to cite the study as proof that Ketek was safe, and in 2004 the drug was approved. Earlier this year, the agency’s Office of Drug Safety found 110 cases of liver problems related to Ketek, including cases of liver failure and death, and recommended that it be withdrawn from the market. And agency scientists estimated that the drug caused liver failure at approximately four times the rate of other antibiotics. Despite all these warnings, FDA administrators approved of clinical trials using the drug on children as young as six months old.
The complaints of scientists at both the EPA and the FDA are serious and troubling. And there seems to be little doubt that their accusations are valid. The Bush administration is consistently placing political and industry interests ahead of sound science. As a result, the health, safety and welfare of the nation are being compromised.
A Time to Break Silence
A time comes when silence is betrayal.
— Martin Luther King Jr., April 4th, 1967
The Constitution in Crisis
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee issue a sweeping indictment of Bush administration law-breaking.
Missile Defense Deployments “Secret for Political Purposes”from Secrecy News:
The names of foreign countries that are being considered for deployment of U.S. missile defense systems are unclassified but nevertheless should be kept secret, the Missile Defense Agency ordered (pdf) last year.
"There are many operational and political sensitivities that require varying levels of protection as we consider possible deployments," wrote MDA Deputy Director Gen. Marvin K. McNamara.
"Therefore, I am requiring that potential host nations being studied or considered by MDA for operational deployments not be identified by country or city name in any form on Unclassified computer systems....."
The November 22, 2005 MDA memorandum on "Protection of Information Regarding Operational Deployments" was obtained by Nick Schwellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight and is available here.
In an email message also obtained by POGO, an MDA security manager paraphrased the policy this way: "Information regarding operational deployments should be treated as 'Secret' for political purposes and, for that reason, the information is to be sent encrypted or by SIPRNET."
What is at issue here, explained Victoria Samson of the Center for Defense Information, is the location of the third site for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which is still under conideration.
But not everyone got the word.
In a March 20, 2006 briefing (pdf) by MDA Director Gen. Trey Obering, obtained by Ms. Samson, three countries are identified as possible candidates for the third ground-based site: the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, and Poland. See "Missile Defense Program Update" (at slide 35).
Official controls on unclassified information have mushroomed in recent years. An interagency task force that conducted an inventory of so-called Sensitive But Unclassified control markings recently identified 164 distinct marking systems for controlling unclassified information, according to Grace Mastalli, who co-chaired the task force.
Fiddling While the World Burns
OVER THE PAST two weeks, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee has held a pair of truly senseless hearings on global climate change. The purpose was not to figure out how to cut carbon emissions. It wasn’t even to discuss the science of global climate change in general. Instead, the purpose was to pick at a single study of global temperature patterns, the so-called “hockey stick” graph—a trend line that purports to show a sudden and dramatic increase in global temperatures in the 1990s and therefore looks like a hockey stick. The graph is hardly central to the modern debate over climate change. Yet the subcommittee has investigated the scientists who dared produce it and hounded them for information. Now that a study of the graph by the National Academy of Sciences has largely backed up the hockey stick findings, the committee has been holding hearings to attack it some more.
A more responsible House hearing on climate change, held by the Government Reform Committee, revealed the utter frivolity of investigating the hockey stick. Even the Bush administration—which is actively avoiding regulation of carbon emissions—took pains to acknowledge the science of climate change. Speaking on behalf of the White House, James L. Connaughton made clear that global warming is real and that human causes are at least partly to blame.
In fact, the broad contours of climate science are a matter of considerable consensus. Increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases traps additional energy, which tends to cause warming of the Earth’s surface. The actual concentration of carbon in the atmosphere has increased enormously since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. And average global temperatures have risen in recent decades, an effect that is amplified significantly in the polar regions. The major outstanding question about global warming is not whether adding large amounts of new carbon to the atmosphere will tend to increase temperatures further. It is how sensitive the climate will be to what mass of additional carbon over time—and how bad the practical consequences of that sensitivity will be. On this point, there exists vigorous scientific debate. But it’s a debate to which congressional committees are laughably ill-suited to contribute.
