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Editor, The Konformist
Ventura: `You're not allowed to ask' about 9/11
Friday, March 12th, 2010
Former Minnesota governor and one-time professional wrestler Jesse Ventura has run afoul of the Huffington Post's no-conspiracy-theory policy, and he's not happy about it.
"I can't believe the Huffington Post today will practice censorship," Ventura says in astonishment. "I've got news for them. ... I won't ever write for 'em again."
Ventura had posted an item on Tuesday which took note of a recent conference at which "more than one thousand architects and engineers signed a petition demanding that Congress begin a new investigation into the destruction of the World Trade Center skyscrapers on 9/11." He also quoted a few paragraphs from his new book, American Conspiracies, to explain why some of those experts see signs of controlled demolition.
The item was featured on the front page of Huffington Post when it first went up, but after a few hours it vanished. All that appears now at its original location is an editor's note saying, "The Huffington Post's editorial policy, laid out in our blogger guidelines, prohibits the promotion and promulgation of conspiracy theories -- including those about 9/11. As such, we have removed this post."
The note is followed by three pages of comments, enthusiastically arguing the pros and cons of controlled demolition and other 9/11 theories, that were posted during the couple of hours before the entry was deleted and comments were closed.
Huffington Post's own guidelines for its bloggers state, "We must -- and do -- reserve the right to remove objectionable, inaccurate, or inflammatory material and, if necessary, suspend or revoke blogging privileges. This also includes propagating conspiracy theories and blogging about behind-the-scenes housekeeping issues that are not of interest to the general public."
Anastasia Churkina, a correspondent for RT, interviewed Ventura about the controversy. "He's a man who doesn't mince his words too much," she reported on Thursday. "He was pretty blunt."
"I can't believe the Huffington Post today will practice censorship," Ventura told her angrily. "They asked me to be a contributing editor and they said, 'Write about anything you want.' So it was the second time I did something -- and they removed it?"
"Well, I've got news for them," he continued. "I won't ever write for 'em again. ... I won't do a thing for the Huffington Post because I don't like it when people censor what I have to say."
"All I do is ask questions!" he exploded. "That's what bugs me about 9/11. 9/11 is an event you're not allowed to ask a question about. ... Clearly they don't want any questions on it."
Ironically, Ventura had to go to RT, the English-language version of a Russian news channel, to tell his story. Although polls show that large numbers of Americans believe in a broad range of conspiracy theories, and a majority entertain doubts about the official story of 9/11, few of those questions ever appear in the mainstream media.
As Raw Story recently reported , "In November of 2007, an online article noted, 'Nearly two-thirds of Americans think it is possible that some federal officials had specific warnings of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but chose to ignore those warnings, according to a Scripps Howard News Service/Ohio University poll.' A national survey of 811 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps and Ohio University found that more than a third believe in a broad smorgasbord of conspiracy theories including the attacks, international plots to rig oil prices, the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the government's knowledge of intelligent life from other worlds. The high percentage is a manifestation, some say, of an American public that increasingly distrusts the federal government."
Even liberal websites, however, discourage questions about 9/11, to the point where BooMan of the Booman Tribune had to preface a post at Daily Kos in 2005 by writing "I know this touches on verboten conspiracy theories, but this is a front-page NYT article."
"It's kind of hard to tell whether or not a new investigation will be launched," Churkina concluded. "Many people don't think this is going to be happening any time soon, even with such public figures, like Jesse Venture and other, calling for it."
Slim Overtakes Gates, Buffett to Become Forbes Richest Person
March 11, 2010
Chris Dolmetsch and Crayton Harrison
March 11 (Bloomberg) -- Mexico's Carlos Slim beat Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for the top spot on Forbes magazine's annual list of billionaires, becoming the first person from outside the U.S. to lead the rankings in 16 years.
The net worth of Slim, 70, who built a telecommunications empire after buying Mexico's state-run phone monopoly two decades ago, rose $18.5 billion to $53.5 billion. Gates, 54, chairman of Microsoft Corp., fell to second as his net worth increased $13 billion to $53 billion. Buffett, 79, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., was third with $47 billion, a rise of $10 billion.
Slim is the first person other than Gates, last year's richest person, or Buffett to top the list since 1994, which was also the last time a billionaire from outside the U.S. led the ranking: Japanese real estate tycoon Yoshiaki Tsutsumi.
"We've been watching Slim for a while and kind of wondered when the stars would align and he would take over," Forbes senior editor Luisa Kroll said in an interview yesterday.
More than 80 percent of Slim's holdings are held in five public stocks, she said. "His net worth really reflects how well those stocks are doing. Everything that he owns has done very, very well this year."
