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Unearthed: News of the Week the Mainstream Media Forgot to Report

CO2 Levels Reach Record High; USDA Blocks Voluntary Mad Cow Testing; Wounded Veterans Denied Help in Registering to Vote; Fallen U.S. Soldiers Cremated At Pet Facility
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Tobacco Scientist Steve Milloy reveals front group agenda designed to scare Americans into never-ending fossil fuel addiction

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, former tobacco lobbyist and current global warming denier Steven Milloy defends fossil fuels as the only energy sources that aren't "foolish."

Milloy's science-deprived corporate front groups assert that "the most important junk science issue right now is global warming because it's going to affect our freedoms and it's going to affect our economy. It's all based on the unproven notion that human emissions of carbon dioxide are affecting global climate."

Milloy posits that Alcoa and other companies who express concern over climate change and call for federal action are "lobbying for laws that will make everybody be foolish." He claims that any "global-warming regulation" will "drive the U.S. economy into a ditch."

ExxonMobil has given at least $90,000 to Milloy's fossil-friendly front groups over the years, joining other corporate contributors including Dow Chemical, General Motors, Chevron, Proctor & Gamble and asbestos/pesticide manufacturer W.R. Grace. Despite his documented tobacco and oil industry funding, Milloy remains a columnist for Fox News, whose executives cast a blind eye toward his role as a corporate shill.

CO2 Levels Reach Record High In The Atmosphere, Highest CO2 Levels in 800,000 Years

NOAA scientists report that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rising faster than expected, and now stand at 387 parts per million, up almost 40% since the Industrial Revolution and the highest level in recorded history.

Another new study published in the journal Nature by a team of Swiss, French and German scientists adds 150,000 years of data to climate records assembled from previous ice drilling, confirming that CO2 levels are the highest in at least the past 800,000 years. "We can firmly say that today's concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane are 28 and 124% higher respectively than at any time during the last 800,000 years," said Thomas Stocker, an author of the report.

These new findings all but guarantee that even the most ambitious proposals to curb greenhouse gas emissions may fall short at stopping dangerous climate disruptions.

Martin Parry, co-chair of the IPCC working group on climate impacts, said: "Despite all the talk, the situation is getting worse. Levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise in the atmosphere and the rate of that rise is accelerating. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change and the scale of those impacts will also accelerate, until we decide to do something about it."

Vaccine Court To Hear New Round Of Thimerosal/Autism Test Cases
Hearings resume this week in the federal vaccine court, which will consider the test cases of two autistic boys from Portland, OR whose families claim their autism resulted directly from exposure to the mercury preservative thimerosal in childhood vaccines.
Overall, nearly 4,900 families have filed claims with the U.S. Court of Claims alleging that vaccines caused autism and other neurological problems in their children. Thimerosal, which is approximately 50% mercury by weight, is still present at significant concentrations in the flu vaccine and certain booster shots including tetanus and diphtheria.

USDA Blocks Voluntary Mad Cow Testing
The Bush administration has employed an antiquated law in order to stop Creekstone Farms, a natural beef company, from testing its herd for mad cow disease. Creekstone had hoped to voluntarily test its entire herd to reassure customers around the world that its natural beef is safe from the disease, which is more common at industrial factory farms. But the Bush USDA has blocked Creekstone's access to test kits that can identify the disease markers in processed beef products.

At least three cases of mad cow disease have been confirmed in the U.S. since 2003. The Bush administration claims that voluntary testing by proactive beef companies would create confusion and possibly result in a false positive that could scare consumers away from U.S. beef.

The USDA tests less than 1 percent of the nation's beef cattle for mad cow disease, while many other countries test a far greater percentage of their herds. Creekstone formerly sold its products in Japan but has been blocked from doing so because Japan requires 100 percent testing of its beef for mad cow disease. Creekstone is suing USDA to gain access to the test kits, alleging interference by the Bush administration.

Wounded Veterans Denied Help in Registering to Vote

Wounded veterans will have a much more difficult time attempting to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming election. The Department of Veterans Affairs has retreated on a recently announced policy to allow voter registration drives at veterans' hospitals, claiming that any assistance provided to hospitalized veterans would violate the Hatch Act, which restricts political activities by federal employees. Members of Congress and voting rights advocates argue that the interference amounts to voter suppression, and that it will greatly hinder wounded, ill, and disabled veterans' ability to cast ballots in the fall election.

Fallen U.S. Soldiers Cremated At Pet Facility
Defense Secretary Robert Gates learned from an appalled Army officer that Dover Air Force base - where the remains of fallen soldiers first arrive back into the United States - contracted out the cremation of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to a local pet crematorium. The Pentagon has discontinued the practice due to outrage among military families. More than 4,600 soldiers' remains have passed through Dover Air Force base since 9/11. About 10 percent of fallen soldiers have requested cremation. The Washington Post reported this story on the front page Saturday, the slowest news day of the week.

The practice only came to light when a fellow soldier attended the cremation of a fallen friend and emailed Defense Secretary Gates to explain that when his friend's coffin was taken to the crematory it was not flag draped and when it arrived the only sign outside the crematory said 'Friends Forever, Kent County Pet Cremation Service.'

