Senate Postpones Domestic Spying Bill

Thanks to the efforts of Senator Chris Dodd, the Senate has postponed a vote that could have permanently expanded the government’s ability to carry out domestic surveillance. The FISA bill would have given immunity to telecommunication companies that have assisted in the government’s illegal spying program. This ‘retroactive immunity’ caused Senator Dodd to threaten a filibuster, and after a day-long debate, Majority Leader Harry Reid tabled the bill.

This will postpone any vote until January. Dodd’s courageous efforts are a refreshing victory for American civil liberties, and he threatens to filibuster again next month if retroactive immunity is still included in the bill.

 

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Ron Paul Raises $6 Million in One Day

Presidential hopeful Ron Paul raised an astounding $6 million and change Sunday, almost certainly guaranteeing he’ll out-raise his rivals for the Republican nomination in the fourth quarter. That marks the largest single-day fundraising haul in U.S. political history, besting John Kerry’s $5.7 million the day after securing the 2004 Democratic nomination.

Paul’s campaign bested its earlier single-day record of $4.2 million from November 5th. It’s a shame that the droves of online supporters Paul has amassed are not getting behind the candidate with the best prospect for positive change.

The Ford Pinto and the Price of Life

Back in the 1960’s, the Ford Motor Company faced strong competition in America’s small-car market. To fight the competition of Volkswagen and Japanese manufacturers, Ford rushed the development of its newest small car, the Ford Pinto.

Ford Pinto

During production, Ford engineers discovered a major flaw in the car’s design. In rear-end crash tests, the Pinto’s fuel system would rupture extremely easily. Despite this hazardous defect, Ford officials decided to manufacture the car anyway.

Safety proved not to be a major concern in the development process. The development specifications for the Pinto were that it “was not to weigh an ounce over 2,000 pounds and not cost a cent over $2,000.” Studies of Pinto accident reports revealed:

if a Pinto being followed at over 30 miles per hour was hit by that following vehicle, the rear end of the car would buckle like an accordion, right up to the back seat. The tube leading to the gas-tank cap would be ripped away from the tank itself, and gas would immediately begin sloshing onto the road around the car.

The buckled gas tank would be jammed up against the differential housing (the large bulge in the middle of the rear axle), which contains four sharp, protruding bolts likely to gash holes in the tank and spill still more gas.

Now all that is needed is a spark from a cigarette, ignition, or scraping metal, and both cars would be engulfed in flames. If a Pinto was struck from behind at higher speed say, at 40 mph chances are very good that its doors would jam shut and its trapped passengers inside would burn to death.

The financial analysis that Ford conducted on the Pinto concluded that it was not cost-efficient to add an $11 per car cost in order to correct the flaw.

Benefits derived from spending this amount of money were estimated to be $49.5 million. This estimate assumed that each death, which could be avoided, would be worth $200,000, that each major burn injury that could be avoided would be worth $67,000 and that an average repair cost of $700 per car involved in a rear end accident would be avoided. It further assumed that there would be 2,100 burned vehicles, 180 serious burn injuries, and 180 burn deaths in making this calculation. When the unit cost was spread out over the number of cars and light trucks which would be affected by the design change, at a cost of $11 per vehicle, the cost was calculated to be $137 million, much greater then the $49.5 million benefit.

Of course, these figures were wholly inaccurate and based on many assumptions. Still, I believe Ford’s ‘cost-benefit analysis’ was the first time that a monetary value had been placed on human life.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began investigating the case shortly after the Pinto was produced. It discovered that “a large and growing number of corpses taken from burned cars involved in rear-end crashes contained no cuts, bruises or broken bones. They clearly would have survived the accident unharmed if the cars had not caught fire.”

By 1972, the NHTSA’s research had gone on for four years, in which time “nearly 9,000 people burned to death in flaming wrecks. Tens of thousands more were badly burned and scarred for life. And the four-year delay meant that well over 10 million new unsafe vehicles went on the road, vehicles that will be crashing, leaking fuel and incinerating people well into the 1980s.” It wasn’t until May of 1978 that Ford followed the NHTSA’s demand and agreed to recall 1.5 million Pintos for a “safety related defect.”

The Ford Pinto disaster is a chilling example of corporate unaccountability in action. Although they had foreknowledge of the hazardous flaw and anticipated the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, they still decided that it simply was not profitable to make the cars more safe. This is a telling illustration of a corporation’s mindset; the public good is of little concern unless it coincides with profits.

