Month: May 2016

Shame of the Cities

Low Standards and Ethical Lapses Are Still the Rule More Than a Century After Muckraker Lincoln Steffens Exposed St. Louis’ Politically Corrupt Environment.

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To understand how St. Louis County’s longstanding radioactive waste problem has been covered up, you need knowledge of the political landscape and those who inhabit it. The public often mistakenly identifies politicians exclusively as elected office holders, but it’s   the people working behind the scenes, –those holding obscure appointed positions — who make things happen — or not.

Take for example, zoning attorney John King. King, a private attorney, is the son of the late Bus King, St. Louis County Republican powerbroker. In 2014, John King of the Lathrop and Gage law firm appeared before Bridgeton City Council on behalf of the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). He was there to make sure that a right of way was approved for MSD’s leachate pipeline, a project shared by MSD and Republic Services, the owner of the West Lake Landfill, a Superfund site that includes a smolder underground fire, which is headed in the direction of illegally dumped radioactive waste.

After King strode up to the podium and addressed the council in an affable way, a veteran councilman acknowledged with awe the attorney’s presence in the chamber. “We went to the same school together,” said Councilman Ferd Fetsch. “So I get nervous when I see him.”

Obviously, King’s reputation as the penultimate insider had preceded him.

The influential attorney didn’t need to argue his case. He didn’t make a plea or argue fine points of the law.  On the contrary, he coyly questioned why he was even there.

“I didn’t want to be here for this reason,” King told the council. “I know this is a very controversial matter, and I don’t know very much about it — and I don’t want to know very much about it.”

King said he was there because the Missouri Department of Natural Resources was pushing his client, Republic Services, to nail down this detail. One of the things that King apparently didn’t want to know about, however, includes the amount of pollution being monitored at the site by DNR, including elevated levels of radium

Community activist Donna Klocke provided those details in her request that the city not vacate its right of way to the landfill. Her summary of the facts were reasonable and well presented. The council listened to her and dismissed her plea with little fanfare.

King did little more than smile and the motion was tabled for later consideration in closed session.

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Coincidentally, King’s law firm — Lathrop and Gage — also represents Republic Services, the landfill owner, on many other issues.

This cozy relationship is particularly convenient since Terry Briggs became mayor of Bridgeton, the St. Louis County municipality where the West Lake Landfill is located. Briggs is the former chief public affairs for MSD and is also a lobbyist for a business group that includes Republic Services.

Before the pipeline was constructed, Republic had used a St. Louis County permit issued to MSD to truck toxic leachate from the landfill site to a treatment plant on the Mississippi River. The pipeline takes the place of the trucks, allowing for a more efficient but still questionable means of disposal. The zoning issue that brought King before the council is now nearly forgotten. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Cutting deals, getting behind-the-scenes approval of various political jurisdictions, and navigating through bureaucratic mazes is what zoning attorneys do. It’s a lucrative, if not transparent, business.

King’s civic participation is not limited to zoning issues, however.

He also sits on the St. Louis County Election Board. The general counsel for the election board is Darold E. Crotzer Jr., another prominent St. Louis attorney. Crotzer wears more than one hat, too. He is a member of the St. Louis Regional Sports Authority. The Sports Authority owns the former St. Louis Rams practice field in Earth City, which is located next to the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill.

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Under the terms of its agreement with the St. Louis Regional Sports Authority, the newly relocated Los Angeles Rams have the opportunity to buy the football team’s former 27-acre practice facility in Earth City for $1. In March, the sports authority went to court to keep the land grab from happening. The property once had an assessed value of $19 million.

When it comes to real estate deals, the sports authority is no more transparent than municipal governments. They’re both public bodies, but they cut the deals behind closed doors. In this case, it’s apparent that the value of commercial real estate is more important than the lives of  current day St. Louisans and those people who will live here in the future.

The bottomline remains the same. The almighty dollar is king.

 

Who is Josh Peterson?

