Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Cassini Space Probe
Queen Elizabeth II
The Spice Girls
The USDA & FDA
Richard Mellon Scaife
Reverend Fred Phelps
Mary Frances Berry
The WTO & IMF
Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? & William J. "Pete" Knight
Dr. J. Craig Venter
Colonel James Hiett
George W. Bush & Al Gore
The George W. Bush Votescam 2000
Christine Todd Whitman
Richard "Donkey Dick" Cheney
The Shrub Military-Industrial Police State
Osama Bin Laden
General Adbul Rashid Dostum
Telecom Titans Gone Bad
Jean-Marie Le Pen
Bumfights & Reality Television from Hell
Donald "Redrum" Rumsfeld
The Right-Wing Media Whores Coalition
Ari "The Felcher" Fleischer
Uday & Qusay Hussein
The Iraqi Quagmire
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Zell Miller & Sinclair Broadcasting
Pope Benedict XVI
George W. Bush's Secret Police
Jack Abramoff, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Mark Foley & the Military Commissions Act
Kevin "K-Fed" Federline & Nick Lachey
George W. Bush
World Socialist Web Site
The secret government of Dick Cheney: US vice president claims to be outside the law
By Patrick Martin
23 June 2007
The office of Vice President Dick Cheney has refused to comply with an executive order issued by President George Bush four years ago, requiring all executive branch offices to cooperate in regular reviews of their security procedures for handling documents.
After the security office of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), charged with conducting the review, pressed the issue, Cheney and his aides tried to have the office abolished and sought to gag officials of the National Archives by barring them from appealing the dispute to the Department of Justice.
Even more extraordinary than the fact of this conflict within the executive branch—made public Thursday with the release of documents by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—is the constitutional rationale advanced by the vice president.
According to Cheney, the office of the vice president is not “an entity within the executive branch,” as specified in the language of the executive order, because the vice president serves constitutionally as the presiding officer of the US Senate, with a tie-breaking vote, and therefore has legislative power as well.
The sophistry of this argument is plain: in case after case over the past seven years, Cheney has invoked “executive privilege” or similar doctrines to shield his office from congressional investigations and Freedom of Information Act requests from the media and liberal pressure groups.
The most famous case involved the energy task force, formed in the initial weeks of the administration, and engaged, among other activities, in poring over maps of the oil fields in Iraq and the concessions awarded to non-US oil companies—all subsequently canceled after the US invasion.
Cheney refused to release any information about his energy task force after a request was filed by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, citing the necessity for complete confidentiality in internal executive branch deliberations. He rejected similar requests from the media and environmental groups, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, and this position was upheld by a right-wing judicial panel.
But after rebuffing Congress’s request for information, on the grounds his office is part of the executive branch, Cheney in now refusing to comply with a similar request for information from an executive branch agency, on the grounds that he is really part of Congress!
What underlies this apparent Catch 22 is a sinister political logic: Vice President Cheney is not to be held accountable to anyone—not Congress, not the executive branch—a position so unprecedented in US political history that reporters at a White House press briefing Friday were compelled to ask whether Cheney had now set himself up as a “fourth branch of government.”
The vice president’s office has long been the focal point of the Bush administration’s drive to utilize the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the pretext for establishing the framework for a police state in America. In the weeks after 9/11, Cheney virtually disappeared from public view, conducting his activities at an “undisclosed secure location,” which turned out to be the headquarters of what became know as the “shadow government.”
Under the program, officially described as an exercise in “continuity of government,” supposedly a precaution against a terrorist nuclear strike on Washington DC, dozens of top executive branch officials were designated for redeployment to bunkers in the Appalachian Mountains from which they would direct government operations without reference to the legislative or judicial branch, which were excluded from the effort. (See the WSWS editorial board statement, “The shadow of dictatorship: Bush established secret government after September 11”.)
Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, now his chief of staff, is the principal proponent of a constitutionally spurious theory known as the “unitary executive,” which claims that since the Constitution gives the president authority over the executive branch, he can direct lower-level executive branch officials to disregard legislative mandates.
Addington was also the most hard-line defender of the “right” of the president to order the torture of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo Bay and at secret CIA prisons around the world, and he spearheaded the removal of military lawyers who objected to the policy of disregarding the Geneva Conventions for prisoners at US detention camps.
So sweeping are the claims of the vice president’s office that even the White House seemed to have difficulty absorbing them. At a Friday press briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino parroted the language of Cheney’s aides in asserting that the vice president’s office was in compliance with the law, but she gave an entirely different legal argument.
The executive order on security procedures did not apply to the president himself, she claimed, and the vice president’s office shared in that exemption. The vice president was not intended to be separate from the president in this regard.
When reporters pointed out to her that Cheney’s office was claiming something entirely different, that he was exempt because of his constitutional connection to Congress, not to the president, Perino simply declared the issue “interesting” and referred all follow-up questions to Cheney’s office.
Cheney’s office actually complied with the requests for documentation by the National Archives and Records Administration in 2001 and 2002. But since 2003, i.e., once the war in Iraq had begun, the vice president’s staff has not cooperated with the NARA or even replied to its annual requests.
The timing is significant, because in May-June 2003, in response to mounting criticism of the invasion of Iraq and the failure to find any trace of weapons of mass destruction—the pretext for the war—Cheney spearheaded a counteroffensive by the Bush administration that involved the systematic leaking of classified documents to journalists selected for their friendliness to the administration and willingness to serve as its conduits.
Among these were Judith Miller of the New York Times, the principal fiction writer in the “Iraqi WMD” media campaign, and columnist Robert Novak, who made public the covert CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who emerged at that time as a public critic of the administration’s case for war.
It was revealed in the course of the trial of Cheney’s former chief-of-staff, I. Lewis Libby, that Cheney had given Libby authorization to leak portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to Miller and other journalists. It is likely that Cheney gave direct orders to expose Valerie Plame Wilson in order to punish her husband, but Libby has kept his mouth shut on that subject despite his conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice, and an imminent jail term of two-and-a-half years.
Ultra-right-wing figures in the Republican Party and the media have launched a frenzied campaign for Bush to pardon Libby before he begins serving his prison term—likely to be in August—at least in part because of concern that Libby may feel compelled to turn against his former boss.
Democratic Congressman Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the House committee, referred to the Libby case in an eight-page letter to Cheney made public Thursday evening. “Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information,” he wrote, citing also the case of a lower-level Cheney aide, a Filipino-American, who supplied classified documents to military officers in the Philippines who were plotting a coup against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Waxman’s letter demands a response by Cheney to a series of questions, beginning with the basis for the claim that the office of the vice president is not bound by Executive Order 12958, the secrecy measure issued by Bush in 2003, and including this inquiry: “Is it the official position of the Office of the Vice President that your office exists in neither the executive nor legislative branch of government?”
“He’s saying he’s above the law,” Waxman told reporters. “I don’t know if he is covering something up or not, but ... when somebody refuses to make this information available, you wonder what they don’t want the inspectors from the National Archives to know.”
Waxman went on to describe Cheney’s position as “very dangerous” and “ridiculous,” but he did not suggest that any serious action by the Democratic-controlled Congress was warranted. Like the rest of the House and Senate Democratic leadership, Waxman put impeachment of Bush and Cheney off the agenda as soon as the Democrats regained control of Congress in the November 2006 elections.
The refusal to cooperate with the NARA is a comparatively minor element in the flagrant lawlessness of the Bush-Cheney administration. This is a government that has defied international law by organizing the invasion and conquest of two sovereign nations, and that claims the right to arrest and detain anyone in the world as part of its “war on terror.” Meanwhile, its definition of “terrorist” is so elastic that it has already been applied to unarmed American citizens arrested thousands of miles from any battlefield.
The House committee released the documents only two days after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study on the White House practice of issuing “signing statements” when the president signs a bill into law, specifying what portions of the legislation he intends to enforce and what he will not. These statements are flagrant violations of the Constitution, which gives the president only the power to veto an entire bill, not pick and choose what he wants.
The GAO report examined 19 signing statements, finding that in 10 cases the executive branch enforced the law, in six it did not, and in three the issue was moot because the law required no specific action. This included some major congressional mandates, including the provision in the 2006 military appropriations bill that the Pentagon give a detailed accounting of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in its 2007 budget request. The Federal Emergency Management Agency likewise defied a requirement that it submit a plan for housing assistance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and assess the failure of its previous efforts in that field.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, who requested the GAO study, declared, “The administration is thumbing its nose at the law.” But Conyers, like Waxman, has shelved the question of impeachment, although he himself introduced an impeachment resolution in 2005 citing the lies told to the American people in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Fans flock to 'Sopranos' Jersey haunts
By JANET FRANKSTON LORIN, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jun 21, 2007
Fade to black? Not a chance for fans of "The Sopranos." Almost two weeks after the series finale, the addiction to the show seems stronger than ever, with legions of fans making a journey to Jersey to see real-life remnants of the hit TV mob drama.
For many, their obsession starts at the place where the series ended: Business is booming at the diner where lead character Tony Soprano sat with his family in the controversial series finale.
Fans not only want to eat at Holsten's (actually an ice cream parlor in Bloomfield), they want to sit in the same booth where Tony, the fictional New Jersey mob boss, played the Journey song, "Don't Stop Believin'."
