culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Who's afraid of Cherie Blair? When the Bush and Blair couples get together for a private evening, sometimes
the wives freak out:
As the two couples sat down to dinner, with the officials no longer there, Mrs Blair could not resist an argument. She is a human rights lawyer and turned to the death penalty, a subject on which she has blunt views.

Judicial executions were an immoral violation of human rights, an affront under the US Constitution as much as under European laws to the fundamental principles of justice, she said. This opinion was delivered to a man who as Governor of Texas signed warrants for more than 150 executions.

Mr Blair was reported to have “squirmed”, even though he shares her opposition to the death penalty. The author says that when he asked Mr Blair about the incident during research for the book he looked uncomfortable — all he would say was that Cherie had raised the issue but as far as he was concerned the United States and Britain simply had different systems.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “She has always had a good relationship with President Bush and has of course discussed many issues with him, including capital punishment. The discussions have always been good-natured.”

Stephens also states that later in the evening Mr Bush had been embarrassed by his wife. Laura Bush had made it clear that her views on abortion were a great deal more liberal than his.
Link via the crucial Cursor.
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"An epitome of white Christian morality." When you hear a phrase like that, you know they must be talking about
Neil Bush:
Moral indignation; arrogant, rude hypocrite; a known thief; an abusive husband; incapable of loving own wife and own children; incapable of raising own kids. How many times have you heard about him? How many times have you heard about millions like him, who determine how others live, who mold the thoughts others must think, who enact the laws under which others must live? Henry Hyde, Bill Clinton, Gary Bauer, Dan Burton, Tom Delay, Bob Livinston, Bobb Barr, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Baker, Philip Marquardt;
purveyors of Christian/American/white morality.

Because not publicized, you are led to believe that they and their depraved ways do not exist.
But of course Neil Bush and his adulterous fiancee Maria Andrews do exist, cavorting in France ("Old Europe," according to Donald Rumsfeld). Presidential brother Neil spends his time in Paris avoiding his wife Sharon Bush and their children when he isn't in Asia sucking stock options and fucking pre-paid prostitutes.
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Monday, January 26, 2004
Sure, now he shuts up. The chief disseminator of fake intelligence (thanks to his bud Ahmed Chalabi) abruptly clams up (
FindLaw):
Vice President Dick Cheney defended the U.S.-led Iraq war Monday but did not address mounting criticism over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and his own part in U.S. charges that Iraq had stockpiled them.

"Today the former dictator (of Iraq) sits in captivity; he can no longer harbor and support terrorists, and his long efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction are at an end," Cheney told Italian political and business leaders.

But in his speech in the Italian Senate, he made no mention of earlier U.S. charges that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons -- the heart of the U.S. case for invading the country last March.

At a photo-call later with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Cheney did not answer a reporter who asked whether U.S. intelligence problems were behind the administration's argument that Iraq had unconventional weapons stockpiles.

[...]

Cheney's spokesman declined to comment. Cheney said in a National Public Radio interview last week: "I believe they (the Iraqis) had programs designed to produce weapons of mass destruction. We still don't know the whole extent of what they did have ... it's a tough intelligence problem."
Cheney's sudden silence is quite a contrast with his belligerence a year ago.

Shame about the 519 dead Americans, thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, and hundred of billions of dollars gone from the US Treasury.
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Leave no surplus behind. Those tax cuts and that WMD-free spider hole photo op turned out to be the most expensive purchases in history (
WSJ, sub. req'd.):
The federal deficit will hit a record $477 billion this year and get worse if lawmakers cut taxes or increase spending, the Congressional Budget Office projected Monday in a report sure to become ammunition in the election-year fight over red ink.

[...]

The budget office also estimated that deficits for the decade ending in 2013 would total nearly $2.4 trillion. The August report foresaw deficits totaling $1.4 trillion over 10 years. The added red ink was due in part new costs, such as the prescription-drug benefit created last year.

[...]

The deficit hit $375 billion in 2003, the highest-ever in dollar terms. The previous record was $290 billion in 1992.

[...]

Many analysts say the budget office's deficit projections will probably prove too low -- especially in the long-term -- because they omit expenses the president and Congress are likely to approve.

[...]

The two parties are already fighting over the red ink that has materialized during the Bush years.

