NEWS ARCHIVE - U.S. AND THE WORLD

Judge Orders CIA to Turn over More Documents about Drug Kingpin Pablo Escobar

Monday, August 20, 2012
Judge Orders CIA to Turn over More Documents about Drug Kingpin Pablo Escobar
Although it might seem obvious, when searching for records related to Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, the Central Intelligence Agency must actually search for the name “Pablo Escobar,” and must search everywhere they might reasonably be found, according to a federal judge in Washington, DC. Escobar (Dec. 1, 1949–Dec. 2, 1993) founded the Medellín drug cartel, which in the 1980s controlled 80% of the global cocaine market, shipping 15 tons a day, worth more than $500 million, to eager consumers in the U.S. In 1989, Escobar made Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people, with a net worth estimated at $3 billion.
 
Despite all that notoriety, the Washington-based think tank Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) has been fighting the CIA since 2004 to force the agency to turn over documents that may reveal its links to a vigilante group in Bogotá that helped track down Escobar. That group was PEPES (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar), which was created by rival drug smugglers and illegal right-wing militias and maintained regular relations with the Colombian police and U.S. drug agents. PEPES harassed, tortured and killed Escobar’s relatives, associates and lawyers until police shot Escobar in 1993.
 
After PEPES disbanded, many of its members went on to found the illegal paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which has killed thousands of civilians suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas. Many AUC leaders are now under U.S. indictment for drug-trafficking, which IPS researcher Paul Paz y Mino calls blowback from short-sighted U.S. decisions in the hunt for Escobar. “The kind of monster the U.S. helped create was, in many ways, worse than what they wanted to destroy,” he said about the PEPES transforming into the AUC. The AUC has been designated a terrorist organization by many countries and organizations, including the U.S. and the European Union.
 
Curious about ties between the CIA and PEPES, IPS sued the CIA in 2006 for making a legally inadequate response to an IPS FOIA request filed in 2004. IPS complained that the CIA improperly redacted the documents it turned over and failed to perform a complete search for records on Escobar and PEPES.
 
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the CIA’s redactions were justified, but that the  CIA “failed to perform an adequate search by failing to search three of their five directorates as well as failing to search for plaintiff's requested term ‘Pablo Escobar.’” CIA officials admitted that in conducting their search, they did not even look through records at three of its directorates, of which there are five: Directorate of Intelligence (DI); National Clandestine Service (NCS); Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T); Directorate of Support (DS); and Director of CIA Area (DCIA). The CIA argued that it did not search DS&T, NCS, or DC for responsive records “because the files most likely to have information responsive to the request would be exempt” under the FOIA statute.
 
Judge Lamberth ruled that the Freedom of Inforamation Act requires the CIA, or any agency, to “made a good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records,” and that the CIA’s “failure to search the remaining three directorates while admitting that they would likely contain records responsive to plaintiff’s search does not rise to the level of an adequate search,” noting that the agency would have the opportunity to claim that certain records were exempt from disclosure.
 
He also ruled that searching only for “Escobar” and not for “Pablo Escobar” was inadequate, rejecting the CIA’s claim that even admitting the existing of records containing the name “Pablo Escobar” could harm national security, as Escobar has been dead for nearly 20 years.
- Matt Bewig
 
To Learn More:
CIA Must Extend Search for Pablo Escobar Docs (by Ryan Abbott, Courthouse News Service)
Institute for Policy Studies v. CIA (U.S. District Court, D.C., 2012) (pdf)
 
U.S. Increases Dependence on Oil Supplied by Saudi Royal Family
Sunday, August 19, 2012
U.S. Increases Dependence on Oil Supplied by Saudi Royal Family
After years of working to reduce its dependence on Persian Gulf oil supplies, the U.S. has increased its petroleum imports from Saudi Arabia.
 
Over the past 12 months, American imports from the Saudi kingdom have increased by more than 20%. Experts say the change was prompted by fears of military conflict with Iran, which could disrupt oil shipments from Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries in the region. Supporters of increased imports also cite reductions in oil production in Mexico and Venezuela.
 
The increase in Saudi oil purchases has upset both conservative and liberal foreign policy experts.
 
“At a time when there is a rising chance of either a nuclear Iran or an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, we should be trying to reduce our reliance on oil going through the Strait of Hormuz and not increasing it,” Michael Makovsky, a former Defense Department official who worked on Middle East issues in the George W. Bush administration, told The New York Times.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
U.S. Reliance on Saudi Oil Heads Back Up (by Clifford Krauss, New York Times)
 
Investigation Turns Up Only 10 Cases of Voter Impersonation Nationwide…in 10 Years
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Investigation Turns Up Only 10 Cases of Voter Impersonation Nationwide…in 10 Years
Voter impersonation, the reason why more than half of all U.S. states have adopted or considered voter identification laws, is virtually non-existent, according to an investigative news study.
 