"The phone just rings constantly all day from people wanting to make reservations," said co-owner Chris Carley. "They ask `Can we reserve the booth? Can we get a T-shirt?'"
Carley, who watched the final scenes filmed there over two days, fields calls from fans wanting to talk about the ending. Customers who want to relive Tony's last meal can buy some of the onion rings he raved about(for $2.50), but they cannot listen to the juke box, which was a prop for the show.
"It's just so funny that people want to sit in that booth," Carley said. "A lot of people are taking pictures."
The Emmy-winning HBO show explored the life of the fictional Jersey mob boss and his family, and scores of scenes have been shot across the Garden State since it debuted in 1999.
The series buzz-inducing final scene ended abruptly with the screen suddenly going black as Tony and his family sit down to dinner at Holsten's, leaving fans guessing about what happens next.
Part of "The Sopranos" fascination is fueled by the lack of a real ending, said Roland T. Rust, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Maryland.
"The fact you don't have that resolution makes it more difficult for people to let go," Rust said.
Some fans are flocking to a "Sopranos"-themed bus tour. With 47 sites, it's one way fans can still connect with the show. The cost is $42 per person, which includes a cannoli (a nod to "The Godfather"). Afternoon tours for the next two weekends are already sold out.
The tour begins in Midtown Manhattan and transports up to 54 people through the Lincoln Tunnel into Jersey (the start of Tony's journey in the opening credits). Fans see the fictional Satriale's pork store in Kearny and the diner under the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City where Tony's nephew, Christopher, got shot.
For many the highlight is Satin Dolls, a strip club that fronts for the "Bada Bing," on Route 17 in Lodi.
"People are really in withdrawal," says Georgette Blau, president of On Location Tours. A third tour has been added, and a fourth is likely to begin next month, Blau said.
Satriale's, which is one of the most popular stops, is slated to be whacked come August or September.
Manny Costeira, the owner of the building who leased it to HBO, is demolishing it to make way for nine condos and a garage, aptly named "Soprano Court."
Costeira said construction will begin in the fall or spring and fans can buy a piece of the building.
"We'll be salvaging the stones off the building for those people who are totally heartbroken about the pork store going down," he said.
The obsession with "The Sopranos" doesn't just include New Jersey.
Music downloads of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" jumped 371 percent in the week after it played in the show's final scene, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign borrowed from the series ending when it unveiled its new campaign song with a Web video spoof of the "Sopranos" exit.
Even Pizzaland, a shack that zips by in the show's opening credits, has seen a huge spike in business from fans trying to still starving for the show.
The store got so busy fielding requests for custom pizzas from across the country — the pies are sent by mail in dry ice — that it had to shut its doors to walk-in customers five days before the final episode aired.
"We had to stop answering the phones," said owner Todd Maino.
His employees worked for 48 hours straight to accommodate 800 to 1,000 orders before the finale, and they're still taking 300 to 400 weekly orders for the thin-crust pizza.
Pizzaland shipped two pies to Jeri Hershberger last week in Spokane, Wash. The 56-year-old is still looking for a connection to the show.
"It never was finalized," she said. "It keeps people's imaginations going."
On the Net:
Newsweek Poll: How Low Can Bush Go?
President Bush registers the lowest approval rating of his presidency—making him the least popular president since Nixon—in the new NEWSWEEK Poll.
By Marcus Mabry
June 21, 2007 - In 19 months, George W. Bush will leave the White House for the last time. The latest NEWSWEEK Poll suggests that he faces a steep climb if he hopes to coax the country back to his side before he goes. In the new poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday nights, President Bush’s approval rating has reached a record low. Only 26 percent of Americans, just over one in four, approve of the job the 43rd president is doing; while, a record 65 percent disapprove, including nearly a third of Republicans.
The new numbers — a 2 point drop from the last NEWSWEEK Poll at the beginning of May — are statistically unchanged, given the poll’s 4 point margin of error. But the 26 percent rating puts Bush lower than Jimmy Carter, who sunk to his nadir of 28 percent in a Gallup poll in June 1979. In fact, the only president in the last 35 years to score lower than Bush is Richard Nixon. Nixon’s approval rating tumbled to 23 percent in January 1974, seven months before his resignation over the botched Watergate break-in.
The war in Iraq continues to drag Bush down. A record 73 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush has done handling Iraq. Despite “the surge” in U.S. forces into Baghdad and Iraq’s western Anbar province, a record-low 23 percent of Americans approve of the president’s actions in Iraq, down 5 points since the end of March.
But the White House cannot pin his rating on the war alone. Bush scores record or near record lows on every major issue: from the economy (34 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove) to health care (28 percent approve, 61 percent disapprove) to immigration (23 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove). And—in the worst news, perhaps, for the crowded field of Republicans hoping to succeed Bush in 2008—50 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of terrorism and homeland security. Only 43 percent approve, on an issue that has been the GOP’s trump card in national elections since 9/11.
If there is any good news for Bush and the Republicans in the latest NEWSWEEK Poll, it’s that the Democratic-led Congress fares even worse than the president. Only 25 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.
In the scariest news for the Democratic candidates seeking their party’s nomination in 2008, even rank-and-file Democrats are unhappy with Congress, which is narrowly controlled by their party. Only 27 percent of Democrats approve of the job Congress is doing, a statistically insignificant difference from the 25 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of independents who approve of Congress.
Overall, 63 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, including 60 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Independents. Apparently, voters aren’t happy with anyone in Washington these days.
World's biggest airliner to serve as private jet
Jun 19, 2007
Attention hip hop stars and billionaires: the world's biggest airliner, the 73-metre-long (239-feet) Airbus A380 superjumbo, has been ordered by a mysterious buyer for use as a private jet.
The order sets new heights in the private plane sector, leaving the Learjet, which used to be the ultimate symbol of ostentatious air travel, in second class.
The doubledecker A380, which enters service later this year, is capable of carrying 840 passengers, has 900 square metres (10,000 square feet) of cabin space and towers over its biggest rival, the Boeing 747.
Airbus sales director John Leahy declined to say when or to where the jet would be delivered, but fitting the plane to the specification demanded from the buyer is expected to take more than a year.
"It will be for personal use for him and his entourage," Leahy told AFP on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show.
"I can't tell you who it is but he's not from Europe or the United States."
The buyer is likely to have paid over 300 million dollars (224 million euros) for the standard plane, according to the latest Airbus catalogue prices, but will then have customisation costs estimated at 50-150 million dollars.
Aage Duenhaupt, communications director for Lufthansa Technik, which converts large commercial aircraft into private jets, said most clients for private airliners came from the oil-rich Middle East.
"Buyers are rich individuals or governments and mostly situated in the Middle East," he told AFP.
He estimated that there were 20 Boeing 747 jumbojets around the world being used as private jets and that the order for the A380 was a logical next step.
"We at Lufthansa Technik expect three to five A380s to be sold for VIP purposes in the coming years," he said, adding that the Boeing had also had orders for its new mid-sized 787 Dreamliner from private clients.
Lufthansa Technik, which has about 40 percent of the market for fitting out large airliners, has proposed its own interior for the A380 that includes a three bedrooms, a lounge and dining area, a sauna and exercise bikes.
Using the A380 as a private jet could have its problems, however.
The weight of the aircraft and its wingspan of 80 metres means it is unable to land at many airports and it can only be flown by specially trained pilots.
It was designed to fly a maximum number of passengers on longhaul routes between major travel hubs, offering savings on kerosene and reduced noise pollution for airlines.
The aerospace industry has been at pains to stress its environmental credentials at the Paris Air Show this year, which began on Monday, amid growing concern about aircraft pollution.
But campaigners against air travel reacted with anger to news of the order.
"Aviation is now so out of control, we're not only seeing unnecessary binge-flying, it seems we're starting to see 'bling-flying' too," said Joss Garman, from the British anti-pollution group Plane Stupid.
"Buying a superjumbo like this to use as a private jet is like buying a filthy coal-fired power station just to use to charge up your mobile phone."
The A380 is Airbus's star product and the plane performed an acrobatic display at the Paris Air Show show on Tuesday.
The European group, headquartered in southern France, has had major production problems with the plane and has been forced to offer compensation to airlines, many of which will have to wait two years longer than expected for deliveries of their aircraft.
Singapore Airlines is to be the first airline to put the plane into service in October this year.
Dubai-based Emirates is to be the biggest single client for the A380 however, after announcing plans to buy 51 aircraft to meet its ambitious growth targets.
Peter Phillips and Kate Sims: Corporate Media Entertains but Fails to Inform
Submitted by BuzzFlash on Fri, 06/22/2007
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Peter Phillips and Kate Sims
"Paris Hilton's Symptoms Said to be from Prescription Drug Withdrawal," was the headline news on the Fox News Channel on June 13, 2007. This was the 56th headline on Paris Hilton covered by Fox in the previous 30 days. Even The New York Times got in on the Paris Hilton hoopla with a front-page story June 9 entitled "Celebrity Justice Cuts Both Ways for Paris Hilton."