The budget's health has taken an abrupt nosedive after four straight years of annual surpluses that ran through 2001. Only last January, the budget office estimated 10-year surpluses -- not deficits -- of $1.3 trillion. And in January 2001, when Mr. Bush took office, the projection was for a decade of black ink totaling $5.6 trillion.

Republicans say Mr. Bush isn't to blame for the turnabout. Analysts say the surpluses have dissolved due to the recession, the tax cuts Mr. Bush pushed through Congress and growing spending for defense, Medicare and other programs.
From a surplus of $5.6 trillion to a deficit of $2.4 trillion. $8 trillion vanished from the US Treasury into thin air entirely on George W. Bush's watch.

The previous record deficit was in 1992 back when his daddy was president, protecting Neil Bush from the S&L regulators.

It's all Barbara's fault — her and her entire family of leeches. Barbara is the matriarch of a dynasty raised to destroy America by fiscal bleeding.
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Friday, January 23, 2004
gywo

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Everything to fear, and nothing to gain. How to scare the American population, as analyzed and catalogued by
Tom Engelhard:
In the first half of the [State of the Union] speech, the words "terror" or "terrorists" were used 14 times; some form of "kill" ("killers," "killed," "killing") 10 times; war 7 times; and that doesn't count the various stand-ins for war or warlike actions ("aggressive raids," "attack," "offensive," "patrols," "operations," "battle," "armored charges," "midnight raids," "on the offensive," and the slightly more opaque "pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Greater Middle East," a favorite phrase of our vice president as well);"weapons" was used 8 times (usually in the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" or "of mass murder," or in one case in the extraordinarily convoluted phrase, "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities"); "threat" appeared 4 times, "hunting" or "manhunt" 3 times; "capture" 3 times; ditto "tracking"; "plotting" four times; "danger" in some form four times including "ultimate danger"; some form of the word "violent" three times; "thugs" twice; some form of "enemy" 3 times.

Among other words occurring at least once were: patrolling, vigilance, assassins, disrupt, seize, tragedy, trial, catch, fear, chaos, carnage, torture, tyrant, tyranny, despair, anger, brutal, hateful propaganda, prison cell, shake the will.

And even some normally positive words fell into this category in a process akin to guilt-by-association as in the phrase, "enemies of reform and allies of terror."
Irrational fear is a wall that divides people. Words like these are bricks that build the wall of fear.

The ultimate mission of the Bush administration is to slake the greed of its donors by capitalizing on the fears it manufactures among voters.

Bush is building a fortress of artificial fears to distract us from his own incapacity to face actual threats. Let's face it, Bush couldn't catch the real Osama bin Laden so instead he went after his imagined enemy — his daddy's and Cheney's nemesis.

Link via the glorious Cursor.
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And they say he's not
stupid.
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Halliburton: "Kick me." Cheney's minions get caught with their greasy hands in the Kuwaiti kickback cookie jar (
WSJ, sub. req'd.):
WASHINGTON -- Halliburton Co. has told the Pentagon that two employees took kickbacks valued at up to $6 million in return for awarding a Kuwaiti-based company with lucrative work supplying U.S. troops in Iraq.

The disclosure is the first firm indication of corruption involving U.S.-funded projects in Iraq and raises new questions about Halliburton's dealings there. The company's work already is being scrutinized because of accusations that the U.S. government was overcharged for gasoline under another controversial contract.

Halliburton has strenuously defended its Iraq work as fairly priced and free of taint. A discovery of kickbacks could expose the company to hefty fines and other punishments such as potential fraud charges. At the least, contracting experts say, Halliburton will be required to reimburse the money.

[...]

The latest revelation, though, is sure to increase the already intense scrutiny Halliburton has received from congressional Democrats, some of whom charge that the Houston-based company benefited from political favoritism in securing lucrative work in Iraq. The news also is likely to further raise suspicions abroad that Iraq reconstruction work is largely benefiting U.S. companies and their employees.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who was chairman of Halliburton until he left in 2000, defended the company Wednesday in a Fox Radio Network interview. "They get unfairly maligned simply because of their past association with me," he said.

[...]

The Pentagon has had to reject two huge proposed bills from KBR, including one for $2.7 billion, because of myriad "deficiencies," the memo says. "We consider [the company's] estimates in the area of subcontracts to be inadequate," the memo says. The agency is now auditing proposed KBR bills totaling $2.1 billion, the memo says.

