culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Money is dirty paper, but dope is business. The business enterprises behind marijuana and hallucinogens are examined in next week's capitalist tool,
Forbes. Among the tidbits you'll find in this large, multi-page report:
With prices reaching $2,700 a pound wholesale, the [cannabis] trade takes in somewhere between $4 billion (in U.S. dollars) nationwide and $7 billion just in the province of British Columbia.

[...]

Small growers like David bring in $900 a pound at the low end, with net margins of 55% to 90%, depending on quality, depreciation and labor costs. They produce half a pound to 30 pounds every ten weeks, selling their product to local users or peddling it to "accumulators," who then smuggle it over the border or sell it up the chain to larger brokers. Accumulators and brokers typically add $80 a pound to the cost, as do the high-volume smugglers who buy from them. Smugglers returning money to Canada for other dealers skim a 2% laundering fee.

"The first time somebody gives you a bag of money so heavy that you can't lift it, it's surreal. Pretty soon, it's just dirty paper," says Jeff, who recently retired from smuggling up to a ton of weed a week.
The only other quick way I know to make $100 million gross in a few years is to be a mutual fund CEO market timer, like Lawrence Lasser of Putnam.

In the United States, the game of centamillionaires is called "Choose your enemy": John Ashcroft or Eliot Spitzer.
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Monday, November 03, 2003
What's new in Bush's America? Poverty. Recovery without jobs is like dinner without food (
Guardian):
George Bush's America is the wealthiest and most powerful nation the world has ever known, but at home it is being gnawed away from the inside by persistent and rising poverty. The three million Americans who have lost their jobs since Mr Bush took office in January 2001 have yet to find new work in a largely jobless recovery, and they are finding that the safety net they assumed was beneath them has long since unravelled. There is not much left to stop them falling.

Last year alone, another 1.7 million Americans slipped below the poverty line, bringing the total to 34.6 million, one in eight of the population. Over 13 million of them are children. In fact, the US has the worst child poverty rate and the worst life expectancy of all the world's industrialised countries, and the plight of its poor is worsening.

The ranks of the hungry are increasing in step. About 31 million Americans were deemed to be "food insecure" (they literally did not know where their next meal was coming from). Of those, more than nine million were categorised by the US department of agriculture as experiencing real hunger, defined by the US department of agriculture as an "uneasy or painful sensation caused by lack of food due to lack of resources to obtain food."

That was two years ago, before the recession really began to bite. Partial surveys suggest the problem has deepened considerably since then. In 25 major cities the need for emergency food rose an average of 19% last year.

Another indicator is the demand for food stamps, the government aid programme of last resort. The number of Americans on stamps has risen from 17 million to 22 million since Mr Bush took office.

In Ohio, hunger is an epidemic. Since George Bush won Ohio in the 2000 presidential elections, the state has lost one in six of its manufacturing jobs. Two million of the state's 11 million population resorted to food charities last year, an increase of more than 18% from 2001.
Three million Americans newly without jobs. An extra five million Americans on food stamps.

This is a recovery?
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Friday, October 31, 2003
It's a brush Bush fire. A blow job is a bit more vivid as a political image than the stock market manipulations of your biggest contributors, but for sheer spectacle and havoc, nothing beats
fire (LA Times):
SACRAMENTO — The Bush administration took six months to evaluate Gov. Gray Davis' emergency request last spring for $430 million to clear dead trees from fire-prone areas of Southern California.

The request fire
Just in time for Halloween: the
limitless horror of Bush/Schwarzenegger.
was finally denied Oct. 24, only hours before wildfires roared out of control in what has become the largest fire disaster in California history.

[...]

Davis' request, made in a letter to President Bush dated April 16, took months to process, [FEMA spokesman Chad] Kolton said, because "we obviously wanted to consider this issue very carefully."

Members of the California congressional delegation were informed of FEMA's decision in an e-mail last Friday, after some of the fires were already burning. Kolton said Davis' Sacramento office was also notified of the decision verbally and in a faxed letter.

In that letter FEMA offered no explanation for why it had taken six months to rule.
Looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger's new best friend just fucked up his insane ambitions — and possibly vice versa.

Link via Media Whores Online. Happy Halloween.
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Enron's criminal ladder. Another rung looks rotten (
WSJ, sub. req'd.):
A former Enron Corp. (ENRNQ) executive pleaded guilty Thursday to a single charge of insider trading, laypart of an agreement to cooperate with the government's criminal investigation into the management of the failed energy company.

[...]

Under the guilty plea, Delainey [David Delainey, former chief executive of Enron North America and Enron Energy Services] will forfeit about $4.26 million in ill-gotten gains and cooperate with the government's ongoing investigation. Under the SEC's civil charges, Delainey agreed to pay a fine of about $3.74 million. He is also barred from serving as an officer of a public company, the SEC said.

Delainey, a Canadian citizen, was accused of selling Enron stock in a number of transactions between Jan. 10, 2000, and Jan. 23, 2001, while an officer of the company and in knowledge of Enron's financial misdeeds. Proceeds from the stock sales netted the executive about $4.26 million.

[...]

"A senior executive has now admitted that Enron company executives engaged in widespread and pervasive fraud to manipulate the company's earnings results," [Enron Task Force prosecutor Sam] Buell said. "The events today show that the truth will come out about Enron and its collapse."

Delainey helped manipulate Enron's financial reports to overstate earnings growth, then traded shares of the company with material information not available to outside investors, Buell said.
Of course, it's entirely possible that a divisional chief executive had full knowledge of Enron's financial shenanigans without Bush contributors and former CEOs Ken Lay or Jeff Skilling knowing anything.