Regular readers of Project Censored are familiar with our annual list of Junk Food News -- in which we select a list of the dumbest, least important, most overplayed stories of the year. Almost certainly, the incarceration of Paris Hilton will feature prominently in next year's Junk Food edition, but it will have to wait until then to be considered.
Meanwhile, here are the Junk Food News stories of Project Censored's annual April-to-April listing for 2006-07:
1. Britney Spears has a meltdown
2. Anna Nicole has a baby
3. Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie have a baby and adopt others
4. Jon Benet "killer" is a fraud
5. The rise and fall of OJ Simpson's book
6. The feud between the Donald and the O'Donnell
7. Miss USA "party girl" drinks and takes drugs
8. Paul McCartney's divorce
9. An astronaut wears a diaper to attack her romantic rival
10. Madonna adopts an African baby
Moving up from number 7 last year to number 1 on this year's Junk Food list is none other than Britney Spears. On February 17, Ms. Spears was photographed in a Los Angeles salon receiving a buzz cut. The corporate media went into frenzied overdrive, offering incessant speculation on why poor Britney might be coming unglued. While undeniably important to 13-year-olds, adults might have been interested to hear about the newly released analysis of 2005 census figures showing that nearly 16 million Americans are currently living in deep or severe poverty. Mainstream news anchors had enough time to wonder if Ms. Spears was too young and immature for the pressures of motherhood. Yet, they weren't able to squeeze in the fact that female-headed families with children account for the lion's share of the severely poor.
During the recent Paris Hilton exposition, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, without a peep from Fox or The New York Times. Apparently the corporate media is too busy entertaining us to cover the most serious civil liberties issue in America. The Military Commissions Act of last October made it legal for the President to suspend Habeas Corpus for any person, citizen or not. While Democrats in the Senate are trying to restore this basic legal right, the corporate media seems more concerned with keeping us up-to-date on how much phone time Paris gets while in jail.
On September 7, 2006, Anna Nicole Smith gave birth to a baby girl and everyone held his or her breath for the ultimate piece of the puzzle, who was the father? For those of you who missed it, the birth certificate listed none other than Anna Nicole's personal attorney Howard K. Stern. Now for those of you who didn't miss the Anna Nicole goings-on, here's what you did miss: A September 2006 report found that the Iraq violent death toll for August was three times larger than the preliminary count. The final tally disproved official U.S. and Iraqi claims that a "security crackdown" had led to a drop in the number of deaths that month.
In the early afternoon of February 8, 2007, Anna Nicole Smith was found unresponsive in her hotel room, rushed to the hospital, and pronounced DOA at 2:49 p.m. While this story filled the corporate media in the U.S., that same week, the former U.S. Ambassador of Iraq failed to explain what happened to $12 billion in newly printed, shrink-wrapped, $100 bills that he had flown to Baghdad, and had since been misplaced.
We are now in an era of witnessing corporate media's complete failure to keep us informed on powerful issues that concern all Americans. We deserve better and must remedy this situation by building tax supported independent media and returning investigative reporting to the American people.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Peter Phillips is a Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University. Kate Sims is a staff researcher with Project Censored. SSU students Jocelyn Thomas, Toni Faye Catelani, Jenni Leys, and Christina Carey assisted with research on this op-ed. The full report can be seen at: http://www.projectcensored.org/.
AFI 100: 'Kane' still number one
By Roger Ebert
Welles' "Citizen Kane" is still the greatest American film of all time. Coppola's "The Godfather" is second. Scorsese's "Raging Bull" and Hitchcock's "Vertigo" have cracked the Top 10, booting out "The Graduate" (No. 7 to No. 17) and "On the Waterfront" (No. 8 to No. 19). And Ford's "The Searchers" hurtled from No. 96 to No. 12.
So says the American Film Institute. Its list of the Top 100 American Films, voted on by a group of 1,500 filmmakers, critics and historians, was revealed Wednesday night on a TV special hosted by Morgan Freeman, star of "The Shawshank Redemption" (No. 72).
Lists like these cry out to be disagreed with. Seconds after an advance copy was sent to news outlets, film critic Peter Debruge e-mailed me: "Of all the issues surrounding this list, my biggest question: Where did 'Fargo' go?"
What? "Fargo" not on the list? Unthinkable, considering that, well, I was going to name a title that has no business being on the list, but actually they all have a claim, even the few like "High Noon" that I personally don't much like. It's just that -- what? No "Fargo."
In the aftermath of the first list, issued in 1998, I received enough complaints about missing titles to supply two or three more lists. No doubt most of those 1,500 experts are themselves dismayed by titles that did and didn't make the cut. But such lists serve two functions: (1) The television special makes money for the American Film Institute, which is a noble and useful institution, and (2) some kid somewhere is gonna rent "Citizen Kane" and have the same kind of epiphany I had when I first saw it as a teenager.
New films become old films so fast. "Raging Bull" came out 27 years ago. It's older than "Casablanca" (No. 3) was when I became a film critic. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, more than 50 percent of moviegoers are under 27. They are going to find movies on this list that were made before their grandparents were born -- and, if judging by the kids I saw Buster Keaton's "The General" (No. 18) with, they might love them.
Ah, but there's the problem: Will they find out about them? Too many younger moviegoers are wasting their precious adolescence frying their brains with vomitoriums posing as slasher movies. A list like the AFI's can do some good. During a Google search for "age of average moviegoer," I came across a column by critic T.C. Candler that opened with this quote:
"I have here a heartfelt message from a reader who urges me not to be so hard on stupid films, because they are 'plenty smart enough for the average moviegoer.' Yes, but one hopes being an average moviegoer is not the end of the road: that one starts as a below-average filmgoer, passes through average, and, guided by the labors of America's hardworking film critics, arrives in triumph at above-average."
Candler was quoting me, and I cannot agree more. To take a hypothetical possibility, if you were to see all 100 films on the AFI list, by the end of that experience, you would no longer desire to see a Dead Teenager Movie. (Yes, there could be a great Dead Teenager Movie. Please send me a list of the 100 greatest.)
To read over the film institute's list is to remember spine-tingling moments in movie theaters. The ballet of space ships in "2001." The soaking-wet dance in "Singin' in the Rain." The scary perfection of Astaire and Rogers, the perfect anarchy of the Marx Brothers, the anarchic warfare in "Apocalypse Now," the warfare of obsession in "Vertigo."
The list will become a retail tool. AOL, Best Buy and Moviefone have scheduled promotions. You know that Netflix and Blockbusters will push it. The movie channels will feature titles from it. Some newbie will find out who James Stewart or Ingrid Bergman was.
So in the last analysis, it doesn't really matter what movies are on the list. What matters is the movies on the list, voted by 1,500 above-average moviegoers who don't think "Citizen Kane" has aged one day.
Sixty-nine of the films on the American Film Institute list are reviewed as Great Movies at www.rogerebert.com.
AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE'S GREATEST MOVIES
1. "Citizen Kane" (1941)
2. "The Godfather" (1972)
3. "Casablanca" (1942)
4. "Raging Bull" (1980)
5. "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
6. "Gone With the Wind" (1939)
7. "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962)
8. "Schindler's List" (1993)
9. "Vertigo" (1958)
10. "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
11. "City Lights" (1931)
12. "The Searchers" (1956)
13. "Star Wars" (1977)
14. "Psycho" (1960)
15. "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
16. "Sunset Boulevard" (1950)
17. "The Graduate" (1967)
18. "The General" (1927)
19. "On the Waterfront" (1954)
20. "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946)
21. "Chinatown" (1974)
22. "Some Like It Hot" (1959)
23. "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)
24. "E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)
25. "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
26. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939)
27. "High Noon" (1952)
28. "All About Eve" (1950)
29. "Double Indemnity" (1944)
30. "Apocalypse Now" (1979)
31. "The Maltese Falcon" (1941)
32. "The Godfather, Part II" (1974)
33. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)
34. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937)
35. "Annie Hall" (1977)
36. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957)
37. "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946)
38. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948)
39. "Dr. Strangelove" (1964)
40. "The Sound of Music" (1965)
41. "King Kong" (1933)
42. "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)
43. "Midnight Cowboy" (1969)
44. "The Philadelphia Story" (1940)
45. "Shane" (1953)
46. "It Happened One Night" (1934)
47. "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)
48. "Rear Window" (1954)
49. "Intolerance" (1916)
50. "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001)
51. "West Side Story" (1961)
52. "Taxi Driver" (1976)
53. "The Deer Hunter" (1978)
54. "M*A*S*H" (1970)
55. "North by Northwest" (1959)
56. "Jaws" (1975)
57. "Rocky" (1976)
58. "The Gold Rush" (1925)
59. "Nashville" (1975)
60. "Duck Soup" (1933)
61. "Sullivan's Travels" (1941)
62. "American Graffiti" (1973)
63. "Cabaret" (1972)
64. "Network" (1976)
65. "The African Queen" (1951)
66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981)
67. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966)
68. "Unforgiven" (1992)
69. "Tootsie" (1982)
70. "A Clockwork Orange" (1971)
71. "Saving Private Ryan" (1998)
72. "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)
73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969)
74. "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)
75. "In the Heat of the Night" (1967)
76. "Forrest Gump" (1994)
77. "All the President's Men" (1976)
78. "Modern Times" (1936)
79. "The Wild Bunch" (1969)
80. "The Apartment" (1960)
81. "Spartacus" (1960)
82. "Sunrise" (1927)
83. "Titanic" (1997)
84. "Easy Rider" (1969)
85. "A Night at the Opera" (1935)
86. "Platoon" (1986)
87. "12 Angry Men" (1957)
88. "Bringing Up Baby" (1938)
89. "The Sixth Sense" (1999)
90. "Swing Time" (1936)
91. "Sophie's Choice" (1982)
92. "Goodfellas" (1990)
93. "The French Connection" (1971)
94. "Pulp Fiction" (1994)
95. "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
96. "Do the Right Thing" (1989)
97. "Blade Runner" (1982)
98. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942)
99. "Toy Story" (1995)
100. "Ben-Hur" (1959)
Sunday, June 24, 2007
The CIA's torture teachers
Psychologists helped the CIA exploit a secret military program to develop brutal interrogation tactics -- likely with the approval of the Bush White House.
