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

Karl Rove faces possible arrest; sea of plastic threatens aquatic life; corporate espionage continues; deficit off by trillions, and more...
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Karl Rove Faces Possible Arrest For Refusing To Testify Before Congress
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers issued a subpoena to Karl Rove on Thursday. Rove's lawyer responded by claiming that Rove is "not a free agent" and will not appear because the White House has instructed Rove not to testify. Conyers announced earlier that Karl Rove may face contempt of Congress charges and possible arrest if he fails to appear before the committee. Conyers said the committee is "closing in on Rove," who is accused of orchestrating a Justice Department effort to oust Alabama's former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. If Rove fails to appear, Conyers says, "We'll do what any self-respecting committee would do. We'd hold him in contempt. Either that or go and have him arrested."

Rove's role in the imprisonment of Don Siegelman is just one of the topics about which Conyers' committee wants Rove to testify. "We want him for so many things, it's hard to keep track," Conyers said.

Corporate Espionage Continues, Will Congress Hold Hearings?
Burger King hired an unlicensed private security firm to spy on college students working to improve wages and living conditions for migrant farmers in Florida who harvest vegetables for the fast food industry. While McDonald's and Yum Brands (which owns Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC) agreed to slightly increase the wages of migrant workers and work to end slavery at their contracted farms, Burger King chose to hire Diplomatic Tactical Services -- a private security firm whose 25-year-old owner failed to obtain a private investigator's license -- to spy on the Student/Farmworker Alliance.
Recent investigations such as Mother Jones' reports about corporate spying on environmental groups confirm that companies like Burger King, Wal-Mart and ExxonMobil employ retired cops, former Secret Service, CIA and FBI agents to spy on activists who expose environmental and human rights abuses. Despite several recent reports of this potentially illegal activity, Congress so far refuses to launch hearings into corporate snooping.

Global Wildlife Populations In Steep Decline
A new analysis reveals that human activities are the main cause behind the extinction of between a quarter and a third of the world's wildlife species since 1970. Industrial pollution, large-scale agribusiness, urban sprawl and overfishing are among the chief contributors to the decline, according to the Zoological Society of London, which conducted the global wildlife assessment. The report blames governments for failing to live up to the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity, which called for a "significant reduction" in biodiversity loss by 2010. That goal is "very unlikely" to be reached, according to the new report. According to UN experts, one species disappears roughly every 20 minutes, a rate of extinction 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural rates.

Federal Deficit Worse than Government Admits, Off by Trillions
The federal deficit doubled in the past year, growing by $2.5 trillion, and will cost nearly $500,000 per household to pay down, according to an analysis by USA Today. That figure is far higher than the $162 billion the government officially announced as last year's deficit, because the federal estimate fails to account for future obligations. USA Today compiled the data to present U.S. taxpayers with a more honest financial report similar to what a corporation would give shareholders. The government only counts the cost of benefits for the current year, instead of counting lifetime benefits for programs such as Social Security and Medicare. As the growing number of retiring baby boomers collects their Medicare and Social Security benefits, taxpayers face a record $57.3 trillion in federal liabilities, including $30.4 trillion in unfunded Medicare liabilities.

U.S. To Stop Sending Oil to Strategic Petroleum Reserve
President Bush signed into law legislation that will halt shipments of oil to the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve until crude oil prices drop below $75 per barrel. Congress created the emergency reserve, a stockpile of oil stored in salt caves along the Gulf Coast, following the 1970s Arab oil embargo. Each day 70,000 barrels of oil are added to the reserve for use in national emergencies. Lawmakers hope that stopping the shipments for the foreseeable future will increase oil supplies and reduce gas prices, although critics suggest it isn't likely to work and undermines the intent of the reserve. Bush ordered a similar stoppage in the run-up to the 2006 elections, despite his September 2000 statement as a candidate that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election. It should not be used for short-term political gain at the cost of long-term national security."

Sea of Plastic Waste Clogs Pacific Ocean, Threatens Marine Life
A huge sea of plastic -- spanning an area larger than the continental United States -- threatens aquatic life in the Pacific Ocean. The largest mass of the debris, known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, is "dramatically increasing," according to Captain Charles Moore who discovered the plastic waste during a 1997 voyage and recently returned to survey the patch between Hawaii and California. Moore has collected reams of evidence documenting how plastic wastes are consumed by unsuspecting marine animals that think they're eating plankton and other ocean food, or become entangled in the mess and drown. Plastic accounts for the deaths of more than a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals every year, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

McCain Pledges to Continue Stacking Supreme Court with Conservative Idealogues
John McCain's recent speech at Wake Forest University in North Carolina contained several thinly-veiled references indicating that, if elected President, he would accelerate George W. Bush's stacking of the Supreme Court with ideological conservatives. McCain said during the speech that he would fill any vacancies during his Presidency with judges like Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, and the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker that McCain's speech amounts to "a dog whistle for the right--an implicit promise that he will appoint Justices who will eliminate the right to privacy, permit states to ban abortion, and allow the execution of teen-agers." In the speech, McCain criticized "the common and systematic abuse of our federal courts by the people we entrust with judicial power. For decades now, some federal judges have taken it upon themselves to pronounce and rule on matters that were never intended to be heard in courts or decided by judges." Toobin notes the similarities between McCain's characterization of "activist judges" and Bush's 2005 critique of judges who "legislate from the bench," and suggests that McCain is taking advice on the Court "from the most extreme elements of the conservative movement."

