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Friday
Mar072008

GAO Seeks to Review Finances of CIA & Other Intel Agencies!

As he leaves his post as the nation's top auditor, David M. Walker is again asking Congress to give the Government Accountability Office the power to review the finances of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Walker, whose 10-year term as comptroller general concludes Wednesday, is supporting legislation that would give the GAO access to the last major area of the federal government not subject to its audits and investigations.

With some support on Capitol Hill, Walker said he is fighting powerful legislative patrons of intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, who have resisted examinations of how taxpayer dollars are spent.

"Everybody's for accountability in Washington until they're the ones subjected to it," Walker said in an interview. "There are a lot of forces that are vested in the status quo."

The GAO, Congress's investigative arm, has the power to review the finances and management of most government agencies. But the Justice Department issued a ruling in the early 1990s that restricted oversight of the CIA to House and Senate select committees on intelligence.

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Friday
Mar072008

GOP Campaign Arm Missing Cash

Authorities investigating possible fraud by a longtime GOP operative have determined that the House Republican campaign committee has lost a substantial sum of money, and several GOP lawmakers believe funds were pilfered from their campaign accounts as well, law enforcement and Capitol Hill sources said yesterday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House Republicans' campaign arm, lost a "significant amount of money," said a law enforcement official who also confirmed that the FBI has begun investigating the committee's longtime treasurer, Christopher J. Ward.

An official close to the NRCC said preliminary reviews of its bank statements and reports to the Federal Election Commission demonstrate clear discrepancies between "what [money] we have and what we should have."

"We don't know if it's a big number or a small number," the official said. "It looks like something was stolen. But we don't have an accurate number. We don't know."

Ward has served as treasurer for dozens of other campaigns and political action committees during a lengthy career as a political operative.

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Friday
Mar072008

Operation Merlin: The CIA-Mossad plot against Iran

The Bush administration is prolonging the hunting season against journalists. The latest victim is James Risen, The New York Times reporter for national security and intelligence affairs. About three months ago, a federal grand jury issued a subpoena against him, ordering Risen to give evidence in court. A heavy blackout has been imposed on the affair, with the only hint being that it has to do with sensitive matters of "national security."

But conversations with several sources who are familiar with the affair indicate that Risen has been asked to testify as part of an investigation aimed at revealing who leaked apparently confidential information about the planning of secret Central Intelligence Agency and Mossad missions concerning Iran's nuclear program.

Risen included this information in his book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," which was published in 2006. In the book, he discusses a number of ideas which he says were thought up jointly by CIA and Mossad operatives to sabotage Iran's nuclear capabilities.

One of these ideas was to build electromagnetic devices, smuggling them inside Iran to sabotage electricity lines leading to the country's central nuclear sites. According to the plan, the operation was supposed to cause a series of chain reactions which would damage extremely powerful short circuits in the electrical supply that would have led to failures of the super computers of Iran's nuclear sites

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Friday
Mar072008

U.S. Wants to Keep Iraq NIE Secret

US intelligence officials say that the National Intelligence Board -- comprised of the heads of the 16 intelligence agencies and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell -- will decide whether to publicly release the new classified estimate on Iraq or keep it secret, Washington Post reported.

The document, scheduled to be delivered to Congress before testimony in early April by Army General David H. Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and US Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, is an update of a last summer's report, predicting an increasingly precarious political situation in the war-shattered country.

Although McConnell, in internal guidance issued in October, said that his policy was that they "should not be declassified", the intelligence board decided in November to make its assessment on Iran's nuclear program public.

The estimate that confirmed Iran's nuclear program is civilian undermined the Bush administration's position on Tehran.

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Friday
Mar072008

Thank You, Ron Paul!

GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul is hinting to supporters that he is ending his long-shot campaign for the presidency.

The Texas Republican congressman addressed supporters in a 7 1/2-minute video on his campaign Web site Thursday night and did not specifically say he was quitting the race.

