Friday, October 22, 2010

James Neal, 1929 to 2010.

From his NYT obit tonight:

In May 1973, Mr. Neal was in private practice in Nashville when he was asked by the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, to join his staff. He worked with Mr. Cox until October 1973, when John W. Dean III, President Richard M. Nixon’s former legal counsel, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and agreed to be a prosecution witness in the cover-up trial of five Watergate figures.

Mr. Cox was subsequently ordered dismissed by Nixon, and his successor, Leon Jaworski, asked Mr. Neal to return for the cover-up case.

Mr. Neal led the prosecution, handling the questioning of the government’s key witness, Mr. Dean, and on Jan. 1, 1975, a jury convicted four men — John N. Mitchell, the former attorney general; H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s former chief of staff; John D. Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former chief domestic adviser; and Robert C. Mardian, a former assistant attorney general — of covering up the illegal activities of the committee to re-elect Nixon, which had come to light when a White House team of burglars was caught breaking into Democratic offices at the Watergate complex.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

From the L.A. Times this morning:

The insurance industry is pouring money into Republican campaign coffers in hopes of scaling back wide-ranging regulations in the new healthcare law but preserving the mandate that Americans buy coverage.

Since January, the nation's five largest insurers and the industry's Washington-based lobbying arm have given three times more money to Republican lawmakers and political action committees than to Democratic politicians and organizations.

That is a marked change from 2009, when the industry largely split its political donations between the parties, according to federal election filings.

The largest insurers are also paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobbyists with close ties to Republican lawmakers who could shape health policy in January, records show.

Read the entire story here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I have a new story up at Reuters this morning, with Nick Carey, about veterans of the Iraqi and Afghan wars with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries:

More than one in four U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars in the state of Virginia say they have suffered a service-related head injury and two thirds reported depression, according to a report by Virginia Tech to be released on Tuesday.

The real numbers may be much higher, according to Mary Beth Dunkenberger, senior program director at the Institute for Policy and Governance at Virginia Tech and author of the report.

In focus groups many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan said they were afraid to admit to suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during demobilization because it would keep them from their families and hurt their careers, she told Reuters.

"During demobilization troops are kind of on a high and just want to see their families," she said. "If they admit to having PTSD, they know it could be weeks until they see their families so there is a tendency to minimize their symptoms."

"Also career soldiers are reluctant to speak up because they're afraid it could hurt their future prospects in the military," she added, "while those returning to civilian life are afraid that no one will employ them if they're known to suffer from PTSD."

The report was compiled for the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, which is operated by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, and was provided in advance to Reuters. It found that 66 percent of veterans of these two wars reported suffering from some form of depression, second only to Vietnam veterans. Ten percent cited a high level of depression. Thirteen percent said they had suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and 26 percent said they had sustained a service-related head injury...

Read the whole story here. Other Reuters stories by Murray Waas: Murray Waas(Editor: Ed Tobin), "Obama, Politicians Decline to Return Obama Money," Reuters, Feb. 13, 2002. Murray Waas(Editor: Martin Howell), "How Allen Stanford Kept the SEC at Bay," Reuters, January 26, 2012. Murray Waas, "How Allen Stanford Kept the SEC at Bay," Reuters, January 26, 2012. Murray Waas(Editor: Jim Impoco),"Tea Party Candidates Only a Democrat Could Love," Reuters, Dec, 27, 2010. Nick Carey and Murray Waas, "Virginia Veteran Report Shows High Depression Rate", Reuters, September 27, 2010.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

McClatchy's Washington bureau has this must-read this morning:

WASHINGTON — In June, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a Canadian man who contends that U.S. authorities mistook him for an al Qaida operative in 2002 and shipped him to a secret prison in Syria, where he was beaten with electrical cables and held in a grave-like cell for 10 months.

Four years earlier, however, the Canadian government had concluded an exhaustive inquiry and found that the former prisoner, Maher Arar, was telling the truth. Canada cleared Arar of all ties to terrorism and paid him $10 million in damages, and his lawyers say he's cooperating with an investigation into the role of U.S. and Syrian officials in his imprisonment and reported torture.

Arar's case illustrates what lawyers and human rights groups call a shameful trend: While U.S. courts and the Obama administration have been reluctant or unwilling to pursue the cases, countries that once backed former President George W. Bush's war on terrorism are carrying out their own investigations of the alleged U.S. torture program and the role that their governments played in it.

