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Page   1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Washington - Page 33

"When the government fears the people, you have liberty. When the
people fear the government, you have tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson

Cash Balance Washington Battle

Associated Press – by Leigh Strope – January 30, 2003

(1/29/03) - WASHINGTON -- John Snow's nomination to head the Treasury Department hit an unexpected speed bump Wednesday, with Senate Democrats threatening to block a floor vote over the agency's proposed changes to retirement plan regulations.

Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Tom Harkin of Illinois are among the senators expected to announce their intent Thursday to try to hold up President Bush's nomination, congressional aides said.

Employee Advocate: Tom Harkin is actually the Senator from Iowa, not Illinois.

Joined by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the senators are seeking a promise from the Bush administration that workers will be protected if the Treasury Department lets companies convert traditional pension plans to "cash balance" plans. Critics say the cash balance plans hurt older workers.

The Senate Finance Committee was scheduled to vote Thursday. His nomination still must clear the full Senate.

Under Senate custom, a single senator can delay a vote by the full Senate on a nomination. The delay, called a "hold," may not relate to the qualifications of the candidate, and often involves issues under the agency's jurisdiction.

Snow, 63, was nominated to replace the controversial Paul O'Neill. Snow, chief executive of CSX Corp., won widespread, bipartisan praise during his confirmation hearing Tuesday before committee.

The Treasury Department last month proposed regulations for companies to follow when they convert traditional pension plans to cash balance plans, helping them avoid age-discrimination lawsuits. Plan conversions typically mean less money for workers close to retirement age and have triggered a rash of lawsuits.

Currently there is a moratorium on government approval of the conversions because of those concerns. But that ban would be lifted if the regulations ultimately are adopted by Treasury.

Workers in a cash balance plan traditionally get a percentage of their annual salary that can be paid out as a lump sum or as an annuity when they leave their employers. Unlike a 401(k) plan, workers neither own the accounts nor make investment decisions. Unlike a traditional pension plan, the worker doesn't get annual benefits from the company after retiring.

Companies increasingly converted their costlier traditional pension plans to cash balance plans starting early last decade. The plans are cheaper to administer and attract younger workers because of their portability, pension experts say.

Pension laws prohibit companies from cutting benefits that already have been accrued. But they can eliminate future benefits a worker may expect to receive after meeting service requirements at a company.

Cash-Balance Pension Fight

Dow Jones – by John Godfrey – January 30, 2003

Cash-Balance Pension Fight Could Stall Snow Nomination

(1/29/03) - WASHINGTON -- Two midwest Democratic senators are threatening to block the nomination of CSX (CSX) Chief Executive Officer John Snow to become the next Treasury Secretary, Senate Finance Committee aides said Wednesday.

Snow's qualifications are not issue, but rather, proposed Treasury regulations on a company's conversion of a defined benefit plan to a cash balance pension plan. There has been a moratorium on such conversions since 1999, and the regulations would allow them to resume.

Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and David Durbin, D-Ill., want the regulations stopped, arguing that older workers lose substantial benefits under the conversions.

In a traditional pension plan, benefits are based on a worker's tenure with one employer and average salary in late career, when earnings have peaked. In a cash balance plan, workers build up benefits at a flat rate throughout their careers.

When companies convert from a defined benefit plan to a cash balance plan, longtime workers miss out on the "benefit spike" they would have received under a traditional plan, according to the AARP. Making matters worse, those workers are too close to retirement to make up the difference in a cash balance plan.

Republican Finance Committee aides said cash balance plans can be good for highly mobile workers and for middle-aged workers. Difficulties facing older workers should be addressed, rather than simply trying to block Treasury's efforts to allow conversions, the aides said.

Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker would not confirm that his boss is considering holding up Snow's nomination.

"I think you are going to have to go to the press conference [Thursday] to find out how far they will go," Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker would say that neither Durbin, nor Harkin, would be satisfied until they had received a commitment from Snow or the Bush administration that it would withdraw the proposed regulations.

Snow's nomination was scheduled for a vote Thursday morning in the Finance Committee and both Democratic and Republican committee members say they intend to back his nomination. Aides and senators predict similarly bipartisan support when Snow's nomination is considered by the full Senate.

But Senate tradition allows senators to place a "hold" on nominations to block their consideration by the full Senate.

A Credibility Problem

New York Times – by Paul Krugman – January 29, 2003

(1/28/03) - Will tonight's State of the Union address restore George W. Bush's political fortunes?

Only a few weeks ago, that would have seemed an extremely unlikely question. Fresh off the Republican victory in the midterm elections, President Bush seemed invincible — and it's amazing how many stories you still read about his immense, unshakeable popularity.

But anyone who takes the trouble to look at the numbers knows that the thrill is gone. Mr. Bush's approval ratings have plunged over the last two months. A year ago he was, indeed, immensely popular; right now he's not significantly more popular than he was before Sept. 11.