Local environmentalists love outside media attention, but they may find embracing the “kindness” of strangers can sometimes hurt more than help. 

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In recent days, the West Lake landfill Facebook page has been graced by two stories by Josh Peterson, a contributing writer for the Urban News Service. The stories are essentially a rehash of old news with a sprinkling of updated quotes from local activists involved in confronting St. Louis’ radioactive waste catastrophe.

Another freelancer piggybacking off previously generated coverage would be of little concern. Pack journalism is nothing new.

But these stories are different.  While they appear to focus on the environmental dilemma at West Lake,  the stories tend to meander into disparate and unrelated issues, including the unrest in Ferguson, the demographics of St. Louis County and even President Obama’s nuclear policy with Iran.

It’s all a bit fuzzy. And perhaps that’s by design.

One thing that is clear about the Urban News Service coverage is that  it’s done long-distance. The reporter, Peterson, lives in Washington, D.C., more than 800 miles from St. Louis. The other undisputed fact is that the reporter lists no prior experience in reporting on environmental issues on his resume.

But it is the credentials that Peterson does list that are most revealing. He credits himself with being associated with the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and  contributing to a litany of extreme right-wing, online publications, including The WatchdogThe Daily Caller, Washington Free Beacon, and the Federalist.

The Watchdog, for example, is the product of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a neoconservative think tank with a clear anti-union and anti-environmental agenda. The Franklin Center uses its clout to infiltrate and influence state legislative news coverage across the country, according to a Media Matters website.

The Washington Free Beacon, spawned in 2012, was originally connected to the Center for American Freedom, another ideologically-driven, non-profit corporation dedicated to among other things bashing the Obama administration whenever possible.

One of Peterson’s Urban News Service stories dismisses the known ill-health effects caused by radiation exposure by citing the opinion of an alleged expert, Jerry Cuttler.

“Low-level radiation ‘is generally a health benefit,’ said Jerry Cuttler, a scientist with more than 50 years of experience with nuclear radiation and an adviser to the New York-based American Council on Science and Health.

“’The natural radon level in an open area is very low,’ said Cuttler. ‘To find a harmful radon level, you would need to go into a uranium mine that has no forced ventilation.’”

Peterson contacted StlReporter after publication via Twitter to defend and clarify his work.  He says his research for the articles on St. Louis’ radioactive-waste crisis took weeks. Peterson also asserts that he is an experienced environmental reporter. His initial interest in the St. Louis radioactive-waste crisis, however,  was spurred because billionaire businessman Bill Gates is a major shareholder in Republic Services, the trash company that owns the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.

Though Peterson admits he has been associated with neocon think tanks, he is not in lockstep with the policies they promote, he says. He dismisses attempts to tie his work to the political slant of the publications to which he has contributed as a conspiracy theory. He adds that it is hypocritical and unprofessional to have done so.  Peterson objected to not being called beforehand for comment.

“I would rather speak on the phone as colleagues rather than having to defend myself in 140-character bites,” he says.

There is little argument, however, of the political slant of the parent company of the Urban News Service — the American Media Institute (AMI). One of AMI’s directors is Richard Perle, a  founder of the Project for a New American Century, which helped forge the Bush administration’s flawed foreign policies. As the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a civilian advisory group attached to the Department of Defense, Perle pushed for the invasion of Iraq. He resigned from his position after journalist Seymour Hersh revealed that Perle was a war profiteer in  Lunch with the Chairman, an article that appeared in the New Yorker in 2003.

Earlier in his career, Perle was a staunch supporter of the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars. Throughout his long career, Perle has been an unwavering proponent of  the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. nuclear weapons program, of course, originated with the Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic bombs. The nuclear waste generated then and subsequently during the Cold War still contaminates St. Louis County today.

This all leads to one question:  Why is Peterson’s slyly neoconservative slant being promulgated by environmental activists on the West Lake Facebook page?

