culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Tuesday, February 11, 2003
MSNBC and Osama — before and after.
Atrios talks about how MSNBC is very quickly changing its tune about what "Osama" said. Here's the original screen grab, courtesy of Democratic Underground:

MSNBC old

And here is what the article looked like about an hour later:

MSNBC new

Hmm. Osama and Bush — united in the fight against Hussein? Plausible. Both are beholden to their fundamentalist constituencies.

Bad translation? Or is MSNBC just a GE-owned propaganda mill?
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Democrats grow a spine.
Washington Post:
Senate Democrats, brushing aside a personal appeal from President Bush, vowed today to delay a vote on the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada until they receive more information about his legal views.

In a major escalation of the increasingly bitter partisan fight over Bush's judgeship choices, Democrats announced they had enough votes to block an immediate vote on nomination of the conservative Hispanic attorney to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

While stopping short of saying they would kill the nomination, they said they would filibuster -- or delay a vote -- until Estrada more fully answers questions about his legal views and the Bush administration provides memoranda he wrote while he worked in the office of the solicitor general in the Justice Department.
No mention that Estrada was part of George W. Bush's election-stealing team.
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Formerly anonymous IssuesGuy of Seeing the Forest
outs himself for a good cause (and a very good article about which we posted earlier).
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TBOGG is
pissed off:
Remember when they said that the "grown-ups" were back in charge? What kind of grown-up puts people on the street so they can have a nice shiny war to get re-elected? What kind of grown-up gives the money that they take away from housing and gives to churches so they can build...more churches? If you didn't already know that the Bush Administration was made up of some the most evil bastards to ever roam the Earth...welcome to the new reality. The terrorists have not only won, they're running the government.
Running it into the ground, that is.
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We've got mail. A reader, who will remain nameless, writes (presumably in reference to
this post):
First of all, home owners near the Iraq border might have to deal with fallout of another kind. Has there been one story about what would happen if a cruise missile hits a chemical dump?
Not that I'm aware of. But what would happen if a cruise missile — or 3,000 of them — hits a chemical dump?

The short answer is: death and casualties. The longer answer is: carefully planned and pre-calculated deaths and casualties.
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Via
Notes on the Atrocities comes the very spooky Presidential Prayer Team, a bunch of people convinced that they can communicate with worlds other than the one that our president is actively ruining.

Anecdotal evidence for the "power" of prayer abounds:
Accident victim credits prayer with saving his life after being thrown 25 feet into the air.

An 18-year-old driver credits God with answering his desperate prayers for survival. "God was definitely in control," said Joe R. Thompson, III after he was rescued.

Thompson was driving in Kansas City, Missouri on Monday, January 27 when he lost control of his vehicle. He was thrown 25 feet into the air, bounced off several power lines and fell onto what he believes was a heavy telephone line. When one of his legs caught on the wire, he quickly wrapped his other leg around it and held on.

"I just kept saying a prayer over and over," he said. Police report that Thompson was "bear-hugging" the wires when they arrived. He was also in constant communication with his father while the crew worked to turn off power in order to complete the rescue. His father asked him how long he would be able to hold on, and Joe reported, "I can hold on as long as it takes." Thompson dangled from the wires for 20 minutes before he was brought safely to the ground.
Who can argue with evidence as compelling as this?

If God is "definitely in control," as Joe just informed us, does this mean we can finally blame God for the disintegration of the Columbia space shuttle? 9/11? Vietnam? The Holocaust? Hiroshima? The Inquisition?

The deaths of millions of innocent victims can now be attributed to the feebleness of their efforts at effective, politically motivated prayer. We must kneel and give thanks to American Christians for showing nonbelievers the way to completely shut down rational thought and obey our unelected masters.
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"How ironic, that Powell is now relying on the assistance of Osama Bin Laden to convince Americans and our allies after verbal denunciation and diplomatic bullying has failed.  How ironic and sad."
The ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose

The New York Times background story on this topic is here.
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Dave Johnson of the
Commonweal Institute writes an article on who is behind right-wing attacks on academics:
...the majority of the conservative experts and scholars writing newspaper op-ed pieces, books and magazine articles, and even the organizations that generate the "talking points" and position papers used by TV pundits and radio talk show hosts, are directly funded by, or work for organizations supported by this core group of funders.

[...]

It turns out that many of the most important attacks [on academic freedom] are part of a campaign organized by conservative foundations, as a study by report by the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) found. In a section entitled, "Targeting the Academy" the report discusses right-wing attacks on academia, including "political correctness" campaigns, efforts to use alumni contributions to advance a conservative agenda, efforts to take over or de-fund the National Endowment for the Humanities and to de-fund the National Endowment for the Arts. These attacks follow the pattern outlined in the [influential 1971] Powell memo -- attack the patriotism of liberals and attempt to convince trustees of colleges and universities to remove them, replacing them with ideological "conservatives."
The attacks on academics is part of a larger pattern of replacing qualified and competent people with ideologically compliant mouthpieces.

Dave's article is heavily linked and footnoted for all the backstory you could want. Link via skippy via Thinking It Through.
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Twenty years ago Roz Chast, one of the New Yorker's greatest cartoonists, drew a cartoon entitled
"Recipes from the American Cheese Council" with self-serving recipes like these:
Cheese Omelette

2 eggs
5 lb. Swiss cheese
1 tbsp. butter

Melt butter in pan. Add eggs and cheese. Cook until done. Serves 2.
Now America's Beef Producers™ are targeting teenage girls with something equally inane, their faux-hip Cool 2B Real beef-friendly site, complete with recipes for Nacho Beef Dip, Beef Tacos, Beef Chili, etc.

Conclusion: In contemporary American corporate culture, it is increasingly impossible to distinguish satire or parody from whatever is being satirized or parodied.

Link via MemeMachineGo!
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Monday, February 10, 2003
"Let office plants die to save on water." This actual suggestion by former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers was meant to help employees save money at their corporate headquarters, according to a
TomPaine.com quiz from Pigs at the Trough, Arianna Huffington's new book about corporate greed.

WorldCom's Ebbers, in case you forgot, is notorious for the $408 million in personal loans he got from the company. Three farms owned in part by Ebbers or linked to him got more than $4 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture aid from at least 1998 through 2001, according to USA Today. Ebbers was No. 174 on Forbes' list of the 400 richest Americans in 1999.

Maybe we should let him die to save on litigation.
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Where to invest at the advent of war. Forget the negative returns of the bushwhacked NYSE and Nasdaq markets. Check out the hot investment markets in the Middle East (from
The Economist):
If there is anything in the Middle East mounting faster than the threat of war, it is property prices in Kuwait. More specifically, the price of real estate near the dusty border-crossing into Iraq, where values have doubled and trebled in the past year. Since October alone, Kuwait's stock index has shot up nearly 30%, as businessmen sniff a windfall of opportunities after the smoke has cleared from next door.
Call your broker and ask for shares of the Iraqi Windfall REITs and some kickass Kuwaiti call options, and it'll feel just like a Clinton economy again.
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Two Michaels and the Media. Inexplicably filed under "Entertainment," this story appeared in
Yahoo! News:
WASHINGTON (Variety) Reminding the divided ranks that he's in control, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell made it clear Thursday that Democratic commissioner Michael Copps had no authority to schedule official public hearings on media ownership rules.

Copps, who insists that more of a national debate is needed before the rules are voted on, did not consult Powell, a Republican, before announcing in a press release that he was scheduling two commission hearings, in Seattle and Durham, N.C.

Powell directed the agency to issue a corrected press release, which states that the hearings being arranged by Copps are "field" hearings, not FCC events.

In recent days, Powell has appeared frustrated by the growing outcry over the agency's review of an unprecedented number of regs, an outcry based in part on the perception that the chairman is keen on deregulation.

If the FCC rules in question are undone, companies like News Corp. and Viacom Inc. could expand their empires.
Powell's frustration is our joy. Via Convergence Chaser.
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An amazing speech by MIT's
Neil Gershenfeld.
...he [the Indian general who's in charge of Jammu and Kashmir, the world's current nuclear battlefield] came to the conclusion that the best way to provide border security is through human security, and the best way to provide human security is through human development, and the best way to provide human development is through information, and the best way to provide information is through the network, therefore Indian army soldiers should bring internet connections to Muslim girls!

