culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Tuesday, February 25, 2003
The Better Rhetor gives a pithy lesson in propaganda, analyzing Weekly Standard magazine covers as a cumulative visual argument for an inevitable war. Simple and ingenious.
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Bong! You're dead. Now Ashcroft's misnamed Department of Justice is
stealing the websites of people who do not sell drugs or kiddie porn. Link via TalkLeft, who says: "This takes asset forfeiture to a new and very chilling level."

Weren't these the same people who said government was too big, too invasive?

If you care about destruction of privacy and confiscation of private property, it's time to get busy with NORML and the increasingly crucial ACLU.

Much as they'd like to, Ashcroft and his theocratic thugs can't rule the entire world. There's always Amsterdam.
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Seymour Hersh and his recent New Yorker reports on Pakistan and North Korea have been extraordinarily valuable in decoding the world scene for those of us trying to keep track. This profile page by Bill Moyers' show NOW includes references to his work on Kissinger and Cambodia, My Lai, Korean Flight 007, and the other September 11, the CIA-supported military coup in Chile in 1973.
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Monday, February 24, 2003
Seeing the Forest and RuminateThis have all the latest developments on the voting machine mysteries.
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If it's good for British teenagers, will someone please tell Kenneth Starr that it's good for American presidents?

"Government urges under-16s to experiment with oral sex"

Via The Morning News.
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The Happy Tutor at Wealth Bondage has created a discussion thread called
Philanthropy, Democracy, and Weblogs.

Strategic philanthropy, if you're just tuning in, is a technique used quite successfully by the right wing to communicate ideology, dominate media, influence law, shape policy, and generally make the mess we’re in right now. Here are resources to get you caught up.

The Happy Tutor wants to spur a new movement that synthesizes the power of philantropy, the importance of democracy, and the interactivity of blogging:
My hope is to find a convener for a Summit or Symposium among key players, including bloggers, on this topic. The upshot would not just be more white papers by and for an intellectual elite, but a social movement, spawned on the web, encouraged by engaged philanthropists, and spilling into the streets, and from there to Capitol Hill through representatives not only elected by us, but representing us.... In any case, please send me any links you think are appropriate, either to sites, or postings. I will do my best to draw the issues to the attention to those in established philanthropy who might convene such a Summit -- not behind closed doors, but made public and transparent though by blogs. If it starts with concerned citizens on the web, why not here, why not now?
The Symposium is a wonderful idea. My guess is that it will be relatively easy to get like-minded people who are already blogging to participate. The trick is to involve the next, larger circle of people.

I worry that blogging per se may not be the involvement device that will capture the imagination of non-bloggers (yet). And since we can only assume that the vast majority of philanthropists, their advisors, related institutions, and the objects of their philanthropy are not already blogging, we will need a good involvement device to capture interactions with these fine folks.

But if blogging cannot do the trick, commenting might. Blog administration can be a bother, but commenting is fast and ridiculously easy.

For instance, the Symposium mentioned above could have its own sympo-blog moderated by the presenters, with pre-loaded posts that parallel their presentations, published concurrent with the live talks. With the right setup, commenting by live and virtual attendees could occur in near-real time while the presentation is happening.

There could also be loose pre-defined topics and free-for-all open thread commenting, as you can see every day at The Daily Kos, a good example.

Each attendee could be offered an optional, personal sympo-blog of his or her own upon registration. The Symposium's über-sympo-blog would sport a blogroll of all attendee blogs. And external blogs could also be blogrolled before and after the Symposium by request or invitation.
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Last year the return of the S&P 500 was –22%. The Carlyle Group's return was +29%. This week's Barron's contains an article profiling
The Carlyle Group (subscription required), the mysterious friend of the Bushes, the bin Ladens, and conspiracy theorists everywhere:
The Carlyle Group, based in Washington, is best known for its brass. Its boardroom is stuffed with formers: former presidents, former cabinet secretaries and former regulatory commissioners.

Former Reagan defense chief Frank Carlucci is chairman emeritus. He recently was replaced as chairman by Lou Gerstner, formerly the chairman of IBM. Former British Prime Minister John Major is chairman of Carlyle Europe; and George Bush Sr., the former president, is a senior adviser. James A. Baker, a former Treasury Secretary, is senior counsel. Arthur Levitt, the former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman under President Clinton, recently became a managing director.

The firm, which started out in 1987 with just $5 million under management, now has close to $14 billion. It boasts 550 clients worldwide, including large pension funds such as Calpers and big schools such as the University of Texas. The company focuses on management-led buyouts but also invests in real estate, new ventures and other assets. Its average annual return on investment is 29% across its corporate funds and 26% across its real-estate funds.
That's a fifty-one-percentage-point spread between the CEO class and the worker bees. Meanwhile, the working stiffs of the USA have their money trapped in 401(k)s hobbled by executives (Enron, Dynegy, etc.) who shirk their fiduciary duties and defraud their employees.

Any number with a plus sign in front of it isn't a bad average annual return these days (i.e., since the advent of the George W. Bush administration). A cynic might say that an investment return in the high twenties might even be worth killing for. (Figuratively, we can only hope.) Come hell or high water, the Republican class warriors get their lucre.

The title of the article, "Well-Connected," is an understatement. Or perhaps it is actually a misunderstatement.
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Bush "stimulus" plan supported by imaginary economists. Last Thursday's
show-and-tell with Georgian stage prop Zell Miller was designed to provide evidence of the wisdom of the Republican plan for the American economy:
President Bush said on Thursday failure to pass his $695 billion tax cut plan could make the economy grow more slowly than expected.

"If Congress doesn't act there is a risk we won't have economic vitality," Bush said as he pitched his plan at a suburban Atlanta high school.

He cited a recent growth forecast by blue chip economists, which he said was contingent on the tax cut being passed this year. The economy, he said, needed "good positive legislation that will turn the recovery into lasting prosperity."
Too bad that the recent growth forecast by blue chip economists doesn't exist:
There was only one problem with President George W. Bush's claim Thursday that the nation's top economists forecast substantial economic growth if Congress passed the president's tax cut: The forecast with that conclusion doesn't exist.

Bush and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer went out of their way Thursday to cite a new survey by "Blue-Chip economists" that the economy would grow 3.3 percent this year if the president's tax cut proposal becomes law.

That was news to the editor who assembles the economic forecast. "I don't know what he was citing," said Randell E. Moore, editor of the monthly Blue Chip Economic Forecast, a newsletter that surveys 53 of the nation's top economists each month.

"I was a little upset," said Moore, who said he complained to the White House. "It sounded like the Blue Chip Economic Forecast had endorsed the president's plan. That's simply not the case."
Fantasy or fraud? What difference does it make?
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Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review is more than a little pissed off because the so-called liberal Washington Post has already put itself on the early sign-up sheet for
Jeb 2008.
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Sunday, February 23, 2003
Zealots at the crossroads of business, religion and politics. Ed Vulliamy in
The Observer profiles Bush stage managers Karl Rove and Paul Wolfowitz, zealots who believe war will mean respect for America from the Islamic world:
...But Rove's genius would show later, on Bush senior's election to the White House in 1988, when he co-opted the right-wing Christian Coalition — wary of Bush's lack of theocratic stridency — into the family camp.

Conservative Southern Protestantism was a constituency Bush Jr befriended and kept all the way to Washington, defining both his own political personality and the new-look Republican Party.

When Rove answered the call to come to Texas in 1978, every state office was held by a Democrat. Now, almost all of them are Republican. Every Republican campaign was run by Rove and in 1994 his client — challenging for the state governorship — was a man he knew well: George W. Bush.