The reality is that nobody knows how bad global warming will be; responsible estimates vary from manageable to catastrophic. So the prudent move is to take action now as a kind of insurance policy. Yes, reducing carbon emissions substantially is a daunting prospect given American and world dependence on fossil fuels—so daunting that it induces a kind of denial in many people. But it is a particularly ugly kind of denial that leads a congressional committee to spend this kind of energy attacking scientists, instead of confronting the problems their data suggest.
NASA’s Goals Delete Mention of Home Planet
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.”
In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”
David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.
But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
“We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings,” said Philip B. Russell, a 25-year NASA veteran who is an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.”
Several NASA researchers said they were upset that the change was made at NASA headquarters without consulting the agency’s 19,000 employees or informing them ahead of time.
Though the “understand and protect” phrase was deleted in February, when the Bush administration submitted budget and planning documents to Congress, its absence has only recently registered with NASA employees.
Mr. Steitz, the NASA spokesman, said the agency might have to improve internal communications, but he defended the way the change was made, saying it reflected the management style of Michael D. Griffin, the administrator at the agency.
“Strategic planning comes from headquarters down,” he said, and added, “I don’t think there was any mal-intent or idea of exclusion.”
The line about protecting the earth was added to the mission statement in 2002 under Sean O’Keefe, the first NASA administrator appointed by President Bush, and was drafted in an open process with scientists and employees across the agency.
In the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established the agency in 1958, the first objective of the agency was listed as “the expansion of human knowledge of the earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.”
And since 1972, when NASA launched the first Landsat satellite to track changes on the earth’s surface, the agency has been increasingly involved in monitoring the environment and as a result has been immersed in political disputes over environmental policy and spending, said W. Henry Lambright, a professor of public administration and political science at Syracuse University who has studied the trend.
The shift in language echoes a shift in the agency’s budgets toward space projects and away from earth missions, a shift that began in 2004, the year Mr. Bush announced his vision of human missions to the Moon and beyond.
The “understand and protect” phrase was cited repeatedly by James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA who said publicly last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr. Hansen’s comments started a flurry of news media coverage in late January; on Feb. 3, Mr. Griffin issued a statement of “scientific openness.”
The revised mission statement was released with the agency’s proposed 2007 budget on Feb. 6. But Mr. Steitz said Dr. Hansen’s use of the phrase and its subsequent disappearance from the mission statement was “pure coincidence.”
Dr. Hansen, who directs the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a NASA office, has been criticized by industry-backed groups and Republican officials for associating with environmental campaigners and his endorsement of Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.
Dr. Hansen said the change might reflect White House eagerness to shift the spotlight away from global warming.
“They’re making it clear that they have the authority to make this change, that the president sets the objectives for NASA, and that they prefer that NASA work on something that’s not causing them a problem,” he said.
White House Proposal Would Expand Authority of Military Courts
By R. Jeffrey Smith
A draft Bush administration plan for special military courts seeks to expand the reach and authority of such “commissions” to include trials, for the first time, of people who are not members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and are not directly involved in acts of international terrorism, according to officials familiar with the proposal.
The plan, which would replace a military trial system ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June, would also allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to those under the military court’s jurisdiction. The two provisions would be likely to put more individuals than previously expected before military juries, officials and independent experts said.
The draft proposed legislation, set to be discussed at two Senate hearings today, is controversial inside and outside the administration because defendants would be denied many protections guaranteed by the civilian and traditional military criminal justice systems.
Under the proposed procedures, defendants would lack rights to confront accusers, exclude hearsay accusations, or bar evidence obtained through rough or coercive interrogations. They would not be guaranteed a public or speedy trial and would lack the right to choose their military counsel, who in turn would not be guaranteed equal access to evidence held by prosecutors.
Detainees would also not be guaranteed the right to be present at their own trials, if their absence is deemed necessary to protect national security or individuals.