So, it's this amazing project where his soldiers are going in and bringing these net connections to little villages. And, in particular, the Muslim girls and Buddhist girls in these breeding-grounds of insurgency, who used to run when outsiders came, now they come running to these places. We were helping them with things like low-cost antennae and embedded controllers, so you can make incremental hubs of networks without any central control of the infrastructure. And what's amazing is the extent to which it flipped a community, from being a breeding-ground of insurgency, to having a tremendous sense of connection, a tremendous sense of belonging, transformed by these low-cost, distributed, locally developed technologies. And so, in a very real sense, I believe the deepest consequence of all of this stuff is not just making it easier to win wars, but preventing the need to fight wars in the first place.
A glimpse into the next revolutionary technologies, in every sense of the word. Via Boing Boing.
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Friday, February 07, 2003
Got my copy of Eric Alterman's
What Liberal Media?

Tell you all about it next week.
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Ashcroft only has eyes for you. From the
Center for Public Integrity:
ashbush(WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2003) -- The Bush Administration is preparing a bold, comprehensive sequel to the USA Patriot Act passed in the wake of September 11, 2001, which will give the government broad, sweeping new powers to increase domestic intelligence-gathering, surveillance and law enforcement prerogatives, and simultaneously decrease judicial review and public access to information.
A full text document is available at the source above.

Tonight, Bill Moyers* will feature this story, a smallpox story, as well as a visit from Frank Rich.

*This link will vanish in a few days.
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Bush: "Reptilian entity," or not? Penn & Teller's new show
Bullshit on Showtime tweaks the Pinocchio noses of those who try to scam us, such as telepsychics, magnet therapists, and the like.

Tonight they examine alien abductions and talk about their letter to the White House, in which they invite response to a statement made by UFO author David Ickes. This is an excerpt from the letter (click on "Official Letters to the White House"):
For a segment of this television program, producers recently taped a series of interviews with participants at an event in California called "The UFO Expo." At the event, noted expert and author David Ickes claimed that President George W. Bush is a "reptilian entity." The following is an exact quote from Mr. Ickes: "If we could see beyond the limitations of our five senses, we would see George Bush the father and George Bush the son as reptilian entities."

I am offering Presdient Bush an opportunity to respond to these accusations.
I guess you have to watch the show to find out the outcome.
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Arthur Andersen wasn't the problem. The indicted and crippled accounting firm (and two-word all-purpose punch line) Arthur Andersen turns out to be not the purveyor of a one-off con game, but a small part of a pervasive corruption of the accounting industry that is yet coming to light (
New York Times):
Some wealthy Americans who paid millions in fees to two of the Big Four accounting firms to set up tax shelters are suing the firms after the Internal Revenue Service denied the tax savings that they had been promised.

Although only a few lawsuits have been filed, tax experts and lawyers handling these cases said they expected a flood of similar cases as the I.R.S. stepped up its hunt for tax cheating by hundreds and perhaps thousands of executives, business owners, athletes and entertainers with big incomes.

Two firms being sued, Ernst & Young and KPMG, offered shelters that they said would make taxes on salaries, stock option profits and capital gains from the sale of a business either shrink to pennies on the dollar or disappear.

The fees and savings on taxes can be enormous. Ernst & Young charged some clients $1 million just to hear a sales pitch, according to court papers. And the firms made millions from the sale of each shelter. The shelters allowed accounting firms, their clients and the law firms that blessed the deals to share money that otherwise would have gone to the government.
This is no longer legally justifiable tax avoidance, but industry-wide tax fraud. The sheltered (i.e., stolen) money rightfully belongs to citizens.

The Bush administration's isolation and public crucifixion of Andersen, designed to move the spotlight away from the actual Enron perps who contributed lavishly to several Bush campaigns, also conveniently served to destroy the auditor of Halliburton, whose questionable accounting practices occurred while Dick Cheney was its CEO in the late 1990s. It also managed to avoid any real reform of the accounting industry, thereby prolonging a bearish crisis in the stock markets when more Americans own stock than ever before.
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Last night Larry King interviewed
Bill Clinton. Late in the interview — during which Clinton is extraordinarily informed and articulate by current standards — they are joined by radio host Tom Joyner who said:
I think that right now, as people are watching this, I don't think I'm the only one that wishes that he was still president right now.
Later, Clinton on the topic of Trent Lott:
So I thought what they did was -- that Trent Lott made a boo-boo. It was like the equivalent of, you know, an uneducated guy scratching his ear or picking his nose at a dinner party. And they made him a scapegoat so that other people in America who were uncomfortable with what he said wouldn't think the rest of the Republican Party was doing that.

[...]

They axed him because he embarrassed them and risked undermining their policies. But their policies are what I disagreed with and I just thought it was terrible that used him as a scapegoat.
Via Media Whores Online.
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Thursday, February 06, 2003
The feeling isn't mutual. For the first time in 14 years, US investors removed more money from stock mutual funds than they put in, according to this report from
The Economist:
While the regulators and the industry squabble over the planned reforms, analysts are more worried about whether Americans’ faith in shares [stocks] has been shattered for good. An unlucky few have seen their investments completely wiped out in the past couple of years. Almost all investors are nursing losses. But shares always do well over the long term, right? Not necessarily. Analysts at Merrill Lynch, an investment bank, have worked out that the break-even point for someone investing sensibly on a monthly basis since 1990, when America’s interest in mutual funds exploded, would be around 776 on the Standard & Poors composite index, a level to which it has come perilously close. In other words, the average investor is near to losing his capital. Fund managers are learning a bitter lesson. Just as they benefited from a virtuous cycle of inflows and stockmarket rallies on the way up, they are vulnerable to a vicious cycle on the way down.
chart

No matter where you look in the American economy these days, there's a sinking feeling. This is the price we pay for Enronesque corporate criminality and an ill-conceived (and wildly expensive) Bush family grudge match with Iraq that sidesteps the real threats to this country — North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, home-grown anthrax-mailing terrorists, and so on.
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Neal Pollack covers the pro-war haiku movement. Perhaps Neal is the poet that New Criterion managing editor Roger Kimball (see 2/5/03, "The tragic story of a disappointed Republican poetry fan" below) longs for:
Hussein, ugly rat
Missiles hidden underground
Soon you will be dead.
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Holy piranha! Texas suffers from
biblical plagues. From the Houston Chronicle:
Officials in Corpus Christi have already killed two brown tree snakes, climbing serpents from Guam that eat everything they come upon, according to Howells. One was hiding in a washing machine aboard a ship, he said.

And there have also been reports of a piranha-like fish known as a Pacu that can weigh up to 30 pounds lurking in the waters of Buffalo Bayou.
Earlier in the article we learn that many of these invasions were intentional, but have since spun out of control.

The symbolism is hard to miss.
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The economy worsens. From the New York Times:
The economy has fallen into its worst hiring slump in almost 20 years, and many business executives say they remain unsure when it will end.

[...]

About one million people appear to have dropped out of the labor force since last summer, neither working nor looking for a job, according to government figures.

[...]

The shortage of jobs has also slowed wage growth so that only workers in the most affluent groups are still gaining ground on inflation, ending a six-year streak of broad increases in buying power*.

[...]

The possibility of a war with Iraq and an increase in oil prices offers another reason for hesitation [in hiring], they say. Many companies have also used new technologies and management techniques to produce more with the same number of employees.

"This is what I call the new reality," said Robert M. Dutkowsky, the chief executive of J. D. Edwards, a software maker in Denver that has kept its work force at 5,000 people for the last few years. "The environment we're operating in is what it's going to be like for a while."

[...]

An unusually large number of today's unemployed have been out of work for months, including Mr. Koehn, the South Bend manufacturing worker, who lost his job last spring. Almost 1.9 million people still looking for work have been unemployed for at least six months, triple the number of two years ago.
The young, the poor, the middle class — all must share in the sacrifice as we hand over our wages to our Republicorporate Chief Executive Overlords, in the form of George W. Bush's $2+ trillion tax cuts to benefit the wealthy.

The administration is astute in its opposition to a draft, because if young people were now being forced to go to Iraq against their will we would have riots. Instead we've been lulled into complacency by fear, weariness, and a rah-rah media that can't wait to go to war for the surge in ratings.

Meanwhile, the economy rots.

