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Power Plant on Sacred GroundNew York Times by Dean E. Murphy November 29, 2002
SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 27 The Bush administration has approved construction of a geothermal power plant in the Modoc National Forest, a remote volcanic field near California's border with Oregon that local tribes consider sacred.
Indians and environmental groups accused the government of betrayal today and said they would fight the decision.
The project, at Telephone Flat, was blocked two years ago by the Clinton administration because of concerns about intrusion on the lands. The plant would be two miles from Medicine Lake, which the tribes believe has healing powers.
In reversing the Clinton administration decision, officials said "the overall interests of the public would be best served" by allowing the project to proceed. Specifically, the decision, released on Tuesday, cited the need for developing renewable energy sources.
Calpine, the utility in San Jose that wants to build the 48-megawatt plant, owns extensive leases for geothermal development in the national forest. Calpine sued the government for $100 million when the project was rejected, but agreed to drop the claim if the Bush administration reconsidered the plan.
Gene Preston, chairman of the Pit River Tribe, one of four near Medicine Lake, said his 2,000 members felt cheated by the reversal.
Two years ago, when the plant was rejected, another geothermal complex proposed by Calpine was approved at nearby Fourmile Hill, just outside the most sacred area. Mr. Preston said the tribe agreed to drop public protests over the Fourmile Hill plant in exchange for a five-year moratorium on additional power projects.
"We sat down and worked out a compromise," Mr. Preston said. "We thought we had five years so that studies could be done and level minds could make more informed opinions. Now that is all moot."
Mark Rey, under secretary for natural resources and environment in the Agriculture Department, which oversees the forest service, said Mr. Preston's complaint was with the Clinton administration.
"I don't know the specifics of this promise because I was not there," Mr. Rey said. "But I can tell you the lion's share of my first year in office has been spent trying to figure out what the outgoing administration promised and whether or not it would be wise public policy to redeem those promises. We are trying to do what is right here."
He said the Calpine suit had heavily influenced the Telephone Flat decision.
"The Justice Department said we are going to lose boatloads of taxpayer money if we don't find a way to give these guys a fairer hearing," Mr. Rey said. "If some folks don't like the decision, the company has already made commitments to make the decision more palatable."
A spokesman for Calpine said it was studying the decision, which included new conditions, including moving the 13-mile power line to run parallel to a Forest Service road and not pass near Medicine Lake.
"There are a number of things that have to be reviewed," the spokesman, David J. Michetti, said.
In approving the plant, the administration rejected the recommendation of the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation, a federal agency that seeks to preserve important cultural and historical places.
About 24 square miles of volcanic fields near Medicine Lake, known as the Medicine Lake Highlands, were declared a traditional cultural district in 1999 and are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In a letter to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, the advisory council urged denying the plant a permit. "The costs to the historic resources of Native Americans and our nation are too high," the letter said.
The Pit River tribe and others consider Medicine Lake and the surrounding area a spiritual sanctuary. They believe that the creator descended from nearby Mount Shasta and bathed in the lake, giving it healing powers. Medicine men still train there, and coming-of-age ceremonies are conducted there. Many Indians immerse themselves in the lake to cleanse the body and soul.
Mr. Preston said the tribes believed that the geothermal energy, which would be tapped for electricity, had a spiritual origin and should not be tampered with. Already, he said, tribe members wait until nightfall to conduct ceremonies at the lake to avoid motor homes and boaters. A plant at Telephone Flat would further tip the balance toward the outsiders, Mr. Preston said.
"We have to hide in the bushes and wait until everybody is gone and sneak out on the lake," he said. "Our land was taken away initially with land claims, and now they are trying to take our culture and religion."
Deborah Sivas, director of the Earthjustice Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford University, who has represented the Pit River tribe in a suit over Fourmile Hill, said the reversal on Telephone Flat was a big setback. Calpine might view the ruling as a green light to move forward with more geothermal projects, Ms. Sivas said.
"We really perceive this as a policy coming down from Washington to push energy development at whatever cost," she added.
Mr. Preston said he worried about the future of his ancestral lands, as well as the precedent. He said he recently met for three hours with Kathleen Clarke, director of the Bureau of Land Management, and Dale N. Bosworth, chief of the Forest Service.
"They gave me a clear and open opportunity to make our case," Mr. Preston said. "But at the end, they described it as a clash of cultures. They understood our plight and were sympathetic to it. They said they recognize our culture, but also the culture of capitalism."
Whose Hands Are Dirty?New York Times by Bob Herbert November 27, 2002
(11/25/02) - Thimerosal is a preservative that contains mercury and was used for many years as an additive in some routinely administered children's vaccines.
Fears developed a few years ago that the additive might have been causing dangerously elevated levels of mercury in infants, resulting in neurological impairment and, in some cases, autism.
Studies thus far have neither shown nor ruled out a link between the vaccines and neurological damage in children. But in the summer of 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Public Health Service urged vaccine manufacturers to stop using thimerosal as quickly as possible.
Thus, thimerosal, which was developed by Eli Lilly & Company in the 1920's and was in widespread use by the 1990's, is no longer added to vaccines commonly given to children. But a serious controversy continues. Lawsuits have been filed by parents across the country who are convinced that their children suffered severe neurological damage from the mercury in the vaccines. Talking to them can be heartbreaking.
Lyn Redwood, a nurse practitioner and the wife of a physician in suburban Atlanta, spoke to me last week about her 8-year-old son, Will. "I have a little boy who was completely normal at birth walking, talking, smiling, meeting all of his developmental landmarks," she said. "Then, shortly after he turned 1 year old, he lost his ability to speak, to make eye contact. He started regressing and ultimately was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, which falls into a spectrum of autism disorders."