Right?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
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It's the stupid economy. Republican shills are already hailing the growth numbers as a sign of their leader's economic genius. But it
doesn't hold up under scrutiny (Houston Chronicle):
The U.S. economy grew at a stunning 7.2 percent in the third quarter, the Commerce Department reported. That's a pace not seen in 19 years and more than double 3.3 percent growth rate in the second quarter.

[...]

U.S. businesses created a modest 57,000 jobs in September, but still lost 41,000 overall for the third quarter.

The hiring picture remains mixed. IBM has announced plans to hire 10,000 workers, but drug maker Merck & Co. plans to lay off 4,400, while Sony Corp. intends to hand out 20,000 pink slips.

The 80 Houston firms surveyed recently by the National Association of Purchasing Management -- Houston have shed jobs for 24 consecutive months and are likely to do so again this month, noted Doug Miller, chairman of the group's business survey.

[...]

Wall Street shrugged off the report as old news. The Dow Jones industrial average rose a mere 12.08 points, even though the 7.2 GDP growth was far stronger than many economists had predicted.

In contrast to the current job market, the nation added 1.2 million jobs in the first quarter of 1984, when the economy was cooking at a 9 percent rate. "This is not your father's 7.2 percent," noted Bryan Jordan, an economist with Banc One Investment Advisors in Columbus, Ohio.

Jordan estimates 55,000 more jobs or so have been created in October. But the economy needs to create 150,000 to 200,000 jobs a month "before we can sound the all-clear," he said.

Jim Glassman, senior U.S. economist for JP Morgan Chase, argues that if the nation can't create jobs when production is growing at such a clip "we're in a miracle economy."

[...]

But with job growth barely materializing, Democrats continue to cast President Bush as a latter-day Herbert Hoover.
In contrast to real growth of the kind the nation saw under Clinton, jobless growth helps only one class of people — the CEO class of owner/investors who pull the Bush/Cheney strings. Their net worth will rise without the troublesome bother of lower-class laborers to upset their view of pure, accelerating, untaxed profits.

Jobless growth is useless growth. The Bush economy is class warfare based on class hostility, characterized by the hatred of the privileged for the little people who mow their golf courses. Their logic runs something like this: "So what if they all lose their jobs — they can always work at Wal-Mart or enlist in the armed forces."

That's the economic plan in a nutshell.
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Thursday, October 30, 2003
Wow — the Windfalls of War. The Center for Public Integrity has released a major report called
Windfalls of War — US Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One revelation revolves around a married couple that serve as a two-person microcosm of the usual multibillion conflicts of interest that characterize this administration and its international dalliances:
One of the more interesting Iraq contracts the Center uncovered involves a tiny firm called Sullivan Haave Associates.

Sullivan Haave is actually a one-man shop run by a government consultant named Terry Sullivan. Sullivan says his firm was hired as a subcontractor by Science Applications International Corp., one of the most successful and best politically connected government contractors doing work in Iraq.

Sullivan says his job was to spend four months in Iraq providing advice to various ministries being set up there by coalition and local authorities.

Sullivan has a much more intimate relationship with the Pentagon than his competitors, however. He happens to be married to Carol Haave, who, since November 2001, has been deputy assistant secretary of defense for security and information operations. And yes, Haave is the same person who appears in the name Sullivan Haave Associates.
If the efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on the domestic front were humming along nicely, this report wouldn't have any weight at all. But they are all major fiascos, and these revelations therefore have a chance to capture the public imagination — if only we had a media that were up to the task of questioning these issues daily, relentlessly demanding answers that are not pet names for staff members or journalists, or cute runarounds, or mispronounced nonsequiturs, or the consistent up-is-down doubletalk that now passes for presidential speech.
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Perspiring minds want to know. Facts are the ultimate inconvenience to the current crop of hot carbon dioxide-spewing Republicans. It's not exactly an inspiring sign when the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, is comfortable contradicting nearly every scientific body on earth when he calls global warming a
hoax.
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Cheaters' approval rating soars. If Florida and the Supreme Court and Enron and Halliburton and Merrill Lynch and ex-directors of Harken can do it,
why can't we?
The number of Americans who believe it's OK to cheat "a little here and there" on their taxes has risen 50 percent in the past four years, a government survey says -- a trend that new IRS Commissioner Mark Everson promises to reverse by going after scofflaws at all income levels.

"That can't continue," Everson said. "If that trajectory is allowed to continue, you won't be able to fund the government, and you'll have serious erosion of the basic rule of law."

[...]

The percentage of people who agreed with the statement that it was every American's civic duty to pay his fair share of taxes decreased from 81 percent in 1999 to 68 percent in 2003.
So much for the fake patriotic fervor fostered by an administration made up of shady businessmen, demagogues and cheaters. Americans can smell unfairness and will act accordingly — by eroding their own sense of decency when they believe they're not getting a fair deal.

The fish stinks from the head.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003
California recalls voting. It wasn't enough to banish Gray Davis — now California is forgoing voting altogether (
FindLaw):
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that a new computerized touchscreen voting system in California was an acceptably fair and accurate way to cast ballots, even though it left no paper trail.
Paper trails are the only evidence that votes were even cast. You can see why at countthevote.org.
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Buying revenue with blood.
"The former employer of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney [Halliburton Co.] reported revenues rose 39 percent to $4.1 billion, boosted mainly by work its KBR engineering and construction group is doing for the government in the Middle East and elsewhere."
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Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Memo from Kuttner. Co-editor and co-founder of
The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner lectured yesterday at the University of Illinois at Chicago and I had the pleasure of attending his talk entitled "Social Justice in the Age of Markets." It was a great opportunity to hear an economic policy expert talk in the broader context of what’s going wrong with America’s social agenda.

Kuttner mentioned he’s writing a new book on deregulation and the stock markets, and he also recommended a forthcoming Brookings book by Alicia Munnell on the highly suspect accomplishments of the 401(k) pension system.

