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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Researchers find Traces of Mercury in High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Chicago Tribune
January 27, 2009

A swig of soda or bite of a candy bar might be sweet, but a new study suggests that food made with corn syrup also could be delivering tiny doses of toxic mercury.

For the first time, researchers say they have detected traces of the silvery metal in samples of high-fructose corn syrup, a widely used sweetener that has replaced sugar in many processed foods. The study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health.

Eating high-mercury fish is the chief source of exposure for most people. The new study raises concerns about a previously unknown dietary source of mercury, which has been linked to learning disabilities in children and heart disease in adults.

The source of the metal appears to be caustic soda and hydrochloric acid, which manufacturers of corn syrup use to help convert corn kernels into the food additive.

A handful of plants across the nation still make the soda and acid by mixing a briny solution in electrified vats of mercury. Some of the toxic metal ends up in the final product, according to industry documents cited in the study.

Corn syrup manufacturers insisted their products are mercury-free. But the study noted that at least one maker of caustic soda that has used the mercury-based technology listed the corn syrup industry as a client.

"This seems like an avoidable source of mercury that we didn't know was out there," said David Wallinga, one of the study's co-authors and a researcher at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a Minnesota-based advocacy group.

The researchers cautioned that their study was limited. Only 20 samples were analyzed; mercury was detected in nine.

Still, the impact of the findings could be significant.

High-fructose corn syrup has become such a staple in processed foods that the average American consumes about 12 teaspoons of it daily, according to federal estimates. Teenagers and young kids tend to eat more of it than adults.

There is no established safe dose for elemental mercury, the type discovered in corn syrup. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an average-sized woman should limit her exposure to 5.5 micrograms a day of methylmercury, the kind found in fish.

If that same woman regularly ate corn syrup contaminated at the highest level detected in the study _ 0.57 micrograms per gram - the researchers estimated that she could end up consuming an amount of mercury that is five times higher than the EPA's safe dose.

One former EPA scientist who reviewed the paper said more study is needed to establish the risk, if any, posed by contaminated corn syrup. She urged the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a review of food made with the sweetener.

"For the most part, previous studies haven't found mercury in foods other than fish," said Kathryn Mahaffey, a former EPA scientist who co-wrote a landmark report to Congress on the perils of mercury contamination. "Is this an outlier or something we didn't know about before?"

In response to a 2005 Chicago Tribune series about mercury hazards, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama introduced legislation that would force chlorine plants to phase out its use or shut down.

One plant in Wisconsin later vowed to switch to a mercury-free process by this year, leaving four others _ in Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia _ that still use the older technology.

The new study's lead author, Renee Dufault, began her research while investigating the Wisconsin plant for the FDA in the mid-2000s. But her results weren't published until now, a year after she retired from the agency.

An FDA spokesman said he still was waiting for a response to the study. Industry representatives, meanwhile, said the study was outdated.

"It is important that Americans are provided accurate, science-based information," Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, said in a statement. "They should know that high fructose corn syrup is safe."

In another statement, the Chlorine Institute said: "It is conceivable that measurable mercury content can be found in high fructose corn syrup regardless of how it is processed."

(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Two Santa Clauses or How The Republican Party Has Conned America for Thirty Years

by Thom Hartmann
Common Dreams
January 26, 2009

This weekend, House Republican leader John Boehner played out the role of Jude Wanniski on NBC's "Meet The Press."

Odds are you've never heard of Jude, but without him Reagan never would have become a "successful" president, Republicans never would have taken control of the House or Senate, Bill Clinton never would have been impeached, and neither George Bush would have been president.
When Barry Goldwater went down to ignominious defeat in 1964, most Republicans felt doomed (among them the then-28-year-old Wanniski). Goldwater himself, although uncomfortable with the rising religious right within his own party and the calls for more intrusion in people's bedrooms, was a diehard fan of Herbert Hoover's economic worldview.

In Hoover's world (and virtually all the Republicans since reconstruction with the exception of Teddy Roosevelt), market fundamentalism was a virtual religion.

Economists from Ludwig von Mises to Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman had preached that government could only make a mess of things economic, and the world of finance should be left to the Big Boys – the Masters of the Universe, as they sometimes called themselves – who ruled Wall Street and international finance.

Hoover enthusiastically followed the advice of his Treasury Secretary, multimillionaire Andrew Mellon, who said in 1931:

"Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. Purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down... enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people."

Thus, the Republican mantra was:

"Lower taxes, reduce the size of government, and balance the budget."

The only problem with this ideology from the Hooverite perspective was that the Democrats always seemed like the bestowers of gifts, while the Republicans were seen by the American people as the stingy Scrooges, bent on making the lives of working people harder all the while making richer the very richest. This, Republican strategists since 1930 knew, was no way to win elections.

Which was why the most successful Republican of the 20th century up to that time, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had been quite happy with a top income tax rate on millionaires of 91 percent. As he wrote to his brother Edgar Eisenhower in a personal letter on November 8, 1954:

"[T]o attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything--even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon 'moderation' in government.

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt [you possibly know his background], a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Goldwater, however, rejected the "liberalism" of Eisenhower, Rockefeller, and other "moderates" within his own party. Extremism in defense of liberty was no vice, he famously told the 1964 nominating convention, and moderation was no virtue. And it doomed him and his party.

And so after Goldwater's defeat, the Republicans were again lost in the wilderness just as after Hoover's disastrous presidency. Even four years later when Richard Nixon beat LBJ in 1968, Nixon wasn't willing to embrace the economic conservatism of Goldwater and the economic true believers in the Republican Party. And Jerry Ford wasn't, in their opinions, much better. If Nixon and Ford believed in economic conservatism, they were afraid to practice it for fear of dooming their party to another forty years in the electoral wilderness.

By 1974, Jude Wanniski had had enough. The Democrats got to play Santa Claus when they passed out Social Security and Unemployment checks – both programs of the New Deal – as well as when their "big government" projects like roads, bridges, and highways were built giving a healthy union paycheck to construction workers. They kept raising taxes on businesses and rich people to pay for things, which didn't seem to have much effect at all on working people (wages were steadily going up, in fact), and that made them seem like a party of Robin Hoods, taking from the rich to fund programs for the poor and the working class. Americans loved it. And every time Republicans railed against these programs, they lost elections.

Everybody understood at the time that economies are driven by demand. People with good jobs have money in their pockets, and want to use it to buy things. The job of the business community is to either determine or drive that demand to their particular goods, and when they're successful at meeting the demand then factories get built, more people become employed to make more products, and those newly-employed people have a paycheck that further increases demand.

Wanniski decided to turn the classical world of economics – which had operated on this simple demand-driven equation for seven thousand years – on its head. In 1974 he invented a new phrase – "supply side economics" – and suggested that the reason economies grew wasn't because people had money and wanted to buy things with it but, instead, because things were available for sale, thus tantalizing people to part with their money. The more things there were, the faster the economy would grow.

At the same time, Arthur Laffer was taking that equation a step further. Not only was supply-side a rational concept, Laffer suggested, but as taxes went down, revenue to the government would go up!

Neither concept made any sense – and time has proven both to be colossal idiocies – but together they offered the Republican Party a way out of the wilderness.

Ronald Reagan was the first national Republican politician to suggest that he could cut taxes on rich people and businesses, that those tax cuts would cause them to take their surplus money and build factories or import large quantities of cheap stuff from low-labor countries, and that the more stuff there was supplying the economy the faster it would grow. George Herbert Walker Bush – like most Republicans of the time – was horrified. Ronald Reagan was suggesting "Voodoo Economics," said Bush in the primary campaign, and Wanniski's supply-side and Laffer's tax-cut theories would throw the nation into such deep debt that we'd ultimately crash into another Republican Great Depression.

