Albion Monitor

+ There seems to be no end to the horrors of Chernobyl.

Now 13 years after the disaster, rain is seeping into the facility and leaching radioactive material into ground water. Many fear that the hastily- built concrete "sarcophagus" surrounding the failed nuclear reactor could collapse, spewing radioactive dust hundreds of miles. And as we reported in an exclusive 1996 report in the Monitor, warm spring breezes terrify downwind residents. Yet the worst news could just be emerging: That many suspect the enormous sums intended for the cleanup were stolen.

The allegations were made in early March by Ukranian enviro groups and government advisors, who say that only a "few million dollars" intended to mitigate the dangers posed by the destroyed Chernobyl reactor were well spent. According to a report from the EnviroNews Service, as much as $740 million disappeared through graft. Most of the money came from Western governments following Ukraine's 1991 independence from the Soviet Union.

The head consultant to the Ukrainian parliment's Chernobyl Committee explained that officials pocked the money by charging twice for the same work, leaving projects incomplete, or simply billing for fictitious jobs. The scam went undetected, according to the whistleblowers, because European officals writing the checks were not experienced with nuclear industry, and because they feared they'd be blamed if another disaster happened while funds were withheld.

Even where fraud was earlier known, the bankers didn't protest, according to the report. Responding to a question from a German deputy to the European Parliament, a senior European Commission nuclear safety official admitted that proper accounts existed only for about a third of the total sum paid out. (April 7, 1998)

+ Income tax time is bringing the usual call from conservatives for a "flat tax," but students at Columbia University proved that such a system already exists -- everyone ends up paying about one-third of their paycheck in taxes.

As reported in the Jan/Feb issue of Quill (the magazine published by the Society of Professional Journalists), the grad students crunched the tax tables for the last five decades, used census reports, and other Federal data. They found that Reagan's tax-code revisions in the 1980s significantly changed the system, making the poorest citizens pay a larger share. Those who earn less than $5,000 fared the worst; today, they keep 18 percent less of their income than they did pre-Reagan Revolution. The middle class fares about the same as they did in 1980, but anyone with an income over $50,000 is doing quite well; today they keep 57 percent more of their income.

"It used to be that very poor people and married couples earning less than $5,000 paid no income taxes," noted the study. "And the very rich and single earning $150,000 or more paid 62 percent of income to the government. Today, the same people give, respectively, 15 percent and 32 percent of their income to the Treasury." (April 8, 1998)

+ Ralph Nader's watchdog group Public Citizen has just published the names of 16,638 U.S. doctors who have been disciplined by state medical boards or other agencies. The listing, published as a four-volume set, and not available through the Internet, shows that most of the disciplined practitioners were not required to stop practicing, even temporarily.

Mississippi had the highest number of actions taken against physicians at a rate of 11.76 serious actions per 1,000 physicians. The best state, Minnesota, had only 1.6 serious actions per 1,000 MDs. California ranked 18th, with 4.13 serious actions per thousand doctors. "The overall rate of discipline is dangerously poor, and only an extremely small fraction of the country's doctors face any serious state sanctions despite the fact that an estimated 80,000 patients are killed and 234,000 injured as a result of negligence in hospitals each year, with most cases involving doctors," according to a statement from Public Citizen.

Public Citizen says that information on disciplinary action taken against doctors is recorded in the federally funded National Practitioners Data Bank, "...but because that data is kept secret from the public, most patients are unaware that they may have a healthcare provider who may be putting their lives and well-being in jeopardy." The watchdog group is calling for policy changes, including public announcements of physicians whose controlled-substances prescriptions licenses are removed or restricted, announcements by state medical boards of all disciplinary actions, and public access to the National Practitioners Data Bank. (April 8, 1998)

+ Many journalists and lawmakers voiced anger at Microsoft last week, after the Los Angeles Times revealed on April 10 that the computer giant was "...secretly planning a massive media campaign designed to influence state investigators by creating the appearance of a groundswell of public support for the company." According to the Times article, Microsoft's goal was to sway attorneys general and politicians in California and 11 other states that may be considering antitrust actions by planting articles, letters to the editor and opinion pieces written by Microsoft's PR flacks, but presented as if they were legit testimonials from concerned citizens.

Industry watchers will tell you that this sort of stunt isn't that unusual -- Gates Inc. has always displayed ethics that would make a Robber Baron blush. Run down to your local bookstore and order a copy of Microsoft Secrets by Michael A. Cusumano and Richard W. Selby (Free Press $27.50). Although four years old, its greatest value is its documentation of Microsoft's long history of dirty tricks.

