The younger brother of the president of the United States, seeking to establish himself independently of his more successful sibling, visits a small country in the company of a ne'er do well business partner. Their arrival sends law enforcement, government officials and local reporters into a tizzy, but the First Sibling emerges unfazed and news of his trip goes unnoticed back at home.
But this is no script.
In September, Neil Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, visited Latvia with Boris Berezovsky, a fugitive Russian tycoon who made millions in the violent scramble for control of Russian government assets after the fall of communism. Their mission, according to the Baltic Times, was educational -- promoting teaching software created by Bush's Texas-based firm, Ignite Learning.
The visit to the former Soviet republic earned lots of media attention in Eastern Europe and provoked an international incident. "Much controversy surrounded the meeting, since Berezovsky is wanted for arrest in Russia, and the scandalous Russian businessman, who now lives in London, met with a relative of the U.S. president," said the Baltic Times in its report.
Chalabi, Abramoff, Cunningham, Safavian... the list of known criminals with whom the Bush administration associates (or is related to) just keeps metastasizing.
...Cheney has given 23 speeches to think tanks and trade organizations and 16 at academic institutions since 2001 -- apparently all at taxpayers' expense.
"[I]t appears that his office labels them 'official travel,' " the [Center for Public Integrity] said. "As a result . . . the public is kept largely unaware of where he and his staff are traveling, with whom they are meeting and how much it costs, even though tax dollars are covering the bill."
"Largely unaware" is an almost complimentary way to describe the borderline catatonic American public.
Faced with growing numbers of retirees, pension plans are pouring billions into hedge funds, the secretive and lightly regulated investment partnerships that once managed money only for wealthy investors.
The plans and other large institutions are expected to invest as much as $300 billion in hedge funds by 2008, up from just $5 billion a decade ago, according to a study by the Bank of New York and Casey, Quirk & Associates, a consulting firm. Pension funds account for roughly 40 percent of all institutional money.
Pension officials who have been shaken by market downturns and persistent deficits are attracted by hedge funds' promise of richer, or more consistent, returns. But the trend has caused some consultants and academics to voice cautions. They question whether hedge funds, with risks that are hard to measure, are appropriate for pension funds, whose sole purpose, by law, is to pay out predetermined benefits to retired workers.
Those benefits are considered so crucial that they are guaranteed: corporate pension failures are covered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation [PBGC], a federal agency, while pension failures by state and local governments are covered by taxpayers. Given that the benefits are paid out on a set schedule, critics wonder whether it makes sense to rely on investments whose returns are hard to predict, managed by private partnerships that disclose little about their operations and charge some of the highest fees on Wall Street.
"It's very inappropriate when the company is offering a pension plan that is guaranteed by the federal government," said Zvi Bodie, a professor of finance and economics at Boston University who is enthusiastic about hedge funds in other contexts.
The investment industry is based on credibility and trust. Considering the spectacular failures of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998 and the Republican fraudsters behind Bayou Funds this year, why should American taxpayers offer multibillion dollar guarantees to cover the misdeeds of crony capitalists with a seriously tainted track record?
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got a horse -- a black-maned steed he named "Montana" -- when he visited this visually stunning nation of desert steppes in October. Such gift horses aren't actually taken home; instead, they are kept around but not ridden, in anticipation of the next visit.
But White House aides say Mr. Bush was worried about the obligations of ownership. Would taxpayers be on the hook for upkeep? Was there any way to guarantee the horse's well-being down the road? The question occupied not one but several meetings at the National Security Council in the days leading up to Mr. Bush's trip, one participant said.
Eventually Mr. Bush's aides gently persuaded the Mongolians not to proffer a horse. What Mr. Bush wasn't able to avoid was a sip of the local specialty -- fermented mare's milk -- even though he's a teetotaler.
If there's any truth to the rumors emerging from his bubble, Bush's teetotaler reputation may not be intact much longer.
A businessman who posed as religious communications mogul, driving a $350,000 Bentley and flying in a corporate jet, was sentenced to more than 5 years in prison Monday for bilking creditors out of $13.3 million.
Rodney Dixon, 41, had told lenders that his company, Lacrad International Inc., in Oakbrook Terrace, sold religious recordings and music from offices around the world in the late 1990s and had annual revenues of more than $100 million.
But prosecutors said that was a carefully crafted illusion, built on fake bank statements, phony invoices and "elaborately false tax returns." They said his annual revenue never exceeded $100,000.
We've noticed Rodney Dixon and his Satanic behavior before.
I think the simple fact of being Christian (or believing someone in authority is Christian) makes people susceptible to this sort of nonsense. After all, if you bought a book that was written by a bunch of shepherds two thousand years ago, why wouldn't you also buy whatever crap they're peddling today?