He said that although victory in the conventional political sense is not available in the presidential race, many victories have been achieved due to the hard work and enthusiasm of his supporters.

He said that he hoped that one day he and his supporters could look back and say his campaign was a significant first step that signaled a change in direction for the country.

Paul said their job now was to plan for the next phase of their effort.

Ron Paul 2008



Thursday
Mar062008

'Frankenfoods' Giant Monsanto Plays Bully Over Consumer Labeling

Since 1901, Monsanto has brought us Agent Orange, PCBs, Terminator seeds and recombined milk, among other infamous products. But it's currently obsessed with the milk, or, more importantly, the milk labels, particularly those that read "rBST-free" or "rBGH-free." It's not the "BST" or "BGH" that bothers them so much; after all, bovine somatrophin, also known as bovine growth hormone, isn't exactly what the company is known for. Which is to say, it's naturally occurring. No, the problem is the "r" denoting "recombined." There's nothing natural about it. In fact, the science is increasingly pointing to the possibility that recombined milk is -- surprise! -- not as good for you as the real thing.

"Consumption of dairy products from cows treated with rbGH raise a number of health issues," explained Michael Hansen, a senior scientist for Consumers Union. "That includes increased antibiotic resistance, due to use of antibiotics to treat mastitis and other health problems, as well as increased levels of IGF-1, which has been linked to a range of cancers."

For its part, Monsanto is leaning on the crutch of terminology to derail the mounting threat to its bottom line: The consumer-driven revolution against recombined food. And so the St. Louis-based agri-chem giant has launched a war of words in the form of a full-court press to suppress the "rBGH-free" label at the state level. And it's sticking to its guns by obfuscating and indulging in cheap semantics.

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Thursday
Mar062008

Govt. Officials Monitor Thousands of Letters Without Warrants

The US postal service approves more than 10,000 requests from US law enforcement each year to record names, addresses and other information from the outside of packages, according to information released through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The warrantless surveillance mail program -- as it is known -- requires only the approval of the US Postal Inspection Service Director, and not a judge.

Since 1998, the inspector has approved more than 97% of requests during criminal inquiries, new documents show. According to USA Today, which filed the request, "In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the most recent year provided, officials granted at least 99.5% of requests."

"The idea of the government tracking that amount of mail is quite alarming," Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national security project Jameel Jaffer told the paper. "When you realize that (the figure) does not include national security matters, the numbers are even more alarming."

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Thursday
Mar062008

Bank Bill Would Insulate Mortgage Lenders!!!

By Lisa Rein / Washington Post

Even as Maryland leaders move to mitigate the home foreclosure crisis, a bill to save state-chartered banks from paying hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds and damages to homeowners is moving quietly through the General Assembly.

The legislation, to be taken up by the state Senate today, has attracted little public notice. But it is the subject of one of the biggest lobbying battles in Annapolis in years, pitting the powerful state banking industry against Peter G. Angelos, Baltimore Orioles owner and lawyer. Both sides say they are championing the interests of thousands of consumers who take out home equity loans or lines of credit on their mortgages, often to fund renovations or consolidate debt.

At issue are the penalties banks charge borrowers who pay off the loans early, depriving lenders of interest payments, which generate their biggest revenue. The banks have for years agreed to waive upfront closing costs on second mortgages -- usually $500 to $1,500 -- as long as borrowers agree to keep their debt for two or three years.

The system was thrown into turmoil in December when the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a Baltimore man who sued Provident Bank over a $681 fee he was charged when he refinanced a $17,000 home equity loan at a lower interest rate.

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Thursday
Mar062008

West Bank Barriers Keep Rising Despite Promises of Relief

Commute Becomes 'Daily Humiliation'

Karim Edwan's skepticism about the U.S.-backed Middle East peace process is rooted in his morning commute.

