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Copyrighted material 404: Information Missing From Your Daily News

Summaries of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories

 + THE REAL SHADOW GOVERNMENT   In the wake of September 11, Bush suddenly discovered his presidency had a mission: Battlin' evil-doers, smokin' out terrorists, and threatenin' impoverished countries with newkular bombs if they don't shape up quick. But while Americans were transfixed by his swaggering cowboy talk, Bush and his gang were quietly continuing their real mission: Wiping out pesky laws and regulations that their campaign contributors don't like.

The Bushites are doing this at the behest of their corporate pals, of course, which make up the real shadow government. While the press has lately given attention to the secret high-level meetings between Cheney's energy task force and Enron (among others), Bush staffers have routinely taken marching orders from business executives. Documents obtained this month by the National Resources Defense Council shows that the White House created part of an Executive Order via cut-and-paste, lifting sections from an e-mail sent by an offical at the American Petroleum Institute:

(The Bush order would apply to...)
...any substantive action by an agency that promulgates or is expected to lead to the promulgation of a rule, regulation or policy, including, but not limited to, notices of inquiry, advance notices of proposed rule-making, notices of proposed rule-making... ...any action by an agency... that promulgates or is expected to lead to the promulgation of a final rule or regulation, including notices of inquiry, advance notices of proposed rule-making, and notices of proposed rule-making...

The Bush Administration's point man in this sacking of our nation is John Graham, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). As David Corn wrote in his coverage of the congressional hearings on Graham's appointment, the low-profile job carries with it enormous power:

The job of reviewing all the regulations kicked out by the various federal agencies might sound like a hotbed of paper-pushing, but it is one of extreme consequence. The person who sits behind this desk is the regulatory czar of the entire federal government; he or she holds the power to slow down or smother public health, workplace safety, and environmental standards...

Once in office, Graham quickly began undermining regulatory protections by announcing that all major regs would be evaluated under new "science-based" standards. Critics groaned. As Molly Ivins wrote, Graham founded the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, which claims to apply "scientific" cost-benefit analysis to health, safety and environmental protection. "This curious idea, of assigning a dollar value to human life, illness and harm to eco-systems and then seeing if that outweighs the cost of regulation, is like some chilling mad-scientist fantasy," Ivins commented. Graham's organization is mainly funded by the same industries that face government regulations. The Center does not disclose exactly how much comes from any donor, but a director of Harvard Medical School told Congress last year that Graham's outfit:

  • Solicited money from Phillip Morris while criticizing the EPA's risk assessment on the dangers of second-hand smoke

  • Greatly overestimated the costs of preventing leukemia caused by exposure to benzene in gasoline while accepting funds from the American Petroleum Institute

  • Downplayed EPA's warnings about cancer risk from dioxin exposure while being supported by several major dioxin producers, including incinerators, pulp, and paper companies

  • Advocated against regulating driving while simultaneously talking on cellular phones in research underwritten by a $300,000 grant from AT&T Wireless

Graham wasted no time in applying the same sort of standards to his government job. In his first eight months, he rejected over 20 new regulations because he said they showed "poor quality analysis" -- more objections than were made by his predecessor during all eight Clinton years.

John Graham and Enron   Before his appointment to OIRA, Graham was also on the board of the Mercatus Center, an anti-regulatory think tank. It was the Mercatus Center that recommended last year that Bush overturn EPA regulations for arsenic in drinking water, SUV pollution standards, and dozens of other public health protections. The director of regulatory studies at Mercatus Center is Wendy Gramm, who was a prominent member of Enron's Board of Directors and even a member of their audit commitee. Gramm personally received about $200,000 in sale of Enron stock options, and her husband, Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas), a powerful member of the Senate Banking Comittee, accepted about $200,000 in campaign donations from Enron and its employees. (MORE on Wendy Gramm) Enron also has donated about $50k to Mercatus Center, almost all of it since Gramm became a director.

Doug Ose and the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy   Rep. Ose generally maintains a low profile in Washington, so it came somewhat as a surprise when it was revealed that a covert operation was being run out of his office by the deputy director of his subcommittee. But the real shocker came in February, when Ose wrote to Atty. Gen. Ashcroft, saying that he supported a criminal investigation of the Clintons for allegedly failing to declare the full value of gifts they received. (MORE on Clinton "pilferage scandal") Ose offered no reason why he revived the Clinton gift investigation, which seemed to have disappeared from the radar even before Sept. 11. Asked how much much staff time was spent on preparing the 56-page report, aide Barbara Kahlow told reporters that she didn't know.

