Clem’s Chronicles: Sweat Lodge Deaths/Terror Threat/AIG Bonuses/CIA-Peru

By Clem Lane

Feb 3, 2010 9:21pm

Howdy folks-some late-breaking news concerning the Arizona sweat lodge deaths. Our nightly missive follows…

SWEAT LODGE DEATHS-Motivational speaker James Arthur Ray has been charged with three counts of manslaughter in connection with the deaths that occurred at a sweat lodge ceremony he conducted in Northern Arizona last year. Ray was arrested this afternoon at his attorney's office in Prescott, Arizona on an indictment and was to be booked into the Yavapai County jail in Camp Verde, sheriff's officials said. His bond is set at $5 million. Ray denies any wrongdoing-his attorneys released a written statement earlier this evening which read “The charges are unjust and we will prove it in court.  This was a terrible accident – but it was an accident, not a criminal act.   James Ray cooperated at every step of the way, providing information and witnesses to the authorities showing that no one could have foreseen this accident.   We will now present this evidence in a court of law, and we are confident that Mr. Ray will be exonerated.”

TERROR THREAT-After yesterday’s frank admission by American intelligence chiefs that an attempted terrorist attack in the next six months was virtually “certain”, Pierre Thomas reports U.S. concerns are based on a variety of things, not just the information gleaned from would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Thomas: “Tonight ABC NEWS has learned that other intelligence beyond Mutallab’s statements have heightened concerns including-
-Intercepts of Islamic radicals boasting about what’s to come. One allegedly said ‘we will get them this time’.
-Informants suggesting a coming attack.
-And evidence found in Yemen confirming the training of other suicide bombers.”
This is not to downplay information gotten from Abdulmutallab, who apparently has been very forthcoming with the FBI-Thomas: “Mutallab has identified his handlers in Yemen-including the man who designed his underwear bomb-and given chapter and verse about his training. He has also said he believes there are other recruits and that more attacks against the U.S. are in the works.”
In response, Thomas tells us that “ABC NEWS has learned the FBI has been looking at travel records from Africa trying to determine if other operatives like Mutallab have already made their way into the United States. They have identified a number of specific suspects who have disappeared.”

AIG/BONUSES-So let’s get this straight. Your company, AIG, receives more than $120 billion in a government bail-out. Before that money has been repaid in full, you reward your employees with over $100 million in bonuses. Oh and those employees work in AIG’s Financial Products division, the division that almost wiped out the company. And it’s all above board, legit contracts and everything? You’re not the only one with questions-David Muir tries to get an answer to his question: “Didn’t anyone in the government see this coming before the Treasury lent them so much money?” We caught up with Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama Administration’s pay czar today, Muir reports, and asked him ”why didn’t the government demand before it bailed out AIG that they not spend a penny on bonuses until they paid back all of this taxpayer money” Feinberg told us “You can say a lot of things in 20/20 hindsight. These contracts were entered into by AIG and its employees. The AIG folks say these contracts are valid. The Federal Reserve says they’re valid.” Valid maybe, but certainly not popular with American taxpayers. Oh and that bail-out money? They still owe A LOT of it. Muir: “More than $120 billion in taxpayer money loaned to AIG…of that, AIG still owes U.S. taxpayers close to $84 billion.” What sayeth AIG to us? Not much…Muir notes “we’ve been calling AIG since December” and even a visit to AIG headquarters today didn’t get us anywhere. But Muir has other ways of getting the company’s reaction: “So if they won’t take our calls, what are they saying when pay czar Ken Feinberg calls?” Feinberg: “Mr. Feinberg we are trying to reduce as much of this retention payback. The shame factor is pretty high. They’re hearing it.” Pretty high maybe….but not too high to cash that check. Feinberg adds: “(The government) certainly has learned a lesson on my watch. There is no such thing as a guaranteed bonus. There’s no such thing as guaranteed bonuses paid in cash to the top 25 officials of these companies.” Sawyer asked Muir after his report if we’ve seen the last of these bonuses…Muir: “they say there could be another round in march, but these would be the last of the grandfathered contracts. Feinberg points out from that point on, any company that owes taxpayer money will be under his watch, and those retention bonuses will be gone.”