Here are a few disconnected and paraphrased notes on what he said that I jotted during his talk (I can’t vouch for accuracy — the man talks fast and I write slow):
The free market does not comprehend "compassion" — only "efficiency."

A pure market economy is a social nightmare.

Oscar Wilde said, "A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing," but that’s a better description of a free market economist.

The principal challenges in defeating the laissez-faire mindset are twofold: intellectual and political.

The intellectual challenge is to weaken the two dominant economic myths of "efficiency" and "people get what they deserve."

Real people don’t behave the way free market economic models predict. They’re generous. They help strangers. They value norms of fairness.

Some things are beyond price, beyond markets. Freedom (as opposed to slavery). Healthy infants. Organs for human transplantation.

The political challenge is to get across the idea that we achieve social justice by reining in the markets.

The boom following World War II gave more people more purchasing power than ever before, and was largely on the foundation of government interventions like the GI Bill, the FHA, and similar programs — all of which run counter to free market models.

How should the left rebuild our ethic of social solidarity? (1) Build out from our islands of strength. Rally people to the bulwark of social security — one of the most popular and successfully redistributive programs ever — and proposals for national medical insurance. (2) Attack the opposition. Managed care is a system hated by patients and doctors alike. The only ones who like it are the insurers who profit from it. Managed care shifts costs from employers to employees — effectively removing employers from the social contract for medical care. Half of the prescriptions in the USA go unfilled because people can’t afford to pay for their own medicines.
As Kuttner pointed out, social disaster emanates from the lack of regulation applied to the markets, and from the misapplication of market principles to social needs.

One of the themes of this blog is that vast amounts of power reside in the most boring of details. That’s why I spend so many of your monitor’s valuable pixels on the conflicts of interest among the economic elites that support George W. Bush’s concept of America while they hurt the actual citizens. That’s also why I spend so much time on Enron as the symbol of everything wrong with the direction of this administration. It encapsulates stock market regulation, energy market regulation, environmental policy, globalization, campaign finance reform, corporate and governmental secrecy, the invasion of Iraq, pension reform, accounting vs. consulting, investment banking vs. equity analysis, and a zillion other financial conflicts of interest — not to mention the corporate class warfare of the upper attacking the lower classes. As his thousands of employees scramble to find some way to fund their retirements, former Enron CEO Ken Lay not only remains to be indicted, he still flies first class.

Of the 150 or so in attendance, I may have been the only person there who had no affiliation with education. I went because I'm a regular reader of Kuttner's in his magazine The American Prospect which I probably started subscribing to a year or so ago because of Matthew Yglesias’s blog. Matt is now a writing fellow there and they are evidently glad to have him. In our brief private conversation after the lecture Kuttner had only the highest praise for Matt and told me to watch out for his upcoming print work. I’m also looking forward to Kuttner’s next book.
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Monday, October 27, 2003
Derailing the CEO runaway train. A lot of our favorite themes run through "Addressing Reform" by Stacy Forster in the
Wall Street Journal, subscription required:
Voters want to know what their elected leaders are doing to hold disreputable companies accountable for governance and put safeguards in place to prevent future scandals, says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean of the Yale School of Management's executive-education program, and president of the school's affiliated Chief Executive Leadership Institute (www.ceoleadership.com), a nonprofit group that examines CEO leadership and corporate governance.

[...]

Mr. Sonnenfeld says corporate malfeasance is so widespread that most of investing public considers fraud a prevailing practice. While the Bush administration is working to distance itself from shadowy corporate practices, he says, Democratic presidential candidates aren't doing a well enough job in taking the Republicans to task over the issue.

[...]

Q: What about President George Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney's own histories on this issue -- how much of a liability are they? (Mr. Bush was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading while serving as director of Houston-based Harken Energy Corp., but no misdeeds were found. Mr. Cheney was CEO of Halliburton Corp. during a period that also has come under SEC scrutiny, but he hasn't been implicated in any wrongdoing. Mr. Cheney also successfully blocked the release of records from his energy task force, which would have shed light on how Enron and other industry players influenced the administration's energy policy.)*

A: I'm not sure how much awareness there is about the president's own complicated situations. The political parties -- the Democrats -- will work to bring attention to it, but they surprisingly haven't been lately. But the vice president's [history] is better known, and the stubbornness to block the actual deliberations of an energy advisory board that both parties wanted shared is troubling. You can only imagine the worst and you can imagine there is some deep Enron involvement. But the administration has been working to distance itself from Enron.

[...]

Q: Many of the Democratic candidates talk about reining in executive pay, but how do they propose to accomplish this? And what do they do to prevent coming across as antibusiness?

A: [Efforts] shouldn't be on putting ceilings on pay, but it could be pressures put on negligent board directors that allow disproportionate pay packages that don't respond to a company's performance. If [the candidates] do it the right way, they should be pushing good business.

Q: This seems like a prime issue for many of these populist candidates …

A: There are some bad people and systemic reforms need to be addressed. If they fall into the trap of making it a class war**, it becomes one they are going to lose. This is not a society where haves and have nots hate each other … . This is a fluid society and people like the fact that some folks succeed and want to be among those successful people. Rather than make a crude attack on all successful people, go after the people who succeeded by cheating. But when politicians show they can't tell the difference they lose credibility and effectiveness.

Q: What's on the checklist for some practical steps that the next president might be able to take to shore up corporate governance?

A: Closing the offshore tax loopholes so you don't have pseudo-U.S. companies. Ensuring greater mechanism for shareholder voice on the board, such as transparency of votes of institutional fund managers -- and hold them accountable. Third is putting a good deal of pressure on public authorities to promptly investigate and swiftly prosecute corporate crime, and to use individual culpability. The federal white-collar crime guidelines need to be dramatically improved … .
Did you catch that? "What's on the checklist for some practical steps that the next president might be able to take to shore up corporate governance?" It's assumed that the present president will promote nothing substantive — even the Wall Street Journal says as much.