 

 

 

 

Through the Looking Glass

An online news source with ties to neocon Richard Perle is subverting the efforts of St. Louisans to clean up West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek.

Meet The Press

In its latest act of subversion, a story generated by a bogus African-American news service is being shared on Facebook by those who are trying to get radioactive contamination removed from sites in St. Louis County, Mo.

The most recent story has been posted by longtime anti-nuke activist Helen Caldicott. The story was generated by the Urban News Service (UNS), a subsidiary of the American Media Institute (AMI).  The article is mainly a cobbled-together rehash of other media accounts but it does include a quote from Ed Smith, a spokesman for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

One of the main thrusts of the story is that the population of St. Louis County has twice the number of African-Americans than the national average, according to the latest census numbers. The proximity of the radioactive waste sites to Ferguson, the site of racial unrest in 2014  is also a focus of the story. The interpretation of the census statistics, however, is misleading, because more than three quarters of the population in St. Louis county is white.

It is unclear why the race issue is being made a part of the narrative. And it becomes even more murky when details of the AMI are more closely examined.

AMI was founded by neocon Richard Mitimer, former editor of the right-wing Washington Times newspaper,  a publication  long owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Chuch. Mitimer is currently the national security columnist for Forbes magazine. Mitimer, an avowed libertarian, is not known to be a civil rights activist.

The inclusion in the story of Smith, the Safe Energy Director at  the Missouri Coalition,  gives the appearance that the UNS is environmentally friendly and anti-nuke.  Moreover, the story has been posted by Caldicott, an anti-nuke icon.

But there is reason to question that image.

That’s because Richard Perle is a director of the American Media Institute, according to the non-profit corporation’s latest available tax returns. And the AMI is the parent company of the Urban News Service.

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Perle is noted for being one of the primary architects of the Iraq war. He was also a founding member of the Project for the New American Century  along with Paul Wolfowitz, which carved out the template for American foreign policy during George W. Bush’s administration. Perle resigned from the influential Defense Policy Board, a Defense Department civilian advisory group, in 2003 after it was revealed that he was engaged in war profiteering by Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker.

More germane to the nuclear waste issue, however, is Perle’s longstanding advocacy of nuclear weapons. During the Reagan era, Perle was a proponent of the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars. The refinement of uranium by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works for the first atomic bombs is responsible for the nuclear waste that still plagues St. Louis County.

It is difficult to conceive that Helen Caldicott and Richard Perle have anything in common, particularly when it comes to cleaning up the nuclear waste in St. Louis County. Nonetheless, they share a common interest in promoting the work of the Urban News Service.

We are through the Looking Glass.

 

Radiation Exposure Is Good For You!

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A story generated by  the Urban News Service,  the subsidiary of a right-wing “news” outlet,  popped up today on the West Lake Landfill Facebook page. At first glance, the article seems to promote proponents who have been working for years to get the EPA Superfund site in Bridgeton, Mo. cleaned up. But the article is actually a cleverly cobbled together piece of propaganda that advocates the opposite.

The story quotes  “Dr.” Jerry Cuttler an advisor to the New York-based American Council on Science and Health, who posits that chronic exposure to low-level radiation can actually have  beneficial health effects. The scientific community as a whole thinks otherwise, and has long cautioned that there is no safe or permissible levels for radiation exposure. This widely accepted viewpoint is based in part on an awareness and understanding of the cumulative, long-range impact to radiation, which is a known human carcinogen. Chronic low-level radiation exposure is also known to cause auto-immune and reproductive disorders and is also tied to mutations that permanently alter the human genetic code.

Despite these distinct and dire possibilities, the Urban News Service story by correspondent Josh Peterson dismisses the known ill-health effects caused by radiation exposure by citing the opinion of an alleged expert, Jerry Cuttler.

“Low-level radiation ‘is generally a health benefit,’ said Dr. Jerry Cuttler, a scientist with more than 50 years of experience with nuclear radiation and an adviser to the New York-based American Council on Science and Health.