'Rove and Bush came to an important strategic conclusion,' writes Lou Dubose, Rove's biographer. 'To govern on behalf of the corporate Right, they would have to appease the Christian Right.'

[...]

By the time George W. became President, Rove was the hub of a Texan wheel connecting the family, the party, the Christian Right and the energy industry. A single episode serves as metaphor: during the Enron scandal last year, a shadow was cast over Rove when it was revealed that he had sold $100,000 of Enron stock just before the firm went bankrupt.

More intriguing, however, was the fact that Rove had personally arranged for the former leader of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, to take up a consultancy at Enron — Bush's biggest single financial backer - worth between $10,000 and $20,000 a month.

[...]

Rove in theory has no role in foreign policy, but Washington insiders agree he is now as preoccupied with global affairs as he is with those at home. In a recent book, conservative staff speech writer David Frum recalls the approach of the presidency towards Islam after the attacks and criticises Bush as being 'soft on Islam' for his emphasis on a 'religion of peace'.

Rove, writes Frum, was 'drawn to a very different answer'. Islam, Rove argued, 'was one of the world's great empires' which had 'never reconciled... to the loss of power and dominion'. In response, he said, 'the United States should recognise that, although it cannot expect to be loved, it can enforce respect'.

Rove's position dovetailed with the beliefs of Paul Wolfowitz, and the axis between conservative Southern Protestantism and fervent, highly intellectual, East Coast Zionism was forged — each as zealous about their religion as the other.

[...]

In 1992, just before Bush's father was defeated by Bill Clinton, Wolfowitz wrote a blueprint to 'set the nation's direction for the next century', which is now the foreign policy of George W. Bush. Entitled 'Defence Planning Guidance', it put an onus on the Pentagon to 'establish and protect a new order' under unchallenged American authority.

The US, it said, must be sure of 'deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role' — including Germany and Japan. It contemplated the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weaponry pre-emptively, 'even in conflicts that do not directly engage US interests'.

Wolfowitz's group formalised itself into a group called Project for the New American Century, which included Cheney and another old friend, former Pentagon Under-Secretary for Policy under Reagan, Richard Perle.

In a document two years ago, the Project pondered that what was needed to assure US global power was 'some catastrophic and catalysing event, like a new Pearl Harbor'. The document had noted that 'while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides immediate justification' for intervention, 'the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein'.
And there you have the real bridge between the World Trade Center and Baghdad. Al Qaeda was not a target so much as a stepping stone.

The article synthesizes many strands of background into a coherent and short narrative — essential if you're just tuning in and want to catch up on the last twenty years of Dubyology in a brief 1,600 words.
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Saturday, February 22, 2003
Burning down the country. Terry Lynn Barton, the US Forest Service worker who burned down 138,000 acres of Colorado last summer, has received a
6-year sentence for her crime. She eventually admitted starting the fire herself while burning a letter from her estranged husband.

A 6-year sentence for destroying a big chunk of Colorado over a "Dear John" letter sounds a little light, doesn’t it?

She's not the only one going to jail for using a non-childproof lighter on flammable wildlife:

Burning Crimes








































Perpetrator Terry Lynn Barton US Marijuana Users
Position US Forest Service Various
Crime Igniting Colorado
forest wildfire
Igniting bong
and/or spliff
Acres Burned 138,000 0
Homes Destroyed 133 0
Cost of Damage $38 million $0
Cost of Firefighting
and Restoration
$14.7 million $0
Prison Sentence 6 years* 77,572 years**
*Sentencing on her state charge on March 5 could bring her sentence up to 12 years.

**This estimate totals federal, state and local marijuana arrests multiplied by average possession sentences as listed here. The same report estimates that 12.7 percent of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for marijuana offenses. Therefore, the costs to incarcerate these prisoners could easily be saved — perhaps an increasingly viable option as our economy worsens.
To put it very, very mildly, these are disproportionate sentences. If I owned one of the 133 homes she destroyed, I would wonder why our justice system is so kind to her and so punitive to people who don't destroy property and wildlife.

And to look at it from another angle, for Barton to have received a sentence proportionate to all US marijuana offenders, she would have had to burn down 1.8 billion acres (1,784,156,000 to be exact), or about 2.8 million square miles, using 138,000 acres per 6-year sentence as our benchmark. This is approximately the area of
the 48 contiguous US states.

In other words, to keep pace with marijuana sentencing, Terry Lynn Barton would have had to burn down the entire country.
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invitation

Baghdad 2028, via Z+Blog.
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22 February:
Bush Threatens Iraq with Land War (BBC).
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Friday, February 21, 2003
The Friday Sampler.

Today at Eric Alterman's Altercation,
Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft discusses how Attorney General Ashcroft is breaking the wall between intelligence and law enforcement and skirting the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Through the Looking Glass spots an obstacle to negative campaign ads by forcing candidates to actually appear in slur-filled television spots.

Orcinus revisits race in the USA before World War II.

Ted Barlow notices that the Pope doesn't like us.

FlaBlog (via CounterSpin) shows us how Jeb Bush squeezes a job for daughter-in-rehab Noelle out of a multimillion dollar no-bid contract to a campaign supporter.

The illustrations from the Department of Homeland Security's laughable Ready.gov are recaptioned by Kieran Healy (via Electrolite).

The best site to answer the nagging question "Can we say that the anus of a holy man is a holy anus?" is Moonie World.

The American Sentimentalist looks at how the costs of war will be borne by deficit-laden cities and states, not corporations.

Tim Porter of First Draft writes about journalism in the blogosphere.

And ::: wood s lot::: points us to Lewis Thomas's Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony in the era of modern weaponry.
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goeringIt's April 18, 1946, and
Hermann Goering is sweating in his cell during a break in the Nuremberg trials while offering the following observations:
"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I [Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist] pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
Gilbert's information is somewhat out of date. Currently in the United States not Congress but only unelected children of ex-presidents can declare wars.

Goering's tactical advice on getting the people to do the bidding of their leaders meshes well with the actions of Rove, Ridge and the rest of the gang. They will be able to provide many similar quotes when they're on trial.

Americans in 2003 have a few more tools to be responsible citizens than Germans did while Nazi power swelled during the 1930s. We have the internet and blog journalism and other innovations like the Virtual March. We can sidestep domestic propaganda by reading the foreign press in our homes and offices instantly as it is published. We can phone and fax and email and otherwise flood the offices of our representatives with our desires for a better economy with better security through peaceful means.

We must undermine the American-bred Goerings. When leaders misbehave, the people who do not want war must make overwhelming repeated use of these tools until our message is unmistakably loud and clear.
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No struggle, no angst, no conscience. "The blinding glare of his own certainty," by
Joe Klein in Time, examines Bush's faith and how it influences his judgment:
When suffering became an abstraction — a budget item — Bush lost the sensitivity he had when he confronted poor people directly. His faith enabled him to appreciate those who gave their lives to the poor, but it didn't force him to struggle toward a deeper, detailed understanding of poverty or what could be done about it.

And this, I think, is at the heart of what is disturbing about Bush's faith in this moment of national crisis: it does not discomfort him enough; it does not impel him to have second thoughts, to explore other intellectual possibilities or question the possible consequences of his actions. I asked one of Bush's closest advisers last week if the President had struggled with his Iraq decision. "No," he said, peremptorily, then quickly amended, "He understands the enormity of it, he understands the nuances, but has there been hand-wringing or existential angst along the way? No."
Dealing in all manners of abstraction and fully understanding what it is they represent is essentially a job description for any position of power, let alone the Office of the President of the United States.