*Remember that the Department of Justice moved swiftly to indict not Enron, or Merrill Lynch, or Harken, or Halliburton, or any of the true insiders, but instead went after Arthur Andersen, the auditor of Halliburton on Cheney's watch. Andersen's demise became the convenient smokescreen behind which evidence of Cheney's and Halliburton's financial (and strategic and ultimately military) misdeeds could be not only forgotten but permanently destroyed.

**"They, not we, have brought class warfare back to America." That's Bill Clinton in The American Prospect, full interview by Michael Tomasky not yet online.
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Friday, October 24, 2003
Banking on corruption. Yesterday's observations about Enron and banking are expanding with today's news (Mary Flood,
Houston Chronicle):
The little Enron trial in Brenham got a lot bigger Thursday when an appellate court paved the way for Wall Street to join the fray.

The Texas 14th Court of Appeals ruled that Washington County Judge Terry Flenniken abused his discretion by refusing to add seven financial institutions to the civil lawsuit. The three-judge appellate panel ruled that the rural judge must grant defendant Arthur Andersen's request that the banks be added to the case.

Until the appellate court halted the case in August, the Brenham case was expected to be the first Enron shareholder fraud lawsuit to reach a jury, with a November trial date. It was filed on behalf of a handful of Washington County residents who bought stock after former Enron Chairman Ken Lay spoke at a local Chamber of Commerce forum.

The only defendants in the case were Lay, ex-Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, ex-CFO Andrew Fastow, Arthur Andersen and a few ex-Andersen executives.

[...]

"All Andersen ever wanted was if there is going to be a trial about what happened at Enron that all the primary actors who are potentially responsible will be there," said Andy Ramzel, one of Andersen's attorneys.

[...]

Andersen attorneys Ramzel and Rusty Hardin asked that J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Credit Suisse First Boston, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Barclays and Lehman Bros. be added to the case as defendants. They also want to add Michael Kopper, a former Enron executive who pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering.
The good news: layAs Andersen's attorney pointed out, this list of perps is much closer to those actually responsible for the Enron debacle.

The bad news: This will likely delay the proceedings as late or later than the shareholder class-action suit which is scheduled for October 2005 — eleven months after the presidential election that figures so prominently in the background of this drama.
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Thursday, October 23, 2003
Plugging the Enron gap. An hour ago the guys on
Squawk Box at CNBC were chatting with Kim Fennebresque, CEO of securities firm SG Cowen, and they were sharing their amazement at the depth of "participation" by the investment banks and financial community in the dark dealings of Enron.

"You can lose integrity incrementally," suggested Fennebresque somewhat apologetically, mentioning that he personally knew one of Enron's co-conspirators at Merrill Lynch who happened to be a "great guy."

Host Mark Haines brought up the fact that for every successful indictment, there are dozens of other deeply involved "participants" who are "still out there."

Which begs the question — what are those people doing since the demise of Enron?

Short answer: plugging the Enron gap. Contributing to Bush-Cheney 2004.

Enron is effectively gone, and now the Bushies need to address the gap that Enron left when its role as Bush's #1 campaign contributor went up in Wall Street smoke. When it comes to building the financial infrastructure for the energy-deregulating, environment-destroying, plutocrat-enriching, Bible-beating, oilfield-invading no-bid Bush administration, it should come as no surprise there are plenty of other Wall Street "participants" ready to pick up the slack (NYT):
After winning Congressional approval for cuts in taxes on dividends, capital gains and for certain business investments, and after navigating a raft of corporate accounting scandals that shook the investment community, President Bush seems to have won over many financial executives, who are now strongly supporting his re-election campaign.

A study to be released today shows that the financial community has surpassed all other groups, including lawyers and lobbyists, as the top industry among Mr. Bush's elite fund-raisers. The list of those generating $100,000 and $200,000 now includes chief executives like Henry M. Paulson of Goldman Sachs, John J. Mack of Credit Suisse First Boston and Stanley O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, whose firm has already raised twice the amount for Mr. Bush's re-election that it did during the entire 2000 campaign cycle.

[...]

The 2004 election is still more than a year away, but employees of securities and investment firms and their political action committees have contributed $3.8 million to the Bush campaign through September, just $159,000 less than they gave during the entire campaign cycle in 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance.

The president has raised more from the industry than all nine candidates in the Democratic field combined. While Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts counts the industry as his second-largest contributor, at about $1 million through September, others have not done as well. Howard Dean, the top fund-raiser in the field, raised about $302,000, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut raised about $639,000.

"All these guys are totally in Bush's camp," said a politically active executive, adding that "people are not hedging their bets at this point. There's not a lot of fund-raising being done for Democrats right now."

Mr. O'Neal of Merrill Lynch sent a series of letters to the homes of a few hundred of the firm's most senior executives in June, asking them to contribute to a fund-raising dinner in support of Mr. Bush. James E. Cayne, chairman and chief executive of Bear Stearns & Company, also sent a letter asking his executives to donate to the campaign.

Joseph J. Grano, who runs the brokerage operations of UBS, the Swiss bank, has been an avid backer of President Bush and the Republican convention. Mr. Grano promised to raise at least $200,000 for the re-election campaign and to gather money for the convention, said executives at the firm, formerly known as UBS PaineWebber.