Other polls suggest that the public is particularly disenchanted with Mr. Bush's economic policy. Most voters no longer believe that his tax cuts are effective at creating jobs, and many also believe that his policies favor the wealthy and large corporations, rather than people like themselves. (Class warfare!)

Still, polls can shift — as they did, suddenly, after Sept. 11. Can tonight's speech do the trick?

We can be sure that some pundits will acclaim the speech as bold and brilliant; they would do that if he read from "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Whether their praise, and the theatrics of the occasion, will turn things around is anyone's guess. A lot depends on whether Mr. Bush is held accountable for the promises he made in his last State of the Union address.

For there was more to that speech than the axis of evil (a phrase, by the way, that has vanished from Mr. Bush's vocabulary, along with the name of that guy he promised to bring in dead or alive). He assured those who worried about red ink that "our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-lived." He offered comfort for those who remembered his father's "jobless recovery," which felt like a continuing recession: "When America works, America prospers, so my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs."

Fast-forward a year. We now know that the "small" budget deficit will rise above $300 billion, and stay there. Even the administration's own, ever-optimistic budget officials now concede that we face deficits as far as the eye can see. Meanwhile, payrolls continue to decline; since the working-age population keeps rising, it's becoming ever harder for ordinary Americans to get jobs, or keep them.

And there's a good chance things will get a lot worse: with markets sliding, consumers wilting, businesses fearful about the effects of war and oil prices rising, the pieces are in place for a full-blown double-dip recession. And the second dip would take us much further down than the first.

So can Mr. Bush convince us that his latest tax cut is just the tonic the economy needs?

There are several reasons to doubt whether he can pull it off. For one thing, economists outside the administration, even those who always find ways to praise whatever he proposes, can't see what this tax cut has to do with the economy's immediate problems. This has led to a striking dissonance between what administration officials say on TV — where it's still all about jobs — and what they say when speaking to knowledgeable audiences. In background briefings for reporters, at the Davos conference this past weekend and wherever else they encounter people who might actually know something about the numbers, officials now pooh-pooh concerns about the state of the job market. Never mind that, they say, our plan is all about increasing long-run growth. Um, but what about "economic security"?

The administration's credibility problem is made worse by the high casualty rate among top economic officials, and the uninspiring quality of their replacements. Today is the first day of hearings for John Snow, the administration's choice for Treasury secretary. One official I spoke to was rueful: "I thought Paul O'Neill wasn't suited to being Treasury secretary; he'd have been better off running a railroad. Now they've picked a man who ran a railroad."

But that's not why he was chosen, according to CBS Market Watch: "He was picked because he's a lobbyist, a schmoozer, a master salesman" — and a member of no fewer than nine country clubs.

Still, nobody razzle-dazzles 'em like Mr. Bush. Tonight we'll see if he's good enough to make us forget last year's promises.

U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup

Washington Post – by Michael Dobbs - January 26, 2003

Trade in Chemical Arms Allowed Despite Their Use on Iranians, Kurds

Monday, December 30, 2002; Page A01

High on the Bush administration's list of justifications for war against Iraq are President Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons, nuclear and biological programs, and his contacts with international terrorists. What U.S. officials rarely acknowledge is that these offenses date back to a period when Hussein was seen in Washington as a valued ally.

Among the people instrumental in tilting U.S. policy toward Baghdad during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war was Donald H. Rumsfeld, now defense secretary, whose December 1983 meeting with Hussein as a special presidential envoy paved the way for normalization of U.S.-Iraqi relations. Declassified documents show that Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons on an "almost daily" basis in defiance of international conventions.

The story of U.S. involvement with Saddam Hussein in the years before his 1990 attack on Kuwait -- which included large-scale intelligence sharing, supply of cluster bombs through a Chilean front company, and facilitating Iraq's acquisition of chemical and biological precursors -- is a topical example of the underside of U.S. foreign policy. It is a world in which deals can be struck with dictators, human rights violations sometimes overlooked, and accommodations made with arms proliferators, all on the principle that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Throughout the 1980s, Hussein's Iraq was the sworn enemy of Iran, then still in the throes of an Islamic revolution. U.S. officials saw Baghdad as a bulwark against militant Shiite extremism and the fall of pro-American states such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and even Jordan -- a Middle East version of the "domino theory" in Southeast Asia. That was enough to turn Hussein into a strategic partner and for U.S. diplomats in Baghdad to routinely refer to Iraqi forces as "the good guys," in contrast to the Iranians, who were depicted as "the bad guys."

A review of thousands of declassified government documents and interviews with former policymakers shows that U.S. intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in shoring up Iraqi defenses against the "human wave" attacks by suicidal Iranian troops. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague.

Opinions differ among Middle East experts and former government officials about the pre-Iraqi tilt, and whether Washington could have done more to stop the flow to Baghdad of technology for building weapons of mass destruction.

"It was a horrible mistake then, but we have got it right now," says Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA military analyst and author of "The Threatening Storm," which makes the case for war with Iraq. "My fellow [CIA] analysts and I were warning at the time that Hussein was a very nasty character. We were constantly fighting the State Department."