Klein's article is yet another confirmation of George W. Bush's utter lack of qualification for the job, which helps explain why he has the marionette reputation he does. The "lights on, nobody home" expression he wears while delivering speeches doesn't help, and now Klein's characterization of his faith as a kind of sleepwalking certainty paints a picture of catastrophic incompetence.

Link via Media Whores Online.
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Thursday, February 20, 2003
Tonight: PBS's
FRONTLINE examines the hidden story of what is really driving the Bush administration to war with Iraq.
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Who said that the rules governing TV station ownership are archaic and "silly"?
Correct. Bob Wright shows his true colors when he makes absurd statements like, "Say what you want about Clear Channel or Infinity, but they have made the business a lot stronger."

Ahem. Making the business stronger, Michael Powell notwithstanding, is not the FCC's mandate.
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I have failed to find the exact two words that describe my discomfort with
Steven Pinker, but Steve Bowbrick has succeeded with "Pub Darwinist":
We all know at least one – the guy for whom there's no greater pleasure than locating the long hidden adaptive explanation for this or that phenomenon – wife beating, drinking, losing your car keys, droning on about natural selection... they all confer some adaptive advantage in the Pub Darwinist's reductive caricature of natural selection.
Bingo. That's it. Full stop.
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x-ray texasReady... or nuts?

From
Ready.gov: "As with any emergency, local authorities may not be able to immediately provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet often for official news and information as it becomes available."

From the Homeland Security Cultural Bureau: "HSCB is protecting the interests of the country's national security by employing efforts to direct and guide the parameters of cultural production... MISSION: To provide executive and public awareness of the role that culture can play in both endangering, as well as promoting, a secure nation."

Watch out for the tongue in that cheek. Don't take the latter link too seriously. The former link is the source of the radioactive Texas graphic and, unfortunately, is real, and inspired by Atrios.
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The dividend that keeps on taking. George W. Bush's relentless pursuit of tax cuts for the wealthy in the face of a rotten economy and a vanished surplus have yet another consequence,
the end of arts spending (New York Times):
A legislative committee has recommended eliminating the state arts agency in Arizona and its $5.1 million annual budget. It has also recommended that a $7 million fund established as an endowment for arts programs be dissolved, so the money can be used for other purposes.

Arizona is not the only state taking such a radical step. Gov. James E. McGreevey of New Jersey, who is grappling with a $5 billion deficit, has proposed cutting the entire $18 million budget of his state's Council on the Arts and canceling a planned $10 million payment to a cultural trust fund that supports small arts groups. Missouri is also planning to eliminate its entire arts budget. Other states may follow suit as they confront daunting fiscal challenges.

[...]

Studies conducted over the last few years have shown that spending on arts programs produces handsome economic returns, and many state officials have come to agree that supporting these programs is a wise investment. But they now say their preferences are irrelevant because state coffers are bare.

"There is broad bipartisan support for arts programs in most states, but that doesn't matter anymore," said Kimber Craine, spokesman for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. "The states are facing one of their worst budget crises since World War II. The deficits they are facing are huge."
These numbers are truly laughable. Arizona's annual arts agency budget is just $5.1 million — a pitiful figure for a program of the type that "produces handsome economic returns." Even the parasitic right-wing "research and education" charity, the Heritage Foundation, has an annual budget in the neighborhood of $29 million.

To put the scale into perspective, this story reaches us on the same day that the US is seriously talking about meeting Turkey's request for a Gulf War Two multibillion dollar gratuity (Washington Post): "The administration increased an earlier $4 billion offer to $6 billion last week, according to U.S. officials who said that the money could be leveraged to produce far more in private bank loans. After the weekend, a U.S. official said, the Turks replied with a demand for $10 billion."

$10 billion would fund Arizona's arts agency for the next two thousand years.

Too bad, Tucson. Piss off, Prescott. Suck eggs, Sedona. Fuck you, Phoenix.

We must eliminate the double taxation of dividends — don't you see?

Sick of sarcasm and negativity? Then stop reading this and help a local institution, just as Jim (sort of like Cher or Bono) of The Rittenhouse Review put his money where his mouth is.
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Skimble sends a shout-out to our Baker Botts fans. Nearly every day, including weekends, we receive hits from our good friends at
Baker Botts LLP.

We're always grateful for hits from just about anywhere. Even if they come from the law firm of James A. Baker, III, adviser to "the reemergence of the oil, gas and related hydrocarbon transportation industries" in that hotbed of current interest, the Caspian region.

The firm is known for its global energy practice: "Internationally, our energy lawyers are involved in some of the largest pipeline and transportation ventures, and have considerable experience in cross-border transportation matters. Today, we have experience handling oil and gas projects in more than 50 nations." Baker Botts maintains offices in ethically-challenged Houston as well as Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Baku, Azerbaijan. Not to mention, of course, the ne plus ultra of provisional decadence, Washington DC.

Given the firm's unique practice profile, is it any wonder that James A. Baker, III, would be willing to dirty his hands as the chief mechanic of Bush Two's post-election campaign? That is, besides having been Bush One's Secretary of State during the tidy Gulf War One.

And, wouldn't you know it, all roads lead back to Enron (Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times):
After Bush the elder's defeat in 1992, the ties between Enron and the Bush camp grew even stronger. In March 1993, Enron hired Bush's Commerce secretary, Robert A. Mosbacher, and his secretary of State, James A. Baker III, to line up contracts for Enron around the world. As Enron's representative, Baker--later George W.'s Florida election strategist--even went on a trip accompanying the ex-president to Kuwait to do big business in the nation Bush had fought the Gulf War to save.
Hold on! I thought America's job in Gulf War One was to save the Kuwaiti monarchy! Not to protect business opportunities for Enron! I feel so misled.

This throws an entirely new light on Bush One's motivations for Gulf War One. Could it be — is it even remotely conceivable — that Bush Two has a different agenda for Gulf War Two than the one they've advertised, branded and promoted?

Enough sarcasm. If last weekend's millions proved anything, it is that the entire world is aware of what these people are doing.

And we will not forget. Ever. Ever.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Cheney, Lay, Afghanistan. Get comfortable — this will take a while.

Today it was revealed that GOP threats halted the General Accounting Office lawsuit against Dick Cheney to disclose the content of his secret energy policy meetings in 2001 (
TheHill.com):
Threats by Republicans to cut the General Accounting Office (GAO) budget influenced its decision to abandon a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, The Hill has learned.

Sources familiar with high-level discussions at the GAO said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, met with GAO Comptroller General David Walker earlier this year and “unambiguously” pressured him to drop the suit or face cuts in his $440 million budget.

[...]

The controversy with Cheney came to a head in December after U.S. District Court Judge John Bates, citing separation of powers, ruled that Walker lacked sufficient grounds to compel Cheney to disclose the records of a White House energy task force that he had headed.

Walker had filed the suit against Cheney in February 2002 at the request of House Democrats. This was the first time in its 81-year history that the GAO, acting in its capacity as the investigative arm of Congress, sued the executive branch to obtain withheld information.
I didn't know that the GAO was the investigative arm of Congress. If so, this strikes me as a gross obstruction and an impeachable offense by Cheney.

But that's not our topic today. We will focus instead on the purpose of the lawsuit — to divine what went on in those meetings.

Background: In early 2001, there were six secret meetings between Dick Cheney and Enron CEO Ken Lay or their staff members. Cheney has requested and received a court order to keep the content of the meetings secret.

This is a speculation as to what took place at those meetings.

We know pretty much what went into those conference rooms (Enron’s recommendations) and what came out (federal energy policy in near-total correspondence with Enron’s recommendations).