A congressional fun fact: In 2001, Ose was the second richest member of the House from California, with $48 million in assets. The poorest was Gary Condit, who reported only a Wells Fargo credit line of $50 thousand.

But Graham's not merely trying to block new regulations. Along with other members of Team Bush, he wants to roll back old regulations, too. Helping Graham achieve that goal is Rep. Doug Ose (R-California), chairman for the House Government Reform subcommittee on energy policy, natural resources and regulatory affairs. About two weeks after Sept. 11, an aide to Ose privately contacted a dozen business lobbyists, saying Graham had asked her to "convene key lobbyists to identify and rank" regulations they felt were burdensome. Aide Barbara Kahlow's e-mail to the group emphasized that her list of 57 regulations to be considered was "non-public." To make sure that the lobbyists understood, she boldfaced and underlined "non-public." Kahlow, by the way, is no ordinary aide; she is deputy director of the subcommittee, and had previously worked at OIRA for a quarter century.

The setup so disgusted one of the lobbyists that (s)he contacted the Washington Post. "This was hush-hush, behind-closed-doors stuff," the anonymous lobbyist told the newspaper. "This was a secret campaign to circumvent the process. With Graham in that job, we figured we could get whatever we want." According to the Post, the list included a broad range of regulations:

The rules, which deal with health, safety and the environment, govern everything from pesticide use to coal-mine ventilation, to standards for blood-borne pathogens. They cover such areas as air and water quality, food labeling, lead-paint disclosure, truck safety inspections, toxic-release reporting, and family and medical leave.

Graham told the Post that he had only invited Ose's office to inform him about burdensome regulations that might be considered paperwork-intensive, but didn't remember asking the aide to "convene key lobbyists." Barbara Kahlow's memo suggests otherwise: "We intend to share the group's list with [Graham] confidentially," she wrote in the e-mail.

"There's no question where all this is headed," Joan Claybrook, of Public Citizen told the Post. Claybrook also noted that Graham often claimed he didn't remember details of incriminating events that were raised during his confirmation hearing. (March 29, 2002)

 + SHOULD WE TRUST THE PRESIDIO TRUST?   Q: What's the difference between a national park and an industrial park?

A: Not much, if Washington has any say about it.

In 1999, Monitor produced a 13-part series, "Presidio for Sale," that explored the growing threat of commercialization of our national park system. First on the table is the San Francisco Presidio, a quiet, woody refuge on the edge of the busy city. The Presidio was long a showcase for the U.S. military, but was decomissioned in 1989 at the end of the Cold War. By prior legislation, it was certain that the Presidio would then become a national park. But the devil was in the details: What would become of the nearly 1000 buildings found there, half of them considered historically or architecturally significant? Who would pay for cleanup of military waste? The Park Service, with its budget threadbare, asked for federal help. It was the wrong time to go begging to Washington; Congress was entering the era of Gingrich. What emerged was a new quasi-public government corporation, disingenuously named the "Presidio Trust," which was to straighten this all out -- and, by the way, was required to be profitable by the year 2013. If not, the park will be sold off to real estate developers.

Turning a profit with a national park is no mean trick. To do accomplish this magic, the Presidio Trust named James Meadows as executive director. Meadows' laurels rested on transforming Denver's decomissioned Lowry Air Force Base into an expensive subdivision, a background that alarmed housing advocates who saw the hundreds of duplex and quadplex homes as a solution to the city's notorious lack of affordable housing. Meadows also drew the scorn of non-profit groups that had a vision of the Presidio as a modest, sustainable (but profitable) community built from the ground up. But Meadows concentrated on his grand plan: converting the old veterans' hospital complex into multi-million dollar commercial use. In 1999, the Trust awarded those 63 acres of prime San Francisco real estate to "Star Wars" filmmaker George Lucas for creation of an office park.