“’The natural radon level in an open area is very low,’ said Cuttler. ‘To find a harmful radon level, you would need to go into a uranium mine that has no forced ventilation.’”

The American Council on Science and Health has long-established history of supporting the petro-chemical industry by claiming that toxic substances  are not dangerous to human health. The council defends fracking, BPA and pesticides. In 2012, Mother Jones magazine reported that the American Council on Science and Health has received funding or applied for support from corporations and foundations such as  Chevron, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, Bayer Cropscience, Procter and Gamble, agribusiness giant Syngenta, 3M, Monsanto, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, and others.

The American Media Institute, the parent company of the Urban News Service, claims to be stacked with former writers and editors for the Wall Street Journal and the Reader’s Digest. AMI was founded by Richard Miniter, a national security columnist for Forbes magazine. His brother Frank Miniter is the editor of the National Rifle Association’s magazine American Hunter. Miniter’s right-wing tilt began when he worked in 1989 as a summer intern for the Institute for Humane Studies, a right-wing think tank funded by the Scaife and Koch Foundations. Miniter also worked as an environmental analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which opposes government involvement in efforts to curb global warming.

 

 

Our Man in Havana

The Inspiring Story of How the Late St. Louis County Detective Pete Vasel Nabbed “Alleged” Commie Terrorist Verne Lyon

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At approximately 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17, 1966, a shoe box containing two sticks of dynamite wired to a wind-up alarm clock exploded in the waiting area next to the Ozark Airlines ticket counter at Lambert Field in St. Louis. Fortunately, before the bomb went off police cleared the airport terminal and no one was killed or injured. The explosion did, however, do extensive property damage, destroying a bank of seats and a number of large windows. Three days later, a young engineer employed by McDonnell Aircraft was arrested for the bombing. The long-forgotten incident would shape the course of the accused man’s life.

After 27 years, the convicted bomber is asking President Bill Clinton for a presidential pardon. This is his story.

Lyon was born in Boone, Iowa. The time was 50 years ago. Somewhere World War II raged and the Cold War waited. Not in Iowa, though. No, the wake of these events would move at a glacial pace across the plains of the upper Midwest. Seasons turned. Lyon grew. Following high school, he headed east on U.S. Route 30 to the state university at Ames. The nascent Space Age had nurtured an interest in rocketry. He majored in aerospace engineering. But it was Lyon’s extracurricular activities on campus that ended up having more of a lasting effect on his career.

According to Lyon, the CIA recruited him as a student to be a part of Operation Chaos, an illegal domestic espionage network during the Vietnam era. The job of spying on campus anti-war activities paid $300 a month and came with a guaranteed draft deferment, Lyon says. After college Lyon says he decided to sever ties with the CIA, but the agency continued to contact him even after he moved to St. Louis and began working for McDonnell Aircraft. Ultimately, his stint of college intelligence work would lead to being falsely accused of the Dec. 17, 1966 bombing of the St. Louis airport, Lyon says.

After he jumped bail, Lyon eventually went to Cuba, where the story of the bombing was used by the CIA to support his fake identity as an anti-war radical, he says. Lyon’s rearrest and subsequent convictions would be postponed for more than a decade. But he finally served almost six years in Leavenworth, he says. During all this time, Lyon has steadfastly maintained his innocence and claimed that none of this would have transpired had he not been set up by the CIA initially and then later persecuted for breaking agency protocol.

“Everybody in the agency, I think, was watching my situation very closely,” says Lyon. “(I) had resigned, been a hard target, broken several of the agency‘s unwritten rules. Did so very deliberately. Defied them. Evaded them for two years. … So I think they had a long list of reasons why they wanted me back. But I think the primary (reason) was to make an example of me and to show me that they were in control not me.”