"Fundamentally, the policy was justified," argues David Newton, a former U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, who runs an anti-Hussein radio station in Prague. "We were concerned that Iraq should not lose the war with Iran, because that would have threatened Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Our long-term hope was that Hussein's government would become less repressive and more responsible."

What makes present-day Hussein different from the Hussein of the 1980s, say Middle East experts, is the mellowing of the Iranian revolution and the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait that transformed the Iraqi dictator, almost overnight, from awkward ally into mortal enemy. In addition, the United States itself has changed. As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, U.S. policymakers take a much more alarmist view of the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. Shifts in Iran-Iraq War

When the Iran-Iraq war began in September 1980, with an Iraqi attack across the Shatt al Arab waterway that leads to the Persian Gulf, the United States was a bystander. The United States did not have diplomatic relations with either Baghdad or Tehran. U.S. officials had almost as little sympathy for Hussein's dictatorial brand of Arab nationalism as for the Islamic fundamentalism espoused by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As long as the two countries fought their way to a stalemate, nobody in Washington was disposed to intervene.

By the summer of 1982, however, the strategic picture had changed dramatically. After its initial gains, Iraq was on the defensive, and Iranian troops had advanced to within a few miles of Basra, Iraq's second largest city. U.S. intelligence information suggested the Iranians might achieve a breakthrough on the Basra front, destabilizing Kuwait, the Gulf states, and even Saudi Arabia, thereby threatening U.S. oil supplies.

"You have to understand the geostrategic context, which was very different from where we are now," said Howard Teicher, a former National Security Council official, who worked on Iraqi policy during the Reagan administration. "Realpolitik dictated that we act to prevent the situation from getting worse."

To prevent an Iraqi collapse, the Reagan administration supplied battlefield intelligence on Iranian troop buildups to the Iraqis, sometimes through third parties such as Saudi Arabia. The U.S. tilt toward Iraq was enshrined in National Security Decision Directive 114 of Nov. 26, 1983, one of the few important Reagan era foreign policy decisions that still remains classified. According to former U.S. officials, the directive stated that the United States would do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.

The presidential directive was issued amid a flurry of reports that Iraqi forces were using chemical weapons in their attempts to hold back the Iranians. In principle, Washington was strongly opposed to chemical warfare, a practice outlawed by the 1925 Geneva Protocol. In practice, U.S. condemnation of Iraqi use of chemical weapons ranked relatively low on the scale of administration priorities, particularly compared with the all-important goal of preventing an Iranian victory.

Thus, on Nov. 1, 1983, a senior State Department official, Jonathan T. Howe, told Secretary of State George P. Shultz that intelligence reports showed that Iraqi troops were resorting to "almost daily use of CW" against the Iranians. But the Reagan administration had already committed itself to a large-scale diplomatic and political overture to Baghdad, culminating in several visits by the president's recently appointed special envoy to the Middle East, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Secret talking points prepared for the first Rumsfeld visit to Baghdad enshrined some of the language from NSDD 114, including the statement that the United States would regard "any major reversal of Iraq's fortunes as a strategic defeat for the West." When Rumsfeld finally met with Hussein on Dec. 20, he told the Iraqi leader that Washington was ready for a resumption of full diplomatic relations, according to a State Department report of the conversation. Iraqi leaders later described themselves as "extremely pleased" with the Rumsfeld visit, which had "elevated U.S.-Iraqi relations to a new level."

In a September interview with CNN, Rumsfeld said he "cautioned" Hussein about the use of chemical weapons, a claim at odds with declassified State Department notes of his 90-minute meeting with the Iraqi leader. A Pentagon spokesman, Brian Whitman, now says that Rumsfeld raised the issue not with Hussein, but with Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz. The State Department notes show that he mentioned it largely in passing as one of several matters that "inhibited" U.S. efforts to assist Iraq.

Rumsfeld has also said he had "nothing to do" with helping Iraq in its war against Iran. Although former U.S. officials agree that Rumsfeld was not one of the architects of the Reagan administration's tilt toward Iraq -- he was a private citizen when he was appointed Middle East envoy -- the documents show that his visits to Baghdad led to closer U.S.-Iraqi cooperation on a wide variety of fronts. Washington was willing to resume diplomatic relations immediately, but Hussein insisted on delaying such a step until the following year.

As part of its opening to Baghdad, the Reagan administration removed Iraq from the State Department terrorism list in February 1982, despite heated objections from Congress. Without such a move, Teicher says, it would have been "impossible to take even the modest steps we were contemplating" to channel assistance to Baghdad. Iraq -- along with Syria, Libya and South Yemen -- was one of four original countries on the list, which was first drawn up in 1979.

Some former U.S. officials say that removing Iraq from the terrorism list provided an incentive to Hussein to expel the Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Nidal from Baghdad in 1983. On the other hand, Iraq continued to play host to alleged terrorists throughout the '80s. The most notable was Abu Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, who found refuge in Baghdad after being expelled from Tunis for masterminding the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, which resulted in the killing of an elderly American tourist.