Blackwater Contract Renewed, Company Unlikely to Face Criminal Charges for Iraqi Civilian Deaths
Private military contractor Blackwater is unlikely to face criminal charges for the shooting deaths of seventeen civilians in Baghdad in September 2007. An ongoing Justice Department investigation is narrowly focused on as few as three or four Blackwater guards who could be indicted in the civilian shootings. This would exonerate Blackwater's executives and pave the way for further abuses by essentially guaranteeing the continued outsourcing of security duties to private contractors who face few repercussions for such atrocities.

The light-handed investigation highlights the fact that the Bush administration is relying heavily on private contractors in the Iraq war. State Department spokesman Patrick F. Kennedy admits that "We cannot operate without private security firms in Iraq," and adds that "If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq." The Bush administration recently renewed Blackwater's contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq for another year. Blackwater continues to provide around 1,000 personnel in Iraq under its State Department contract.

State Department Whistleblowers Allege Iraq Corruption Cover-up
Two former State Department employees detailed to members of Congress last week how the Bush administration repeatedly ignored high-level corruption within the Iraqi government and hid potentially embarrassing information in order to maintain bilateral relations with Baghdad. The whistleblowers explained that their post, the Office of Accountability and Transparency, was chronically understaffed and its warnings and recommendations ignored. The State Department's policies "not only contradicted the anti-corruption mission but indirectly contributed to and has allowed corruption to fester at the highest levels of the Iraqi government," according to Arthur Brennan, who headed the now-defunct office ostensibly charged with training anti-corruption officers in Iraqi agencies. Brennan said the office was "window dressing" and that the report his staff produced detailing the corruption was initially ignored and later retroactively classified in order to hide the truth about the depth of corruption.

McCain Aides Resign Over Myanmar Junta Connections
John McCain lost two key aides this week as the brutality of the Myanmar junta has been exposed in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. Doug Goodyear, whom McCain picked to run the 2008 Republican National Convention, resigned after it was disclosed that his lobbying firm, DCI Group, represented the military regime. Doug Davenport, who also resigned as McCain's regional campaign manager for the mid-Atlantic states, founded the DCI Group's lobbying practice and oversaw the contract with Myanmar. DCI collected $348,000 in 2002 and 2003 to lobby on behalf of the junta. Other DCI Group clients include ExxonMobil and General Motors. The group is also a major player in GOP circles.
Hundreds of thousands of lives remain in danger because of the totalitarian regime's efforts to thwart international assistance. The United Nations now reports that up to 2.5 million people have been "severely affected" by the cyclone and the junta's subsequent interference in the international effort to provide aid to survivors.

McCain Earns A Zero From LCV For Missing Every Major Environmental Vote This Congress
Sen. John McCain has missed every major environmental vote this Congress and ranks last among current members of Congress according to the League of Conservation Voters, which tracks how each member votes on environmental issues. McCain's lifetime LCV score is just 24 percent.

While McCain is known for sponsoring legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and for talking about the threat of global warming in speeches, he has yet to vote for proposed efforts to tackle the problem. McCain was the only member of Congress to skip every environmental vote scored by LCV this session, earning a score lower than members who missed much of the session due to serious illnesses or death. The 15 missed votes included a key vote on repealing tax giveaways to big oil - a measure that failed by only one vote.

McCain cast votes against tightening fuel efficiency standards, failed to require public utilities to provide a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources, and removed Endangered Species Act protections that conflicted with the priorities of Arizona businesses.

Congress Seeks to Limit Use of Secretive National Security Letters
Committees in both houses of Congress are working to limit the FBI's ability to collect private data on virtually anybody using a secretive tool called a National Security Letter (NSL). The FBI's use of NSLs exploded since passage of the PATRIOT Act which paved the way for rampant abuse by removing legal impediments that protected the right to privacy and other civil liberties. NSLs can be used to obtain an individual's phone use data, financial statements, insurance and business information. An individual who is served with an NSL must comply with its request for information and is gagged in most circumstances from discussing the request. Unlike subpoenas, NSLs aren't subject to the approval of any court or judge, and can be issued under extremely broad circumstances.

A 2007 FBI audit discovered hundreds of instances in which the bureau collected information despite lacking the authority to do so. The FBI deleted only four of these inappropriately obtained files, according to the audit. Hundreds of other examples of NSL abuse were reported in an inspector general review in 2007, and a follow-up report released this March concluded that the FBI still has not implemented safeguards to limit such abuse.

Current Congressional efforts aim to drastically limit the circumstances under which NSLs are issued and to strictly regulate how the FBI handles information obtained through their use.

The White House Likely Purged Critical Pre-Iraq War Email Archives
Lawyers for the Bush administration claim that a "primitive" email preservation system is to blame for wide gaps in its email archives covering critical pre-war periods in 2003. The White House admitted in court this week that it has no back-up archives for the missing emails, a claim information technology experts say is hard to fathom. The White House predicts it may never be able to recover the archives, which include 12 work days with no e-mails at all for President Bush's immediate office and 16 days for Vice President Dick Cheney.

The missing emails are thought to include conversations about the bad intelligence used to launch the Iraq war, the identity leak of former C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and various unspecified activities involving Karl Rove.

By law, the missing communications belong to the taxpayers, according to the ongoing federal lawsuit filed against the White House by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, and the Washington, D.C. watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

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