culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Monday, May 19, 2003
Hypocritical scoundrel Tom Craddick rewrites his own history, decrying the disappearing Democrats in the Texas legislature "when he was one of 30 members of the Texas House who disappeared during the 1971 legislative session."

Link via Liquid List. We last wrote about Craddick, his "emergency" tax breaks concocted with co-conspirator Guvna Dubya, his lobbyist daughter, and his energy industry pimping here.

UPDATE 5/20/03: This May 19 Washington Post editorial puts the whole issue into perspective: "The Texas Republican plan is a naked power grab that pushes in the opposite direction [of a rational system]. The Post's Lee Hockstader reported that one street in Austin would cross four districts -- one of which snakes 300 miles to the Mexican border. Democracy is supposed to be about voters picking their representatives, not the other way around."
Aaron Sorkin's 25th Amendment. Richard Just writes in an
online-only article for The American Prospect about the departure of the creator of The West Wing from his own show, and the loss we viewers will feel: "When the show was firing on all cylinders -- which was not always, but often enough -- it had the sophistication of literature."

Agreed. The intellectual passion that Just rightly identifies as the heart and soul of the show — as opposed to its liberal ideology — will be sorely missed. Its expected disappearance will serve as yet another reflection of the pandering coarseness of our times, and of the sad homogeneity of the broadcast networks, the conjoined quadruplets of marketplace mediocrity.
Friday, May 16, 2003
Lea Fastow: bad art buyer. Wife of disgraced Enron CFO Andrew Fastow made not only aesthetic mistakes but also economic ones when she became the company's $20 million-toting art guru, described at length

Now that an auction of Enron's precious objets d'art has taken place, the first of several planned to raise funds for its 23,000 creditors, we learn that a piece she bought for $590,000 switchesthree years ago sold earlier this week for $360,000, an investment return of –39%, still a much better return than her husband and Ken Lay were able to produce on Enron stock.

From the subscription-loving Wall Street Journal:
Bankrupt Enron Corp. raised nearly $1 million to pay creditors during an art auction that sold prized possessions such as Claes Oldenburg's pop sculpture "Soft Light Switches," which fetched $360,000.

A U.S. bankruptcy judge earlier this week authorized Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, an international art auction house, to conduct the sale.

The five-lot collection had been expected to bring between $720,000 and $1.03 million, Enron spokeswoman Karen Denne said. In Thursday's auction, it raised $952,000 for Enron, including $135,000 for Jack Pierson's sculpture "Stardust" and $265,000 for Donald Judd's untitled minimalist sculpture of two boxes.

Enron creditors have filed 23,000 claims worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
If I owed you a few hundred thousand dollars, and managed to raise one dollar, how happy would you be? Proportionally, that's what the auction proceeds of $1 million will be to the creditors — nothing.

Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, on the other hand, got commissions both ways — on the original sale and on the auction. Round trip trading in the art world mirrors that of the energy industry.
Retired oil millionaire overseeing Iraqi oil. Pick up a newspaper and find any number of Bush administration conflicts of interest, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day (
Houston Chronicle):
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Retired Houston oil executive Philip Carroll, the Pentagon's handpicked adviser overseeing the reconstruction of Iraq's oil industry, acknowledged Thursday that he faces potential conflicts of interest because of his financial holdings in American companies planning to bid on Iraqi oil contracts.


Carroll had a 32-year career with Shell Oil Co. in Texas, where he retired as its chief executive officer, and another four years as the head of Fluor.

"You have to realize that oil occupies a very important and unique place in the minds of the Iraqi people," the Texas oilman said. "It constitutes the overwhelming, dominant economic force in the country. It provides the wherewithal of building a better life for the Iraqis.

"There are also feelings throughout the population that oil represents, in essence, the national heritage of Iraq."

Securities and Exchange Commission documents show Carroll continues to be paid more than $1 million a year by Fluor Corp. in retirement benefits and bonuses. He also owns about 1 million shares of the company's stock, documents show.

Fluor has said it plans to bid on an Army Corps of Engineers contract to rebuild Iraq's oil industry to prewar levels.

Last fall, Carroll said, he began working for the Pentagon, developing contingency plans for Iraq's oil sector in the event of war. He assumed his work was completed, he said, until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called him shortly after the U.S.-led invasion began and offered him the oil adviser's job.

"My response was, `Well, this is not high on my hit parade list right now,' " Carroll said. "But under the circumstances, you just can't say no."
We're the ones who should be saying no to government by, for and of CEOs, especially the Texas variety.

The "national heritage of Iraq" is, oddly enough, one of the foundations of Western civilization, a point that is beyond the comprehension of your average Houston oil executive. And everything we've seen so far about this administration's grasp of foreign policy and homeland security is well below average, so it follows that a clueless joker like Carroll would equate Iraq's national heritage with the object of his desire — its oil.

Thanks to Junior's administration, soon not only our entire country but all those under its influence will become the carcinogenic, larcenous, murderous shithole that Texas is.

⇒ Additional resource: A beginner's guide to Iraqi oil.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
Lunar eclipse tonight. "If the weather is clear, skywatchers across most of the Americas, Europe and Africa will have a view of one of nature's most beautiful spectacles: A total eclipse of the Moon." Link via Plep.
Quick hits:
Enron's "mighty man adventure vacations." An SEC complaint filed a couple of weeks ago supposedly offers a "road map" (the metaphor du jour) to the prosecution of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling for fraud.

But what's interesting about this
Wall Street Journal (sub. req'd) account by Rebecca Smith is the Testosterone-Helper culture of Enron's senior management:
The complaint details occasions in which EBS [Enron Broadband Services] executives allegedly misled investors by painting a rosy picture of the division's prospects, despite their knowledge of actual difficulties. Mr. Skilling was present at some of those meetings and participated actively, according to attendees and, in some cases, documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. [Kenneth] Rice, along with the others, was charged with defrauding the investors while reaping millions of dollars in Enron stock sales. He is the person closest to Mr. Skilling to have been indicted in the continuing government investigation into the collapse of the onetime energy-sector highflier. Mr. Rice, who resigned from Enron before Mr. Skilling left in August 2001, worked with Mr. Skilling for more than a decade and was one of a handful of company officials who accompanied the chief executive on so-called mighty man adventure vacations to Mexico, South America and Australia.
That these dickless wonders committed fraud is hardly doubtful:
Earlier, in July 2000, Mr. Skilling, in a recorded conference call, told analysts that the broadband division was experiencing "breakout performance" in the content-service business and that the Blockbuster contract could be valued "well over $1 billion."

What listeners had no way of knowing was that the venture struggled from the start. Enron soon set up an off-balance-sheet partnership, called Braveheart, to convert into earnings a portion of the value supposedly embedded in the fledgling content-services business. The company realized more than $110 million in profit in late 2000 and early 2001, essentially with money borrowed from a Canadian bank, even though the actual underlying venture with Blockbuster had revenue, during its brief life, of only a few thousand dollars. Enron reversed those gains during the third quarter of 2001, contributing to the erosion in investor confidence that led to the company's downfall.

Later in that same July 2000 call, Mr. Skilling lauded the capabilities of Enron's fiber-optic system, claiming that it, alone, was able to deliver movies-on-demand for Blockbuster. In the conference call, Mr. Skilling said the ability to deliver "television-quality video ... is something that our entire network is devoted to." He said Enron's unique software could "control the signal ... all the way to the end user. We believe at this point we're the only people that could provide this comprehensive service to Blockbuster or anybody for that matter.... That's kind of our space, and that's the one that we want to dominate."

Whether this was hyperbole common to the technology firms at the time or constituted fraud is something prosecutors will have to decide. Even as the broadband business was collapsing, Mr. Skilling sought to allay investor concerns. "EBS is coming along just fine," he said in an earnings conference call on March 23, 2001. "We're in a situation where we clearly have a surplus in supply, and we have real fast declining prices, so that's good. In fact, that is better for us as time goes on. So EBS is looking good."