By Mark Benjamin
Jun. 21, 2007 There is growing evidence of high-level coordination between the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military in developing abusive interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects. After the Sept. 11 attacks, both turned to a small cadre of psychologists linked to the military's secretive Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program to "reverse-engineer" techniques originally designed to train U.S. soldiers to resist torture if captured, by exposing them to brutal treatment. The military's use of SERE training for interrogations in the war on terror was revealed in detail in a recently declassified report. But the CIA's use of such tactics -- working in close coordination with the military -- until now has remained largely unknown.
According to congressional sources and mental healthcare professionals knowledgeable about the secret program who spoke with Salon, two CIA-employed psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, were at the center of the program, which likely violated the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners. The two are currently under investigation: Salon has learned that Daniel Dell'Orto, the principal deputy general counsel at the Department of Defense, sent a "document preservation" order on May 15 to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top Pentagon officials forbidding the destruction of any document mentioning Mitchell and Jessen or their psychological consulting firm, Mitchell, Jessen and Associates, based in Spokane, Wash. Dell'Orto's order was in response to a May 1 request from Sen. Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who is investigating the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody.
Mitchell and Jessen have worked as contractors for the CIA since 9/11. Both were previously affiliated with the military's SERE program, which at its main school at Fort Bragg puts elite special operations forces through brutal mock interrogations, from sensory deprivation to simulated drowning.
A previously classified report by the Defense Department's inspector general, made public last month, revealed in vivid detail how the military -- in flat contradiction to previous denials -- used SERE as a basis for interrogating suspected al-Qaida prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, and later in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the involvement of the CIA, which was secretly granted broad authority by President Bush days after 9/11 to target terrorists worldwide, suggests that both the military and the spy agency were following a policy approved by senior Bush administration officials.
Close coordination between the CIA and the Pentagon is referred to in military lingo as "jointness." A retired high-level military official, familiar with the detainee abuse scandals, confirmed that such "jointness" requires orchestration at the top levels of government. "This says that somebody is acting as a bridge between the CIA and the Defense Department," he said, "because you've got the [CIA] side and the military side, and they are collaborating." Human-rights expert Scott Horton, who chairs the International Law Committee at the New York City Bar Association, also says that the cross-agency coordination "reflects the fact that the decision to introduce and develop these methods was made at a very high level."
On Wednesday, dozens of psychologists made public a joint letter to American Psychological Association president Sharon Brehm fingering another CIA-employed psychologist, R. Scott Shumate. Previous news reports led the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association to ban their members from participating in interrogations, but the issue has remained divisive within the American Psychological Association, which has not forbidden the practice. "We write you as psychologists concerned about the participation of our profession in abusive interrogations of national security detainees at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the so-called CIA 'black sites,'" the psychologists wrote. In violation of APA ethics, they said, "It is now indisputable that psychologists and psychology were directly and officially responsible for the development and migration of abusive interrogation techniques, techniques which the International Committee of the Red Cross has labeled 'tantamount to torture.'" [Ed. note: The full letter detailing the allegations of APA complicity can be read here.]
The letter cites a previously public biographical statement on Shumate that listed his position from April 2001 to May 2003 as "the chief operational psychologist for the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center." The bio also noted that Shumate "has been with several of the key apprehended terrorists" who have been held and interrogated by the agency since 9/11. At CTC, Shumate reported to Cofer Black, the former head of CTC who famously told Congress in September 2002, "There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off." Shumate's bio, obtained by Salon, has been removed from the InfowarCon 2007 conference Web site. Shumate did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The SERE-based program undermines assertions made for years by Bush administration officials that interrogations conducted by U.S. personnel are safe, effective and legal. SERE training, according to the Department of Defense inspector general's report, is specifically designed "to replicate harsh conditions that the service member might encounter if they are held by forces that do not abide by the Geneva Conventions."
"The irony -- and ultimately the tragedy -- in the migration of SERE techniques is that the program was specifically designed to protect our soldiers from countries that violated the Geneva Conventions," says Brad Olson, president of the Divisions for Social Justice within the American Psychological Association. "The result of the reverse-engineering, however, was that by making foreign detainees the target, it made us the country that violated the Geneva Conventions," he says.
There are striking similarities between descriptions of SERE training and the interrogation techniques employed by the military and CIA since 9/11. Soldiers undergoing SERE training are subject to forced nudity, stress positions, lengthy isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, exhaustion from exercise, and the use of water to create a sensation of suffocation. "If you have ever had a bag on your head and somebody pours water on it," one graduate of that training program told Salon last year "it is real hard to breathe."
Many of those techniques show up in interrogation logs, human rights reports and news articles about detainee abuse that has taken place in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq. (The military late last year unveiled a new interrogation manual designed to put a stop to prisoner abuse.) An investigation released this month by the Council of Europe, a multinational human rights agency, added extreme sensory deprivation to the list of techniques that have been used by the CIA. The report said that extended isolation contributed to "enduring psychiatric and mental problems" of prisoners.
Isolation in cramped cells is also a key tenet of SERE training, according to soldiers who have completed the training and described it in detail to Salon. The effects of isolation are a specialty of Jessen's, who taught a class on "coping with isolation in a hostage environment" at a Maui seminar in late 2003, according to a Washington Times article published then. (Defense Department documents from the late 1990s describe Jessen as the "lead psychologist" for the SERE program.) Mitchell also spoke at that conference, according to the article. It described both men as "contracted to Uncle Sam to fight terrorism."
Mitchell's name surfaced again many months later. His role in interrogations was referenced briefly in a July 2005 New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, which focused largely on the military's use of SERE-based tactics at Guantánamo. The article described Mitchell's participation in a CIA interrogation of a high-value prisoner in March 2002 at an undisclosed location elsewhere -- presumably a secret CIA prison known as a "black site" -- where Mitchell urged harsh techniques that would break down the prisoner's psychological defenses, creating a feeling of "helplessness." But the article did not confirm Mitchell was a CIA employee, and it explored no further the connection between Mitchell's background with SERE and interrogations being conducted by the CIA.
A call to Mitchell and Jessen's firm for comment was not returned. The CIA would not comment on Mitchell and Jessen's work for the agency, though the contractual relationship is not one Mitchell and Jessen entirely concealed. They advertised their CIA credentials as exhibitors at a 2004 conference of the American Psychological Association in Honolulu.
In a statement to Salon, CIA spokesman George Little wrote that the agency's interrogation program had been "implemented lawfully, with great care and close review, producing a rich volume of intelligence that has helped the United States and other countries disrupt terrorist activities and save innocent lives."
Until last month, the Army had denied any use of SERE training for prisoner interrogations. "We do not teach interrogation techniques," Carol Darby, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, said last June when Salon asked about a document that appeared to indicate that instructors from the SERE school taught their methods to interrogators at Guantánamo.
But the declassified DoD inspector general's report described initiatives by high-level military officials to incorporate SERE concepts into interrogations. And it said that psychologists affiliated with SERE training -- people like Mitchell and Jessen -- played a critical role. According to the inspector general, the Army Special Operations Command's Psychological Directorate at Fort Bragg first drafted a plan to have the military reverse-engineer SERE training in the summer of 2002. At the same time, the commander of Guantánamo determined that SERE tactics might be used on detainees at the military prison. Then in September 2002, the Army Special Operations Command and other SERE officials hosted a "SERE psychologist conference" at Fort Bragg to brief staff from the military's prison at Guantánamo on the use of SERE tactics.
The chief of the Army Special Operations Command's Psychological Directorate was Col. Morgan Banks, the senior SERE psychologist, who has been affiliated with the training for years and helped establish the Army's first permanent training program that simulated captivity, according to a 2003 biographical statement. Banks also spent the winter of 2001 and 2002 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan "supporting combat operations against Al Qaida and Taliban fighters," according to one of his bios, which also said that Banks "provides technical support and consultation to all Army psychologists providing interrogation support."