Iraq Lobbies for Arms

While Rumsfeld was talking to Hussein and Aziz in Baghdad, Iraqi diplomats and weapons merchants were fanning out across Western capitals for a diplomatic charm offensive-cum-arms buying spree. In Washington, the key figure was the Iraqi chargé d'affaires, Nizar Hamdoon, a fluent English speaker who impressed Reagan administration officials as one of the most skillful lobbyists in town.

"He arrived with a blue shirt and a white tie, straight out of the mafia," recalled Geoffrey Kemp, a Middle East specialist in the Reagan White House. "Within six months, he was hosting suave dinner parties at his residence, which he parlayed into a formidable lobbying effort. He was particularly effective with the American Jewish community."

One of Hamdoon's favorite props, says Kemp, was a green Islamic scarf allegedly found on the body of an Iranian soldier. The scarf was decorated with a map of the Middle East showing a series of arrows pointing toward Jerusalem. Hamdoon used to "parade the scarf" to conferences and congressional hearings as proof that an Iranian victory over Iraq would result in "Israel becoming a victim along with the Arabs."

According to a sworn court affidavit prepared by Teicher in 1995, the United States "actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure Iraq had the military weaponry required." Teicher said in the affidavit that former CIA director William Casey used a Chilean company, Cardoen, to supply Iraq with cluster bombs that could be used to disrupt the Iranian human wave attacks. Teicher refuses to discuss the affidavit.

At the same time the Reagan administration was facilitating the supply of weapons and military components to Baghdad, it was attempting to cut off supplies to Iran under "Operation Staunch." Those efforts were largely successful, despite the glaring anomaly of the 1986 Iran-contra scandal when the White House publicly admitted trading arms for hostages, in violation of the policy that the United States was trying to impose on the rest of the world.

Although U.S. arms manufacturers were not as deeply involved as German or British companies in selling weaponry to Iraq, the Reagan administration effectively turned a blind eye to the export of "dual use" items such as chemical precursors and steel tubes that can have military and civilian applications. According to several former officials, the State and Commerce departments promoted trade in such items as a way to boost U.S. exports and acquire political leverage over Hussein.

When United Nations weapons inspectors were allowed into Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, they compiled long lists of chemicals, missile components, and computers from American suppliers, including such household names as Union Carbide and Honeywell, which were being used for military purposes.

A 1994 investigation by the Senate Banking Committee turned up dozens of biological agents shipped to Iraq during the mid-'80s under license from the Commerce Department, including various strains of anthrax, subsequently identified by the Pentagon as a key component of the Iraqi biological warfare program. The Commerce Department also approved the export of insecticides to Iraq, despite widespread suspicions that they were being used for chemical warfare.

The fact that Iraq was using chemical weapons was hardly a secret. In February 1984, an Iraqi military spokesman effectively acknowledged their use by issuing a chilling warning to Iran. "The invaders should know that for every harmful insect, there is an insecticide capable of annihilating it . . . and Iraq possesses this annihilation insecticide."

Chemicals Kill Kurds

In late 1987, the Iraqi air force began using chemical agents against Kurdish resistance forces in northern Iraq that had formed a loose alliance with Iran, according to State Department reports. The attacks, which were part of a "scorched earth" strategy to eliminate rebel-controlled villages, provoked outrage on Capitol Hill and renewed demands for sanctions against Iraq. The State Department and White House were also outraged -- but not to the point of doing anything that might seriously damage relations with Baghdad.

"The U.S.-Iraqi relationship is . . . important to our long-term political and economic objectives," Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy wrote in a September 1988 memorandum that addressed the chemical weapons question. "We believe that economic sanctions will be useless or counterproductive to influence the Iraqis."

Bush administration spokesmen have cited Hussein's use of chemical weapons "against his own people" -- and particularly the March 1988 attack on the Kurdish village of Halabjah -- to bolster their argument that his regime presents a "grave and gathering danger" to the United States.

The Iraqis continued to use chemical weapons against the Iranians until the end of the Iran-Iraq war. A U.S. air force intelligence officer, Rick Francona, reported finding widespread use of Iraqi nerve gas when he toured the Al Faw peninsula in southern Iraq in the summer of 1988, after its recapture by the Iraqi army. The battlefield was littered with atropine injectors used by panicky Iranian troops as an antidote against Iraqi nerve gas attacks.

Far from declining, the supply of U.S. military intelligence to Iraq actually expanded in 1988, according to a 1999 book by Francona, "Ally to Adversary: an Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall from Grace." Informed sources said much of the battlefield intelligence was channeled to the Iraqis by the CIA office in Baghdad.

Although U.S. export controls to Iraq were tightened up in the late 1980s, there were still many loopholes. In December 1988, Dow Chemical sold $1.5 million of pesticides to Iraq, despite U.S. government concerns that they could be used as chemical warfare agents. An Export-Import Bank official reported in a memorandum that he could find "no reason" to stop the sale, despite evidence that the pesticides were "highly toxic" to humans and would cause death "from asphyxiation."

