culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
That ultra-super-top-secret map of Iraqi oil fields revealed by Paul O'Neill the mainstream media is all in an uproar about was published (i.e., borrowed from Judicial Watch) right here at
skimble on Friday, July 18, 2003.
.
The fascist ACLU. The increasingly insane ironies of right-wing rhetoric from the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh should become obvious oreillyeven to people who don't immerse themselves in these kinds of issues.

Bill O'Reilly has called the ACLU a "fascist" organization — although it is defending
Rush Limbaugh's right to privacy (TalkLeft). For the ACLU to act as Rush Limbaugh's advocate, it must be guided by a higher calling than his behavior and rhetoric warrant. Unlike the monolithic right, the ACLU doesn't respond to reflexive fits of appearances of "loyalty" whenever the loyalist pecking order starts pecking (e.g., the current defamation and investigation of former Bush Cabinet member Paul O'Neill). The ACLU is acting on principle, not on the particulars of a single case.

If our law enforcement agencies also acted on principle, Limbaugh would be in jail right now. And someday maybe the ACLU will come to O'Reilly's aid when his nonsensical blatherings are no longer in vogue.

But that's one of the essential differences between Bush league conservatism and the left — we have principles; they don't.

P.S. Join the ACLU.

O'Reilly image found at Media Whores Online.
.
If Bush's sudden inexplicable interest in Mars is just a joke, Billmon locates the punch line: it's
Halliburton.

Funny how little NASA interested him while he was governor of Texas.
.
Paul O'Neill: terrorist and traitor. If investigative momentum is any measure, the Bush administration is taking Paul O'Neill
more seriously than 9-11 or the Plame outing.
.
"You can't have a war, cut taxes, have the economy in a garbage pail and spend billions going into space," said Dallas Hodgins, a 76-year-old retired University of Michigan researcher from Flint, Mich. "How are they going to pay for all this? I don't see how it's morally justifiable. In Flint, there isn't a school roof that doesn't leak."
.
Monday, January 12, 2004
Although there is in all likelihood some culpability, Martha Stewart's treatment is
wildly disproportionate to her so-called crime (not insider trading, but lying), especially in a world where thieving corporate maggots like Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling continue to wriggle unindicted.

Marthatalks.com is her act of virtual self-defense.
.
Frist: "Gimme shelter." Look who's buried at the end of this long article about tax shelters for the "superrich." Senate Majority Leader Bill "Pussycat" Frist's taxes are looking a bit dodgy (
Houston Chronicle):
Rich Americans are stealing billions of dollars from average wage earners through creative tax-dodging scams involving idyllic Caribbean islands, Byzantine accounting ploys and the rarefied world of high art, experts claim.

[...]

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, estimates tax cheats cost the federal government an estimated $11 billion to $15 billion a year.

If the cheats paid up for just one year, it would nearly cover the $18.3 billion Congress recently devoted to rebuild Iraq.

Instead, the rest of the taxpayers will carry that burden.

[...]

"The IRS always seems to be catching yesterday's hot new fraud, and today there are five or six to take its place," said Bill Allison of the Center for Public Integrity and co-author of The Cheating of America, a study of tax evasion by "the superrich."

[...]

The Senate subcommittee on investigations recently found that KPMG ignored warnings from its own staff that the shelters were bogus and concocted legal opinions to the contrary.

"I think everybody here knew what they were doing was wrong," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the subcommittee's chairman.

The committee reported that KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, collected fees of $124 million from 1997 through 2001 on shelter plans — saving clients $1.4 billion in taxes.

The clients included Maurice Marciano, co-chairman of Guess; Dale Earnhardt, the late race car driver; and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., according to documents filed an IRS lawsuit against KPMG.
Of course, somewhere it must be noted that "saving" KPMG clients $1.4 billion in taxes is also known as "cheating" honest taxpayers of $1.4 billion in taxes.

Another way of looking at it: For every $1 KPMG collected for its "bogus" shelters for Frist and Co., an extra $11 was taken from your pocket in the form of taxes deflected to the middle class.

Here's a peek at Frist performing for the other vast right-wing conspirators in the boardroom of anti-tax Gollum Grover Norquist. (This astonishing article on Norquist is a must-read.)
.
401(krazy).
Slacktivist on Bush's new 401(k) contribution limits, which allow owner-manager Republicans to "sock away" more money for retirement than the employees who render their profit-making enterprises possible:
Most Americans have more debt on their credit cards than money in their mutual funds.

A tax-cut plan that increases 401(k) contribution limits beyond the means or dreams of the majority of workers is irrelevant and regressively redistributive in a nation in which this is true.
And we indeed live in a nation in which this is true, thanks to the owner-manager Republicans who are already talking about another tax cut, as if the joblessness of this jobless recovery weren't joblessly jobless enough.
.
Sunday, January 11, 2004
New celebrity group blog.
The American Street, where left-o-blog celebrities David Neiwert, Jeralynn Merritt, skippy, and Kevin Hayden live. Check it out.
.
"Why would I be attacked for telling the truth?" With a statement like that, Paul O'Neill may have a few things yet to learn about his old boss's pals (
CBS/60 Minutes, airs tonight).

UPDATE: CalPundit locates the explanatory backstory.
.
Friday, January 09, 2004
Here's today's Lea Fastow update —
Houston Chronicle.

And here's a trip down Enron memory lane: Cliff Baxter's suicide note.
.
"A blind man in a room full of deaf people." Who said it? No, not Dean or Clark or Gore or Sharpton — a member of Bush's own Cabinet (
WaPo):
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill likened President Bush at Cabinet meetings to "a blind man in a room full of deaf people," according to excerpts Friday from a CBS interview.

O'Neill, who was fired by Bush in December 2002, also said the president did not ask him a single question during their first one-on-one meeting, which lasted an hour.

"As I recall it was just a monologue," he told CBS' "60 Minutes," which will broadcast the entire interview Sunday.

In making the blind man analogy, O'Neill told CBS his ex-boss did not encourage a free flow of ideas or open debate.

"There is no discernible connection," CBS quoted O'Neill as saying. The president's lack of engagement left his advisers with "little more than hunches about what the president might think," O'Neil said, according to the program.

CBS said much of O'Neill's criticisms of Bush are included in "The Price of Loyalty," an upcoming book by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind.
O'Neill was fired for his hand in demonstrating how Bush's insane tax cuts contribute to $44 trillion in chronic US deficits.

"Blind," "no discernible connection," "lack of engagement" — he's the Stepford president.
.
Bush on Mars. Props to No More Mister Nice Blog for connecting "Beat Street Breakdown" by
Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five to Dubya in space.
.
Tax breaks to scrape national resources. You can't give energy industry lobbyists any credit for having an original idea. Here's their big new suggestion — let's privatize the Rocky Mountains and national forests and wilderness areas of the American West, so Bush donors can provide inexplicable blackouts to the Northeast and SUVs can continue to get ever-lower gas mileage (
Arizona Republic):
America's insatiable demand for energy will require the development of vast new sources of natural gas, coal and oil and the construction of billions of dollars worth of pipelines, transmission lines and power plants, experts say.

That will require new tax breaks and other incentives to encourage businesses to invest in new infrastructure and more liberal policies about extracting natural resources from government lands, including national forests and wilderness areas.

And, at the bottom line, Congress needs to pass a controversial national energy bill proposed by the Bush administration.

That was the message delivered by a panel of government officials and energy industry leaders Thursday at the annual Summit of the West conference sponsored by the Western Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Jim Glotfelty of the U.S. Department of Energy tried to assuage audience members' fears that the Bush administration may put the National Energy Bill on the back burner now that the president's popularity is on the rise.

[...]

He [C. Michael Smith, the Department of Energy's assistant secretary for fossil fuel energy] acknowledged there are environmental challenges to developing some of the reserves and the pipelines needed to bring the gas to market.