Mr. Paulson, of Goldman Sachs, was recruited by Gov. George E. Pataki of New York to collect cash from the Wall Street firms to finance the convention, an official at the firm said, and has gathered $5 million so far.
Merrill Lynch's involvement in the Enron catastrophe, which involved firm-level knowledge of fake Nigerian barge purchases by Enron (in direct contrast to Arthur Andersen's knowledge of Enron misbehavior limited to a handful of partners in Houston and Chicago, yet the Department of Justice indicted the entire firm instead of the responsible individuals), means it has been called upon to plug the enormous contribution gap left by Enron.

Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O'Neal must understand that it is only by the grace of Ashcroft he is not out of a job. Merrill Lynch's continuing existence as the nation's largest wealth manager depends on the adminstration looking the other way and pretending there's nothing to see here. A befuddled public and a beholden press guarantee that the story will never have the momentum it deserves.

Banks, which only a decade ago used to spend equally on Democrats and Republicans, now favor Republicans more than two to one, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

We should point out that all this record-breaking financing is well in advance of the Republican convention for an unopposed candidate. So these contributions are effectively bribes or, to put it more delicately, pre-emptive favors, and nothing compared to what's coming. When the Dem front-runner is finally established, we'll learn how deep those Wall Street pockets really are and how Willie Hortonized the American media will have become by this time next year in the wake of all that money.

People complain about America's two-party system, but it's rapidly becoming a one-party system. Your vote, if it counts at all, is a whisper in a stadium. Your bank's, your broker's, and your insurance company's votes are the stadium PA system at 110 decibels.

Enron's just a punch line now, but it still serves as the most telling symbol of everything wrong with the administration in its fraudulence, its secrecy and its servile delivery of any little thing that only the largest businesses want. The Bush administration will drive to the ends of the earth at any financial or human cost to provide more wealth and power to its masters. Everything else, including the safety and the will of the American people and the rest of the world, is roadkill.

More from the Times article above:

Texans for Public Justice, a group that tracks campaign money, examined Mr. Bush's fund-raising network and which industries it represents. Its study, to be released today, shows that 20 percent now come from the financial sector, up from 14 percent in the last presidential election. The industry — defined broadly to include banks, finance companies, securities and investment firms and accounting and tax service firms — has produced at least 38 new elite fund-raisers for the Bush campaign.

Executives who have signed on include Mr. Cayne of Bear Stearns; Stephen M. Lessing, managing director at Lehman Brothers Holdings; and Henry Kravis, founding partner at Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Laughter is the best OxyContin. BuzzFlash readers have dug up a number of OxyContin possession and distribution sentences (it turns out it is illegal to take thousands of painkillers without a prescription, after all) that range from
21 to 80 years in prison as well as fines up of up to $6 million.

Fines? Prison? Guess that's just "the way things ought to be."
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The near-death penalty. FlaBlog is all over Jeb Bush's custom-designing legislation and pretending he's God in the Schiavo medical tragedy. See
here and here:
My favorite quote -- Whether it's legal or not, I'm telling you, you should support this bill -- Rep. Don Davis, R-Jacksonville.

In the gallery applauding was professional antiabortion extremist Randall "wave of hatred" Terry, formerly of Operation Rescue, is now a "spokesman" for the Schiavo family.

[...]

She [Terri Schiavo] is not being "saved." She is being condemned by politicians and activists to a perpetual near-death twilight -- possibly against her stated wishes. Too many headline writers seem content to mouth the slogans of right-to-life activists.
Taking after his brother's extreme fondness for the death penalty, now Jeb is revealing his affection for the near-death penalty.

It doesn't matter to Jeb what Schiavo's husband or the courts think. Given that the agendas of the Bush brothers disregard laws (or even facts), "whether it's legal or not" has apparently become the national GOP tagline.

For an overview of the Schiavo case, see here.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2003
golfing fools

Please die for me so I can skip your funeral.
"A White House spokesman said [George W.] Bush has not attended any memorials or funerals for soldiers killed in action during his presidency."

How many funerals has Bush skipped? More than one for every day of 2003 — 347 so far.
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Monday, October 20, 2003
Fire Boykin. The reasoning is provided by
Fareed Zakaria:
His [Boykin's] dissembling gets almost comic over another one of his comments. Boykin routinely told audiences that God elevated George W. Bush to the presidency. "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him," he would say. "I tell you this morning that he’s in the White House because God put him there." Boykin now explains that he believes God routinely decides American elections and has done the same thing for "Bill Clinton and other presidents." This is surely the first time a conservative evangelical has argued that Clinton’s election was caused by divine intervention.

When asked about these remarks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to condemn them, explaining, “We’re a free people.” But the issue is not whether the general is free to express his views, but whether Secretary Rumsfeld wants someone who holds such views in high office. After all, were the general to have expressed his opinion that the Iraq war was a blunder, he would have been fired. Were he to have made an anti-Semitic comment (like the noxious ones Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir made last week), he would have been fired. Why? Because those freely expressed views would contradict the Bush administration’s basic philosophy. So are we to assume that Boykin’s views do not contradict administration policy? No one is urging that Secretary Rumsfeld muzzle Boykin, merely that he allow him to enter the private sector, where he may express his views even more freely. He could even sit in for Rush Limbaugh.

This is not simply a matter of symbolism, though that is important because this story is now being broadcast across the globe. The position Boykin holds—deputy undersecretary for intelligence—is one in which he would have to interact routinely with Pakistanis, Egyptians, Afghans, Indonesians; Muslims from all over the world. Will he be effective in establishing close working relationships with these officials, who have all watched him slur their religion? Is this a man who will be able to objectively sift through intelligence and analysis about the state of Muslim societies, the difference between moderates and extremists, the distinctions among various fundamentalist groups? Or does he look at them all and see ... Satan?
Link and further observations by Matt Yglesias.
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Friday, October 17, 2003
"Around here we're for tax cuts for working people, paid for by tax hikes for the relatively-rich."
MaxSpeak guides us to Class Warfare: Fact and Fiction, a series of papers that expose the myths behind Bush tax policy:
To help correct myths and misleading claims that have appeared in the media during the current "class warfare" debate, and to defend the idea that we must consider the fairness of economic policy, this series provides basic facts that demonstrate why particular assertions are wrong.