*A six-year streak that coincided with the administration of a president impeached by the same people who are botching the economy now.
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Wednesday, February 05, 2003
budget


From Fark's Photoshop contest of alternate covers for the
US budget. Image by TranzorZ, on whose page you'll also find an excellent image called "Dude, Where's My War?"

Where are those anthrax perps, anyway?
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The tragic story of a disappointed Republican poetry fan. In today's
Wall Street Journal (and also in OpinionJournal) Roger Kimball, the managing editor of the New Criterion, describes his exasperation with the pothead adolescents who disturbed the First Lady's plan for a respectable poetry luncheon to which he was invited:
Poetry and Politics Don't
Always Mix: A Case in Point


In the Fray

By ROGER KIMBALL

I was looking forward to lunch at the White House. It was to have been next Wednesday, Feb. 12. Laura Bush had invited a flock of poets and critics to a symposium on "Poetry and the American Voice." I have never been to the White House. I was quite bucked at the prospect.

Then came the news that the symposium had been postponed. Why? Because one of the invitees had decided to replay his adolescence rather than go to the White House.

The offending individual is a chap called Sam Hamill. No, I hadn't heard of him either. An AP wire story described him as "a poet and founder of the highly regarded Copper Canyon Press." The poets I canvassed regard that description as a species of poetic license. Milton said that "fame was the spur" that prompted him to "scorn delights and live laborious days." Here was Mr. Hamill's opportunity for, if not fame, at least temporary notoriety. Who knows when or if it would come again. He was not about to let it slip.

It was the work of a moment for Mr. Hamill to broadcast his anguish by e-mail. Homer sang of the wrath of Achilles; Virgil sang of "arms and the man." Mr. Hamill told us about his tummy. Receiving the invitation, he wrote, "I was overcome by a kind of nausea."

The invitation from the White House was one of those elegant stiffies you like to see dotting the mantelpiece: "Laura Bush requests the pleasure," etc., etc. Clearly, Mr. Hamill is a tender fellow.

He is also given to . . . exaggeration. He had, he said, just read "a lengthy report" about the president's Iraq war plans. According to Mr. Hamill, they called for "saturation bombing that would be like the firebombing of Dresden or Tokyo, killing countless innocent civilians."

Really? Every report I have seen has dilated on the extraordinary efforts of U.S. military planners to minimize civilian casualties by the use of precision weapons, tactics to isolate Saddam from control of his weapons of mass destruction, and so on.

But somehow the headline "U.S. Strives to Remove Brutal Dictator, Liberate the Iraqi Populace, While Keeping Civilian Casualties and Damage to Infrastructure to a Minimum" doesn't play well to the gallery.

What apparently does play well is the feverish, self-righteous rhetoric of protest. According to Mr. Hamill, "the only legitimate response" to the president's "morally bankrupt" plans for Iraq is "to reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam."

Ah, the Vietnam War! The days of pot and poses. What a godsend to infantilizing irresponsibility that era was. Dodge the draft, and you are making a "moral statement." Join a protest march, and you are striking a blow against "U.S. imperialism." Sign a petition, and you are "showing solidarity with the oppressed."

What rubbish.

Mr. Hamill ended his dispatch by calling on "every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country" by signing his petition against the war and contributing a "poem or statement" for an "anthology of protest." Now it was my turn to be "overcome by a kind of nausea."

No sooner did the White House get wind of Mr. Hamill's endeavor than it decided -- quite rightly -- to scrap the event. An aide observed that "While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum."

The 19th-century English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote (and did) a lot of stupid and repellent things. Possibly the stupidest thing he wrote was that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." W.H. Auden was right to heap scorn on that statement. But Shelley's fantasy continues to fire the imaginations of people who mistake adolescence for adulthood, self-infatuation for idealism. For them, too, the distinction between a "literary event" and a "political forum" is moot, to the detriment of both literature and politics.

According to one news report, Mr. Hamill has collected more than 1,500 signatures and "contributions," including literary bijoux from the well-known poets W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Yes, well: There is such a thing as a Coney Island of the mind.

What about the many distinguished poets who believe Sam Hamill is a publicity-craving nonentity who spoiled their chance to celebrate American poetry at the White House? They, of course, have not been mentioned much. "Poets for Responsible U.S. Foreign Policy" is not news. But it's a bigger group than you might think. Mr. Hamill will discover this if (as I hope) Mrs. Bush reconsiders her guest list and reconvenes the event.

Mr. Kimball is managing editor of the New Criterion.

Updated February 5, 2003
The mocking tone does not disguise the fact that nowhere in the article (reproduced in its entirety above, with the original WSJ headline) does Kimball talk about the merits of the dissenting poets' argument or their genuine concerns over human lives that are about to end as a natural consequence of an artificial war. Kimball instead focuses on irrelevancies like "pot and poses," draft-dodging (?), and, inexplicably, 19th-century English poet Shelley.

"What about the many distinguished poets who believe Sam Hamill is a publicity-craving nonentity who spoiled their chance to celebrate American poetry at the White House?" Kimball asks. And they would be... who? How many of these distinguished poets can Kimball name? A Google search on Kimball's bogus phrase "Poets for Responsible U.S. Foreign Policy" turned up nothing, nada, zip. Is Kimball implying that W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are not "distinguished"?

Republicans inhabit a culture of exclusion, keeping out the people who don't mesh with their petty world-view. Don't like the untidiness of others' opinions on matters of life and death? "Reconsider the guest list" is an un-American attitude that ridicules basic American concepts of pluralism, freedom of literary speech, and, most profoundly, democracy itself.

The United States is a country, not a country club. But Roger Kimball is just a caddie on the manicured fairway of Laura Bush's stunted cultural imagination.
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Tuesday, February 04, 2003
Ask your senators to represent you for an Estrada filibuster.
The administration is pushing for a vote on Estrada* that will come soon...anytime between now and Colin Powell's speech before the United Nations tomorrow. Distract the people and they'll not think to protest the packing of uber-conservatives with lifetime appointments onto the nation's courts.

Timing is everything. Do these two things. It will take you TEN MINUTES:

1. Pick up the phone - right now - and dial the toll-free congressional switchboard at 1-800-839-5276. Urge your Senator to FILIBUSTER the Estrada nomination. That's it. You'll be asked your name, address and phone. Simple and to the point.

2. Follow up that call with a visit to
True Majority and send off their fax which calls for an Estrada filibuster. The fax is already written. If you agree with the verbage, just sign your name and move on. If you'd like to craft your own personal message, take the opportunity to do so.

We are talking ten minutes of your time. Ten minutes that can make a difference. Our country cannot afford to tolerate the corporate and religious ideologues being pumped out by this administration onto our courts.

Do you have ten minutes to give your country?
*Read Estrada's background and why he's bad for America and the full post from which I lifted this text at RuminateThis. Do it now.
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Mortgaging your children's wages. An excellent overview of the dangerous Bush budget deficits appears this week in
The Economist. After noting that the federal deficits for the next eight years are projected to total over $2 trillion (not million, not billion, but $2 trrrrrrrrrillion), they add the following bit of irony:
Over a ten-year period, the latest tax cuts are estimated to cost nearly $1.5 trillion, and they come on top of tax cuts passed in the first months of Mr Bush’s presidency which will cost $1.35 trillion over a decade.
The long run of forecast deficits reminds some of the Reagan administration in the 1980s, which lumbered successive governments with deficits that took years—and enormous political effort—to reverse.
George W. Bush's one-year budget deficit of $307 billion for 2003 — the highest in history — will break the previous record set by his father (AP via SFGate.com) before the cost of the Iraq invasion is factored in:
President Bush will project a record $307 billion federal deficit for this year in the budget he sends Congress on Monday, followed by another huge shortfall of $304 billion in 2004, congressional and administration officials said Friday.

[...]

The figures, disclosed by officials speaking on condition of anonymity, include the costs of Bush initiatives like tax cuts for stimulating the economy and extra spending for the military and domestic security. They exclude the price tag of a possible war with Iraq, estimated to be at least tens of billions of dollars.

The biggest shortfall ever was $290 billion in 1992, when Bush's father was president.
The Republican Party is double-crossing the American people with their preposterous self-serving charades. The lone president who managed to balance the budget and deliver a surplus in the last few decades was the same one they tried to impeach.

They are not interested in the financial health of this nation. They are not responsible human beings.