But Wanniski had been doing his homework on how to sell supply-side economics. In 1976, he rolled out to the hard-right insiders in the Republican Party his "Two Santa Clauses" theory, which would enable the Republicans to take power in America for the next thirty years.

Democrats, he said, had been able to be "Santa Clauses" by giving people things from the largesse of the federal government. Republicans could do that, too – spending could actually increase. Plus, Republicans could be double Santa Clauses by cutting people's taxes! For working people it would only be a small token – a few hundred dollars a year on average – but would be heavily marketed. And for the rich it would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. The rich, in turn, would use that money to import or build more stuff to market, thus increasing supply and stimulating the economy. And that growth in the economy would mean that the people still paying taxes would pay more because they were earning more.

There was no way, Wanniski said, that the Democrats could ever win again. They'd have to be anti-Santas by raising taxes, or anti-Santas by cutting spending. Either one would lose them elections.

When Reagan rolled out Supply Side Economics in the early 80s, dramatically cutting taxes while exploding (mostly military) spending, there was a moment when it seemed to Wanniski and Laffer that all was lost. The budget deficit exploded and the country fell into a deep recession – the worst since the Great Depression – and Republicans nationwide held their collective breath.

But David Stockman came up with a great new theory about what was going on – they were "starving the beast" of government by running up such huge deficits that Democrats would never, ever in the future be able to talk again about national health care or improving Social Security – and this so pleased Alan Greenspan, the Fed Chairman, that he opened the spigots of the Fed, dropping interest rates and buying government bonds, producing a nice, healthy goose to the economy.

Greenspan further counseled Reagan to dramatically increase taxes on people earning under $37,800 a year by increasing the Social Security (FICA/payroll) tax, and then let the government borrow those newfound hundreds of billions of dollars off-the-books to make the deficit look better than it was.

Reagan, Greenspan, Winniski, and Laffer took the federal budget deficit from under a trillion dollars in 1980 to almost three trillion by 1988, and back then a dollar could buy far more than it buys today. They and George HW Bush ran up more debt in eight years than every president in history, from George Washington to Jimmy Carter, combined. Surely this would both starve the beast and force the Democrats to make the politically suicidal move of becoming deficit hawks.

And that's just how it turned out. Bill Clinton, who had run on an FDR-like platform of a "new covenant" with the American people that would strengthen the institutions of the New Deal, strengthen labor, and institute a national health care system, found himself in a box. A few weeks before his inauguration, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin sat him down and told him the facts of life: he was going to have to raise taxes and cut the size of government.

Clinton took their advice to heart, raised taxes, balanced the budget, and cut numerous programs, declaring an "end to welfare as we know it" and, in his second inaugural address, an "end to the era of big government." He was the anti-Santa Claus, and the result was an explosion of Republican wins across the country as Republican politicians campaigned on a platform of supply-side tax cuts and pork-rich spending increases.

Looking at the wreckage of the Democratic Party all around Clinton by 1999, Winniski wrote a gloating memo that said, in part: "We of course should be indebted to Art Laffer for all time for his Curve... But as the primary political theoretician of the supply-side camp, I began arguing for the 'Two Santa Claus Theory' in 1974. If the Democrats are going to play Santa Claus by promoting more spending, the Republicans can never beat them by promoting less spending. They have to promise tax cuts..."

Ed Crane, president of the Libertarian CATO Institute, noted in a memo that year:
"When Jack Kemp, Newt Gingich, Vin Weber, Connie Mack and the rest discovered Jude Wanniski and Art Laffer, they thought they'd died and gone to heaven. In supply-side economics they found a philosophy that gave them a free pass out of the debate over the proper role of government. Just cut taxes and grow the economy: government will shrink as a percentage of GDP, even if you don't cut spending. That's why you rarely, if ever, heard Kemp or Gingrich call for spending cuts, much less the elimination of programs and departments."

George W. Bush embraced the Two Santa Claus Theory with gusto, ramming through huge tax cuts – particularly a cut to a maximum 15 percent income tax rate on people like himself who made their principle income from sitting around the pool waiting for their dividend or capital gains checks to arrive in the mail – and blowing out federal spending. Bush even out-spent Reagan, which nobody had ever thought would again be possible.

And it all seemed to be going so well, just as it did in the early 1920s when a series of three consecutive Republican presidents cut income taxes on the uber-rich from over 70 percent to under 30 percent. In 1929, pretty much everybody realized that instead of building factories with all that extra money, the rich had been pouring it into the stock market, inflating a bubble that – like an inexorable law of nature – would have to burst. But the people who remembered that lesson were mostly all dead by 2005, when Jude Wanniski died and George Gilder celebrated the Reagan/Bush supply-side-created bubble economies in a Wall Street Journal eulogy:

"...Jude's charismatic focus on the tax on capital gains redeemed the fiscal policies of four administrations. ... [T]he capital-gains tax has come erratically but inexorably down -- while the market capitalization of U.S. equities has risen from roughly a third of global market cap to close to half. These many trillions in new entrepreneurial wealth are a true warrant of the worth of his impact. Unbound by zero-sum economics, Jude forged the golden gift of a profound and passionate argument that the establishments of the mold must finally give way to the powers of the mind. He audaciously defied all the Buffetteers of the trade gap, the moldy figs of the Phillips Curve, the chic traders in money and principle, even the stultifying pillows of the Nobel Prize."

In reality, his tax cuts did what they have always done over the past 100 years – they initiated a bubble economy that would let the very rich skim the cream off the top just before the ceiling crashed in on working people.

The Republicans got what they wanted from Wanniski's work. They held power for thirty years, made themselves trillions of dollars, cut organized labor's representation in the workplace from around 25 percent when Reagan came into office to around 8 of the non-governmental workforce today, and left such a massive deficit that some misguided "conservative" Democrats are again clamoring to shoot Santa with working-class tax hikes and entitlement program cuts.

And now Boehner, McCain, Brooks, and the whole crowd are again clamoring to be recognized as the ones who will out-Santa Claus the Democrats. You'd think after all the damage they've done that David Gregory would have simply laughed Boehner off the program – much as the American people did to the Republicans in the last election – although Gregory is far too much a gentleman for that. Instead, he merely looked incredulous; it was enough.

The Two Santa Claus theory isn't dead, as we can see from today's Republican rhetoric.

Hopefully, though, reality will continue to sink in with the American people and the massive fraud perpetrated by Wanniski, Reagan, Laffer, Graham, Bush(s), and all their "conservative" enablers will be seen for what it was and is. And the Obama administration can get about the business of repairing the damage and recovering the stolen assets of these cheap hustlers.

Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It," and "Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion." His newest book, due out this summer, is Threshold.


NASA-funded study entitled "Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts"

January 21, 2009

In a NASA-funded study by the National Academy of Sciences entitled Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts, experts detailed what might happen to modern, high-tech society in the event of a “super solar flare” followed by an extreme geomagnetic storm.

The problem begins with the electric power grid. It is particularly vulnerable to bad space weather.

Ground currents induced during geomagnetic storms can actually melt the copper windings of transformers at the heart of many power distribution systems.

Sprawling power lines act like antennas, picking up the currents and spreading the problem over a wide area.

The most famous geomagnetic power outage happened during a space storm in March 1989 when six million people in Quebec lost power for 9 hours.

According to the report, power grids may be more vulnerable than ever.

The problem is interconnectedness.

In recent years, utilities have joined grids together to allow long-distance transmission of low-cost power to areas of sudden demand. Interconnectedness makes the system susceptible to wide-ranging “cascade failures.”