Pentagon auditors last month said that KBR's Kuwaiti supplier, Altanmia Commercial Marketing Co., was charging the U.S. almost double the market price for gasoline. Auditors said the overcharging amounted to $61 million through September, and as much as $20 million a month since then.

The Army Corps defended the company's hiring of Altanmia in a lengthy Jan. 6 report. The report said KBR had "urgent and compelling needs" to use the Kuwaiti supplier, even at significantly higher prices than other potential suppliers.

Still, Pentagon officials are likely to home in on the circumstances under which KBR hired Altanmia. The Army Corps report says KBR picked Altanmia on May 5 after making phone calls to just two other bidders. Officials say there is no indication of kickbacks involving Altanmia.

A number of anonymous whistleblowers have come forward in recent weeks with often-detailed allegations of KBR wrongdoing in Kuwait, including accusations of paybacks from companies that received lucrative subcontracting work from KBR, according to U.S. officials and congressional sources. These reports in turn have been taken up by the Pentagon's IG office.
"They get unfairly maligned simply because of their past association with me," Cheney says, apparently unaware that he himself is one of the greatest examples of "conflict of interest" in American history — a CEO who resigns to become vice president and then to wage a war based on fake evidence to provide multibillion no-bid contracts to his company.

Correction: Halliburton is fairly maligned because of their past association with Cheney.

Note also the magnanimous depth of the gratitude Kuwait shows the United States for our role in supporting its monarchy, thanks to not one but two Bush Gulf wars.
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Thinking out of the lockbox. A leading Social Security privatization advocate was captured yesterday at a Houston motel (
Houston Chronicle):
A Southern California investment adviser authorities believe bilked $814 million from thousands of clients in a nationwide scam was arrested early this morning at a Houston motel, an FBI spokesman said.

James Paul Lewis Jr., 57, was expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Frances Stacy today. He was arrested without incident at a Houston motel sometime after midnight , said Bob Doguim, a Houston FBI spokesman.

[...]

Doguim said Lewis is accused of "stealing from Paul to pay Mary."

"That money was never invested in anything," he said. "All he was doing was finding others (investors). That is the money he used to show some kind of return."

When the FBI raided his office Dec. 22, Lewis was supposed to have $814 million on hand for the firm's clients, but bank accounts held about $2.3 million. Federal authorities have frozen those accounts.

[...]

The FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission allege Lewis fabricated more than $730 million in interest payments. Even accounting for the fictitious funds, Lewis still should have $75 million more than investigators can find, the SEC said. A temporary receiver appointed to find more assets put the shortfall at $100 million.
Speaking of nationwide scams, all retirement funding privatization schemes lead to stories just like this one. Which is not to say that all privatization advocates are crooks, but they are advocates of an inherently riskier system that allows for criminal negligence of the types we've seen in a number of mutual fund companies — thanks largely to the investigations of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

"Stealing from Paul to pay Mary" is Lewis's variation on the Republican theme of "stealing from working taxpayers to pay corporate donors."

James Paul Lewis Jr. was captured only because his namesake father did not have the foresight to fix the Supreme Court, get him appointed president of the United States, and turn his crimes into federal policy.
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It's the year of the
monkey. And hopefully the last year of the chimp.
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Thursday, January 22, 2004
"...for you were a stranger..." This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a preview of a new play opening Friday, January 23, entitled "...for you were a stranger..."

The play tells the story of two women, an Arab and a Jew, who meet three times across the 4000-year span of their common heritage. First they meet as Sarah and Hagar, the matriarchs of the Bible; later they move to medieval Spain as daughters of the Golden Age of Muslim/Jewish culture; and finally to the modern Middle East of 1967.

What's especially notable about the play is how the experiences of motherhood and femaleness relate to the rival sibling nations of Israel and Palestine — as dramatized by the two women who, quite literally, gave birth to the Jews and to the Muslims. We see their goddess-based polytheism eclipsed by a pair of monotheisms in the form of their sons, who grow up to become both patriarchal and unkind to their mothers' feminine traditions.