To further enrich the rich and to subsidize the energy and defense industries, they are borrowing against your children's wages — because their children will be living on tax-free dividends and inheritances.
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The editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle remarks that the Columbia space shuttle tragedy has prompted some
unusually polarized letters.
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David Neiwert of Orcinus continues to explore the potential for "
a uniquely American brand of fascism."

An excerpt:
These folks didn’t stop believing that Clinton was the anti-Christ or that he intended to enslave us all under the New World Order. They didn’t stop believing it was appropriate to pre-emptively murder “baby killers” or that Jews secretly conspire to control the world.

No, they’re still with us, but they’re not active much in militias anymore. They’ve been absorbed by the Republican Party.
There's also an update here.
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The Grinch Who Stole America. An online troubadour named Doug Goodkin updates the Dr. Seuss poem of a tiny-hearted greenish fellow who tried to steal the soul of a community:
The Whos down in Whoville liked this country a lot,
But the Grinch in the White House most certainly did not.
He didn't arrive there by the will of the Whos,
But stole the election that he really did lose.
Vowed to "rule from the middle," then installed his regime.
(Did this really happen or is it just a bad dream?) ...
That's just the opening. Now go read the
entire poem. Link via The ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose, who will be added to the permanent links soon.
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Monday, February 03, 2003
Bad judges mean bad judgment. You can't trust a judge who is predisposed to convict and
conceals relevant evidence:
Jurors said pot grower Ed Rosenthal never had a chance with U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer blocking defense attempts to show Rosenthal was growing marijuana for dispensaries and clubs serving seriously ill people. The only evidence left was that Rosenthal was guilty of conspiring to grow more than 100 plants.

Rosenthal might have been acquitted, jurors said, if the judge had allowed the defense to show he was officially working for Oakland under the city's medical marijuana evidence.

"If we'd known he was hired by the city, I would have said this guy didn't deserve any of this," said Pamela Klarkowski, a Petaluma nurse on the jury. "I feel used. It's horrible. We didn't get the whole picture."


"I feel used."Charles Sackett, the jury foreman, said many jurors were frustrated that they faithfully followed the judge's instructions only to learn after the trial that they weren't given any evidence about why Rosenthal was growing the marijuana.

"It's ironic. The public probably knew much more about this case than we did," said Sackett, a Sebastopol landscape contractor.

"The reason some of the jurors have been so angry is because we weren't given all of the evidence. The evidence allowed just tilted the outcome of the case to the point where the outcome was a done deal from the beginning."
This is one of the reasons people hate jury duty so much — they sense that they are mere pawns being manipulated by scheming attorneys and, in this case, a judge with an agenda.
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Mowing the astroturf. Having written about this a number of times before (
"Roboletter III"), we're pleased to see that the Boston Globe is taking responsible steps toward eliminating fake letters to the editor:
Four times since mid-October the Globe has unwittingly published letters that were written not by the local folks who signed them, but by the Republican National Committee. The same letters, all praising President Bush, also appeared verbatim (or nearly so) in papers across the country, each signed by a person in that paper's area.

It's the latest example of what some call ''astroturf'' (as in, fake grass roots), and it has generated a buzz online and in journalism circles.

[...]

The most recent Republican National Committee-authored letter ran in the Globe on Jan. 12 and was signed by Stephanie Johnson of Milton. It praised Bush for ''demonstrating genuine leadership'' on the economy, and detailed his tax relief plan. (Roughly 45 identical, or nearly identical, letters have arrived in the Globe's electronic mailbox - a potential tip-off that it was not an original work.)

Multiple copies were also sent to papers nationwide, and by the time the duplication came to light, dozens of papers had published it. Because the Globe was among the largest, it's been prominently mentioned as one of the papers caught off guard.

But it turns out the Jan. 12 letter was not an isolated incident. Research shows the Globe also ran GOP-authored letters on Jan. 6, Dec. 1, and Oct. 18.

[...]

Certainly the letter-writers I contacted felt they had done nothing wrong. Although Johnson could not be reached, I tracked down five other people who sent the same e-mail. All were surprised to hear that the Globe frowned on form letters.

''It is a convenient way for people who are very busy to participate in the democratic process,'' said one. Another said the form letter she sent expressed ''exactly how I feel, and I appreciate the fact that someone with a better education wrote it for me.'' From a third: ''if I take the time to forward a form letter to anyone, and put my name on it, it should be considered as mine and as good as my signature.''

Fine, except for the nagging matter of readers' trust.

If I am correct in thinking that most readers would answer ''yes'' to the question at the top of this column, doesn't the paper owe them a letters page that is original thought?

Yes, says Editorial Page Editor Renee Loth.

''Readers have a right to assume that what they read on the letters page is not canned public relations material,'' she says. Thus, she has instituted a new policy to confirm original authorship on any letter that could be part of an organized campaign.
Without using the trademark-infringing verb, the Globe goes on to say that they will make a practice of Googling letters that stink of GOP authorship.

And that, as our dear friend Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.
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Today is the deadline for public comment on FCC proposals to relax media ownership restrictions, enabling gigantic media to get even more gigantic. We wrote about this topic previously in
this post.

Here is an overview from the FCC and here is the comment form. [If you use the form to send comments, you will need to fill out the "Proceeding" field. Enter: 02-277].

Thanks to Convergence Chaser for the reminder. See also I Want Media.
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layLeave no GOP thieves behind. Even while the new plutocratic "savings account" scams (see the 2/2/03 post below) are being perpetrated, the last round of Republican thieves is still in motion (
WSJ.com, subscription only):
Enron Creds Sue Ex-CEO Lay, Wife To Recover Over $70 Mln

WASHINGTON -- Creditors of Enron Corp. (ENRNQ) have sued former Enron Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Lay and his wife Linda to recover more than $70 million in transfers, according to court papers obtained.

The committee representing unsecured creditors in Enron's Chapter 11 case said the suit seeks the return of Enron property for the benefit of the company's creditors. The committee filed the suit late Friday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan with the express authority of the bankruptcy court, according to the suit.

Enron filed for Chapter 11 in December 2001, amid an accounting scandal related to off-balance sheet liabilities.

According to the suit, during the year before Enron's Chapter 11 filing Lay allegedly used Enron common stock to repay loans he had received from the company. The committee says "the tendering of Enron's own stock to repay loans taken in cash was not a fair exchange for Enron ."

In addition to the loan transfers, the committee said that the Lays temporarily assigned their interest in two annuity contracts to Enron in exchange for $10 million in cash. The committee said Enron internal documents estimated that the annuities had a collective value of $4.7 million.

Enron didn't receive equivalent value for these transfers, the committee alleges in the suit, which seeks to void and recover the transfers as fraudulent transfers under bankruptcy and state laws.

Updated February 3, 2003 9:10 a.m. EST
jus' stuffI give it stuff worth jus' $4.70, and then order the company I run to give me $10.00 in cash. Multiply the deal by one million, and I am Ken "Kenny Boy" (and Linda "Jus' Stuff") Lay.

Prediction: The plaintiffs will receive nothing. The lawsuit is too late to be effective. Lay has had plenty of time — over a year — to hide and otherwise legally shield the $70 million he stole by deceiving his employees, shareholders and creditors. That money will be protected by international banking and personal bankruptcy laws, because no doubt Lay has had some pricey Texas legal talent working on saving his ass(ets) since the get-go.

Anybody who has credible inside information — please email me at skimble99@yahoo.com. I will publicize it here and protect your identity if you ask.

UPDATE: The Houston Chronicle later published a more detailed article here.
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Sunday, February 02, 2003
"Let's be clear, if progressives ignore this danger, we are missing the greatest class war designed on behalf of the non-working rich in American history. This is a plan to leave the investment class completely untaxed over generations, while leaving all tax burdens on those living by wages alone."

Run, do not walk, to
NathanNewman.org, where you will learn of the new loophole big enough to drive a dynasty through.
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Saturday, February 01, 2003
Tom DeLay won't help needy children until you pay his meals and travel expenses to golf at Key Largo. Tom DeLay's first instincts are to
relax the rules that apply to him (Houston Chronicle):
One of Rep. Tom DeLay's first maneuvers as majority leader was to engineer a change of House ethics rules so charities now may pay for lawmakers' travel and meals whenever they participate in charitable fund-raising events.

The change came as DeLay is organizing a Florida golf tournament that will benefit a project in his district south of Houston.