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hackers breach Heartland Payment credit card system

By Byron Acohido
Jan. 23, 2009

Visa and MasterCard have begun notifying member banks around the nation to contact patrons whose card accounts may have been compromised in the Heartland Payment Systems data breach.

Robert Baldwin, Heartland's President and CFO, said in a USA TODAY interview that Visa and MasterCard are "instructing many card issuers" to offer fraud-monitoring protection, replace cards, or do a combination of both for customers whose card purchases were processed by Heartland. "We're heartsick over this," Baldwin said.

Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) declined to elaborate, citing an ongoing FBI criminal investigation.

Heartland disclosed Tuesday that intruders cracked the system it uses to process 100 million card transactions per month from 175,000 merchants.

Heartland began investigating late last fall, tipped by Visa and MasterCard; but its tech staff was stumped. "We brought in a forensic auditor and worked for over a month, and only last week we found proof that our system had been breached," Baldwin said. "Up to that point we had no internal data suggesting any breach."

The case could turn out to be the largest data breach yet reported.

Anyone who used a payment card at one of the restaurants or retailers that rely on Heartland to process card transactions could be at risk. These merchants include "independent business people in towns and cities across America," including some franchise chains, "but not any corporate names anybody would recognize," Baldwin said. Heartland has been unable to ascertain "a specific start and end date" for the intrusion, and has not been able to determine how many transaction records were stolen, he said.

Security and privacy experts say Heartland should assume all accounts that made transactions when the intruders were on the system are compromised. "Are we talking two weeks or two months?" says Roel Schouwenberg, senior antivirus researcher at Kaspersky Lab. "With proper forensics they should be able to conclude the maximum number of possible victims."

Whatever the number, it will be costly. Retail giant TJX set aside $197 million in reserves to deal with the 2007 theft of 94 million records. "This is TJX on steroids," says Paul Davie, COO of database management company Secerno.

Heartland should feel urgency to notify everyone who could be a victim, says Todd Davis, CEO of LifeLock, a fraud-monitoring service. "Victims are sitting naked, not knowing whether to take extra steps to protect themselves," he says.

"The default should be toward notifying all possible victims."


Sunday, January 18, 2009

What's Hayden Hidin'?

By Ray McGovern
January 15, 2009

Outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden is going around town telling folks he has warned President-elect Barack Obama "personally and forcefully" that if Obama authorizes an investigation into controversial activities like water boarding, "no one in Langley will ever take a risk again."

Upon learning this from what we former intelligence officers used to call an "A-1 source" (completely reliable with excellent access to the information), the thought that came to me in the face of such chutzpah was from Cicero's livid oration against the Roman usurper Cataline: "

Quousque, tandem, abutere, Catalina, patientia nostra!" — or "How long, at last, O Cataline, will you abuse our patience!"

Cicero had had enough. And so, apparently, has Obama, who has been confirmed once again of the wisdom of his vote against Hayden's becoming CIA director. It was striking that Obama did not even mention Hayden on Jan. 9, when the president-elect formally named Leon Panetta as his choice to run the CIA and Dennis Blair to be director of national intelligence.

Obama did announce that Mike McConnell, whom Blair will replace after he is confirmed, has been given a sinecure/consolation prize—a seat on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Hayden, a former Air Force general, should be given a seat in the military prison in Leavenworth (see below).

It is not only a bit cheeky, but more than a little disingenuous that Hayden should think to advise Obama "personally and forcefully" against investigating illegal activities authorized by president George W. Bush, since Hayden himself can already be described as an unindicted co-conspirator based on publicly available information.

He has bragged loudly about the crimes in which he was directly involved, and has defended others, like what he has called "high-end" interrogation techniques—water boarding, for example.

Could it be clearer? "Water boarding is torture," said President-elect Obama last Sunday to George Stephanopoulos. Torture is a crime. Obama added, twice, that no one is "above the law," although also citing his "belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward."

Despite the President-elect's equivocations, it seems that President Bush and the current CIA director have a problem. And apparently Hayden's palms are sweaty enough to warrant, in his view, a thinly veiled threat.

In the outrage category, that threat/warning goes well beyond chutzpah. What an insult to my former colleagues at the CIA to suggest that they lack the integrity to fulfill their important duties in consonance with the law; to suggest that they would treat the incoming president like a substitute teacher!

"Should Have Been Court-martialed" So spoke the late Gen. Bill Odom on Jan. 4, 2006 referring to Hayden. Odom's comment came before being interviewed by George Kenney, a former Foreign Service officer and now producer of "Electronic Politics." And President Bush "should be impeached," added Odom with equal fury.

Odom ruled out discussing during the actual interview the warrantless eavesdropping that had been revealed by the New York Times just a few weeks earlier. In a memorandum of conversation Kenney opined that Odom was so angry that he realized that if he started discussing the issue, he would not be able to control himself.

Why was Gen. Odom so angry?

Because he, like all uniformed officers, took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; because he took that oath seriously; and because, as head of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988, he did his best to ensure that all employees strictly observed NSA's "First Commandment"—Thou Shalt Not Eavesdrop on Americans Without a Court Warrant.

Also disappointed was former NSA Director Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, who led NSA from 1977 to 1981, was one of the country's most highly respected senior managers of intelligence, and actually authored parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.

At a public discussion at the New York Public Library on May 8, 2006, Inman took strong issue with Hayden's flouting of FISA:

"There clearly was a line in the FISA statutes which says you couldn't do this," said Inman. He went on to call specific attention to an "extra sentence put in the bill hat said, 'You can't do anything that is not authorized by this bill.'" Inman spoke oproudly of the earlier ethos at NSA, where "it was deeply ingrained that you perate within the law and you get the law changed if you need to."

Hayden the Martinet

In contrast, Michael Hayden, who was NSA director from 1999 to 2005, chose to salute when ordered by Vice President Dick Cheney to create and implement an aggressive NSA program skirting the strict legal restrictions of FISA. Hayden then proceeded to do the White House's bidding in conning the invertebrates posing as leaders of the Senate and House intelligence "oversight" (more accurately—"overlook") committees.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller is a sorry example of the fox co-opted by the hens. There is precious little the administration and intelligence community did not get away with under his feckless tutelage of the Senate intelligence overlook committee. For a discussion of how politicians like Rockefeller and other intelligence "overseers" work hand-in-hand with the folks they are supposed to be overseeing, see:"Jay Rockefeller Awarded Intelligence Public Service Medal: For Telecom and Torture Immunity?"

The timid Rockefeller famously sent a hand-written note to Cheney expressing some misgivings about warrantless eavesdropping, but then misplaced the copy he had squirreled away in his safe. Cheney ridiculed him recently on TV, revealing that Rockefeller recently asked him if he could please make him another copy and send it to him.

In Dec. 2005, when the NSA program of warrantless eavesdropping hit the press, Hayden agreed to play point man with the smoke and mirrors. Small wonder that the White House later deemed him the perfect man to head the CIA.

Examination of Conscience (Short Form)

A whiff of conscience showed through during Hayden's nomination hearing, though, when he flubbed the answer to what was supposed to be a soft, fat pitch from administration loyalist, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri, now vice-chair of the Senate intelligence overlook committee:
"Did you believe that your primary responsibility as director of NSA was to execute a program that your NSA lawyers, the Justice Department lawyers, and White House officials all told you was legal, and that you were ordered to carry it out by the president of the United States?"

Instead of the simple "Yes" that had been scripted, Hayden paused and spoke rather poignantly—and revealingly:

"I had to make this personal decision in early October 2001, and it was a personal decision...I could not not do this."