Passage of a national energy bill would remove some of those challenges by making it easier to access government land.

Conn Lass, chief of staff to Bureau of Land Management Director Kathleen Clark, said the agency would cooperate by opening up more formerly protected land to drilling and mineral exploration.

"We are making efforts to help energy production on public lands in the West," he said. He noted that the agency recently approved the first drilling permits for Otero Mesa in New Mexico, which had been proposed for wilderness status.

Otero Mesa is one of the largest remaining tracts of Chihuahuan Desert grassland and home to many threatened or endangered species.
The height of folly is to destroy something permanent to gain something impermanent. The Bureau of Land Management apparently serves as a welfare office for the energy industry, with Congress at the counter cheerfully asking, "How may we help you? How much more of the nation's land would you like?"

The report above shows one the few examples of me agreeing with the right wing that the word "liberal" equals "treasonous evil incarnate": "...more liberal policies about extracting natural resources from government lands, including national forests and wilderness areas."

I heard a report on this story on NPR this morning but couldn't find a transcript.
.
Thursday, January 08, 2004
499 dead.

⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗ ⊗
Each circle represents a US soldier killed in Iraq — and behind each soldier an American family in grief, forgotten and unrecognized by its government.

And for what did they die? An administration that was
"systematically misrepresenting" the threat:
The Bush administration will today [Jan 8] be accused of "systematically misrepresenting" the threat posed by "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction" in a comprehensive report on post-war findings.

The report, by four experts on weapons proliferation at the respected Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is likely to reignite calls for a commission to look into the government's pre-war intelligence claims.
As Kos puts it, "They just made shit up."

Count of casualties from Cryptome.
.
The sad thing is, it's plausible. A prediction from
Xymphora:
If Rove needs the votes, and the Republicans can't get sufficient paperless computer voting machines in place before the next election, Americans will see a terror attack by 'dirty bomb', probably in one of the cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco or Seattle, at a time, May or June, to set up the Republican National Convention with jingoist nonsense and the message that only Bush is tough enough to protect America, and the clear warning that the country cannot afford to shift horses in its time of crisis. The commandos who will set off the attack are laying the paper trail now to be associated with whatever group the neocons wish to attack next. I guarantee that suitable patsies will be picked up in a few days of the bombing, and the FBI will have bursting files on each of them connecting them with the next country on the neocon wish list (almost certainly one or more of Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba). If Americans hadn't fallen for the obvious lies about September 11, and had demanded a real investigation of what really happened, they could have avoided this next fake terrorist attack, so in a sense it is a deserved attack. The saddest thing is that Americans are already falling for the new terror, and the real fear is starting to build to its Republican crescendo.
San Francisco, with its new-economy atheist homosexual leftism threatening the old-economy Christian hetero right wing, seems the most likely target because of its godless dispensability.

That an argument like this should be plausible shows how far we as a formerly great nation have fallen in less than three years — not because of 9-11, but because of all the politically motivated lies and secrecy and theft and carnage that were carried out in its name.
.
GOP: "Give your prescription money to your old boss." Another head-slapping Republican recipe for corporate plunder: You retire, and your Bush prescription drug benefit subsidy goes to your old boss (Ellen E. Schultz and Theo Francis,
WSJ, sub. req'd.):
Some companies with many retired workers are expected to post big earnings gains for 2003 or 2004, thanks to accounting guidelines for subsidies under the federal prescription-drug program.

When Congress approved prescription-drug benefits for Medicare recipients last year, it granted benefits for the 65% of large employers with retiree health-care plans, providing funds for companies that maintained their prescription-drug coverage for retirees.

The program is supposed to encourage employers to retain prescription-drug coverage.

But companies are entitled to the subsidy regardless of how much of the cost they pick up themselves. As a result, it does nothing to halt the current rush by some employers to shift more costs to retirees.

In fact, benefits consultants are designing employer-sponsored prescription plans to save companies more money by unloading costs on their former workers without losing out on the new subsidy.

[...]

Some of the biggest accounting gains are expected to show up at such companies as Lucent Technologies Inc., which has 240,000 retirees and dependents, General Motors Corp., Dow Chemical Co., and SBC Communications Inc. All are members of the Employers' Coalition on Medicare, which lobbied for the subsidy. Some of these companies won't take the gains immediately.

[...]

Thanks to a little-noticed provision in the new law, the government will calculate the subsidy based on both what the employer spends for prescription drugs and what the retiree spends.

So if an employer and a retiree each pay $1,000 toward the retiree's medical costs, the employer's subsidy is calculated on the full $2,000, bringing the company a total subsidy of $490, rather than the $210 that it would get if it received a subsidy only on its share.

As a result, when combined with tax and accounting rules, the program allows employers in some cases to use the subsidy to erase the entire cost of prescription drugs for retirees, or even turn a profit from a drug plan. For instance, if a Medicare-eligible retiree's prescription costs are $2,550, and his former employer pays $1,000 of it, under long-standing tax rules, the employer can deduct its full $1,000 for tax purposes, meaning the after-tax cost to the company is $650 at a 35% corporate tax rate.

Meanwhile, the company doesn't pay taxes on the subsidy it receives, thanks to another provision of the new Medicare law. So in this example, the employer would receive a subsidy of $644, based on the full amount paid by both employer and retiree, reducing the company's cost for the retiree to $6 for the year.

"It's hard to believe that any of this was an accident or an oversight," said Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.).
More accounting sleight-of-hand, from the people who brought you Halliburton's magically overpriced Kuwaiti gasoline and the energy policymakers and generous Bush-Cheney campaign donors of bankrupt Enron.

And where is the leadership of the AARP?

Kissing the boot that kicks its membership.
.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Kenneth Starr, where are you? Someone's lying in the White House again and this time — just like the last time you were in the headlines — the lie has nothing to do with national security (
Timothy Noah in Slate):
"President Bush is a great leader and husband—but I bet you didn't know, he is also quite the poet."
—Laura Bush, remarks at the National Book Festival in Washington, Oct. 3, 2003.

[...]

"Well, of course, he didn't really write the poem. But a lot of people really believed that he did."
—Laura Bush on NBC's Meet the Press, Dec. 28, 2003.
Now why on earth would anyone "really" believe that he wrote the poem? Because she "really" said so?

As Noah points out, "The first lady lies in order to make the president look ... stupid?"

Well, duh.

Here's our first take on the stupid poem, back in October 2003.
.
The latest on
Lea and Andrew Fastow.

Poor Lea Fastow — from Enron art connoisseur to a possible stint in a halfway house in just three short years. I wonder if she still agrees with Gordon Gekko.

Meanwhile, the unindicted Lay and Skilling wait in the shadows.
.
One more expensive 9-11 fraud. Remember those TV commercials that connect drugs to terrorism? The logic was as fraudulent as the cost (
WSJ, sub. req'd.):
NEW YORK -- A grand jury indicted one current and one former senior executive of WPP Group PLC's Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency, alleging the pair worked with unidentified co-conspirators to defraud the U.S. government.

The indictment also alleges the duo made false claims while working on a lucrative account for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The action surprised Madison Avenue, which largely believed the matter had been resolved after Ogilvy paid $1.8 million to settle civil charges in February 2002. At the time, Ogilvy, one of the ad industry's best-known shops, said it voluntarily withdrew $850,000 in billings to the U.S. because it lacked confidence in the documentation supporting the figure.

[...]

The court document, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that Thomas Early, 48 years old, Shona Seifert, 43, and unnamed co-conspirators "participated in an extensive scheme to defraud the United States government by falsely and fraudulently inflating the labor costs" that Ogilvy incurred while working under contract.