Particularly upset by the change was Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., chair of the House ethics committee, who said he was "blindsided." He told the Washington Post that his committee's job "is to keep people out of trouble. We don't want to have the impression, nor the reality, that we're trying to weasel around ways to live high at someone else's expense."

Citizen watchdog groups, including Common Cause and Democracy 21, are trying to find a Republican willing to reverse the rule change by introducing a measure to repeal it. But few lawmakers, Democrats included, are willing to take on the powerful majority leader -- known for punishing his adversaries by killing funds for projects in their hometowns.

Meanwhile, philanthropists worry the rule change will turn back the clocks to a time when charities were used as fronts for political activity.
"Charities used as fronts for political activities" — if that doesn't describe the redneck-religious-Republican cabal right here, right now, I don't know what does.
"You want to play on a good golf course on a sunny day, and it's helpful to have a few VIPs to attract support for this great cause," DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said of the new rules change that will apply to DeLay's golf tournament, as well as other charitable fund-raisers.
DeLay's comfort at his "charitable" golf tournament is now even more tax deductible by the lobbyists and favor-curriers who grease the already slimy wheels of American corruption.
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Friday, January 31, 2003
W doll

"This doll stands 12 inches tall and says 17 different phrases," according to the
eBay listing for the TALKING! George W. Bush doll.

Do those 17 phrases include "We'll smoke him out of his cave, and we'll get him eventually"? Osama bin Laden, that is.
.
To our Saudi Arabian friends: "Win American hearts through sustained lobbying," says Neil Bush. Presidential sib,
S&L crook and dynasty caboose Neil Bush advises Saudis on spinning American media like the pros (ArabNews):
JEDDAH, 22 January — Neil Bush, brother of US President George Bush, said here yesterday that the distorted image of the Arab world could be removed through the sustained lobbying of US politicians.

"The US media campaign against the interests of Arabs and Muslims and the American public opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be influenced through a sustained lobbying and PR effort," Bush, chairman and chief executive officer of Ignite! Inc., said in his keynote address on the concluding day of the three-day Jeddah Economic Forum at Hilton Hotel here.

[...]

"Over 3,000 lives were lost through a brutal and horrific act that affected not only Americans but peoples all over the world. I want to express gratitude to all for their support. Without the support of the peace-loving people in this region and all over the world, the US president cannot succeed in his fight against terror," said Bush, who freely interacted with delegates before he began his speech on "The corporate challenges of human resources in a complex global environment."
Q: Fifteen of nineteen 9/11 hijackers had peace-loving Saudi passports?

A: Bomb Iraq!

Here's an interesting postscript:
Later in the day, the focus shifted to the world’s energy markets with Dr. Ray Irani, chairman and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum, saying that he was fundamentally opposed to the Kyoto protocol — the international agreement to place controls on the emission of greenhouse gases.
What a coincidence! In contrast with the rest of the world, the chairman and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum and George W. Bush are in perfect harmony on the Kyoto protocol.

Will these ironies never cease?
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The Happy Tutor provides today's lesson in charitable 501(c)(3) hatred. In response to PLA's (
here and here) and our thoughts on right-wing philanthropic misanthropy, Wealth Bondage offers a weblog call to action, joined with a clarification of the site's striking name, in this post:
Weblogs can help build "social capital" and solidarity among those whose interests are not represented in the hard right's synthesis of wealth, media, politics, and philanthropy. They call it "freedom, and justice." I call it wealth bondage, the ideology of power exercised ruthlessly from the top down, inflicted upon those who apparently love it.
Overall, the site Wealth Bondage explicitly ties the right wing's ideology, strategy and tactics to a power-lust obsessed with its own sadomasochistic fulfillment.

And if there's any doubt that this obsession is sexual, take a peek at the trembling awe of Peggy Noonan at the feet of her Superman:
[...] In the first, domestic part of the [State of the Union] speech he was serious and contained, but in the second part of the speech, on Iraq, there was a shift. His voice seemed lower and there seemed a kind of full head-heart engagement in his grave but optimistic message. For a moment I though[t] of earnest Clark Kent moving, at the moment of maximum danger, to shed his suit, tear open his shirt and reveal the big "S" on his chest.

[...]

I felt at the end of the speech not roused but moved, and it took me a while to figure out why. It was gratitude.

[...]

A steady hand on the helm in high seas, a knowledge of where we must go and why, a resolve to achieve safe harbor. More and more this presidency is feeling like a gift.
All this Lois Lane groupie-talk is difficult to stomach. But as ludicrous as the American Leni Riefenstahl can be, I have to agree with Peggy Noonan's last statement.

"Gift" is the German word for "poison" and also means "malice" or "spite." This presidency is indeed feeling very much like a poisonous dose of spite.
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Laura Bush to poets: "Write pretty, or shut up!" Art, like Republican First Ladies, should be beauteous and noncontroversial, says Laura Bush (
New York Times):
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 — Laura Bush has postponed a White House symposium on the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman after some of the poets invited said they hoped to use the event to protest American military action in Iraq.

Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady's press secretary, said the event, originally planned for Feb. 12, had been designed to celebrate the written word. "While Mrs. Bush respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions," Ms. Rodriguez said today, "she, too, has opinions, and believes that it would be inappropriate to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum."

The poetry symposium, planned as part of a series of White House literary events showcasing American literature, began to attract attention as an opportunity for an anti-war protest. On Sunday, Sam Hamill, a poet and founder of Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend, Wash., sent an e-mail message to 50 friends and colleagues asking them to send him anti-war poems or statements of protest action in Iraq. Mr. Hamill, the author of 40 books of poetry, had been invited to the symposium by Mrs. Bush.

In his message, Mr. Hamill said he felt "overcome by a kind of nausea" as he read his White House invitation, and decided the only response would be to reconstitute a "Poets Against the War Movement." Mr. Hamill said that he had not planned to attend the White House event himself but that the submitted poems and statements would be compiled into an antiwar anthology to be presented to Mrs. Bush on Feb. 12.

By Wednesday, Mr. Hamill said he had received 1,500 responses, and had to create a Web site, which he named poetsagainstthewar.org, to handle the e-mail messages that were overloading his system.
Echoing inside the empty chamber of Laura's head: Those gosh-darn poets are ruining this great country of ours! You never know where the next threats to my husband's my opinions might originate. Poets should celebrate the written word — as long it agrees with my husband me. Any emails to the contrary will be dealt with.

"Noelia, get me Ashcroft on the line. After all, I have opinions too," Laura mutters. "And where's my vodka tonic."

UPDATE: The Boston Globe refreshes our memory as to how poets felt about the previous administration of Bill Clinton:
''We had an event in which President and Mrs. Clinton joined kids from Washington public schools, disabled war veterans, former poets laureate Rita Dove and Robert Hass, and we read poems by Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson. But that was at a time when a lot of poets were happy to be supporting the president, because they thought he was being attacked unfairly.'' [former poet laureate Robert Pinsky]
Note that Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson were two of the same poets to be feted by the cowardly Laura. Meanwhile, her husband is still struggling with the vocabulary requirements of "The Big Book of Limericks."
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Wednesday, January 29, 2003
I will be out of town Thursday, so no posts.

Meanwhile, for any legal geniuses who happen to read this, please figure out how to help secure the inheritance of Jack Kerouac's closest living relative, who is
homeless.
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Dwight Meredith at PLA deserves some kind of vigilance award for his detailed post on how a group called the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) is staging a strategic legal battle over lawyer's trust accounts to
deny legal aid to poor people. In the WLF's own words:
We are finally in a position we've fought more than a decade to reach -- a position where we can deal a death blow to the single most important source of income for radical legal groups all across the country," wrote WLF Chairman Daniel Popeo. Among the foundation's adversaries in the litigation, Popeo continues, are "groups dedicated to the homeless, to minorities, to gay and lesbian causes, and any other group that has drawn money from hard-working Americans like you and me to support its radical cause!
A death blow to the homeless! Yet another example of compassionate conservatism in action.

The topic of lawyer's trust accounts undoubtedly makes people's eyes glaze, but it contains real power to change the country. Dwight cuts through the clutter to expose the WLF's radical and hateful agenda. Thinking people, like the readers of this blog and others like it, should go read Dwight's post.