Why should it have been such an enormous personal decision whether or not to obey a White House order? No one asked Hayden, but it requires no particular acuity to figure it out.

This was a military officer who, like the rest of us, swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; a military man well aware that one must never obey an unlawful order; and an NSA director totally familiar with the FISA restrictions.

That, it seems clear, is why Hayden found it a difficult personal decision. Did the new, post-9/11 "paradigm" – created by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Cheney's lawyer David Addington – trump the Constitution?

Was not illegal electronic surveillance a key part of the second article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon, approved by a 28 to 10 bipartisan House Judiciary Committee vote less than two weeks before Nixon resigned?

No American, save perhaps Admiral Inman and Gen. Odom, knew the FISA law better than Hayden. Nonetheless, in his testimony the general conceded that he did not even require a written legal opinion from NSA lawyers as to whether the new, post-9/11 comprehensive surveillance program, to be implemented without court warrants and without adequate consultation in Congress, could pass the smell test.

Hayden said he sought an oral opinion from then-NSA general counsel Robert L. Deitz, whom Hayden has now brought over to CIA as a "trusted aide." In the fall of 2007, Hayden launched Deitz on an investigation of the CIA's own statutory Inspector General, who had made the mistake of being too diligent in investigating abuses like torture. Enough said.

Hayden Comfortable With Torture

As the Senate Armed Services Committee has now confirmed, President Bush, by executive order of Feb. 7, 2002, gave carte blanche to torture. That was four years before Hayden was confirmed as CIA director. But when asked to be chief apologist for abusive interrogation techniques, Hayden again saluted. And after nearly two years as chief of CIA, Hayden confirmed (on Feb. 5, 2008) that, in 2002-03, "9/11 mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other "high-value" detainees had been water boarded.

Water boarding, an extreme form of interrogation going back at least as far as the Spanish Inquisition, has been condemned as torture by just about everyone—except the legal experts of the Bush administration, including Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who is still having trouble making up his mind on this issue—for reasons that should be abundantly clear.

Oddly, Mukasey is on record as saying that water boarding would be torture if applied to him.

And National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell told Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker magazine, "Whether it is torture by anybody else's definition, for me it would be torture."

McConnell then let the cat out of Mukasey's bag, saying, "If it is ever determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it." It is a safe bet that this would be an extreme embarrassment, at least, for anyone in charge of an agency engaged in torture. Small wonder that Hayden has now summoned the chutzpah to warn the incoming president against launching an investigation into such matters.

Former CIA head George "we-do-not-torture" Tenet who—with the president's Feb. 7, 2002 executive order in hand—was responsible for implementing torture policies, has also evidenced some unease regarding the possibility that he might be held to account for taking liberties with national and international law.

Tenet included these telling sentences in his memoir:
"We were asking for and we would be given as many authorities as CIA ever had. Things could blow up. People, me among them, could end up spending some of the worst days of our lives justifying before congressional overseers our new freedom to act."
(At the Center of the Storm, p. 177-178)

Protesting Too Much

As the revelations piled up, Hayden again went front and center defending water boarding and offering pitiable excuses for the destruction of tapes of the interrogation of high-value detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

On Fox News last June, for example, Hayden insisted that after 9/11, "it was the collective judgment of the American government that these techniques would be appropriate and lawful," including water boarding, which he referred to as a "high-end interrogation technique." Hayden protested, "Now, if you ask me was it lawful, the answer is absolutely."

He went on to explain, "Literally thousands of Americans" have been water boarded in training, and suggested that this experience provided "a body of knowledge as to what the transient and permanent effects would be." Hayden made it clear that he was prepared to instruct his torturers to water board again, if the president ordered it.

Never mind that all those folks water boarded in training knew it would stop as soon as they cried Uncle; never mind that the "technique" is among the most iconic and notorious forms of torture, for which American officers as well as Japanese and Germans have been prosecuted and convicted; never mind Hayden's dubious claims that valuable intelligence has been gotten through water boarding.

And never mind the crystal-clear observation made on Sept. 6, 2006 by Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, head of U.S. Army intelligence:
"No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that."

Chalk it up to my bias—and my experience as an Army intelligence officer—but I'll take Kimmons' word over any blue-suited desk jockey—no matter how many stars on the shoulder of the latter.

Sanctimonious Sam

What brings up Cicero's outrage again is the aura of sanctity with which Michael Hayden has attempted to envelop himself. His blind fealty in implementing and then defending the administration's defiance of the law on eavesdropping made him well qualified, in the administration's eyes, for the job of CIA director. And he gave every evidence of eagerness to be in charge of water boarding and other "high-end" interrogation techniques.

Hayden likes to brag about his moral training and Catholic credentials. At his nomination hearing, for example, he noted that he was the beneficiary of 18 years of Catholic education.

That set me to counting my own years of Catholic education—only 17. Seems I missed the course on "Ethical High-End Interrogation Techniques."

The sooner Hayden is gone the better. I fully expect him to join the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) channels as "expert commentator," and to warm some seats on defense-industry corporate boards. As the President-elect was quick to see, Hayden's credentials appear much better suited for that kind of work.

Quousque, tandem, abutere, Hayden, patientia nostra!

This article appeared first on

Authors Bio: Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. As a CIA analyst for 27 years, he worked under nine directors, several of them at close remove. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Original Content at

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tear down the George W. Bush myth before it starts

by Will Bunch
January 12, 2009

As I write this, George W. Bush is saying goodbye to the White House press corps -- it's good to know that the Bush administration has finally successfully "liberated" someone, which is Bush himself, who is giving a performance for the ages, mugging for the cameras, finally joking about his former alcoholism and his mountain-bike escapes from the pressure. There was a lot to digest. A good chunk of his time was dedicated, not surprisingly, was defending his disastrous policies. He's still hailing "52 months of economic growth" -- hey, the business cycle will cycle up even under a bad president -- despite the statistics proving that Bush's two terms were the worst for job creation for a modern presidency, with the paltry 3 million jobs that were created in eight years after that was the annual average under Bill Clinton.

You know, it's easy to sit here on Jan. 12, 2009, and say that Bush is delusional, that of course Americans will remember that he was at times the most unpopular president of at least the last century, and that the cornerstone of his catastrophic legacy is that he invaded another country without just cause.

But don't be so sure of that. In fact, there are already worrisome signs that history may again accomplish what Bush and Dick Cheney pulled off so successfully in 2002 and 2003, which is conflating the invasion of Iraq with what Donald Rumsfeld might call "things related...not" -- al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack on the United States and the subsequent military action in Afghanistan.

When I say signs, I mean that literally. The picture at the top of this post is a portrait of Bush that was recently unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington (an excellent museum that, coincidentally, I visited for the first time over the recent holiday break.)

In fact, I saw the Bush portrait along with the 41 other presidents (Cleveland twice, remember?) who came before him, but didn't realize that it was the first time the gallery displayed a president while he was still in office.

More importantly, I didn't dwell on the caption alongside it. It's a good thing that other people have -- especially the people at News Corpse, who produced this excellent report over the weekend, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's on the case. The accompanying words say, in part, that Bush's presidency was:

"...marked by a series of catastrophic events," including "the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."

No, no, no, no, no! The attacks did not lead to war in Iraq -- what led to the war in Iraq was a scheme cooked up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to use the fear and the passions stirred up by a deadly attack on American soil and horribly abuse it for their own misguided geopolitical adventures. As Sanders said in explaining a letter he sent to gallery officials:

“The 9/11 attacks did not lead to the war in Iraq,” Sanders said in an interview. “What President Bush was telling us (before the war) was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq was somehow in collusion with Al Qaeda. Those were misstatements of fact, as even President Bush has since acknowledged.”