After examining 2,068 cases of voter fraud since 2000, News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found only 10 cases involving in-person voter impersonation.
 
That’s 10 cases out of 146 million registered voters, or one for every 15 million prospective voters.
 
And yet 37 states have enacted or deliberated on voter ID laws that require individuals to produce photo identification at polling places in order to cast their ballots.
 
“Voter fraud at the polls is an insignificant aspect of American elections,” David Schultz, professor of public policy at Hamline University School of Business in St. Paul, Minnesota, told News21. “There is absolutely no evidence that [voter impersonation fraud] has affected the outcome of any election in the United States, at least any recent election in the United States.”
 
The investigation found more fraud cases with absentee ballots (491) and voter registration (400), neither of which can be prevented by voter ID laws.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:

  

 
30% of Doctors Will Refuse to Treat New Medicaid Patients
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
30% of Doctors Will Refuse to Treat New Medicaid Patients
Bad news for President Barack Obama’s healthcare law: Almost one-third of doctors say they won’t take new Medicaid patients.
 
As part of Obama’s reform plan, the government wants to significantly expand the number of Americans on Medicaid. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, but struck down the Medicaid expansion requirement for states, it was Republican governors who appeared to be a big stumbling block to increasing Medicaid eligibility.
 
Now, it’s physicians, too, because payments to these providers are being cut in order to maintain services.
 
Sandra Decker, an economist with the National Center for Health Statistics, found that 69% of doctors anwsering the 2011 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey replied they would take new Medicaid patients. That leaves another 31% who won’t — a far larger number than those who don’t accept private health insurance (19%) or Medicare (17%).
 
Decker said in her paper that doctors in states with lower Medicaid reimbursement rates were more likely to reject these new patients. One example cited was New Jersey, where only 30% of physicians will see new patients on Medicaid.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
 

  

 
Obama Keeps Fighting in Court to Jail Americans Indefinitely without Trial
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Obama Keeps Fighting in Court to Jail Americans Indefinitely without Trial
In its legal fight to indefinitely jail Americans suspected of terrorist ties, the Obama administration has refused to give any ground in federal court, even dodging a judge’s questions about whether it has abided by a temporary order to not enforce the controversial law.
 
At the focus of the court battle is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012, which gave the government the power to arrest and detain without end anyone suspected of supporting terrorist organizations, including Americans in the U.S.
 
Civil libertarians challenged the law in federal court, and in May, Judge Katherine Forrest ordered a temporary injunction because, she said, the NDAA failed to “pass constitutional muster.”
 
Federal attorneys last week appealed the injunction in an effort to allow the government to use the NDAA in its fight against suspected terrorists. But during questioning by Forrest who asked if the administration had adhered to the injunction, lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice refused to directly answer the question.
 
If it turns out the government has arrested anyone on NDAA grounds, the administration could be held in contempt of court.
 
The NDAA permits the military to hold any individual accused of having “substantially supported” al Qaeda, the Taliban, or “associated forces” until “the end of hostilities.” The law also allows the indefinite imprisonment of those who commit a “belligerent act” against the U.S.
 
In her ruling, Forrest noted: “An individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
Federal Judge Casts Wary Eye Upon Indefinite Military Detention (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service)
 
 
 

  

 
Radioactive Sinkhole Forces Evacuation of 150 Homes
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Radioactive Sinkhole Forces Evacuation of 150 Homes
An enormous sinkhole in Louisiana has forced the evacuation of 150 homes and prompted a lawsuit by local residents claiming the opening may contain radioactive material.
 
Located about 50 miles from Baton Rouge, the sinkhole occurred when an underground salt cavern used by the Texas Brine Co. for waste storage began to collapse.
 
The sinkhole, measured in early August to be 422 feet deep and 372 feet wide, is filled with salt-water slurry containing diesel fuel and possibly radioactive substances, according to the plaintiffs.
 
Local residents say Texas Brine, which was storing byproducts of the drilling industry underground, as well as the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, knew the cavern walls were at risk of collapsing as early as January 2011, but failed to warn the public.
 
The company plans to drill a relief well to determine what happened. But it will take 40 days to do so.
 
In addition to the evacuated homes, three natural gas pipelines were shut down as a precaution and Highway 70 was temporarily closed. Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency in Assumption Parish.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
Giant Sinkhole May Be Radioactive (by Sabrina Canfield, Courthouse News Service)
Lisa LeBlanc et al. v. Texas Brine Company (U.S. District Court, Eastern Louisiana)

  

 
“Path to Prosperity” — Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan — Doesn’t Include Federal Workers
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
“Path to Prosperity” — Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan — Doesn’t Include Federal Workers
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan wants to create a “path to prosperity” for American workers.
 
But government employees are not invited to come along.
 