On these points, it is difficult, if not impossible to confirm whether Lyon’s life was manipulated by the U.S. government or simply swept up in Cold War politics through his own volition. The truth is likely somewhere in between and still moving into the uncertain political milieu of the 1990s. To some students of the intelligence field, there is no such thing a “former” CIA agent. Other critics of Lyon question whether the agency would risk sending an employee on such a dangerous mission. It is more routine for the CIA to hire contract operatives for such purposes, they say. These caveats must be weighed in this case. But regardless of his veracity or motivations, Lyon’s interpretation of events represents an intriguing pawn’s-eye view of the zeitgeist of the 1960s.

If there is anything that hasn’t changed over the years, it may be Lyon’s voice. His speech is still steeped with the flattened upward inflections peculiar to natives of Northern states. The endemic accent remains despite years spent south of the Tropic of Cancer — Havana to be exact.

From 1968 to 1975, Lyon worked as a scientist for the Cuban government, conducting cloud-seeding experiments in an effort to increase the island’s agricultural production. At the same time, Lyon says he passed an array of information to the CIA.

Since returning to Iowa 11 years ago, Lyon has worked for the Hispanic MInistry of the United Methodist Church, a social services agency that provides support to Latino aliens in the Des Moines area. He is also an active member of the Association of National Security Alumni, an affiliation of former CIA and FBI agents who have become critics of the intelligence community.

Lyon is now seeking a presidential pardon over the St. Louis airport bombing and his subsequent flight. “What I’m doing now has raised enough mitigating circumstances that the government has the capability of saying, `Ok, let’s put the past where it belongs and give you a fresh start. That’s basically what the pardon does,” says Lyon.
One person who believes Lyon was guilty as charged is retired St. Louis County chief of detectives Frederick Jacob “Pete” Vasel.

Vasel, 64 (in 1995), was at the scene in 1966 when the bomb went off. Eleven years later, he testified against Lyon at his trial. According to Vasel’s account, he walked up to the shoe box containing the dynamite and noted its contents. The government’s appellate brief states what happened next: “After walking a matter of 15 to 30 feet away from the device, it exploded, knocking Major Vasel down.” In a recent interview, Vasel recalled that the explosion hurled him back 14 or 15 feet. “It scared the shit out of me,” he says.

When asked whether the CIA had a hand in the bombing, Vasel says: No goddamn way. He (Lyon) wasn’t set up.” Vasel did say that on occasions he himself had contact with the CIA. His cooperation included providing profiles of individuals to the agency. But in Lyon’s case, there was no CIA interest whatsoever, according to Vasel.

Vasel does say, however, that there’s lot’s of mysterious elements to the case.” In his recollection, Lyon escaped from St. Louis in a limousine, and later traveled to the Soviet Union while in exile. The former detective suggests the bombing may have been an act of communist subversion. But he also has another theory on which to fall back. “He was going through a very upsetting time with his girlfriend,” says Vasel.

Vasel himself is somewhat mysterious. In 1963, he stated on a local public service television program that “secret crime societies” were not operating in St. Louis. The following year, his testimony helped convict mobster John Paul Spica of the contract murder of real estate developer John T. Myszak. Spica later died in a car bombing following his release from prison. Prior to his death, Spica gave closed-door congressional testimony on his knowledge of a St. Louis-based plot to assassinate Martin Luther KIng.

During his controversial 20-year career with the St. Louis County Police Department, Vasel was demoted, promoted, fired, reinstated and finally retired. He reputedly commanded the respect of criminals and had a network of informants.

According to the court record, Lyon became a suspect after a police captain from the City of St. Louis tipped Vasel off to rumors floating around McDonnell Aircraft. Vasel tracked down some of Lyon’s coworkers. One claimed he had overheard a telephone conversation in which Lyon talked about dynamite. Another employee said that Lyon had asked him about getting wires soldered to a pair of flashlight batteries.