No big deal, right? Some words on a museum caption. But it is a big deal -- when the misstatements and outright lies piles up over a number of years, until the lies become the accepted legend. This is what I've seen in the last year as I researched my about-to-be-published book -- "Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future" (and you can join the Facebook group here), that misconceptions that seem no big deal at the time can become almost set in stone 20 years later -- with disastrous consequences.

Two quick example with Reagan: The two most iconic myths about his presidency are that his stacked-toward-the-wealthy trickle-down tax cut of 1981 is what turned the American economy around, and that he "won the Cold War." But these are neither what most experts believe now, nor what most everyday Americans believed at the time.

In fact, the American economy roared toward the highest unemployment of the post-Depression era right after the 1981 tax cut, which was partly corrected with a tax increase the following year; a boom that came in the mid-1980s was the result of the interest rate policies of Carter appointee Paul Volcker at the Fed, a worldwide oil glut (partly a result of Carter-era conservation) and -- shades of George W. Bush -- the normal business cycle.

As for the Cold War, when the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989 only 14 percent of Americans and 2 percent of Germans credited Reagan; the vast majority linked it to the reform policies of the Soviet's Mikhail Gorbachev, which were more of a result of the coming implosion of the Communist economy than any feared explosion from Western missiles. That snapshot has been validated by historians, but popular history was diverted by a right-wing cabal.

What's the harm? Just look at Bush's botched tax cuts, which have contributed mightily to that staggering debt that will be faced by our children and grandchildren while largely benefiting the Bernie Madoff crowd -- accompanied by Cheney's misunderstanding of the 1980s that "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" Yet Bush is still defending them at his news conference today, and now there is a risk that too much of Obama's stimulus plan won't go to where it belongs -- rebuilding infrastructure and creating "green-collar" jobs -- because of a nod instead to the power of the Reagan tax myth.

Imagine the mistakes that a future generation of leaders might make if they do not learn the right lessons of the 2000s, that the Iraq war was not a justified defensive response but one of the worst mistakes in American history, and even worse, it was the result of the nation's trusted leaders lying to the public. It's hard to fight a war on more than one front, but to move America forward it's still necessary to dispel the myths of the 1980s even as we must stay vigilant about these alarming new ones.


Sunday, January 11, 2009


Untold Reality-Facts and figures

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

If Americans Knew


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Growing List of Madoff Victims

Wall Street Journal

The fallout from Bernard Madoff’s alleged Ponzi scheme reverberated around the world as the list of investors facing losses widened. Among the biggest losers were charities, hedge funds, and banks in Europe and Asia. Below, see some of the most exposed investors and sort by the amount of potential losses. –Updated 12/26/08

Fairfield Greenwich Advisors An investment management firm $7,500,000,000 More than half of Fairfield Greenwich’s $14.1 billion in assets under management, or about $7.5 billion was connected to Madoff.

Tremont Group Holdings Asset management firm $3,300,000,000 The investment firm is owned by OppenheimerFunds and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. Tremont’s Rye Investment Management business had $3.1 billion invested, and its fund of funds group invested another $200 million.

Banco Santander Spanish bank $2,870,000,000 In euros, the figure is 2.33 billion.Of that, 2.01 billion euros belongs to institutional investors, Optimal Strategic hedge fund investors (international private banking customers); 320 mllion euros belongs to other private banking customers.

Bank Medici Austrian bank $2,100,000,000 The bank had two funds with $2.1 billion (1.5 billion euros) invested with Madoff. Bank Medici is 25% owned by Unicredit SpA and 75% owned by chairwoman Sonja Kohn.

Ascot Partners A hedge fund founded by billionaire investor, philanthropist and GMAC chief J. Ezra Merkin $1,800,000,000 The hedge fund had $1.8 billion under management as of Sept. 30, had substantially all of its assets invested with Mr. Madoff.

Access International Advisors A New York-based investment firm $1,400,000,000 The investment-advisory firm’s co-founder Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet, 65, was found dead in his Manhattan office on Dec. 24, 2008, in an apparent suicide.

Fortis Dutch bank $1,350,000,000 Fortis Bank and its subsidiaries have no direct exposure to Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC, but parts of the group do have a risk exposure to certain funds it provides collateralized lending to. If, as a result of the alleged fraud, the value of the assets of these funds is nil and the respective clients cannot meet their obligations, Fortis Bank Nederland (Holding) N.V.’s loss could amount to around EUR 850 million to EUR 1 billion.

The continuity of Fortis Bank Nederland (Holding) N.V.and its subsidiaries is not at stake in any way.

Union Bancaire Privee Swiss bank $1,000,000,000 The bank’s exposure to Madoff — less than 1.26 billion Swiss francs — is less than 1% of overall bank assets.

HSBC British bank $1,000,000,000 HSBC provided financing to a small number of institutional clients who invested in funds with Madoff; some clients in its global custody business have invested with Madoff, but the company doesn’t believe these arrangements should be a source of exposure to the group.

Natixis SA A French investment bank $554,400,000 The company says it didn’t make direct investment in Madoff-managed funds; some investments made on behalf of customers could have ended up being managed by Madoff. Exposure is about 450 million euros.

Carl Shapiro The founder and former chairman of apparel company Kay Windsor Inc., and his wife $545,000,000 Mr. Shapiro, a 95-year-old apparel entrepreneur and investor, had $545 million with Mr. Madoff, creating what could become the largest personal loss yet in the scandal.

A spokeswoman for the family confirmed that Mr. Shapiro’s charitable foundation, the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, invested $145 million with Mr. Madoff. Mr. Shapiro and his family had an additional $400 million or more invested with Mr. Madoff. Mr. Shapiro, a widely respected philanthropist, was one of Mr. Madoff’s earliest and largest investors.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC British bank $492,760,000 The bank had exposure of about 400 million pounds to Madoff through trading, collateralized lending.

BNP Paribas French bank $431,170,000 The company said it has no investment of its own in Madoff-managed hedge fund but it does have risk exposure (up to 350 million euros) through its trading business and collateralized lending to funds of hedge funds.

BBVA Spanish bank $369,570,000 The company reiterated it doesn’t have direct exposure to Madoff but would face losses of 300 million euros if Madoff funds were found not to exist.

Man Group PLC A U.K. hedge fund $360,000,000 Invested in funds directly/indirectly sub-advised by Madoff Securities

Reichmuth & Co. A Swiss private bank $327,000,000 The Lucerne-based private bank warned investors that around 385 million Swiss francs, or 3.5% of its assets under management, were affected.

Nomura Holdings Japanese brokerage firm $304,000,000 The 27.5 billion yen exposure is through Fairfield Sentry; That amount represents 0.2% of assets under management.

Maxam Capital Management A fund of funds based in Darien, Connecticut $280,000,000 The fund reported a combined loss of $280 million on funds they had invested.

EIM SA A European investment manager with about $11 billion in assets $230,000,000 The European investment manager with about $11 billion in assets. Overall, EIM assets at risk are less than 2% of what it manages
AXA SA French insurance giant $123,200,000 Exposure is well below 100 million euros.

UniCredit SpA Italian Bank $92,390,000 The company’s total exposure is about 75 million euros. Dublin-based Pioneer Alternative Investments is indirectly exposed to Madoff via feeders; Italian clients have zero exposure.

Nordea Bank AB Swedish Bank $59,130,000 The amount of exposure is about 48 million euros.

Hyposwiss A Swiss private bank owned by St. Galler Kantonalbank $50,000,000 Hyposwiss said roughly 0.1% of its overall assets was invested in Madoff products through managed accounts. Another $100 million is exposed through clients who chose to invest in Madoff funds.