Shortly after Mr. Skilling resigned [four months later in August 2001], Enron shut down the entire broadband business and wrote off most of its investment.
Lying on this scale is no longer lying. The garbage that flowed so effortlessly from the lips of Jeffrey Skilling represents something much bigger and more harmful than lying, because it simultaneously destroyed the livelihoods and retirement savings of thousands of Enron employees — and helped to put another dickless wonder, a Texas governor who suffers from the same susceptibility to ersatz manhood (fake ranch, borrowed military uniform, etc.), into the White House.
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
More right wing homo panic. The message below comes from an email sent to me by the American Family Association, whose mailing list I got onto when I complained about their misunderstanding of the subtleties of South Park's satire, a message that was totally lost on them:
YWCA hires lesbian feminist as leader

"We fear the focus will now become homosexual indoctrination among young girls." — Don Wildmon

The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) has just hired Patricia Ireland to become the chief executive officer of the girl's organization. Ireland is the former leader of the
National Organization for Women (NOW), a radical feminist group that is pro-abortion and pro-homosexual.

Patricia Ireland is also an admitted bisexual who has had a husband living in Florida and a female homosexual "partner" in Washington, DC. In her biography, What Women Want, she wrote: "I have a husband, and he is very important in my life. I also have a companion, and she is very important in my life, too."

"We fear the focus will now become homosexual indoctrination among young girls," says Don Wildmom, Chairman of American Family Association (AFA). "Ireland has a long history of promoting a radical agenda and will not hesitate to incorporate her left-wing values into the mission."

Wildmon says the YWCA made a concious decision in hiring Ireland and wants parents to be aware of the organization's dangerous direction. "Lesbianism, cross-dressing, and abortion are all part of Ireland's history. It will soon become YWCA's present."
The email goes on to suggest a three-point plan of action:
1. Refuse to support the YWCA organization. The dangers presented to young girls, by far, overshadow any positive public image the group may project.

2. Most local United Way programs help fund the YWCA. Make United Way donations exempt from going to the YWCA.

3. Send a letter to YWCA, letting them know you oppose Patricia Ireland as their leader.
The neo-McCarthyites persist even in the face of being called as much, according to this Christianized "news" report:
YWCA stands for "Young Women's Christian Association," and those words are inconsistent with the new president of the group, according to Andrea Lafferty lafferty
Andrea Lafferty:
"I hate you"
of the Traditional Values Coalition. Lafferty insists that Ireland, who was a self-proclaimed bisexual and formerly head of the radical feminist group, National Organization for Women, should not be in charge at the YWCA.

"She is none of the above. She's not young ... and she's not a Christian," she said. Lafferty noted that, in an appearance on the popular FOX News channel show The O'Reilly Factor, Ireland would not answer host Bill O'Reilly's specific questions concerning whether or not she was a Christian. "She wouldn't respond and called that 'McCarthyism,'" Lafferty said.
Andrea Lafferty is a full-blown fanatical bigot nutcase, as witnessed by her attack on NPR, her attack on Rosie O'Donnell, her attack on Britney Spears, and her attack on Democratic senators filibustering the judicial nominations of ideologues Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen. With a tolerance level of zero for anyone she disagrees with, she embodies the lockstep hatred and anti-freedom of the New Right.

When the YWCA — a Christian organization — is targeted by the right wing's cultural revolutionaries, it's Cannibal Time at the Trough of Greed. Circuits are shorting, sparks are flying, and the whole ugly machine is going haywire.

How sad and immature these people are, because sexual topics never lose currency with them. Their president can be an ex-drunk AWOL deserter, his married brother can ditch his wife and family for the former First Lady's assistant, and their morality czar can rack up $8 million in losses at the slots in Vegas, and still their focus remains on the private and often imagined sex lives of qualified and responsible adults.

In the third paragraph, despite the fact that the AFA's Fearless Leader's name is Wildmon, the typo "Wildmom" was in the original email — a Freudian slip, no doubt.

Check out the great, inclusive, all-American organization National Organization for Women (NOW), as well as their presidential site The Truth about George W. Bush, a compendium of facts about a very destructive person.
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Unlikely activists. Here in Skimbleland we reserve special admiration for unlikely activists — those folks who are not academics or journalists or bloggers or rabblerousers but are just sick and tired of the abuse or the bullshit they must put up with, and do something about it.

Today we look at a Mississippi farmer who is not allowed to save the seed he owns. From the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Mitchell Scruggs hardly fits the profile of an activist.

A 53-year-old Mississippian, Scruggs runs a cotton gin and owns the biggest farm in three counties surrounding Tupelo. Until a few years ago, he had never protested over civil rights, the environment or anything else.

That changed when he found that Monsanto forbids those using its product from the age-old practice of saving seeds from one crop to plant the next. The licensing agreement says they must buy new seed each year.

Now Scruggs is fighting in the courts, by word of mouth and just about any way he can. He helped form Save Our Seed, a farmers' rights group that advocates seed recovery as it has been done for generations.

"I'm opposed to what Monsanto's about," Scruggs said in an interview last week. "They're raping farm communities and breaking farmers, because farmers do not have any other place to go to get this planting seed."

The manufacturer says it is entitled to protect the value of its "intellectual property" and to recover research costs. It says those who violate the licenses commit "seed piracy."

Scruggs, whose family has farmed in Mississippi for more than a century, is among 73 farmers sued by Monsanto in the past five years on civil claims of patent violations. He countersued, saying that the patents are invalid and that Monsanto enforces a monopoly over the seed industry. The case is pending in U.S. District Court in Tupelo.
Another illustration of the stupidity of patenting lifeforms, turning family farms into indentured corporate servitude. How does saving something you own constitute "piracy"?

Link via bad things.
Texas: scolded. California: fucked. Enron has become a one-word punch line, but it represents just one of several Texas energy companies that were all involved in same basic business: creating false profits that swindled consumers and simultaneously financed the campaigns of George W. Bush. The multibillion dollar energy crisis in California was engineered by a group of companies of which Enron is only the most well-known example.

Reliant is one company that fits the pattern perfectly — lying, thieving, screwing Californians, donating to Bush, and suffering no serious repercussions whatsoever (Nelson Antosh in the
Houston Chronicle):
Reliant Resources' bogus power trades and transactions designed to shift earnings from one period to the next have drawn the minimum punishment from securities regulators.

Putting an end to a near yearlong investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a cease-and-desist order Monday against Reliant Resources and Reliant Energy, now CenterPoint Energy.

The Houston-based companies received no fines or other penalties.

Neither company admits nor denies the agency's findings of reporting and record-keeping violations and securities fraud in the settlement that was advanced by the companies.

The 17 round-trip trades between 1999 and 2001 involved the same-day purchase and sale of power, to the same company at the same price.

For the most part, these trades resulted in no profit or loss to either side, the commission said.

"Instead, the trades were designed for the sole purpose of increasing trading volumes to improve respondents' standing in the gas and power trading rankings in industry publications," according to the commission.

These were giant transactions, ranging from 30 times to 46 times the size of a normal large trade.
An article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) adds the following details:
The SEC said its probe showed that Reliant, starting in 1999, set out to become one of the nation's top-tier traders. The company arranged so-called wash trades with smaller competitors, buying and selling identical amounts of electricity or gas at identical prices on the same days. These transactions boosted revenue and trading volumes without lifting earnings.

During the period from 1999 through 2001, Reliant did 17 "wash" trades for a total of 134.43 million megawatt hours of electricity, with the average false trade, by the end of 2001, nearly 50 times the size of a normal large trade.

With that push, investigators said, Reliant was lifted from the No. 10 position in electricity trading to No. 7 by 1999, to No. 5 by 2000 and, finally, to No. 3 by 2001, when widespread allegations of trading improprieties began unraveling the wholesale-electricity market. Among gas traders, it was lifted to No. 7 from No. 8 through a smaller number of fake trades.
Fake, fake, fake. In two years, Reliant went from No. 7 to No. 3 in electricity trading on the basis of... nothing at all.

And yet these unfined and unpunished frauds were useful to someone else — George W. Bush. The architects of Reliant's brilliant fake business plan, former Reliant CEOs Don D. Jordan and R. Steve Letbetter are both Bush Pioneer donors, having raised well over $100,000 each.

No fines, no penalties, not even the sound of another shoe dropping.

Texas swindled California and gave the crooked money in record amounts to its governor to run for president.

⇒ Additional resources: Reliant's corporate home page and a post on the fake California energy crisis.
Monday, May 12, 2003
L. Paul Bremer wins Iraq. There's a new saddle on the Iraqi horse, says the
Washington Post:
"I also want to say how proud I am of the work my good friend Jay Garner and the people who are working for him, how proud I am of everything they have done here in the last couple of weeks under extraordinary circumstances," [L. Paul Bremer III] said after arriving in Basra.

He said he wanted to "pay public tribute to Jay and all of his people for the great job they have done."