Mexican shares of America Movil SAB, the wireless carrier controlled by Slim, have gained more than 56 percent in the last year, according to Bloomberg data. The company's reach extends to 18 countries in the Western hemisphere, including Mexico, Brazil and the U.S., where it is the biggest carrier of prepaid wireless service.
Slim's Telefonos de Mexico SAB remains the biggest landline phone company in the country, with about 80 percent of the lines. His Telmex Internacional SAB, which America Movil is planning to buy, controls Brazil's biggest long-distance and cable TV companies as well as phone and video carriers in Colombia, Peru and other South American countries.
Slim's holdings in Mexico extend from retail, with the Sanborns department store chain, through banking and construction. Through his holding companies and investment vehicles, he holds stakes in U.S. companies including the New York Times Co., Saks Inc. and Bronco Drilling Co.
"His management of America Movil, which I believe is the principal reason for his wealth, has been exceptional," said Jose Miguel Garaicochea, who helps manage 10 billion pesos ($793 million) in stocks, including the wireless carrier, at Banco Santander SA. "And when he has gone outside of Mexico, he has also done very well."
Asia's richest person, Mukesh Ambani, 52, of India, chairman of Mumbai-based refiner and energy explorer Reliance Industries Ltd., was ranked fourth with $29 billion, up from $19.5 billion last year, when he was seventh.
Lakshmi Mittal, 59, also of India, the chief executive officer of the world's biggest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, rose to fifth from eighth. Mittal's net worth increased $9.4 billion to $28.7 billion as shares of his company have almost doubled in the past year.
Larry Ellison, 65, chief executive of Oracle Corp., fell to sixth from fourth as his net worth increased $5.5 billion to $28 billion. Bernard Arnault, 61, of France, chairman and chief executive of luxury goods maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, rose to seventh from 15th as his net worth jumped $11 billion to $27.5 billion.
Brazilian mining magnate Eike Batista, 53, had the biggest increase in net worth, rising to $27 billion from $7.5 billion and boosting his rank to eighth from 61st. Spain's richest man, Amancio Ortega, 73, chairman and founder of clothing retailer Inditex SA, rose to ninth from 10th as his net worth jumped $6.7 billion to $25 billion.
Karl Albrecht, a co-founder of discount retailer Aldi Group, rounded out the list's top 10, falling to 10th from sixth place as his net worth rose $2 billion to $23.5 billion.
The number of billionaires climbed to 1,011 from 793 last year, although still below the rankings' high of 1,125 in 2008. Their cumulative net worth increased to $3.6 trillion from $2.4 trillion, and the average jumped $500 million to $3.5 billion as the world economy began to rebound from its worst slump since the Great Depression.
The list includes billionaires from 55 countries. The U.S. has the most with 403, up from 359 last year, while Europe follows with 248. The Asia-Pacific region has 234 people in the rankings, up from 130 in 2009, including 62 newcomers.
"The global boom that we experienced from the 1980s, particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which was temporarily derailed in 2007, now looks like it's beginning to get back on track," the magazine's editor-in-chief, Steve Forbes, said at a press conference in New York yesterday. "But Asia and a handful of others are surging, relatively the United States and western Europe are lagging."
The Forbes rankings are based on information including stakes in publicly traded and privately held companies; real estate holdings; and investments in items such as art, gems and yachts; and compiled as of the close of U.S. markets on Feb. 12.
--Editors: Mark Schoifet, Don Frederick
To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York at cdolmetsch@...; Crayton Harrison in Mexico City at tharrison5@...
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Kirk at jkirk12@...
'Vaccines court' rejects mercury-autism link in 3 test cases
The finding supports a broad scientific consensus that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, and will likely disappoint parents who are convinced otherwise.
Thomas H. Maugh II and Andrew Zajac
March 13, 2010
Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles
The federal "vaccines court" ruled Friday in three separate cases that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, a finding that supports the broad scientific consensus on the matter but that greatly disappointed parents who are convinced that their child's illness was caused by vaccines.
The court had ruled 13 months ago that a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, commonly known as the MMR vaccine, and thimerosal does not cause the disorder, so the new ruling may finally close the bulk of litigation on the matter. The earlier ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and this one most likely will be also, but most experts think the court will uphold the decision.
A claim that the MMR vaccine alone causes autism has been withdrawn by parents.
More than 5,300 parents had filed claims with the vaccines court, a branch of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking damages because they believed their children had developed autism as a result of vaccinations. And they reacted bitterly to Friday's ruling.
"Find me another industry where the U.S. government defends their product in court and funds the science that exonerates them," said J.B. Handley, a founder of Generation Rescue in Sherman Oaks and father of a child with autism. "The average citizen has no hope."