So what’s the big secret? What could have been discussed over the course of six secret meetings that can’t be released when we all know the outcome?

We present the following items for your perusal and study:

Before he headed Enron, Ken Lay’s professional experience was in natural gas pipelines.

Uzbekistan is estimated to contain 594 million barrels of proven oil reserves, with 171 discovered oil and natural gas fields in the country. With estimated natural gas reserves of 66.2 trillion cubic feet, Uzbekistan is the second largest natural gas producer in the Commonwealth of Independent States (after Russia) and one of the top ten natural gas-producing countries in the world. (US Dept. of Energy)

Thanks to The Smoking Gun, we see that Ken Lay sent a letter to then-governor Bush on April 3, 1997, requesting that he meet Sadyk Safaev, the ambassador of Uzbekistan. (The typed salutation reads "Dear Governor Bush:" which Lay has crossed out and handwritten "George.") Excerpt:
Enron has established an office in Tashkent and we are negotiating a $2 billion joint venture with Neftegas of Uzbekistan and Gazprom of Russia to develop Uzbekistan's natural gas and transport it to markets in Europe, Kazakhstan and Turkey. This project can bring significant economic opportunities to Texas, as well as Uzbekistan. The political benefits to the United States and to Uzbekistan are important to that entire region.
A year later, then-CEO of Halliburton Dick Cheney delivered a speech to the Cato Institute on June 23, 1998 in which he said:
The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the United States. Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all things considered, one would not normally choose to go. But, we go where the business is. So, what happens with respect to U.S. commercial policy, how we conduct ourselves as a nation, the kinds of rules and regulations that American firms are expected to abide by and operate under, and how all of that affects our ability to compete overseas is of considerable interest to those of us at Haliburton and Dresser.

[…]

In early June (of 1998), I was salmon fishing on the Kola Peninsula up near Murmansk and Archangel where the Soviet northern fleet has been based for years. In an astonishingly short period of time, the world has been so transformed that now a former U.S. secretary of Defense is perfectly free to hop on an airplane, fly over to the former Soviet Union, and spend a week salmon fishing. It is amazing when you think about that transition.

[…]

An example that comes immediately to mind has to do with efforts to develop the resources of the former Soviet Union in the Caspian Sea area. It is a region rich in oil and gas. Unfortunately, Iran is sitting right in the middle of the area and the United States has declared unilateral economic sanctions against that country. As a result, American firms are prohibited from dealing with Iran and find themselves cut out of the action, both in terms of opportunities that develop with respect to Iran itself, and also with respect to our ability to gain access to Caspian resources. Iran is not punished by this decision. There are numerous oil and gas development companies from other countries that are now aggressively pursuing opportunities to develop those resources. That development will proceed, but it will happen without American participation. The most striking result of the government’s use of unilateral sanctions in the region is that only American companies are prohibited from operating there.
Circumventing Iran's access to Caspian energy resources is obviously something on which Dick Cheney had spent a great deal of mental energy. He was not alone in his focus on this important region.

A few weeks later on July 30, 1998 (near the crest of the Lewinsky scandal and Ken Starr's impeachment frenzy), we note the following announcement:
Enron wins Trans-Caspian gas pipeline feasibility study.

Enron has won a tender for the right to prepare a feasibility study for Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Satlik to Ceyhan via Baku. The special adviser to the US president and the secretary of state for the New Independent States, Richard Morningstar, said that this is the second major step to facilitate the trans-Caspian project since the signing of the agreement on the provision of a $ 750,000 grant to prepare the feasibility study. The agreement signed by the US government, the US Agency for Commerce and Development and the government of Turkmenia was the result of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's first official visit to the US last April. Since then, the tender commission considered proposals submitted by about 10 companies, Turkmen Minister of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources Redzhedbai Arazov said. According to preliminary data, the trans-Caspian gas pipeline will run from the gas deposit Satlik through which the Central Asia-Centre gas main runs. The total length of the new pipeline will be more than 1,700 km to Ceyhan.
Fast forward to March 2001. The Supreme Court has put George W. Bush into office, and in the first two months of the new administration Dick Cheney has already held his six secret energy policy meetings.

And something else happened in March 2001:
Brzezinski is not the only one to see US global military dominance as imperative: according to Steven Mufson in the Washington Post, in March 2001 President Bush "immersed himself" in Robert Kaplan's book Eastward to Tartary, which paints the Caspian region as "a realm haunted by the specter of conflict over Caspian pipelines" and other tensions. Bush invited Kaplan to the White House and met with him for nearly an hour. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and other top officials also attended. After the meeting, Kaplan gave his impression of Bush's view of the world: "The world is a bad place with a lot of bad people who can do us harm and the most important moral commitment for America is to preserve its power." Kaplan himself, in an article written before September 11, "predicted that international law would play a smaller role in conflicts as wars became increasingly unconventional and undeclared." "[I]n facing adversaries unconcerned with civilian casualties," he argued, "our moral values. . . represent our worst vulnerabilities" (ellipsis in original).
Another account of the same meeting:
Bush’s one known meeting with a foreign policy public intellectual was with Robert Kaplan, author of The Coming Anarchy and more recently Eastward to Tartary. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Andrew Card met Kaplan alone for more than an hour on the same day that Bush had summit meetings with Japan Prime Minister Mori and Ariel Sharon. Bush takes foreign policy seriously, and reportedly told Kaplan to "relax…we are all realists here." George Bush — who won the presidency in a contested election — could not win the U.S. public to support him on any domestic policy achievements, not even a massive tax cut. He has been prepared for conflict since he entered office, and conflict — tragically enough — is the one route that this presidency had to get Bush’s poll numbers to rise. It is interesting that Bush’s economic team, in contrast to Clinton’s, appears second rate and has little regular access to him. On days that Bush expresses concern about the economy and argues for a capital gains tax cut, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill appears in the paper stating that recovery is around the corner. Bush is consumed by foreign policy and wants to remove the notion that the Bush family was bested by Hussein. In contrast to Nixon and Kissinger who were realists during a time of perceived American decline, Bush sees himself as a realist in a time of unparalleled American ascension and power.
To get to those Caspian resources, we've already established that Iran isn't going to work out. Are there any alternatives?

Two months later in May 2001, a grant of $43 million was announced by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to be given to the Taliban in Afghanistan, ostensibly for drought relief. Accounts and commentary on this grant were provided by The New York Times, ABC News, and even the Cato Institute.

Four months later we experienced the pivotal events of September 11, 2001.

Now we must return to our original topic: the secret energy policy meetings. It is unlikely that Enron’s policy recommendations caused any controversy at all in a White House that was already oil-friendly at every level. The likeliest case is that Enron’s requests immediately received the rubber stamp of tacit approval in Meeting #1, and that the remainder of the meetings focused on larger energy-producing strategies in the absence of Iranian cooperation — namely, access to the Caspian region via Afghanistan.

In post-9/11 America, it would appear criminally negligent if the vice president and Ken Lay, the now-disgraced CEO of Enron, spent the early part of the same year discussing negotiations with the Taliban or alternative strategies such as military invasion, assassinations, or a coup. This ultimate vulgarity is what is being hidden from our view.

This is the only plausible exlanation as to why the content of the meetings would be kept secret.

In the weeks following 9/11/01, the administration announced its desire to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. The announcement felt not only opportunistic, but strangely incongruous in a time of national crisis. It was probably just an oilman’s kneejerk response to the apparent souring of a Taliban-appeasement plan, or an intentional distraction from the real, more sinister plan.

There is, of course, a very easy way for the administration to refute these speculations. Release the information from the meetings — exactly what the lawsuit called for.