Myth #5 - In good economic times, benefits flow to all strata of society.

Myth #4 - Over the course of lifetimes, Americans are highly likely to enjoy upward economic mobility.

Myth #3 - Stock ownership and other wealth is much more evenly distributed today than it was in the past, so cuts in taxes on investment income benefit everyone.

Myth #2 – Cutting taxes on dividends and other capital income will generate new investment essential for economic growth.

Myth #1 – The rich deserve most of the tax cuts because they pay most of the taxes.
I have difficulty with the word "Myth" and its literary connotations that ennoble the strategy behind the tax thievery.

The word should stress the intentional, coordinated attack on economic justice. The word should be "Lie."
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Fake cowboy disappoints real president. Clinton
knew:
Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the History Channel on Wednesday, Clinton said he discussed security issues with Bush in his "exit interview," a formal and often candid meeting between a sitting president and the president-elect.

"In his campaign, Bush had said he thought the biggest security issue was Iraq and a national missile defence," Clinton said. "I told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden."

[...]

At Wednesday's luncheon, Clinton said his inability to convince Bush of the danger from al Qaeda was "one of the two or three of the biggest disappointments that I had."

Clinton said that after bin Laden, the next security priority would have been the absence of a Middle East peace agreement, followed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"I would have started with India and Pakistan, then North Korea, and then Iraq after that," he said. "I thought Iraq was a lower order problem than al Qaeda."
Clinton knew, because Clinton was known to actively read newspapers as opposed to being a vapid, intellectually passive baby — spoon-fed by advisors.
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Christianity on the offense. For a non-Christian, I spend a good deal of time complaining about Christianity, at least in its highly politicized American incarnation. Avedon Carol at
The Sideshow has articulated the inconsistency that is so offensive, even to a nonbeliever:
...as someone who has actually read the Gospels several times, and who really did teach Sunday school, I seem to remember Jesus saying a whole lot more about loving your neighbor and having charity (of both heart and wallet) than about killing fags. I remember the story of the Good Samaritan, the Loaves and Fishes, and the Widow's Mite, but I don't actually remember the story of The Good Rich Polluter Who Destroyed the Unions and Prevented Universal Healthcare. And I remember that the one person in the Bible to whom Jesus promised paradise was not a king, not a president, and not an attorney general or a Supreme Court Justice, but a man who was about to receive the death penalty.

The "traditional" religious nuts are lost in an orgy of greed and self-righteousness and public piety — all things Jesus preached against — and calling the rest of us bad Christians. Yes, it offends me.
The most serious problem I have with the concept of God is its continual use as a weapon of mass destruction. In this regard, the White House and the Vatican are no different from Al Qaeda.

As we've proved so recently in the United States, the politicization of religion guarantees that irrationality will serve as the basis for armed conflict and public health policy. This overextension beyond the spiritual into the political realm is the point at which faith becomes offensive — in the military sense of the word.
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Thursday, October 16, 2003
Shit-soaked carcasses. mmw at
bad things explains the sad state of meats in the USA, both imported and domestic:
What is interesting domestically is that the FDA may have more power to inspect meat plants than the FSIS (USDA), which is responsible for making sure that the meat is safe now. So agribusiness will still be free to sell us shit-soaked carcasses, while the FDA can shut them down if one of their minimum wage indentured servants looks fishy.
In other words, safety last.
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War as year-end bonus. Privatizing our national defense may actually stimulate permanent war, because it provides financial incentives for chaos. A new book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, reviewed in the
Christian Science Monitor spells it out:
[Author P.W.] Singer worries that the current rush to privatize runs the risk of cutting crucial corners. For-profit firms, he warns, may be cost-effective, but they are largely unaccountable, with plenty of incentives to pad their payrolls and hide their failures. Government can be notoriously inefficient, to be sure. Even so, its constitutional duty is to provide for the common defense. Those responsible for this fundamental public service, Singer says, should be fully accountable to the public. He's exactly right.
The cost-effectiveness of privatized military solutions is yet to be demonstrated.

But "unaccountable"? "Incentive to pad payrolls and hide failures"? Does that bring the monumentally incompetent Dick Cheney to mind?

Links via Cursor, October 16.
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Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Arnron, cyborg from California's dystopian future. To protect their future, the same present-day humans who went after Gray Davis arnronare going after Schwarzenegger (
San Diego Channel):
WASHINGTON -- California governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger must explain the substance of his private May 2001 meeting with Enron chief Ken Lay, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights wrote in a letter to Schwarzenegger Tuesday.

FTCR, which was the state's most vocal critic of Governor Gray Davis' handling of the energy crisis, said that if the governor-elect did not recount the meeting by the time of his inauguration, the group would ask state lawmakers to open an investigation to uncover the substance of the meeting, including any information that might further the state's efforts to return billions of dollars that taxpayers and consumers overpaid for electricity during the energy crisis.

"A meeting with the biggest corporate crook in recent memory, while he and his firm were in the midst of ripping off the state, should not be taken lightly," FTCR wrote. "As Governor, you must explain to Californians what you were doing at that meeting, what information Ken Lay shared with you and how the meeting has influenced your thinking on energy issues."

In addition to calling on Schwarzenegger to come clean about the meeting with Lay, the group highlighted key aspects of the governor-elect's energy program that reflect an Enron perspective on energy policy. In the letter, FTCR asked Schwarzenegger to rewrite his energy policy and remove his push for further energy deregulation.