Judges in Great Britain, Spain, Australia, Poland and Lithuania are preparing to hear allegations that their governments helped the CIA run secret prisons on their soil or cooperated in illegal U.S. treatment of terrorism suspects. Spanish prosecutors also have filed criminal charges against six senior Bush administration officials who approved the harsh interrogation methods that detainees say were employed at U.S. military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and other sites.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch has a nice story out this weekend:

The water supply of more than two million Californians has been exposed to harmful levels of nitrates over the past 15 years – a time marked by lax regulatory efforts to contain the colorless and odorless contaminant, a California Watch investigation has found.

Nitrates are now the most common groundwater contaminant in California and across the country. A byproduct of nitrogen-based farm fertilizer, animal manure, wastewater treatment plants and leaky septic tanks, nitrates leach into the ground and can be expensive to extract.

The problem affects both rural Californians and wealthier big-city water systems. State law requires public water systems to remove nitrates. Many rural communities, however, don’t have access to the type of treatment systems available in metropolitan areas.

Nitrates have been linked to “blue baby syndrome,” which cuts off an infant’s oxygen supply. Some studies have found connections to certain cancers in lab animals.

The State Water Resources Control Board acknowledges that nitrates are a problem affecting vast regions of California. And the situation is worsening, especially in the Central Valley, Central Coast, and the Los Angeles and Imperial Valley regions. High nitrate levels have already impacted public water system wells in many areas, and the contaminants continue to migrate toward groundwater supplies that could ultimately impact the water supply for millions of additional Californians.

Statewide, the number of wells that exceeded the health limit for nitrates jumped from nine in 1980 to 648 in 2007. Scientists anticipate a growing wave of nitrate problems in some parts of the state if remedial steps aren’t taken.

Read more here. Also, interesting piece on new investigative reporting non-profits at CJR.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tim Noah in Slate:

No corporation can claim a more vital role in passing and starting to implement the health care reform law than WellPoint, which has a larger customer base (34 million) than any other health insurer in the United States. This is not to say that WellPoint supported health reform; quite the opposite. But as President Obama's May 8 radio address demonstrated not for the first time (text, audio), WellPoint is a uniquely maladroit corporate heavy. If it didn't exist, Obama might have had to invent it.

"[W]hen we found out that an insurance company was systematically dropping the coverage of women diagnosed with breast cancer," Obama said in the address, "my administration called on them to end this practice immediately." The company went unnamed, but it was WellPoint, and news of the practice was broken by Reuters in an April 22 news story by Murray Waas, an investigative reporter who also happens to be a cancer survivor. Waas reported that WellPoint

was using a computer algorithm that automatically targeted … every … policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The software triggered an immediate fraud investigation, as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies, according to government regulators and investigators.

This prompted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to write WellPoint chief executive Angela Braly and pronounce herself "surprised and disappointed." This practice, Sebelius wrote, was "deplorable." Braly replied that it was she who was "disappointed" that both Sebelius and Waas would "grossly misrepresent" the policies of a corporate citizen in whose Indianapolis headquarters hung "a three-story pink ribbon." Braly referred Sebelius to a fact sheet stating that the computer software in question "is used to look at a series of diagnostic codes meant to capture conditions that applicants would likely have known about at the time they applied for coverage. We do not single out breast cancer or pregnancy."

In other words, WellPoint had a computer program able to identify multiple diseases it found especially conducive to rescission (the routine and disgraceful practice by which health insurers comb through the paperwork of seriously ill policyholders in search of some chicken-shit reason to nullify the policy). Why Braly thought this assertion might improve her company's image is hard to guess. When the smoke cleared, WellPoint had been maneuvered into volunteering to end such rescissions as of May 1, nearly five months ahead of the deadline imposed by the new health law (which prohibits rescissions except when the patient commits fraud or "makes an intentional misrepresentation of material fact"). United Healthcare quickly followed suit.

Read his entire column here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Iceland to be haven for out-of-work investigative reporters and whistleblowers?

I'm not sure what to make of this. From Neiman Labs, Iceland's parliament is attempting to make their country for investigative reporting and publishing. Sounds great in theory, and hard to argue with their grandeur of their goal, but am skeptical-- and not sure what "libel-tourism prevention laws" are.

