culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Friday, January 31, 2003
W doll

"This doll stands 12 inches tall and says 17 different phrases," according to the
eBay listing for the TALKING! George W. Bush doll.

Do those 17 phrases include "We'll smoke him out of his cave, and we'll get him eventually"? Osama bin Laden, that is.
To our Saudi Arabian friends: "Win American hearts through sustained lobbying," says Neil Bush. Presidential sib,
S&L crook and dynasty caboose Neil Bush advises Saudis on spinning American media like the pros (ArabNews):
JEDDAH, 22 January — Neil Bush, brother of US President George Bush, said here yesterday that the distorted image of the Arab world could be removed through the sustained lobbying of US politicians.

"The US media campaign against the interests of Arabs and Muslims and the American public opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be influenced through a sustained lobbying and PR effort," Bush, chairman and chief executive officer of Ignite! Inc., said in his keynote address on the concluding day of the three-day Jeddah Economic Forum at Hilton Hotel here.


"Over 3,000 lives were lost through a brutal and horrific act that affected not only Americans but peoples all over the world. I want to express gratitude to all for their support. Without the support of the peace-loving people in this region and all over the world, the US president cannot succeed in his fight against terror," said Bush, who freely interacted with delegates before he began his speech on "The corporate challenges of human resources in a complex global environment."
Q: Fifteen of nineteen 9/11 hijackers had peace-loving Saudi passports?

A: Bomb Iraq!

Here's an interesting postscript:
Later in the day, the focus shifted to the world’s energy markets with Dr. Ray Irani, chairman and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum, saying that he was fundamentally opposed to the Kyoto protocol — the international agreement to place controls on the emission of greenhouse gases.
What a coincidence! In contrast with the rest of the world, the chairman and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum and George W. Bush are in perfect harmony on the Kyoto protocol.

Will these ironies never cease?
The Happy Tutor provides today's lesson in charitable 501(c)(3) hatred. In response to PLA's (
here and here) and our thoughts on right-wing philanthropic misanthropy, Wealth Bondage offers a weblog call to action, joined with a clarification of the site's striking name, in this post:
Weblogs can help build "social capital" and solidarity among those whose interests are not represented in the hard right's synthesis of wealth, media, politics, and philanthropy. They call it "freedom, and justice." I call it wealth bondage, the ideology of power exercised ruthlessly from the top down, inflicted upon those who apparently love it.
Overall, the site Wealth Bondage explicitly ties the right wing's ideology, strategy and tactics to a power-lust obsessed with its own sadomasochistic fulfillment.

And if there's any doubt that this obsession is sexual, take a peek at the trembling awe of Peggy Noonan at the feet of her Superman:
[...] In the first, domestic part of the [State of the Union] speech he was serious and contained, but in the second part of the speech, on Iraq, there was a shift. His voice seemed lower and there seemed a kind of full head-heart engagement in his grave but optimistic message. For a moment I though[t] of earnest Clark Kent moving, at the moment of maximum danger, to shed his suit, tear open his shirt and reveal the big "S" on his chest.


I felt at the end of the speech not roused but moved, and it took me a while to figure out why. It was gratitude.


A steady hand on the helm in high seas, a knowledge of where we must go and why, a resolve to achieve safe harbor. More and more this presidency is feeling like a gift.
All this Lois Lane groupie-talk is difficult to stomach. But as ludicrous as the American Leni Riefenstahl can be, I have to agree with Peggy Noonan's last statement.

"Gift" is the German word for "poison" and also means "malice" or "spite." This presidency is indeed feeling very much like a poisonous dose of spite.
Laura Bush to poets: "Write pretty, or shut up!" Art, like Republican First Ladies, should be beauteous and noncontroversial, says Laura Bush (
New York Times):
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 — Laura Bush has postponed a White House symposium on the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman after some of the poets invited said they hoped to use the event to protest American military action in Iraq.

Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady's press secretary, said the event, originally planned for Feb. 12, had been designed to celebrate the written word. "While Mrs. Bush respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions," Ms. Rodriguez said today, "she, too, has opinions, and believes that it would be inappropriate to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum."

The poetry symposium, planned as part of a series of White House literary events showcasing American literature, began to attract attention as an opportunity for an anti-war protest. On Sunday, Sam Hamill, a poet and founder of Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend, Wash., sent an e-mail message to 50 friends and colleagues asking them to send him anti-war poems or statements of protest action in Iraq. Mr. Hamill, the author of 40 books of poetry, had been invited to the symposium by Mrs. Bush.

In his message, Mr. Hamill said he felt "overcome by a kind of nausea" as he read his White House invitation, and decided the only response would be to reconstitute a "Poets Against the War Movement." Mr. Hamill said that he had not planned to attend the White House event himself but that the submitted poems and statements would be compiled into an antiwar anthology to be presented to Mrs. Bush on Feb. 12.