The policy proposals, available online at www.joinarnold.com, call for the expansion of California's failed experiment with electricity deregulation, including a dramatic ceding of power from state regulation to federal control.
Lay also attended secret conferences with another Republican on the topic of energy policy in 2001 — truth-challenged cardiac cyborg Dick Cheney.

Is this garden-variety Republican greed, or something more?
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Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Prognosis: grim. Xymphora paints
a startling picture of the near future. After predicting Cheney's resignation "for health reasons," (read "for Valerie Plame reasons"), he [?] suggests the following scenarios:
2. Rumsfeld made the remarkable political faux pas of admitting that he'd been punked by Condi and was angry about it. If you get dissed in the power game, you're never supposed to admit that it happened, and you're especially never supposed to show that you care (and Condi was caught lying again). It would appear that he is not long for this Administration. Presumably the plan is to replace him by Wolfowitz (who has already started to make nice with the army in preparation for his new role), and replace Wolfowitz by Feith, thus completely putting the American military under the control of the Israeli cabinet.

3. Condi has been elevated to Grand Vizier of Iraq, with the accompanying rise in stature and visibility in the Administration. So you can see what's coming. She will be Bush's Vice President. Black and women voters will see a black woman Vice President only a pretzel away from the Presidency. At the same time, a black woman VP makes Bush completely assassination-proof, as the right-wing nuts would never dare shoot him.
Those are just two of eleven points from a fascinating list.
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Second Amendment Darwinism. Survivor: Harris County is now shooting, so to speak, in Texas (
Houston Chronicle):
A suspected burglar shot and critically wounded in north Harris County early today turned out to be the brother-in-law of the homeowner who shot him, officials said.

The incident happened about 3 a.m. when a homeowner in the Riverwood subdivision heard someone breaking into his house on Countryside, authorities said.

The homeowner fired on the intruder, who officials say also was armed, and struck him at least once in the leg.

The homeowner then learned the identity of the intruder, with whom there apparently had been problems previously, deputies said.

The suspect is in critical condition at Ben Taub Hospital.
Guns don't kill people. Brothers-in-law kill people.
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Monday, October 13, 2003
Army of One. It's not just a slogan (
The Olympian):
WASHINGTON -- Letters from hometown soldiers describing their successes rebuilding Iraq have been appearing in newspapers across the country as U.S. public opinion on the mission sours.

And all the letters are the same.

A Gannett News Service search found identical letters from different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Rock," in 11 newspapers, including Snohomish, Wash.

The Olympian received two identical letters signed by different hometown soldiers: Spc. Joshua Ackler and Spc. Alex Marois, who is now a sergeant. The paper declined to run either because of a policy not to publish form letters.

[...]

A seventh soldier didn't know about the letter until his father congratulated him for getting it published in the local newspaper in Beckley, W.Va.

"When I told him he wrote such a good letter, he said: 'What letter?' " Timothy Deaconson said Friday, recalling the phone conversation he had with his son, Nick. "This is just not his (writing) style."

He spoke to his son, Pfc. Nick Deaconson, at a hospital where he was recovering from a grenade explosion that left shrapnel in both his legs.
It isn't enough that they're taking soldiers' lives and limbs — they want soldiers' signatures on Bush astroturf too. Stolen, if need be.

Found at Atrios and elsewhere.
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Friday, October 10, 2003
Etiquette tips by Paul Krugman. Maestro Krugman teaches us to
value truth above politeness.
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Last night's program
"Truth, War and Consequences" on the botching of the Iraq invasion effort was FRONTLINE's usual excellent job, forcing me to reconsider my opinon of Jay Garner as perhaps too harsh and my opinion of Ahmed Chalabi as not harsh enough.

Chalabi came off as the super-evil, super-lying brother of his evil, lying identical twin Dick Cheney. The fraudulence, the incompetence, the arrogant air of privilege — all in full view. Like Cheney, Chalabi is less shocking than disgusting in his bald banality.

See the Washington Post review of the program.
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For our Austrian friends in California, and for our Californian friends in Austria, we are proud to present the joke site Fuckbush in the original
German, or in Google's hilarious automated translation offering something that sort of resembles English:
The UN Ambassador of Saudi Arabia terminated and goes a straight speech to outside into the lobby where he president Bush meets.

They vibrate themselves the hands and as them together continue, ask to the Saudi: "knowledge you, I has a question because of something, which I saw in America."

President Bush says: "now, I want to do your Eminenz, which always I can also do fur you, gladly."

The Saudi whispers: "my son saw this" Star Trek "series, and therein it gives but no Arabs to Russians, black ones and Asians. It is very applied over it. He does not understand, why there are no Arabs in Star Trek."

President Bush laughs, leans more near to the Saudi near and fluesetert back: "comes along, because it plays in the future..."
That Bush! Always vibrating the hands with the Saudis!
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Thursday, October 09, 2003
Condoms prevent Catholics. Sure to slaughter thousands in developing countries, there's a global epidemic of a menacing new virus — logic-resistant Catholic leaders (
Yahoo News):
LONDON (Reuters) - The lives of Roman Catholics in some of the countries worst hit by HIV/AIDS are being put at even greater risk by advice from their churches that the use of condoms does not prevent transmission of the disease, according to a British television program.

[...]

"The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon," Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, told the program.

"The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom."

[...]

The Archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Nzeki told the program: "AIDS...has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms."

While in Luak near Lake Victoria, Gordon Wambi, director of an AIDS testing center, said he had been prevented from distributing condoms because of church opposition.

[Steve] Bradshaw [reporter on the BBC Panorama program "Sex and the Holy City" that will be aired in Britain on Sunday night] told Reuters the program team did not go out looking for the story, but stumbled across it during research.

"We heard the same line so many times from different people in different places that we decided to approach the Vatican," he said.