The cases that three judges, called special masters, chose to rule on as test cases were considered among the strongest, so the outlook appears grim for others making the same claim. Each ruled on one case.
Special Master Denise K. Vowell wrote in one of the decisions that "petitioners propose effects from mercury in [vaccines] that do not resemble mercury's known effects in the brain, either behaviorally or at the cellular level. To prevail, they must show that the exquisitely small amounts of mercury in [vaccines] that reach the brain can produce devastating effects that far larger amounts experienced prenatally or postnatally from other sources do not."
She also dismissed claims that some groups of children are unusually susceptible to the effects of mercury. "The only evidence that these children are unusually sensitive is the fact of their [autism] itself."
In a separate ruling, Special Master George L. Hastings wrote: "This case . . . is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners' causation theories."
Commenting on the rulings, Dr. Paul Offit of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said in a news conference that the idea that vaccines or thimerosal cause autism "had its day in scientific court and was shown not to hold up. . . . The ruling clearly supported the science, fortunately." Offit, inventor of the rotavirus vaccine and author of five books on the vaccine controversy, is a strong proponent of vaccination and has been vilified by many parents.
Parents and advocacy groups argued that the ruling represents a conspiracy to protect vaccination programs. "The courts won't concede something that will bring down the vaccination program," Handley said.
Vaccine court special masters are protecting the vaccine program at the expense of children harmed by inoculations, said Mary Holland of the Coalition for Vaccine Safety, an umbrella organization of autism groups that says it is focused on improving vaccine safety science.
"I'm sure they sincerely believe they're protecting the public health because they think that if people believed vaccines caused diseases, they would stop vaccinating children," Holland said. "They bend over backwards to not acknowledge vaccine injury."
Largely because of parental fears, thimerosal was removed from all childhood vaccines by 2001, except for multidose vials of influenza vaccine. Despite that action, the prevalence of autism has continued to grow, and it is now thought to affect as many as one in every 100 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine court was established in 1986 because vaccine manufacturers were facing many liability suits that threatened their ability to continue manufacturing the medicines. The court holds no-fault hearings to determine whether a child has been harmed by a vaccine. Compensation comes from a $2.5-billion fund based on a 75-cent surcharge on each dose of vaccine.
The court has made many awards to parents who successfully showed that their children were damaged neurologically or otherwise by vaccinations -- a rare, but nonetheless real event -- but has refused to accept claims that autism is caused by vaccination.
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from Pittsburgh parents who want to sue vaccine manufacturer Wyeth directly because their daughter suffered a series of debilitating seizures after being vaccinated. They argue that they cannot get a fair hearing in the vaccine court.
Trine Tsouderos in Chicago contributed to this report.
Saturday, Mar 13, 2010
The warped platitude of DC "centrism"
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank dresses up in idiotic costumes, and the overriding attribute of his commentary is adolescent, above-it-all snideness, and he's thus deemed a wild, unpredictable, creative "contrarian" in Beltway media circles. In reality, he's one of the most cliché-ridden purveyors of conventional Washington widsom one can find, as he demonstrates yet again in his column today, where he venerates Lindsey Graham and his quest to statutorily implement a system of military commissions and indefinite detention:
But Graham's latest offer should still be taken seriously by Obama's White House, which needs a way to recover from its self-inflicted wounds over Gitmo. Obama goofed twice, missing his deadline for closing the prison and then making the ruinous choice to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a criminal trial in New York.
This took an eight-year-old dispute to a new level of rage. On one side, there's now Liz Cheney's absurd accusation that Justice Department lawyers are al-Qaeda sympathizers. On the other side is the ACLU, which, in demanding civilian trials for 9/11 conspirators, ran an ad morphing Obama's face into George W. Bush's. . . . [T]the ideological purists on both sides need to compromise.
Liz Cheney advocates torture and indefinite detention with no charges, and just launched a repulsive McCarthyite smear campaign equating all detainee lawyers with Al Qaeda. The ACLU has steadfastly opposed Bush's torture policies as early as anyone, advocates due process for all, and ran a newspaper advertisement pointing out the indisputable fact that military commissions and indefinite detention were the crux of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism template and urging Obama not to embrace it. But they're on opposite sides of these issues and thus are equivalent: they're the extremists and purists who need to be rejected by those in the Glorious Middle (embodied by Lindsey Graham). As long both of them are against what you're doing, it means you're right. Could a false equivalency be any more trite or vapid than that?
