"All reporters preparing package scripts must submit the scripts for approval," it [a new CNN document, "Reminder of Script Approval Policy"] says. "Packages may not be edited until the scripts are approved... All packages originating outside Washington, LA (Los Angeles) or NY (New York), including all international bureaus, must come to the ROW in Atlanta for approval."
The date of this extraordinary message is 27 January. The "ROW" is the row of script editors in Atlanta who can insist on changes or "balances" in the reporter's dispatch. "A script is not approved for air unless it is properly marked approved by an authorised manager and duped (duplicated) to burcopy (bureau copy)... When a script is updated it must be re-approved, preferably by the originating approving authority."
I thought the commercials were supposed to do the selling, not the news. CNN is now one of several 24-hour nonstop sales networks, alternating between advertiser shrieking and government shilling.
Do the People care who owns their TV and radio stations, who feeds them their media gruel? By midday, 195 of the People had made their way to the convention center here. One hundred nineteen of them were white men in suits; many of those men were grumbling about the trip down from Washington. Twenty-two people were scheduled to address the commission; 13 of them had traveled here from the District.
But Anthony Mazza and his friends had made it in from Philadelphia, where they have grown so tired of bland broadcast fare that they attached cardboard TV set frames to their heads and sat in the hearing room wearing blue lab coats -- their protest against 500 channels of nothing to watch.
"Listeners are turning off the radio in huge numbers and the media companies don't care," Mazza says, "because the only thing that matters to them is getting their share of whatever audience there is." Mazza, 30 and unemployed, has a show on Radio Volta, a small community station in Philadelphia that lets him play everything from hard-core hip-hop to old country songs to swing-era jazz. It's all his choice, radio the way it used to be, one person programming for whoever might listen.
That is not the corporate way, as described by Mark Mays, president of Clear Channel Communications, the behemoth that dominates the radio dial in many cities. Clear Channel, he said today, plays "the music our listeners want to hear," as determined by "extensive local audience research, listener requests and feedback." Mays argues that Americans like the wave of consolidation that swept through the radio industry after 1996, when the FCC eliminated the limit on the number of radio stations a company could own nationwide and raised the number a company could own in any one city from two to eight. That reform, Mays and other media executives argue, increased the variety and quality of programming, bringing big-city talent to little towns where the radio station used to be owned by a local family and programmed by low-rent talent.
And what if the people in those little towns liked their homey old radio stations the way they were? In Richmond, where Clear Channel owns six stations, Mays proudly announced that it has enriched the airwaves by adding alternative rock and hip-hop to the menu of formats on the local dial.
Now that's progress. How exciting and generous of Clear Channel to create artificial monopolistic markets from which it alone will profit.
Philadelphian Anthony Mazza and his Radio Volta has as much right to occupy the public airwaves as any corporate entity. The FCC, however, especially under the stewardship of industry sycophant Michael Powell, has recently repositioned itself as a handservant to the corporate and religious broadcasters of the US.
Clear Channel Communications CEO Mark P. Mays called the radio ownership experience following 1996's rule change "the canary in the coalmine, providing evidence of the dangers of deregulation — dangers, they say, that await other media that would follow in radio's footsteps. This analogy doesn't fly for one simple reason — the canary isn't dead. To the contrary, it is alive and well, healthier and more robust than ever."
[FCC] Commissioner [Michael] Copps' retort: "You're right, it's not dead –- it immediately acquired the coal mine, and now controls 12 radio stations down there."
In a recent study for the Washington Legal Foundation, former Attorney General Griffin Bell suggests a number of strategies for judges to assert control over asbestos litigation, including insisting on proof of injury, ensuring the reliability of medical evidence, and limiting punitive damages.
Well-funded right-wingers snuggled in their charity think tanks insist that they and they alone should determine the proper compensation of anyone hurt by asbestos — not judges, not juries, not you.