Other books have provided glimpses of this unflattering picture, but nowhere else has so much commonplace dishonesty been revealed. Example: when retail sales of DR-DOS surpassed MS-DOS in early 1992, Microsoft started a whispering campaign that this competing version of the operating system might not be compatible with the newly-released Windows 3.1, and even inserted a warning that there might be problems. In truth, Microsoft did not let the company that owned DR-DOS test Windows 3.1 before its official release. Actual problems were rare.

The press has consistently ignored this dark side of the Microsoft tale, offering instead fluff: "Gee-whiz" articles about its products, admiring profiles of Gates (even Gates' house), lightweight business features on the company's aquisitions and planned expansion. Perhaps the recent LA Times expose of Microsoft's propoganda campaign is the beginning of a trend towards more critical journalism; if so, you can bet that there will be well-thumbed copies of Microsoft Secrets in more than a few newsrooms. (April 11, 1998)

+ New details about one of our era's most sensational scandals appeared in the news last week, and not a single newspaper took note. No, it didn't involve (supposed) Clinton sex antics; this was about a real story that ties together the Mafia, CIA, the Vatican, and secret societies.

The latest news came from a newly- revealed intelligence report by the Italian equivalent of the CIA. The Soviets, it seems, bugged the apartment of the Vatican's secretary of state around 1979, hoping to gather information they could use to discredit the newly- elected Pope John Paul II. The report also implies that the KGB was willing to assassinate the Catholic leader: "...the figure of the Pope [would], if necessary, be physically eliminated." This seems to support long- held assumptions that a Communist government (probably Bulgaria) instigated the 1981 attempt on the Pope's life.

The Soviets hated the new Polish Pope. His outspoken anti- Communist views made him a heroic figurehead to many in the Eastern Bloc, particularly with the popular Solidarity movement in Poland. And anticipating Reagan's covert funding of the Nicaraguan contras by several years, the Pope began secretly financing Solidarity.

Laundering Vatican money through Latin America (mostly Panama), millions were slipped to the Solidarity movement. The Vatican also helped the CIA channel money to Solidarity, which may have been the start of a longer anti-commie alliance between the Church and America's spy agency. (Officially, the arrangement stopped after Sen. Patrick Moynihan discovered this and another operation, where the CIA was using a private corporation to fund anti-Sandinista Catholics in Nicaragua.) Using CIA money or no, the Catholic Church became the most vocal critic of Latin America socialism.

The Vatican's main conduit was Banco Ambrosiano, the largest privately-owned bank in Italy. Bank Chairman Roberto Calvi shuffled money between his vaults and the Vatican Bank. In one scheme, the Vatican Bank sold stock at an inflated price to the Vatican's dummy "Laramie" corporation in Panama, using cash advanced by Calvi. It would have netted the Vatican a $60 million profit -- that is, if Calvi had lived. In June, 1982, he was found dead, his body hanging under London's Blackfriars Bridge with a brick in the pocket of a melodramatic black monk's robe.

In the weeks following his death, Banco Ambrosiano closed after $1.3 billion was found missing. It became Italy's biggest financial scandal since WWII; the director of the Vatican Bank resigned after its ties to Calvi were disclosed (much of the money was later recovered from Vatican Bank accounts), and eventually 33 others were convicted of bank fraud.

But who killed Roberto Calvi -- and why? There are (at least) three main suspects:

  • KGB Now the most likely candidate because those newly- revealed documents show that the Soviets were determined to stop the Pope's anti-Red crusades. And sure enough, after the 1982 front page embarassment of the Vatican Bank's involvement with the Calvi affair -- and, of course, the 1981 Papal murder attempt -- the Church apparently stopped such clandestine funding.

  • MAFIA A mob defector claimed in 1992 that Calvi was strangled because he betrayed La Cosa Nostra. In this version, Banco Ambrosiano was laundering drug money and Calvi earned a death sentence by "borrowing" their money to keep his bank afloat.

  • OPUS DEI A powerful secular group of right-wing Spanish Catholics, Opus Dei had been a significant force in their nation during the waning years of dictator Franco. Did the group silence a nervous banker on the Vatican's behalf?
Conspiracy pros will note that the KGB and Opus Dei theories are opposites. The KGB version assumes the Soviets accurately predicted that Calvi's death would expose the dishonest business, and the Opus Dei story assumes that insiders probably believed that his murder would keep these complex deals secret.

Or was it a suicide? London police ruled that he had taken his own life, although his family spent a fortune trying to prove otherwise. A follow-up inquest ruled that it couldn't be proven either way. (April 14, 1998)

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