The U.S. policy of cultivating Hussein as a moderate and reasonable Arab leader continued right up until he invaded Kuwait in August 1990, documents show. When the then-U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, met with Hussein on July 25, 1990, a week before the Iraqi attack on Kuwait, she assured him that Bush "wanted better and deeper relations," according to an Iraqi transcript of the conversation. "President Bush is an intelligent man," the ambassador told Hussein, referring to the father of the current president. "He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq."

"Everybody was wrong in their assessment of Saddam," said Joe Wilson, Glaspie's former deputy at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and the last U.S. official to meet with Hussein. "Everybody in the Arab world told us that the best way to deal with Saddam was to develop a set of economic and commercial relationships that would have the effect of moderating his behavior. History will demonstrate that this was a miscalculation."

Funds Must Reveal Proxy Voting

New York Post – by Beth Piskora – January 25, 2003

January 24, 2003 -- The Securities and Exchange Commission dealt a blow to the mutual fund industry by voting yesterday to force them to disclose how they vote in proxies.

Under current rules, fund companies have no obligation to tell anyone - not even investors on whose behalf the votes are collectively cast - how they cast their ballots on anything, from an acquisition by General Electric Co. to the selection of board members for Microsoft Corp.

But starting in July, fund companies will be required to tell shareholders who request such information how the fund has cast its proxy votes.

"There are conflicts of interest in the way votes are exercised," outgoing SEC chairman Harvey Pitt said before yesterday's vote.

Fund giants, including Fidelity Investments and Vanguard, had fought against the measure.

Just last week, Fidelity founder Ned Johnson and Vanguard CEO Jack Brennan penned an impassioned editorial claiming the adoption of such a rule would be an onerous burden for the industry and would add costs that would have to be subtracted from shareholder returns.

But most others say the new rule is a great boon for fund shareholders, who deserve to know how proxies for companies held by the fund are voted.

"It is important to remember that corporate scandals like Enron, Tyco and WorldCom were not caused by executive greed alone," said Timothy Smith, a senior vice president at Walden Asset Management and president of the Social Investment Forum.

Bush Cuts Heating Grants

Associated Press – by David B. Caruso– January 24, 2003

(12/11/02) - On a cold night in Philadelphia last month, Ronald Evans put on a pair of earmuffs, climbed into a bed piled high with blankets and spent hours shivering in a home without heat.

"I never want to go through that again. It got so cold, so fast," said the 66-year-old retired school custodian.

Evans had fallen $225 behind on his electric bill and the utility had turned off the electricity. But the power was turned on the next day after Evans applied for and received an emergency government grant that paid off his delinquent bill.

Charities, utilities and government agencies across the country are reporting a surge in the number of people asking for help paying their heating bills, even as the Bush administration proposes a $300 million cut in the nation's biggest source of home heating aid.

The White House has requested $1.4 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, compared with $1.7 billion last year. Congress hasn't decided whether to adopt the cut, but critics said the proposal comes at the worst possible time.

Cutting the money could affect more than 500,000 people who rely on aid to pay utility bills, according to the National Energy Assistance Director's Association, which represents state officials who administer LIHEAP grants.

"They will either shut their program early, when they run out of money, or cut benefits," spokesman Mark Wolfe said. "It is colder than last year. Unemployment is higher ... We are starting to hear from some states that their caseloads are going up."

In Albany County, N.Y., applications for heating assistance grants are up 60 percent, officials said. In Pittsburgh, where layoffs at US Airways have hammered the economy, the Salvation Army said it has already spent 70 percent of its annual $10,000 home heating assistance budget.

Philadelphia Gas Works said 10,000 city customers whose service was shut off this summer because of delinquent accounts remained without heat or hot water in early December. Another 1,100 customers were without electricity and natural gas service in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Heat and Warmth Fund, a Michigan group that helps low-income families with heating bills, has shelled out $345,500 in heating grants in November and December — nearly twice the total for the same period last year — and officials aren't sure if they'll have enough money for the rest of the winter.

The federal Administration for Children and Families said last year's LIHEAP program had a surplus of nearly $300 million, in part because of a warmer-than-normal winter, and that some of that money could be tapped if funds run short.

States are already planning their own cuts, according to the energy assistance directors' group.

Connecticut would tighten eligibility rules for LIHEAP aid, cutting an estimated 10,700 households. Illinois would cut off 34,700 families, the group said, while Indiana would slash 20,350. Tennessee officials said they would also cut the number of households served if funding fell short.

Other states are planning to trim benefits, Wolfe said. Vermont would slash its average heating grant from $525 to $400.

States set their own rules for the federal program. In Pennsylvania this year, a family of four would have to have an annual income of no more than $24,435 to qualify. A person living alone must earn no more than $11,961.

Evans said the LIHEAP grant he received through Philadelphia's Utility Emergency Services Fund was "a gift from heaven."