File under: Washington Legal Foundation, right wing 501(c)(3) "charity," big sugar daddy Richard Mellon Scaife, nasty IOLTA aid for po' folk, asbestos-caused mesothelioma, McTort reform, class warfare, plutocratic evil running rampant.
Galvestonian Allen Tyler put more than $18,000 in his pocket by selling fingernails and toenails from bodies donated to the University of Texas* Medical Branch for medical research, newly released records show.
Tyler supervised UTMB's Willed Body Program for more than 30 years until he was fired almost a year ago. He also received at least $56,000 in direct payments from a New Jersey firm; UTMB officials believe its owner and Tyler profited from the illegal sale of bodies or body parts, the records show.
Records examined by the Houston Chronicle this week show that between November 1999 and August 2001, Tyler received at least $18,210 from Watson Laboratories Inc. of Salt Lake City for hundreds of human fingernails and toenails. The firm used the nails to test experimental medicines.
Tyler received $4,005 from Watson in one transaction. The money paid for 232 fingernails at $15 each and 35 toenails at $15 each, according to Tyler's records. Tyler sent letters directing the company to make out checks to him, and he gave his home address in Galveston as the place to which the payments should be sent, records show.
After Tyler was fired, UTMB officials discovered that he had allowed the ashes of scores of body donors whose remains were cremated to be commingled, making it impossible to return ashes to donors' families who had expected to receive the remains. After UTMB informed the families of the mixed ashes, relatives of several body donors filed lawsuits -- all still pending -- against Tyler and UTMB seeking damages.
The newly released records include many invoices that show how donated bodies were used.
Among dozens of those invoices, more than 30 reflect shipments of body parts -- mostly human torsos -- to a company called Surgical Body Forms, owned by Agostino "Augie" Perna.
The Perna-related invoices direct that checks be made out to Tyler and sent to him at his office or his home.
We wouldn't ordinarily pay this much attention to the symbolic character of Texas, except that the state has generously offered to share the genius of its former governor with us and the rest of the world.
*Let's not forget that the esteemed University of Texas and its macabre cache of donated and mutilated human cadavers is also a major client of the dastardly and mysterious Carlyle Group.
Frank Quattrone, Credit Suisse First Boston's investment-banking star, was apprised of three regulatory inquiries, including a criminal probe, into the firm's IPO practices days before he urged colleagues to purge files.
In a series of e-mails on Dec. 3, 2000, the securities firm's in-house lawyer David Brodsky informed Mr. Quattrone about the investigations into the underwriting of technology stocks by CSFB, a unit of Credit Suisse Group. The e-mails were sent two days before Mr. Quattrone, in a Dec. 5 e-mail, urged CSFB bankers to follow the advice of a CSFB banker to dispose of notes, valuation analyses and other internal memos to protect the firm against lawsuits resulting from the bursting of the technology-stock bubble.
Quattrone and his crew made CSFB the top underwriter of tech IPOs during the tech boom in 1999. They underwrote $6.08 billion worth of IPOs on 62 separate issues, according to Thomson Financial.
In 2000 CSFB slipped to No. 4, behind Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, with $4.72 billion and 44 separate issues.
Earlier in the same article, we get a sense of Quattrone's scope by comparing his crimes with those of Merrill Lynch:
A probe by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer against Merrill Lynch made public scandalous e-mails that rocked the firm, causing the stock to drop more than 25 percent and forcing Merrill to pony up $100 million and institute reforms to settle the case.
But CSFB had many more underwritings under star tech banker Frank Quattrone than Merrill did.
Now the time has come for CSFB's Frank Quattrone, Bubble Boy Extraordinaire turned Superstar Email Deleter, to pony up his share of the loot.