Bremer said former U.S. ambassador Barbara Bodine, who was coordinator for central Iraq, including Baghdad, within the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, was being reassigned back to Washington by the State Department "for their own reasons."


Bremer, 61, is a former assistant to former Secretaries of State William P. Rogers and Henry Kissinger. He was ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism from 1986 to 1989, and he also has served as U.S. ambassador to Holland. He most recently has been chairman of the Marsh Crisis Consulting firm.

Bremer reports directly to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Gen. Tommy Franks, the Central Command chief, remains in charge of all U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and the region.
Further evidence of how Defense is trumping State — not that Garner and Bodine were especially intelligent choices in the first place, as pointed out here (Garner) and here (Bodine).

Wondering how Bremer got the gig? A public presidential blow job might have lubricated the way. This Kissinger crony and Reagan worshipper is moving his lips with a vast amount of sycophantic energy, as witnessed by his remarks in March 2003 in the New York Times:
...Europeans call the American President a "cowboy" blundering into an "unnecessary war" with Iraq.  But like Reagan before him, this President [has] a clearer worldview than his critics.

For a year and half, with remarkable clarity President Bush has laid out his understanding of the threat posed by a new breed of terrorists.  These Islamic extremists are motivated by a burning hatred of all things western — not just the superficialities of the West, our films, magazines and culture, but the very foundations of our societies — the separation of Church and State, universal suffrage, women's education, a free press and trade unions.  To understand their vision of an ideal society, one need look no further than the hideous Taliban regime.
As this administration attacks the very same foundations of our society that the "extremists" are accused of attacking, it selects another zealot against Islamic zealotry — too dense not to confuse Hussein with bin Laden — and sets Bremer loose in newly conquered lands of the Middle East.

It probably didn't hurt that bremer"

L. Paul Bremer:
"Star Wars will
save you from
Osama bin Laden"
Bremer authored a 2002 Heritage Foundation study entitled "Defending the American Homeland" that prioritizes domestic security interests. Examples: Infrastructure: "Priority #4: Enhance the private sector’s role in infrastructure protection." Intelligence and Law Enforcement: "Priority #2: Rapidly improve information-gathering capabilities at all levels of government." The task force for the study, "chaired by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer and former attorney general Edwin Meese III, reviewed the homeland security proposals in circulation and created a set of priority recommendations for preventing and responding effectively to potential terrorist attacks on the American homeland."

Bremer-Meese's Heritage Foundation study was reviewed as if it were a book:
Now, I’m not second-guessing a former Attorney General (that would be Mr. Meese, for all you Gen Xers; he served under Reagan) on policy, but from an analytical point of view, this is scary stuff. Solutions include more surveillance and drastically improved civil defense. It’s a strange mix of horrific language ("an all-source, Federal level, information fusion center") and one bleak possibility. For 170-plus e-pages, what you get is this message: "Spend this money this way, or lots of you will die. Implement these programs, or lots of you will die. Use our military this way, or lots of you will die. Beef up this part of our infrastructure, or lots of you will die."
Tragically, these self-misled homeland security "experts," supposedly insulating our collective future against suitcase bomb and bioweapon attacks, are actually more willing to spend the money on Star Wars missile defense systems.

And the ironies accumulate. In this age of Bush-crony corporate malfeasance, Bremer's day job is supposedly as an expert in corporate governance, which, in Bremer's Orwellian doublespeak, actually means "strikebreaking":
When a massive labor strike threatens a company's ability to achieve its financial goals or even survive, Management needs to be ready to manage that challenge with a comprehensive, fully integrated Crisis Readiness program.
Postwar Iraq report card: Bodine: F. Garner: F. Bremer: Too soon to tell, but our bet is on F.

Additional resources: Here's the introduction for a Financial Executives International speech Bremer gave in April 2003 at a Dallas country club, his "Crisis Academy library" and his official announcement as presidential envoy.
Friday, May 09, 2003
Art Chicago 2003, the best annual large-scale art fair in Chicago and perhaps the country will be here today through May 12.

As the show producers say, "No other venue in this country offers such a dynamic and concise survey of contemporary art to the public." And they're not kidding — it's a great show.
The sweet and patriotic smell of skunk. Journalism needs to wake up and indulge its Inner Pot-Stirrer, says
William Powers (May 9, 2003):
The problem, and the essential challenge for the news business right now, is that we are living through a moment that's inhospitable to our deepest talents and inclinations. The best journalists are troublemakers, pot-stirrers, naysayers, dirt-eaters. When the whole culture is saying "Yes, yes, yes" to some sparkly idea or popular leader, we love nothing better than to be the ones who rush in screaming "No, no, no," brandishing the ugly evidence. To the noble hack, there is no smell sweeter than the skunk spray of a major political scandal.


Maybe none of these stories are as solid as their promoters suggest. Maybe it's all a bunch of thinly disguised partisan trash. But then, some of the best stories have intensely partisan origins. The point is, we seem to have lost our appetite for this stuff, at exactly the moment when we should be indulging it. When flags are waving everywhere, it's time for journalists to get back in touch with their nasty, scandal-loving inner selves. It's the most patriotic thing we could possibly do.
"Patriotic" is a word that desperately needs a couple of viable variant definitions beyond the one promoted by the Bush-Rove Dictionary of Electable Language, Second Edition.

There's a lot of power to be had by journalists if they could shake off their slumbers. If these be dirt-eaters, bring on the dirt!
Nigerian scam hits those suckers at Halliburton. Whoops! Halliburton paid a bribe of $2.4 million to
an impostor! From the subscription-loving Wall Street Journal:
HOUSTON (AP)--A subsidiary of Halliburton Co. paid a Nigerian tax official $2.4 million in bribes to get favorable tax treatment, the company disclosed in a federal filing.

In a filing made Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said its KBR subsidiary "made improper payments of approximately $2.4 million to an entity owned by a Nigerian national who held himself out as a tax consultant when in fact he was an employee of a local tax authority."

The filing stated that the payments were found during a routine audit, and that several employees were fired as a result.

Halliburton said it was cooperating with the SEC in its review, and added that none of the Houston company's senior officers were involved.*

A company spokeswoman told the Houston Chronicle for its Friday editions that the bribes were paid between 2001 and 2002.

Company officials are trying to determine how much it owes Nigeria in back taxes. It could be as much as $5 million, the filing said.
*Such ineptitude would never have "happened" while former CEO Dick Cheney was running the company, you can be sure. Because it would be filed under "secret" and therefore "nonexistent."

Talk about your sucker bets — first Bill Bennett's $8 million to slots and video poker, and now Cheney's $2.4 million to some Nigerian scamster. How's this for a new right wing slogan: Pretty fucking stupid.

⇒ Here's the Houston Chronicle article.
Felons reading your email and Visa bill. Felons, and people whose names are similar to those of felons, are not allowed to vote in Florida but soon they'll be surveilling your email and checking on your travel plans. Read all about it in the
New York Times:
Mr. [John M.] Poindexter* told a California audience then that "we must become much more efficient and more clever in the way we find new sources of data, mine information from the new and old, make it available for analysis, convert it to knowledge and create actionable options." He described a system that could tap into Internet mail, culling records, credit card and banking transactions and travel documents.
*On March 16, 1988, Poindexter was indicted on seven felony charges arising from his involvement in the Iran/contra affair, as part of a 23-count multi-defendant indictment. As of 2002, he is a Director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office.
Thursday, May 08, 2003
Bombing to win Florida. James C. Moore, the co-author of Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, doesn't like the way the war was waged for purely political ends (
Los Angeles Times):
Rove fancies himself an expert in both policy and politics because he sees no distinction between the two. This matters for a number of reasons. There is always a time during any president's administration when what is best for the future of the country diverges from what best serves that president's political future. If Rove is standing with George W. Bush at that moment, he will push the president in the direction of reelection rather than the country's best interests.

The United States is best served when political calculations are not a part of the White House's most important decisions. Rove's calculus is always a formula for winning the next election. He was less concerned about the bombing of Iraqi civilians or the bullets flying at our own troops, according to people who have worked for him for years, than he was about what these acts would do to the results of the electoral college, or how they influence voters in swing states like Florida.

There needs to be something sacred about our presidents' decisions to send our children into combat. The Karl Roves of the world ought to not even be in the room, much less asked for advice.
Measured against Junior's shot at re-election, the lives of Iraqi civilians and our "volunteer" armed forces, consisting largely of the lower classes, count for nothing.