[...]

"These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million," the WHO told the program.

It conceded condoms could break or be damaged and permit passage of semen, but said they reduced the risk of infection by 90 percent and were certainly secure enough to prevent passage of the virus if not torn.

Panorama said scientific research had found intact condoms were impermeable to particles as small as sexually transmitted infection pathogens -- a view rejected by Trujillo.

"They are wrong about that...this is an easily recognizable fact," he told the program.

From Nicaragua to Kenya and the Philippines, the Panorama team found the same tale from the Catholic church -- that condoms can kill.
"Condoms can kill."

In yet another Catholic irony of cause and effect, condoms can also kill the chances for parishioners to make the children that priests can sodomize and church leaders can pretend not to know about.

The willingness to endanger or kill people in distant countries by propagating the most blatant of lies is one more total collapse of moral leadership — most recently political leadership in the United States, now Catholic leadership in the Vatican.

Good Catholics, like good Americans, must rise up and demand accountability from the murderous liars who have seized control of their respective credibility — as a world religion, and as a world power.

Every condom is a killer. Here's the BBC story. Every sperm is sacred. Here's Monty Python.
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More where that came from. Dick Grasso, disgraced chairman of the NYSE, isn't alone in his self-directed generosity (
WSJ, sub. req'd):
The New York Stock Exchange's two top remaining executives have accumulated retirement pay totaling about $30 million apiece during their respective 30-year careers at the Big Board, according to people familiar with the matter.

The pay of the executives, Catherine Kinney and Robert Britz, the NYSE's co-chief operating officers, could cause a stir at the exchange, which has been roiled by last month's ouster of former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Dick Grasso after disclosures that he had accumulated retirement pay of nearly $190 million in his 36-year exchange career. A NYSE spokesman declined to comment.

[...]

At a securities-industry dinner earlier this year, Mr. Grasso teased his lieutenants about their chances [to succeed him]. Ms. Kinney and Mr. Britz had "suffered" about "60 years collectively of Dick Grasso," the then-chairman said, and were "just a heartbeat away from providing the leadership of the stock exchange that it sorely needs." To drive home the point, Mr. Grasso joked about what Mr. Britz would typically say to his boss on arriving at work at 7:45 each morning: "How's your heart?"
Heart? What heart? These aren't people — they're cyborgs from the future... no, wait, that's not the NYSE, that's California.
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Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Sellers of hope in the Christian afterlife drop 30%. Evangelists' sales production is dropping sharply, as both they and their congregations scrounge for money in America's deteriorating faith-based economy (
Associated Baptist Press):
As the popularity of revivals continues to wane, evangelists must hold out faith that God will provide, their leaders say.

In 25 years as a vocational evangelist, Rob Randall has witnessed a steady decline in the number of churches holding revivals. While it once was common for churches to hold two revivals a year, some congregations now have one every five years at best, Randall said. Countywide revivals are increasingly rare.

The number of Southern Baptist evangelists also is down. There are about 500 on the mailing list of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, down from more than 700, according to Benny Jackson, president of the group.

Consistent work is difficult to come by for an evangelist, and some have picked up part-time jobs or found other full-time positions to support their families, Randall said. Even when a revival opportunity comes along, the evangelist is at the mercy of a congregation's love offering for support.

"The evangelist ... has to live by faith," Randall said. "He doesn't have a regular check. He doesn't have a large support base usually. He is out there to sink or swim based on his own ability to raise money."

[...]

"Our pews are full but full of people who do not want to give," Randall commented. "Our pews are full, but full of people not willing to commit. Our pews are full of people not willing to share their faith."

Hughes agreed that revivals have been cut back, but that's because individuals are "time poor," not because they are uncommitted. People are juggling many things in their lives and don't have time to attend a weeklong series of services.

The gospel message evangelists deliver is badly needed in churches, Randall argued. "There's a newness and a freshness to the evangelists' message," he said. "And the church needs to hear that."

The gospel is needed, Hughes agreed, but the way evangelists deliver it in the future may be different. He noted even Billy and Franklin Graham have altered their approach slightly, choosing not to call their efforts crusades and changing the music a bit.
A crusade by any other name would smell as sweet. Franklin Graham, the guy who called Islam a "wicked religion," runs a series of festivals designed to reach bibleman"uncommitted individuals" that include dazzling guest appearances by superhero Bibleman.

Feeling holier than thou? You can pray for Bush or you can pray for Rush.

A mystery I've yet to figure out: I thought Christians were supposed to pray for sinners. How come they always throw the weight of their worshipful prayers behind privileged Caucasian idols whom they consider beyond reproach, and never pray for those colorful Democrats whose behavior they regard as morally repugnant — even sinful?
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Tuesday, October 07, 2003
A brief illustrated history of the Republican Party.

lincoln   hooverville
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Monday, October 06, 2003
In honor of George W. Bush's
Marriage Protection Week (October 12 through October 18, 2003) dedicated to "building strong and healthy marriages in America," we remind married readers to say to the lump in your bed, "I'm thinking of my future, and you're not in the picture."
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Impeach this poem. He's not only America's worst president, but also its worst
poet:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Oh my, lump in the bed
How I've missed you.
Roses are redder
Bluer am I
Seeing you kissed by that charming French guy.
The dogs and the cat, they missed you too
Barney's still mad you dropped him, he ate your shoe
The distance, my dear, has been such a barrier
Next time you want an adventure, just land on a carrier.
The lump in the White House
for his negligence should
end up in the right house,
that is, prison, for good.
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After Bush policies bring about the End Times, his faith-based constituencies will disappear from the earth via The Rapture.

Thanks to a new service called Rapture Letters, they will be able to send
free email from their privileged positions in heaven to the rest of us infidels left behind.

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






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