The drug-policy office, which is responsible for establishing the U.S.'s drug-control program, is a component of the executive office of the president. As part of its duties, the office conducts a national media campaign to educate young people about the dangers of illegal drugs. Ogilvy was awarded a lucrative five-year contract in December 1998. The government put the cost of the contract at $684 million, according to the court filing. For the initial year of the contract, Ogilvy was entitled to receive a fixed fee of about $1.6 million.

[...]

Ogilvy's main role was to determine when and where to broadcast antidrug ads, which were donated by ad agencies around the country through the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a nonprofit group. Ogilvy also was occasionally asked to craft ads. The agency created a stir with two jarring TV commercials that debuted during the Super Bowl in 2002. The spots told teenagers that by buying drugs they were handing money to the terrorists behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and their ilk.
To be fair, this fraudulent contract commenced under the Clinton* administration, during the fraudulent impeachment proceedings. The fraudulent 9-11 commercials and the $1.8 million kickback to settle the civil charges of fraudulent billing occurred during the fraudulent Bush administration.

Here's TalkLeft's take on the situation.

*Genuinely elected.
.
You err what you eat. Beyond the mad cow complacency... "And as long as we're talking about about complacency, how many people do you think bothered to wade through the Times's front-page story on price-fixing by Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred? People are so alienated from the means of agricultural production that the don't even realize that everything they eat is affected by deals like this. Of course, such complacency is easier when the cost of commodity crops is an arbitrary fiction that bears no relationship to the cost of production."
— mmw of
bad things
.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Ssshhh, the voters are sleeping. If you're going to exonerate Halliburton, please do so
quietly (WSJ, sub. req'd.):
The head of the Army Corps of Engineers quietly exonerated Halliburton Co. of any wrongdoing in a Kuwait fuel-delivery contract that Pentagon auditors asserted has overcharged the U.S. government by more than $100 million.

In a previously undisclosed Dec. 19 ruling, the commander of the Corps, Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers, cleared Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary of the need to provide "any cost and pricing data" pertaining to a no-bid contract to deliver millions of gallons of gasoline from Kuwait to Iraq.

He acted after lower-level Army Corps officials concluded in a memo to him that Kellogg Brown & Root had provided enough data to show it had purchased the fuel and its delivery to Iraq at a "fair and reasonable price."

The decision, which Halliburton itself requested, came after Halliburton's pricing of gasoline sold to the U.S. government exploded into public controversy last month when Defense Department auditors alleged that Kellogg Brown & Root, known as KBR, was significantly overcharging.

[...]

According to the Dec. 19 Army Corps memo requesting the ruling, KBR adequately sought bids for the fuel subcontract last May and picked Altanmia Commercial Marketing Co., the Kuwaiti supplier, as the lowest bidder. But since then, other companies have come forward offering to deliver gasoline into Iraq "on more favorable terms than Altanmia," the memo states.

The government-owned Kuwaiti Petroleum Co., however, "has refused to grant permission" for any subcontractor other than Altanmia to perform the work, the Army Corps memo says. The petroleum company, which controls all domestic oil sales, has also prohibited Altanmia from providing KBR or the U.S. government with any cost data related to the fuel contract.

"It is common throughout the Middle East for contractors to refuse to provide such information," the memo says.

Very little is publicly known about Altanmia, other than it is controlled by a prominent Kuwaiti merchant family with real estate and other commercial interests. A representative of the company has said that its main businesses include real estate and government work, including unspecified service contracts with the Kuwaiti military.

Since KBR could use no other gasoline provider, and couldn't extract any financial information from Altanmia, the company "is left with no option for providing these services from Kuwait other than to continue obtaining them from Altanmia," the Corps memo says.

[...]

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California, a relentless critic of Halliburton's work in Iraq, called the Flowers ruling "incomprehensible" and said "it appears the administration is deliberately sabotaging the government's ability to audit Halliburton."

Army Corps officials said Monday that the Flowers ruling was necessary to allow KBR to continue to deal with Altanmia at a time when the need for gasoline and kerosene in Iraq remains high. The process that led to the waiver, they said, began in early December when the Army Corps needed to increase the amount of gasoline coming in from Kuwait and KBR had to justify sticking with Altanmia instead of seeking a new supplier through a competitive bid.
The Kuwaiti monarchy, for whom the president's daddy waged the first Gulf War, is apparently pulling a few of Cheney's strings too.
.
The danger of obviousness. Vermont's
Times Argus tells it like it is in this editorial:
Howard Dean has reached the kitchen sink phase of his candidacy, which is to say his opponents have decided to throw everything at him, including the kitchen sink and more.

He has obliged them by giving them plenty to throw.

At the same time, his opponents are employing time-honored techniques of exaggeration and distortion. His own hostile reactions to their attacks have soured the atmosphere further, igniting a gleeful glow in the eyes of Karl Rove and other Republican strategists.

Dean has a way of saying things that are obviously true but which leave him open to attack by those wishing to make him look bad.

[…]

In America the holidays were accompanied by the second highest state of alert, suggesting that what Dean said was true: A sense of safety has never been more lacking.

Yet Dean's opponents have twisted his statement to suggest Dean actually thought it would be better if Saddam were still in power
.

A statement by Dean about Osama bin Laden has been used against him in a similar way. Dean was talking about the fact that, were bin Laden to be tried by a war crimes tribunal, he would enjoy the presumption of innocence.

That is the way trials work.

Otherwise, the proceedings would not withstand the international scrutiny that President Bush has said is important.

But it is a dangerous thing for Dean to say the obvious, and his opponents were only to happy to suggest Dean thought Osama might be innocent.

Dean's record in Vermont has also come back to haunt him. Thus, tax incentives for economic development - something all 50 states probably have - could be portrayed as a mini-Enron scandal. Dean's private discussions of energy deregulation could be likened to Vice President Cheney's secret talks on energy policy.
"Will absolutely be likened" is closer to the mark. The details of conflicted-interest Cheney's Enron energy policy and Halliburton Iraq invasion will remain top secret and off-limits to public inquiry, while candidate Dean's routine discussions will get the full brunt of a press inspection. In the court of mainstream media, why are Democratic candidates more accountable than Republican executives in power? (The answer is not "9-11.")

Political reporters and editors — where is your sense of shame?
.
Monday, January 05, 2004
Follow the yellowcake road. Today marks the publication of
American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush by Kevin Phillips, who also wrote the excellent Wealth and Democracy. From the Booklist review posted on Amazon:
There are many Bush-bashing books out there, but this one is quite different. Ivins, Franken, and Conason, among others, have focused primarily on the current president's administration. This book, written by a former Republican strategist, is more wide ranging, more scholarly, and in many ways, more disturbing. Focusing on the last four generations of Bush men, Phillips brings the reader into the secretive upper echelon of the American power establishment, where connections are made in Ivy League clubs, and he shows how members of that old-boy network become the policymakers of the country. In the case of the Bushes, this resulted not only in money and power but also in links to the CIA, the energy industry, and the military-industrial complex--links that have shaped this country's national and foreign policy for decades. Phillips explains the Bushes' relationship with Enron and the House of Saud in eyebrow-raising detail and adds confirming information about troubling claims, including the notion that the Reagan-Bush ticket arranged that American captives would not be released from Iran until Reagan took office. One of Phillips' main points is the juxtaposition between the Bush family ascent and European aristocracies....
In Wealth and Democracy, Kevin Phillips examined how the machinery of wealth erodes the foundations of democracy. Phillips is a "former Republican strategist" who has managed to free himself from the enormous, self-blinding ethical lapses that are the prerequisite for a career in the GOP. Now he offers us a glimpse behind the curtain of Oz at the huffing and puffing men, none of whom are wizards, working the controls on the elaborate machinery of lying, deceit, and deception in Emerald City.