"On my block, you have a lot of people on retirement. They are on a fixed income. Their taxes are going up. And it's either you do without your food, don't pay your taxes, or fall behind on your payments," he said. "The economy is bad, and there are a lot of people who need help."

Bush Hides Evidence

Yellow Times – by Firas Al-Atraqchi – January 23, 2003

( – On December 19, UNMOVIC head Hans Blix declared that Iraq's final, all-inclusive weapons report had "obvious and serious omissions." A mere few minutes later, the Bush administration declared that Iraq was in "material breach due to material omissions," but stopped short of calling for war. Many "experts" claimed that the U.S. was giving Iraq one last chance. Some even accused the White House of soft-pedaling.

In the past few weeks, the U.S. public, the Iraqi government, and world public opinion at large has called on the U.S. to release the evidence it claims to have implicating Iraqi duplicity.

That call was further buoyed on December 20 (and again on January 10, 2003) by Blix and IAEA head Baradei who implored the U.S. to share its so-called evidence with UNMOVIC to empower the U.N. inspectors in their weapons hunt in Iraq.

The media has even begun to question whether the Bush administration has any such evidence and is instead looking for a Cuban Missile Crisis smoking gun to make the case to the American people.

By mid-January 2003, the U.S., and the U.K. for that matter, had not released vital information. Although technical information was passed on to UNMOVIC, more substantial data has not been forthcoming. Several suspect sites both the U.S. and U.K. has indicated were areas of illicit weapons activity turned up empty when UNMOVIC investigated them.

Phil Donahue, Chris Matthews, and Michael Coren have joined the chorus of U.S. military personnel (MSNBC and TIME Magazine report that one in three top U.S. generals do not favor current moves towards military conflict citing lack of visible evidence) in asking for evidence first, military action later.

They will likely have a long wait; should the U.S. possess such evidence, it is likely never to release it. An examination of current U.S. moves in the U.N. Security Council and the relationship between Iraq and the U.S. during the 1980s will provide telling reasons.

By now, most of the viewing public, thanks in no part to Western media, is well aware that it was general U.S. government policy to support and arm Iraq during the 1980s. Iraqi scientists were given free rein in major research and development facilities throughout the U.S. and were often privy to classified chemical weapons research. U.S. firms, with the blessing of the Reagan administration, supplied Iraq with anthrax spores, as well as the capacity to further develop its bio-chemical capabilities.

Why was the U.S. so supportive of an Iraq it now claims is, and was, run by a "brutal regime that gasses its own people and tortures thousands"? One word: Revenge. The U.S. wanted to teach the new Islamic Republic of Iran a lesson it would never forget for daring to overthrow the Shah and take hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. As a result, the U.S. played deep distrust between Iraq and Iran and the obvious Shatt-el-Arab waterway dispute to propel the two nations into a war.

So blind was the call for revenge that the U.S. provided intelligence, logistical, and other support to Iraq in hopes of punishing the upstart Islamists in Iran.

In 1982, however, the tide began to turn against Iraq, when Iraqi forces made a classical military blunder: they were content with occupying all of western Iran rather than pursue what was left of the ramshackle Iranian army and militias and destroy them. The latter regrouped, rearmed, revitalized and tossed the Iraqis out of Iran bringing the war to Iraqi territory.

This was a worrisome time for the Reagan administration; instead of bearing the brunt of an "Iraqi punishment," it now began to look as if Iran would occupy all of Iraq, stretch into Alawite Syria, unite with Shiite Hezbollah, and create a new Shiite Perso-Arab Empire that would wreak havoc on U.S. and Israeli interests in the region.

The decision was made to support Iraq as much as possible, without appearing to support Iraq.

When Iraq began a massive military campaign and used arms provided by the U.S. to curb Kurdish dissent, the voices of reason and morality we hear today were ominously silent.

When Iraq gassed the overwhelming Iranian human tidal wave of soldiers (a tactic gleaned from the Korean War -- some Iranian soldiers were barely armed), the voices of reason and morality we hear today were ominously silent.

When Iran gassed Iraqi soldiers and both countries tortured each other's POWs, the voices of reason and morality we hear today were ominously silent.

So strong was support for Iraq in the late 1980s that the U.S. renewed full diplomatic relations with Iraq in 1986, and helped temper the storm after an Iraqi fighter plane nearly sunk the U.S.S. Stark with an Exocet missile in 1987, killing 37 U.S. naval personnel.

The voices of reason and morality we hear today were ominously silent.

Iraq's Knight Takes Queen

When Iraq handed UNMOVIC its 12,200-page report on weapons research and procurement, it knew fully well that the U.S. would seize the document from the U.N. and proceed to censor it. Why the censorship? Weapons proliferation, we are told. While that is partially true, Iraq hinted early on that its massive document would list each and every government, private and public firm and/or institution that helped Iraq in its 30-year weapons program.

The U.S. had to remove the document from the hands of the international community because it contained vital information that could undermine the current administration. The other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council did not object much to this U.S. move because they knew that their names and their firms also helped arm Iraq.