In any case, below is a good portion of the article.

On Tuesday, the Icelandic parliament is expected to introduce a measure aimed at making the country an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world.

Supporters of the proposal say the move would make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for free speech, analogous to the offshore financial havens that allow corporations to hide capital from authorities. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?

“This is a legislative package to create a haven for freedom of expression,” Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir confirmed to me, saying that a proposal for comprehensive media law reform will be filed in parliament on Tuesday, and that whistle-blowing specialists Wikileaks has been involved in drafting it. There have been persistent hints of an Icelandic media move in recent weeks, including tweets from Wikileaks and a cryptic message from the newly created @icelandmedia Twitter account.

The text of the proposal, called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, is not yet public, but the most detailed evidence comes from a video of a talk by Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt of Wikileaks, given at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference in Berlin on Dec. 27:

We could just say we’re taking the source protection laws from Sweden, for example…we could take the First Amendment from the United States, we could take Belgian protection laws for journalists, and we could all pack these together in one bundle, and make it fit for the first jurisdiction that offers the necessities of an information society.

Schmitt termed the idea “a Switzerland of bits.” He also mentions that “lawyers in Iceland are working on a bill that will be introduced on the 26th of January,” although it appears the date of introduction has been pushed back to next week. And he cites Iceland as a path to eventually spreading similar laws throughout the EU

A safe haven for leakers and investigators

Jónsdóttir explained that the proposal does not contain final legislation, but would instruct the government to create a package of laws that enhance journalistic freedoms in specific ways. According to an email from Assange (which was then leaked, ironically enough) the amendments would cover source protection, whistleblower protection, immunity for ISPs and other carriers, freedom of information requests, and strong limits on prior restraint. They would also provide protection against libel judgements from other jurisdictions, much as the United States may soon do with the Free Speech Protection Act of 2009.

This package was designed by a working group including representatives from government, civil society, and Wikileaks, which has considerable experience in international media law and censorship issues. The site accepts anonymous submissions of material of public interest, and publishes them without question. Since its its inception in Jan. 2007, Wikileaks has released thousands of sensitive documents, including an investigation of extra-judicial killings in Kenya and more than 500,000 intercepted pager messages from New York on the morning of September 11, 2001. When The Guardian obtained documents alleging the dumping of 400 tons of toxic waste on behalf of global commodities trader Trafigura, they were slapped with a “super-injunction” which prevented them from disclosing not only the contents of the documents, but the existence of the gag order. Wikileaks published the material three days later. Wikileaks is currently down for a fundraising drive but says it will resume operation shortly.

Read the rest of the article here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Latest poll: Dead heat for now in Coakley/Mass. race.

Coakley: Is Part of the Problem the Candidate?

From the NYT: "Democratic leaders in Congress and at the White House were bracing for what they said was a real possibility that Ms. Coakley could lose the race. The most alarming fact in polls and internal research, several party advisers said, was that Ms. Coakley was still falling behind Mr. Brown among voters who had a favorable view of the president. [emphasis added.]"

Of course the dynamics of the Mass. Senate race are mostly related to national trends. But all politics to some degree, is, local. And Coakley is not the strongest candidate. And in a close race, that can make all the difference in the world.

And this from a TPM reader in Somerville, Mass:

Voters increasingly seem to know how consequential the race is, which is certainly a good thing from Coakley's perspective. That would have been enough to ensure her victory a week ago holding everything else constant. Unfortunately, though, she's made some horribly off-message comments---like suggesting that Catholics shouldn't work in emergency rooms and that Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan. I'm not certain those things matter in and of themselves, but they're part of a developing narrative that she's out-of-touch.

Barney Frank: Coakley Defeat Means Death of Health Care Reform

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Massachusetts lawmaker says if Republicans win a special Senate election there next week, President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is dead.

Democrat Barney Frank told reporters Friday: "If Scott Brown wins, it'll kill the health bill."

The Massachusetts congressman said Democratic candidate Martha Coakley should have campaigned harder for the seat held for decades by Edward Kennedy. Nonetheless, Frank said he thinks Coakley will win Tuesday's contest. Latest polls show a close race between Brown and Coakley. Kennedy died last summer of brain cancer and Democrat Paul Kirk was appointed to fill the seat on an interim basis. Brown has said he would be the 41st vote against the health bill.