Don't surrender, Dorothy.
.
Mad cows in the USDA. In November, will we remember who the real friends and enemies of mad cow disease are?
WaPo:
The Agriculture Department's announcement yesterday of a ban on the sale of meat from ailing "downer" cattle marked a policy turnabout for the Bush administration, coming only a few weeks after the department and allies in the powerful meat lobby blocked an identical measure in Congress.

Faced with the first case of mad cow disease in this country, the White House and the USDA were scrambling to restore public confidence in the nation's meat supply, encourage foreign governments to resume beef imports and head off a possible political crisis for President Bush.

[...]

For years, the politically potent and well-financed cattle and meatpacking industries have held sway in the debate over the practice of slaughtering and marketing non-ambulatory, or downer, cattle. They repeatedly blocked efforts by urban Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans to end the practice -- which provides producers with millions of dollars of profits each year but also represents the biggest potential source of contaminated meat.

An estimated 190,000 sick or injured cattle are shipped to slaughterhouses annually, and only about 5 percent of them are tested for serious illness such as mad cow disease. Just last month, Republican congressional leaders deleted from a pending spending bill a measure banning the slaughter of downer cattle.

Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a longtime advocate of legislation to ban the slaughter of sick or injured cattle, said the industry has "shot themselves in the hoof" by resisting a necessary safeguard to the food system. With the industry now facing a crisis of consumer confidence and the temporary loss of European and Asian markets, he said, the Agriculture Department "has seen the light, but that's only because they've been struck by lightning."

The ban announced yesterday also gave a lift to animal rights activists and consumer groups who had been consigned to the fringes of the mad cow debate. "We've been pushing this for years," said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. "I do believe that this can restore consumer confidence in the government's regulatory authority as it stops one of the worst abuses that occurs in the modern livestock production system."

A downer or non-ambulatory cow is unable to stand. Some animals break legs or injure themselves either on farms or on the way to slaughter, but others may be sick or paralyzed. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- mad cow disease -- turns brain tissue spongy and causes animals to stagger and fall. There is no known cure.

[...]

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) in 2000 and 2002 asked the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative arm, to check feed companies' compliance with a Food and Drug Administration regulation prohibiting protein pellets made from the remains of cattle and other ruminants from being fed to cattle. Twice the GAO found serious lapses.
The GOP — no principles, no public health, no food safety, no rational policies — just politics everlasting, 24/7.

For the tragic details of agribiz, go check out mmw of bad things who is back from the holidays and on the case again.
.
The big lie of privatization. In theory, 401(k) accounts are supposed to turn working people into investors who own and oversee the management of their own retirement money. As an addendum to other forms of retirement savings, 401(k) accounts can be a great thing. But, in practice, for many Americans it doesn't always work out quite like the theory.

Later this year, when the big theme of Ownership is played out in the Bush campaign, it will be useful to remember that reality does not always mesh with employers' (and Republicans') glorious dream of employees who entirely fund their own retirements.

The 401(k) system that started out with good intentions is rapidly becoming a massive deflection of responsibility — because working people simply don't have as much money as their companies' owner-managers do (
Houston Chronicle/WaPo):
Despite years of reasoning, wheedling and sermonizing from financial advisers and retirement planners, nearly half of all workers who change jobs cash out their 401(k) plan savings instead of leaving them to grow, either there or in some other form of tax-deferred account, according to a new study.

This behavior, at best, deprives workers of years of compounding, which can do miracles for even modest sums. At worst, it could undermine the entire premise of these “defined contribution” retirement plans, which is that a combination of worker prudence, employer assistance and tax benefits will enable workers to build up adequate nest eggs for their retirement years.

[..]

The study did not look at what workers did with cash when they took it, but Stacy Schaus, a consultant with Hewitt Associates, the benefits consulting firm that did the study, said anecdotal evidence suggests most of it went for such things as living expenses and credit card debt. Even if the job changers reinvested the money in a taxable account, they would have lost from taxes and penalties.

[...]

But the Hewitt study and others like it raise serious public policy questions. The Bush administration apparently has not given up on the idea of allowing almost everyone to fund large IRA-like accounts, notwithstanding the evidence that many workers have difficulty funding even small accounts. Such a proposal, while appealing to people with the wherewithal to save, could magnify a looming split in the retiree population between those with enough to live on and those without.
Judiciously applied, the 401(k) system makes a useful contribution to the ability of Americans to save, supplement, and oversee their own retirement money. But pushing the retirement privatization logic too far, as the Bush administration appears hell-bent on doing, demonstrates their deep-seated hostility to workers with lower compensation. With millions of jobs lost in just three years of the Bush administration, saving money — even tax-deferred money — is a luxury fewer Americans enjoy.

Here's the Hewitt press release for the study mentioned.
.
Delousing and deluding. Patriot Act II is a nasty business, especially for non-suspects (
San Antonio Current):
...while most Americans watched as Hussein was probed for head lice, few were aware that the FBI had just obtained the power to probe their financial records, even if the feds don't suspect their involvement in crime or terrorism.

The Bush Administration and its Congressional allies tucked away these new executive powers in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, a legislative behemoth that funds all the intelligence activities of the federal government. The Act included a simple, yet insidious, redefinition of "financial institution," which previously referred to banks, but now includes stockbrokers, car dealerships, casinos, credit card companies, insurance agencies, jewelers, airlines, the U.S. Post Office, and any other business "whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters."
Casinos, damnation! Wait until Bill Bennett finds out about this. Also, isn't Denny's OxyContin parking lot a business "whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters," at least as far as Rush Limbaugh is concerned?

Thanks to Good Soldier Schweik of Wealth Bondage for a tip of the almanac.
.
Sunday, January 04, 2004
Israel's
new apartheid.
.
"One lesson Americans should be learning from all this [cancellation of international flights] is that they can't win the 'war on terror' - their only hope in the long run is to
stop creating the injustice which creates terrorists." — Xymphora
.
Friday, January 02, 2004
Is deflation looming? Seth Glickenhaus seems to think so: "Don't you think it is deflationary when municipalities fire people?" (
The Globalist)

We've written about Seth Glickenhaus, a billion-dollar investment manager with an exceptionally poor opinion of Bush fiscal policy, before. A sample of his lengthy remarks: "Bush has no fiscal sense whatsoever and is radical in his approach. The Republicans live solely to make the rich richer. [...] 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."
.
New to me:
The Blogging of the President, via USA Today.
.
Gambling on right-wing home schoolers. This
WaPo article makes a much larger point about the severe rightward tilt of educational funding, but includes a gem I can't resist sharing:
Other groups that have benefited from Education Department grants include K12, a for-profit company founded by Reagan administration education secretary William J. Bennett to promote home schooling....
What sense does it make to give government grants to a for-profit company promoting home schooling founded by a moralizing blowhard gambler?
.
Bush shoots quail. His father, also shooting quail, had previously named it vice president.
Bush spent the morning hunting quail with his father, former President Bush, members of his staff and Nancy Brown Negley, the daughter and heir of George S. Brown, the founder of the Brown & Root Construction Co.
A-hunting we will go — with a Halliburton heir! The whole cabal is shooting quail together!

Quail is delicious with roasted potatoe.
.
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Neil Bush, hard-working matchmaker. The party of insiders includes the tainted profits of the president's dyslexic brother (
WaPo/AP):
Cashing in stock options before the market crashed, presidential brother Neil Bush made at least $171,370 in a single day by buying and selling shares in a small U.S. high-tech firm where he had previously been a consultant, according to tax returns that give a glimpse into his business dealings.

The July 19, 1999 purchase and quick sale of stock from Kopin Corp. of Taunton, Mass., came on a day that the company received good news about a new Asian client that sent its stock value soaring.

"My timing on this transaction was very fortunate," Bush told The Associated Press.