Romney’s Equity Firm to Buy Clear Channel

From LewRockwell:

What would it cost to buy the support of just about every nationally syndicated neocon talk show host in America? About $19.5 billion, which is what Mitt Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, and Thomas H. Lee Partners have agreed to pay in a leveraged buyout agreement with Clear Channel Communications, the largest radio station owner in the country. This is part of a negotiation that has been pending for over a year.

Clear Channel owns more than 1,100 full-power AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations, twelve radio channels on XM Satellite Radio, and more than 30 television stations in the United States. Premiere Radio Networks, which is the largest syndication company in the United States, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Clear Channel and is home to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and many others. Sean Hannity recently signed a large multi-market contract with Clear Channel, as well.

Romney is the former CEO and current silent partner of the firm.

Kucinich Excluded from Final Democratic Debate

The Des Moines Register hosted the final Democratic presidential debate this Thursday. The criteria to establish which participants were invited to the debate was as follows:

  1. Candidates must have filed an FEC Form F-2 “Statement of Candidacy” with the Federal Election Commission, and
  2. Candidates must have publicly announced an intention to run for the nomination of the Republican or the Democratic Party for President of the United States, and
  3. Candidates must have had a campaign office inside the State of Iowa as of October 1, 2007, and
  4. Candidates must have employed at least one paid campaign staff representative to perform full-time campaign duties in the State of Iowa on behalf of the candidate since at least October 1, 2007, and
  5. Candidates must have had at least a 1% support showing in the Des Moines Register’s October, 2007 Iowa Poll.

The Register excluded Dennis Kucinich from the process (due to #3), claiming he did not have a campaign office in the state. Kucinich’s Iowa field director works from his home instead of a rented real estate storefront, which they believe is the reason for the distinction.

The Kucinich campaign issued the following statement:

The Iowa caucuses have been portrayed as having national implications, and if the Register has decided to use hair-splitting technicalities to exclude the leading voice of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, then the entire process is suspect.”

Mid-week Roundup 12/12

Losing our minds over Illegal Immigration

NAFTA has the power to trump state laws!

The Historical Truth of Our Relations with Iran

Report shows Bush manipulated climate science, suppressed scientists.

Nigeria battles Pfizer in court for conducting an illegal, unauthorized drug trial on Nigerian children.

Bad News for Prescription Drugs: pharmaceutical sales reps may be given licenses.

Murdoch Ready to Makeover the Wall Street Journal

Did you know Venezuela is a Constiutional Democracy?

Taiwan and mainland China: conflicting amnesiacs

New Orleans Homes to be Demolished (with video)

Why Won’t the Candidates talk about Americans’ Economic Pain?

Nuclear Disarmament and Peace on Earth…what’s that?

A Decent Article by Sean Penn calling on Americans to do what’s right

Meet a Millionaire with a Lower Tax Rate than You! (with video)

Blackwater Worldwide

Blackwater Logo

The private security firm Blackwater is attempting to reconstruct its image, re-branding themselves Blackwater Worldwide this October. The US State Department’s largest security contractor had its operating license revoked by the Iraqi government this September after its involvement in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians. Yet they continue to operate there and are expanding operations even further. I’ll leave it to Jeremy Scahill to fill you in on the details:

Blackwater Bu$ine$$ (from The Nation)

Gunning down seventeen Iraqi civilians in an incident the military has labeled “criminal.” Multiple Congressional investigations. A federal grand jury. Allegations of illegal arms smuggling. Wrongful death lawsuits brought by families of dead employees and US soldiers. A federal lawsuit alleging war crimes. Charges of steroid use by trigger-happy mercenaries. Allegations of “significant tax evasion.” The US-installed government in Iraq labeling its forces “murderers.” With a new scandal breaking practically every day, one would think Blackwater security would be on the ropes, facing a corporate meltdown or even a total wipeout. But it seems that business for the company has never been better, as it continues to pull in major federal contracts. And its public demeanor grows bolder and cockier by the day.

Rather than hiding out and hoping for the scandals to fade, the Bush Administration’s preferred mercenary company has launched a major rebranding campaign, changing its name to Blackwater Worldwide and softening its logo: once a bear paw in the site of a sniper scope, it’s now a bear claw wrapped in two half ovals–sort of like the outline of a globe with a United Nations feel. Its website boasts of a corporate vision “guided by integrity, innovation, and a desire for a safer world.” Blackwater mercenaries are now referred to as “global stabilization professionals.” Blackwater’s 38-year-old owner, Erik Prince, was No. 11 in Details magazine’s “Power 50,” the men “who control your viewing patterns, your buying habits, your anxieties, your lust…. the people who have taken over the space in your head.”