Postscript. More about the mysterious Popeo: Here's a 1988 letter from Daniel Popeo to Philip Morris, begging for $10,000 to support the WLF's continuing efforts in support of tobacco ads (scroll down).

Some of the WLF's more recent handouts came from Exxon Mobil, Schering-Plough, Kimberly-Clark, Chase Manhattan, Bristol-Myers Squibb, General Mills, 3M, and Caterpillar.

The WLF also opposed any regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, arguing in 1999 that the "EPA has no authority under Section 202 of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles or any other source, including utilities. The Working Group also argues that even if EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, there is no sound scientific basis for doing so...." according to this press release.

Popeo is also mentioned in Sidney Blumenthal's 1986 book, The Rise of the Counter Establishment, as part of a who's who of the extreme right:
Benchmark magazine, for instance, which deals with legal issues, is published by the Center for Judicial Studies, a think tank directed by James McClellan, a former aide to New Right Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. The Benchmark book review editor is Gary McDowell, a Justice Department public affairs aide who has castigated the Supreme Court for making the states adhere to the constitutional stipulations on religion, speech, and other rights. Senior editor Grover Rees oversaw judicial selection at the Justice Department, and was then appointed a federal judge. Another senior editor, William Kristol, denouncer of the "judicial activists," is the special assistant to Secretary of Education William Bennett. And contributor Daniel Popeo is the head of the Washington Legal Foundation, which files briefs for New Right causes.
Google "Daniel Popeo" and see just how profoundly unfriendly this man is to his fellow citizens, the environment, and just about anything else that doesn't come on the heels of a fat corporate donation for his radical ideology.

Daniel Popeo, who so despises the homeless, is himself just a beggar.
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Crimes of compassion. How long will it be before the country wakes up and realizes that the "compassionate conservatism" in the AIDS in Africa rhetoric of last night's State of the Union speech will turn out to be federally funded Christian missionaries sent to preach abstinence to the heathen?

How much of that supposed $15 billion will be spent not on antiviral drugs and condoms for Africans, but on packs of pious Caucasians from Utah and the deep South? How will he "prevent" 7 million cases of HIV infection without speaking about sex, as his religious constituents have forbidden?

The speechwriting was often stunning in its projection of the opposite of what was being said. Did you get the impression that W was going to get tough on HMOs and insurers? Wrong. He proposed a health plan for CEOs of health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. We're back to yet another form of privatization, and the private enrichment of corporate interests versus the common good. From the
New York Times (last paragraph):
Representative Pete Stark of California, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, said: "It is clear that President Bush intends to privatize Medicare. He's cleverly using the promise of a meager drug benefit as a bribe to push Medicare beneficiaries into second-rate, low-quality health plans, putting seniors at the mercy of health maintenance organizations and the big drug companies."
Not enough can be said about the abject irresponsibility of the lies told about the "stimulus package" which preferentially benefits the wealthiest 1% US households. Nancy Pelosi's on-camera disapproval recognized that W's statement — "This tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes" — is a lie that shows utter contempt for working people who pay taxes on wages, not dividends.

The federal deficit is out of control, thanks to the Bush enrich-the-rich giveaway. Each new forecast increases the amount of money squandered on lavish financial gifts to the wealthy, we'll-prove-it-real-soon evidence of threats from Iraq, and highly politicized Christian initiatives. From CNN:
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Congressional Budget Office increased its forecast for U.S. government deficits of $199 billion this year and $145 billion in 2004, affirming a bleak fiscal outlook already fueling battles over taxes and spending in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election.

In August, the CBO anticipated a deficit of $145 billion in 2003 and $111 in 2004.

In a report set for release later Wednesday, the CBO also predicted the 10-year U.S. cumulative budget surplus will rise slightly to $1.3 trillion from the $1 trillion it last forecast. As recently as 2001, the CBO saw 10-year surpluses of over $5.6 trillion. A CBO spokeswoman confirmed the contents of the report to CNNfn Wednesday.

Democrats generally blame President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut package in 2001 for the steep slide in the U.S. fiscal position and say the $674 billion in new tax cuts he recently proposed will only dig the deficit hole deeper.

Republicans counter that tax cuts, coupled with strict government spending restraint, will help the sluggish economy grow and, ultimately, move the budget back toward balance.
In two years, a move from $5.6 trillion in surplus to $1.3 trillion in surplus. Where did the missing $4,300,000,000,000.00 go? Market ruptures and wealth disappearance due to corporate fraud by the likes of key campaign contributor Ken "Kenny Boy" Lay? Tax cuts for the families — and the heirs — of Bill Gates and George H. W. Bush? War plans? All of the above.

The compassion in W's conservatism is directed toward a small and tight-knit corporate elite, who plan to use American citizens' lives to build its wealth and secure its borders, and then burn and bulldoze their bodies into mass graves once they have served their noble purpose.

How compassionate is that?

UPDATE: The best sentence-by-sentence dissection of the entire speech was written by David Ehrenstein. (Via Roger Ailes.)
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Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Tonight, when W tries to tell us how he's going to stimulate the economy, remember this.

DJIA 1993-2003

Compare the slow growth of Clinton's first two years — the first time the World Trade Center was attacked — with W's two-year record of out-of-control volatility. Market behavior like this is based on uncertainty and "lack of visibility," thanks to a deficit-welcoming warmaking policy and a friendly attitude toward corporate misbehavior. (We took the liberty of drawing the trend lines over actual market data.)


montgomery burnsIt's very clear who is hurt by the market damage wrought by Bush's policies: working people, union members, legal immigrants, women, children, foreign allies, retirees, seniors, people with IRA or 401(k) savings, small investors, entrepreneurs and small businesses. And it's also clear who benefits: the energy industry, the defense industry, the Bush family, politically expedient CEO cronies, the religious right, and the real thrust of the "stimulus package": making the
richest 1% of US households even richer.

This is a White House of, by and for the wealthy.

Polls show that disbelief in White House propaganda is gaining ground. The state of the union is disunited.
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"The General Accounting Office, investigative arm of Congress, said it had postponed a study of investment bank involvement in recent corporate scandals until mid-March. The study had been expected this week." Via
FindLaw. [Note: The official GAO news site hasn't updated in more than two weeks.]

It's easier to give this sort of revelation a public burial while the media horse is blinkered with a war going on. So we wait.
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marthaA Tale of Two Insiders. Jeffrey Toobin profiles
Martha Stewart in The New Yorker, focusing on the ImClone insider trading scandal that has engulfed her life over the last year.

To refresh your memory, here is Toobin's overview:
On December 26, 2001, Stewart's old friend Samuel Waksal, the chief executive of ImClone, learned that the Food and Drug Administration was going to reject the company's highly touted cancer drug, Erbitux. Knowing that the stock would plunge when this news became public, Waksal immediately tried to sell tens of thousands of shares of ImClone and encouraged his father and daughter to sell, too. For these actions, Waksal has pleaded guilty to insider trading, among other crimes, and faces as much as twelve years in prison when he is sentenced, in March. On December 27th, Stewart sold all of her stock in ImClone—3,928 shares, at fifty-eight dollars a share—grossing about two hundred and twenty-eight thousand dollars. The claim is that Stewart did so because she had an illegal tip.
Given her celebrity status as a purveyor of classy lifestyle porn, she was an easy mark and even her talk show host friends couldn't resist ripping into her during their monologues. But through the thicket of endless Martha-in-prison jokes, rays of light did shine:
Stewart looked cheerier when she recalled the support she's received—from Hillary Clinton, for one. "Look at her ups and downs," she said. "And she was one of the first people to call me after the article"—announcing the investigation—"and very nicely say, 'You know, you just have to hang in there. It's the process.' " Stewart continued, "First Lady, knocked to death and now senator. You know, a very important person, still. Because she's smart, she's worthy, she's great. You know, that's what I hope I'll be thought of as."
It's no secret that Stewart is a Democrat. It's also no secret, as Toobin writes, that the scandal has cost her in the vicinity of $400 million in stock losses as well as legal fees and lost business opportunities — the actual transaction cost of her $228,000 ImClone "insider" trade. (That she tried to sell her entire ImClone stake to Bristol-Myers two months earlier is rarely mentioned, although Toobin does.)

On the other hand, we have Thomas White, Secretary of the Army. This former Enron officer has a much clearer-cut case of insider trading than, well, just about anybody. If you want a summary of White's errors of judgment, here's a page courtesy of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Be sure to view the highly revealing chart.