TOYOTA RECALL:  Problems continue to mount for Toyota; the company announced late this evening that it has received 77 complaints regarding brake problems in the hybrid vehicles in Japan.  Japan’s transport ministry has ordered Toyota to investigate the Prius brake problems. 
Here in the US, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Toyota was “absolutely” cooperating with the government.  “We’re in discussions every day with Toyota about these safety issues with their automobiles.  The reason where they’re at today is because of our investigations, our meetings with them,” LaHood said.  He also encouraged consumers concerned about the safety of their vehicles to “take it to the dealer, and have them fix it if it’s one of the ones that needs to be fixed, or at least have them look at it.”  Parts to fix the accelerator problems in the vehicles started arriving at Toyota dealerships around the country. Starting Thursday, Toyota owners will be able to have their vehicles repaired for free. 
On Thursday the House Oversight committee will hold a hearing to better understand the Federal government’s response to the Toyota recall (10am ET).  Also Thursday the automaker reports Q4 results – there will be a news conference from Japan at 1am ET. Video of the news conference will be fed via APTN at 2:30am ET. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

PERU SHOOTDOWN:   Nearly nine years after a small plane carrying a missionary family was mistakenly shot down over the Amazon forest of Peru, the Central Intelligence Agency is taking action against some of its employees.  Brian Ross gives us the background: “On April 21, 2001, Jim and Veronica "Roni" Bowers and their two children, six-year-old son Cory and infant daughter Charity, were returning to their home in Peru from a trip to Brazil in a small airplane piloted by Kevin Donaldson. The Bowers' worked as Christian missionaries along a stretch of the Amazon River near Iquitos, Peru, a remote jungle region near the Brazilian and Colombian borders heavily traveled by drug traffickers. The CIA and the Peruvian Air Force were working in the same area, trying to interdict drug smugglers. Starting in 1995, they'd operated a joint program to intercept drug planes, shooting them down if necessary.  On April 21, a CIA spotter plane saw the Cessna in which the Bowers family was flying and alerted the Peruvian Air Force.”  What happened next?  “The CIA personnel misidentified the craft as a drug plane. The CIA alerted the Peruvian Air Force, which scrambled an interceptor. Over the next two hours, the CIA personnel would express doubts, but would not correct their error, and would repeatedly violate what the White House believed to be strict rules of engagement.”   And that wasn’t all:   “When the Peruvian air force gunships arrived and issued a warning, in Spanish, we will shoot you down, it was on the wrong radio frequency, so the missionary plane never heard it.”  The gunships open fire – it was all captured on a CIA videotape.  You could hear the screams from the Cessna – “they’re killing us.”  But Brian says it was too late:  “ The damage was done. Trailing black smoke, it headed for a river to land, with Veronica Bowers and her daughter Charity already dead from bullet wounds.” Today, the CIA said it’s lengthy internal investigation placed the blame on the Peruvian Air Force.  But it also determined that sixteen CIA employees should be disciplined.  One of those involved said his discipline was merely a letter of reprimand.  Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, from the Bowers’ home district, remarked: “If there’s ever an example of justice delayed, justice denied, this is it.”  (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

HAITI RELIEF GROUPS & THE CHILDREN:  In the wake of the Haiti earthquake tragedy, dozens of organizations have descended on the distressed country to provide relief, medical care, and lift its youngest citizens to a “better life” in the United States or other developed countries.  “In the earthquake’s aftermath, Haiti has been overwhelmed by people wanting to help — many of them Christian missionaries – sparking a sharp debate about the potential conflicts between the call of faith and the need for respect across cultures,” Terry Moran reported on WORLD NEWS.  The most prevalent example is that of the 10 American missionaries who remain jailed after they attempted to transport 33 Haitian children across the border to the Dominican Republic, all in the name of doing the Lord’s work.  “I have seen those missionaries coming here supposedly sent by Jesus to save us from what, I don’t know…we don’t need that kind of savior,” voodoo priest leader Max Beauvoir told ABC News.  “But some of the missionaries come to save anyway – to save the children – not just from poverty or neglect, but from Haiti itself.  To get them out of the country and into American, Christian homes,” Moran reports, “Some secular child advocates say it would be better for all if the missionaries’ goal was to help the families in Haiti, rather than seek to take the children away.” 
No decision was made today on the fate of the 10 American missionaries.  They will return for more court hearings Thursday. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

SCOTT BROWN SWEARING-IN POSSIBLE TOMORROW-New Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is hoping to be sworn-in tomorrow. David Chalian reports “in terms of paperwork from Massachusetts, all things are on track to get Brown seated tomorrow as he requested.  A spokesman for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick released the following written statement: ““As the Lieutenant Governor stated earlier today, the Governor will convene the Governor’s Council at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow morning and certify the results.  This will ensure that Senator-elect Brown’s request to receive the final paperwork by 11:00 a.m. tomorrow is fulfilled.”

OTHER STUFF-
NEW ART AUCTION RECORD- A life-size bronze sculpture of a man by Alberto Giacometti has been sold at a London auction for $104 million. Sotheby's says the sale set a world record as the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. The auction house said Wednesday it took just eight minutes for bidders to reach the hammer price for "L'Homme Qui Marche I" (Walking Man I). (AP)
MICHAEL JACKSON DOCTOR- LA Superior court says Dr. Murray will appear in Judge Keith Schwartz’s courtroom at 1:30pm pt on Friday.  There will likely be a pool camera. (Michael Kreisel)

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