Forget the GAO lawsuit. Dick Cheney must be impeached.

For further reading: We have written so often on Enron that a listing of relevant posts would be difficult. If you're really interested, try adding "+skimble" to your Google searches (the plus sign is important). Then, when you get the results page, click on "More results from skimble.blogspot.com" and you will get a nice clean page of relevant posts. (Example: "cheney lay +skimble" gets you this page, after you've clicked on "More results.")

Another useful resource is Jim Galasyn's Bush/Enron Chronology.
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Jenna in 2024?

Genius, pure genius. Remember, she's got 15 years or so to sober up before somebody buys her a baseball team and then bankrolls her campaign for Governor of Texas.

Comments by moeman and KevinA on
Daily Kos.
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The theocrat's smoking gun. Dave Johnson of
Seeing the Forest is on a major roll. He edits the ever-expanding Encyclopedia of Voting Machine Scandal Links, keeping tabs on the multiple efforts to destroy American elections.

But now, in a major post, Seeing the Forest has unearthed Antonin Scalia's not-so-secret theocratic prejudices. Scalia's bias is important because, as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, his vote obliterated yours in the non-election of George W. Bush in December 2000. Evidence for his pro-religious bias is provided by Scalia himself in an article entitled "God's Justice and Ours":
The mistaken tendency to believe that a democratic government, being nothing more than the composite will of its individual citizens, has no more moral power or authority than they do as individuals has adverse effects in other areas as well. It fosters civil disobedience, for example, which proceeds on the assumption that what the individual citizen considers an unjust law—even if it does not compel him to act unjustly—need not be obeyed. St. Paul would not agree. “Ye must needs be subject,” he said, “not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” For conscience sake. The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible.
Scalia is already engaged in a holy war, an actual crusade. He admits it right here. The "should not be" in the last sentence above is prescriptive — it tells people of faith what they ought to be doing to reveal the "divine authority" behind government.

Scalia also shows his distaste for secularism:
scaliaA brief story about the aftermath of September 11 nicely illustrates how different things are in secularized Europe. I was at a conference of European and American lawyers and jurists in Rome when the planes struck the twin towers. All in attendance were transfixed by the horror of the event, and listened with rapt attention to the President’s ensuing address to the nation. When the speech had concluded, one of the European conferees—a religious man—confided in me how jealous he was that the leader of my nation could conclude his address with the words “God bless the United States.” Such invocation of the deity, he assured me, was absolutely unthinkable in his country, with its Napoleonic tradition of extirpating religion from public life.
Scalia approves of the jealousy a pious European feels toward religious intrusions upon American democracy.

This Christian campaign is careful to exclude Catholics (see the full Scalia article). The so-called Party of Lincoln, formerly (and accurately) known as the Party of the Rich, is undergoing a makeover as the Party of WASPs.

Goodbye, science. Farewell, reason. The New Empire of Irrationality has arrived — a perfect storm of religious intrigue, political seizure, and corporate plunder.
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enronThe house fell down and the architects flee. In the bloodsucking House of Enron, the architects are trying to pretend they aren't vampires too, now that Arthur Andersen has a stake in its heart (
Houston Chronicle):
The law firm of Vinson & Elkins and three investment banks have asked a federal appellate court to overrule U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon and let them out of the Enron shareholder lawsuit.

The law firm, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Credit Suisse First Boston Corp., and Barclays asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to find that Harmon has abused her discretion in their cases.

[...]

Their technical point is that Harmon improperly refused to allow them to appeal her ruling that they must stay in the case.

But the reality is that they've gone over Harmon's head to ask the appellate court for a favor that is seldom granted.
Sadly, the beneficiaries of the favor economy will doubtless triumph over those who rely on the lower-class money economy — such as Enron's shareholders and employees who have been relieved of their life savings and retirement income.

Just seeing the word Enron makes me think, "White collar crime pays so much better than street crime."

We last wrote about the House of Enron and its vampire architects a mere five days ago in a lengthy post on the 2,700-page congressional report dealing with its collapse.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2003
always use a condom!

Presidents' Day is part of National Condom Week (February 14 – 21), so you should send a condom to Africa in W's name. Because you know he won't do it himself, despite his sudden interest in "preventing" AIDS.

Tragic results will arise from the Republican insistence on pretending that viral diseases have moral causes. Here's an overview of their death-dealing War on Condoms (pdf file from Planned Parenthood).

The matter-of-fact sexuality depicted in the sign above reveals the lack of human reality in the administration's standard approach. People have sex — sometimes without the sanction of church or state. Get over it, you big babies. Because you Republicans auctioned off your power base to radical Christians (not to mention your implicit racism as a party), millions of lives are at stake, and millions more orphans will roam the African continent.

Links via Uppity-Negro.com via Long story; short pier.

Dept. of Told You So: We anticipated a faith-and-abstinence bullshit followup to W's bogus $15 billion for AIDS in Africa "cure" in this post on the State of the Union address. See also David E's blow-by-blow response to W's oral report.
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Favorite antiwar protest signs:
Texas of Evil

Class Warfare Now!

I love my dad too, but jeez!

9-11: 15 Saudis , 0 Iraqis

Don't Mess With Mesopotamia

"It takes a child to raze a village."

"NY GAYS DON'T WANT BUSH"

LESBIANS SAY "I HATE DICK"

Draft the Bush Twins!

One nation under surveillance

How did our oil get underneath their sand?
From
WNYC via URLDJ.
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Is right-wing media bias a loss leader? Sometimes right-wing press bias simply makes no demographic or business sense. Does it then serve as a strategic move to intentionally lose short-term money in the interest of building a long-term opinion monopoly?

That's the impression I got from this letter to
Chicago Magazine's Press Box by Steve Rhodes (scroll down):
Did you catch the columnist line-up in the Commentary section of the Sunday [Chicago] Sun-Times? It featured Bob Novak, George Will, Mark Steyn, and Betsy Hart, not to mention a guest column from the editor of the Jerusalem Post under the headline: 'Liberals Just Refuse to Evolve.' Don't get me wrong, I enjoy reading all the above columnists except Hart, but how about giving the other side some space?

The hard right turn at the S-T under Hollinger has me thinking that no newspaper in America is more politically out of step with its readership. Think about it, approximately one-third of the S-T’s audience is African-American, and a hefty portion of the White readership is made up of Democratic-leaning, city-dwellers. Don't forget, Al Gore won every single city ward and Rod Blagojevich lost just one. Only one of Chicago's 50 aldermen is Republican and not a single member of the Chicago delegation in the general assembly is a Republican. Chicago might be the most Democratic city in America, and its newspaper of record (the Trib is a suburban paper) keeps moving to the right.

Can a newspaper keep feeding its readers a diet of opinions that they reject every election day?
Force-fed opinions are the evident goal of such bad business decision-making. Eventually, the tidal wave of right-wing prejudice and conjecture is intended to erode Chicagoans' natural tendencies toward Democratic values like fairness, decency and inclusion. Not that Chicago is especially unique — the journalistic tilt to the right is happening throughout the US. It's just odd to observe in a city as Democratic as this one, as the letter-writer notes.

The time to reinvent the distribution of journalism may be upon us. Thoughts? Email me.
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Monday, February 17, 2003
"A tiny mutation in a gene common to mammals may have changed the destiny of humanity. The gene, foxp2 - identified by British researchers two years ago - could have been the switch that lit up art, culture and social behaviour in Homo sapiens 50,000 years ago." —
The Guardian

This story begs the question: How quickly can Republicans be engineered to catch up?
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Dispatch from the Home Depot trenches. This is a friend of a friend's emailed account of what it was like to be an employee at Home Depot last Thursday (lightly edited for length and broken into paragraphs, but otherwise unaltered):
I was truly entertained today at work. At the HOME DEPOT! From the minute I walked into work this morning at around a quarter to 7 I was stampeded by a herd of woman… all panick stricken about the high terroist alert and accompanied with a government shopping list in hand.