Ms. Redwood contends that three infant vaccines administered to her son when he was 2 months old exposed him to levels of mercury that far exceeded all safety guidelines.
At this point we must interrupt our narrative and turn our attention to the federal government's effort to fight terrorism in the United States.
Last week the Senate approved legislation to establish a Department of Homeland Security and it will soon be signed into law by the president. Buried in this massive bill, snuck into it in the dark of night by persons unknown (actually, it's fair to say by Republican persons unknown), was a provision that incredibly will protect Eli Lilly and a few other big pharmaceutical outfits from lawsuits by parents who believe their children were harmed by thimerosal.
Now this has nothing to do with homeland security. Nothing. This is not a provision that will in any way protect us from the ferocious evil of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. So why is it there? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the major drug companies have become a gigantic collective cash machine for politicians, and that the vast majority of that cash goes to Republicans.
Or maybe it's related to the fact that Mitch Daniels, the White House budget director, is a former Eli Lilly big shot. Or the very convenient fact that just last June President Bush appointed Eli Lilly's chairman, president and C.E.O., Sidney Taurel, to a coveted seat on the president's Homeland Security Advisory Council.
There's a real bad smell here. Eli Lilly will benefit greatly as both class-action and individual lawsuits are derailed. But there are no fingerprints in sight. No one will own up to a legislative deed that is both cynical and shameful.
An official spokesman for Eli Lilly, Edward Sagebiel, insists the company knew nothing about it, nothing at all.
While the vote for the Homeland Security Department was overwhelming, even some Republicans were upset by the provision to benefit Lilly and the other drug companies.
Senator John McCain of Arizona characterized the provision as "among the most inappropriate" in the homeland security legislation. He said: "This language will primarily benefit large brand-name pharmaceutical companies which produce additives to children's vaccines with substantial benefit to one company in particular. It has no bearing whatsoever on domestic security."
The politicians with their hands out and the fat cats with plenty of green to spread around have carried the day. Nothing is too serious to exploit, not even the defense of the homeland during a time of terror.
Lyn Redwood put together an advocacy group, called Safe Minds, for parents struggling with the thimerosal issue. They're at a slight disadvantage, wielding a popgun against the nuclear-powered influence of an Eli Lilly.
Veterans Protest Loss of Health CareAssociated Press by Angela K. Brown - November 25, 2002
WACO, Texas (AP) - Veterans groups say they're fighting mad about problems in getting benefits they earned, and they want President Bush to know.
They've erected a billboard that uses a quote from one of Bush's campaign speeches in 2000. It reads: "'Promises made will be promises kept' -- U.S. government denies military retirees earned healthcare, disabled military retirees retirement pay."
The sign is about 20 miles from Crawford, the 700-resident town that has no billboards and is near the president's 1,600-acre ranch.
"I regret that I ever voted for him," said Jack Hollinsworth, 66, a Navy veteran from Duncan, Okla., who drove to Waco for a rally attended by two dozen people Saturday. "He promised he would help us, and he's letting us down."
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied claims by World War II and Korean War veterans who said the government reneged on a promise of free lifetime health care if they stayed in the service for 20 years.
The government conceded military recruiters made the promises, but the Defense Department convinced the court there was no valid contract because the assurances were not backed up by law.
The veterans have been on winning and losing sides of the case. A federal judge in Jacksonville, Fla., ruled against them in 1998. In February, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled in their favor.
The veterans, some who say Bush orchestrated the timing of the recent court decision after the election, now plan to seek a Supreme Court hearing.
"The appeals court has told Congress they can break their promises any time they want to," Hollinsworth said. "They're saying: `You military retirees, you forgotten souls, you don't count. You're just like a worn-out combat boot. Don't bother us no more.'"
The billboard was paid for by the Military Retirees Grass Roots Group, formed in 1997 to address health-care concerns of the nation's 27 million veterans, including 2 million who retired after 20 years of service. The group has erected similar billboards in other states the past few years.
Members from the Veterans Voting Bloc, a nonpartisan group that keeps its 2,000 members apprised of candidates' stances on military issues, also attended the rally.
Hollinsworth said he lost all retirement benefits when he was declared 100 percent disabled because every dollar paid for disability is deducted from a veterans retirement fund. He has severe hearing loss from jet noise, arthritis and emphysema.
Others say the government's health-care plan for veterans over 65 is more confusing and frustrating than Medicare, and many military retirees can't find doctors in their areas willing to accept the plan.
"The guys that have been hurt are hurting worse," said retired Col. Albert C. Lloyd Jr., 65, a former personnel director for the Texas Air National Guard. "A lot of them say, `We ought to go out and commit a crime so we can get medical care (in jail).' They were the ones that stood up and fought to keep this country free."
Lloyd, who is not disabled, said he now urges young people to avoid military service because they cannot be assured of future health care.
"When I was young, I joined because I wanted to serve," Lloyd said. "I was patriotic. I said, `This is the greatest career in the world.' I completed my 20 years and expected free medical care. Thank God I didn't need it."
Thomas Condemns Bush AdministrationMassachusetts Institute of Technology by Sarah H. Wright November 16, 2002
(11/6/02) - Veteran journalist Helen Thomas brought the grit and whir of a White House press conference to Bartos Theater on Monday evening, speaking with passion about the media's role in a democracy whose leaders seem eager for war.