It is depressingly amazing to witness not only the ignorance of the national interest, but also the extreme lack of morality within this sham-religious administration.
Are you in the no-fly zone? "The next time you go to the airport, your name could be entered in a secretive new government database, and depending on your threat rating — red, yellow or green — you could be prevented from flying or even detained.

This new background check program, called Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System or CAPPS II, would assign a rating to every American based on information from secret intelligence and law enforcement databases and even commercial data such as purchase history and banking records.

Innocent Americans have already been stopped and banned from flying because their names erroneously appeared on government “no fly” lists.  Take the
ACLU’s quick quiz to find out who’s being stopped from flying, and whether you could become one of them."

Link via RuminateThis.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
The profane art of nickel-squeezing, by Richard Perle. Why did it take so long for the words "conflict of interest" to appear in the mainstream media? From the
Los Angeles Times:
Last February, the Defense Policy Board, a group of outside advisors to the Pentagon, received a classified presentation from the super-secret Defense Intelligence Agency on the crises in North Korea and Iraq.

Three weeks later, the then-chairman of the board, Richard N. Perle, offered a briefing of his own at an investment seminar on ways to profit from possible conflicts with both countries.

Perle and his fellow advisors also heard a classified address about high-tech military communications systems at the same closed-door session in February. He runs a venture capital firm that has been exploring investments in that very area.


On Feb. 27, 2003, two speakers — Henry D. Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon advisor under Feith — gave [classified] presentations to the Defense Policy Board on the risks and prospects of U.S. conflict with North Korea. The same day, the Defense Intelligence Agency, which works for the Pentagon, also briefed the board on North Korea and Iraq among other subjects, according to several people in attendance.

Three weeks later, perlePerle participated in a Goldman Sachs conference call in which he advised investors on opportunities tied to the war in Iraq. Perle's talk was called "Implications of an Imminent War: Iraq Now. North Korea Next?"


Retired Rear Adm. Thomas Brooks, who served on the policy board during the Clinton administration, said Perle's actions were "certainly questionable."

"It sounds like he's squeezing every nickel out of the Defense Policy Board," he said.


Defense Policy Board members are not paid but are subject to government ethics prohibitions that bar the use of public office for private gain. They are required to file a disclosure form with the Pentagon listing their business interests. The forms are not made public.

At the time Rumsfeld appointed him chairman of the board, Perle was just forming his new investment fund.

Planning documents from early July 2001 show that he and his partners hoped to raise $500 million, which they aimed to "invest in emerging growth companies," including defense and aerospace firms.

Perle would be "fully engaged in the investment activities of the Partnership," said the prospectus. Gerald Hillman, Perle's friend and business partner, would be the fund's "primary deal-maker." The following month, Hillman was named to the policy board.

Membership on the board, says its charter, "will consist primarily of private sector individuals with distinguished backgrounds in national security affairs."

Perle, who worked at the Pentagon during the Reagan years, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute think tank and directed its Commission on Future Defenses. He has also advised members of Congress and is frequently called to testify at defense hearings on Capitol Hill.

The biography of Hillman included in the draft prospectus lists no national security or defense qualifications. It says Hillman has "a strong background in industrial policy, corporate strategy and finance."

During a brief phone conversation, Hillman said he has known Rumsfeld for 35 years. He invited further questions by e-mail, but did not respond.

Several military experts said they had never heard of Hillman.

"He doesn't seem to have any apparent credentials for the board other than being a friend of Richard's," Brooks said. "To not see a causal relationship [between Perle being named as chairman and Hillman being named to the board] strains credulity."

In November 2001, the investment fund was incorporated in Delaware under the name of Trireme Partners.
Trireme is part of the story that Seymour Hersh broke in March 2003, as described by the LA Times: "The New Yorker magazine first reported on Perle's involvement with Trireme while he was serving as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Its story, written by Seymour Hersh, revealed that Perle had met with Adnan Khashoggi, a controversial Saudi arms dealer, and Harb Saleh Zuhair, a Saudi businessman, and sought investments in the fund from them."

The appearance of the fabulously inexperienced Gerald Hillman on the Defense Policy Board is another coup for the Trireme venture capital vultures.

The terminology is somewhat troublesome. To experienced casino gamblers like Bill Bennett, a "nickel" is slang for $500. But "squeezing a nickel" must be venture capitalist slang for "bilking taxpayers out of $500 million."
If the economic success of Texas is the model, soon Habitat for Humanity will be building
whole neighborhoods of houses across the country for the millions of people whose incomes and livelihoods were decimated by the economic policies of the dividend-revering ex-Governor of Texas, the oily son of an out-of-touch oil millionaire.
In Texas, "oil" is pronounced "all." The war in Iraq is over, and Halliburton won (
Houston Chronicle):
On Tuesday, a key House Democrat continued his attacks on the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to hire Houston-based Halliburton Co. under an exclusive, but short-term, contract to perform emergency repair work in Iraq's oil fields.

In response to inquiries from Rep. Henry Waxman of California, Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers, commander of the Army Corps, said Halliburton's contract called for not only the putting out of oil fires and the cleanup of crude spills, but the "operation of facilities" and the "distribution of products" as well.

Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, pounced on the language to suggest that Halliburton's contract "is considerably broader in scope than previously known."

"Only now, over five weeks after the contract was first disclosed, are members of Congress and the public learning that Halliburton may be asked to pump and distribute Iraqi oil under the contract," Waxman wrote in a letter to Flowers.
Meanwhile, the taxpayers who funded this war are still waiting for the appearance of the anthrax and the other purported WMD that the seriously flawed (and probably fictional) intelligence provided by Rumsfeld and the Pentagon was supposed to have identified.

Cheney's oil industry intelligence on the Iraqi reserves, however, turns out to have been quite accurate.
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
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Monday, May 05, 2003
Follow the money. Until today, more than half of W's big-money financial support was secret (
Dallas Morning News):
An elite network of big-dollar donors to George W. Bush called "the Pioneers" was far more extensive than previously known, producing perhaps half the record-smashing $100 million for his 2000 presidential race, according to court documents.

While the Bush campaign initially made public a list of 226 members of the Pioneer network, there actually were more than 500, newly released court records show.

The size and scope of the Pioneer network revealed in the documents underscore how a relatively small group of wealthy energy company officials, corporate executives, lobbyists and others accounted for a sizeable portion of the money that helped catapult Mr. Bush to the White House.

Moreover, as the president prepares for re-election, he is expected to tap the same network of wealthy donors to build what Bush advisers hope will be a $200 million campaign treasury.
Was it understood that the earlier list of 226 names was meant to be complete? Isn't it illegal to disclose this information so late in the game? See the original article for the full list of all names.

Surely these people are in favor of a tax cut for the rich, no matter how ill-timed and in total defiance of common sense.

Okay, readers, let's get busy. Check the list and make note of your state's names. Then scour your hometown media, and send links to good stories here. To defeat these "Pioneers" and their bottomless pockets, we need scandalous local stories about each of these 500 people and their various business conflicts of interest, religious manias, hypocrisies, etc.

If they're going to bring down the whole country, they're coming with us.
Iraqi News Channel. Head of Programming: Jesus Christ. Religious creeps live up to their name (
Common Dreams):
The U.S. government this week launched its Arabic language satellite TV news station for Muslim Iraq.

It is being produced in a studio -- Grace Digital Media -- controlled by fundamentalist Christians who are rabidly pro-Israel.

That's Grace as in "by the Grace of God."

Grace Digital Media is controlled by a fundamentalist Christian millionaire, Cheryl Reagan, who last year wrested control of Federal News Service, a transcription news service, from its former owner, Cortes Randell.

Randell says he met Reagan at a prayer meeting, brought her in as an investor in Federal News Service, and then she forced him out of his own company.

Grace Digital Media and Federal News Service are housed in a downtown Washington, D.C. office building, along with Grace News Network.

When you call the number for Grace News Network, you get a person answering "Grace Digital Media/Federal News Service."

According to its web site, Grace News Network is "dedicated to transmitting the evidence of God's presence in the world today."

"Grace News Network will be reporting the current secular news, along with aggressive proclamations that will 'change the news' to reflect the Kingdom of God and its purposes," GNN proclaims.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. government agency producing the television news broadcasts for Iraq, likes to say it is the BBC of the USA.

BBG runs Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, and Radio Sawa -- Arabic language radio for the Middle East.

"Our mission is clear," BBG's Joan Mower told us. "To broadcast accurate and objective news about the United States and the world. We don't do propaganda, leafleting -- we are like the BBC in that respect."

Well, then why hook up with Grace?

BBG's Joan Mower said that Grace Digital Media is a mainstream production house used by all kinds of mainstream news organizations.

"Grace will have nothing to do with the editorial side of the news broadcast," she said. "They are renting us equipment, space, studio. The Grace personnel we use include technicians, production people but no editorial people."

But Mower said she couldn't get us a copy of the contract between BBG and Grace Digital media. Nor could she say how Grace Digital was chosen as the production studio.

Grace News Network proclaims that it will be a "unique tool in the Lord's ministry plan for the world."

"Grace News Network provides networking links and portals to various ministries and news services that will be of benefit to every Christian believer and seeker of truth," according to the company's mission statement.

The CEO of Grace News Network is Thorne Auchter.

The same Thorne Auchter who began the dismantling of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under Presidents Reagan and George Bush I.
Surely this was not the only production facility available in the Washington area. The contract and the decision-making criteria were unavailable because they doubtlessly contain the unmistakable overtones of the editorial meddling for which Christian Republicans are so notorious.

Thanks for the heads-up from reader Steve D.
American Family Association: Say no to comics. Dancing and rock and roll are next, as the American Family Association decides that the wild-eyed radical Make-a-Wish Foundation must support its boycott of the unseemly goings-on at the Pittsburgh Comic Convention. Take a peek at their
action alert page, including this astroturf-like letter addressed to the chapter and national presidents of the Make-a-Wish Foundation:
Dear President Stone,

When asked to disassociate with the Pittsburg Comic Convention last month, your chapter assured families the Pittsburgh Comicon would not subject children to pornography.

But according to eyewitnesses, the Comicon and the benefit activities subjected children to gratuitous amounts of porn, gambling, and alcohol throughout the convention.

I encourage you to re-evaluate your chapter's association with those who promote events that damage the reputation and trustworthiness of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

I will strongly consider your response to my concerns before making donations to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The insane base of the Republican Party is no longer content with threatening run-of-the-mill liberals — now even charities that help dying children must kowtow to their cultural revolution.

Like a wet dream of John Ashcroft, the AFA is known for its activist agenda, doing its utmost to bring us all to the level of sophistication of its stupidest members. Here are some articles that characterize its odor: "Yahoo: Portal to porn," decrying the "homosexual agenda," and a bunch of miscellaneous creationist crap.

Wait until South Park Republicans and Log Cabin Republicans find out that they are excommunicated too.

And as for debilitating effects of gambling on moral leadership — read the post directly below this one.

Here's a People for the American Way profile of the AFA, and here's an antidote to it.
Friday, May 02, 2003
The moral voice of the right wing loses $8 million at casino gambling. William J. Bennett took the money he made from his self-righteous books, speaking engagements, and Scaife and Olin foundation support, and gambled it away — hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time — on $500 slots and video poker in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

Read the whole damning article by Joshua Green in
The Washington Monthly. Yet another example of the common loutishness behind the pious finger-wagging of the right's hypocritical posturing.

Like any routine gambling addict, still Bennett swears he breaks even.

The death of outrage, indeed.

Link via Counterspin.
Enron wants its tax refund. Shocking but true: Enron, MCI and Qwest and other Fortune 500 swindlers are all seeking refunds for taxes paid on their false profits (Rebecca Blumenstein, Dennis K. Berman and Evan Perez in
The Wall Street Journal, sub. req'd):
A parade of big companies is under investigation for inflating their earnings during the stock-market boom of the 1990s. Now some of them see an unusual silver lining: They want back the taxes they overpaid along the way.

In the latest wrinkle in the unfolding series of corporate scandals, MCI and Enron Corp. are in the process of collecting or filing for tax refunds or credits from the Internal Revenue Service because of tax payments on billions of dollars they falsely claimed to have earned. Qwest Communications International Inc., which plans to restate $2.2 billion in revenue, also is likely to seek a refund. Embattled HealthSouth Corp., accused of overstating its earnings by more than $2 billion, said that it hasn't made a final decision to file for a refund but is considering it.

Fraud or not, the current tax code makes no distinctions. It is a basic tenet of tax law -- both for individuals and corporations -- that those who overpay are entitled to a refund.


With the number of corporate scandals and expected financial restatements at a historic high, no one knows just yet how much the federal government could have to forfeit on the refunds and credits. Even if such credits are ultimately lowered as part of settlements, observers believe that the federal government will probably be out hundreds of millions of dollars.

Investigations into fraud at MCI, which recently changed its name from WorldCom Inc., have uncovered accounting irregularities that are now expected to reach $11 billion. The fraud masked two years of losses at the country's second-largest long-distance company during the height of the telecommunications and technology boom of the late 1990s.

Already, as MCI prepares to emerge from bankruptcy in September, a person close to the situation says it has collected tax refunds of nearly $300 million on those now-discredited profits.


Richard Lipton, a tax attorney for the Chicago-based law firm Baker & McKenzie, said corporate fraud should have no effect on the ability of companies to recoup tax overpayments. "It's not the government's money, it's the shareholders' money," Mr. Lipton said, adding that corporate penalties for making a false tax return are capped at $500,000.

The overpayments are one more thing for shareholders to be upset about, since companies were deprived of the use of that cash. "You are really in a sense shortchanging shareholders," says Henry Hu, a corporate and securities-law professor at the University of Texas Law School. "It is a perverse set of circumstances. You are basically making gifts to the government in order to make yourself not look bad."


In a recent study of 27 companies charged with fraud, a University of Chicago accounting professor, Merle Erickson, found that top management apparently was willing to sacrifice tax payments made in cash in order to publicly report sham earnings and revenue gains. His study found that, on average, companies "sacrificed" 11 extra cents in taxes for each dollar of fraudulent earnings.

As it turns out, companies committing fraud were more afraid of the IRS than of their own auditors. Also, tax payments in the late 1990s weren't too much of an impediment to earnings as companies touted the measure known as Ebitda, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization as a more accurate gauge of their results and growth potential.

Even Enron, which paid just $63 million in taxes between 1996 and 2001, is seeking tax credits, say people familiar with the matter. That may be tough to collect, however, since the IRS has claims of its own, one person familiar with the company said. Enron spokesman Mark Palmer said that the company is "in settlement discussions with the IRS."
As Richard Lipton and Henry Hu point out above, it really is the shareholders' money that was stolen and given as a gift to the government to prop up the appearance of respectability. The IRS acted as an unwitting toll booth on the way to legitimizing the imaginary profits. These companies couldn't have achieved have the results they did simply by doing business, so they created a house of mirrors that included paying hundreds of millions of dollars in actual taxes that protected the illusion from further scrutiny. For a while, anyway.

Getting the money back from the IRS, out of the hands of the Bush administration (which helped to create this haze of corporate irresponsibility), and into the deserving hands of the shareholders who were swindled is therefore, in the words of an embattled Martha Stewart, still a good thing.
More on the Andrew and Lea Fastow indictments along with others of the Enron extended family, in today's
Houston Chronicle. Lots of pictures and thorough reporting by Mary Flood, Tom Fowler, and Bill Murphy and Harvey Rice.
Thursday, May 01, 2003
Christian felon Chuck Colson wants $5 billion to preach abstinence to Africans. If it isn't greed from the Enrons and the Halliburtons and the Bechtels, it's greed from the Christian side of the Republican equation.

Watergate felon Chuck Colson, now a "Christian," wants to save Africans from viral exposure by preaching sexual abstinence at enormous expense to American taxpayers (
Christianity Today):
"Fighting AIDS on a global scale is a massive and complicated undertaking, yet this cause is rooted in the simplest of moral duties," President George W. Bush said Tuesday. "When we see this kind of preventable suffering, when we see a plague leaving graves and orphans across a continent, we must act. When we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not, America will not pass to the other side of the road."

Among those applauding Bush's speech were Focus on the Family's James Dobson, Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson, and evangelists Franklin Graham and Anne Graham Lotz.

"Americans can do something about this modern plague—and we must," Colson and William J. Bennett wrote in a Washington Times op-ed that same day (which was very similar to Colson's March 17 Breakpoint radio commentary): "President Bush has correctly identified African AIDS as a humanitarian catastrophe of staggering proportions—one that a strong and merciful nation must throw its considerable resources into fighting. His $15 billion plan to do so is both simple and sensible."

In yesterday's Breakpoint commentary, Colson again affirmed the President's plan, but added a warning: "There's a danger that the president's initiative may be derailed in Congress. The House International Relations Committee failed to pass two critically needed amendments."

One would have set aside at least one third of the funding for abstinence and monogamy programs, and the other would have provided a conscience clause exempting faith-based groups from having to hand out condoms (some say the amendment would also allow groups to hire workers consistent with their religious beliefs).

A third amendment that some other religious conservatives were pushing for would limit funding to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is affiliated with the United Nations.
Who decided that it would cost at least $5 billion to say "stop having sex"? Only a theo-Republican without any understanding of virology or public health could have come up with that highly imaginative budget.

What do you expect from a felon who had a piety makeover?

Bush and Colson have so much in common, Colson wrote in his commentary yesterday:
The president made it clear that the House and Senate must act quickly, not only to pass a law, but also to make it clear that the faith-based community will be full participants. At the end of the meeting the president said, "We need to do this because it is the right thing."

I added, "It's not only the right thing, Mr. President—it works."

"I know that," he replied. "That's what delivered me from alcohol, and I wouldn't be sitting at this table otherwise."

I responded, "I wouldn't be sitting at the table either."
And think of all the Africans we could save if neither the ex-drunk deserter nor the Nixon felon were sitting at that table.

Fighting viruses with Bibles is not only bad medicine, it's another example of the fraud that passes for policy in the Bush administration.

Tell your representatives not to allocate AIDS in Africa money to any faith-based groups.
Lea Fastow, Enron's art buyer, gets charged. The wife of Enron CFO Andrew Fastow and six others are charged and expected to be cuffed today (
Houston Chronicle):
All but one are expected to surrender to federal authorities this morning and will likely be paraded into the courthouse in handcuffs.

The former executives to be named today are Ken Rice and Joe Hirko, co-chief executive officers of Enron Broadband Services; Kevin Hannon, chief operating officer of EBS; F. Scott Yeager and Rex Shelby, EBS executives; Ben Glisan, Enron treasurer; Dan Boyle, vice president; lea fastowand [Lea] Fastow, who is married to former CFO Andrew Fastow and was a one-time assistant treasurer of Enron.

By 7:30 a.m., Rice, Hirko, Hannon, Yeager, Glisan and Boyle had surrendered at FBI headquarters on East T.C. Jester. "Prosecuting this guy is like prosecuting a piano player in a whorehouse," said Boyle's attorney Bill Rosch on the steps in front of the FBI building.
Piano players in the whorehouse indeed. What about the proprietors of the joint?

The best we can hope for is that Lea Fastow's indictment is a prosecutorial strategy to get her husband to implicate the twin madams of the best little whorehouse in Texas: Enron CEOs Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. Hopefully this will happen sometime next year in the period leading up to the Republican convention in New York City, as fresh reminder of the damage these people and their lavish campaign contributions of fraudulent profits did to the office of the presidency.

Lea Fastow was most recently in the news for her $20 million Enron art-buying spree while the company was on the verge of collapse.

Photo by Carlos Antonio Rios from an October 2002 Chronicle story about Andrew Fastow's arraignment.

⇒ Here's a fresh picture of Lea Fastow from this morning, May 1, 2003.
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Peace is not part of the plan. The US Department of Defense's only institute devoted to peacekeeping is closing. From
The Observer:
As the US military grapples with the most ambitious peacekeeping and nation-building operation in 50 years, you might think that planners in the Pentagon are looking at ways to increase resources that support peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Well, you would be mistaken. The Department of Defense has just decided to eliminate its only institute devoted to such operations: the Peacekeeping Institute at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania. The Institute will close in October.

With only 49 peacekeeping centres in the world, some military and some civilian, Canada will have the sole remaining centre in North America.

The Peacekeeping Institute was created in July 1993 to guide the Army's strategic thinking on how to conduct peacekeeping and to document lessons-learned. It has operated with a staff of ten and a yearly budget of about $200,000 (out of an $81 billion annual Army budget).


Now we have come full circle, with US forces having to make the transition from war fighters to peacekeepers in Iraq in a matter of days. The looting and lawlessness in Iraq's major cities suggests that the US military is ill-prepared to perform as peacekeepers. So, at a time when US soldiers are doing civilian reconstruction in Afghanistan and are the stewards of post-conflict Iraq, how could it happen that the Peacekeeping Institute will shut its doors?

The Pentagon's rationale is simple: the Peacekeeping Institute is a casualty of "force realignment". All bodies are needed at the front to fight the Global War on Terror. The institute's former director, Colonel George Oliver, has himself been deployed overseas to work with the Pentagon-led reconstruction effort in Iraq.

The absence of political champions for the only federal organisation dedicated to thinking strategically about the US military in peace operations points to an increasingly obvious disconnect in Washington: the Institute has no strong political constituency. It is a post-Cold War policy orphan, regarded with suspicion from the Left for being a child of the military and scorned by the Right for having the word "peace" in its name.
Not spending $200,000 in peacekeeping strategy, versus spending $100,000,000,000 in post-looting reconstruction costs. Brilliant.

"My concern is, what message does this send to the world?" Oliver told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his office in Carlisle, Pa [in 2002]. "It's going to say that the U.S. military doesn't really care about peacekeeping." (Via the Cato Institute.)

A bit of retrospective looking at the transition between Clinton and Bush from Government Executive Magazine:
The National Security Council [in 1993] brought together senior officials (mostly assistant secretaries) from a range of agencies to consult on the shape of the Haiti operation as a whole, while assigning each one clear responsibility for a particular problem: establishing security to the Pentagon, lining up allies to the State Department, reforming the police to Justice, rebuilding the economy to Commerce. The resulting plan was detailed and comprehensive, yet still flexible enough that President Clinton could turn an invasion around in midair when the Haitian junta backed down and allowed U.S. forces to enter peacefully.

The coordination for Haiti became the model, embodied in a document called Presidential Decision Directive 56. Admittedly, "PDD-56 never quite worked the way I wanted it to," said retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who helped write the doctrine while a Pentagon staffer and then saw it truncated in the Balkans. But at least there was a plan for how to plan. Said Col. George Oliver, director of the Army's Peacekeeping Institute: It "was only a partial step forward, but it was a big step—sort of like the first step on the moon."

In February 2001, the newly inaugurated Bush administration effectively revoked the Clinton directive. Whereas Clinton had formalized coordination and centralized control through the National Security Council, Bush prefers a looser process that relies on his powerful (and sometimes competing) Cabinet secretaries, such as Defense's Donald Rumsfeld and State's Colin L. Powell.
Our national interests are not being served. Our allies have seen through the lies. Iraqi civilians are suffering because of the poorly planned nature of the invasion. But at least we've secured the oil fields.

The Bush administration is less a government than a cult.
Dogtown and Z-Boys is a fascinating documentary about a handful of people who created a vastly influential chunk of Americana. The film chronicles the invention of aerial skateboarding in 1970s California and its subsequent explosion into the universe of extreme sports. Great footage, stylish direction, and vivid characters add up to a very well-spent 90 minutes.

Here are
a bunch of reviews from various sources. Skimble says: 8 out of 10.
Bill "Pussycat" Frist hides tail between legs. Hailed as a heroic medical genius or chastised for independent thought by his betters (depending on the day), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist now shoves humble pie into his mouth with both hands (
Tuesday's 75-minute meeting was Bush's first face-to-face with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist since the Tennessee Republican cut a surprise Senate deal to limit the president's proposed tax cut to $350 billion -- less than half what the White House was initially seeking.

"I apologized. I made a mistake," Frist said before the White House session, which included House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican. "My goal is to grow the number as high as I possibly can," Frist added.
Nothing kittenis more sacred to Republicans than moving hundreds of billions of dollars from the US Treasury into the groping hands of the rich — it just took Frist a little while longer than usual to have the logic of it spelled out for him. Now he has seen the light, and is a changed man.

The man who practiced freelance surgery on helpless little pussycats has become one himself.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
The mystery of April Foley. Bush's ex-girlfriend helps recall his
Ivy League days (Washington Post):
Bush shrugged off the trappings of Harvard and avoided the official clubs that would showcase him in the yearbook and look good on his resume. Instead, he showed up for class looking like he had just rolled out of bed in the morning, often sat in the back of the room chewing gum or dipping snuff and made it clear to everyone he had no interest in Wall Street.

bushbubbleHe was one of the few people who posed for his yearbook mug shot in a sports shirt, a wrinkled one at that. The other prominent picture of him in the book showed him sitting in the back row of class with longish hair blowing a huge bubble.