Located right across from my department stands the paint department. This was the happening place to be today. ... Where all the plastic sheeting used for paint drop clothes is on display and in stock for. Not only was this a top demand but equally was the duck tape. Located in the same aisle. These people were all literally nuts.

They presumed I was the expert on the subject. As if I personally had a government connection and new what grade of sheeting was the best for a biological attack. I would tell them "They tell me you need at least 6mil grade to handle anthrax and 4mil to block out mustard gas. Nothing I have is good for radiation"

Some believed me, some gave me a cutesy dirty look. Sad, but true. And I might regret ripping on these people when they are found dead tomorrow morning. After they all suffocate themselves and die of anoxia after they duck tape wrap there precious little abodes. These people live very sad sad tales. It makes you think why the government is not focusing on how they can help these poor lost souls.

I would even make them more neuratic by telling them that to really be affective blocking out these agents you really need to cover your chimney because any hole or air intake coming from the outside would wipe you out right away anyway. Which is true. I did research. Hilarious! These people... They probably go home.... maybe straighten up the house a little bit, wait for their children to come home from school and just WORRY their lives away. And I thought I was neuratic.

Let me just put it this way... These people all have an illness and need to be medicated. Or maybe they are already medicated and just screwed up because of that. Whatever the case may be. So there I am trying to crack jokes with them... trying to have a little fun with them. And more importantly trying to Push Sales. Because it's my job.

I kept Reminding them that tomorrow is Valentines day. And what a better gift to give then duct tape and plastic sheeting. That really shows how much you care for someone close to you. Some bought into this bullshit. Which thrilled me even more. I almost got my rocks off. Playing it serious on the outside but laughing my ass off on the inside. Duct tape and plastic the gift that keeps on giving. But the majority were humourless. Serious to no end. Stricktly business. Needed to get the tape and sheets before they were all sold out. Stock piling there baskets like the end of the world was here or the sky was falling. Then I thought to myself, is this how they act come Holiday time when they have to find the Tickle-Me-Elmo or earlier yet, the Cabbage Patch Kid. It has to be on or pretty close to the same level.

At the same time I was having fun with these people I was also feeling very sad. Thinking why did the government share this info and make all these people nuts. Why couldn't he just tell the local government to be on the look-out. Then I thought... Duct tape is probably the most useful fixer-upper on this planet. Now there is a shortage of it. For every roll we sold today it's a win for the terroist's. Now, when I really could use a roll there won't be any. Little boy who cried wolf. Pallet after pallet was taken down. The reach truck went the full mile today. By three o'clock ALL GONE.

But thats when the laughs got even more out of control. I even had to excuse myself to the bathroom because I could not control myself. I was on the verge of being rude to the customer. People kept flocking in. Wanting to buy more and more duct tape and sheets. "Can you believe it...We are all sold out. Sorry Home Depot was not able to accomodate your needs today." And laughed my ass home.

Stock tip of the day: 3M. Buy it today.
What holds this country together? Not our system of democracy. Not our borders. Not the economy. Not our ideals. Not a vision for the future.

Duct tape.
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The suction economy. Max of
MaxSpeak writes about "vanishing surpluses and false promises" from an economist's perspective at TomPaine.com.

Meanwhile, bankruptcies have risen over 25% during the (latest) Bush administration's first two years, according to this report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (pdf file via FindLaw).
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More than the space shuttle has disintegrated. Media Whores Online presents an emotionally moving protest report called
Then and Now, chronicling the disintegration of international goodwill following 9/11/01 due to an increasingly belligerent US government. (1.7MB Flash show.)
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Speak Out

Lawrence Ferlinghetti


And a vast paranoia sweeps across the land
And America turns the attack on its Twin Towers
Into the beginning of the Third World War
The war with the Third World

And the terrorists in Washington
Are shipping out the young men
To the killing fields again

And no one speaks

And they are rousting out
All the ones with turbans
And they are flushing out
All the strange immigrants

And they are shipping all the young men
To the killing fields again

And no one speaks

And when they come to round up
All the great writers and poets and painters
The National Endowment of the Arts of Complacency
Will not speak

While all the young men
Will be killing all the young men
In the killing fields again

So now is the time for you to speak
All you lovers of liberty
All you lovers of the pursuit of happiness
All you lovers and sleepers
Deep in your private dream
Now is the time for you to speak
O silent majority
Before they come for you!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is San Francisco's first poet laureate (1998) and the owner and founder of City Lights Bookstore. This poem first appeared on the
City Lights Web site.

In contrast to the chickenhawks, Ferlinghetti served his country in the Navy during World War II.

Original link via the indispensable TalkLeft. Ferlinghetti read in Chicago in October 2002, an event we wrote about here.
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Faith-based weather forecast.
Today, Presidents' Day — Snow, 24"

EXTENDED FORECAST
Tue 2/18 — Potomac turns to blood
Wed 2/19 — Frogs, 24"
Thu 2/20 — Lice
Fri 2/21 — West Nile flies
Sat 2/22 — Mad cow disease
Sun 2/23 — Smallpox
Mon 2/24 — Hailstorm
Tue 2/25 — Locusts
Wed 2/26 — Darkness
Thu 2/27 — Death
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Friday, February 14, 2003
The people of Baghdad are in New York City. "On February 13, 2003, teams of artists and activists began postering New York City with snapshots from Baghdad. Quiet and casual, the snapshots show a part of Baghdad we rarely see: the part with people in it."

These are the people W's administration is so hell-bent on bombing. See their faces at
Baghdad Snapshot Action. Link via URLDJ.
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"Dow down 27% under Bush." That Clinton dollar you invested in your 401(k) or IRA is now worth a mere 73¢. More than a quarter of your retirement money has vanished into the fog spewn by Ari, Tom Ridge, Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Homeland Sideshow.

We should be on Red Alert any minute now. Duct-tape your battery-operated radio to your head for further instructions.
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Project Steal, Project Plunder, Project Lie.... Julie Mason of the Houston Chronicle provides a substantial overview of the 2,700-page congressional report dealing with the
Enron collapse:
enron chartHouston's bankrupt Enron Corp. aggressively pursued complex tax schemes of dubious legitimacy to improve its bottom line by $2 billion before collapsing in 2001, according to a critical new congressional report released Thursday.

The company that left many rank-and-file employees broke paid top executives lavishly, operated its tax division like a profit center and benefited from lax oversight inside and out, investigators said.

[…]

According to the committee investigation, the specially created entities had either flimsy or no true business purpose beyond securing favorable tax and accounting results for Enron.

One entity, noted by the committee for its punlike name, "Project Steele," delivered pretax earnings of $133 million for Enron's bottom line. Internal company documents for the transaction are titled, "Show Me the Money!"

[…]

In devising the transactions, Enron received tax advice that pushed legal boundaries from companies such as Bankers Trust, accounting firms Arthur Andersen and Deloitte & Touche, and from its outside law firm, Vinson & Elkins, the congressional panel said.

The work of outside advisers, which the investigators noted at times reached the level of "collusion," cost the bankrupt energy trader $88 million in fees.

Of Houston-based Vinson & Elkins in particular, the report notes that the "minimal level of review" provided by Enron's outside counsel was "perhaps not unintentional."