Actually, the 82-year-old former United Press International reporter didn't just speak: she surged into her topic, giving everyone present an immediate sense of the grumpy wit and fierce precision that gave her reporting on American presidents Kennedy through Bush II such a competitive and lasting edge.
"I censored myself for 50 years when I was a reporter," said Thomas, who is now a columnist for Hearst News Service. "Now I wake up and ask myself, 'Who do I hate today?'" Her short list of answers seems not to vary from war, President Bush, timid office-holders, a muffled press and cowed citizens, pretty much in that order.
Angered by what she views as the Bush administration's "bullying drumbeat," Thomas referred early and often to her own hatred of war, quoting from poets and politicians to bear down on President Bush and his colleagues.
Winston Churchill, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louis Brandeis, George Santayana, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. all made appearances in Thomas' sweeping portrayal of what she sees as the administration's betrayal of both the character and will of the American people and the principles of democracy.
"I have never covered a president who actually wanted to go to war. Bush's policy of pre-emptive war is immoral - such a policy would legitimize Pearl Harbor. It's as if they learned none of the lessons from Vietnam," she said to enthusiastic applause.
Thomas ignored the clapping just as she once ignored the camera flashes and shouting matches of the Washington press corps.
"Where is the outrage?" she demanded. "Where is Congress? They're supine! Bush has held only six press conferences, the only forum in our society where a president can be questioned. I'm on the phone to [press secretary] Ari Fleischer every day, asking will he ever hold another one? The international world is wondering what happened to America's great heart and soul."
Like any star, Thomas, who resigned from UPI in 2000, appreciated her audience's thirst to get the insider's view of our national leaders, and she gave generously, in snapshots, though the Reagan and both Bush regimes were cast in darker hues.
"Great presidents have great goals for mankind. During my years of covering the White House, Kennedy was the most inspired; Johnson rammed through voting rights and public housing; Nixon will be remembered for his trip to China and for his resignation; Ford for helping us recover from Nixon; and Carter for making human rights the centerpiece of foreign policy," Thomas said in an even, respectful tone. She just sighed over Clinton, who "tarnished the Oval Office."
Thomas' mood became visibly more somber at the mention of Ronald Reagan's military buildup and at the name Bush. Again and again, Thomas warned the MIT audience, "It's bombs away for Iraq and on our civil liberties if Bush and his cronies get their way. Dissent is patriotic!"
After her talk, Thomas participated in a panel discussion with MacVicar Faculty Fellows David Thorburn, professor of literature, and Charles Stewart III, professor of political science. Philip S. Khoury, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, introduced the speakers.
"Helen Thomas offered a very powerful indictment of the current behavior of the Bush presidency in her comments on the incoherence and inconsistency of Bush's policies and the danger to civil liberties of Bush's rhetoric," said Thorburn.
He compared the lack of public awareness of an antiwar movement in 1965 and 1966 with the wide public debate about Iraq going on today. "An aroused citizenry can instruct the government," he said.
Stewart also focused on the current public debate about Iraq, declaring that it may be a "hopeful sign. The polls say Americans don't want to talk about Iraq - they want to talk about the economy, about education. But the press has continued to point out the important thing. Everyone knows there's been a dance between the President and Congress over Iraq."
Thomas didn't let the press off the hook, though. "Everybody learned the lessons of Vietnam, including the Pentagon. In Vietnam, correspondents could go anywhere - just hop on a helicopter and report on the war. Now we don't have that access. It's total secrecy. The media overlords should be complaining about this. I do not absolve the press. We've rolled over and played dead, too," she said.
Asked to advise young journalists, Thomas pounced. "Remind the politicians you interview that you pay them, that they are public servants. Remember every question is legitimate. And don't give up. There's always a leak. There's always someone who's trying to save the country," she said.
The talk was sponsored by the MIT Communications Forum.
The Chicken Hawks' WarTomPaine.com by George Johnson November 16, 2002
This past Veterans Day, I took time out of my busy schedule to remember the many people, some of them my friends, who gave the greatest sacrifice for their country. It's a commemoration I undertake every year, and always with a heavy heart. But this year my thoughts are especially somber, because this year I know that the United States is again headed for war, and that other unnecessary deaths are likely to occur. As a veteran of the U.S. Navy, I am strongly opposed to the proposed invasion of Iraq. This war seems to me ill-considered and ill-planned. Almost all the countries of the Middle East are opposed to a war with Iraq; our allies in Europe think an invasion is foolhardy. A credible case has not been made that Saddam Hussein poses a clear and present danger to the United States. Most disturbing to me is the White House's notion of a pre-emptive attack, an idea that contradicts the United States' historic policy of not acting as an aggressor.
These are intellectual concerns. What really makes me sad and angry -- what keeps me up at night -- is the thought that this senseless war is being initiated by a group of people who have never seen combat, people who don't know what war is really about.
The media has dubbed the war-happy individuals who never served in war "chicken hawks." These were the people who did all they could to avoid service in Vietnam while tens of thousands of young Americans -- and countless more Vietnamese -- were dying. Some people, including friends of mine, avoided service because they held principled objections to the war in Vietnam. Let's be clear: The "chicken hawks" weren't peacenik draft dodgers. Rather, they were cowardly draft dodgers. And now they are the ones who are so eager to start another war.
Vice President Dick Cheney has said he didn't serve in Vietnam because he had "other priorities." Clearly, so did President Bush, who was in the National Guard, but went nearly 14 months without reporting for service and was almost declared AWOL. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a prominent hawk who is currently settled in a right-wing think tank, was in graduate school. Republican Whip Tom Delay also asked for a school deferment. Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh claimed a medical problem, as did current House leader Dennis Hastert. Senator Trent Lott was busy leading his college cheerleading squad.
