Legislation moving through Congress would make it easier for corporate wrongdoers to escape responsibility for defrauding investors, harming the environment and otherwise maximizing profits at the expense of the health and financial well-being of ordinary citizens, says Nan Aron, president of Alliance For Justice (allianceforjustice.org). The House passed the Class Action Fairness Act (HR 1115) on a 253-170 vote July 12 and the Senate was expected to take up its counterpart, S 274, in September. The House bill would enable such notorious corporate wrongdoers as Enron's former chairman Ken Lay and senior managers at WorldCom, ImClone and other corporations who are defendants in class action lawsuits pending in federal courts to automatically delay their cases for years. "We call these provisions of the House bill the 'Enron Escape Clause'," Aron said. "Unfortunately, President Bush supports all the provisions of the House-passed bill and wants the Senate to take up that version rather than its own." Even if the Senate passes its own version (which is not retroactive), the president and such outspoken HR 1115 proponents as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (whose congressional district includes Houston, Enron's home town), could pressure House-Senate conferees to ensure the retroactive Enron escape provisions remain in the final bill. Moreover, both the House and Senate versions of the bill would move virtually all state court class actions into federal courts. If the House version prevails in conference committee, the "Enron escape clause" could become available to countless current and future wrongdoers nationwide.
GLOBAL JUSTICE MOVEMENTS. Immigrant workers and allies will set out from eight major US cities, starting Sept 20 in Los Angeles and cross the country in an Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride inspired by the Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement. They will stop in Washington, D.C., to meet with Congress members before travelling on to New York City for an Oct. 4 rally. See www.iwfr.org. A March on the Pentagon Oct 25 will include delegations from around the world demonstrating that the World Unites Against US Militarism. Demonstrations against Free Trade Area of the Americas will take place in Miami Nov. 19-21 as trade ministers from 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere continue negotiations on the FTAA. See www.stopftaa.org. And a vigil and direct action will take place at School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., November 22-23. See www.soawatch.org.
WAR COSTS RIVAL VIETNAM. The monthly bill for US military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan now rivals Pentagon spending during the Vietnam War. The Pentagon is spending nearly $5 billion per month in Iraq and Afghanistan, a pace that would bring yearly costs to almost $60 billion, Dave Moniz notes in USA Today. Sept. 8. That does not include money spent on rebuilding Iraq's electric grid, water supply and other infrastructure, costs which had no parallel in Vietnam. In Vietnam, the US spent $111 billion during the eight years of the war, from 1964 to 1972. Adjusted for inflation, that's more than $494 billion, an average of $61.8 billion per year, or $5.15 billion per month.
BRITISH MP: 9/11 PRETEXT FOR US DOMINANCE. The mainstream US media doesn't think it newsworthy, but Michael Meacher, former environment minister in the cabinet of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, believes the US used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to pursue global domination. He noted in the London Guardian Sept. 6 that the blueprint for a global Pax Americana was drawn up in September 2000 by the neoconservative think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC). It shows a push to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. The plan "provides a much better explanation of what actually happened before, during and after 9/11 than the global war on terrorism thesis," Meacher wrote.
That would explain why US authorities did little or nothing to pre-empt the events of 9/11 after at least 11 countries provided advance warning to the US of the 9/11 attacks, he wrote. Plans to hit Washington targets with airplanes were known as early as 1996. In 1999 a US intelligence report noted that "al-Qaeda suicide bombers could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA or the White House."
Meacher also noted that 15 of the 9/11 hijackers obtained their visas in Saudi Arabia. Michael Springman, the former head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah, has stated that since 1987 the CIA had been illicitly issuing visas to unqualified applicants from the Middle East and bringing them to the US for training in terrorism for the Afghan war in collaboration with bin Laden. Newsweek on Sept. 15, 2001, also reported that five of the hijackers received training at secure US military installations in the 1990s.
Leads prior to 9/11 were not followed up when French Moroccan flight student Zacarias Moussaoui (now thought to be the 20th hijacker) was arrested in August 2001 after a teacher reported he showed a suspicious interest in learning how to steer large airliners. But when FBI agents learned from French intelligence that Moussaoui had radical Islamist ties, a warrant to search his computer was turned down by FBI headquarters.
Then on Sept. 11, not a single fighter plane from Andrews Air Force Base was scrambled to investigate from 8:20 a.m., when the first hijacking was suspected, until after the third hijacked plane had hit the Pentagon at 9:38 a.m., despite standard FAA intercept procedures that called for fighter intercepts once an aircraft had moved significantly off its flight plan.
"Was this inaction simply the result of key people disregarding, or being ignorant of, the evidence? Or could US air security operations have been deliberately stood down on Sept. 11?" he asked, noting that the former US prosecutor John Loftus has said: "The information provided by European intelligence services prior to 9/11 was so extensive that it is no longer possible for either the CIA or FBI to assert a defense of incompetence."
"Nor is the US response after 9/11 any better," Meacher wrote. "No serious attempt has ever been made to catch [Osama] Bin Laden. In late September and early October 2001, leaders of Pakistan's two Islamist parties negotiated Bin Laden's extradition to Pakistan to stand trial for 9/11. However, a US official said, significantly, that 'casting our objectives too narrowly' risked 'a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr Bin Laden was captured.' The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Myers, went so far as to say that 'the goal has never been to get Bin Laden' (AP, April 5, 2002). The whistleblowing FBI agent Robert Wright told ABC News (Dec. 19, 2002) that FBI headquarters wanted no arrests. And in November 2001 the US airforce complained it had had al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in its sights as many as 10 times over the previous six weeks, but had been unable to attack because they did not receive permission quickly enough (Time magazine, May 13, 2002). None of this assembled evidence, all of which comes from sources already in the public domain, is compatible with the idea of a real, determined war on terrorism." [The White House also has resisted a thorough, independent study of the debacle and 9/11 survivors report frustration in their dealings with the administration.