In 2005, Banks helped draft ethical guidelines for the APA that say a psychologist supporting an interrogation is providing "a valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm." But as Salon reported last summer, six of the 10 psychologists who drafted that policy, including Banks, had close ties to the military. Some psychologists worry that the APA policy has made the organization an enabler of torture. Those ethics guidelines "gave the APA imprimatur to any of these techniques," says Steven Reisner, an APA member who has been closely tracking psychologists' role in interrogations. The policy, Reisner says, was developed by "psychologists directly involved in the interrogations."
Another of the six psychologists on the panel that drafted the guidelines who had ties to the military was Shumate. His bio for that APA task force said he worked as a "director of behavioral science" for the Defense Department. It never mentioned that he also worked for the CIA.
Travolta echoes Cruise on psychiatry
June 19, 2007
NEW YORK - John Travolta says his thinking is in line with fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise, who has publicly defended the religion's stance against psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry.
Cruise, during a famously heated debate on NBC's "Today" show in 2005, criticized Brooke Shields for taking anti-depression drugs and berated host Matt Lauer for suggesting that psychiatric treatment might help some patients.
"I don't disagree with anything Tom says," Travolta says in the July issue of W magazine, on newsstands Friday. "How would I have presented it? Maybe differently than how he did, but it doesn't matter. I still think that if you analyze most of the school shootings, it is not gun control. It is (psychotropic) drugs at the bottom of it."
"I don't want to create controversy; I just have an opinion on things, and there is nothing wrong with stating your opinion if you are asked," he continues. "Everyone wants that right, and because you are famous doesn't mean you have less of a right."
Travolta, who also talks of his habit of going to bed at 6 or 7 in the morning and waking in the early afternoon, says being famous has little impact on how he lives his life.
"I will tell you the things that would be the same, fame or no fame," he says. "Being up all night would be the same. Liking empty restaurants, liking empty movie theaters Ã? unless I am starring in it."
Travolta, 53, portrays Ms. Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray," the adaptation of the stage musical that was spun from the 1988 John Waters film of the same name. The new film opens July 20. The role, in which he dons a fat suit and feminine garb, has added fuel to ongoing speculation about his sexuality.
"I have never been compelled to share with you my bathroom habits or share with you my bedroom habits," says the married father of two. "Everyone has a right to privacy, so I have never felt - even though I am famous - that I had to share that with anybody."
Do the rumors bother him? Does he think they've affected his career?
"No and no," he says. "What affects your career is the quality of the product. I don't think anyone can hurt me."
"Hairspray," a New Line release, also stars Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer and Queen Latifah.
New Line is a division of Time Warner Inc.
On the Net:
W magazine: http://www.style.com/w
New age town in U.S. embraces dollar alternative
By Scott Malone
Tue Jun 19, 2007
A walk down Main Street in this New England town calls to mind the pictures of Norman Rockwell, who lived nearby and chronicled small-town American life in the mid-20th Century.
So it is fitting that the artist's face adorns the 50 BerkShares note, one of five denominations in a currency adopted by towns in western Massachusetts to support locally owned businesses over national chains.
"I just love the feel of using a local currency," said Trice Atchison, 43, a teacher who used BerkShares to buy a snack at a cafe in Great Barrington, a town of about 7,400 people. "It keeps the profit within the community."
There are about 844,000 BerkShares in circulation, worth $759,600 at the fixed exchange rate of 1 BerkShare to 90 U.S. cents, according to program organizers. The paper scrip is available in denominations of one, five, 10, 20 and 50.
In their 10 months of circulation, they've become a regular feature of the local economy. Businesses that accept BerkShares treat them interchangeably with dollars: a $1 cup of coffee sells for 1 BerkShare, a 10 percent discount for people paying in BerkShares.
Named for the local Berkshire Hills, BerkShares are accepted in about 280 cafes, coffee shops, grocery stores and other businesses in Great Barrington and neighboring towns, including Stockbridge, the town where Rockwell lived for a quarter century.
"BerkShares are cash, and so people have transferred their cash habits to BerkShares," said Susan Witt, executive director of the E.F. Schumacher Society, a nonprofit group that set up the program. "They might have 50 in their pocket, but not 150. They're buying their lunch, their coffee, a small birthday present."
Great Barrington attracts weekend residents and tourists from the New York area who help to support its wealth of organic farms, yoga studios, cafes and businesses like Allow Yourself to Be, which offers services ranging from massage to "chakra balancing" and Infinite Quest, which sells "past life regression therapy."
The BerkShares program is one of about a dozen such efforts in the nation. Local groups in California, Kansas, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin run similar ones. One of the oldest is Ithaca Hours, which went into circulation in 1991 in Ithaca, New York.
About $120,000 of that currency circulates in the rural town. Unlike BerkShares, Ithaca Hours cannot officially be freely converted to dollars, though some businesses buy them.
Stephen Burkle, president of the Ithaca Hours program, said the notes are a badge of local pride.
"At the beginning it was very hard to get small businesses to get on board with it," said Burkle, who also owns a music store in Ithaca. "When Ithaca Hours first started, there wasn't a Home Depot in town, there wasn't a Borders, there wasn't a Starbucks. Now that there are, it's a mechanism for small businesses to compete with national chains."
U.S. law prevents states from issuing their own currency but allows private groups to print paper scrip, though not coins, said Lewis Solomon, a professor of law at George Washington University, who studies local currencies.
"As long as you don't turn out quarters and you don't turn out something that looks like the U.S. dollar, it's legal," Solomon said.
The BerkShares experiment comes as the dollar is losing some of its status on international markets, with governments shifting some reserves into euros, the pound and other investments as the U.S. currency has slid in value.
But the dollar is still the currency that businesses in Great Barrington need to pay most of their bills.
"The promise of this program is for it to be a completed circle," said Matt Rubiner, owner of Rubiner's cheese shop and Rubi's cafe. Some local farmers who supply him accept BerkShares, but he pays most of his bills in dollars.
"The circle isn't quite completed yet in most cases, and someone has to take the hit," Rubiner said, referring to the 10 percent discount. "The person who takes the hit is the merchant, it's me."
Meanwhile, Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc., a western Massachusetts bank that exchanges BerkShares for dollars, is considering BerkShares-denominated checks and debit cards.
"Businesses aren't comfortable walking around with wads of BerkShares to pay for their supplies or their advertising," said Melissa Joyce, a branch officer with the bank, which has 25 branches, six of which exchange BerkShares. "I do hope that we're able to develop the checking account and debit card, because it will make it easier for everyone."
Clinton spoofs Sopranos in Web video
By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jun 19, 2007
The scene: A diner and a jukebox. A nostalgic song. A cut to black. It worked as a finale for "The Sopranos." It now marks a new beginning for "The Clintons." Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign on Tuesday unveiled its new campaign song with a Web video that spoofs the final scene of the popular HBO mobster series.
The video and the announcement of Celine Dion's "You and I" as the official Clinton tune cap a monthlong, interactive Internet campaign that drew more than a million viewers to the Clinton campaign Web site and to YouTube, the popular online video display room.
The selection of Dion, who was born in Canada, resulted in some smirking accusations from Republicans that Clinton had "outsourced" her music. In fact, Dion's "You and I" has done a turn as a theme song already — for Air Canada in 2004.
But the song campaign and the video also illustrates the growing effort by some of the more technologically savvy campaigns to connect with voters and potential donors in clever, relatively inexpensive formats that are infused with pop culture references, contemporary themes or intimate moments.
Just this week, the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, posted a video featuring Romney's wife, Ann, narrating scenes of Christmas vacation last year when the family reached the decision to pursue the White House.
In the new Clinton clip, Hillary Clinton, like Tony Soprano, spins through the musical selections in a diner in Mount Kisco, N.Y., near her home in Chappaqua, as her husband, former President Clinton, quizzes her about the campaign and the song contest winner.
The Soprano touches are subtle but perfectly obvious to any fan of the series.
The music that plays through the video is not Dion's but Journey's "Don't Stop Believin,'" the same song that Tony Soprano chooses from the jukebox in the show's final scene. At one point, actor Vince Curatola, who played New York mob boss Johnny "Sack" Sacramoni in the series, walks menacingly by the Clintons' table.
Tony Soprano ordered onion rings. Hillary orders carrots for Bill. "No onion rings?" the former president asks forlornly.
"Where's Chelsea?" Sen. Clinton asks. Outside a car tire hits the curb. "Parallel parking," President Clinton replies.
"How's the campaign going?" he asks.
"Well, like you always say, focus on the good times."
"So what's the winning song," he presses.
"My money is on Smash Mouth," he says. "Everybody in America wants to know how it's going to end."
"Ready?" Hillary asks.
The scene cuts to black.
But, no, unlike the Sopranos, it's not over. You can click to hear Dion's song. A new page pops up. The most prominent word stands out against a red background:
On the Net:
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves GOP
By SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg left the Republican Party on Tuesday and switched to unaffiliated, a move certain to be seen as a prelude to an independent presidential bid that would upend the 2008 race.
The billionaire former CEO, who was a lifelong Democrat before he switched to the Republican Party in 2001 for his first mayoral run, said the change in his voter registration does not mean he is running for president.
"Although my plans for the future haven't changed, I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our city," Bloomberg said.
With an estimated worth of more than $5 billion, he easily could finance an independent presidential bid.