"This was [Harvard Business School] and people were fooling around with the accouterments of money and power," recalled April Foley, who dated Bush for a brief period and has remained friends with him. "While they were drinking Chivas Regal, he was drinking Wild Turkey. They were smoking Benson and Hedges and he's dipping Copenhagen, and while they were going to the opera he was listen to Johnny Rodriguez over and over and over and over."
April Foley was just nominated by her ex-boyfriend, now the president of the United States, to the Export-Import Bank board, which has been called "a tool for an elite group of politically well-connected corporations to get sweetheart deals and cheap financing courtesy of American taxpayers."

Which well-connected corporations? "The bulk of Export-Import's benefits go to a small number of large companies that are sophisticated enough to get financing on their own: Boeing, Halliburton, General Electric, Northrop Grumman, Lucent Technologies, ChevronTexaco, Caterpillar and Dell Computer, among others...."

Go read all the gory details — including the international finance loops that include Osama bin Laden and Riley Bechtel — at bad things, who rightly points out that April Foley is a cipher as far as the Internet is concerned.
Bush Two, Ground Zero. Junior wants the
open grave of Manhattan to serve as the theatrical backdrop for his reelection campaign.

The families of those whose remains he will desecrate with his cheap political stunt feel otherwise (New York Times letter to the editor):
To the Editor:

Re "Bush's Aides Plan Late Sprint in '04" (news article, April 22):

Since the worst terrorist attack in American history, which took the life of my brother, occurred in New York on Sept. 11, it seems appropriate that President Bush will be making his re-election bid from that city at that time in 2004.

Perhaps the millions of unemployed Americans, veterans whose benefits have been threatened, families of dead civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, working people who lost their pensions to corporate fraud, and 41 million Americans without health insurance can come to town and join him in celebrating the other achievements of his first term.

Cary, N.C., April 23, 2003
The achievements of Bush's first term are substantial. Too bad they're the wrong ones, having nothing at all to do with those who harm America. The Iraqi oil fields are open for business — but where's Osama bin Laden? The first tax cut for the rich was enacted and the second is on its way — but where's Ken Lay?

Link via Media Whores Online.
Presidential compensation revealed. No, not what's he's paid, but what it is he's compensating for is revealed in this
official White House photo by Paul Morse, a transparent pseudonym for Sigmund Freud.

Link via Marstonalia, who will be added to the permanent links soon.
Monday, April 28, 2003
Bush times are hard times, even in Texas. Now that he's lost the War on Terror (see below), Bush Junior apparently has also lost the confidence of his own "home" state, based on the results of this
2003 Houston Area Survey (Houston Chronicle):
  • In 2000 [while Clinton was still in office], 8 percent of Houston area residents called "economy, poverty" the biggest problem bushgolffacing the area. In 2003, that figure more than tripled to 25 percent.

  • Job opportunities were considered "excellent" or "good" by 73 percent back in 2000. In 2003, that figure is nearly halved to 39 percent. The proportion that considers job opportunities "poor" quadrupled over the same period.

  • A majority (53 percent, compared with 45 percent in 1997) support civil rights initiatives for gay men and women.
What a difference a few years make. Houston was of course hard-hit when Bush financier Enron went all MOAB on the region.

Funny how a governor of Arkansas can be more in step with what Texans want than a governor of Texas.
Jay Garner, oblivious in his palace. "To the disapproval of some Iraqis and aid agencies, Mr Garner [Jay Garner, the retired US general heading the coalition reconstruction team] has established his headquarters inside a palace compound once lorded over by Saddam Hussein. Some here say that the choice of a palace, ringed now by razor wire and protected by tanks, sends entirely the wrong message to the Iraqi people."

The Independent via xymphora.
Terrorists win War on Terror, with help from Bush administration. How else can anyone explain the epic scope of the Bush administration's irresponsibility (
Washington Post)?
KUWAIT CITY, April 24 -- Nearly three weeks after U.S. forces reached Iraq's most important nuclear facility, the Bush administration has yet to begin an assessment of whether tons of radioactive material there remain intact, according to military officials here and in Washington.

Before the war began last month, the vast Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center held 3,896 pounds of partially enriched uranium, more than 94 tons of natural uranium and smaller quantities of cesium, cobalt and strontium, according to reports compiled through the 1990s by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Immensely valuable rumsfeldon the international black market, the uranium was in a form suitable for further enrichment to "weapons grade," the core of a nuclear device. The other substances, products of medical and industrial waste, emit intense radiation. They have been sought, officials said, by terrorists seeking to build a so-called dirty bomb, which uses conventional explosives to scatter dangerous radioactive particles.

Defense officials acknowledge that the U.S. government has no idea whether any of Tuwaitha's potentially deadly contents have been stolen, because it has not dispatched investigators to appraise the site. What it does know, according to officials at the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command, is that the sprawling campus, 11 miles south of Baghdad, lay unguarded for days and that looters made their way inside.
First was the radioactive material from Halliburton and now this. How many ways do we need to supply anarchists with ingredients for dirty bombs?

And how many impeachable offenses do we need to get the ball rolling and end this perverse administration?
What the world needs now is Spy Magazine. This Rake Magazine
interview with Kurt Andersen, founding co-editor of the brilliant Spy magazine, reminds us that there is a gaping hole in the somnolent 2003 media world — a hole that could be filled with smart, skeptical humor as an antidote to the arrogance, conformity and faux piety that saturates the American mainstream.

(Andersen hints at a Spy retrospective. Yes!)
Friday, April 25, 2003
Shocker: Ken Lay loses money. All right, the loss was just a mere $125,000 out of a few properties in Aspen worth upwards of $22 million, but hey. From Danielle Reed in the subscription-requiring
Wall Street Journal:
Former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay just lost some more money, though this time it was on the sale of his house.

greenlayIn a little-noticed transaction, Mr. Lay sold his Aspen, Colo., home for $4.7 million, a price $125,000 below what he and his wife, Linda, paid for the property in 1999, according to public records and people familiar with the transaction. The couple's second Aspen home, which is across the street, is now in contract for an undisclosed price after being listed at $6.15 million -- roughly what the Lays originally paid.

Prices like that are a far cry from the $8 million appreciation the couple saw on a third Aspen home, a 3,015-square-foot "cottage" on Shady Lane that a soap-opera producer bought last year for $10 million. Around the same time, the Lays also sold an undeveloped lot at the base of nearby Red Mountain for $2.15 million, or $500,000 more than what they paid in 1998. A spokeswoman for Mr. Lay confirmed the latest house sale, but declined to discuss financial details.
"Kenny Boy" — campaign financier to George W Bush and energy policy adviser to Dick Cheney — needs all the cash he can get to maintain his influence.

Note that over $20 million in Aspen real estate (what's up with a second home "across the street" from their first Aspen home?) was bought up in the couple of years leading up to the most spectacular bankruptcy in business history.

Too bad Ken Lay, as the poster boy for manic CEO thievery and perversions of corporate governance, helped Bush trash the American economy. Otherwise he would be getting higher prices for his pirated real estate.

⇒ Here's a Ken and Linda "Jus' Stuff" Lay potpourri of posts from the ever-deepening skimble Enron archives.
The vodka-powered Jenna Bush administration. Forget oil. The 21st century economy will be powered by energy produced by
fuel cells that run on vodka (New Scientist).

But don't rush to the liquor store just yet. We'll have to wait for a new president before this scientific development comes to fruition (New York Times):
"Perhaps in the Jenna Bush administration we'll see fuel-cell cars on the road, but we're not there yet," said Jon S. Coifman, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Image via The First Twins.

Is this a compelling ad for Marlboro Lights, or what? Here's a map to one of Jenna's favorite barsDouble Dave's, right off the University of Texas campus near 24th and Guadalupe in Austin.

UPDATE APRIL 2008: Get a preview of Jenna and Henry's honeymoon with the Republican Kama Sutra!
The elder Bushes buy Sharon Bush's silence. Sharon Bush, the jilted witness to the Bush dynasty and ex-wife of S&L criminal Neil Bush, has been silenced with a generous financial arrangement by the president's parents (Shelby Hodge in the
Houston Chronicle, April 22):
With the divorce papers signed, the settlement reached, Sharon Bush is moving on. One week after the grueling two-day mediation that sealed the deal, Bush is turning philosophical about her split from presidential brother Neil Bush.