"The catalogue of evidence does, however, fall into place when set against the PNAC blueprint," Meacher said. "From this it seems that the so-called 'war on terrorism' is being used largely as bogus cover for achieving wider US strategic geopolitical objectives. Indeed Tony Blair himself hinted at this when he said to the Commons liaison committee: 'To be truthful about it, there was no way we could have got the public consent to have suddenly launched a campaign on Afghanistan but for what happened on Sept. 11' (London Times, July 17, 2002). Similarly Rumsfeld was so determined to obtain a rationale for an attack on Iraq that on 10 separate occasions he asked the CIA to find evidence linking Iraq to 9/11; the CIA repeatedly came back empty-handed (Time magazine, May 13, 2002).
The conclusion, Meacher wrote, "must surely be that the 'global war on terrorism' has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda -- the US goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies required to drive the whole project." Meacher was environmental minister from May 1997 until June 2003, when he quit in protest of the war in Iraq. He remains a Labour member of Parliament. [See the essay at CommonDreams.org for Sept. 6.]
MENDACITY INDEX CITES DUBYA. This summer, after it became clear that President George W. Bush had made false statements about Iraq's nuclear weapons capacity and links to al Qaeda in his January State of the Union address, some accused him of being the most dishonest president in recent American history. Washington Monthly set up a Mendacity Index to test such accusations. It recruited a nominating committee of noted journalists and pundits who picked the most serious fibs, deceptions, and untruths spoken by each of the four most recent presidents. The top six untruths were picked for each commander-in-chief, then the list went to a panel of judges with longtime experience in Washington. The results in the September WM were a little surprising, as Bill Clinton's fibs were judged least mendacious, with a score of 3.1 out of 5 (lower scores being better). George H.W. Bush was second with 3.2, followed by Ronald Reagan's 3.3 and Dubya's 3.6.
ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE. George W. Bush's televised speech Sept. 7 reminded Tom Tomorrow (thismodernworld.com) of the guys who come on subway cars and begin their spiel: "Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry to disturb you, my name is George W. Bush and I've had a run of bad luck, can you please find it in your hearts to donate eighty seven billion dollars ... Oh, and Europe, old friend, old pal? About that 'freedom fry' business? Just kidding!" On the revisionist 9/11 movie produced by Bush apologists, Tomorrow noted the oddity of casting Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central's That's My Bush, which was cancelled a month before 9/11. But he noted another particularly inspired casting choice: Condi Rice was played by the actress best known as the scheming wife of 24's President Palmer; the character spent the second season of the show conspiring with wealthy oilmen to start an unnecessary war in the Middle East.
IF THIS IS A RECOVERY ... Year that the Bush administration says the recession ended: 2001. Amount by which the number of people in poverty grew last year, in millions: 1.4. Number of jobs that have been lost since the "recovery" started, in millions: 1. Number of manufacturing jobs lost in North and South Carolina since January 2001: 180,000. Last time the country experienced a "hiring slump" this bad: 1939. Sources on file at the Institute for Southern Studies (www.southernstudies.org).
GAO: NO MALPRACTICE INSURANCE CRISIS. A General Accounting Office (GAO) study found that medical groups manufactured a crisis to push their agenda of changing the medical malpractice insurance system, Public Citizen said Sept. 4. The GAO study found that the American Medical Association (AMA) and other medical provider groups manufactured a "crisis" of access to care -- a crisis they claimed was caused by malpractice lawsuits. The GAO debunked claims that doctors in AMA-designated "crisis states" were no longer providing medical care to patients. Instead, the GAO found that the volume of medical care delivered to patients in five states had increased when the AMA suggested it was decreasing. Congressional lawmakers are considering a measure to cap non-economic damages provided to victims of medical malpractice at $250,000. "The GAO report confirmed what Public Citizen has found in its numerous state studies -- that liability laws have a positive effect on doctors' behavior, not the negative effects so often alleged," said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president. "The GAO study also shows that Bush administration lies are not limited to foreign policy." (See Pulbic Citizen's malpractice site at www.medicalmalpracticefacts.org.)
UTILITIES GAVE MILLIONS TO PROBERS. Members of the House committee investigating August's massive Northeast electricity failure have raised more than $7 million from electric utilities over the past 15 years, the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics (opensecrets.org.) reported. The 57 members of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which opened hearings Sept. 3 looking into the causes of the worst blackout in US history, have raised $7.2 million from the industry in their campaign accounts and leadership PACs since 1989. The committee members collected $2.3 million in the 2002 election cycle alone and have taken in more than $675,000 so far in the current cycle. Committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) has raised more than $377,000 from the electric utilities since 1989, all but about $10,000 from industry PACs. But the committee's top recipient of money from the industry is Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the committee's top-ranking Democrat, who has raised nearly $649,000. (See www.capitaleye.org.)
MIND THE GAP. What was once a gap is now a chasm, the Economic Policy Institute found in its study of the enormous difference in wealth between this nation's richest and poorest. Based on data from the Congressional Budget Office, EPI found that from 1979 to 2000 the after-tax real income of the top 1% of households tripled while the poorest 20% of households saw an increase of only 15.1%.
YOUNG EYES GA. SENATE RACE. Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and UN ambassador, is leaning strongly toward running for the seat of retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), the Washington Post reported. Young, 71, a veteran civil rights leader and former US House member, has "all but decided to make the race" the Post reported, citing a Democratic campaign source. Republicans captured Georgia's other Senate seat last year and were favored to pick up Miller's seat. African Americans have had few successes in Senate races, but Young is widely known and respected in Georgia, with a résumé that resonates in black and white communities alike.