The 65-year-old mayor has increasingly been the subject of speculation that he will run as an independent in 2008, despite his repeated promises to leave politics after the end of his term in 2009. He has fueled the buzz with increasing out-of-state travel, a greater focus on national issues and repeated criticism of the partisan politics that dominate Washington.
"The politics of partisanship and the resulting inaction and excuses have paralyzed decision-making, primarily at the federal level, and the big issues of the day are not being addressed, leaving our future in jeopardy," he said in a speech Monday at the start of a University of Southern California conference about the advantages of nonpartisan governing.
Throughout his 5 1/2 years as mayor, Bloomberg has often been at odds with his party and President Bush. He supports gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control and stem cell research, and raised property taxes to help solve a fiscal crisis after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But he never seemed willing to part with the GOP completely, raising money for the 2004 presidential convention and contributing to Bush and other Republican candidates.
Just last year, he told a group of Manhattan Republicans about his run for mayor: "I couldn't be prouder to run on the Republican ticket and be a Republican."
Keep Access to the Internet Tax-Free!
The good news is that national lawmakers have successfully protected Internet access from getting burdened by federal taxes, helping to ensure that all Americans have easier access to this incredible resource. The bad news is that the laws that keep Internet access tax-free are set to expire in November, 2007.
Legislation has been introduced in Congress to keep taxes off Internet access. The 'Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act of 2007' – H.R.743 and S.156 – is overwhelmingly bi-partisan legislation that would keep taxes off Internet access for good, as well as prevent multiple and discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce. Support the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act of 2007 – legislation that will keep taxes OFF Internet access and prevent multiple and discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce -- today!
Since 1998, Congress has ensured that Internet access and Internet commerce are not subject to multiple state or local taxes. Congress should protect American consumers, and achieve the bi-partisan goal of ensuring affordable Internet access and commerce benefits to all Americans. Passage of the 'Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act of 2007' would prevent taxes that limit consumer choice, delay innovation, and often require consumers to pay more for service.
You Can Make A Difference Today: Urge your elected officials to support ‘The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act of 2007' today!
Couple Holed Up in House Over Tax Dispute
Pair Claims There Is No Law Requiring Them to Pay
By RUSSELL GOLDMAN
Calling the federal agents surrounding his fortified compound "guns for hire," a New Hampshire man convicted of tax evasion vowed today that he and his wife would fight U.S. marshals to the death if they tried to capture them.
"Do not under any circumstances make any attempt on this land. We will not accept any tomfoolery by any criminal element, be it federal, state or local," said Ed Brown in a press conference from the stoop of his concrete-clad home in Plainfield, N.H. "We either walk out of here free or we die."
Brown and his wife, Elaine, were sentenced in absentia in April to serve 63 months in prison for failing to pay more than $1 million in income tax.
The couple, however, insists that there is no law that requires citizens to pay income tax.
"There is no law. We looked and looked," Brown told the press.
Brown and his supporters, including Randy Weaver, leader of the 1992 standoff with ATF agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, told the press that the government has unlawfully tricked people into believing they have to pay income tax, knowing full well that such a law would be unconstitutional.
"We will defend it to the death. This is 1776 all over again. You cannot tax someone's labor because that is slavery," Brown said.
Carrying a pistol in his waistband, Brown also insisted that he could not receive a fair trial in a federal court because "the court system falls under freemasonry."
"There [are] no longer any lawful courts. The Freemasons have taken over our nation. … [Freemasons want] to take over our nation and all nations on the planet," Brown said.
Weaver, whose son was killed by federal agents and who later received a $100,000 settlement from the government, said he was there to support the Browns.
"I'd rather die on my feet right here than die on my knees under this de facto government," he said. "Bring it on."
Despite months of surveillance and reports of agents hiding in the woods of the couple's 110-acre compound, U.S. marshals said this morning that the Brown's Plainfield, N.H., home was not surrounded by their officers.
U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier made an effort to starkly contrast the actions of the Marshals with those of the ATF agents who besieged Ruby Ridge in 1992. In addition to Weaver's son, one federal agent was killed in that incident.
"There is no standoff and the house is not surrounded." Monier told ABC News.com. "We have no intention of assaulting the house or engaging in a violent confrontation."
In April, Ed and Elaine Brown were sentenced in absentia to 63 months in prison for failing to pay more than $1 million in taxes.
Since failing to appear in court the couple has remained within the concrete-fortified walls of their rural New Hampshire home.
Monier said the Marshals have been communicating with the couple in an effort to get them to turn themselves over the federal authorities without having to resort to the use of force.
"We know they have weapons and we do not want to see this escalate," he said.
Last week agents cut off the home's telephone, Internet and power access. Monier said the couple most likely had generators -- possibly solar or wind powered -- but that eventually the Browns would become uncomfortable enough in their isolation that they would be forced to surrender.
"They probably have generators but those will soon need fuel and need people to fix them. We want to continue to encourage them, and make it uncomfortable enough for them that they'll give up."
Brown said he and his wife had enough supplies to wait out the government no matter how long it lasted. He said the couple did not use air conditioning and could chop down trees from firewood.
Last week, Danny Riley a friend of the Browns was arrested near their home by federal agents while walking the couple's dog.
The Marshals claim they were engaged in routine surveillance of the property, but the Browns believe Riley thwarted a potential raid.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Beast of the Year 2007
George W. Bush
The votes are in, and The Konformist readers have spoken. George is your choice for the 2007 Beast of the Year - a choice that is well deserved. In finally selecting Shrub as a solo artist in Beasthood, The Konformist was recognizing his impressive record of Beastliness since 2000, when he has been cited for Beastly behavior a record nine times. Meanwhile, 2007 is the fourth time in seven years he's been named among the winners of BOTH, another record. His impressive dominance in Beastliness over an extended period of time recalls the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 70's and the San Francisco 49ers of the 80's. Can you say "Dynasty" right now? You bet!
Runner-Up: George W. Bush's Secret Police
In the unlikely event that Bush can no longer fill its duties as Beast of the Year, his Secret Police is ready to take over the crown. Rest assured the BOTY trophy is in good hands either way.
In any case, we salute you, Dubya and his police state. Congratulations, and keep up the great work!!!
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Putin’s Censored Press Conference:
The transcript you weren’t supposed to see
By Mike Whitney
06/10/07 "ICH" --- On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an hour and a half-long press conference which was attended by many members of the world media. The contents of that meeting---in which Putin answered all questions concerning nuclear proliferation, human rights, Kosovo, democracy and the present confrontation with the United States over missile defense in Europe---have been completely censored by the press. Apart from one brief excerpt which appeared in a Washington Post editorial, (and which was used to criticize Putin) the press conference has been scrubbed from the public record. It never happened. (Read the entire press conference archived here )
Putin’s performance was a tour de force. He fielded all of the questions however misleading or insulting. He was candid and statesmanlike and demonstrated a good understanding of all the main issues.
The meeting gave Putin a chance to give his side of the story in the growing debate over missile defense in Eastern Europe. He offered a brief account of the deteriorating state of US-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War, and particularly from 9-11 to present. Since September 11, the Bush administration has carried out an aggressive strategy to surround Russia with military bases, install missiles on its borders, topple allied regimes in Central Asia, and incite political upheaval in Moscow through US-backed “pro-democracy” groups. These openly hostile actions have convinced many Russian hard-liners that the administration is going forward with the neocon plan for “regime change” in Moscow and fragmentation of the Russian Federation. Putin’s testimony suggests that the hardliners are probably right.
The Bush administration’s belligerent foreign policy has backed the Kremlin into a corner and forced Putin to take retaliatory measures. He has no other choice.
If we want to understand why relations between Russia are quickly reaching the boiling-point; we only need to review the main developments since the end of the Cold War. Political analyst Pat Buchanan gives a good rundown of these in his article “Doesn’t Putin Have a Point?”
“Though the Red Army had picked up and gone home from Eastern Europe voluntarily, and Moscow felt it had an understanding we would not move NATO eastward, we exploited our moment. Not only did we bring Poland into NATO, we brought in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and virtually the whole Warsaw Pact, planting NATO right on Mother Russia's front porch. Now, there is a scheme afoot to bring in Ukraine and Georgia in the Caucasus, the birthplace of Stalin.
Second, America backed a pipeline to deliver Caspian Sea oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, to bypass Russia.
Third, though Putin gave us a green light to use bases in the old Soviet republics for the liberation of Afghanistan, we now seem hell-bent on making those bases in Central Asia permanent.
Fourth, though Bush sold missile defense as directed at rogue states like North Korea, we now learn we are going to put anti-missile systems into Eastern Europe. And against whom are they directed?
Fifth, through the National Endowment for Democracy, its GOP and Democratic auxiliaries, and tax-exempt think tanks, foundations, and "human rights" institutes such as Freedom House, headed by ex-CIA director James Woolsey, we have been fomenting regime change in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics, and Russia herself.
U.S.-backed revolutions have succeeded in Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia, but failed in Belarus. Moscow has now legislated restrictions on the foreign agencies that it sees, not without justification, as subversive of pro-Moscow regimes.
Sixth, America conducted 78 days of bombing of Serbia for the crime of fighting to hold on to her rebellious province, Kosovo, and for refusing to grant NATO marching rights through her territory to take over that province. Mother Russia has always had a maternal interest in the Orthodox states of the Balkans.