The Meadows era ended abruptly on December 10, when he resigned under a cloud of scandal. It was discovered that friends and relatives of Meadows had an inside track on renting the best homes in the Presidio, often at bargain rates. He was blamed for mismanaging projects that caused millions of dollars in cost overruns and wasting the $50 million federal loan that was the seed money to get the ball rolling. But the fatal blow may have been an article in San Francisco Magazine that appeared just before his departure.

"Trouble in the Presidio" rakes over Meadows' mucky past, including bankruptcy, wheeling and dealing with one of the large Savings and Loans that collapsed, and a partnership with a developer who was convicted in a stock swindle involving Mafia crime families. Author Kerry Tremain also uses much of the article to detail Meadow's abusive management style. A small sample:

Meadows' former assistant Ricky Wing said, "I sometimes went home crying. He screams and cuts people down in meetings. Once, we had a fire at the Presidio, and I was dealing with it on the phone. He was talking to another person nearby and turned on me and said, 'Will you just shut up?'"

When she worked for him, Wing reported, not just personal abuse but financial problems were a way of life for Meadows. When he arrived at the Presidio, he owed thousands of dollars in unpaid income taxes, and Wing related how she fielded many complaints from creditors like Saks Fifth Avenue trying to collect debts. She once had to go to a check-cashing place to get a money order so his phone wouldn't be turned off. Yet at the same time, using Trust funds, he drove a BMW convertible and took first-class trips to Paris. He lived rent-free in the General's House, a 6,000-square-foot mansion high on a hill overlooking the park, which the Trust spent $80,000 to remodel.

Two days after Meadows' resignation, San Francisco Chronicle media columnist Dan Fost praised the article: "Presidio Trust officials can deny it all they want, but it sure looks as if the latest San Francisco magazine had a big impact." The magazine's editor crows that they toppled the Presidio's emperor: "Obviously Meadows' own behavior is the main reason he's gone. I don't think it would have happened soon or maybe ever if we hadn't devoted the time and attention to it," said editor Bruce Kelley, who also praised SF Chronicle reporters for "[following] up on what we were doing...we can't do the daily drumbeat that pressures people. We can only do the big unveiling."

The article in San Francisco Magazine (no affiliation with the San Francisco Chronicle) may well have helped push Meadows out the door. Author Tremain, a former editor at Mother Jones, found shocking closet skeletons that no one had found before. He deserves praise for good investigative work -- but at the same time, he deserves criticism for cranking out some really deplorable journalism.

There's no question that Meadows has a long list of well-deserved enemies, and that it was critical for their views to be prominent. But this article turns Meadows the Monster into the central story, pumping up his sins. Yes, Meadows borrowed too much money from a failed S&L -- but so did lots of other people at the time, and some of them went bankrupt like he did. He apparently wasn't implicated in the Savings and Loan collapse. Yes, a business partner was convicted of a Mafia scheme -- but that happened years after his association with Meadows, and no connection was made between him and the subsequent shady deals by his old associate.

The SF Magazine - SF Chronicle mutual backscratch is also shameful because they both ignore the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the lone alternative weekly that dogged the Presidio Trust and Meadows since the beginning. In features like " Anatomy of a Sellout," the Bay Guardian provided excellent breaking news coverage of Presidio Trust developments. (The 1999 Monitor series also built on the Bay Guardian's solid foundation, and we prominently acknowledged our debt.)

A month after Meadows' departure -- with a $280,000 golden parachute and contract that prohibits the Trust from holding him responsible for any problems -- the draft version of the Trust's long-term Plan was released. The document was classic Meadows. It proposed demolishing 565 residential units, then building about the same number of new apartments elsewhere in the park, including tourist housing. It relied heavily on $6 million annual income from star tenant Lucas. It proposed $10 million annual funding for undefined "cultural programs" to draw visitors. Nearly 3,000 groups and individuals responded to the draft Plan, with few supporting Meadows' vision and many objecting to the "grandiose scale" of the blueprint. The final report is due in May, 2002.

Meanwhile, the Chronicle discovered that Lucas' company wasn't required to submit any of the financial documents that were demanded from other groups competing for Presidio space. Lucas was also the only competitor allowed to remain anonymous until the final bid. No one suggested that Lucas or his company did anything improper, but it certainly adds to the appearance that Meadows played fast and loose with the rules, treating the Presidio as if it were his own private empire. (March 5, 2002)

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