The play asks us to bear witness to the women on both sides of the political/religious equation as history began to take its terrible course. As only great political plays can do, "...for you were a stranger..." transforms daunting and abstract political situations into something immediate, palpable, and human.

Actress/playwright Donna Blue Lachman collaborated on the work with Rula Sirhan Gardenier, an Arab actress and playwright who lives in Chicago. Lachman has played Frida Kahlo, Rosa Luxemburg and Peggy Guggenheim, among others, in her solo performance career. The Piven Theatre Workshop's Jennifer Green directs the piece, which is scheduled to run through March 21.

There was a preview feature in the
Chicago Sun-Times, and Tony Adler also wrote a fascinating preview piece in the Chicago Reader that I was unable to locate on their site. Next week I'll post more reviews as they come online.

Here is the show's listing at the HotHouse, where the show is being performed and where you can also buy tickets online.

The HotHouse, in case you don't know, is Chicago's greatest venue for nightclub-scale performing arts, especially world music. The HotHouse is in downtown Chicago next to the Chicago Hilton and Towers on Grant Park. With this new play they are expanding their lineup to include cutting-edge theatre.

See it!
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Let us praise Margaret Cho who can take a routine piece of hate email and turn it into a
brilliant, streetsmart debate.

Link via Atrios.
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Krugman on class immobility. In
"The Death of Horatio Alger" in The Nation, Krugman states that "over the past generation upward mobility has fallen drastically," and chronicles exactly how, if you like that sort of thing, you can promote further class immobility.

In other words, the Bush administration has worked tirelessly to tear down the American Dream that was a reality only a generation ago — and replace it with a caste society in which tremendous wealth creates family dynasties that employ and govern the rest of us. But you had to be paying attention to see it coming.

(Look! Over here! Christian prisons! Men on Mars! Athletes on steroids!)
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Monday, January 19, 2004
The Silence of Cheney: a poem. While reading Mark Leibovich's profile of Dick Cheney in the Washington Post yesterday, I realized there was a
poem lurking in his reportage.

So, with some cutting but without reordering, here is his poem, a meditation on the silence of Dick Cheney:
The Silence of Cheney
by Mark Leibovich


Cheney doesn't like to talk
unless he has to.
He sits for long stretches of conversation,
holding his fingertips
together at his lips,
peering over his glasses.

When he does speak,
it is in a brisk cadence
and often in partial sentences,
as if to conserve every word.

He has no use for self-revelation,
yours or his own.
He is impatient
with small talk and niceties.
"Not enough hours in the day"
is his recurring platitude
for anything he deems wasteful.

Cheney relishes quiet and solitude,
the better to absorb information.
Excess words can bloat and complicate.
Information escapes.
And you never learn anything
when you're talking.

Cheney is the one known for disappearing,
into a "secure undisclosed location."
("There are a few of them, actually," he says.)

Few people know where he is much of the time,
where he resides at night.

Only that he's somewhere.

And powerful.

And if he feels your pain --
double gosh forbid --
he's certainly not going to say so.

Cheney rarely gives interviews.
The media has changed
a great deal, he says.
"As an institution.
Evolved.
Kind of thing where it's almost impossible
to catch up with a bad story.
Factual errors."
He mentions Lexis-Nexis, search engines,
24-hour news cycles, cable news.
"Nobody goes back to check the accuracy,"
he says.
"Can be frustrating."

He likes to ask questions,
pointed and at times rapid-fire.
This is a variation on silence
in that he does not explicitly express his views
or divulge information.
He just acquires.

You hear Cheney cough.
You see Cheney's lips move.
If you're standing close enough,
maybe you'll hear a quick mutter.
But it's next to impossible
to decipher his words.

Cheney then retreats to a corner
and digs his hand into a bag
of Werther's hard caramels.

Cheney deploys his quiet
to great, sometimes intimidating effect.

Cheney is ardently unsentimental,
especially in business settings.
He is not prone to teary speeches,
elaborate goodbye ceremonies
or, for that matter,
thoughtful reassurances.

Cheney stares at his shoes
as he makes a slow walk from Air Force Two
to a group of servicemen and their families
in a hangar at McChord Air Force Base.
They are hoisting camcorders,
raising toddlers up
for a better view of the
balding adult
in a navy blue suit.