These are Putin's grievances. Does he not have a small point?”
Yes--as Buchanan opines---Putin does have a point, which is why his press conference was suppressed. The media would rather demonize Putin, than allow him to make his case to the public. (The same is true of other world leaders who choose to use their vast resources to improve the lives of their own citizens rather that hand them over to the transnational oil giants; such as, Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez) Even so, NATO has not yet endorsed the neocon missile defense plan and, according to recent surveys, public opinion in Poland and the Czech Republic is overwhelmingly against it.
Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration is going ahead regardless of the controversy.
Putin cannot allow the United States to deploy its missile defense system to Eastern Europe. The system poses a direct threat to Russia’s national security. If Putin planned to deploy a similar system in Cuba or Mexico, the Bush administration would immediately invoke the Monroe Doctrine and threaten to remove it by force. No one doubts this. And no one should doubt that Putin is equally determined to protect his own country’s interests in the same way. We can expect that Russia will now aim its missiles at European targets and rework its foreign policy in a way that compels the US to abandon its current plans.
The media has tried to minimize the dangers of the proposed system. The Washington Post even characterized it as “a small missile defense system” which has set off “waves of paranoia about domestic and foreign opponents”.
Nonsense. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As Putin said at the press conference, “Once the missile defense system is put in place IT WILL WORK AUTOMATICALLY WITH THE ENTIRE NUCLEAR CAPABILITY OF THE UNITED STATES. It will be an integral part of the US nuclear capability.
“For the first time in history---and I want to emphasize this---there are elements of the US nuclear capability on the European continent. It simply changes the whole configuration of international security…..Of course, we have to respond to that.”
Putin is right. The “so-called” defense system is actually an expansion (and integration) of America’s existing nuclear weapons system which will now function as one unit. The dangers of this should be obvious.
The Bush administration is maneuvering in a way that will allow it to achieve what Nuclear weapons specialist, Francis A. Boyle, calls the “longstanding US policy of nuclear first-strike against Russia”.
In Boyle’s article “US Missiles in Europe: Beyond Deterrence to First Strike Threat” he states:
“By means of a US first strike about 99%+ of Russian nuclear forces would be taken out. Namely, the United States Government believes that with the deployment of a facially successful first strike capability, they can move beyond deterrence and into "compellence."… This has been analyzed ad nauseam in the professional literature. But especially by one of Harvard's premier warmongers in chief, Thomas Schelling --winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics granted by the Bank of Sweden-- who developed the term "compellence" and distinguished it from "deterrence." …The USG is breaking out of a "deterrence" posture and moving into a "compellence" posture. (Global Research 6-6-07)
That’s right. The real goal is to force Moscow to conform to Washington’s “diktats” or face the prospect of “first-strike” annihilation. That’s why Putin has expressed growing concern over the administration’s dropping out of the ABM Treaty and the development of a new regime of low yield, bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The “hawks” who surround Bush have abandoned the “deterrence” policy of the past, and now believe that a nuclear war can be “won” by the United States. This is madness and it needs to be taken seriously.
The Bush administration sees itself as a main player in Central Asia and the Middle East---controlling vital resources and pipeline corridors throughout the region. That means Russia’s influence will have to be diminished. Boris Yeltsin was the perfect leader for the neoconservative master-plan (which is why the right-wingers Praised him when he died) Russia disintegrated under Yeltsin. He oversaw the dismantling of the state, the plundering of its resources and state-owned assets, and the restructuring of its economy according to the tenets of neoliberalism.
No wonder the neocons loved him.
Under Putin, Russia has regained its economic footing, its regional influence and its international prestige. The economy is booming, the ruble has stabilized, the standard of living has risen, and Moscow has strengthened alliances with its neighbors. This new-found Russian prosperity poses a real challenge to Bush’s plans.
Two actions in particular have changed the Russian-US relationship from tepid to openly hostile. The first was when Putin announced that Russia’s four largest oil fields would not be open to foreign development. (Russia has been consolidating its oil wealth under state-run Gazprom) And, second, when the Russian Treasury began to convert Russia’s dollar reserves into gold and rubles. Both of these are regarded as high-crimes by US corporate chieftains and western elites. Their response was swift.
John Edwards and Jack Kemp were appointed to lead a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) task force which concocted the basic pretext for an all-out assault on the Putin. This is where the idea that Putin is “rolling back democracy” began; it’s a feeble excuse for political antagonism. In their article “Russia’s Wrong Direction”, Edwards and Kemp state that a “strategic partnership” with Russia is no longer possible. They note that the government has become increasingly “authoritarian” and that the society is growing less “open and pluralistic”. Blah, blah, blah. No one in the Washington really cares about democracy. (Just look at our “good friends” in Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan) What they’re afraid of is Putin ditching the dollar and controlling his own oil. That’s what counts. Bush also wants Putin to support sanctions against Iran and rubber stamp a Security Council resolution to separate Kosovo form Serbia. (Since when does the UN have the right to redraw national borders? Was the creation of Israel such a stunning success that the Security Council wants to try its luck again?)
Putin does not accept the “unipolar” world model. As he said in Munich, the unipolar world refers to “a world in which there is one master, one sovereign---- one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making. At the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.… What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization.”
“Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centers of tension. Judge for yourselves---wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished. More are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more!
Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.
We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?
In international relations we increasingly see the desire to resolve a given question according to so-called issues of political expediency, based on the current political climate. And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasise this – no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race.
I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security.”
How can anyone dispute Putin’s analysis?
“Unilateral and illegitimate military actions”, the “uncontained hyper-use of force”, the “disdain for the basic principles of international law”, and most importantly; “No one feels safe!”
These are the irrefutable facts. Putin has simply summarized the Bush Doctrine better than anyone else.
The Bush administration has increased its frontline American bases to five thousand men on Russia’s perimeter. Is this conduct of a “trustworthy ally”?
Also, NATO has deployed forces on Russia’s borders even while Putin has continued to fulfill his treaty obligations and move troops and military equipment hundreds of miles away.
As Putin said on Tuesday: “We have removed all of our heavy weapons from the European part of Russia and put them behind the Urals” and “reduced our Armed Forces by 300,000. We have taken several other steps required by the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Treaty in Europe (ACAF). But what have we seen in response? Eastern Europe is receiving new weapons, two new military bases are being set up in Romania and in Bulgaria, and there are two new missile launch areas -- a radar in Czech republic and missile systems in Poland. And we are asking ourselves the question: what is going on? Russia is disarming unilaterally. But if we disarm unilaterally then we would like to see our partners be willing to do the same thing in Europe. On the contrary, Europe is being pumped full of new weapons systems. And of course we cannot help but be concerned.”
(This is why Putin’s comments did not appear in the western media! They would have been too damaging to the Bush administration and their expansionist plans)
Who Destroyed the ABM?
“We did not initiate the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But what response did we give when we discussed this issue with our American partners? We said that we do not have the resources and desire to establish such a system. But as professionals we both understand that a missile defense system for one side and no such a system for the other creates an illusion of security and increases the possibility of a nuclear conflict. The defense system WILL DESTROY THE STRATEGIC EQUILIBRIUM IN THE WORLD. In order to restore that balance without setting up a missile defense system we will have to create a system to overcome missile defense, which is what we are doing now.”
Putin: “AN ARMS RACE IS UNFOLDING. Was it we who withdrew from the ABM Treaty? We must react to what our partners do. We already told them two years ago, “don’t do this, you don’t need to do this. What are you doing? YOU ARE DESTROYING THE SYSTEM OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY. You must understand that you are forcing us to take retaliatory steps.” …we warned them. No, they did not listen to us. Then we heard about them developing low-yield nuclear weapons and they are continuing to develop these weapons.” We told them that “it would be better to look for other ways to fight terrorism than create low-yield nuclear weapons and lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, and thereby put humankind on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. But they don’t listen to us. They are not looking for compromise. Their entire point of view can be summed-up in one sentence: ‘Whoever is not with us is against us.’”
Putin asks, “So what should we do?” The present predicament has brought us “the brink of disaster”.
Putin: “Some people have the illusion that you can do everything just as you want, regardless of the interests of other people. Of course it is for precisely this reason that the international situation gets worse and eventually results in an arms race as you pointed out. But we are not the instigators. We do not want it. Why would we want to divert resources to this? And we are not jeopardizing our relations with anyone. But we must respond.
Name even one step that we have taken or one action of ours designed to worsen the situation. There are none. We are not interested in that. We are interested in having a good atmosphere, environment and energy dialogue around Russia”.
So, what should Putin do? And how else can he meet his responsibilities to the Russian people without taking defensive “retaliatory” action to Bush’s act of war. By expanding its nuclear capability to Europe, all of Russia is in imminent danger, and so, Putin must decide “precisely which means will be used to destroy the installations that our experts believe represent a potential threat for the Russian Federation”. (Note that Putin NEVER THREATENS TO AIM HIS MISSILES AT EUROPEAN CITIES AS WAS REPORTED IN THE WESTERN MEDIA)
Putin has made great strides in improving life for the Russian people. That is why his public approval rating is soaring at 75%. The Russian economy has been growing by 7% a year. He’s lowered the number of people living beneath the poverty-line by more than half and will bring it down to European levels by 2010. Real incomes are growing by an astonishing 12% per year. As Putin says, “Combating poverty is one of our top priorities and we still have to do a lot to improve our pension system too because the correlation between pensions and the average wage is still lower here than in Europe.”