Now Lott, along with the rest of the chicken hawk brigade, is busy cheerleading for war. They treat the issue so cavalierly because they have never actually seen war, they don't know its horrors and its fears.
Combat teaches you that war is a serious, deadly business. Too many of the officials in Washington never learned that lesson the hard way. For them, war is a theoretical exercise, like playing chess, or sports.
For the chicken hawks, war seems easy because they have never born the weight of war -- and they will never have to. Nor, more than likely, will their sons and daughters. The rich and the privileged -- the sons and daughters of Senators and Congressmen -- aren't the ones who go to combat. Today's military is much like the military I served in 40 years ago -- disproportionately poor and working class, disproportionately made up of African-Americans and other people of color.
Those who have really seen war know better than the chicken hawks. The veterans within the Bush Administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell, have been the most cautious voices when it comes to Iraq. And there are other veterans -- Representative Charles Rangel of New York, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Senator Daniel Inouye -- who voted against attacking Iraq.
War is hell. But it's also true that war is an easier route to follow than peace -- throughout history, war has been the path more frequently taken. Attacking someone you don't agree with is a fairly straightforward affair; sitting down with your adversary and working out your disagreements is much more difficult. At the end of the day, it takes more courage to negotiate than to fight. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of courage we can expect from our chicken hawk leaders.
George Johnson served in the Navy from 1962 to 1966. He is the Vice Commander of American Legion Post 315 and a member of Veterans for Peace.
FERC Cannot Protect PublicAssociated Press November 15, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) - The federal agency charged with overseeing wholesale power sales has yet to show it can protect consumers and investors from market abuses in the complex and rapidly changing energy industry, a Senate committee report said Tuesday.
The report said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission still lacks staff and the expertise needed to adequately monitor the transactions and trading practices of complicated, competitive electricity markets.
``Simply rearranging its bureaucracy is not the answer,'' David Berick, an author of the report by the Governmental Affairs Committee's Democratic staff, told the panel at a hearing.
He said the agency ``must completely reorient itself to a changed and increasingly complex regulatory environment'' if it is to prevent future electricity market abuses such as those that led to soaring power prices in California and across the West two years ago.
FERC Chairman Pat Wood, who became chairman of the five-member commission 14 months ago, said the agency is determined to get a better handle on the power and natural gas markets and root out abuses and market manipulation.
``We are currently in the process of overhauling our regulatory approaches where necessary to assure a competitive marketplace that protects consumers against harm of market manipulation and other deceptive practices,'' said Wood.
The agency has created a new office of investigations and oversight and has hired more professionals who know the competitive markets, he said.
But Wood acknowledged that he and other commissioners ``are still learning lessons'' from the collapse of Enron, once a dominant energy trader, and from its continuing investigation into how Enron and other energy traders operated during the California power crisis in 2000 and early 2001.
Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said the panel's report outlines ``an embarrassing and unacceptable failure of government'' to protect consumers as well as Enron employees and shareholders. FERC's oversight ``ranged from naive at best to negligent at worst,'' said Lieberman.
The report also detailed Enron's intense lobbying of FERC and previously disclosed attempts by Enron executives to influence the Bush administration in its selection of commission members, including its push to appoint Wood. Ironically, it was Wood who pushed to impose controls on electricity prices across the West and stepped up the investigation of Enron's trading activities.
Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, the committee's top Republican, complained at the hearing that the report ignored some significant contacts Enron made with Democrats.
He produced documents showing that among those Enron hired to lobby FERC and the Energy Department were Nashville lawyer Charles Bone, a close friend of FERC Commissioner Linda Breathitt, and Johnny Hayes, finance chairman for Al Gore's presidential campaign.
From August 2000 to June of 2001, Bone had at least 36 telephone or personal contacts with Breathitt, including many that Thompson said also involved Enron executives.
Breathitt acknowledged that Bone has been a friend for years and she had numerous contacts with him in 2000 and 2001. But she said she did not recall any phone conversations with Bone that included Enron executives. Nor, she said, did they discuss matters before FERC, such as whether to impose price controls in California.
During the deliberation over California's growing energy crisis, Breathitt held a swing vote on a commission that for a time had only three members. She often sided with then-Chairman Curtis Hebert, who opposed aggressive intervention. The other commissioner, William Massey, backed stringent price caps.
The report's findings also detailed Enron activities and regulatory lapses that were already public, including FERC's failure to:
Earlier challenges to these activities might have unearthed Enron's abuses sooner, perhaps mitigating its collapse, the report said.
Webster Resigns From SEC BoardAssociated Press by Marcy Gordon November 13, 2002
WASHINGTON - Former FBI Director William Webster resigned Tuesday as head of a special accounting oversight board, saying he wanted to avert "new distractions" as the congressionally created agency seeks to rebuild public confidence after a series of business scandals.
The move capped nearly two weeks of speculation regarding Webster's future in a debacle that already has brought the resignations of Bush appointee Harvey Pitt, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the SEC's head accountant.
"I now believe my continued presence on the board will only generate more distractions which will not be helpful to the important mission of the board," Webster said in his resignation letter.
"Those who know me will appreciate that I do not abandon duty lightly. It is time to clear the air," he said.
Webster, who also once headed the CIA, announced his resignation in a letter to Pitt, who has remained in office pending the naming of a replacement. Pitt quit earlier following a flap over his apparent failure to inform fellow SEC commissioners that Webster had headed the audit committee of a company under investigation for fraud.