Cheney has a long-standing curiosity --
obsession, some have said --
with catastrophic scenarios
involving biological,
chemical and
radiological weapons.
This long precedes Sept. 11, 2001.

In his skull
resides the nation's most chilling intelligence.
Lynne and their daughters never ask about it.

Is this too much information
for a man
with a sick heart?

Cheney was found best-suited
to being a funeral director.
His voice is soft and even,
like an airline pilot's.
When shaking hands,
Cheney grips hard for a split-second
then pulls away quickly,
as if he's touched a hot stove.
You can't hear what Dick is saying.

At one point, Dick is posing
with Staff Sgt. Denise Caspers.
Their hands rest awkwardly
on each other's backs.
But the camera keeps misfiring.
Cheney endures this
for several seconds.
His face is frozen
in a smile,
his hand limp
on Caspers's spine.
His body slumps
until a replacement camera is found,
and he is finally delivered.

He is professorial
but hard to hear.

Cheney has much to share,
except that he doesn't.

He is asked if he will write a memoir.
The question elicits a slight wince.
But he's not thinking about it.

An aide hands him
a folded piece of paper,
which Cheney looks at and closes.
He runs two fingers across the fold
to reinforce the crease.

He looks at the paper again.
"I gotta call I gotta take,"
the vice president says.
He excuses himself and
the moment fades to silence.
There was also this somewhat less poetic passage:

"One of Cheney's favorite recent books is An Autumn of War, a collection of essays published by historian Victor Davis Hanson in National Review after 9/11. Hanson, a scholar of ancient Rome and Greece and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institute, believes that bloodshed is a natural condition of humanity. Evil exists in the world and the evildoers need to be met head-on."

Evil exists in the world, but those Iraqi WMDs apparently didn't.

Tough luck for the silent Dick Cheney and the 512 dead US soldiers, their grieving families, and the thousands of Iraqi civilians whose disprove Cheney's silent theories with their tears and their lives.
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Hubble's loss is Halliburton's gain. Actual science takes a back seat to Cheney's actual cronies (
Center for American Progress, scroll down to "Mars – Red Planet Motivations"):
HALLIBURTON ACTIVELY PUSHING FOR MARS FUNDING: In the 4/24/00 edition of Oil & Gas Journal, Halliburton scientist Steve Streich pointed out why a Mars program would be so lucrative for Halliburton. He says a "Mars exploration program presents an unprecedented opportunity" for the industry and that it "warrants the support of both government and industry leaders." He says "one area of great importance is finding out of what the inside of Mars consists. That's where the petroleum industry comes in." Specifically, benefits for "the oil and gas industry may lie in technology that NASA will use for drilling into the surface of Mars." He says there is "great potential for a happy synergy between space researchers" on a Mars project and "the oil and gas industry."

HALLIBURTON ALREADY INVOLVED IN MARS PLANS: The 4/24/00 edition of Oil & Gas Journal also reported that Halliburton is already involved in a preliminary consortium of industry and academia "organized to support the development of new technology required for the Mars mission." A 2/28/01 report in Petroleum News confirmed that "NASA has been working with Halliburton and others to identify drilling technologies that might work on Mars."
As if we needed it, here's further proof of the Cheney-Halliburton presidency.

If you want to know what's being sacrificed to make way for Halliburton on Mars, take a look at the Hubble gallery.
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Friday, January 16, 2004
"Who moved my cheeseburger?" Julian Borger in the
Guardian on the saga of Paul O'Neill:
By his own account, Mr O'Neill actually warned the president-elect and his deputy not to hire him. When he was flown in for a secret meeting in a Washington hotel, he took a list of his past pronouncements that could prove embarrassing to a conservative administration.

He had called for a petrol tax, and worse still, he believed global warming to be a real threat. But in the Washington hotel room, the book suggests, Mr Bush was not listening. Mr O'Neill was telling a long anecdote about an encounter with an environmental pressure group when Mr Bush held up his hand and asked: "Where's lunch?". The president then upbraided his chief of staff for failing to produce a cheeseburger on time.

[...]

Wall Street was less impressed. The trip [to Africa with U2's Bono] confirmed it in its view of Mr O'Neill as a lightweight, blissfully unaware that his words and behaviour had a direct effect on the markets' faith in the US economy. In his first months he had caused a small run on the exchange markets by suggesting to a German newspaper that the administration did not have a strong dollar policy. Events have since proved the remark to be true, but it broke a taboo.