The Christianization of American politics has gone too far. It's nice that Christians have a belief system that makes some of the harder "moral" choices for them so they don't ever have to think too hard, but it enables the Rodney Dixons and the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells and the George Bushes and the Dick Cheneys and the Leo Wells of the world to prey upon their utter lack of rational skepticism.
The GOP is now a party with two distinct tiers: one layer of predatory capitalism (party leadership) and a much larger layer of hapless suckers (Republican voters).
An American businessman living overseas paid at least $630,000 in kickbacks to U.S. occupation authority officials to win reconstruction contracts in Iraq, according to a federal affidavit made public Wednesday.
Philip H. Bloom, a U.S. citizen who has lived in Romania for many years, was arrested recently at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. He made a brief appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington and remains in federal custody.
A government affidavit alleges that Mr. Bloom conspired with officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S. military to rig bids for contracts in Al-Hillah and Karbala, two cities 50 miles to 60 miles south of Baghdad. In some cases, Mr. Bloom's companies performed no work, Patrick McKenna Jr., an investigator in the IG's office, said in the affidavit.
Mr. Bloom or companies he controls made bank deposits of $353,000 on behalf of at least two CPA officials and bought them real estate in North Carolina as well as vehicles and jewelry worth more than $280,000 in 2004 and 2005, Mr. McKenna said.
At one point, Mr. Bloom allegedly was paying at least $200,000 a month to CPA officials and others, although the affidavit does not say for how long.
Projects won by Mr. Bloom's companies included a new police academy for Al-Hillah and renovation of the public library in Karbala.
The affidavit did not include the entire value of all contracts awarded to Mr. Bloom's companies but said he received at least $3.5 million between January and June of last year.
Cash, vehicles, and real estate are bad enough, but jewelry? Someone from the Coalition Provisional Authority will have to explain the bling to the families of the 2,175 American military dead.
While we're on the subject of freedom and democracy, it must have been a liberating feeling for a fraudster like Mr. Bloom to operate with such impunity, just as it continues to be for his thieving plutocratic clients in the Bush administration.
But, if the teachings of Jesus have any meaning at all, not for much longer. Mr. Bloom and his CPA camel are working their way through the eye of a needle.
Over dinner a few weeks ago, the novelist Lawrence Naumoff told a troubling story. He asked students in his introduction to creative writing course at UNC-Chapel Hill if they had read Jack Kerouac. Nobody raised a hand. Then he asked if anyone had ever heard of Jack Kerouac. More blank expressions.
Naumoff began describing the legend of the literary wild man. One student offered that he had a teacher who was just as crazy. Naumoff asked the professor's name. The student said he didn't know. Naumoff then asked this oblivious scholar, "Do you know my name?"
After a long pause, the young man replied, "No."
"I guess I've always known that many students are just taking my course to get a requirement out of the way," Naumoff said. "But it was disheartening to see that some couldn't even go to the trouble of finding out the name of the person teaching the course."
The floodgates were opened and the other UNC professors at the dinner began sharing their own dispiriting stories about the troubling state of curiosity on campus. Their experiences echoed the complaints voiced by many of my book reviewers who teach at some of the nation's best schools.
All of them have noted that such ignorance isn't new -- students have always possessed far less knowledge than they should, or think they have. But in the past, ignorance tended to be a source of shame and motivation. Students were far more likely to be troubled by not-knowing, far more eager to fill such gaps by learning. As one of my reviewers, Stanley Trachtenberg, once said, "It's not that they don't know, it's that they don't care about what they don't know."
Exactly. It's not the ignorance but the pride in the ignorance that is so depressing to those of us who still value old-fashioned knickknacks like facts and knowledge.
Incurious George's actions, however, are a strange mixture of the truly ignorant and the willfully deceitful. The lack of normal curiosity, combined with a calculated disregard for the truth, suggests the foundation of a criminal mind. In the old days we would have recognized such ignorant/deceitful behavior as a sign of severe intellectual underdevelopment and described it as juvenile deliquency.
Except in Dubya's case, thanks to being the most powerful person on earth, his incuriosity may kill a lot more than the cat.
A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.
The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who posed the question about the task force, said he will ask the Justice Department today to investigate. "The White House went to great lengths to keep these meetings secret, and now oil executives may be lying to Congress about their role in the Cheney task force," Lautenberg said.
Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment on the document. She said that the courts have upheld "the constitutional right of the president and vice president to obtain information in confidentiality."
The executives were not under oath when they testified, so they are not vulnerable to charges of perjury; committee Democrats had protested the decision by Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) not to swear in the executives. But a person can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making "any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation" to Congress.
The person familiar with the task force's work, who requested anonymity out of concern about retribution, said the document was based on records kept by the Secret Service of people admitted to the White House complex. This person said most meetings were with Andrew Lundquist, the task force's executive director, and Cheney aide Karen Y. Knutson.