Merrill Lynch's $100 million fine is all well and good, and CSFB's $200 million fine or whatever it ends up being will be very nice, I'm sure, but why aren't any of these people going to enjoy some quality downtime in jail? A good working definition of class warfare would be when only the lower classes go to prison for their crimes, while the masters of Enron, Tyco, Merrill Lynch and CSFB get wrist-slapped (if anything) and fined in trivial amounts relative to the enormity of their thefts and indiscretions.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democratic leaders will meet as early as today to determine how to respond to allegations that top aides to Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio) suggested that a congressional probe of mutual fund companies might ease if the industry dismissed one of its most prominent Democratic lobbyists or hired a Republican. As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Oxley oversees mutual fund companies.
"That is an extraordinarily serious allegation," Hoyer said. If proven true, "it's both unethical and frankly borders on perhaps being criminal."
Oxley oversees a $6 trillion industry that is currently under investigation, and his aides allegedly "suggest" that it might be a good idea to fire a Democrat or hire a Republican. Low IQ, but high QPQ (quid pro quotient).
Investigate the bastard.
UPDATE: An article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) adds a twist of the conservative zealot Grover Norquist to the story:
When the new ICI lobbyist is hired, "I would be surprised if it wasn't a Republican," said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.
Mr. Norquist launched the so-called "K Street Project" in 1998 to pressure trade associations to hire Republicans and contribute more to the party.
He said the research confirmed his view that industry lobbying efforts were faltering because trade groups relied on "aging, left-wing Democrats" to make their case to Republican congressional leaders and staff.
"This ICI is a poster child for this -- it's one of the worst," said Mr. Norquist.
The $6.3 trillion mutual fund industry should be leading the charge to create private accounts within Social Security and expand savings plans, such as the 401(k) and Individual Retirement Account, but has neglected to do so because its Democratic lobbyists oppose the idea, Mr. Norquist charged.
Congressional Republicans adopted legislation to expand IRAs and 401(k)s "all on their lonesome, without any help from those guys," said Mr. Norquist. He figures the ICI will be little help on tax reform in 2003 unless it shakes up its lobbying team.
"All they have is contacts with washed-up Democratic congressmen," said Mr. Norquist. "They're in a time warp, they don't know the majority, or how the majority thinks."
Interestingly, the administration, in total defiance to Norquist, is simultaneously backing away (NYT) from its own push to further destroy Americans' ability to amass retirement savings, preferring to focus almost exclusively on tax cuts for the rich and preemptive war in Iraq.
A panel of experts has strongly criticized the Bush administration's proposed research plan on the risks of global warming, saying that it "lacks most of the elements of a strategic plan" and that its goals cannot be achieved without far more money than the White House has sought for climate research.
The 17 experts, in a report issued yesterday, said that without substantial changes, the administration's plan would be unlikely to accomplish the aim laid out by President Bush in several speeches: to help decision makers and the public* determine how serious the problem is so that they can make clear choices about how to deal with it.
The president has said that more research is needed before the administration can even consider mandatory restrictions on heat-trapping greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
The expert panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences at the administration's request, said some of the plan's proposals for new research seemed to rehash questions that had already been largely settled.
"In some areas, it's as if these people were not cognizant of the existing science," said one member, Dr. William H. Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University. "Stuff that would have been cutting edge in 1980 is listed as a priority for the future."
For example, the report said, far more is already known about human activity's contribution to global warming than is suggested by the administration's plan, which, the panel said, expresses too much uncertainty about the question.
*The public have already made up their minds, with 75% of all adults recognizing the existence of global warming and 70% supporting the Kyoto agreements, according to this Harris poll. Even a 54% majority of propaganda-susceptible Republicans approve of the Kyoto agreements.
When the current administration is not selling out to organized religion, it's selling out to organized industry. To counter this rampage of organized racketeering against the desires and resources of American citizens, we should consider reconfiscating our country under RICO legislation.
With all the familiar faces from the 1980s, the revival of Star Wars, the rhetoric of empire, and now the erasure of more than two decades of environmental research, I wonder if Ralph Nader supporters have yet figured out that they successfully campaigned to reelect Ronald Reagan.
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.
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.
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.
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."
...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.
*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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.")
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:
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
Houston'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.
Enron 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.