U.S. Citizenship to be Checked During Hurricane or Disaster Evacuations
U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed this week that its agents will check the citizenship of all evacuees fleeing future hurricanes or other disasters and will deport undocumented immigrants found during the evacuation route checks. The agency had no plans to publicize the policy, but a reporter covering recent mock evacuation exercises in Texas discovered agents rehearsing citizenship document checks of people boarding evacuation buses. When asked if the new policy might interfere with the rapid evacuation of disaster victims, a Border Patrol spokesperson claimed that the document checks would not slow down evacuation efforts because the agents "know what to look for." The policy could spell disaster in a real-life evacuation from a hurricane like Rita or Katrina, as families with one or more undocumented immigrants might not evacuate for fear of being deported.

Bush's 2009 Budget Request Fails to Bolster Already Short-staffed FBI Crime Unit
Despite a surge in white-collar crimes, bank robberies and mortgage fraud, the Bush administration's 2009 budget fails to rebuild the FBI's depleted crime squads. Most of the bureau's crime staff were reassigned in the wake of 9/11 to focus on counterterrorism, leaving white collar crimes largely uninvestigated. Crime squad staff levels remain at least 1,700 agents below pre-9/11 levels, according to an analysis by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which first broke the story about the gutting of the crime division.

White collar crimes, particularly complex financial fraud schemes, have skyrocketed because criminals know their chances of being caught are so slim due to the FBI's focus on terrorism. Since December, there has been a double-digit increase in bank robberies, and an insurance industry analysis revealed a 20 percent increase in complex insurance fraud schemes in 2007.

The FBI admits that the number of suspicious activity reports rose 30 percent last year to more than 46,000 reports nationwide, and is on track for an additional 50 percent increase this year. Bush's budget calls for funding 280 additional agents for national security programs, but adds none for criminal programs. The FBI acknowledges that it has only 250 agents nationwide assigned to review the backlog of more than 46,000 reports of corporate crime and mortgage fraud. The bureau also admits that it now leaves over 50 percent of bank robbery investigations in the hands of cash-strapped local police departments because the FBI lacks the manpower to investigate all but the most violent and expensive robberies.

Pollution From Proposed Coal-fired Power Plants Threatens U.S. Parks
The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to weaken New Source Review rules in order to enable coal plant operators to hide pollution spikes on hot days when their units typically run hardest, among other proposed changes to this critical Clean Air Act statute.
The National Parks Conservation Association reports that plans for 28 coal-fired plants will threaten the air quality at 10 national parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, Zion National Park in Utah, and the Badlands in South Dakota. Forty-seven new US coal-fired plants are under construction or in the process of getting permits, out of a total of 110 proposed plants the industry would like to build.

NPCA previously reported that one in three national park sites has air pollution levels that exceed health standards set by the EPA.

Coal Industry Collects State Tax Money to Promote Mountaintop Removal Mining
Kentucky taxpayers shell out $400,000 a year in state tax dollars to coal industry front groups which use the money to disseminate coal industry propaganda to schoolchildren across the state. The Kentucky Coal Association houses the main front group, the Kentucky Foundation, within its offices, where staff use the taxpayer money to create teaching materials and games which promote destructive mountaintop removal mining and other coal industry practices to children. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and a legislative committee recently approved adding another $17,500 to this year's $100,000 contract for the Kentucky Foundation so it can conduct a study promoting the economic benefits of coal mining to the state.

McCain Campaign Sheds More Lobbyists
Tom Loeffler, the national finance co-chairman for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, became the fifth McCain staffer to resign in the past week because of connections to lobbying firms. Loeffler's departure followed a report last weekend by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff that Loeffler's "lobbying firm has collected nearly $15 million from Saudi Arabia since 2002 and millions more from other foreign and corporate interests, including a French aerospace firm seeking Pentagon contracts." Last week, McCain's regional campaign manager Doug Davenport and Republican convention chief Doug Goodyear departed after acknowledging that their firm, the DCI Group, received $348,000 to represent Burma's repressive military junta in 2002. While the DCI staffers are gone, McCain has decided to keep $20,500 contributed to the campaign by DCI Group employees and their spouses, including Davenport and Goodyear. Other staffers who recently exited the campaign due to lobbying ties include Eric Burgeson, an energy lobbyist whose firm has worked for Qatar and Serbia, and GOP consultant Craig Shirley who left the campaign because of his ties to a website created to target the Democratic presidential candidates. McCain so far refuses to fire his top political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., despite the fact that Black was the head of a Washington lobbying firm BKSH & Associates, a subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller, prior to joining McCain's campaign team. Black told reporters this week that "I do not believe that average voters out there care" about the McCain campaign's roster of lobbyists.

Unearthed will return in June. Send tips about other stories the mainstream media forgot to report: