culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
The axis of monkeypox. Who was responsible for the anthrax attacks in October 2001? Could it be that the
current monkeypox outbreak is an example of a virologist's revenge?

Remember, anthrax = bacteria, monkeypox = virus. Remember too that alleged anthrax suspect Steven Hatfill was a medical doctor, a biomedical scientist, a monkeypox expert, and an unpublished novelist, having written...
a novel about a bioterror attack on the United States, titled "Emergence" and set in Washington. The weapon used in the fictional attack is bubonic plague.

In the manuscript, an Iraqi terrorist acquires a significant cache of the bacteria, then builds a wheelchair with a hidden spray gun, which he dispenses while touring the White House.

The manuscript goes into minute detail about the size of the droplets in the spray and how many bacteria each droplet holds. The novel's protagonist, an American biodefense scientist, helps bring the epidemic under control.
Plague, like anthrax, is bacteria. An educated novelist like Hatfill would know enough to go "into minute detail" about weaponizing bacteria, despite his publicly trumpeted virological background.

Neither the anthrax nor the monkeypox events have been adequately explained. There is nothing concrete to say that they are related — or unrelated.

An uneasy feeling tells me that Steven Hatfill's plot is still thickening.
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Worldcom out the (expletive) window. The tragedy of our time is to see our governments, major corporations, and churches led by such unredeemable louts as the current crop. As each new revelation about Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, the US Department of Defense, and the Catholic Church demonstrates, only the basest instincts — the triumverate of fear, greed and secretive deception — rule the day. From the
Houston Chronicle:
The former top executives at WorldCom ruled with unquestioned authority, steering the telecommunications company into multibillion-dollar acquisitions on a whim and intimidating underlings who questioned their conduct, according to two reports released Monday.

A report by former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh outlined a corporate culture thoroughly dominated by former Chairman Bernard Ebbers and ex-Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan, fostering an environment that led to the largest U.S. bankruptcy and an $11 billion accounting scandal.

A second investigative document, produced by lawyer William McLucas at the request of the company's new board, offered searing details about how Sullivan and other key finance executives cooked WorldCom's books to hide that the real numbers were falling short of Wall Street's expectations.

In one incident cited by the investigators, accounting executive Buford Yates told an underling who questioned the company's books, "Show those numbers to the damn auditors and I'll throw you out the (expletive) window."
Just how ineffectual a business was Worldcom? Besides those whimsical multibillion dollar acquisitions, there were also whimsical investments in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute (Guardian):
WorldCom's gala contribution [$100,000 to the Republicans at a fundraising gala attended by President Bush] was a routine part of its $3m a year lobbying effort in Washington, aimed at influencing tax policy and the planned deregulation of the long-distance telephone market – legislation to which WorldCom is opposed.

The company focused on cultivating Mississippi politicians, particularly the Republican leader in the Senate, Trent Lott.

Three years ago WorldCom contributed $1m to the University of Mississippi to help set up the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, just a few weeks after the Mississippi senator had appointed a company official to an advisory panel on the issue of taxing internet sales.

Another recipient of WorldCom largesse was the attorney general, John Ashcroft, who took $10,000 in contributions from the firm for his 2000 Senate campaign. It was unclear yesterday whether Mr Ashcroft would excuse himself from the investigation of WorldCom, as he had done in the case of Enron, another campaign contributor.
Cowards, liars and thieves, every one of them. Like "military intelligence" of the Vietnam era, "corporate culture" is the signal oxymoron of our (expletive) times.
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Monday, June 09, 2003
Capitalists against Bush. 89-year old money manager Seth Glickenhaus founded and heads a $1-billion money management firm that bears his name. "He's delivered returns of 17% a year, on average, to his clients since 1981," says this article from the current issue of
Barron's (subscription required), in which Sandra Ward provides the Q's and Glickenhaus supplies the A's (and I supply the emphasis):
Q: So we're not out of the woods [with respect to the risk of an economic depression].
A: You know the expression "You should live so long?" After a 16-year cycle of boom, it is unreasonable to expect the readjustment to take less than 16 years. We are in for a very long period where the economy will not grow very much. This is intensified on a world basis by the deteriorating caliber of our political leaders. Bush has no fiscal sense whatsoever and is radical in his approach. The Republicans live solely to make the rich richer. The Democrats have no leaders or leadership and are barely conscious of the major issues of the day, which include growing unemployment, lack of affordable housing for the poor and the low end of the middle class, lack of health insurance, deterioration of our infrastructure -- our bridges, roads and sewer systems -- growing water shortages, drugs and crime. Just to name a few of the major issues. One of the major things they overlook is that we are currently spending $350 billion for military purposes. Meanwhile, Russia spends something on the order of $40 billion and China spends $20 billion. We spend more than all other countries together. At the same time, we are spending no more than $20 billion or so for children's health and correspondingly very small sums for education. Congress also spends all its time debating whether we should spend billions on anti-ballistic missiles, which any knowledgeable scientist would tell you cannot possibly work. The public, on the other hand, doesn't feel that extra submarines and needless new fighter planes really increase their standard of living. I am not a pacifist, and I want us to be strong, but we could easily save $200 billion a year by rationalizing the Pentagon and still be far and away the strongest nation in the world.

Q: What are your thoughts on Iraq?
A: We all wanted to get rid of Hussein, who is a very evil man. However, the price that is being paid in human lives and properties and the chaos that is inevitably ensuing in Iraq was far too great a price to pay for this war. It is totally unjustified. If we were to take on every evil man who runs a country, we would have at least 15 or 20 wars on our hands.

Q: Are you worried that we'll invade Iran or Syria?
A: The public thinks we won the war and that it is over. They don't realize we are going to keep more troops in Iraq than we thought. The deficit will grow. We are not going to win the peace. Iraq is so divided internally it makes Afghanistan look like one unified group. Do you think soldiers know how to straighten out a country? They know how to make war. Do you think the State Department has the people and the training to help the country rebuild? Do you think we have anything like that? No, of course not. Another evil that exists today, and one that is going to prolong our recession and one we could do something about, is the situation of the municipalities and the states, which in the boom period built up tremendous costs and activities and now don't have enough revenues and are, as a group, facing a shortfall of $70 billion a year. This will entail substantial contractions in many important areas of public employment, even after the tax-cut bill, which gets them about $20 billion.

Q: We have elections coming up next year. If the downturn persists, won't people vote their pocketbook?
A: In elections, 60% of the people don't vote. The 40% who do vote are people who are beholden to one political party or the other. What is in the public's interest is not represented in the electoral part of our so-called democracy.

Q: Isn't it when times are tough that people finally get interested in the issues?
A: Well, you are young, and you have optimism. I don't have it anymore. I lost it. I tried awfully hard to kindle interest in these things. I supported them. I've worked for them, and I've failed. The public seems indifferent to what could be a very severe collapse of the economy and political system. The United States may go under. Look at Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, people don't have water. There is a 300% or so inflation rate per annum, transportation is broken down, people cannot get to their jobs, 65% of their industry is shut down and the black market in food is soaring. Although this is an extreme case, the Congo and other African countries are similarly situated. The tax-cut bill will ultimately have negative effects on the our economy, because it increases the disparity of income and wealth between the wealthy and poor.

Q: You can't be suggesting that we'll end up like Zimbabwe?
A: I'm suggesting we may end up like Zimbabwe. Or Japan. When you consider that some major iconic industries in this country -- the automobile business, the steel business, the telephone business -- are lost or have at least suffered enormously.

Q: But isn't this part of a long cyclical trend? Manufacturing has been moving offshore for some time. Won't these industries be replaced with new "icons?"
A: Technology is a replacement, to some degree, but even there we are beginning to get very strong competition from abroad. We are becoming like England. We are becoming less important. The dollar is depreciating, and it is just beginning its descent because of our perpetual trade deficits and federal budget deficits. Foreigners will not only not invest in our bond and stock markets but will be pulling money out.

Q: Except that raises the question of where are they going to put it?
A: Gold. Perhaps diamonds. Old Master paintings.

Q: What's your solution?
A: Spend money for the infrastructure, reduce government, cut military spending by $200 billion, repair and build housing for the poor and middle class.


[…]

Q: People seem to feel that Europe is much more at risk than the U.S.
A: They face the same risks we do.

Q: But at least we are pulling out all the stops.
A: What are we doing? Giving the rich a tax cut and the poor a very tiny one -- is that pulling out the stops? Have you seen a program to build public housing? Have you seen a program to fight drugs intelligently?

Q: What about the monetary stimulus? The low interest rates?
A: That cannibalizes the future.

Q: You don't think any of that is useful?
A: We would have had a real recession sooner but it might have been over already if Greenspan hadn't lowered interest rates. The best thing that can happen is a good fat recession because that produces the changes that we are hoping for but that are not yet happening.

[…]

Q: What do you expect come fall 2004?
A: I expect we will be sitting here and having the same interview. I don't see any change in sight. I don't see the Democratic Party trying to revolutionize itself. The Democrats have all become sheep. Young people have the expression about living outside the box. No one is living outside the box here. There is only one great country: Norway. I didn't come from Norway, but I lived there. It is monolithic. There are 3.5 million people. It is the most constructive country in the world. They're for peace and they were just named as part of the enemy by al Qaeda. If you want a wonderful country, it's Norway. In my next incarnation, I hope to be born a Norwegian.
Very entertaining, if you like this sort of thing. It should still be on newsstands all week.
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Friday, June 06, 2003
Windfalls for the rich. Here's the lowdown on who gets what from the Bush annual tax cut, Special 2003 Iraq Edition, in America's favorite capitalist newspaper (
Wall Street Journal, sub. req'd):
Bill Gates owns 1.19 billion shares of Microsoft stock. Without the [legislative] change, his tax bill on Microsoft's 16-cent dividend would be roughly $73.4 million. After the change: $28.5 million, a savings of $44.9 million.

One needn't be the richest man in America to get a windfall. Sanford Weill will see his tax bill for dividends on Citigroup stock cut by about $4 million. Michael Eisner's bill for Disney dividends will drop by $692,000.

In contrast, the typical American* with earnings between $50,000 and $100,000 had $855 in dividend income in 2001, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan** group in Washington that monitors tax policy. That household's dividend tax savings would be just over $200. The typical $50,000 a year household would save about $100.
*Lie #1: There is no typical American. Half of Americans own stocks, half don't. So who is typical? The ones without stocks and therefore without any newly tax-free dividend income?

**Lie #2: The Tax Foundation is not nonpartisan: it is a fanatically partisan and ideological group that subsists on financial support from the usual right wing suspects, a cadre of foundations bearing the names Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Koch, and the rest of the miserly misanthropes.

Considering the unreliable source of the figures, even the ridiculous $100 to $200 savings that an imaginary "typical" American would receive are a lie, an exaggeration, or both at once.
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Thursday, June 05, 2003
You go, girl! Martha
fights back.
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Martha's blow job. The case being made against Martha Stewart's trade of ImClone stock is very reminiscent of the case made against another famous Democrat back in 1998 (
Washington Post):
"This case is about lying, lying to the FBI, lying to the SEC and lying to investors," [U.S. Attorney Jim] Comey said. "Martha Stewart is being prosecuted not because of who she is but because of what she did."
It's always about "lying." Clinton was not charged with having been fellated, and Stewart is likewise not charged with criminal insider trading — only conspiracy, obstruction, and making false statements.

Once again, we are being distracted from anything substantive with a legal sideshow. This is all pure bullshit meant to make voters forget Enron, Halliburton, Harken, Chevron, and all of the other real insider crimes being committed.

Previous posts about Martha Stewart here and here.
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More fakery from the Dept. of Homeland Security. Whoops! Turns out a high-ranking career official in the Homeland Security Department apparently obtained her doctorate from a
Wyoming diploma mill:
Laura L. Callahan, now senior director in the office of department CIO Steven Cooper, states on her professional biography that she “holds a Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems from Hamilton University.” Callahan, who is also president of the Association for Federal IRM and a member of the CIO Council, is commonly called by the title “Dr.”

Callahan’s resume says she began her civil service career in 1984. Before joining HSD, she was deputy CIO at the Labor Department.

Hamilton University, according to an Internet search, is located in Evanston, Wyo. It is affiliated with and supported by Faith in the Order of Nature Fellowship Church, also in Evanston. The state of Wyoming does not license Hamilton because it claims a religious exemption. Oregon has identified Hamilton University as a diploma mill unaccredited by any organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Link via Boing Boing.
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Wednesday, June 04, 2003
Illinois gets progressive.
Nathan Newman looks at how progressive Illinois has become, thanks to attentive Democrats in high places. Link via Matthew Iglesias.
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One of the weirder ways corporate malfeasance funds the right wing. The right didn't get as powerful as it now is without one magical ingredient — cash. What is perhaps less obvious is that much of that cash was stolen from employees, shareholders, and the public trust.

Like Enron, Tyco has been embroiled in a financial scandal the likes of which have only appeared since the triumph of Republican power. Now, one enabling member of the Tyco dysfunctional family is revealed to be a funding source for another group of right wing fanatics in religious disguise (Laura P. Cohen in
The Wall Street Journal, sub. req'd.):
In July 2000, Mark Belnick, then the top in-house lawyer at Tyco International Ltd., received a $2 million payment toward a $12 million bonus. For Mr. Belnick, it was the latest reward in a meteoric legal career that ran from some of the highest-profile business cases of the 1980s and 1990s to Tyco, a hugely successful conglomerate and Wall Street darling.

Today prosecutors say that payment bought Mr. Belnick's silence about the looting of Tyco by its extravagant former chief executive, L. Dennis Kozlowski. Mr. Belnick, facing criminal charges, has become one of the most celebrated casualties of the recent wave of corporate wrongdoing.

But few people know just what he did with that $2 million. Almost immediately, he gave most of it to a small Catholic college in California and to the Culture of Life Foundation, a Catholic pro-life group in Washington, according to e-mails to and from Mr. Belnick at the time and interviews with people involved with the donations.

Three months earlier, Mr. Belnick, formerly an observant Jew, had quietly converted to Catholicism and become an active supporter of Opus Dei, a conservative group within the church. While prosecutors accuse his boss, Mr. Kozlowski, of taking millions from Tyco to buy artwork and posh homes and to entertain friends in Sardinia, Mr. Belnick was using some of his allegedly unlawful Tyco haul for an entirely different purpose. In addition to his donations to the Catholic college and foundation, he gave money to a Catholic television network, two parishes and an Opus Dei bookstore and information center. It was all part of a midlife transformation that Mr. Belnick, the former president of a suburban Westchester, N.Y., synagogue, long kept secret from most of his friends and even his own family.

For Mr. Belnick, two journeys intersected at Tyco: He became embroiled in one of the messiest corporate scandals ever, and simultaneously pursued a sudden conversion and devotion to Catholic philanthropy.
The article goes on to describe Belnick's background, including his role in the US Senate investigation into the Iran-Contra affair. But the call of corporate life was too great, because "In his three years and nine months at Tyco, Mr. Belnick made $37.2 million, not including $14 million in no-interest loans from the company." Such capital rapidly converts an ex-Jew not into a Catholic but into a Catholic VIP, and indeed in 2001 he got his private chapel mass with the Pope in Rome.

Perhaps the most fascinating character in the long article is the recruiter:
Father [C. John] McCloskey, who has an economics degree from Columbia, worked as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch & Co. in the late 1970s, before joining the priesthood in 1981. His official job is running the Catholic Information Center of the Archdiocese of Washington. But he is best known for shepherding prominent people into the church. "The Holy Spirit uses me as a conduit," says the priest, whom many refer to by his first initial and middle name.

"C. John is the most effective converter of high-profile people in the country," says Dr. Nathanson, who, decades before his 1996 conversion from Judaism, had helped start the organization now known as the National Abortion Rights Action League. "He wants to bring well-educated, affluent people to the Pope."

Some of the others the priest has helped through the conversion process are conservative publishing executive Alfred Regnery and financier Lewis Lehrman. Father McCloskey says that his Wall Street experience, as well as church postings in Manhattan, Princeton, N.J., and now Washington "put me in a circle I wouldn't otherwise be in."
This story, although extremely strange in its particulars, demonstrates the banality of corporate evil as leveraged by concentrated wealth. Unlike your routine televangelist or Hare Krishna captain, cult leader McCloskey recruits from a richer caste of sad people to staff his army of functionaries.

Besides what's happening in faith-based government initiatives, the net effect of the theocratization of the Tycos of America is that the money from your 401(k) — already a quasi-privatization of retirement funding — has been siphoned off to assist radical religious groups.

The story is another example of criminal lying and theft with a secret agenda — the chief characteristic of corporate omnipotence.
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Tuesday, June 03, 2003
Harassment of Martha Stewart continues. With the threat of indictment now imminent, Martha Stewart is being turned into a
public example of corporate insider wrongdoing, despite the fact that her alleged "crimes" are literally thousands of times smaller than those of prominent administration officials or their supporters. The insider trades of the former Secretary of the Army, Thomas White, whose documented connections to Enron were obscenely profitable, dwarf anything Martha Stewart did with respect to her ImClone trades. So far she has lost in the vicinity of $400 million for a trade that gained her $228,000. The triviality of her ImClone profit relative to the billions made by the Enron cabal should remind us that justice is not being served.

Regardless rumsfeldof what Martha Stewart has done wrong, nobody was harmed, and if prosecutorial resources are to be wisely used, there are far bigger fish to fry. Her trial by media is another smokescreen meant to distract us from the real perpetrators of the unindicted CEO class: the Ken Lays and Jeff Skillings who roam free like dethroned zombies, having sucked the life out of the employees and shareholders who unwittingly provided sustenance to their executive evils.

UPDATE 6/4/03: The Smoking Gun provides Martha's indictment.
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Monday, June 02, 2003
Media consolidation is bad for the left and the right. Corporate speech isn't free. Even that bible of leftism, The Wall Street Journal, is making noise about the big badness of the FCC's probable vote today in favor of further media consolidation. From today's column by
Joe Flint (subscribers only):
Last month, Viacom President Mel Karmazin told the Senate Commerce Committee that network television is "not a very good business." A few weeks later, Viacom's CBS sold $2 billion in commercials to advertisers wanting to buy time on the network's fall schedule.

The record $9 billion that Viacom and the other broadcast networks took in last month in ad sales for the coming television season doesn't appear to have swayed the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to approve further deregulation of the industry on Monday. The rollback of those rules not only will further pad the coffers of entertainment conglomerates; it also likely will lead to more homogenized television programming.

Network television executives and big broadcasters long have complained that regulators have tied their hands, and crimped their profits, by restricting the number of stations they can own. Those restrictions, they contend, have become obsolete in the age of cable and the Internet. And it's true that the broadcast networks face much greater competition than they did 20 years ago. Much of that competition, however, is owned by the very same broadcasters pushing for more deregulation.

Currently, broadcasters are allowed to own stations that reach no more than 35% of television households. If the measure before the FCC passes on Monday as expected, that limit will be eased to 45%. Rules that made it difficult for one company to own more than one television station in a city also are set to be relaxed. Under the revised guidelines, some companies will be able to own up to three television stations in big cities like Los Angeles and New York.

As big broadcasters expand their reach, the remaining smaller production companies willing to take risks in programming are likely to be squeezed out. That's because it's easier for conglomerates to make money by carrying programs they own themselves.

By owning two or more stations in a market, big broadcasters also will have more incentive to cut back on news operations. Although broadcasters tend to boast that such combinations mean more local news programming, they often lead to having reporters use the same material for two stations instead of one.

Ten years ago, the FCC began to ease longstanding rules that prohibited the broadcast networks from owning the shows they aired. With the barriers to vertical integration discarded, the networks often muscled out the middleman -- independent producers -- in favor of shows the networks could own, and profit from, outright. The impact has been undeniable: A decade ago, less than 20% of prime-time programming was owned by the networks. Today, that figure is close to 80%.

With no safeguards in place, networks are apt to favor shows they own over better ones owned by someone else. Already, independent production companies have gone the way of the horse and buggy. If pioneering television producer Norman Lear were to pitch "All in the Family" today, he would have to recast the entire show and turn over ownership to a network before it would have a chance to get on the air.

Radio has undergone a similar transformation. There, a handful of companies dominate the industry, generating stations and playlists that are virtually indistinguishable from one another across the country.

In making the case for deregulation, companies such as Mr. Karmazin's Viacom and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. usually point to the explosion of media outlets, both in cable and the Internet, as evidence that the current restrictions are outdated. But these companies, along with AOL Time Warner, NBC parent General Electric and ABC parent Walt Disney, control some of the biggest and most successful cable networks, and have a big Internet presence as well. Aside from CBS, Viacom's holdings include MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, Black Entertainment Television, Comedy Central and radio giant Infinity Broadcasting. AOL Time Warner, for its part, owns CNN, HBO, the WB Network, TNT, as well as cable systems reaching more than 10 million homes. Disney owns ABC, ESPN, the Disney Channel and has stakes in several other big cable networks, including Lifetime and A&E. NBC owns CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Telemundo ... you get the idea.

In moving to ease ownership restrictions, regulators are traveling a slippery slope. Already, the government is poised to approve News Corp.'s proposed takeover of satellite company DirecTV, a deal that would give the biggest owner of television stations in the country even more power in negotiating with the entertainment industry's few remaining independent suppliers of programming.

In his testimony before the committee, Tom Fontana, who created the groundbreaking dramas "Homicide" and "Oz" (for production companies, he noted, that no longer exist), he said that "sometimes by deregulating a big business, you can choke the life of a small one. And with that you lose energy, imagination and entrepreneurial spirit of that small business." Energy, imagination and entrepreneurial spirit -- everything that seems to be missing from television these days.
Energy, imagination and entrepreneurial spirit are just three of the things being choked out of existence by FCC Chairman Michael Powell and his two fellow Republican commissioners. Cultural diversity, artistic risk-taking and all stories of local interest will also disappear as a thin gruel of homogenized corporate spittle, determined by a vanishingly smaller group of people, dominate the landscape of news and entertainment.

Today is the last chance for you to tell the FCC what you think prior to the vote. Stop the FCC!

Lisa at RuminateThis has offered some of the most comprehensive coverage and commentary on this issue. See her many posts there.
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Friday, May 30, 2003
Tom Tomorrow tells the story of the
red states pill.
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Thursday, May 29, 2003
Run! Go see
Billmon's indispensable compilation of administration quotes on WMD.
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How to hide $44 trillion. Shove bad news under a rug at the White House, but first fire the messenger (MSNBC):
WASHINGTON, May 29 — The Bush administration has shelved a report commissioned by the Treasury that shows the U.S. currently faces a future of chronic federal budget deficits totaling at least $44 trillion in current U.S. dollars.

The study, the most comprehensive assessment of how the U.S. government is at risk of being overwhelmed by the “baby boom” generation’s future healthcare and retirement costs, was commissioned by then-Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill.

But the Bush administration chose to keep the findings out of the annual budget report for fiscal year 2004, published in February, as the White House campaigned for a tax-cut package that critics claim will expand future deficits.

The study asserts that sharp tax increases, massive spending cuts or a painful mix of both are unavoidable if the U.S. is to meet benefit promises to future generations. It estimates that closing the gap would require the equivalent of an immediate and permanent 66 percent across-the-board income tax increase.

The study was being circulated as an independent working paper among Washington think-tanks as President George W. Bush on Wednesday signed into law a 10-year, $350 billion tax-cut package he welcomed as a victory for hard-working Americans and the economy.
The wealthiest 20% of Americans will receive 79.3% of this year's tax cut. Only "hard-working Americans," by the design of the Bush cabal, will finance the military ambitions of sons of millionaires whose dividend and inheritance income will remain untaxed and free to grow forever.

In a sane world, this — and not lying about a blow job — would be an impeachable offense.
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Add your voice to stop the FCC. Free speech, particularly at the local level, is in grave danger. From the
Washington Post:
Substantial grass-roots resistance to the Federal Communications Commission's plans to relax or eliminate several major media ownership rules has been building in recent weeks, turning a number-crunching bureaucratic process into a growing debate on free speech.

On June 2, the five-member commission is scheduled to vote on changes that would allow broadcast networks to buy more television stations and would lift the 28-year-old ban preventing newspapers from buying television stations in the same city.

Hundreds of thousands of e-mails and postcards are urging the FCC to put off a decision.

Those who favor relaxing and lifting the rules -- mainly, media corporations and the FCC's three Republican members -- say the regulations are no longer legally enforceable and have been made obsolete by the explosion of cable television channels and Web sites, which provide consumers with more sources of information than when the ownership rules were crafted years ago.

On the other side are the two Democratic commissioners, Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, several public-interest groups and organizations that say what is at stake is nothing less than the health of the democracy. More consolidation, they say, will lead to fewer voices, making it difficult for minority viewpoints to be heard. Unexpected alliances have formed between liberal and conservative groups, opposing further deregulation.

In recent days, the FCC has been inundated with hundreds of thousands of e-mails and e-petitions. MoveOn.org, a public-interest organization founded by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, says it has collected 170,000 signatures on a petition to the FCC, urging the agency to keep the rules in place.
The current Bush administration agenda at the FCC, led by Colin Powell's son Michael, is so threatening to free speech that it is making strange bedfellows of those in opposition to it. How many other efforts unite Common Cause and the National Rifle Association against proposed policy?

Go to Move On's Stop the FCC page (also in the green box at the top of this column), where you can spend half a minute sending an email message to the FCC.

But do it now — before the vote next Monday.
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S&L crook and presidential brother Neil Bush can now get an
online divorce from Sharon Bush, the wife he jilted for a married employee of his mother's. An online split would be the fitting course of action for family man Neil, considering that he dumped her via email.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2003
I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, find that the threat of attachment or other judicial process against the Development Fund for Iraq, Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations, or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, obstructs the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq. This situation constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.

I hereby order:

Section 1. Unless licensed or otherwise authorized pursuant to this order, any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void, with respect to the following:

(a) the Development Fund for Iraq, and
(b) all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations, or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons.
In other words, don't sue us for the oil — it's ours because we declared a national emergency.

Oil is the only Iraqi national resource mentioned in the order. Given the absence of WMD and the singular focus on Iraqi petroleum, could the administration's interest in the invasion be any clearer?

This executive order is dated May 22, 2003, and can be viewed
here, courtesy of Cryptome.
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From
"A philosophical investigation into Enron" in The Guardian:
A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the $38 billion of debt run up by Enron would pay around a-fifth of the capital costs of providing safe drinking water to every human being on earth who currently lacks it. Universally available safe water would avoid some five million deaths a year and countless person-months of debilitating water-borne illness. It would have economic as well as humanitarian benefits, but those benefits would not show up as profit on any of the balance sheets that currently matter.

Enquire into almost any of the numbers that abound in the world of finance, and one discovers that it is the endpoint of an often complex chain of construction. Those chains often also lead deep into people's lives: into what happens to their savings and their pensions, into whether or not they have jobs or homes.

Bill Peterson's wife and children will tell you that. Mr Peterson worked for Enron, and was being treated for cancer when the corporation became bankrupt. He lost his job, and with it his Enron-subsidised health insurance. With expenses mounting, and his wife unable to take up paid work because she needed to look after him, the $800 a month the couple had to pay to keep their insurance going could be met only by selling the house in which they had brought up their children. Mr Peterson died last September, not at home but while staying with relatives 175 miles away from the rest of his family. "He should have been allowed to die in his own bed," his wife told the Financial Times.

What happened to Mr Peterson is one of the casual cruelties of the American system, cruelties that are the other side of its restless, innovative, money-making, winner-takes-all energy. His fate should also remind us that numbers matter. We need to understand how they are constructed, and perhaps to start to imagine ways in which they can be reconstructed to better ends.
The "casual cruelty" of the American system is of course what Bush conservatives mean when they say "compassion."
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Tuesday, May 27, 2003
"Oklahoma's job cuts are part of a deep nationwide retrenchment eating away at the public sphere. According to some analysts, the states, which control most public services, are going through their worst crisis since the Depression. While the US is at the zenith of its global power, its health and education systems would be grounds for a scandal in poorer countries.

[...]

As a result of the cuts, 275,000 fewer Texan children will receive health care, and in Nebraska almost 25,000 low-income mothers have lost medical cover for their families because eligibility thresholds have been raised. Over this year and next, 1.7m Americans risk losing their health insurance."

The Guardian via URLDJ.
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Seeing the Forest notes it isn't the Republican party that created the mess we're in — it's the right wing philanthropists working in the background. And the only effective counterweight to the ideologues who generated the "message amplification infrastructure" is the cultivatation of left wing philanthropists who can seed the funding of advocacy for the progressive agenda.

It's a great post. Read it.
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Art or Crap: the
quiz.

My score was 14/16. Yay me. Via RuminateThis.
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Friday, May 23, 2003
Hang 'em high. It's time for the two Texas Toms — DeLay and Craddick — to go down.
Houston Chronicle:
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay admitted Thursday he provided Texas Speaker Tom Craddick with the same information that state police used to enlist a homeland security agency in the search for runaway Democratic legislators.

DeLay said his staff used public information at the Federal Aviation Administration to track former Texas Speaker Pete Laney's airplane.

Laney was among 55 Democrats who broke a House quorum on May 12 to kill a congressional redistricting bill sought by DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Craddick and DeLay wanted the errant legislators arrested and returned to the House to force a vote on the bill.

"I was told at the time that that plane was in the air coming from Ardmore, Oklahoma, back to Georgetown, Texas," DeLay said of the FAA's information, which he said was also available on the agency's Web site. "I relayed that information to Tom Craddick."

Texas Department of Public Safety officers working in Craddick's office had the same information when it contacted a federal air interdiction agency to seek its help in finding Laney's airplane. The federal agency has since said it was misled into believing Laney's airplane was missing and possibly had crashed.

Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge, meanwhile, said Thursday his agency is investigating "potentially criminal" misuse of the federal air interdiction service by the DPS.

DeLay said he played no part in the DPS' decision to contact the federal air interdiction service. And Craddick denies knowing anything about how the DPS came to call the agency.

"I don't know who contacted who," Craddick said.
How could Craddick not know how DPS came to call the agency? They were installed in the reception room adjacent to his office.
DeLay's admission is the latest revelation that state and federal Republican officials were directly involved in the widespread manhunt.

DeLay has said his office contacted justice officials May 12 "about the appropriate role of the federal government in finding Texas legislators who have warrants for their arrest and have crossed state lines."

Craddick had signed an order requiring any Texas "peace officer" to arrest the missing members. But Craddick's command was not a "warrant," which is an arrest order issued by a court for an accused criminal.

DeLay, in an impromptu interview with Texas reporters, said his office tracked Laney's airplane by contacting the FAA in Washington.

FAA officials told DeLay's staff that public information showed the airplane was en route from Ardmore to Georgetown, north of Austin.

State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, was in the DPS command center outside of Craddick's office May 12. He has said there was a belief that Laney was ferrying lawmakers from Georgetown to Ardmore and the DPS thought some legislators might be caught when the plane landed.

When the plane did not arrive, Krusee said people worried that it had crashed. He said he did not know if that is what prompted DPS to call the homeland security agency, which could not locate the plane.

At 9:39 a.m. on May 14, the DPS ordered all records of the search to be destroyed. DPS claims the records were destroyed because the investigation was over, but the House did not drop the order to arrest the wayward members until 11:25 a.m.

Ridge told the House Select Committee on Homeland Security he cannot release tapes of the May 12 DPS telephone call because of the ongoing investigation.

"This is now a potentially criminal investigation," Ridge said.
Republican claims of honesty and integrity are simply lies unsupported by empirical evidence.

The assistant inspector general conducting the investigation is looking for evidence of "fraud, waste, and abuse." As if there could be any doubt — they are three of the chief characteristics of Republican power. Add hatred, mendacity, and divisiveness, and there you have the state of Texas-bred conservatism in a nutshell.
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Thursday, May 22, 2003
Book-of-the-Month Club tilts right. Following on the heels of
Penguin and Random House, which have a total of thirty new right-wing books in the works, the Book-of-the-Month Club is planning a copycat venture that panders to the Coulter and Bennett fans (Yahoo/AP):
The operators of the Book-of-the-Month Club announced Tuesday that they are forming a new club, as yet unnamed, devoted to works with a conservative point of view. Within the past month, Penguin Putnam and the Crown Publishing Group have started conservative imprints.

"We don't think we've done enough in this area. We have featured conservative authors like Bill Bennett, but we've never presented them in a coherent way," says Mel Parker, senior vice president and editorial director of Bookspan, which runs the Book-of-the-Month Club and several other clubs.

Bookspan is co-owned by Bertelsmann AG and AOL Time Warner Inc., and its new club is scheduled to begin by early next year. Brad Miner, a former literary editor with the conservative National Review, will serve as editor.

Miner should have plenty of material. Penguin and Crown, a division of Random House, Inc., each plan to publish about 15 conservative books a year. Regnery Publishing, a conservative press based in Washington, D.C., puts out between 25-30.
Does genuine demand really exist for all of these planned books? Relative to its already-exaggerated status, how much bigger can the market for specious reasoning, inaccuracy, and hatred be?

Link via Moby Lives.
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Dick Cheney's owners forbidden from approving his paycheck. Halliburton continues to pay the vice president of the United States of America an
annual six-figure "deferred compensation" but the company's shareholders have no say in the exit packages of its executives, according to a new vote reported in the subscription-requiring Wall Street Journal:
A proposal on termination benefits for senior executives was defeated Wednesday by Halliburton (HAL) shareholders but gathered a large number of votes.

The proposal urged the board of directors to seek shareholder approval of any future severance agreements that would pay senior executives more than twice the sum of their base salary plus bonus.

The motion was defeated when 61% of shareholders present voted against it, but 36% of shareholders voted for the proposal. The others abstained.

Halliburton's board of directors had opposed the measure. "If this proposal was adopted, it would have undermined Halliburton's ability to attract and retain highly qualified senior executives*," Wendy Hall, Halliburton's public relations manager, said in a statement.
*By "highly qualified senior executives," I think Wendy meant war-crazed, bunker-bound, cardiac-challenged crony capitalists.
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Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Last chance to spend tonight with Sharon Bush and a Rolls Royce dealer. Hurry! A thousand bucks will let you join Neil Bush's jilted wife and her wealthy friends at tonight's benefit dinner, according to the Houston Chronicle's
Shelby Hodge:
Wednesday [May 21, 2003]

The American Ireland Fund benefits Special Olympics with its garden dinner at the River Oaks home of Paige and Tilman Fertitta, with special guest entertainment by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan.

Chair: Sharon Bush.

Tickets: $1,000.

Details: 832-868-5570
Despite Neil's initial offer of $1,000 a month, Sharon can still afford to hang with her cherished River Oaks friends thanks to generous financial support from her in-laws, George H. W. and Barbara Bush, the last Republican failures in the White House.
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Texas Republicans destroy evidence of their partisan abuse of Homeland Security. Don't take my word for it, read the
Houston Chronicle:
AUSTIN -- While under heavy criticism of its investigation into the House Democratic walkout, the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered all records related to that investigation destroyed.

[…]

The order to destroy the records was made May 15.

Democrats involved in the walkout began complaining May 13 that the agency investigation involved the harassment of their families.

Congressional Democrats also raised questions May 14 about whether the DPS misused a federal Homeland Security Department agency in searching for former Speaker Pete Laney's airplane on May 12.

A DPS officer had called the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center asking for help locating Laney's aircraft.

The federal agency last Thursday put out a statement saying the DPS had mislead the interdiction service into believing it was searching for an aircraft that was missing and possibly crashed.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has refused to release tapes of the telephone call from DPS.

A total of 55 Texas House Democrats vanished on May 13 in order to break a quorum to keep the House from debating legislation to redraw the state's congressional district boundaries.

As soon as Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican, knew a quorum was not present, he ordered the missing lawmakers to be arrested and returned to the House. The state Constitution gives the House and Senate presiding officers the power to do that.

The DPS set up a command post in the reception room adjacent to Craddick's office.

All but four of the missing legislators had gone into hiding in Ardmore, Okla. DPS was following a rumor that Laney was using his airplane to ferry lawmakers between Georgetown north of Austin to Ardmore.
Hmm, I wonder who started that rumor. Craddick's unseemly behavior was previously discussed here.
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Jeb sucks sugar cane. The 2008 GOP presidential nominee already demonstrates his obedience to his industrial masters, as shown by this story from jeb
Mmm... sugar.
FindLaw/Reuters:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law on Tuesday a sugar industry-backed bill relaxing requirements to clean up the Everglades, which critics say threatens the health of the massive Florida wetland.

The bill has come under fire from U.S. lawmakers who say it threatens federal funding critical to the $8 billion restoration of the Everglades, the unique "River of Grass" that supplies drinking water to millions of people and is home to numerous endangered species.

The U.S. District judge overseeing a decade-old cleanup agreement between the state and federal governments expressed grave concerns about the bill, which critics say eases water-quality standards and delays a 2006 deadline.

Judge William Hoeveler said he would forge ahead with the 1994 pact even if Bush, younger brother of President Bush, signed the measure.

The governor said the bill needed work, but that its underlying premise was sound. He asked lawmakers to "clarify" language in the new law.

"The Everglades bill recently passed by the House and Senate is strong legislation built upon good policy," Bush, a Republican, said in a prepared statement prior to the signing. "(It) reinforces our commitment to restore water quality in the Everglades by providing a strategic plan to achieve this goal."

Critics say the bill eases water quality standards meant to reduce the level of phosphorus in the Everglades, polluted for decades by fertilizer-tainted runoff from sugar plantations.

The sugar industry, led by U.S. Sugar Corp., helped push the bill through the Florida legislature.

Environmental groups, which worked for years to establish the 1994 "Everglades Forever Act," have derisively dubbed the latest legislation the "Everglades Whenever Act."

[...]

Bush, who met with federal officials in Washington this month, said he has asked lawmakers to tighten language that now states restoration efforts should be concluded at the "earliest practicable date" and pollutants be reduced to the "maximum extent practicable."

Bush has repeatedly brushed aside questions about Florida's commitment to Everglades restoration, saying the state has already earmarked $500 million toward restoration and ongoing efforts have already significantly reduced phosphorus levels in 90 percent of the region.
Sugar and spice, industrial vice, that's what little Jebs are made of.

See also FlaBlog, especially here.
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Tuesday, May 20, 2003
"Your autobiography" by DARPA. Just imagine: the Pentagon keeping track of all the details of your life in a convenient, searchable format!

"The embryonic LifeLog program would dump everything an individual does into a giant database: every e-mail sent or received, every picture taken, every Web page surfed, every phone call made, every TV show watched, every magazine read." —
Wired News

The fact that this program is run by Iran-Contra felon John M. Poindexter should give us pause.

It would be nice if some clever programmer with a conscience infiltrated this stupid effort and created back doors in the code, leaked its overseers' LifeLogs, and generally mucked things up enough to disgrace and ruin the program. Otherwise, the USA will likely become Brazil.
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Clear Channel left-wing radio? I'm not sure I agree with the conclusion of this article. Is the move by Clear Channel just a spin ploy that will last only until the big media dereg push wins the FCC on June 2?
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The birth of global is the death of local. From a long piece called "World of media shrinks as it widens: In vote next month, FCC is expected to loosen restraints on corporations" in the
Baltimore Sun:
"The days of the locally developed TV show, the locally developed TV talk show or children's shows don't exist anymore. It's not right or wrong. It's simply the time we live in," [Mark] Hyman [vice president of corporate communications and government relations for Maryland's Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.] said.
Actually, the death of local programming is wrong. The airwaves are a public resource and we have a right to see to it how they are used — as well as who gets to use them. If large corporations don't want to invest in local production infrastructure, THEY SHOULD STAY OUT OF OUR MARKETS. And we should enforce that concept by limiting the amount of ownership across markets and across media.

We have a duty to see to it, through the FCC, that what remains of mass media does not dissolve inevitably into a soup of corporate sludge.

Make your voice heard: Stop the FCC from giving more opportunity to fewer corporations.

Link via Convergence Chaser, May 20, 2003.
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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."
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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.
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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
here.

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.
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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.
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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.
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Quick hits:
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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