If only that was true in America!
Russia now has the ninth largest economy in the world and has amassed enormous gold and currency reserves--the third largest in the world. It is also one of the leading players in international energy policy with a daily-oil output which now exceeds Saudi Arabia. It is also the largest producer of natural gas in the world. Russia will only get stronger as we get deeper into the century and energy resources become scarcer.
Putin strongly objects to the idea that he is not committed to human rights or is “rolling back democracy”. He points out how truncheon-wielding police in Europe routinely use tear gas, electric-shock devices and water cannons to disperse demonstrators. Is that how the West honors human rights and civil liberties?
As for the Bush administration---Putin produced a copy of Amnesty International’s yearly report condemning the United States conduct in the war on terror. “I have a copy of Amnesty International’s report here, which includes a section on the United States,” he said. “The organization has concluded that the United States IS NOW THE PRINCIPLE VIOLATOR OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS WORLDWIDE.”
He added, “We have a proverb in Russian, ‘Don’t blame the mirror if your face is crooked.’”
Putin is fiercely nationalistic. He has helped to restore Russia’s self-confidence and rebuild the economy. He’s demonstrated a willingness to compromise with the Bush administration on every substantive issue, but he has been repeatedly rebuffed. The last thing he wants is a nuclear standoff with the United States. But he will do what he must to defend his people from the threat of foreign attack. The deployment of the missile defense system will require that Russia develop its own new weapons systems and change its thinking about trusting the United States. Friendship is not possible in the present climate.
As for “democracy”; Putin said it best himself:
“Am I a ‘pure democrat’? (laughs) Of course I am, absolutely. The problem is that I’m all alone---the only one of my kind in the whole wide world. Just look at what’s happening in North America, it’s simply awful---torture, homeless people, Guantanamo, people detained without trial and investigation. Just look at what’s happening in Europe---harsh treatment of demonstrators, rubber bullets and tear gas used first in one capital then in another, demonstrators killed on the streets….. I have no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died.”
Well said, Vladimir.
Weight loss with yucky side effects
Diet drug Alli debuts with digestive concerns
BY SUSAN ABRAM, Staff Writer
LA Daily News
BURBANK - It can be your friend or your foe.
In the war against weight loss, a new, federally approved, over-the-counter diet pill is being touted as the latest weapon against fat.
Alli (pronounced "ally") made its debut Friday in most drug stores, where the $60-a-package product was disappearing from specially designed display cases.
GlaxoSmithKline, the drug's maker, is providing extensive information at myalli.com to alert users that the drug is no magic bullet but is effective with proper diet and exercise.
Made to act as a fat blocker, Alli is half the dosage of its predecessor known as Xenical, but does come with caution: its side effects aren't exactly proper dinner table conversation.
"Loose stools ...," a Burbank CVS customer mumbled as she sat cross-legged in front of a display case to read the instructions. "I don't think I like that."
Alli works on enzymes that break down fat. The drug makes sure that undigested fat cannot be absorbed but passes through the body naturally. However, eating meals with too much fat can cause aggressive, unstoppable bowel movements, among other intestinal discomforts.
"The side effects are nasty," said Dr. Jack Der-Sarkissian, a local family physician and regional leader of adult weight management for Kaiser Permanente. "It hasn't been popular as a prescription drug because of the side effects."
Der-Sarkissian said those effects could work as a harsh reminder and deterrent to eating fatty foods. He called the pill a tool that can be used in conjunction with persistent diet and exercise. And research has shown it does work and is the least harmful.
But Der-Sarkissian said he is concerned that consumers won't read the instructions carefully.
"People are putting a lot of expectations on it," he said. "But my fear is that my patients won't read all of that literature. If they follow everything, and do it under their doctor's observation, it could play a role in weight loss."
And some are calling the FDA's approval an important, historical moment in the treatment of obesity.
"Alli is by far the safest weight-loss medication ever studied," said Dr. Gary Foster, director for the Center of Obesity Research and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia. "It doesn't act on the brain, heart or liver. It's a very safe medication."
It also might encourage users to change behaviors, because of the side effects.
"You'll make it your business to learn what's in a Caesar salad," Foster said. "It will get people interested in how food is prepared at restaurants to ask questions. In that way, it's a medication that in a positive way can change behavior."
At Miami Fitness in Burbank, gym members pooh-poohed the notion that any diet pill could work.
"You'll need diapers with this one," said Barbara Merlin, 60, of Burbank. "I'm not really interested in it because it messes with your digestive system. Just watch the carbs and sugar. That's it."
As Gary Lewin, 51, lifted weights, he called the use of diet pills pure laziness.
"I admit, staying on a diet is difficult sometimes, but if you just eat right, it's easy to moderate your weight," he said in between curls. "Our society wants the middle class to work all the time. But you need to make time to go to the gym."
FDA advisers reject Sanofi-Aventis weight-loss drug
• FDA advisers unanimously reject obesity drug rimonabant
• Panel says maker, Sanofi-Aventis SA, had failed to prove drug is safe
• In studies, patients on the drug had twice as many psychiatric side effects
• Recommendation not binding; FDA's final decision expected by July 27
WASHINGTON (AP) -- There's no dispute that the drug rimonabant does what it's supposed to do: help obese people lose weight.
It's the drug's side effects that are causing concern -- and are likely to keep it off the market in the United States.
Federal health advisers unanimously rejected the drug, voting 14-0 that the manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis SA, had failed to prove that it is safe. A Food and Drug Administration medical officer had told the panel that the drug increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and other psychiatric problems.
The FDA usually follows the advice of its advisory panels but is not required to do so. It's decision is expected by July 27.
The weight-loss drug is sold in 18 other countries.
"There is a reasonable suspicion we better learn some more and watch this affair more closely before we launch into massive use of this drug," said panelist Dr. Jules Hirsch, a senior physician at New York's Rockefeller University. (Watch more on Zimulti, other diet drug )
In studies, patients given the once-daily tablet reported twice as many psychiatric side effects, including depression, anxiety and sleep problems, than those who received sham treatment, Dr. Amy Egan, an FDA medical officer, told the advisers.
"The numbers of events are small, but in aggregate they are worrisome," Egan said.
Officials from Sanofi-Aventis suggested that patients be screened for depression before they are prescribed the drug. They also advised that patients visit their doctors five times during the first year of treatment to be reassessed to further curtail any potential problems.
"Who is the right patient to receive rimonabant? Not everybody," Sanofi-Aventis' Richard Gural told the panel of advisers earlier Wednesday. The drug is not appropriate for anyone with a history of depression or suicidal thoughts, or in whom depression has been diagnosed or who is taking antidepressant medication, he added.
The company proposes selling the drug under the brand name Zimulti. Rimonabant already is sold in Europe as Acomplia.
Panel had concerns
The litany of mental problems associated with the drug clearly gave the panelists pause.
"I think this is a drug that needs further understanding with respect to what it does to people's psyche," said panelist Dr. Sid Gilman, a University of Michigan neurologist.
Even if the FDA does approve the first-in-its-class drug, the findings make it highly likely it would bear stern warnings. Company officials embraced the idea of such warnings, which could exclude FDA-approved use in some patients.
The company, FDA and panelists all agreed that Zimulti, along with diet and exercise, works to help shed weight. In yearlong studies, patients on the drug lost roughly 14 pounds. Those given dummy pills lost only about 4 pounds. However, patients regained weight when treatment was stopped after a year.
But the FDA and its outside advisers shared deep concerns that the drug's effect on the body could lead to an array of psychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorders and depression. No panelist felt the company had sufficiently characterized the drug's safety.
"What I am really troubled by is the lack of good safety data," said panel chairman Dr. Clifford Rosen, senior staff scientist at the Maine Center for Osteoporosis.
The company believes those increased cases were associated with depression or other disorders and weren't directly caused by its drug. The FDA's Egan, however, said they were.
"We strongly believe that it is causal," Egan said. She noted 88 percent of those reporting psychiatric problems while on the drug had no prior history of depression.
Furthermore, patients in the studies were carefully screened and monitored, suggesting the problems would be more common should the drug enter broad use, Egan added.
The screenings proposed by the company won't keep the depressed and obese from Zimulti, warned Lynn McAfee, head of medical advocacy for the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination, a fat acceptance group.
"If this gets out to be a real big deal in the public, you can figure out how to answer those questions to get the drug," McAfee said. "It's not going to stop anyone." The potential market for the drug is huge, as obesity rates have exploded in the past two decades. Today, nearly one in three American adults age 20 or older is obese, according to government data.
Rimonabant blocks the same pleasure centers in the body activated when pot smokers get the munchies. Blocking the receptors leads to patients eating less and losing weight. Sanofi-Aventis also believes the drug decreases fat storage.
The FDA previously told the French company it would not approve the drug to help smokers quit.