President Bush last week voiced confidence in Webster's integrity, although Bush also said he wanted to see the outcome of an investigation of the circumstances surrounding Webster's selection.
"Judge Webster is a fine man. We wish him well and respect his decision," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Tuesday. "The president believes the oversight board has important work to do and he urges them to pursue their work quickly and aggressively."
Pitt is facing investigations into whether he concealed from other SEC members Webster's role for a company that is under investigation. The SEC voted 3-2, along party lines, to appoint him on Oct. 25. Pitt and the other two Republicans approved Webster and the two Democrats opposed his appointment.
In a statement accepting the resignation, Pitt made no mention of the controversy surrounding Webster's appointment. "I continue to believe that investors would have benefited from Judge Webster's dedication to the best interest of the American people," he said.
News of Webster's resignation came a day before the oversight board was scheduled to have its first meeting. His letter to Pitt was dated Monday and released Tuesday afternoon. SEC spokesman John Heine and a board member said the meeting, described as informal and dealing with administrative matters such as office space and staff, was expected to proceed Wednesday.
The turmoil comes at a time when the government is trying to bolster the confidence of investors and consumers shaken by corporate scandals over the past year and the SEC is investigating questionable accounting at dozens of big companies.
Webster's appointment was pushed by Pitt and endorsed by the Bush White House. Democrats preferred John Biggs, head of the largest teachers' pension fund, whom they believed would be tough on the accounting industry.
Creation of the oversight board was mandated by Congress last summer in legislation responding to the wave of accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom and other big companies. The five-member board, to be independent of the accounting industry, will be armed with subpoena authority and disciplinary powers and financed by fees from publicly traded companies.
The SEC inspector general and Congress' auditing arm, the General Accounting Office, are investigating the circumstances surrounding Webster's appointment and the Senate Banking Committee plans hearings.
Webster has said he told Pitt that he headed the audit committee at U.S. Technologies, which is considered insolvent and has been sued by shareholders alleging fraud. The office of the chief accountant, Robert Herdman, then told Pitt that information did not create a problem for Webster's selection.
Webster fired U.S. Technologies' outside auditors last year when he headed the board of directors' auditing committee.
The auditing firm, BDO Seidman, recently alleged that Webster had made "false and misleading statements" about how much he knew about the company's financial problems.
BDO Seidman also released documents showing that in a July 13, 2001, conference call with the audit committee, its accountants warned the committee members of "material weaknesses in internal accounting control."
Webster said last week that the auditors did voice concerns, but not in an urgent, "house on fire" way. He continued to insist that BDO Seidman was fired because the audit committee believed it was charging too much and taking too long to do its audits - not because of a warning about the company's financial controls.
Pitt announced Tuesday that the SEC commissioners had unanimously chosen Jackson Day, the agency's deputy chief accountant, as acting chief accountant until a permanent replacement is named.
'Regime Change' is HellNewhouse News Service by David Wood November 12, 2002
BERKLEY, Mass. Haltingly, the stories take shape around the back table of American Legion Post 121, where the haze of cigarette smoke thickens and the carefully nursed beer bottles sweat in pooled rings under the cozy light of a single overhead bulb. They are stories of men and women in war, stories of the sea, of rice paddies and deserts and frozen mountains. And they reflect not bravado, but pain and loss.
The aircraft crash and burning flesh. Men torpedoed into the North Atlantic's heaving icy darkness. The infantry platoon under rocket attack pouring return fire into a building, only to discover it was an orphanage, and tenderly carrying out the small broken bodies, sobbing with horror and guilt and anger, all of that still powerful, back home decades later.
The stories are coming once again, unwelcome things crawling out of the darkness, because once again politicians are threatening to send young Americans off to war. Because those who survive combat in Iraq, if it comes to that, will come home a new generation of veterans.
Gathered here, the grizzled men wonder: In 10 years or 20 or 30, will anyone take care of the new ones? Help shoulder their burdens? Listen to their stories? Even know who they are?
For in all today's talk of war in the rousing political speeches and experts' sound-bite wisdom, in the leaked invasion plans and solemn pronouncements about how smooth "regime change" might be there has been no acknowledgment that a debt will be owed to those who do the hard physical work of battle.
"Now they're gonna put people in another war? It makes me chill," says Jon Nemes, 55, a retired Boston firefighter who served as an Air Force commando in Vietnam and now commands the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5988 in Bourne, Mass., on Cape Cod.
"People need to understand, before we go off to war, do we want to pay for these guys down the road? Because the flags and confetti are nice, but it's the aftermath of war, for the veteran, that we need to be talking about now."
War's working classes
The veterans of America's past wars form a line 25 million long, and it is ironic that they seem such a familiar icon. Despite the stereotype of the soldier traumatized by war, their experiences for the most part are acknowledged neither by the men and women themselves nor by the society they served.
They are war's working classes, who went as 19- or 20-year-olds, well trained in the science of war and often touchingly naive about the art of life. Most had little concept of the immensity of what lay before them. And they served under immense stress as infantry grunts and nurses, tank mechanics, howitzer crewmen, ammo haulers, helicopter gunners and in a thousand other labors.
Proud, they ask not for handouts as much as what they figure to be their deserved benefits.
Some are just plain needy or unable to cope. Taking care of them all is an enormous undertaking that costs around $58 billion a year. Half a million are in school, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Each year, about 250,000 get home loans and 68,000 get job training. About 2.7 million get monthly pension checks including the widow of a Civil War soldier.
All of this is administered by a daunting federal bureaucracy second in size only to the Department of Defense.