With all this information floating free of useful context, we decided to look at Martha Stewart's and Thomas White's alleged insider trades side by side, to see what we could infer about the treatment each case is receiving with respect to public discourse:

Insider Trades: US Military Leader vs. Ex-Caterer























































  Thomas White Martha Stewart
Position Secretary of the Army CEO
Martha Stewart Omnimedia
Former Position Vice Chair
Enron Energy Services
Caterer
Insider Affiliation Enron Imclone
(via friend/CEO Waksal)
Insider Trades (Alleged) 405,710
shares
3,928
shares
Transaction Value $12,120,827 $228,000
Number of Insider Phone Calls and Meetings 81 3
Party Affiliation Republican Democrat
Google Search String "thomas white" enron "martha stewart" imclone
Total Google Hits (1/27/03) 4,660 11,200
Smoke & Mirrors Index* $2,601 $20

*The Smoke & Mirrors Index is Skimble's measure of ill-gotten money divided by Google hits.

If I stole $1,000 and got 10 Google hits, my Smoke & Mirrors Index would be 100, equal to $100 per Google hit. If you stole $100 and got 20 Google hits, your Smoke & Mirrors Index would be 5, or $5 per Google hit. I stole more money than you but fewer people are talking about it, so the smoke and mirrors are in my favor — distracting the world from my self-enriching crime.

Bad guys score high; (relatively) good guys score low.

In other words, the higher someone's Smoke & Mirrors Index, the more they are getting away with. The less scrutiny there is about great financial crimes, the higher the S&M Index. The more scrutiny there is about smaller crimes, the lower the S&M index.


t whiteUsing the Google-based logic of the S&M Index, we see that discourse about Martha Stewart is weighted more than one hundred and thirty times over discourse about Thomas White, relative to the financial value of their alleged insider trades. Once again, disproportionate treatment of administration insiders rules the day.

Could this have anything to do with media support for an American military leader at the advent of a propagandistic war?

Could this have anything to do with keeping the stink of Enron off the administration?

Could this have anything to do with wanting to take down a strong Democratic woman?

Could this have anything to do with the general bias and/or cluelessness of the American mainstream press?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
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At least the last five days of posts at
Orcinus are worth your time. Go.
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Monday, January 27, 2003
Another lesson in free market economics, from jilted Enron suitor Dynegy. We've got a gusher! The slippery stuff keeps pouring out of Houston (
Houston Chronicle):
A former Dynegy trader has been indicted on federal charges of reporting bogus data to a publication that puts out a benchmark widely used to set natural gas prices.

Michelle Marie Valencia, 32, who was recently fired by Dynegy, was arrested by FBI agents this morning [1/27/03] at her Houston home.

[...]

The indictment cites three separate times -- November 2000, January 2001 and February 2001 -- that Valencia allegedly fabricated natural gas trades for submission to a trade publication called Inside FERC's Gas Market Report.

All told, the indictment alleges, she made up 43 natural gas trades. Those trades were said to have been done in the western United States, including New Mexico and California.

[...]

When she was called before U.S. Magistrate Calvin Botley, her hands were handcuffed to a thick chain that wrapped around her waist.

Outside the courtroom, Valencia's attorney, Chris Flood, said his client was the "victim of a political prosecution by the current administration trying to do something to rid itself of the stain they have from the energy industry."
Stains, stains, everywhere stains. There is an unintentional stain theme in today's posts. Go figure. More:
"Our markets are the bedrock of the U.S. economy," [U.S. Attorney Michael] Shelby said this morning.

"The market works only when there is a free flow of truthful information among its members and we intend to hold criminally accountable any person who attempts to manipulate the market by knowingly disseminating false information."

Inside FERC's is one of several publications that compile so-called indexes, which are used as benchmarks to price billions of dollars in natural gas contracts in this country.

Manipulating indexes can skew the prices consumers ultimately pay for their natural gas or electricity. But because of the energy market's complexity, it's difficult, if not impossible, to quantify potential consumer harm.
The consumer harm may be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, but the plunder is not. One measure might be the net worths of energy markets geniuses Lay and Skilling and Fastow of Enron and others of their River Oaks McMansion class. The value, if not the location, of those assets can be calculated with considerable precision.

In November 2002 we wrote about Dynegy and the travails of whistleblower Ted Beatty, who reported Dynegy's bogus round-trip trades, here. And over here is the case against the Dynegy 401(k) plan, yet another breach of duty by yet another upper management cabal in yet another Texas energy company.
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Is Al Sharpton another Ralph Nader, willing to give away the table in 2004 just so he can leave his personal stain on the tablecloth?

This
article by Garance Franke-Ruta in The American Prospect certainly put that idea into my head.

Similarly, under the heading "Eternal Political Mysteries," Media Whores Online today asks the question: "What is it that deludes otherwise intelligent men like Al Sharpton, Ralph Nader and Gary Hart into believing they could possibly be elected president?"

They don't believe it. It's the stainmaking that interests them.
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Friday, January 24, 2003
Don't be surprised if Walgreens —
"The Pharmacy America Trusts®" — leads you out of the door in handcuffs:
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - A woman with a brain tumor filed a lawsuit against Walgreens Advance Care Inc., saying when she arrived to pick up her painkiller prescription one day, a pharmacist had her arrested.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court, Shannon O'Brien, 35, said she went to the drive-up window at a Walgreen Drug Store two blocks from her home last July 7. The pharmacist on duty thought she had faked her Percocet prescription and called police, the lawsuit stated.

"I was in hysterics - crying, very upset and very embarrassed," O'Brien told The Associated Press on Thursday. "They could have checked my records. I've had the same medicine every month."

[...]

O'Brien, who was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1994, said she told the officer who handcuffed her that he could call her doctor or her nurse to verify the prescription.

"I told him I had brain cancer, and I had a medical information card inside my wallet," she said. "It didn't matter to him. He didn't believe anything I was telling him."
American life gets more humiliating by the day. Story at FindLaw.
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The SEC pulls back the mutual fund industry's veil of secrecy. One of the themes of this blog is exposure of the deception of small investors, so we must nod to what will undoubtedly be a lost story in the hurricane of pre-war propaganda (from
The New York Times):
The S.E.C. also approved rules requiring mutual funds to disclose how they vote investors' shares on corporate issues, a change that was criticized by mutual fund executives but widely praised by shareholder advocates.

[…]

Opponents of the disclosure rule warned that it would cost investors money while yielding little benefit. Supporters of disclosure noted that the new rule would not require mutual funds to send additional information to investors, but only to make it available.

"What they are really worried about is the end of all their conflicts of interest," Tim Grant, president of Pax World Funds, said on a conference call with reporters yesterday. Pax is a mutual fund company that does not invest in companies that produce harmful products or by-products or that have interests it considers socially unacceptable.
It is somewhat amazing to realize that, in all this time, mutual fund shareholders have not had any access to how their hundreds of billions of dollars in shares were voted. The power of those votes was held behind closed doors at the largest mutual fund companies. That power, and its political leverage, can now begin to be examined by the people who rightfully own it.

Increased disclosure is a step in the right direction. This is a noteworthy day at the SEC.
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Underappreciated Blog of the Day. The first in an occasional series.

First Draft by Tim Porter consists of thoughtful looks at big media, journalism, readership, and the relevance of it all.

Go.
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As I mentioned before, "The more I learn about Venezuela, the less I realize I know."

Bloggy steers us to a valuable post about Venezuela, courtesy of jameswagner.com.
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"The average Democratic Senator represents about 6.5 million people, while the average Republican Senator represents just over 5 million people."

Tapped and its readers do the math. (Scroll to the end of the post.)

Wouldn't it be interesting to know the difference in aggregate household income and net worth between the regions served by Democratic and Republican senators?
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McTort Reform. This letter appeared in The Wall Street Journal:
In regard to yesterday's editorial "Left Coast Justice": District Judge Robert Sweet's immediate dismissal of the frivolous lawsuit against McDonald's for selling Big Macs, etc., is an example of how to fix the tort system with several strokes of the pen. The fundamental problem of large recoveries in meritless litigations requires not legislation but a firm commitment to choosing judges who will, at the earliest possible stage, screen out of the system such claims. The fundamental requirements for excellence in judging are evident: intelligence, industriousness and common sense. Cases such as those brought against McDonald's (including the hot coffee case) would never pass the bar of dismissal.