As an aside, here's a wrong-headed memo from Haley Barbour during that same blissful period (pre-9/11) when he reminded Dick Cheney that "Clinton-Gore policies meant less energy and more expensive energy. Most Americans thought Bush-Cheney would mean more energy and less expensive energy."
Oil companies operating in the U.S. typically pay taxes at or above the 35% rate on corporate profits. But for about one in four big oil companies, tax rates have fallen recently, even as profits have soared.
Of the 87 publicly traded oil companies with a market capitalization of more than $1 billion, the effective tax rates of 21 companies fell in the most recent quarter compared with average rates paid over the trailing 12 months, Reuters data show.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC's tax rate fell to 37% in the third quarter from 41%, BP PLC's declined to about 27% from more than 30% and Burlington Resources Inc.'s dropped to about 33% from 37%. The rates were derived by dividing the amount of income tax paid by taxable income.
A Shell spokesman said the company wouldn't discuss why its tax rate changed because the information was "commercially sensitive."
For the corporatist spinners of the Bush Junior era, the phrase "commercially sensitive" is a new euphemism that means "secretly screwing the working taxpayer."
In that way it is a close cousin of Nixon's "limited incursion" (meaning "invasion") or facts that "are at variance with certain of my previous statements" — a euphemism for the fact that he had lied repeatedly.
Neither Bush Senior nor Ronald Reagan is Dubya's political father — his historical legacy will endure as the spawn of Nixon.
Better hold your nose. When insiders sell, the markets get that nasty Enron smell.
Extra Credit Question: Before he became CEO of Halliburton, who was Lesar's former employer? None other than Arthur Andersen, the auditor of both Enron on Lay/Skilling's watch and Halliburton on Cheney's watch. Happy Veterans' Day!
25b. Which of the following comes closer to what you think about this investigation and indictment?
Lewis Libby is the only person in the Bush administration who may have acted illegally........ 8
Others in the Bush administration may have acted illegally as well............................ 78
Not sure........................................... 14
30a. Do you think that President Bush gave the country the most accurate information he had before going to war with Iraq, or do you think that President Bush deliberately misled people to make the case for war with Iraq?
[11/05* | 6/04+ | 3/04+]
Gave the most accurate information he had.... 35 44 53
Deliberately misled people to make the case for war..................... 57 47 41
Not sure...................................... 8 9 6
* Asked of one-half the respondents (FORM A). + Results shown reflect responses among registered voters.
Meanwhile, the US military death toll under Bush-Cheney-Rove climbs to 2,175.
And if this report is true, Susan Ralston is scheduled to appear again before Patrick Fitzgerald.
It would be nice if Abramoff himself figured somehow into the current investigation. Thanks to the hyperpoliticization of policy, which is the real takeaway of Plamegate, Abramoff belongs in this investigation far more than Monica did in the so-called Whitewater investigation.
Turning back stiff opposition from scientist and teacher groups, the Kansas state board of education adopted science standards that question evolution and open the classroom to what some proponents describe as nontraditional explanations for scientific phenomena.
Antievolution initiatives in Kansas and some other states have been pushed by advocates of "intelligent design," many of whom are conservative Christians. The moves come at a time when U.S. high-school students lag behind their counterparts in other developed countries in math and science. Critics of the board's decision, adopted by a 6-4 vote, believe the new standards will put Kansas' students at greater disadvantage.
The six stupid members of the Kansas state board of education are themselves proof that life evolves — because they haven't.
Private partnerships, real-estate investment trusts and other financial investors are snapping up millions of acres of forest land -- not just in America but in New Zealand, Uruguay, Brazil and beyond. They are buying from giant paper companies such as International Paper Co., which are under pressure from restless shareholders to boost their profits by cashing in on forest land that for decades has just sat there.
The result is an enormous land transfer now under way. The paper companies long were the nation's largest private owners of large tracts of standing timber. "For 100 years, the industrial users owned this land. A 1980 map of landowners in Maine would be almost the same as the 1900 map," says William Ginn, an official of the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group.
Now the national map changes almost monthly. It's a phenomenon that has financial ramifications as well as environmental ones, such as the possibility that financial investors who get in a bind might over-log or overdevelop the land.
Today, nearly $30 billion of American forest land is in the hands of financial investors, according to Hancock Timber Resource Group, a large timberland investment manager. That's six times what such investors' timberland holdings were in 1994, Hancock Timber estimates. And these investors have poured billions of dollars more into forests abroad.
Western society, which irrationally prides itself on rationality, consistently puts its fate in the hands of financial speculators whose interests are counter-societal and extremely narrow.
Communism failed and capitalism will too, but for totally different reasons. Capitalistic economies of scale are rapidly becoming tyrranies. We need a new economic system that rewards the work and innovation of individuals and groups over the legal entitlements of fictitious entities like corporations.