[...]

The fundamental question remains as to why any of them were hired at all by an administration that had no time for their views. Mr O'Neill concludes they were there simply as "cover", to make the Bush White House appear reassuringly moderate. In that case, the president and Mr Cheney made the wrong choice in Mr O'Neill. He was never going to be happy serving as someone else's window dressing.
It's an honor to be fired by a petulant son-of-a-bitch brat. It took more testicular fortitude for O'Neill to say what he actually thinks than for Bush to thoughtlessly mouth what his speechwriters and political advisors hand him — without comprehending a word or being held accountable for the outcome.

Still no one within the administration is talking about the truth of O'Neill's remarks. The next State of the Union speech is on its way. What new lies will Bush disavow later this year?

And where's lunch?
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Thursday, January 15, 2004
South Park Christians. cartman
rove2
Here's a disturbing headline: "
Bush seeks billions for religious groups."

Last night I was reminded of South Park Republicans while watching a rerun in which the following exchange takes place (Kyle is questioning Cartman's motives in starting a Christian rock band):
Kyle: But you don't know anything about Christians!
Cartman: I know enough about them to exploit them.
I guess I never noticed Cartman's resemblance to Karl Rove before. Right down to his chinny-chin-chin.
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Capitalist against Bush: Warren Buffett. America's leading investor is less than bullish on what's happened to the dollar. He doesn't specify a personal target but he does specify the date of his realization that, for the first time in his life, the dollar is
FUBB. Meanwhile, the disengaged president goes fundraising and planning trips to Mars as the dollar continues its sustained plunge against foreign currencies (Fortune, sub. req'd.):
Through the spring of 2002, I had lived nearly 72 years without purchasing a foreign currency. Since then Berkshire has made significant investments in—and today holds—several currencies. I won't give you particulars; in fact, it is largely irrelevant which currencies they are. What does matter is the underlying point: To hold other currencies is to believe that the dollar will decline.

Both as an American and as an investor, I actually hope these commitments prove to be a mistake. Any profits Berkshire might make from currency trading would pale against the losses the company and our shareholders, in other aspects of their lives, would incur from a plunging dollar.

But as head of Berkshire Hathaway, I am in charge of investing its money in ways that make sense. And my reason for finally putting my money where my mouth has been so long is that our trade deficit has greatly worsened, to the point that our country's "net worth," so to speak, is now being transferred abroad at an alarming rate.
"In fact, it is largely irrelevant which currencies they are" signals that right now any currency is better than the dollar in Buffett's view.

"Capitalists against Bush" is one of our cherished themes here in Skimbleland, as when we talked about Seth Glickenhaus.

Link via bloggy.
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"Much wants more." For those of you who come here looking for this sort of thing, today's Houston Chronicle features a good biography of
Andrew and Lea Fastow.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Are they fucking nuts? Now, just when we need it most, Republicans want to
ban the F-word. How else are we going share our outrage about Colin Powell's lying piece of shit son Michael and his fucking media consolidation, the stupid motherfucking $1.5 billion marriage "promotion" plan, and the goddamn asslicking cocksucking $1 trillion moon/Mars initiative?

Now, more than ever, we need the F-word. We must not relent and yield to pious hypocrites who mortgage our future while they attempt to control our speech.

We must preserve the right to public swearing for the people who will need it most — our children.

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Fastow children vs. Enron children. One of the things that has consistently amazed me about the reportage on Andrew and Lea Fastow,
who are expected to plead guilty today, is the implicit concern for the welfare of their two small children should their parents go to jail. The "two small children" argument is repeated ad nauseum in nearly every article about their legal situation. Here are a hundred examples.

In the past several years of following this story, nowhere did I see similar concern about the thousands of children of Enron's other employees — the crime-free mothers and fathers who were bilked out of their privatized retirement savings by these devious, conniving, rich Fastows and the Lay/Skilling Axis of Enron.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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"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."
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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.
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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.
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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.
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"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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Sunday, January 04, 2004
Israel's
new apartheid.
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"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
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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."
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New to me:
The Blogging of the President, via USA Today.
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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?
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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.
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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. [!!!!]
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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."
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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.
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$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."
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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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