St. Galler Kantonalbank said its financial situation and liquidity aren’t hurt by Hyposwiss’ exposure.

Banque Benedict Hentsch & Cie. SA A Swiss-based private bank $48,800,000 Banque Benedict Hentsch said its clients have 56 million Swiss francs at risk. Benedict Hentsch had also recently agreed to merge with Fairfield Greenwich Group, a major Madoff distributor. When the news of Mr. Madoff’s arrest broke, it scrambled to undo that deal.

Fairfield, Conn. town pension fund $42,000,000 The town’s employees board and police and fire board, which cover 971 workers, had $41.9 million invested with Madoff, said Paul Hiller, Fairfield’s chief fiscal officer
Bramdean Alternatives An asset manager $31,200,000 The exposure is about 9.5% of assets.

Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles The largest manager of charitable gift assets for Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists $18,000,000 The amount invested with Madoff represented less than 5% of the Foundation’s assets.

Harel Insurance Investments & Financial Services Ltd. Israel-based insurance firm $14,200,000 N/A

Baloise Holding AG Swiss insurer $13,000,000 N/A

Societe Generale French Bank $12,320,000 The company says its exposure, which is less than 10 million euros, is “negligible.”

Groupama SA French insurer $12,320,000 Exposure is around 10 million euros.

Credit Agricole SA French bank $12,320,000 Exposure is less than 10 million euros.

Richard Spring individual investor $11,000,000 A Boca Raton resident and former securities analyst, says he had about 95% of his net worth invested with Mr. Madoff. Mr. Spring said he was also one of the unofficial agents who connected Mr. Madoff with dozens of investors, from a teacher who put in $50,000 to entrepreneurs and executives who would put in millions.

RAB Capital hedge fund $10,000,000 N/A

Banco Popolare Italian bank $9,860,000 The company says it had indirect exposure of up to 8 million euros; maximum lost on funds distributed to institutional, private clients is about 60 million euros.

Korea Teachers Pension A 10 trillion won Korean pension fund $9,100,000 N/A

Swiss Life Holding Swiss insurer $78,900,000 Swiss Life said it has indirectly invested assets worth around 90 million Swiss francs through funds of funds managed by Madoff Investment Securities.

North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System health system $5,700,000 Exposure represents less than 1% of the health system’s investment portfolio. A donor agreed to reimburse the system for any losses.

Neue Privat Bank Swiss bank $5,000,000 The bank invested in a certificate based on a hedge fund with exposure to Madoff
Clal Insurance Enterprise Holdings An Israel-based financial services company $3,100,000 N/A

Ira Roth individual investor $1,000,000 Mr. Roth, a New Jersey resident, says his family has about $1 million invested through Mr. Madoff’s firm.

Mediobanca SpA via its subsidiary Compagnie Monegasque de Banque. $671,000 Limited to $671,000 via its Compagnie Monegasque de Banque. via its subsidiary Compagnie Monegasque de Banque.

Fred Wilpon owner of New York Mets N/A N/A

Steven Spielberg The Spielberg charity — the Wunderkinder Foundation N/A N/A

JEHT Foundation A New York foundation focused on electoral and criminal justice reform N/A The foundation, which stands for Justice, Equality, Human dignity and Tolerance, will close its doors at the end of January 2009. Major donors Jeanne Levy-Church and Kenneth Levy-Church had all their funds managed through Madoff.

Mortimer B. Zuckerman Charitable Remainder Trust The charitable trust of real-estate magnate, who owns the Daily News and U.S. News & World Report N/A Funds exposed represented 11% of the value of that charitable trust.

Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation A Massachusetts-based Jewish charity N/A The group, which financed trips for Jewish youth to Israel, was forced to close on Friday because the money that supported its programs was invested with Madoff.

Chais Family Foundation A charity that gives away about $12.5 million annually to Jewish causes N/A The California-based charity group invested entirely with Madoff, and was forced to shut down operations on Sunday after years of donating some $12.5 million annually to Jewish causes in Israel and Eastern Europe.

KBC Group NV Belgian banking and insurance group N/A No direct exposure; some indirect exposure through collateralized loans, but the exposure is very limited and immaterial to KBC’s earnings. KBC has also made some loan advances to institutional customers who have invested in funds managed by Madoff Investment Securities, but this shouldn’t have any material impact either, the company said.

Barclays PLC British bank N/A The bank says it has “minimal” exposure” and is “fully collateralized”

Dexia French bank N/A No direct investments in funds managed by Madoff,; private banking clients have total exposure of EUR78 million to funds primarily invested in Madoff funds.

Indirectly, Dexia is exposed through partially collateralized lending operations to funds exposed to Madoff funds for a gross amount of EUR164 million. If the assets managed by Madoff Investment Securities were nil, the above mentioned lending operations could trigger an after tax loss of about EUR85 million for Dexia.

Allianz Global Investors The asset management unit of German insurer Allianz SE N/A The unit says exposure “is not significant.”

Banco Espanol de Credito SA (Banesto) A Spanish bank contolled by Banco Santander N/A Its clients have a total 2 million euro exposure; The amount is included in the 2.33 billion euros already disclosed by parent company Banco Santander.

CNP Assurances French insurer N/A No direct exposure. Indirect exposure of 3 million euros via a fund of funds

UBS AG Swiss bank N/A The bank says is has “no material exposure.” It declined to comment on press reports that its funds-of-funds for clients had $1.4 billion in exposure

Yeshiva University A New York-based private university $110,000,000 Although the university had “no direct investments” in Madoff’s firm, a portion of its endowment had been invested for 15 years with Ascot Partners, which had “substantially all its assets invested with Madoff.” Yeshiva’s investment represents about 8% of its endowment. J. Ezra Merkin had been a University trustee but has resigned in the wake of the scandal.

The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity The charitable foundation of Nobel laureate $15,200,000 The foundation said it invested “substantially all” of its assets.

Leonard Feinstein The co-founder of retailer Bed Bath & Beyond N/A N/A

Sen. Frank Lautenberg The charitable foundation of the New Jersey Senator’s family N/A N/A

Norman Braman former owner of Philadelphia Eagles N/A N/A

Jeffrey Katzenberg The chief executive of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. N/A Mr. Katzenberg’s financial affairs along with those of Mr. Spielberg were managed by Mr. Breslauer, Mr. Katzenberg has suffered millions in Madoff-connected losses, say people familiar with the matter.

Gerald Breslauer The Hollywood financial advisor to Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg N/A Along Messrs Katzenberg and Spielberg, Mr. Breslauer himself has likely sustained heavy losses in the Madoff affair. He customarily invests alongside his clients, say these people, and has sometimes been a larger investor than the people he represented

Kingate Management hedge fund N/A Kingate’s $2.8 billion hedge fund Kiingate Global Fund reportedly invested heavily with Madoff

Julian J. Levitt Foundation Texas-based charity N/A N/A

Loeb family N/A N/A N/A

Lawrence Velvel individual investor N/A Mr. Velvel is dean of the Massachusetts School of Law

Fix Asset Management. hedge fund N/A reportedly invested heavily in Madoff’s portfolios

Genevalor, Benbassat & Cie. money manager in Geneva N/A Members of the Benbassat family, which run the firm, have long known Mr. Madoff. In a statement on its Web site, Genevalor said it “has been reviewing the potential damages caused to its clients” by the alleged Madoff fraud. A statement from the Thema fund said it had assets with Madoff that were now frozen, but did not elaborate.