This week, pale brown envelopes will appear in the mailboxes of 400 Texans, containing a juror questionnaire and marking the beginning of a race for control of the courtroom and public opinion in a trial that defines an era of corporate wrongdoing.
Inside each envelope is a document that could be key to the outcome of the fraud trial of former Enron Corp. leaders Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling, who will stand trial in January with former accounting chief Richard A. Causey on charges that they conspired to mislead the public about the financial health of Enron, once ranked as the country's seventh-biggest publicly traded company.
Enron's 2001 collapse was the first in a series of corporate disasters that resulted in record-breaking bankruptcies, pinstriped perp walks and lost investor confidence. It wreaked havoc in Houston and beyond, costing thousands of employees and investors their retirement savings. The Justice Department created a special prosecutorial task force to deal with the fallout after the entire Houston U.S. attorney's office removed itself from the investigation because so many of its lawyers had financial or family ties to the company.
How a Texas jury assesses the evidence against Enron's former leaders will determine its answers to key questions, including just how much executives are expected to know about their company's finances -- and whether the final chapter of an era of financial scandals will close with a bang or a whimper.
Jury selection is a key step for both sides as they try to bend the process in their favor. "Attitudes toward what jurors regard as corporate greed have an impact on the way they hear evidence," said George Washington University law professor and former prosecutor Stephen A. Saltzburg.
Defense lawyers already have gained one advantage by putting more than four years between the bankruptcy and the trial, scheduled to begin with jury selection Jan. 17. But public opinion suggests that the memory of corporate scandals has not faded. Almost half of respondents to a Pew Research Center poll last month said they felt unfavorably toward U.S. companies -- a 20-point rise from March 2001, nine months before Enron filed for bankruptcy protection.
What's significant about the four years that occurred between the bankruptcy and the trial? It happens to be the length of a presidential term, the same one that was bought with the generous assistance of Enron.
As Patrick Fitzgerald pointed out in presenting the initial results of his grand jury investigation, we could have been here a year sooner if we hadn't been stymied. Yesterday Harry Reid made the same argument with his closed session of the Senate to provoke the similarly stymied pre-war intelligence investigation. That too could have happened a year ago.
Everything that exposes the necrotic gangrene of this administration was timed to hit the air this year and not last year. Thanks for your vigilance, CBS, The New York Times, and the whole press corps!
A pastor in Texas has been killed by an electric shock after grabbing a microphone while performing a baptism in water.
The Rev Kyle Lake, 33, was partly submerged at University Baptist Church in Waco — only 14 miles from President Bush’s Crawford ranch — while baptising a woman in front of 800 people. He reached out to adjust a microphone when he was killed.
The church, co-founded by David Crowder, one of the biggest “rock stars” of Christian music, is popular with students from nearby Baylor University, the oldest higher-education institution in Texas and the largest Baptist university in the world.
“He was grabbing the microphone so everyone could hear,” Jamie Dudley, a church business administrator, said. “It’s the only way you can be loud enough.”
Doctors in the congregation rushed to help Mr Lake, who collapsed after being struck by the fatal jolt of electricity. An emergency medical crew tried to revive him. He was taken by ambulance to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Centre, where he was pronounced dead.
One of Kyle's followers said, “I think we all gravitated to him because he looked cooler than all of us, but he was really smart."
One potentially hot-button case was a 2001 opinion joined by Judge Alito that set aside Environmental Protection Agency orders to clean up ammonia from a fertilizer plant that polluted drinking-water wells in Lansing, Mich. In that case, the majority found the agency lacked a "rational basis" for the remediation it required of W.R. Grace & Co., the fertilizer-plant operator.
A dissenting judge wrote that while EPA's order may have suffered from "poor draftsmanship,' judges are not "expert environmental toxicologists" and should defer to the agency. Yesterday, the advocacy group Earthjustice issued a statement claiming Judge Alito repeatedly has sought to scale back congressional power "to enact laws that protect our health and environment."
No matter how thrillingly pro-business Alito's record is to the Bush base, they will never be able to turn him into anything but Bush's second choice. The untethered Bush selected his sycophantic nanny Harriet Miers to take Sandra Day O'Connor's seat. It was only when fanatical Christians put Bush's thumbs in the screws that they got their dream date: Scalito.
Incompetence is a form of pollution, and with Bush we get it both ways: in the water and in the White House. And therein lies the problem of Republicans — even when his followers come to sip from the fountain of Bush, there will always be ammonia in the water.
UPDATE: A side note about ethnicity. I too am Italian-American, and dispute the GOP talking point that the term "Scalito" is an anti-Italian-American slur. It isn't. It is a purely anti-conservative slur. Italian-Americans didn't put George W Bush in the White House in 2000 — Scalia did.
Conversely, the nomination of Scalito, given his lack of a uterus, could be viewed as a slur against American women.