Waiting list for VA care
The Department of Veterans Affairs the VA operates more than a thousand hospitals, clinics and nursing homes where it gives medical care to about 4 million veteran patients and dispenses $4 billion in prescription drugs a year.
VA medical care is free to honorably discharged veterans injured on military duty and to low-income vets. Others must make modest payments for medical and dental care.
If Bill Gates were a disabled combat veteran, he could get free medical care and almost-free medication from the VA.
"No nation on Earth has demonstrated more compassion, more generosity to those who served in uniform than the U.S.A.," says the VA's pugnacious chief, Anthony Principi, who fought as a riverboat commander in Vietnam's notorious Mekong Delta.
Even so, there are limits. Every year, Congress tells Principi how much he can spend. Every year, he has to stretch that money further. Every month, 60,000 new claims pour into VA offices, overwhelming clerks and flooding the system.
When Principi took over in January 2001, the waiting list for VA benefits was more than 900,000 people, including 280,000 vets who had waited six months or longer for medical care.
Scanning those numbers, Principi went ballistic.
The son of an Italian immigrant who grew up in the Bronx and was commissioned from the U.S. Naval Academy, he waded into the mess with both fists swinging, using tactics he learned to keep men alive in combat. "Focus, discipline, leadership and accountability! I set goals! Here's what we're gonna do!" he told his 230,000 employees.
"They never had that before in government," he says with a chuckle, pronouncing it "gummint."
The waiting list has been pared to about 350,000 and gets whittled down by thousands each month.
War's untreated wounds
But the issue of VA health care is more complicated. Surprisingly, given humankind's long experience with war, the understanding of what war does to man is incomplete and elusive.
How to measure war's effects, whether or how to compensate for them, even how to treat the symptoms are still questions of angry controversy that swirl around such hot-button topics as Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome, homeless and mentally handicapped vets, and, in the world of limited budgets, who gets what.
Principi himself is forthright and unapologetic.
"I don't think government owes me anything. The other way around," he says, observing that he is lucky to have come home unwounded. "I owe them. Like Kennedy said, what can I do?"
Another Vietnam vet takes the opposite view.
"I don't think there is any way you take people who saw so much and ever adequately compensate them," says Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who was twice wounded as a grunt in Vietnam. "We need to keep working this; it's a real tough issue."
And not all wounds are visible.
Here comes a platoon of men out into the Legion Hall parking lot in Berkley, breathing their beery vapor into the crisp autumn dark, calling a last goodbye and take care now, cranking up their family vans and motorcycles to ride back into lives as firefighters, office managers, lovers, parents.
Ordinary folks. Who could tell?
One of them has a brother, a GI who led a combat patrol in Vietnam. There came a crack and down went his radioman, and the GI turned as if in a dream and saw a 6-year-old boy standing expressionless. Big brown eyes. A .45-caliber pistol taped by the Viet Cong to his hand, the huge weapon smoking from a lucky shot, and the GI without conscious thought killed him with a burst of his M-16 and went on with the patrol. But he was never the same. Never the same.
So when talk of war with Iraq stirs talk of wars past, a lot of bad stuff bubbles up. "Until tonight," says a man at the Berkley hall, "I hadn't thought of or talked about this stuff for 30 years." Predictably, in the next few days, come his terrible screaming nightmares, inexplicable rage and unfocused despair.
"I have no doubt the casualties will be very heavy, the emotional costs and casualties," Dr. Renato Alarcon says of the potential combat in Iraq.
Alarcon, a psychiatrist, teaches at Emory University. Until this year he was chief of mental health at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.
Psychiatric casualties, what used to be called battle fatigue or even cowardice, are often long-term conditions that in later years can be intensified by alcohol or drug abuse and other problems that cause what is politely called "social alienation."
Between 1995 and 2001, Alarcon told a Senate committee in July, demand for veterans' mental health care rose 26 percent while the VA mental-health-care budget went up only 9 percent.
"The quality of care has suffered," Alarcon says. "You don't have time, with a patient who is traumatized and panicky, to do individual psychotherapy or talk about the side effects of his medicine."
Battles with bureaucracy
Veterans watching the march toward war say they know what's coming.
Denise Nichols, a retired Air Force flight nurse in the Denver area, worked on the Iraqi border during the Persian Gulf War and came home too sick to stay on active duty. Now she's a high-decibel advocate for ailing Gulf War veterans across the country, all seeking VA help. She finds smart vets to help fill out forms, lawyers to challenge VA clerks, all to help vets get the benefits they deserve.
Isn't that something government should do?
"Ha ha ha ha ha," Nichols responds. "I was naive. I believed my government, that if you went to war and came back sick you'd be cared for.
"What a laugh."
For five years after the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon dismissed veterans' claims that they had returned from the Persian Gulf with mysterious but debilitating illnesses. Under increasing pressure from Congress and the public, the Pentagon finally admitted it knew of some chemical contamination and acknowledged that the vets really were sick.
The federal government also fought against recognizing or paying benefits to veterans sickened by Agent Orange, an herbicide widely sprayed by Air Force planes in Vietnam.
And this fall came another bombshell: The Pentagon, after years of silence, admitted in October that it had exposed as many as 5,500 servicemen to chemical- and biological-warfare agents in secret tests from 1962 to 1973. The VA has been able to locate and alert 1,300 of these veterans.
These stories make vets angry and suspicious.
Mike DePaulo, injured in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, now volunteers at the Brockton, Mass., VA Medical Center and is national service officer for Rolling Thunder, the veterans advocacy group, shepherding cases from all over the country through the VA bureaucracy.