She won't be writing a Bush family exposé after all. "You know I'd never write a hateful tell-all," she said Tuesday.

But she is exploring the possibilities of life after the heady White House connections have ceased. A book remains among the options, even though a potential deal with Michael Viner and his New Millennium Press fell through late last week.

Viner said from Los Angeles Wednesday that the timing -- immediately following the divorce -- wasn't right and that Bush was having mixed feelings about the subject. "It just didn't make sense for us to go forward at this time," he said, adding that Millennium had not asked Bush to write a tell-all.

From the beginning, Bush has had her own thoughts about a tome. "It would be one that would be more of a book to help others. I need to make an income," Bush said after spending Easter weekend in New York with daughters Ashley and Lauren.

"I'm being offered several options, and one of them is to write a self-help book on what happens when a 23-year marriage is dissolved because of another woman. Because many people go through this ... about how you pick up the pieces and stay strong for your children."

Picking up the pieces, Bush plans to continue with the charitable works that have marked much of her tenure in Houston. She is currently working on the American Ireland Fund Special Olympics benefit set here for May 21. Ten of the 15 tables have already been sold for the event in the gardens of Paige and Tilman Fertitta's River Oaks home.

Monday, Bush joins daughter Lauren in New York for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute spring gala kicking off the Goddess exhibition. Among numerous "goddess" gowns on display will be one designed by Lauren in conjunction with Tommy Hilfiger. Later in the week, she and Ashley join a celebrity dog show (their mutt will be featured in a design by Lauren) benefiting the New York Humane Society.

As for her post-divorce financial situation, Bush said Tuesday, "The grandparents (former President George Bush and Barbara) have been good to me and to the children."
Sharon Bush's poker-playing skills aren't bad after all. But the bookstores will have to endure yet another treacly, uplifting volume from yet another talentless Bush — the price we all must pay so Sharon gets a divorce settlement that enables her to continue cavorting with Rolls-Royce dealers in the name of "peace."

Obviously she got a better than six-figure deal from the elder Bushes than was offered by Michael Moore's publishers, a deal that was sweet enough for her to renege on her earlier promise to expose the single-minded political machinations of the Bush dynasty.

Once again, money speaks louder than truth.

Previous posts about Sharon and Neil Bush are here and here.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Blogs: "A parallel journalistic universe." All journalistic writing must now be done under the explicit sponsorship of corporate entities whose power must remain intact. That's the moral of this story in
Editor & Publisher:
Hartford (Conn.) Courant Editor Brian Toolan recently told Courant Travel Editor Denis Horgan that he could no longer publish commentary on his Web log, Horgan is a former columnist for the paper who was transferred to the travel writing position earlier this year.

After losing his column, Horgan decided to set up his own Web page, where he has commented on everything from baseball to the Iraqi information minister to same-sex unions. "It kept me happy and gave me a chance to keep doing things that I wanted to do," Horgan told E&P Online. "I do it on my own time, from my own house. I'm not competing with the Courant. I'm not looking for advertisers. In fact, it costs me money to do this."

But Toolan sees it differently. "Denis Horgan's entire professional profile is a result of his attachment to The Hartford Courant, yet he has unilaterally created for himself a parallel journalistic universe where he'll do commentary on the institutions that the paper has to cover without any editing oversight by the Courant," Toolan said. "That makes the paper vulnerable."

The editor added that allowing an employee to set up his own opinion blog was a bad precedent. "There are 325 other people here who could create similar [Web sites] for themselves," Toolan said.
Interesting to see how threatened mainstream media are becoming. And it's about time. Creating "a parallel journalistic universe" is the point of much blogging.

Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine puts it this way: "Many other media companies -- newspaper, magazine, TV, radio, online -- will need to start looking at the world in this way: from the other side, from the perspective of the audience, the audience as publisher."

Tip for Horgan: Pick a pseudonym like, I don't know, something weird like skimble, and then write whatever the hell you want.

Tip for Brian Toolan, his editor: Find a new career now, because the days of timid, pissant papers like the Courant are numbered.
Publishing or pandering? The two largest publishing houses are undergoing a major shift to the right, according to
Publishers Weekly:
[4/22/2003] Now, within several days of each other, the country's two largest houses have announced their first incisions [into conservative titles a la Regnery Publishing]. Penguin says it will do fifteen new conservative-leaning titles in a yet-to-be-named imprint under Adrian Zackheim, who's been concentrating on business titles at Portfolio but also has notched Newt Gingrich's bestseller and other titles from Republican celebrities. The company calls the titles "books of political opinion and dissent with a conservative perspective."


In an interview, Zackheim said he wanted to establish Portfolio's business list before going ahead with a new line but that the idea has been percolating and gaining steam for a while. "It's a category neglected by mainstream houses," says Zackheim, "and it’s so hot that David and Susan didn't want to wait any longer." Zackheim says the company will "not be going after anyone's formula," and that books will range from the pop-journalism of the Regnery titles to memoir to even possibly some academic titles a la the more coneheaded Spence.

At Random House, Crown's Steve Ross has announced a new conservative line, coincidentally also for fifteen titles (the number of times Clinton did not have sex with that woman?). The division will be combining its own program with the recently incorporated list of Prima Forum, calling the imprint Crown Forum. (At the time of the Prima integration, it wasn't clear how many titles would be retained; now, Crown says, the house has decided to keep a chunk of them as well as build the list itself.)

The house kicked off the announcement with news of a new Ann Coulter book, titled Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, that it will bring out in June. Prima Forum was known for a number of bestselling conservative titles and was one of the more successful imprints at the soon-to-be-shuttered West Coast branch.
That's thirty new books from the right wing.

Regnery's recent catalog includes such literary gems as Absolute Power: The Legacy of Corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security, The Bible Is History, Brighter than the Baghdad Sun: Saddam Hussein's Nuclear Threat to United States, and, most convincingly of all, The Complete Guide to Wealth Preservation and Estate Planning. And that only includes selected titles through the letter "C."

Link via Moby Lives.

Greatest Hits · Alternatives to First Command Financial Planning · First Command, last resort, Part 3 · Part 2 · Part 1 · Stealing $50K from a widow: Wells Real Estate · Leo Wells, REITs and divine wealth · Sex-crazed Red State teenagers · What I hate: a manifesto · Spawn of Darleen Druyun · All-American high school sex party · Why is Ken Lay smiling? · Poppy's Enron birthday party · The Saudi money laundry and the president's uncle · The sentence of Enron's John Forney · The holiness of Neil Bush's marriage · The Silence of Cheney: a poem · South Park Christians · Capitalist against Bush: Warren Buffett · Fastow childen vs. Enron children · Give your prescription money to your old boss · Neil Bush, hard-working matchmaker · Republicans against fetuses and pregnant women · Emboldened Ken Lay · Faith-based jails · Please die for me so I can skip your funeral · A brief illustrated history of the Republican Party · Nancy Victory · Soldiers become accountants · Beware the Merrill Lynch mob · Darleen Druyun's $5.7 billion surprise · First responder funding · Hoovering the country · First Command fifty percent load · Ken Lay and the Atkins diet · Halliburton WMD · Leave no CEO behind · August in Crawford · Elaine Pagels · Profitable slave labor at Halliburton · Tom Hanks + Mujahideen · Sharon & Neilsie Bush · One weekend a month, or eternity · Is the US pumping Iraqi oil to Kuwait? · Cheney's war · Seth Glickenhaus: Capitalist against Bush · Martha's blow job · Mark Belnick: Tyco Catholic nut · Cheney's deferred Halliburton compensation · Jeb sucks sugar cane · Poindexter & LifeLog · American Family Association panic · Riley Bechtel and the crony economy · The Book of Sharon (Bush) · The Art of Enron · Plunder convention · Waiting in Kuwait: Jay Garner · What's an Army private worth? · Barbara Bodine, Queen of Baghdad · Sneaky bastards at Halliburton · Golf course and barbecue military strategy · Enron at large · Recent astroturf · Cracker Chic 2 · No business like war business · Big Brother · Martha Stewart vs. Thomas White · Roger Kimball, disappointed Republican poetry fan · Cheney, Lay, Afghanistan · Terry Lynn Barton, crimes of burning · Feasting at the Cheney trough · Who would Jesus indict? · Return of the Carlyle Group · Duct tape is for little people · GOP and bad medicine · Sears Tower vs Mt Rushmore · Scared Christians · Crooked playing field · John O'Neill: The man who knew · Back to the top

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