This was Iraq's last, desperate strategy to ward off war, or at least delay it as long as possible. It listed names of individuals and organizations that would come under intensive public scrutiny and embarrassment should the contents of the document be made public.

Several prominent U.S. firms and universities are complicit, and, in particular, so are several high-ranking U.S. officials who were members of the Reagan administration and went on to become national leaders themselves. The point man? George Bush Sr., former head of the CIA, Vice President under Ronald Reagan, and President of the U.S. during the Gulf War.

How does the current Bush administration know Iraq may or may not be lying? They have in their possession documents detailing all sales and support given to the Iraqis in the bio-chemical weapons domain. They have invoices and spreadsheets of everything that was shipped from various U.S. departments and federal institutions to Iraq directly and indirectly (through U.S. allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia). However, these documents also have the final approval of the CIA, who, under George Bush Sr., encouraged ties with Iraq. Does it not seem the least bit ironic that the U.S. was funneling bio-chemical information to Iraq up until 1990, the year Iraq invaded Kuwait?

The German daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung has claimed that it has obtained a copy of the Iraq document and will soon publish a list of these suppliers. The list purportedly includes Hewlett Packard, DuPont, Honeywell, Rockwell, Tectronics, Bechtel, International Computer Systems, Unisys, Sperry and TI Coating, the U.S. Departments of Energy, Defense, Commerce, and Agriculture. According to (, "U.S. government nuclear weapons laboratories Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia trained traveling Iraqi nuclear scientists and gave non-fissile material for construction of a nuclear bomb."

If this list of arms suppliers (and supporters) to Iraq were released to the public, scandal would rock the White House. In a timeframe that has seen the Enron scandal, and may yet see Vice President Dick Cheney questioned by the SEC over Halliburton, President Bush would likely see his re-election hopes buried.

As a result, the non-permanent members of the Security Council received a meager 3,000-page abridged version of the original 12,200 pages. The list of legal and illegal support afforded to Iraq in the past 30 years was not included in the abridged version.

Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry.

Thousands Protest Iraq War

New York Times – by Lynette Clemetson – January 19, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 — In a show of dissent that organizers said "shattered the false myth of consensus," for a war with Iraq, tens of thousands of protesters representing a diverse coalition for peace converged here today for a rally and march against the Bush administration's threatened use of military force against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Energized by the British band Chumbawamba, which opened the Washington demonstration with a performance of a new antiwar song, a swelling crowd, packed densely to stave off the winter winds, filled several blocks west of the Capitol carrying signs, waving banners and chanting, "No war with Iraq."

Dropping Approval Rating for Bush

Employee Advocate – - January 14, 2003

The Associated Press reports that President Bush’s job approval has slipped to its lowest reading since 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll registered his approval as down 5 points in one week.

Is it any wonder? Every move G. W. Bush makes favors the truly wealthy and big corporations. The latest move by the Bush administration to underhandedly legalize pension age discrimination through regulations is the low point of his term.

One third of the people said that they would not vote for him again.

Bankrupt? Just Change the Pension Law

Employee Advocate – – January 13, 2003

US Airways had a great idea to get out of bankruptcy court quickly. They merely wanted the government to rewrite the pension laws to save their bacon, according to the Associated Press. US Airways wanted to spread payments to its employee obligation fund from 7 to 30 years. Two Republican senators expected the Senate to unanimously adopt the bill to get the corporation off the hook.

Management must still be in shock – the Senate turned them down!

Has the new Congress forgotten how the system works? Corporations provide donations to the politicians and sent lobbyist to Washington to cater to their every whim. In return, corporations expect the politicians to perform on demand. Need the law changed? No problem, just pick up the phone and give them a call.

If this strange, new behavior of not bowing and scraping to corporations sets precedence for 2003, it could be unsettling for some. Just imagine, corporations may actually have to follow the pension laws as written! Business schools will have to rewrite their programs. This is not how things have always been done.

Maybe the Treasury Department will save the airline by proposing regulations. The Treasury has already proposed regulations that will legalize age discrimination in cash balance pension conversions. It does not matter how much the law is broken if “regulations” cover up everything.

Break the law today. If you get caught, no problem. Just cover it up with regulations tomorrow!

Surely the Treasury can do a little favor for US Airways. With just the right regulations, they could have 30, 50, or a thousand years to meet their pension obligations. Heck, with the right regulations, they may find that they do not even have any obligations. It’s a win/win situation. No one loses, except the employees who were promised the pensions.

Whenever a politician or an executive needs extra cash, it’s always pensions and Social Security that are up for grabs!

The Bad Doctor – by Doug Ireland – January 13, 2003

Bill Frist’s long record of corporate vices

While TV gushed last week over the Republicans’ new Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, intervening in a traffic accident, portraying the former heart surgeon as a "Good Samaritan," in truth the GOP has simply replaced a racist with a corporate crook.