Bush's profit was a slice of at least $798,218 that the president's younger brother reported on his tax returns from three transactions involving Kopin's stock.

AP obtained his tax returns for the years 1997 through 2001 from a source familiar with his finances.

Those returns, as well as records that have come to light in Bush's divorce case, show that since his controversial tenure with the failed Colorado savings and loan Silverado more than a decade ago, he has become a globe-trotting businessman with a variety of consulting deals.

For instance, a Chinese firm, Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. of Shanghai, offered to pay Bush $2 million in stock for his consulting services, but Bush told AP he has "not received one penny of compensation" because he never did the consulting.

Bush's tax returns also show $357,000 in income from his company, Ignite!, which is developing interactive, multimedia lessons for students.

[...]

Bush's big paydays stem from his role in 1995 as the intermediary who helped broker a deal that got an Asian company, Telecom Holdings, to invest $27 million in Kopin.

"Neil helped put together an approximately $27 million dollar deal and was awarded stock options for his efforts. Stock options can range from anywhere to being utterly worthless to very valuable," Bush lawyer John Spalding said. "A realtor in a similar deal would have made three times as much money and it would have been paid at closing. Neil eventually made around $500,000 in compensation for his work that was not guaranteed."

After the 1995 deal, Kopin snapped Bush up as a consultant for two years "to see what other doors he could open up for us" in Asia, according to Kopin chief financial officer Richard Sneider.

"Neil Bush was a matchmaker and he was given stock options in Kopin as part of his compensation," Sneider explained. "Our executives were pleased with his hard work on the Asian investment."
Neil's hard work as a matchmaker in Asia included sex with several unknown Asian prostitutes.

Funny how Martha Stewart, whose insider stock deal netted her $228,000, may go to jail while Neilsie, who netted more than three times as much from his insider status, gets Asian prostitutes and a new fiancee, Maria Andrews.

Note to Sharon Bush: It's time to start talking to publishers again. Your story is worth far more than a house and some child support. Think of yourself and the kids Neil abandoned. You could make a lot more cash with a tell-all book on the innermost workings of the Bush dynasty than Barbara and H.W. are willing to give you. Compare Michael Moore's, Al Franken's and Hillary Clinton's hardback sales to Lynne Cheney's or David Frum's and you'll see what I mean.

Here's a recent and extensive WaPo overview of Neilsie's checkered past entitled "The Relatively Charmed Life Of Neil Bush." "He has real pluck about him," says Thomas "Lud" Ashley, an ex-congressman and bank lobbyist, and family friend.

Cause for celebration: [from the article] Kevin Phillips [!], historian and author of the forthcoming book [!!] "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush," [!!!] sees Neil Bush as a man who has made a career of cashing in on his famous name. [!!!!]
.
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Good riddance to 2003. Thousands dead in a war waged on falsified evidence, courtesy of a government run by self-enriching people untroubled by conscience.
.
Dependent investigation. Unlike the independent investigations of the Clinton era, the Plame investigation is very much dependent on the DoJ and, by extension, its "recused" head John Ashcroft.
TalkLeft:
It's important to note that the Justice Department will still be in charge of the investigation. The lead prosecutor will be U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in Chicago. He will report to Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

No reason was given for Ashcroft's recusal--only that it is to avoid the appearance of impropriety. While Comey promises a full and independent investigation, we'll hold off on the celebration until we see if that indeed is what we get.

We think the investigators already know who the culprit is. It may be someone who is close to Ashcroft. A cynic would say that by having Ashcroft recuse himself, the Administration can try and claim he had nothing to do with any future determination not to bring criminal charges against the official on the grounds that the Justice Department doesn't believe it can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, which of the White House officials are Ashcroft buddies?
And, because the compromised DoJ is in charge of the investigation, will we ever find out?
.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
The new Plame special prosecutor. Here's the Chicago Tribune's selection of stories on
US Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, appointed when Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame investigation.
.
A fistful of mercury. Another of Daddy's henchmen is helping energy interests at the expense of public health (Eric Pianin,
WaPo):
For nearly 21 months, a government task force steadily moved toward recommending rules that within three years would force every coal-fired power plant in the country to reduce emissions of mercury, which can cause neurological and developmental damage to humans.

The Environmental Protection Agency-sponsored working group had a well-regarded mix of utility industry representatives, state air quality officials and environmentalists. Without settling on specific emission reductions, the panel agreed that all 1,100 of the nation's coal- and oil-fired power plants must use the "maximum achievable control technology" (MACT) to reduce mercury and other hazardous pollutants.

But in April, the EPA abruptly dismantled the panel. John A. Paul, its co-chairman, said members were given no clue why their work was halted -- that is, until late last month, when the Bush administration revealed it was taking an entirely different approach, using a more flexible portion of the Clean Air Act.

[...]

...critics accuse the White House and its allies in the utility industry of subverting a process involving one of the most toxic chemicals known, which once airborne can pollute rivers, lakes and oceans and penetrate the food chain. John Stanton of the National Environmental Trust, a member of the working group, said the administration's decision marks "really a fundamental shift in the recognition of the threat posed by mercury to the very most susceptible," including the fetuses of pregnant women who eat mercury-tainted fish.

[...]

"This is a case of politics polluting science," Stanton said.

Some critics blamed White House political adviser Karl Rove, Office of Management and Budget regulatory experts or Vice President Cheney's office for dictating the new policy. In fact, the regulatory turnabout was engineered by Jeffrey R. Holmstead, the EPA's senior air quality official and a former industry lawyer, who is little known outside a circle of government regulators and utility industry executives.

Holmstead had been a scholar with a libertarian group that advocated market solutions to environmental problems and a partner at the Washington law firm Latham & Watkins, which has represented electric power companies and other industries before Congress. He was associate counsel to President George H.W. Bush, with primary focus on environmental issues.
Back in July, candidate John Edwards called for Holmstead to resign, citing him as "an extreme example of this administration's problem with telling the truth when it conflicts with its political agenda."

Like father, like son — the Bushes are awash in special interests that discount the value of Americans' lives. In contrast to the lubricious ass-kissing they offer the anti-abortion zealots, administration environmental policy is essentially "Republicans against fetuses and pregnant women," and their idea of family values includes only the Bush family itself.
.
There's money to be made in Libya. Xymphora questions a
business background story (a Texas VoIP company called GlobalNet, which until December 22 was called iDial Networks) behind the sudden thaw in relations with Libya and the subsequent elevation of once-reviled Gaddafi to "nice guy."
.
Monday, December 29, 2003
"The [National] Park Service leadership now caters exclusively to conservative Christian fundamentalist groups," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The Bush Administration appears to be sponsoring a program of
Faith-Based Parks."

Via Cursor.
.
$1.2 billion MIA. The Pentagon plays three-card monte on an epic scale (
WSJ, sub. req'd.):
Having failed to apply "lessons learned" from previous U.S. military operations, the U.S. Department of Defense can't account for $1.2 billion of materials related to the Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to a government audit.

The report found "substantial logistics support problems," according to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. "Frustrated" reads a sign in a photo from one of a series of distribution centers in Kuwait, Bahrain and Germany, where military materials languished as operations personnel in Iraq did without intended supplies.

The missing $1.2 billion in materials is the discrepancy between what the military knows it sent out, and what auditors have been able to locate in the field. The materials could anything from consumables like food to weapons parts, said William Solis, GAO's director for defense capabilities and management.

"The actual military operation was deemed a success, but the logistics effort was less than perfect," Solis said. The logistics problems, he added, "could have impaired readiness."

Pentagon representatives, in oral comments to GAO, "generally concurred" with the findings and pointed to a series of corrective actions already taken, according to the GAO. The steps included designating a defense logistics executive and streamlining the distribution process. Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood confirmed the Pentagon had implemented the policy changes, but was unfamiliar with the GAO report.