In one of the company’s most bizarre recent actions, on December 1 Blackwater paratroopers staged a dramatic aerial landing, complete with Blackwater flags and parachutes–not in Baghdad or Kabul but in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium during the halftime show at the San Diego State/BYU football game. The location was interesting, given that Blackwater is fighting fierce local opposition to its attempt to open a new camp–Blackwater West–on 824 acres in the small rural community of Potrero, just outside San Diego. Blackwater’s parachute squad plans to land at the Armed Forces Bowl in Texas this month and the Virginia Gold Cup in May. The company recently sponsored a NASCAR racer, and it has teamed up with gun manufacturer Sig Sauer to create a Blackwater Special Edition full-sized 9-millimeter pistol with the company logo on the grip. It comes with a Limited Lifetime Warranty. For $18, parents can purchase infant onesies with the company logo.

In recent weeks, Blackwater has indicated it might quit Iraq. “We see the security market diminishing,” Prince told the Wall Street Journal in October. Yet on December 3 Blackwater posted job listings for “security specialists” and snipers as a result of its State Department diplomatic security “contract expansion.” While its name may be mud in the human rights world, Blackwater has not only made big money in Iraq (about $1 billion in State Department contracts); it has secured a reputation as a company that keeps US officials alive by any means necessary. The dirty open secret in Washington is that Blackwater has done its job in Iraq, even if it has done so by valuing the lives of Iraqis much lower than those of US VIPs. That badass image will serve it well as it expands globally.

Prince promises that Blackwater “is going to be more of a full spectrum” operation. Amid the cornucopia of scandals, Blackwater is bidding for a share of a five-year, $15 billion contract with the Pentagon to “fight terrorists with drug-trade ties.” Perhaps the firm will join the mercenary giant DynCorp in Colombia or Bolivia or be sent into Mexico on a “training” mission. This “war on drugs” contract would put Blackwater in the arena with the godfathers of the war business, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

In addition to its robust business in law enforcement, military and homeland security training, Blackwater is branching out. Here are some of its current projects and initiatives:

§ Blackwater affiliate Greystone Ltd., registered offshore in Barbados, is an old-fashioned mercenary operation offering “personnel from the best militaries throughout the world” for hire by governments and private organizations. It also boasts of a “multi-national peacekeeping program,” with forces “specializing in crowd control and less than lethal techniques and military personnel for the less stable areas of operation.”

§ Prince’s Total Intelligence Solutions, headed by three CIA veterans (among them Blackwater’s number two, Cofer Black), puts CIA-type services on the open market for hire by corporations or governments.

§ Blackwater is launching an armored vehicle called the Grizzly, which the company characterizes as the most versatile in history. Blackwater intends to modify it to be legal for use on US highways.

§ Blackwater’s aviation division has some forty aircraft, including turboprop planes that can be used for unorthodox landings. It has ordered a Super Tucano paramilitary plane from Brazil, which can be used in counterinsurgency operations. In August the aviation division won a $92 million contract with the Pentagon to operate flights in Central Asia.

§ It recently flight-tested the unmanned Polar 400 airship, which may be marketed to the Department of Homeland Security for use in monitoring the US-Mexico border and to “military, law enforcement, and non-government customers.”

§ A fast-growing maritime division has a new, 184-foot vessel that has been fitted for potential paramilitary use.

Meanwhile, Blackwater is deep in the camp of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Cofer Black is Romney’s senior adviser on counterterrorism. At the recent CNN/YouTube debate, when Romney refused to call waterboarding torture, he said, “I’m not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we’re able to do and what things we’re not able to do. And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some thirty-five years.” That was an exaggeration of Black’s career at the CIA (he was there twenty-eight years and head of counterterrorism for only three), but a Romney presidency could make Blackwater’s business under Bush look like a church bake sale.

In short, Blackwater is moving ahead at full steam. Individual scandals clearly aren’t enough to slow it down. The company’s critics in the Democratic-controlled Congress must confront the root of the problem: the government is in the midst of its most radical privatization in history, and companies like Blackwater are becoming ever more deeply embedded in the war apparatus. Until this system is brought down, the world’s the limit for Blackwater Worldwide–and as its rebranding campaign shows, Blackwater knows it.