Frist was born rich, and got richer — thanks to massive criminal fraud by the family business. The basis of the Frist family fortune is HCA Inc. (Hospital Corporation of America), the largest for-profit hospital chain in the country, which was founded by Frist’s father and brother. And, just as Karl Rove was engineering the scuttling of Trent Lott and the elevation of Frist, the Bush Justice Department suddenly ended a near-decadelong federal investigation into how HCA for years had defrauded Medicaid, Medicare and Tricare (the federal program that covers the military and their families), giving the greedy health-care behemoth’s executives a sweetheart settlement that kept them out of the can.

The government’s case was that HCA kept two sets of books and fraudulently overbilled the government. The deal meant that HCA agreed to pay the government $631 million for its lucrative scams — which, on top of previous fines, brought the total government penalties against the health-care conglomerate to a whopping $1.7 billion, the largest fraud settlement in history, breaking the old record set by Drexel Burnham.

The deal also meant that HCA can continue to participate in Medicare. And, as part of the Bushies’ deal shutting down what Deputy Assistant FBI Director Thomas Kubic called "one of the FBI’s highest-priority white-collar crime investigations," no criminal charges were brought against the top HCA execs who presided over the illegal bilking of federal programs designed to aid the poor — and that includes Senator Frist’s brother, Thomas, HCA’s former CEO (and current director), who’s been described by Forbes magazine as "one of the richest men in America," with a personal fortune estimated at close to $2 billion.

What did HCA do? It inflated its expenses and billed the government for the overrun; it billed the government for services ineligible for reimbursement (like advertising and marketing costs). HCA violated both law and medical ethics when, as Forbes put it, "the company increased Medicare billings by exaggerating the seriousness of the illnesses they were treating. It also granted doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors’ referring patients to HCA. In addition, it gave doctors ‘loans’ that were never expected to be paid back, free rent, free office furniture — and free drugs from hospital pharmacies."

This is the ethical climate that reigned in the Frist family’s money machine. In an unguarded moment, Senator Frist told the Boston Globe that conversations with his doctor father about the family calling were like "benign versions of the Godfather and Michael Corleone." Apparently the senator considers defrauding the government "benign." So too does the Bush White House, which dictated the Justice Department deal with HCA that let the crooks escape jail just as Frist was being anointed the Senate’s majority leader. A pure coincidence in timing, of course.

The senator has always claimed no current connection to HCA because the $26 million he and his wife hold in the company’s stock is in a so-called "blind trust." But it was the family’s dirty money that bought Frist a place in the Senate. In 1994, Frist — who’d never bothered to vote before first running for the Senate that year — spent some $3.4 million of his personal fortune to buy the seat from Tennessee (HCA’s headquarters) that he now occupies. Moreover, "In the Senate, Frist has used his influence to further HCA’s cause by stopping a strong patients’ bill of rights, gridlocking a mandatory Medicare prescription-drug benefit, and promoting caps on damages for victims who sue negligent hospitals like HCA’s," points out Jamie Court, executive director of the Santa Monica–based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, who adds, "The Senate should not replace a racist with a principal backer of one of the largest corporate swindles ever perpetrated against the American public. If Frist was a patriot first, he would have sold his HCA stock long ago."

But Frist’s pandering to the lobbyists of the voracious health-care industry knows no bounds. "Frist isn’t the senator from Tennessee — he’s the senator from the state of Health Care Industry Influence — he’s gotten more than $2 million from the health-care sector, giving him the dubious distinction of raising more cash from health-care interests than 98 percent of his colleagues," says Nick Nyhart, executive director of Public Campaign.

Consider the special servicing he gave to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. In another example of his "patriotism," Frist engineered the insertion into the Homeland Security bill of a provision that would protect Eli Lilly from lawsuits over Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in its vaccines. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Lilly by parents who believe Thimerosal caused autism and other neurological maladies in their kids. The Frist-authored rider shields Lilly by forcing those lawsuits into a special "vaccine court," where they can be easily scuttled, potentially saving Lilly hundreds of millions. The pharmaceutical industry was the largest single contributor to the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee that Frist chaired, ladling out some $4 million — and Lilly was the single biggest contributor to the GOP from that industry, having given $1.6 million in the last election cycle, 79 percent of it to Republicans.

The good Dr. Frist voted against patients’ rights to sue their HMOs for failure to provide adequate treatment, and voted to give tax subsidies to HMOs and insurance companies to offer prescription drugs to seniors, rather than providing them through Medicare. Frist has, of course, personally raked it in from the interested industries, gobbling up $123,750 in campaign cash from the HMOs and $265,023 from the pharmaceutical industry. Frist also took $130,204 from the food-processing industry — and then helped kill a bill putting teeth into the USDA’s authority to crack down on processing plants that violate federal standards for bacterial and viral infection of meat and poultry.

There’s a lot more, like this — so much that it leads to an inescapable conclusion: In the Senate, "Good Samaritan" Frist has almost daily violated the injunction of the physicians’ Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm."

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