Steven J. Stein
Greenwich, Conn.

Updated January 24, 2003
Emphasis added. The boldfaced sentence above describes the root of the medical malpractice problem (see
this earlier post).

The professional wrangling between greedy lawyers and sarcastic physicians sidesteps the basic objective: proportional judgments in favor of actual victims. Determinations of "proportional" and "actual" should be screened by the courts, not the legislation. Caps, especially ludicrously low ones, are a distraction from the responsibility of judges and juries to make sense of damages and their compensation.
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strikeflag

Lisa English of RuminateThis clued me into Vello Vannak's idea about a
"Sick of the War" day — a day on which we boycotted our regular business activities and just stayed home.

With W spending the next few days learning his lines for the State of the Union speech Tuesday, I thought we should tie the two thoughts together. I submit, for your consideration, the above Strike of the Union flag.

If you agree that the seeming inevitability of this war is sickening, copy the Strike of the Union flag from this page and email it to your friends or post it on your own blog. And stay home on Tuesday. Live your life instead of the administration's agenda.

Resist the scare tactics of meaningless terror alerts and unconscionable vagueness about the real threats to this country. The administration has already said that anyone who disagrees with it is a traitor. Apparently we aren't disagreeing forcefully enough.

The lousy Bush economy has made a dent in all our lives. Let's return the favor by not working on Tuesday and simultaneously showing our profound disapproval of his unilateral war plans.
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Thursday, January 23, 2003
"The President considers this nation to be at war," a White House source says, "and, as such, considers any opposition to his policies to be no less than
an act of treason."

Via Orcinus.
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"Isn't civilization what happens when people stop behaving as if they're trapped in a ruthless Darwinian struggle and start thinking about communities and shared futures? America as a gated community won't work, because not even the world's sole superpower can build walls high enough to shield itself from the intertwined realities of the 21st century."
Brian Eno in Time Magazine.
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ann cWho's your favorite
Republican BABE of the Week?
PAST WINNERS: Bo Derek, Ann Coulter [shown], Laura Ingraham, Shannen Doherty, Patricia Heaton, Debbie Schlussel, Kim Alexis, Patriot Girl, Ellie Michaels, Betsy Hart, Lori Waters, Katherine Harris, Sara Evans, Rachel Marsden, Kristen Andersen, Kim Seraphin, Rachel Alexander, Michelle Malkin, Lauren Bush*, Debbie Brannigan, Ashley Judd, Cheryl Ladd, Emma Caulfield, Emily Pataki, Carol Gargaro, Kathy Ireland, Heather Locklear, Martina McBride, Condi Rice, Monica Crowley, India Allen, and Darcy Olsen.
This site is a treasure trove of tears-in-your-eyes hilarity. Physicists take note: there really is a parallel universe, and it's the Republican culture, or lack thereof.

Where else can you gawk at heaving GOP cleavage and read breathless profiles about the Goldwater and Cato Institutes?

Remember, these are the same über-partisan ladies who want to give lucky small businessmen a tax deductible Hummer.

*Daughter of Silverado S&L beneficiary and Florida educational software "entrepreneur" Neil Bush; niece of W and co-conspirator Jeb.
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"This is the worst president ever," she said. "He is the worst president in all of American history."

She is
Helen Thomas, she is talking about George W. Bush, and she has a right to compare because she has known eight presidents.

Link via Media Whores Online.
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Get on your knees and pray to the Lord for a new administration. Looks like a lot more of your money is headed toward Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and their ilk (
The New York Times):
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 — The Bush administration plans to allow religious groups for the first time to use federal housing money to help build centers where religious worship is held, as long as part of the building is also used for social services.

The policy shift, which was made in a rule that the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed this month, significantly expands the administration's contentious religion-based initiative.

The White House says it wants to end discrimination against religious groups. Opponents say the policy breaches the separation of church and state.

Current regulations generally prohibit religious groups from using federal housing and community development grants, which totaled $7.7 billion last year, to build or rehabilitate structures. The new rules, still subject to final approval by housing officials, allow the use of federal aid to acquire, rehabilitate or build centers used for religious and specifically approved nonreligious activities, so long as no federal money is used for the religious section.

A church could erect a building using federal money to create a shelter for the homeless in one part and private money to create a sanctuary in another part, officials said. A synagogue could use a grant to rehabilitate part of its building for a counseling center for AIDS patients or the poor. A Muslim group could apply for federal money to upgrade the lighting and equipment in a room in its mosque to allow it to be used as an counseling center for single parents.

[…]

"This is probably the most clearly unconstitutional aspect of the White House's faith-based initiative that we've seen up to this point," said Christopher Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "What this does is take federal money that is serving the neediest of the needy in our society and diverts it to the bricks-and-mortar construction of churches and sanctuaries and other places of worship."

[…]

The public has until March 7 to comment before the department is scheduled to issue its final approval.
Theoretically, Saudis could set up a mosque in Florida with a federally-funded flight school and counseling center attached to it. Imagine the convenience!

Link via TBOGG.
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Still more astroturfing from
No More Mister Nice Blog and Failure Is Impossible.
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The more I learn about Venezuela, the less I realize I know.

Today is
Keep Democracy Alive Day in Venezuela, so mark your calendar.
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Wednesday, January 22, 2003
The archive and all internal links were down all day today.

They appear to be fine now. Sorry for the inconvenience.
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Skimble's first porn link. Hustler magazine, which we only read for the articles, interviews
Greg Palast. Many topics are covered, such as the 2000 election and its racist tactics:
And again, you gotta go back to the fact, it's not everybody's ballot that was voided. The blacker the ballot, the higher the chances it will not be counted, and that was the evil of it. That's the modern way: Use computers and mechanisms to steal elections, and if you know the race of a voter, you know the color of their vote.
Found at the ever-dazzling Sideshow.
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Greatest Hits · Alternatives to First Command Financial Planning · First Command, last resort, Part 3 · Part 2 · Part 1 · Stealing $50K from a widow: Wells Real Estate · Leo Wells, REITs and divine wealth · Sex-crazed Red State teenagers · What I hate: a manifesto · Spawn of Darleen Druyun · All-American high school sex party · Why is Ken Lay smiling? · Poppy's Enron birthday party · The Saudi money laundry and the president's uncle · The sentence of Enron's John Forney · The holiness of Neil Bush's marriage · The Silence of Cheney: a poem · South Park Christians · Capitalist against Bush: Warren Buffett · Fastow childen vs. Enron children · Give your prescription money to your old boss · Neil Bush, hard-working matchmaker · Republicans against fetuses and pregnant women · Emboldened Ken Lay · Faith-based jails · Please die for me so I can skip your funeral · A brief illustrated history of the Republican Party · Nancy Victory · Soldiers become accountants · Beware the Merrill Lynch mob · Darleen Druyun's $5.7 billion surprise · First responder funding · Hoovering the country · First Command fifty percent load · Ken Lay and the Atkins diet · Halliburton WMD · Leave no CEO behind · August in Crawford · Elaine Pagels · Profitable slave labor at Halliburton · Tom Hanks + Mujahideen · Sharon & Neilsie Bush · One weekend a month, or eternity · Is the US pumping Iraqi oil to Kuwait? · Cheney's war · Seth Glickenhaus: Capitalist against Bush · Martha's blow job · Mark Belnick: Tyco Catholic nut · Cheney's deferred Halliburton compensation · Jeb sucks sugar cane · Poindexter & LifeLog · American Family Association panic · Riley Bechtel and the crony economy · The Book of Sharon (Bush) · The Art of Enron · Plunder convention · Waiting in Kuwait: Jay Garner · What's an Army private worth? · Barbara Bodine, Queen of Baghdad · Sneaky bastards at Halliburton · Golf course and barbecue military strategy · Enron at large · Recent astroturf · Cracker Chic 2 · No business like war business · Big Brother · Martha Stewart vs. Thomas White · Roger Kimball, disappointed Republican poetry fan · Cheney, Lay, Afghanistan · Terry Lynn Barton, crimes of burning · Feasting at the Cheney trough · Who would Jesus indict? · Return of the Carlyle Group · Duct tape is for little people · GOP and bad medicine · Sears Tower vs Mt Rushmore · Scared Christians · Crooked playing field · John O'Neill: The man who knew · Back to the top






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