Banco Espirito Santo Portugese bank $21,400,000 The amount represents about 0.1% of assets under management.

Great Eastern Holding Singapore insurer $44,266,000 Great Eastern said S$7.7 million of its S$64 million exposure is invested from its Life Fund. Great Eastern is 87% owned ny Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp.

M&B Capital Advisers Spanish brokerage $52,800,000 The firm is run by the son and son-in-law of the chairman of Banco Santander. Through M&B, private and institutional investors bought more than $214 million in Madoff’s funds.

Royal Dutch Shell pension fund Global energy and petrochemical company N/A The pension fund fund has an indirect investment that may be affected. The fund originally invested $45 million. The alleged fraud won’t affect the financial position and funding status of the fund.

Phoenix Holdings Israeli financial services company $12,600,000 Phoenix’s insurance unit invested $15 million over the last three years in funds managed by Thema, which made investments through Madoff. In November, the company requested to redeem $10 million. The payment was due Dec. 12 but Phoenix hasn’t received it.

Credicorp Peruvian financial services company $4,500,000 Credicorp’s Atlantic Security Bank unit has $1 million in direct exposure and up to $3.5 million in potential contingencies “related to transactions secured by these investments.”

Fukoku Mutual Life Co. Japanese insurer N/A The company said it holds similar investments trusts to those held by Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. but declined to specify the balance. Sumitomo disclosed that it has about 2 billion yen, or about $22 million, exposed via trusts.

New York Law School law school in New York City $300,000 The school invested the money through its endowment entity. The school filed an investor lawsuit against J. Ezra Merkin, Ascot Partners and BDO Seidman.

Nipponkoa Insurance Japanese insurer N/A The company said it holds similar investments trusts to those held by Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. but declined to specify the balance. Sumitomo disclosed that it has about Y2 billion exposed via trusts.

Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. Japanese insurer $22,000,000 Sumitomo Life didn’t invest directly in the Madoff fund but part of its investment trust holdings were linked to it.

Swiss Reinsurance Co. Swiss insurer $300,000 Indirect exposure, less than $3 million, is through hedge fund investments; no direct exposure.
Aozora Bank Ltd Japanese lender $137,000,000 Aozora entrusted 12.4 billion yen to investment funds, which invested with Madoff. Cerberus Capital Management LP owns a majority stake in Aozora.

UBI Banca Italian bank $86,000,000 The bank said the exposure is linked to proprietary investments. UBI Pramerica and Capitalgest Alternative Investments, the assets-under-management units, have no exposure.

Taiyo Life Insurance Co. Japanese insurer $221,000 Taiyo Life didn’t invest directly in the Madoff fund.

Caisse d’Epargne French bank $11,100,000 Caisse d’Epargne said EUR1 million was for Caisse Nationale des Caisses d’Epargne, the central hub, and “under EUR7 million” was from its regional level. Natixis reported exposure around EUR450 million on Dec. 15.

J. Gurwin Foundation Charity N/A $28 million charity invested heavily in Madoff funds. Gurwin said, “We got a body blow. We did not get killed.”

EFG International Swiss private bank N/A EFG clients have $130 million invested in Madoff through third-party funds sold by EFG. In addition, 0.3% of the bank’s total invested assets, held in custody, are invested in Madoff.

Fire and Police Pension Association of Colorado Pension fund N/A Fund, with $2.5 billion under management, had $60 million invested with Fairfield Greenwich until six months ago

International Olympic Committee Olympic organizer $4,800,000 The IOC’s exposure represents about 1% of its total investment portfolio. Organizing committee confirmed they will be able to meet their obligations.

Support Organization for the Madison Cultural Arts District Wisconsin cultural organization N/A $18 million invested with Fairfield Greenwich until September. A spokesman for the Overture Center in Madison, Wis., built with SOMCAD funds, said, “Speculation that SOMCAD could be on the hook is not outlandish.”

Credit Industrial et Commercial French financial-services group $125,400,000 The bank has no direct exposure to Madoff but could be affected through an intermediary.

Hadassah U.S. women’s zionist organization $90,000,000 N/A

United Association Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 267 in Syracuse Local union pension and health care funds N/A The union is still trying to determine the extent of its losses. Its investments with Mr. Madoff go back 15 years.

Ramaz School A Jewish school in New York $6,000,000 N/A

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun A synagogue in New York $3,500,000 N/A

The Maimonides School A Jewish day school in Brookline, Mass. $3,000,000 The school did not directly invest with Madoff, but the school was the sole beneficiary of a trust that lost about $3 million.

Yad Sarah An Israeli nonprofit $1,500,000 With a $21 million budget in 2008, Yad Sarah likely won’t expand operations or develop any new services or projects in 2009.

List Source:

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Did Palin abuse power again for future son-in-law?

By Andrew McLemore
Raw Story
January 3, 2009

A critic of Gov. Sarah Palin claimed the Alaska politician may have once again abused her power to obtain an apprenticeship for her soon-to-be son-in-law Levi Johnston.Dan Fagan, who also publishes a Web site called the, said federal regulations require all apprentices to have a high school diploma, which Johnston does not have.

"So how is it that the governor's soon-to-be son-in-law is working in an apprentice program?" Fagan wrote in an column. "Is this another case of the governor believing the rules don't apply to her or her family?"

Called "Troopergate" by the media, an investigation of Palin concluded in October that she abused her power as an Alaska governor in the firing of the state public safety commissioner.

Palin defended her daughter's fiance from what she considers inaccurate descriptions of Johnston as a high school dropout. Palin said he is working for his diploma through a correspondence program.

Palin said she is "over the moon" about her future son-in-law.

"You need to know that both Levi and Bristol are working their butts off to parent and going to school and working at the same time," Palin said in her first public statement about the father of her grandchild.

But Fagan questioned how Johnston gained entrance to the apprenticeship program when similar programs have long waiting lists. There are only three in the state, according to Fagan, and at least one of them has a waiting list of at least 100 people.

"I believe 2009 will be the year more and more Alaskans will come to realize Sarah Palin is in way over her head as governor, doesn't always play by the rules, and is, at times, less than honest," Fagan wrote.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Disintegrating U.S.?

Critics Come Unglued, Russian's Prediction Spurs Celebrity, Scorn

By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 3, 2009

For seriously predicting that the United States will break into six parts in June or July of 2010, Igor Panarin has suddenly become a Russian state-media celebrity. Hardly a day goes by without another interview or two for the KGB-trained, Kremlin-backed senior analyst. The clamor in Russia for his ideas is growing, he says.

Panarin's disintegration divination comes complete with a map. In it, Alaska goes to Russia.

Hawaii goes to Japan or China. "The California Republic" -- the West from Utah and Arizona to the Pacific -- goes to China. "The Texas Republic" -- the South from New Mexico to Florida -- goes to Mexico. "Atlantic America" -- the Northeast from Tennessee and South Carolina up to Maine -- joins the European Union. And "The Central North-American Republic" -- the Plains from Ohio to Montana -- goes to Canada.

Few Americans paid any attention to his novel views until this week, when the Wall Street Journal trumpeted them on Page 1. Within hours, the U.S. media began the counterattack.

This is preposterous, Time magazine said in a blog.

"The man knows nothing at all about American regional differences," wrote Justin Fox, Time's business and economics columnist. South Carolina is like Massachusetts? Tennessee will join with France? Idaho will find something to love about California? Wyoming will snuggle up to Ottawa? Alabama will happily report to Mexico City? "Yeah, right!" Fox wrote. "Has this man ever been to the United States? Has he never even heard of 'The Nine Nations of North America'? . . . Igor, do your homework!"