[…]

[Enron's former lead tax counsel, Robert J. ] Hermann said that between 1995 and 2001, the tax department booked close to $1 billion in profits [Ed.: !!!] for Enron. In 2000 alone, $296 million, or 30 percent of Enron's profits, came from tax-saving strategies.

"Through September of 2001, I was already putting $300 million on the bottom line for the company that year, but my boss asked if I could come up with another $300 million if I had to," Hermann said. "I said I could, but never got the chance to."

[…]

In 2000, the year before the company filed for bankruptcy, the 200 top Enron executives collected a combined $1.4 billion in salaries, bonuses and stocks.

At the same time, many other employees lost millions in retirements savings when the company failed, in part owing to a corporate culture that promoted investment in Enron stock.

The report notes that in addition to not pushing for diversification of investment, the company's retirement plan required Enron's matching contributions be invested back into Enron stock.


"Enron's 'core management philosophy' was rotten to the core," said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and a committee member.
handshakeEnron was one of candidate Bush's most generous contributors at the gubernatorial and presidential levels. Enron's brazen financial frauds helped put an unelected candidate into the White House.

Remember when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton shook hands and promised us campaign finance reform? The sorry state of our union is what we get for not badgering our representatives and insisting upon them coming through with a campaign finance system that did not reward candidates backed by money stolen from their employees, their shareholders, and the US Treasury.

Keeping track of these issues is the grunt work of democracy — and it is our responsibility.
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Speaking of liars, GOP media pawn Jerry Bowyer is new to our radar screen. His deceitful defense of Dubya's deficit is divulged by
CalPundit, and TBOGG points to the fat cushion of Scaife foundation money upon which Bowyer's lying ass is seated.
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"You, sir, are a liar!" Emma of
Late Night Thoughts posts good advice to candidates here and here. Such as:
Moderates and liberals in this country believe that discussion will get them somewhere. It will not. The opposition does not speak; they spout, they preach, they revile, they attack. We spend a lot of time on the defensive: "but Bill Clinton didn't..."; "no, I didn't say that..."; "but that is not what happened..." By forcing us to defend ourselves, they make us repeat their lies until they are the only thing people hear. When did we forget the simple sentence: "you are lying?" Why do we have to be mealymouthed about it, and look for euphemisms? Why can't a Democratic politician look one of those blowhards on tv straight in the eye and say: you, sir, are a liar?
Of course, countering every blowhard on television will require superhuman strength and endurance. Can we clone Carville? (Link via Blue Streak.)
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Recent film and video roundup. Ratings (and some reviews) from the highly idiosyncratic Skimble CineSystem™:
8 : Amelie
9 :
Far from Heaven
9 : The Fast Runner
6 : Gosford Park
4 : Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
7 : Nurse Betty
4 : Panic Room
9 : Talk to Her
8 : Y Tu Mamá También
For recent movies, 9 is the highest possible score. The decade-based Skimble CineSystem™ is a 10-point scale, but to receive a rating of 10 a film must be at least ten years old and still be recognized as an indisputable masterpiece — e.g., Citizen Kane, Seven Samurai, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and so on.
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Thursday, February 13, 2003
Two versions of the Party of Lincoln.
George F. Will rhapsodizes about the "boldness" of the Bush budget (link via Zizka):
President Bush's fiscal 2004 budget has little foreign policy content but, properly understood, has immense foreign policy implications. If Baghdad, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Seoul understand this administration's comprehensive boldness, they will understand not only that regime change is coming to Iraq but also that the end of NATO as we have known it, and the removal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, are not unthinkable.

The budget evokes 1862. In that annus mirabilis, with the national government's writ severely restricted and the entire American project in doubt, Lincoln and Congress nevertheless enacted the Homestead Act, which sped the settlement of the Great Plains; the Morrill Act, which begot the land grant college system; and the law that ignited construction of the transcontinental railroad.
This invocation of the ghost of Lincoln is used to qualify every plutocratic, destructive move by an ex-governor of Texas.

But Lincoln, as a congressman, voted against statehood for Texas.

Wouldn't it be a different country now if Lincoln had gotten his way?

"No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent," said Abraham Lincoln, representing the views of the real party of Lincoln. The current Republican administration concerns itself not at all with the consent of anyone but its obsequious minority, and maybe not even that.

A lot more than W's budget evokes 1862. The political climate in 2003 reeks of another civil war spurred by dividend-wielding corporate plantation owners stealing the wages of their worker-slaves.
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Educate Ann Coulter's fan club. Go to the Amazon page for Ann Coulter's newest hate crime in the shape of a book, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, and enter your recommendation of Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? instead.

Here's what you do, in two easy steps:
1. Go to the Amazon advice page for Treason and scroll down to "Our Customers' Advice."

2. Cut and paste What Liberal Media's ASIN (same as the ISBN) which is 0465001769 into the "I recommend:" box, and then check off whether you'd like your recommendation to be in addition to or instead of Coulter's screeching rants. (You'll have to have an Amazon ID to recommend a book.)
Extra credit: Then go get (or give a right-wing colleague or relative) a copy of What Liberal Media? if you haven't already.
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Blood and sugar daddies. Don't miss
Orcinus on wealth, who expands Dave Johnson's argument about academic repression to make an even scarier point:
...it has long been apparent that the extremist right in America -- the neo-Nazis and skinheads, tax protesters and "Patriots," gay-bashers and anti-abortion radicals -- are being quietly funded by some very wealthy right-wing "sugar daddies." These people may not necessarily share all the views of these extremists, but they deliberately underwrite their causes as a way of creating "wedge issues" -- mostly racial and class issues that serve to keep the working class firmly entrenched in the conservative camp -- that help drag the national center rightward and start a million fires that keep liberals busy extinguishing them.

As with Johnson's 'Four Sisters' [the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife, Joseph Coors's Castle Rock Foundation and the Olin Foundation], their money grossly distorts the national body politic by exerting a strong gravitational pull rightward, and helps put a broad array of extreme agendas into play in the mainstream, when they might otherwise be relegated to the fringes. The real danger, as I've been discussing, is that the commingling of all these elements in an anti-liberal right -- especially one that is being whipped up with the kind of rhetoric that traditionally escalates into physically violent reaction -- may bring about a genuine coalition of corporatism and proto-fascism, all bent on destroying liberals.
Upward wealth redistribution isn't enough for these folks. The Ann Coulters of the USA want the alienation, exile, humiliation, and death of any citizens who disagree with them. We haven't seen bloodthirsty, self-indulgent extremists like these since the promotional tour for Mein Kampf.
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Clear Channel prepares for war. Where do you land in the pecking order of interviewability for planned war coverage?
INTERVIEW AND NEWS POSSIBILITIES:
Local and State Universities for a published guide of
'Spokespersons and Experts.'
Local Congressmen (know key committees involved)
Local Senators (same)
Terrorism experts
Chemical/Biological warfare experts
High ranking local military or ex-military officials
Military History professors
Former G-Men
Local Mosque spokesperson
Political Science professor
Government & Politics professor
International affairs experts and/or professor
Hazardous materials expert / Local Haz-Mat Director
Middle Eastern Studies professor
ROTC Instructor
Veterans of Desert Storm or the recent Afghanistan Conflict
Local families with loved ones currently in the Middle East
Local families of business types working in the Middle East
Local Companies with business ties to the Middle East (oil etc.)
Arab League Rep
Jewish Community Center Rep
Local airports and airlines
Military recruiting offices
Hotels ¡V stranded travelers?
National Guard/State Police (Are they on alert?)
Local emergency management officials or agencies
What about public access to Federal and State buildings?
Local schools ¡V business as usual?
Psychologists for effects on children
Is there a foreign consulate nearby (Israel has one in Houston)
Keep focused on the wires whatever for story angles occurring in CC markets
If a local TV station sends someone to the area find a way to use them, radio exclusive
Anti-war types
That's me there, dead last. Link via Seeing the Forest.
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"The longest traditional Senate filibuster in history belongs to recently retired Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to civil rights legislation in 1957." (
New York Times)
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hypnoMesmerizing the IRS. The Headline of the Day award goes to
"Tax Moves by Enron Said to Mystify the I.R.S." (New York Times):
Enron and other big companies have escaped taxes in recent years through financial maneuvers so complex that the Internal Revenue Service has been unable to understand them, the Senate Finance Committee will be told this morning by Congressional tax experts who spent nearly a year going over Enron's tax returns.