The Dec. 18 report, which covers [only] approximately $19.1 billion in government spending, pointed to an inadequate tagging system where items either weren't tagged or were undeliverable because the tag fell off.

The probe, compiled in response to a request from Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of a defense appropriations subcommittee, is the result of preliminary work on a full report expected in 2004.

Solis couldn't quantify a total as to the financial value of the boxes, crates and electrical equipment still sitting in storage, but said the materials took up a lot of space.

"It's acres," Solis said. "I forget how many. I know it's more than several football fields."
"Impaired readiness" equals "lives lost to administrative fuckups."

Body armor, food and weapons go missing, but there's always a fake turkey available in Baghdad for a presidential photo op.

Who knows the harm done to our soldiers and reservists without the right supplies? It's anyone's guess how many of the 489 soldiers (so far) died because "the tag fell off."
.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
American Family Association's anti-family values. The AFA's "marriage poll" was obviously intended to show Congress the popularity of bigotry and minority marginalization among their right-wing constituents — by denying adult couples in committed relationships the legal recognitions they deserve.

But their diabolical plan is backfiring on them. So far the results of their efforts show Tolerance beating Intolerance by a margin of almost 2:1. It turns out that poll respondents are more decent and respectful of others' privacy than the AFA bigots anticipated.

Why shouldn't committed adults in any configuration of genders enjoy equal rights with one another? Who deserves legal and social status more — a gay couple, a
divorcing Newt Gingrich, a gambling Bill Bennett, or a Rush Limbaugh in a Denny's parking lot trading his right-wing radio cash for his OxyContin stash?

Normal people don't need the bother of the AFA's moralizing hypocrisy. We're busy trying to live our lives — without the intrusions of abnormal zealots, and without intruding into other adults' pursuit of happiness. Live and let live, period.

Go vote in the damn poll. It only takes a few seconds.
.
Saturday, December 27, 2003
300,000 acres of dense, old-growth Christmas trees. While the mainstream media distracts us with breathless reports on Wal-Mart's Christmas sales figures as if they were some kind of oracular miracle, the Bushies slipped us another Christmas surprise (
FindLaw/Reuters):
The Bush administration opened up undeveloped areas of the largest U.S. national forest to logging on Tuesday, scrapping a Clinton-era rule aimed at protecting the wilderness.

The U.S. Forest Service announced that it will exempt the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska from a national rule prohibiting timber cutting in roadless areas. The decision means about 300,000 acres of dense, old-growth rain forest will be available for logging.

[...]

Environmentalists portrayed the policy change as a violation of public trust. They said the road-building likely to accompany the new logging could affect 2.5 million acres of the forest.

"The Bush administration has turned its back on the public, good science and the law in its effort to clearcut the Tongass," Tom Waldo, a Juneau-based attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said in a news release.

"This is obviously a Christmas present from the Bush administration to the timber industry, which wants the right to clearcut in America's greatest temperate rainforest."
Here's a picture of the area, and Earthjustice's coverage of the administration's wilderness bushwhacking on behalf of the timber industry.

See also this New York Times editorial blasting the move as a "holiday gift to Senator Ted Stevens and Gov. Frank Murkowski, both of whom have lobbied for the resumption of the clear-cutting that has already stripped the nation's only temperate rain forest of a half million acres of old-growth trees."

There is not a single issue on which these people can make the right decision untainted by political posturing. Like King Midas in reverse — everything they touch, from Afghanistan to Iraq to the federal budget to energy and environmental policy, turns to shit.
.
Friday, December 26, 2003
Optimistic!
Matthew Yglesias reminds us why we should remain optimistic, because optimism about an optimistic candidate with optimistic policy initiatives — and let's not forget an optimistic vision of America — is a sure way to beat someone who is unelectable.
.
Praise for bilking taxpayers — from the bilkers. Boeing's new CEO praised the woman who allegedly bilked US taxpayers out of $5.7 billion (
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bloomberg):
During an April 2001 speech, Harry C. Stonecipher, then the president of Boeing Co. and now its chief executive, touted the "partnership" he'd helped to set up with the Air Force.

Stonecipher singled out for praise Darleen Druyun, then the Air Force's second-ranking acquisition official, who'd described herself as the "godmother" of Boeing's C-17 cargo plane.

[...]

In his first month as chief executive, Stonecipher is trying to recover after two top Boeing executives - his predecessor, Philip M. Condit, and the chief financial officer, Michael M. Sears - left amid allegations that Druyun was recruited for a job as she negotiated a $21 billion contract for airborne tankers.

[...]

Stonecipher, 67, also must contend with a separate Justice Department investigation into Boeing's possession of thousands of pages of proprietary Lockheed Martin Corp. documents that might have helped Boeing to win rocket-launch bidding while he was president in 1998.

The Air Force stripped Boeing of $1 billion in business after an inquiry in July, and the military will incur $223 million in extra costs as a result because it shifted launches to Lockheed Martin. The Air Force won't try to recover the money, a spokeswoman said.
What the fuck is wrong with the Air Force? I know $223 million is just lunch money for a crooked Air Force procurement officer and her new employer — but, jeez, don't appearances even count anymore?
.
Naughty & Nice 2003, a handy list from the Center for American Progress.
.
The CEO docket. Carolyn Said gives us a good summary of 2003: the Year of Corporate Insiders and their trials — or lack thereof — in the
San Francisco Chronicle:
Enron started the corporate crime cavalcade and for many people remains the most-identifiable image of businesses run amok. Thus, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid of the Enron debacle, seem like natural candidates to headline the feds' Most Wanted list of corporate criminals. They even star as ace and king of spades, respectively, in a Wall Street's Most Wanted card deck. But Lay, Enron's former CEO, and Skilling, its former president, have not been indicted.

[...]

Corporate trials on the docket

Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco), continuing, state court, New York

Martha Stewart, Jan. 20, federal court, New York

Scott Sullivan (WorldCom), Feb. 2, federal court, New York

John Rigas and sons (Adelphia), Feb. 9, federal court, New York

Lea Fastow (Enron), Feb. 11, federal court, Houston

Frank Quattrone (CSFB), March 22, federal court, New York

Andrew Fastow (Enron), April 20, federal court, Houston

Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom), spring, state court, Oklahoma

Richard Scrushy (HealthSouth), no date set, federal court, Birmingham, Ala.
That's a lot of corporate misbehavior to hit the news during primary season.

Some of them are major Bush fundraisers (Lay and the Gang of Enron) and some are Bush scapegoats (Martha Stewart). We'll be doing our part to keep the story of these thieving felons — and the proportionality of their treatment relative to the favor they enjoy within the Bush administration — front and center.

Here's Wall Street's Most Wanted, the deck of cards mentioned above.
.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Tom Tomorrow — today.
.
Put a happy face on your policy failures. As long as Republicans are in power, try your best not to get sick (
WSJ, sub. req'd.):
The Bush administration released a pair of much-awaited reports on the quality of American health care, after extensive revisions that made the findings more upbeat than some experts thought justified.

The two studies, produced by a research arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, went through numerous drafts and were exhaustively reviewed within HHS, officials said.

In several cases, language included in drafts prepared this summer was toned down, emphasizing improvements or challenges rather than problems that afflict the quality of care in public and private health systems in the U.S.

For example, early versions of the National Healthcare Quality report warned that the U.S. health system "is not capable" of preventing or managing diabetes, while the final report said the health system "must respond in order to prevent and manage" the disease. Both versions of the report acknowledged diabetes as a growing problem in the U.S.

[...]

Some outside health-care advocates suggested that the two studies were toned down and delayed until after the Medicare overhaul and prescription-drug bill passed Congress for fear Democrats might seize on the reports to press for greater funding for quality initiatives, possibly complicating Republican efforts to pass the bill.