When law enforcement authorities searched Lyon’s digs, on Wengler Avenue in suburban Overland, Mo., they found wires, blasting caps and dynamite. At the trial, this circumstantial evidence was bolstered by other testimony and exhibits, A hardware store owner from Troy, Mo. swore Lyon had purchased dynamite from him. Receipts were entered as evidence. Diagrams found in Lyon’s office desk were also offered up. His former landlady and another woman told the court that Lyon had asked them for shoe boxes.

But nobody ever saw Lyon at the airport.

As for the possession of the dynamite, Lyon has a plausible explanation. He says he had an interest in amateur rocketry dating back to ninth grade. Lyon bought the explosives for his hobby, he says. At the time, the young aerospace engineer had visions of being an astronaut and had won a NASA technical essay contest. In a newspaper account following his arrest, his younger brother said Lyon had promise to bring more dynamite back to Iowa for some solid fuel experiments.

He never was afforded that opportunity. At a preliminary hearing before jumping bail, Lyon caught a glimpse of what he suspects transpired. “I saw an FBI agent who had been involved in the … search warrant talking to one of my CIA recruiters. It wasn’t long after that I received a phone call to talk to one of the former recruiters,” says Lyon. Later, the CIA asked Lyon to travel to Washington, D.C. Once there, the agency made him an offer, Lyon says. The deal, according to Lyon, was “ the agency would help clear my name, after a length of time, and things had calmed down.” In return, Lyon agreed to work full time for the agency. The CIA “believed a mistake had been made (over the bombing), which always led me to believe that they had been involved,” he says. “Whether it was on purpose or whether it just developed this way, the fact that I was accused of being involved in that incident was later used to develop a legend for me.”

Lyon subsequently underwent training in Washington, D.C. and in Canada, while waiting for Cuba to grant political asylum, he says. After being accepted, Lyon worked for the Cuban Academy of Sciences, all the while funneling economic data and reports on foreign technicians back to the CIA.

Lyon says he was only scheduled to be in Cuba for two years. But during the course of his stay, he married a Cuban woman. The CIA would not allow him to return to the U.S. with his wife so he extended his tour. Then when the agency asked that he spy on his politically-connected inlaws, he refused, Lyon says. After three years, the self-professed spy had become assimilated into the Cuban culture and his attitude had changed. “I came to my senses,” says Lyon. “What we were doing there was not in the best interest of the United States, (and) they were obviously not in the best interest of Cuba or the people.”

Finally, in 1975 the Cubans caught on and deported him to Jamaica, Lyon says. With the United States having already refused to renew his passport and the bombing charges still pending in the St. Louis, he lived first in Canada and then Peru, where U.S. marshals apprehended him in February 1977.

At the trial, defense attorney Leonard J. Frankel subpoenaed all CIA records pertaining to Lyon. At first, United States District Court Judge John K. Regan ruled to allow the evidence. But when two minions of the CIA arrived at the court, their meeting with the judge and the defense counsel was held behind closed doors. They claimed Lyon had no association with the agency. According to the court record, the CIA file on Lyon “was opened as a result of information received from sources outside the agency.” The CIA refused to allow even the judge to see the file. Instead, the agency’s representatives summarized its contents. In some instances, the sources of the information were withheld on the grounds that naming them would compromise national security interests.

As a result of the closed hearing, Regan quashed the subpoena issued to the agency. According to Frankel, the judge’s reversal was most unusual from a legal standpoint and personally out of character. Frankel won Lyon’s appeal, but the decision was based on a faulty search warrant not the CIA issue. In the retrial, Lyon again was convicted and Regan meted out the same 15-year sentence.

More curious perhaps than the Regan flip-flop are the unnamed sources in Lyon’s CIA file. The secrecy smacks of star chamber ethics and leaves the Verne Lyon case open to speculation. Since Lyon’s trials, CIA documents released through the Freedom of Information Act indicate that during the 1960s and 1970s the agency had close ties to local police departments. One memo even mentions a 1967 training session “in the types of explosive devices manufactured from readily available commercial material.”∫