Ahem, yes, that 1981 "Nine Nations" book I myself wrote. Well, I was young. I needed the money.

The regional bloggers who find it useful to view the continent functioning as if it were nine separate economies or distinct cultures that pay little regard to state or national boundaries have been loudly a-chirp about Panarin for a while.

Their complaints are similar to Time's. They're not so concerned about some Russkie anticipating American disunion, devolution, revolution, fratricide and overthrow of the government. What the hey, we celebrate those every Fourth of July. Never uncommon in North America is the geopolitical urge to take a walk for a pack of cigarettes. At any given time, there are as many as a dozen secession movements ongoing. The one getting the most press currently is the Second Vermont Republic.

Such unhappy places usually want to secede because they are marginal, cheated, powerless, sparsely populated areas neglected by the big urban centers that control powerful states. The reason their secession movements are thoroughly ignored is that they are marginal, cheated, powerless, sparsely populated areas neglected by the big urban centers that control powerful states.

The regionalists' problem with Panarin is that he couldn't be more clueless about where the real fault lines of culture and values are.

Las Vegas beats with the same heart as Portland, Ore.? Detroit is the soul mate of Bozeman, Mont.?

Good Lord, Richmond is the same place as Fairfax?

One possible explanation for how Panarin's hypothesis is being eagerly lapped up in Russia is that the Kremlin is projecting its own insecurities onto the United States.

"What may be clouding Mr. Panarin's crystal ball is the mistaken belief that U.S. citizens view themselves in the same way that residents of the old Soviet Union viewed that state," e-mails Thomas J. Baerwald, an investigator in a project called "Beyond Borders" and past president of the Association of American Geographers.

Just before the breakup of the Soviet Union, four Soviet and five American geographers started "Beyond Borders" to map within the Soviet empire the human values that endure -- those that have taken centuries to produce and are not likely to change precipitously. Their approach was based on the idea that all countries have underlying patterns of pasts, futures, loyalties, industries, climates, resources and politics. These functional cultural regions, in turn, frequently are far more significant than the arbitrary boundaries and surveyors' mistakes that usually make up politically defined borders.

To take one former Soviet example: The European gateway of St. Petersburg, across from Scandinavia, is profoundly different from all those Muslim "-stans" north and east of Iran, from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan, that declared their independence from the Soviet Union the first chance they got.

Those departures still burn some Russians who hate the loss of empire. Perhaps they would like to shed crocodile tears at the idea that history might repeat itself near the U.S.-Mexico border.

When the Soviet Union broke apart, 14 independent countries emerged in addition to Russia.

Quite a few of them instantly and desperately turned to Europe for their futures, including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine -- not to mention all those Warsaw Pact places from Poland to the late Czechoslovakia. Might it warm a few cockles in Moscow to think that Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey or New Hampshire could go the same way?

Oh, and be still my Kremlin heart: those shooting wars in the Caucuses, in Chechnya and Georgia? If only those would erupt in the Rockies!

"I really see Panarin's argument as Russia looking in the mirror and projecting that onto the United States. 'Here they speak Spanish. Of course this can't hold together. Of course this will fall apart when the economy tanks,' " says Kathleen Braden of Seattle Pacific University, another member of the "Beyond Borders" team.

"The Russian mentality is, 'There are ethnic borders, and they won't go away. The only thing that keeps this melting pot together is money.' There's also a sense of 'Our empire broke up; why shouldn't theirs?' "

"We constantly were corrected when we tried to use the term 'Soviets' as a catch-all phrase for residents of the U.S.S.R.," Baerwald says. "People firmly told us that they were Russians or Lithuanians or Estonians or Ukrainians or other terms that identified a region or subregion that described their own geographical identity. In contrast, if you ask U.S. residents what term describes who they are, an enormous majority will reply 'I am an American.' Even in those places where regional loyalties are especially strong, such as Texas, loyalties to the U.S. are far greater than they are to states or regions.

"I suspect this would be true even had the U.S. not had the powerful reinforcement of national identity that followed in the wake of 9/11. But one can compare the way that U.S. citizens have dealt with the Iraqi war in comparison with the way the nation was torn by an equally unpopular war in Vietnam four decades earlier, and sense that there is a very strong belief among a very large percentage of Americans that while we may have problems and differences, the best way to attain a positive future is to remain solid as a united nation."

We can hope that Igor Panarin is offered the opportunity for a long road trip in these parts, either before or after his 2010 deadline for the end of the federal empire.

Perhaps he would discover what the acutely perceptive Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville did in the 1830s, as he wrote in "Democracy in America": that we Americans are an extravagantly creative people in how we generate social forms.

"Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations," he wrote. "In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others."

Indeed, Tocqueville noted, community here was rarely the same thing as formal government.

I have never thought that North America is flying apart, or that it should. But I once talked with someone who did: Archie Green, a University of Texas professor, folklorist and regionalist.

What he liked about the observation that North America was made up of quite real, tangible and long-lived civilizations such as the breadbasket or the Pacific Northwest is that if Washington, D.C., were to slide into the Potomac tomorrow under the weight of its many burdens and crises, the result would be okay. The future would not be chaos; it would be a shift. North America would not suddenly become a strange and alien world. It would be a collection of healthy, powerful constituent parts -- for example, Dixie -- that we've known all our lives.

Green saw this as a resilient response of a tough people reaffirming their self-reliance. It's not that social contracts are dissolving; it's that new ones are being born.

Check it out, Igor. In addition to the Mississippi Delta not being Belarus, you might find these real places nothing like your imagination.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Iran urges Arabs to act on Gaza

Ahmadinejad also criticised the United Nations asking "to which nations does this UN belong"

Al Jazeera
December 31, 2008

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, has told the Arab League it should take action "quickly" to end the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Speaking on Wednesday as Arab ministers met in Cairo, Ahmadinejad warned that setting up committees and making speeches would not be an adequate response to the offensive that has killed nearly 400 Palestinians.

"If the Arab League does not want to do anything today, when does it want to act?" he told a rally in Zahedan in southeast Iran, the Reuters news agency reported. Ahmadinejad did not suggest what action Arab leaders should take.

"Aren't these oppressed Palestinians Arabs? So, when should the capacity of the Arab League be used? The Arab League should act quickly," he said.

The Iranian leader also criticised the United Nations' response to the assault on Gaza.

"To which nations does this UN belong? This security council is for the security of which part of the world?" he said.Unity urgedAt the opening of the Cairo meeting, Amr Moussa, general secretary of the Arab League, called for an immediate meeting of rival Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah.

However, expectations were extremely low that the summit would achieve a major breakthrough in the crisis.

Nisreen Al Shamayleh, reporting from Cairo for Al Jazeera, said that despite widespread protests across the Arab world it was unlikely that the league would agree a concrete response.

"We have seen strong reaction from the Arab street and strong condemnation of the Israeli attacks and Arab inaction and silence," she said. "Many people believe it shouldn't have taken 390 Palestinian casualties and 2,000 Palestinian injuries for the Arab ministers to get together."

She said the outcome of the meeting could echo the league's emergency summit on the war in Lebanon in 2006, which failed to lead to a concrete response.

Jordan's Prince El Hassan Bin Talal told Al Jazeera he believed that action from league members was "overdue" and that more demonstrations would be held across the Arab world in protest against Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

"I think the need for the organisation of an Islamic conference position is long overdue and one of an Arab League position is also overdue," Jordan's Prince El Hassan Bin Talal said.

Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, arrived in Syria at the start of his diplomatic tour of the region.

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Damascus, said: "It is pretty ironic that more than 22 countries are meeting and expectations are very low that they will do anything to help and now all hopes are pinned on the Turkish prime minister."