One involves a wounded World War II veteran suffering from a variety of complaints. DePaulo got him enrolled at the VA and seen by a doctor. Eventually the veteran got a letter from the VA denying him treatment for a heart condition the one ailment he does not have.
"Who the hell is reading this stuff?" DePaulo fumes, flipping through reams of paperwork he has sent to the VA. "This tells me they never paid any attention whatsoever to what he was in there for."
How typical is that? "Atypical is when they do something correct," DePaulo growls.
Aging and neglected
The volunteer efforts of Denise Nichols, Mike DePaulo and tens of thousands of others speak volumes about America's emotional and institutional attachment to veterans.
"Veterans are neglected," says Jack Burnett, 71, a former hospital comptroller whose VFW chapter in Whitman, Mass., recently helped raise $10,000 for hospitalized veterans.
Nationally, the VFW one of several national veterans service organizations raises about $30 million a year and serves 8 million volunteer hours annually in VA hospitals and other veterans programs. In many communities, evening bingo, benefit auctions and volunteer-served roast beef dinners for homeless veterans are events woven into the everyday fabric of life.
But veterans are aging, and so are volunteers. Fewer veterans serve in Congress, and each year fewer Americans even know a veteran.
That's a loss, some veterans say. But they don't mourn the peaceful years.
"There's nothing good about war, it's a dirty business," says one named Bob, a mental patient at the Brockton VA Medical Center, as he carefully works his way through a roast beef dinner put on by the VFW post in Chatham, Mass.
"We ought to think about it first," Bob says. He's a man with many missing teeth, surplus-shop clothes and dead eyes. "War with Iraq would just be another fiasco."
Coming home lost
Years later, on another chilly night, there will be stories like those told around the Legion Hall's back table in Berkley. There will come a lengthening pause, and someone will say softly, I was good at it, I kept my guys alive.
One day, some time after your first firefight, he will say, you get the thousand-yard stare, and after that there is no conscience. You live to bring your kids home and you do whatever that takes. Some guys learn to live with that and some guys don't, and if you don't you are lost forever, and there are many people like that. Lost forever.
How can Americans ever recognize or repay such experience?
The question is considered only briefly by David Woods, who fought with the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division along Route 1 in South Vietnam. He was wounded there, fought on, and was wounded again, and again.
Woods, 54, is muscular and shaggy, a federal investigator, a tough man who speaks softly. Slowly, he extends his hand across the plywood table. Tears swim in his eyes.
"Welcome home," he answers with a powerful and gentle handshake.
The words are both a simple greeting and a deep acknowledgment.
"All you gotta say. Welcome home."
Half-A-Million in Anti-War RallyReuters by Luke Baker November 10, 2002
FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - More than half a million anti-war protesters from across Europe marched through this Italian Renaissance city on Saturday in a loud and colorful demonstration denouncing any possible U.S. attack on Iraq.
Brimming with anti-American feelings and riled by a tough new U.N. resolution to disarm Iraq, young and old activists from as far afield as Russia and Portugal joined forces for the carnival-like rally, singing Communist anthems and 1970s peace songs.
"Take your war and go to hell," read one banner, in a forest of multi-colored and multi-lingual placards.
"Drop Bush, not Bombs" read another. Some placards depicted President Bush as Hitler and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as Mussolini.
Organizers said the rally, planned months ago, gained added relevance by Friday's U.N. Security Council resolution which gave Iraq a last chance to disarm or face almost certain war.
The protest, involving children as well as grandmothers, marked the climax of the first European Social Forum, a four-day meeting of anti-globalisation campaigners from all over Europe. Delegates discussed topics from debt-reduction to support for the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.
Florence has been virtually shut down for the November 6-10 period, with the State Department advising its citizens to steer clear of Italy's art capital over concerns that violent, anarchist groups might infiltrate the demonstration.
Authorities estimated that some 450,000 protesters flooded Florence's streets for the march on a chilly autumn afternoon.
But by dusk, the crowed had swelled to over half a million, many of them arriving on specially chartered trains and buses. Organizers estimated the gathering at around one million, making it one of Italy's biggest ever anti-war rallies.
Despite the large crowds, the march was largely peaceful and no incidents were reported.
"The atmosphere here is wonderful. Absolutely perfect. It shows that a new young left is emerging," said Stavos Valsamis, a 27-year-old Greek activist from Athens.
Children climbed on their parents' shoulders to get a view of the sea of crowds marching along the seven-km (4.5-miles) route. Many clapped as marchers passed by.
"This is amazing, it's so impressive," said 12-year-old Bianca Ronglia as she watched with her family from the side of the road. "I'm happy and proud that my city is holding this."
BIGGER THAN GENOA
The march was bigger than a protest at a G8 summit in Genoa last year, when 300,000 demonstrators took to the streets and an orgy of violence left one protester dead and hundreds injured.
Some 7,000 police officers were on call but security forces kept a low profile along the rally's route. No incidents were reported.
The rest of Florence was a ghost town with most shops in the art-rich historical center pulling down the shutters for fear of vandals. However, the city's famed museums remained open and offered free entry to the few tourists around.
Many Florence residents deserted the city for the four days of the forum, prompting criticism from those who stayed behind.
"I'm really disappointed by my fellow Florentines -- it really shows very little faith. This whole event has been very calm, in fact the city has been much calmer and friendlier than usual," said housewife Maria Briccoli, 37.
As well as university-age students, older political activists and thousands of trades unionists, Saturday's throng also included Italian World War II partisans and a U.S. Vietnam war veteran who marched in the first row of the crowd.
While Friday's U.N. resolution gives the Security Council a central role in assessing the new arms' inspection program for Iraq, it does not require the United States to seek U.N. authorization for war in case of violations.