[...]

The reports' tone differs markedly from several reports on quality issued over the past few years by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which has spoken of a "quality chasm" that exists between everyday care and so-called best practice. The tone also differs from private research reports, such as that by a Rand Corp. researcher in the New England Journal of Medicine this June, which said Americans got, on average, 54% of recommended care, posing "serious threats to the health of the American public."

[...]

Several health advocacy groups immediately attacked the tone of the reports. "The report is strikingly different in tone from the administration's approach to quality over the last three years," said David Schulke, executive vice president of the American Health Quality Association, a group representing health professionals. "This looks almost as if written by somebody else. The numbers are there, but the text is oddly cheery about some frightening statistics."

Mr. Schulke said the report trumpeted the fact that 69% of heart-attack patients get beta blocker drugs upon admission to the hospital, as opposed to emphasizing that more than 30% don't get the beneficial drugs even though beta blockers have been on the market since the 1960s. "To not mention that fully 30% don't get that life-saving therapy leaps off the page as an omission," Mr. Schulke said, adding that he was puzzled by the tone of the reports, since he considers Dr. Clancy and Secretary Thompson to be acutely aware of safety and quality problems in the U.S. health system.
"Is not capable" describes a real truth; "must respond in order to prevent and manage" avoids the real truth and instead describes a potentiality.

Grades of 69 (percent of heart-attack beta blocker recipients) and 54 (percent of Americans receiving recommended care) were considered failing grades back when I went to school, but that was long before the advent of Leave-No-HMO-Behind Medicare legislation and healthcare CEO protectionism.
.
Monday, December 22, 2003
Orange is the color of failure. This is what happens when you fake, forge, and forget the facts (
WSJ, sub. req'd.):
The government on Sunday raised the national threat level to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack, and said threat indicators are "perhaps greater now than at any point" since Sept. 11, 2001, with strikes possible during the holidays.

Americans were promised "extensive and considerable protections" around the country and told to stick to their travel plans despite intelligence indicating the al Qaeda terrorist network is seeking again to use planes as weapons and exploit suspected weakness in U.S. aviation security.

Some of the intelligence information gathered in the past few days suggests that "extremists abroad" are anticipating attacks that will rival or exceed the scope of those of Sept. 11, Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge said.

He also said officials did not see a connection between last weekend's capture of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the heightened security alert.
Orange is the color of being greeted as liberators.

The meltdown of the neocon linkage between Hussein and 9-11 continues apace. See Atrios on the total collapse of Peggy Noonan's mind.
.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
Robert Pinsky, Phillips Brooks, and Bethlehem.
Robert Pinsky's thoughts from Christmastime last year:
The words of Phillips Brooks's Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" have had a mysterious power for me since I first heard them sung, as a small child.

Brooks, I later learned, wrote the carol as a poem on a visit to Bethlehem in 1868. He was most famous in his time for a sermon he delivered, in that same period, on the subject of the Civil War dead.

Now I associate the silent, dark streets he describes with the silence of the young men missing from little towns all over the North and the South:

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.
See you in 2004 — a monumentally important year for all our hopes and fears.
.
The Bush tax.
.
All roads lead back to 9-11. See TalkLeft on the administration's support for the proposed Victory Act and its war on
bogus narcoterrorism. Equating routine drug offenses with the activity of Al Qaeda serves as another false, preemptive linkage to further a preordained agenda that has nothing at all to do with 9-11-01.
.
Washington is no place for the squeamish.
WaPo:
During more than two years of investigating two campaign committees that Attorney General John D. Ashcroft maintained when he was in the Senate, the Federal Election Commission never directly questioned Ashcroft or obtained a sworn statement from him even though the issue of his personal ownership of a mailing list and the income it produced were central to the inquiry.

Ellen L. Weintraub, chairwoman of the FEC, said she and the other two Democrats on the panel did not have the required four votes to carry a motion to interview Ashcroft. In addition, she said, all the commissioners did not want to be seen as "harassing the attorney general of the United States" and so never sought to question him.

Critics of the commission say the handling of the case illustrates the FEC's reluctance to aggressively investigate people in power -- a tendency exacerbated by the partisan split among the six commissioners. By law, three are from each party.

"The FEC is known to be 'squeamish' about bothering people in the administration," said Lawrence M. Noble, a former FEC general counsel and now executive director of the Committee for Responsive Politics. Noble said the first choice when dealing with someone central to an investigation would be a deposition; second would be written questions; third would be an affidavit; and the last choice would be a statement from his lawyer.

"They bypassed all these," Noble said, "and the result is a weak ending to an important case."
$100 million for Whitewater, $3 million for 9-11-01... is anybody investigating anything worth revealing anymore?
.
...the Texas [redistricting] plan "is the single greatest setback for minority voting rights in the 38-year history of the Voting Rights Act. It would have been laughed out of any other Justice Department -- Republican or Democratic." (WaPo)
.
Friday, December 19, 2003
Doc Searls points us to Jay Rosen's fascinating explanations of the nine story lines that form the campaign meta-narrative.
.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
The VP who would be emperor. Dick Cheney's custom Hallmark Christmas card — with the inscription by Benjamin Franklin "And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?" — is depicted in
Slate.

Empire? The capital-H "His"? Is Cheney oblivious or purposeful in his choice of words? Timothy Noah discusses.
.
Dragon Lady's multibillion dollar retirement party. The heartbreaking Ballad of Darleen Druyun, aka "When Air Force Procurement Officials Go Bad," is sung by Anne Marie Squeo and J. Lynn Lunsford (
How Two Officials Got Caught by Pentagon's Revolving Door, WSJ, sub. req'd.):
Darleen Druyun was a hot prospect when she retired from the Department of the Air Force in November 2002.

In three decades in various acquisition roles there, the lanky, no-nonsense civilian administrator had negotiated billion-dollar weapons contracts and amassed valuable insights into Pentagon policy and the strengths and weaknesses of defense contractors. At a retirement lunch at an Italian restaurant in northern Virginia near the Pentagon, more than a hundred industry executives and government officials gathered, some anxiously scanning the room for clues as to where she might land next.

By that Nov. 21 fete, Ms. Druyun had quietly talked about job opportunities with three of the nation's largest defense contractors -- Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. Lockheed President Robert Stevens attended. So did Boeing Chief Financial Officer Michael Sears and James Albaugh, the head of the company's space and defense businesses. When Mr. Sears sat down at Ms. Druyun's table to chat with her family, other executives in the room took note.

[...]

Talk of a job at Boeing for Ms. Druyun began as early as Sept. 3, 2002, more than two months before she recused herself from overseeing Boeing contracts, according to people familiar with the investigation.

While those job negotiations were under way, she was also continuing to push a controversial $21 billion plan to have the government lease and later buy 100 Boeing-made airplanes. Separately, Pentagon investigators are looking into whether Ms. Druyun broke the law by sharing a rival company's information with Boeing.

[...]

Ms. Druyun remained a high-profile champion of the defense industry during the 1990s cutbacks in military spending. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent slump in the aviation industry, Ms. Druyun became an active promoter of a plan to have the Air Force lease 100 modified Boeing jets as air-refueling tankers. Critics of the plan said it was merely a bailout for Boeing and would cost taxpayers billions more than buying the planes outright. Top Air Force officials, including Ms. Druyun, contended the tankers were urgently needed to replace an aging fleet and that leasing would get them into service sooner.

On Sept. 3, 2002, an e-mail arrived in Mr. Sears's inbox. The sender, a 26-year-old employee in Boeing's St. Louis operation named Heather McKee, wrote that "mom" was making post-retirement plans. In a tone described by people familiar with it as a "friendly heads-up," the note told Mr. Sears that the woman was negotiating with other companies but would rather "live in Chicago," where Boeing is based.