[...]

Enron, the Houston-based energy trading company, was one of the most politically connected businesses in the country, with ties to President Bush and many other federal officials. Its name became synonymous with corporate scandal when its stock price collapsed and it sought bankruptcy protection in December 2001. Enron's chief financial officer is awaiting trial on fraud and other charges.

The report's disclosures on corporate tax avoidance, and its details on executive compensation, "are eye-popping," said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee and one of only two people who would speak publicly yesterday about its contents.
Molto misterioso! The scale of Enron's hypnotic powers boggles the mind:
"The report paints quite a shocking picture of Enron's tax gimmicks and structured transactions and executive compensation," Mr. Baucus said. "Bad as Enron is going to come out, the deeper concern is this is just not Enron alone. It involves lots of other companies and how they inundated the I.R.S., out-complexed the I.R.S. The I.R.S. just cannot handle the complexity of some of these transactions."

Enron created 881 offshore subsidiaries, 692 of them in the Cayman Islands, as part of its strategy to avoid taxes.

The committee chairman, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, called the report "an absolute barn-burner."

At a confirmation hearing for new Tax Court judges yesterday, Senator Grassley said the report "provides for the first time the complete story of Enron's efforts to manipulate its taxes and accounting."

"The report is very disturbing in its findings," he added. "From this report, I'm worried about the Tax Court blessing highly artful interpretations of the code."

[...]

Enron did not pay taxes in four of the five years before its collapse, according to the financial statements it sent to shareholders. The company has hinted in the past that it may have actually paid some tax during those four years because of the corporate alternative minimum tax. If Enron did pay some alternative tax in those four years, it would raise fresh questions about the reliability of reports to shareholders and whether the Securities and Exchange Commission is adequately policing rules on the disclosure of material information about corporate finances.
So far none of this is news, although it's worth repeating for a variety of reasons.

Tucked into the article was something a bit less unique to Enron and bit more shocking in its quantification:
Tax shelters are sold primarily to the very biggest companies because they can pay the largest fees to the accounting and law firms and investment houses that design them and sell them on the condition of confidentiality. The I.R.S. has stepped up efforts to find tax shelters, but the agency lacks the resources to address the problem fully, Charles O. Rossotti, the former I.R.S. commissioner, warned last fall in his final report to his oversight board.

Corporate profits reported to the I.R.S. in 1998 were $155 billion less than those reported to shareholders, according to Mihir A. Desai, a Harvard economist. His study and others suggest that tax shelters may be the primary reason for this difference, which is costing the government as much as $54 billion in taxes each year.

The 10,000 or so largest companies paid 20.3 percent of their 1999 profits in federal income taxes, while the next tier of companies paid at a 30.9 percent rate, according to an I.R.S. analysis of corporate tax returns for the year. The largest companies had 26 times the profits of the second tier of companies, which paid income taxes at a rate 50 percent higher than the largest companies, the I.R.S. data shows.
So much for double taxation of dividends. They apparently weren't even properly taxed the first time, if the cash was siphoned off to fund elaborate tax shelters.

The middle class of companies, like the middle class of citizens, is paying more than its share. The wealth redistribution schemes of this administration and the Republican Party are designed to tilt the playing field toward their contributor-masters, so that all wealth rolls uphill and concentrates in the fewest hands.

If we're losing $54 billion a year to shelters, what would it cost for the IRS to "address the problem"? $1 billion? $10 billion? Even if it cost an annual $25 billion to enforce IRS rules, We the People would be getting over 100% return on this investment — the closest thing we'll ever see to a Nasdaq bull market while a sticky-fingered Republican is president.
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Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Poetry in the Bartlet White House. Apparently
iambic tetrameter and cinquains figure in tonight's episode of The West Wing.

With all this poetry talk in the air, First Lady Laura Bush might need to tune in and learn something.
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The Guardian on US voting machines:
By 2004, most voters in the US may well be voting by touch-screen systems, provided by a handful of companies, mainly private. Routine oversight of the counting process is effectively impossible. Even in the event of a court challenge, there is no sure way of telling that the votes have been allocated correctly. I asked a spokesman for Diebold, one of the largest firms involved, how a losing candidate would know they had lost. "Our machines undergo a battery of tests undertaken by independent testing associations for logic and accuracy," he said.

Fine - in theory the machines are perfect: we all have computers that never go wrong, don't we? Unfortunately, there appears to be nothing to stop to a corrupt company, a corrupt official or a corrupt (or merely incompetent) programmer subverting the democratic will.

There has, naturally, been zilch coverage of this issue in the mainstream American press - because the White House hasn't mentioned it. But conspiracy theorists on the web (see, for instance, ecotalk.org and bartcop.com) are hard at work. The Florida election was, of course, a shambles again in the 2002 midterm election, especially in the primaries. The conspiracists, however, are concentrating on two other states.

One is Georgia, where all the votes in 2002 were cast on Diebold screens. The sitting Democratic senator and (to general astonishment) governor were both defeated in the election. Nine of Diebold's 12 directors are listed as Republican donors. The other case is Nebraska, where more than 80% of the votes last November were counted on machines produced by the leader in the field: ES & S. Nebraska handily re-elected its Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, who just happens to be the company's former chief executive and remains a major shareholder. I do not remotely suggest either election was rigged, though Charlie Matulka, Hagel's beaten Democratic opponent, has protested in a manner somewhat unusual for a candidate who only got 15%. This is probably all just paranoia, but the Paranoid party has as much right to participate in elections as anyone else - and to know how and why they have lost.
Much more on this topic at Seeing the Forest. Link via Atrios.
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universe

This is the eye of my God. How long will it be before faith-based budgeting eliminates science-based cosmology?

How does creationism and so-called "intelligent design" square with astrophysics and the geological record? Can believers in "revealed" truth ever peacefully coexist with actual, physical truth? Doesn't the complexity of reality intrude upon the simplistic formulas that govern their souls?
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Even meaningless gossip columns play into right-wing tactics of ridicule. Do you disagree with someone? Call them crybabies, as do the playground pundits of
The New York Post's Page Six:
Iraq hacks

The appeasement mob can add playwright Arthur Miller to its ranks. Miller is joining more than 25 other Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, poet laureates and hip-hoppers who will read "Poems Not Fit for the White House" Feb. 17 at Avery Fisher Hall. The leftie literati - who oppose the liberation of Iraq from genocidal Saddam Hussein - are miffed at First Lady Laura Bush, because she put the kibosh on a White House poetry symposium after poet Sam Hamill submitted antiwar propaganda from his colleagues. Other crybabies include Saul Williams, Robert Pinsky, Stanley Kunitz, Mark Strand and Mos Def.
Could there be more damning evidence of the liberal bias of the New York press than this? [The NY Post link will vanish after today. Link via MobyLives.]

More about responses to the poetry dissenters here.
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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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