To travel from his home in this West Bank village to his job as an emergency room doctor, the 35-year-old must take at least two cabs, skirt a barbed-wire fence, climb a dirt mound, talk his way through multiple Israeli checkpoints and remove his shoes for a full-body security check.

Before the obstacles were imposed, the trip to his hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus took 30 minutes. Now it takes two hours.

"It's my daily humiliation," he said.

The hope of Abbas and other participants in the Annapolis peace talks last November was that the Israeli-occupied West Bank would become a model for what negotiations could bring.

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Thursday
Mar062008

FBI Chief Confirms Misuse of Subpoenas

Security Letters Used to Get Personal Data

By Dan Eggen / Washington Post

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told senators yesterday that agents improperly used a type of administrative subpoena to obtain personal data about Americans until internal reforms were enacted last year.

Mueller said a forthcoming report from the Justice Department's inspector general will find that abuses recurred in the agency's use of national security letters in 2006, echoing similar problems to those identified in earlier audits.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine reported a year ago that the FBI used such letters -- which are not subject to a court's review -- to improperly obtain telephone logs, banking records and other personal records of thousands of Americans from 2003 to 2005. An internal FBI audit also found that the bureau potentially violated laws or agency rules more than 1,000 times in such cases.

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Thursday
Mar062008

Fed Report Signals Weakness in Variety of Industries

The economic downturn, which started in the handful of states where the housing market was in the worst shape, is spreading to almost every corner of the country and to a wide variety of industries, according to a Federal Reserve report released yesterday.

The trouble is showing up in such disparate ways as weaker demand for staffing services in New England, lower trucking volume in Ohio and surrounding states, and a resistance to spending money on capital projects by financial institutions on the West Coast.

That assessment is based on the "beige book," a compilation of anecdotes from businesses around the country gathered by the Fed's 12 regional banks. The previous report, in the middle of January, found signs of weakness in certain states and industries but described a U.S. economy that was generally holding up.

This time, two-thirds of the Fed's districts described a softening or weakening in the pace of business activity, and the others all referred to subdued, slow, or modest growth.

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Thursday
Mar062008

Govt. Needs to Investigate Predatory Lending Practices

Mortgage Foreclosures Rise


By Kathleen M. Howley / Bloomberg

U.S. mortgage foreclosures rose to an all-time high at the end of 2007 as borrowers with adjustable-rate loans walked away from properties before their payments increased, the Mortgage Bankers Association said today.

New foreclosures jumped to 0.83 percent of all home loans in the fourth quarter from 0.54 percent a year earlier. Late payments rose to a 23-year high, the organization said in a report today.

``We're seeing people give up even before they get to the reset because they couldn't afford the home in the first place,'' said Jay Brinkmann, vice president of research and economics for the Washington-based trade group.

The Bush administration is urging lenders to avert foreclosures by modifying mortgage terms amid the worst housing slump in a quarter century. The Federal Reserve has slashed its benchmark interest rate twice this year to try to avert the first recession since 2001. The central bank yesterday said the net worth of U.S. households decreased by $532.9 billion during the fourth quarter as home values fell.

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Thursday
Mar062008

Congress Threatens To Pull Funding for Air Force Tankers

Congressional leaders threatened yesterday to withhold funding for one of the U.S. military's biggest aircraft programs because the $40 billion contract went to a group that includes a European manufacturer.

Since Friday, when the Air Force awarded the initial part of a contract to replace 179 Air Force refueling tankers to the team of Northrop Grumman and European Aeronautic Defence and Space, congressional leaders have questioned why that bid was chosen over one by Boeing, the largest U.S. aircraft manufacturer. Critics have said that the Air Force is outsourcing its purchasing in a way that could threaten national security and have accused the service of not taking the creation of American jobs into account.

At a two-hour hearing of the House panel that controls defense spending, committee chairman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), said: "There is the industrial base you have to consider. The political implications are important. . . . This committee funds this program. All this committee has to do is stop the money, and this program is not going forward."

After the hearing Murtha said, "This is not a done deal."

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