"I think it's a scandalous resolution," said Sean Murray, 29, a member of Workers' Revolution. "It proves once more that the U.N. is a puppet of America, Britain and France."
SEC's Chief Accountant ResignsAssociated Press November 9, 2002
WASHINGTON The chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission resigned yesterday amid investigations into his role in the selection of former CIA and FBI chief William Webster to head a new accounting oversight board.
The move by Robert Herdman came just three days after SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt resigned.
In a letter to Pitt, Herdman said he was resigning "in light of recent events" and because the SEC's "objectivity" in making important decisions in coming weeks could be compromised if he stayed.
Pitt, Herdman and an SEC commissioner initially approached Webster about taking the oversight job, mandated by Congress last summer in response to the wave of accounting scandals.
After Webster told Pitt that he had headed the audit committee at a company now facing fraud accusations, Herdman's office told Pitt that did not create a problem for Webster's selection.
Pitt did not tell his fellow SEC commissioners about Webster's watchdog role at U.S. Technologies before they voted to approve Webster in the new job two weeks ago. Nor did Pitt inform anyone at the White House, where President Bush's chief of staff had endorsed Webster's selection.
Evidence Against SEC's William WebsterNew York Times by Stephen Labaton November 8, 2002
WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 A large accounting firm released documents today that it said showed that William H. Webster had fired it as the auditor of U.S. Technologies after the firm warned him about financial problems at the company. The accounting firm said the documents challenged Mr. Webster's description of his role at the company.
Mr. Webster, who has been named by the Securities and Exchange Commission to head a new board overseeing the accounting industry, has said he has no recollection of being told of any significant accounting problems before U.S. Technologies dismissed the accounting firm, BDO Seidman, in August 2001.
U.S. Technologies continued to spiral downward before Mr. Webster left his post as a director in July 2002, nearly a year after Seidman was dismissed. The company is now virtually insolvent. Investors have sued it and its chief executive for fraud, and prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation.
A few hours after the documents were released, President Bush, at a wide-ranging news conference this afternoon, urged that people not rush to judge Mr. Webster. Mr. Bush said he was awaiting the outcome of an S.E.C. examination of Mr. Webster's work as the chairman of the audit committee for the company.
"First, let's find out what the facts are, so that everybody knows," Mr. Bush said. "That's why they're doing this investigation."
He added: "But I will tell you, William Webster is a fine man. He is a decent, honorable public servant who has served our country well."
Mr. Webster, 78, a former head of the F.B.I. and former director of central intelligence, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. He said this week that he was reconsidering whether to stay on the board in light of the criticism over his selection and the controversy surrounding his work for U.S. Technologies.
Reuters quoted him today that he had nothing to say about the accounting board. "I've said that I would be reviewing the situation after the elections," the report added. "That's still my intention."
Mr. Webster has also begun preparing for the first organizational meeting of the oversight board next week at his office.
Mr. Bush said the White House would move "as soon as possible" to find a replacement for Harvey L. Pitt, who resigned on Tuesday night as chairman of the S.E.C. amid criticism over his selection of Mr. Webster. White House officials have said the choice of a successor may take weeks or months.
Asked what kind of person he is seeking, the president replied, "Somebody who is going to continue to fulfill the obligation that of holding people to account, holding wrongdoers to account, and making sure the numbers are fair and open and transparent, and everybody understands the facts when it comes to accounting, so that we continue to regain confidence in our in our system."
BDO Seidman said it released an edited version of its notes after receiving permission from U.S. Technologies. The notes were made during a July 13, 2001, telephone conference of the company's audit committee.
Seidman sued U.S. Technologies last week seeking permission to disclose the material and accusing Mr. Webster of making "false and misleading statements" about why it was dismissed.
Mr. Webster has said Seidman was fired for being too expensive and taking too long to perform audits. Seidman executives have said the scope of their audits had to be expanded because of the poor record-keeping of the company. Mr. Webster has also said that the company responded to one complaint by finding a more experienced chief financial officer, but did not follow up on other Seidman concerns.
He has maintained that he had no recollection of being informed of accounting problems at the company before its dismissal.
"I've had a chance to check my records and I have no memory of it," he said in an interview on Monday.
But the notes released today listed Mr. Webster as a participant in the conference call along with the two other members of the audit committee and three executives from Seidman, including Jeffrey P. Bland in which the issues arose.
"Jeff discussed management letter comments and that they were material weaknesses in internal accounting controls," the notes said. They were followed by three bullet-point items:
"Need for a full-time CFO who understands the implications of these transactions so that they can be considered during the negotiation phase.
"Document retention and storage and the need for a centralize document point.
"Recording significant transactions on a timely basis."
Seidman made similar points in a management letter that was dated May 9, 2001, but not received by the audit committee before Aug. 31, 2001. The firm was dismissed by the audit committee on Aug. 16.
In the May 9 letter, Seidman said that in 2000, "the company's financial and accounting infrastructure became inadequate for purposes of properly addressing certain financial and accounting issues that the organization faced given its size, complexity and public stature."
"As a result of this lack of adequate financial and accounting infrastructure there were various significant transactions completed during the year that were not initially recorded properly," the letter said. "However, they were corrected during the quarterly review or subsequent audit process."
In a separate letter filed by U.S. Technologies with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Sept. 6, 2001, Seidman said it had "communicated a material weakness in control to the audit committee and management relating to financial and accounting infrastructure."
It said these included "deficiencies in recording material transactions timely, and in the organization and retention of financial documents and accounting records."