Far worse is the specific, Graham-endorsed policy which Milbank endorses -- not by making any substantive arguments in its favor, but simply by declaring it to be in between Liz Cheney and the ACLU, at the center of the two "purist" extremes (which, in Washington, means, by definition, that it's superior regardless of content):
Graham has provided Obama a way out of this standoff: Send KSM to a military tribunal in exchange for Congress abandoning legislation that would deny funding to close Gitmo. Next, the administration would work with Congress to create a "national security court," which would govern how other current and future terrorism suspects can be held in preventive detention.
This is the so-called "centrist compromise" -- the one Graham (along with the Brookings Institution) is pushing, Milbank is endorsing, and the administration may be heading towards adopting. But just think about what it actually is. According to its advocates, there is and will continue to be a group of people whom we deem Too Dangerous to allow to be free, yet who have committed no crime and/or against whom there is no evidence of actual wrongdoing. Therefore, we want to imprison them even though we can't prove they did anything wrong. Thus, we're going to create new, special courts -- and christen them with the Orwellian title "National Security Courts" -- and empower them to approve the President's decision to imprison human beings in cages even though they've committed no crime (not even the extremely broad criminal offense of "providing material support to Terrorist organizations," of which anyone who even gets near an actual Terrorist group is easily convicted).
This new judicial system will be devoted to imprisoning people "preventively" -- for being Dangerous. In other words, we're dispensing with the idea that the Government can only imprison those who we can prove have committed crimes, and are instead creating by statute a new category of human beings -- people who have committed no crimes but belong in prison anyway -- along with courts to keep them imprisoned (this idea was unveiled in Barack Obama's "civil liberties" speech last May when he described the so-called "fifth category" of people, and I wrote about everything wrong with that proposal here). But why stop with accused Terrorists? Why not dispense with this "due process" annoyance entirely, and imprison all people who we know deep down are guilty of something really bad, or at least will be in the future -- such as those we know murdered someone or raped children but can't find the evidence to prove it (or those we believe likely will in the future)? What decent person would possibly allow such monsters to go free just because we can't convict them in court?
That's the "centrist compromise" which Graham and Milbank advocate, and which the ACLU -- by virtue of its opposition -- is deemed by Milbank guilty of being the "purist" equivalent of Liz Cheney. Aside from how radical such a proposal is on its face, it's actually a more extreme version of what George Bush and Dick Cheney did. As a result of the Supreme Court's Boumediene ruling, detainees imprisoned by Bush/Cheney with no charges are now are entitled to habeas review by federal courts, and the vast majority have won their cases and been ordered released on the ground of insufficient evidence. Notably, it was the "centrist" Graham, to his eternal disgrace, who led the way in trying to deny those innocent detainees the right of habeas review -- and thus tried to keep innocent people imprisoned indefinitely with no judicial review -- by sponsoring the habeas-denying section of the Military Commissions Act which the Boumediene Court invalidated as unconstitutional.
Now, Graham (echoing Obama's May speech) wants to statutorily institutionalize this power of indefinite detention -- making it a permanent fixture of our political system and solidifying it as the bipartisan policy of all three branches. As demonstrated by the truly dangerous, extremist bill just introduced by John McCain and Joe Lieberman (the "Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010") -- which, among other atrocities, would allow the President to indefinitely imprison even American citizens arrested on U.S. soil -- it's almost certain that having this fear-mongering Congress write an indefinite detention bill would result in a much broader and farther-reaching detention scheme than even what we've had under Bush/Cheney and now Obama. But hey: Liz Cheney and the ACLU (with whom I consult) are both against it (Cheney's opposition is due only to the fact that the "compromise" would lead to the re-location of Guantanamo to Illinois) -- and one can find some Democrats and some Republicans who favor it -- and, therefore, it is, by definition, the sensible "centrist" solution which all non-purist-extremists favor. That's the warped, childish, substance-free definition of "centrism" which Washington media drones like Dana Milbank constantly embrace, and nothing has led to more damaging policies than that.
* * * * *
The Washington Post Op-Ed page deserves some credit for publishing this excellent Op-Ed yesterday by Georgetown Professor Gary Solis, who points out that, under international law, CIA agents who operate lethal drone attacks are every bit as much "unlawful combatants" as the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters we have imprisoned, rendered, tortured and killed, because "they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war." He also points out that CIA officials involved in such activities are legitimate military targets of the enemy. The same is true, of course, for the vast number of private mercenaries the U.S. uses to engage in war-fighting and related activities. By the warped reasoning that has prevailed in our country, it would be perfectly legal and proper for these unlawful American combatants to be imprisoned indefinitely with no charges and even tortured. If you advocate and practice lawlessness, it's only a matter of time before you're subjected to your own deranged standards.