Ryan, the House Budget Committee’s chairman, has sponsored the Republicans’ budget cutting plan (dubbed “Path to Prosperity”) that would slash nearly $370 billion from the federal workforce over 10 years.
 
Government workers already are going through a two-year freeze on raises. Ryan’s proposal would extend it three more years for a total of five.
 
Ryan also wants federal employees to contribute more toward their retirement plans, but hasn’t said how much more.
 
And he’d like to see the size of the government workforce reduced by 10% through the elimination of 200,000 positions as they become vacant.
 
Ryan and his GOP colleagues believe public employees have enjoyed “privileged rules” for too long. They contend most private-sector workers support the changes because they “reflect the growing frustration” most Americans feel toward government bureaucrats.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
Republican 2013 Budget Proposal (by Paul Ryan, House Budget Committee)
Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan Hits Federal Workers (by Joe Davidson, Washington Post)
 

  

 
Johnson & Johnson Sued for Misrepresenting “Health Benefits” of Splenda Essentials Sweetener
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Johnson & Johnson Sued for Misrepresenting “Health Benefits” of Splenda Essentials Sweetener
Having lost a billion-dollar case over illegal marketing of its pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson is now being sued for misleading consumers about the artificial sweetener Splenda.
 
Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary, McNeil Nutritionals, has claimed Splenda Essentials can help people lose weight and live healthier lives, according to Barbara Bronson, one of the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit.
 
The company’s advertising says Splenda Essentials provides B vitamins, antioxidants, and other ingredients that can lead to weight loss and the avoidance of disease, among other health benefits.
 
But these claims are false, the plaintiffs argue.
 
“It’s ridiculous — but apparently profitable — to claim that bulking up Splenda with vitamins or powdered fiber is going to make it a magical health food,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is supporting the lawsuit. “It’s an artificial sweetener, not pixie dust.”
 
Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary also was sued after a 2005 ad campaign claimed Splenda was “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” That case was brought by rival Merisant, manufacturer of the sugar substitute Equal, which was backed by a complaint from the Sugar Association.
 
Splenda is a creation of sucrose and chlorine, “forming a unique molecule that is 600 times sweeter than sugar,” according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
 
Johnson & Johnson is already on the hook to pay $2.2 billion to settle allegations that it illegally marketed an antipsychotic drug and other medications.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
“Splenda Essentials” Target of Lawsuit (Center for Science in the Public Interest)
 

  

 
Unemployment Benefits Go to Millionaires Because of a Loophole in Current Law
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Unemployment Benefits Go to Millionaires Because of a Loophole in Current Law
Among the many Americans who collected unemployment checks during the Great Recession were thousands of millionaires who legally received jobless compensation.
 
People with incomes of $1 million or more are entitled to file and receive unemployment benefits — just like everyone else in the same situation. More than 2,800 millionaires were given unemployment benefits in 2008, and another 2,362 in 2009, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
 
The CRS noted that the 2008 recipients collectively received $18.6 million in unemployment checks, which represented just .04% of the total amount paid out. In this tight economy, though, even that creates concerns for continuing the payouts.
 
The latest extension of unemployment benefits, passed in February 2012, originally had a provision in it that would have taxed the amounts going to high-income beneficiaries. But that condition didn’t make it into the final bill. Since then, lawmakers have introduced several pieces of legislation in Congress to change the requirement that benefits be paid to anyone who becomes unemployed regardless of their wealth.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Vicki Baker
 
To Learn More:
Receipt of UI by Higher-Income by Unemployed Workers (“Millionaires") (by Donald Hirasuna, Congressional Research Service) (pdf)
Unemployment Benefits for Millionaires (by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News)
 

  

 
CDC Warns of New Swine Flu Virus Hitting Children Who Pet Animals at County Fairs
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
CDC Warns of New Swine Flu Virus Hitting Children Who Pet Animals at County Fairs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning of a new swine flu that so far has sickened more than 100 children, mostly in the Midwest.
 
To date, 145 cases of the influenza (H3N2) have been diagnosed in four states since mid-July. Indiana has been hit the hardest, with 113 cases, followed by Ohio’s 30, and one in Illinois. There also was one case reported in Hawaii.
 
The unusual thing about H3N2 is how it spreads — predominantly from pigs at agricultural and county fairs to people who pet them, mostly children.
 
But it is not considered a serious flu, and little evidence exists showing that it can spread between humans.
 
H3N2 was first identified last summer, and sickened only a dozen people over the winter. Because of the speed at which it is affecting fair visitors this year, federal officials are warning people to wash up after touching pigs.
 
The flu is related to H1N1, which created a worldwide scare in 2009 and 2010, though it did not sicken or kill nearly as many people as experts had expected.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
Fight Swine Flu by Calling it “H1N1 Flu” (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
 
 
 
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