[...]

...Boeing turned over more than 8,000 e-mails, including many involving Ms. Druyun. Many of the e-mails, which Mr. McCain later made public, indicated that internal Air Force memos about the tanker negotiations were passed on to senior Boeing executives. One April 2002 e-mail from a Boeing executive working on the deal to a colleague said that Ms. Druyun had told Boeing executives about rival company bids. The e-mail said that Ms. Druyun had told the company "several times" that rival European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co.'s offering of Airbus planes "was $5 million to $17 million cheaper" per aircraft than Boeing's tanker bid.

[from the timeline accompanying the article:]

Sept. 2002: Her daughter, a Boeing employee, e-mails Boeing CFO Michael Sears about her mother's retirement and job search. "

Oct. 2002: Ms. Druyun negotiates a NATO aircraft order that went to Boeing. Two days later, she and Mr. Sears meet to discuss employment. She agrees to sell her house to a Boeing attorney working on tanker deal.

Nov. 2002: Ms. Druyun officially recuses herself from Boeing decisions, retires mid-month.
Postscript: One of the ironies of the Druyun debacle is that her highly unethical mentor Michael Sears was about to publish a business self-help book that dealt with management ethics. Publisher Wiley has since pulled the web page advertising Sears's book Soaring through Turbulence.

Forget content. As Jack Welch and dozens of other market cannibals have demonstrated, the celebrity of power is all you need to get a book contract. With a publisher as clueless as Wiley, Michael Sears proved that the metastatic corruption of defense contracting can be parlayed in more ways than one would expect.
.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Be Gone Demons! Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Saddam's novel (
Chicago Sun-Times):
Saddam Hussein spent the final weeks before the war writing a novel predicting that he would lead an underground resistance movement to victory over the Americans, rather than planning the defense of his regime.

As the war began and Saddam went into hiding 40,000 copies of Be Gone Demons! were rolling off the presses.

Most were destroyed by bombing and looting but the Daily Telegraph has obtained one of the few remaining copies of the novel -- a historical epic that reveals both Saddam's increasing detachment from the world and his inflated sense of self.

The narrative meanders through the history of Iraq and is filled with paranoid invectives against the Jews, who delight in inciting troubles between Muslim nations and encouraging the Romans -- a synonym for the Americans -- to attack Iraq.
Cheney's novel (begun while he was in hiding following 9-11-01): Be Gone Democrats!

Karl Rove's novel: Be Gone Dean!

Texas's novel: Be Gone Dildos!

Ashcroft's novel: Be Gone Doobie!

Scalia's novel: Be Gone Democracy!

Bush, incapable of giving even a credible interview (see "what's the difference?" on page 2 of his sitdown with Diane Sawyer), isn't writing a novel, but reading one: Go Dog Go!

Link via MobyLives, 12/17/03.
.
Impossible to imagine the roles reversed. Clinton even tried to protect the US from the fallout of dynasty politics before it happened (
Houston Chronicle):
Saddam's capture was the latest salvo fired between the toppled Iraqi dictator and the Bush family. As president, the elder Bush helped gather a coalition of countries for the 1991 Persian Gulf War to oust Saddam's troops from Kuwait, which the Iraqi leader invaded in August 1990. U.S.-led coalition forces drove the Iraqis from the oil-rich emirate, but Saddam remained in power in Iraq.

In June 1993, the United States launched a missile attack against a government intelligence center in Baghdad as retaliation for what President Clinton said was "compelling evidence" of an Iraqi plot to assassinate the elder Bush in retaliation for the Gulf War.

Clinton said a car-bomb plot against Bush had been uncovered during Bush's April 1993 visit to Kuwait. The plan, devised by the Iraqi government, was foiled by Kuwaiti security personnel. Clinton said the plot amounted to an attack on the United States.
Clinton's behavior has nothing whatever to do with how Democrats are now routinely characterized by right-wing supporters of the current administration.

Clinton's actions were based on an adult, nonpartisan assessment of national security, not because Hussein "tried to kill my dad."
.
Where there's smoke, there's crime. The Pentagon doesn't want us to see where Darleen Druyun's misdeals might lead (Renae Merle in
WaPo):
The Pentagon has refused to release documents to the Senate Commerce Committee investigating a Defense Department contract to lease, then buy, Boeing Co. refueling tankers.

The committee requested documents from Chicago-based Boeing and the Pentagon in an effort to gain insight into the decision making on the contract and to determine how much influence Boeing had on the debate, congressional aides said.

The Pentagon's delay has angered key senators and raised the prospect that the committee will seek a subpoena for the documents.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the commerce committee, has accused the Air Force of acting as an advocate for Boeing instead of taxpayers in the negotiations on the program. "It's very important, given the swirl of allegations and appearances of impropriety, that we get the complete story," McCain said. "We can only do that by getting these documents."
Dragon Lady Darleen Druyun and her mentor Boeing CFO Michael Sears, both mentioned later in the above article, have been a particular subject of focus here in Skimbleland for the reasons articulated by Sen. McCain's accusations.

Here's the most recent Dragon Lady post and a whole bunch of others.
.
It's a good thing when Elaine Pagels stays in the news, even if it's for the wrong reasons (ahem, Da Vinci Code, cough, cough). See
Christianity Today and The New York Times for more.

We last wrote about Pagels in August when she discussed the politics of Christianity in a long interview at www.edge.org.
.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
More millions for Halliburton. Caught stealing $61 million in overcharges for fuel? No problem. If you're Halliburton, you simply wait until the day after Saddam is checked for lice before you announce your latest financial coup (
FindLaw/Reuters):
The U.S. military said on Monday Vice President Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton was allocated $222 million more last week for work in Iraq, at the same time as a Pentagon audit found the firm may have overbilled for some services there.

Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root has now clocked up $2.26 billion under its March no-bid contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild Iraq's oil sector.

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Bob Faletti said a new task order was made for KBR last week worth up to $222 million for the "restoration of essential infrastructure."
Halliburton spokesperson Wendy Hall said that as far as fuel is concerned, on each gallon of gas Halliburton made "only a few cents." Students of public relations, take note: these are highly paid professionals making creative use of the words "only," "a few," and "cents."

We can only wish that someday a humiliated Cheney will be pulled from his undisclosed location (i.e., spider hole) and checked for lice. Meanwhile, besides directing the Halliburton war crimes, in his spare time he kills over 70 pheasants in a single morning at Pennsylvania's Rolling Rock Club and Game Preserve.
.
World Trade Center neighbors unimpressed. Wall Street, where the so-called War on Terror actually started, didn't respond to the Hussein capture.

Yesterday, the first day of trading following the hallowed event, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.2%, the Standard & Poors 500 Index lost 0.6%, and the Nasdaq lost 1.6%.

I guess you could say the markets are not exactly thrilled with the news.
.
Monday, December 15, 2003
An emboldened Ken Lay. These are heady times for the captains of American corruption. Even Ken Lay is no longer content to sit in the shadows (Shelby Hodge in the
Houston Chronicle):
No longer taking a discreet table in the corner of La Griglia, former Enron CEO Ken Lay stepped into the power-lunch spotlight Friday [Dec. 12] when he invited former Mayor Bob Lanier and Elyse Lanier to join him there for a leisurely bite at a central table. No one missed the giant step forward.
Now that the political climate is warmer, punch line Ken Lay layjailis undoubtedly preparing for his next foray into organized pickpocketing via market manipulation, energy policy manipulation, election manipulation, accounting manipulation, regulatory manipulation, and just plain ol' lying.

While we're on the subject of Enron, consider the subject of profitably driving people to suicide. Isn't it odd that you can still find current stories on Vince Foster, who died in 1993, but none on Enron's J. Clifford Baxter, who died in 2002?
.



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






. . .