By Wednesday, Mr. Hamill said he had received 1,500 responses, and had to create a Web site, which he named, to handle the e-mail messages that were overloading his system.
Echoing inside the empty chamber of Laura's head: Those gosh-darn poets are ruining this great country of ours! You never know where the next threats to my husband's my opinions might originate. Poets should celebrate the written word — as long it agrees with my husband me. Any emails to the contrary will be dealt with.

"Noelia, get me Ashcroft on the line. After all, I have opinions too," Laura mutters. "And where's my vodka tonic."

UPDATE: The Boston Globe refreshes our memory as to how poets felt about the previous administration of Bill Clinton:
''We had an event in which President and Mrs. Clinton joined kids from Washington public schools, disabled war veterans, former poets laureate Rita Dove and Robert Hass, and we read poems by Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson. But that was at a time when a lot of poets were happy to be supporting the president, because they thought he was being attacked unfairly.'' [former poet laureate Robert Pinsky]
Note that Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson were two of the same poets to be feted by the cowardly Laura. Meanwhile, her husband is still struggling with the vocabulary requirements of "The Big Book of Limericks."
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
I will be out of town Thursday, so no posts.

Meanwhile, for any legal geniuses who happen to read this, please figure out how to help secure the inheritance of Jack Kerouac's closest living relative, who is
Dwight Meredith at PLA deserves some kind of vigilance award for his detailed post on how a group called the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) is staging a strategic legal battle over lawyer's trust accounts to
deny legal aid to poor people. In the WLF's own words:
We are finally in a position we've fought more than a decade to reach -- a position where we can deal a death blow to the single most important source of income for radical legal groups all across the country," wrote WLF Chairman Daniel Popeo. Among the foundation's adversaries in the litigation, Popeo continues, are "groups dedicated to the homeless, to minorities, to gay and lesbian causes, and any other group that has drawn money from hard-working Americans like you and me to support its radical cause!
A death blow to the homeless! Yet another example of compassionate conservatism in action.

The topic of lawyer's trust accounts undoubtedly makes people's eyes glaze, but it contains real power to change the country. Dwight cuts through the clutter to expose the WLF's radical and hateful agenda. Thinking people, like the readers of this blog and others like it, should go read Dwight's post.

Postscript. More about the mysterious Popeo: Here's a 1988 letter from Daniel Popeo to Philip Morris, begging for $10,000 to support the WLF's continuing efforts in support of tobacco ads (scroll down).

Some of the WLF's more recent handouts came from Exxon Mobil, Schering-Plough, Kimberly-Clark, Chase Manhattan, Bristol-Myers Squibb, General Mills, 3M, and Caterpillar.

The WLF also opposed any regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, arguing in 1999 that the "EPA has no authority under Section 202 of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles or any other source, including utilities. The Working Group also argues that even if EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, there is no sound scientific basis for doing so...." according to this press release.

Popeo is also mentioned in Sidney Blumenthal's 1986 book, The Rise of the Counter Establishment, as part of a who's who of the extreme right:
Benchmark magazine, for instance, which deals with legal issues, is published by the Center for Judicial Studies, a think tank directed by James McClellan, a former aide to New Right Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. The Benchmark book review editor is Gary McDowell, a Justice Department public affairs aide who has castigated the Supreme Court for making the states adhere to the constitutional stipulations on religion, speech, and other rights. Senior editor Grover Rees oversaw judicial selection at the Justice Department, and was then appointed a federal judge. Another senior editor, William Kristol, denouncer of the "judicial activists," is the special assistant to Secretary of Education William Bennett. And contributor Daniel Popeo is the head of the Washington Legal Foundation, which files briefs for New Right causes.
Google "Daniel Popeo" and see just how profoundly unfriendly this man is to his fellow citizens, the environment, and just about anything else that doesn't come on the heels of a fat corporate donation for his radical ideology.

Daniel Popeo, who so despises the homeless, is himself just a beggar.
Crimes of compassion. How long will it be before the country wakes up and realizes that the "compassionate conservatism" in the AIDS in Africa rhetoric of last night's State of the Union speech will turn out to be federally funded Christian missionaries sent to preach abstinence to the heathen?

How much of that supposed $15 billion will be spent not on antiviral drugs and condoms for Africans, but on packs of pious Caucasians from Utah and the deep South? How will he "prevent" 7 million cases of HIV infection without speaking about sex, as his religious constituents have forbidden?

The speechwriting was often stunning in its projection of the opposite of what was being said. Did you get the impression that W was going to get tough on HMOs and insurers? Wrong. He proposed a health plan for CEOs of health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. We're back to yet another form of privatization, and the private enrichment of corporate interests versus the common good. From the
New York Times (last paragraph):
Representative Pete Stark of California, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, said: "It is clear that President Bush intends to privatize Medicare. He's cleverly using the promise of a meager drug benefit as a bribe to push Medicare beneficiaries into second-rate, low-quality health plans, putting seniors at the mercy of health maintenance organizations and the big drug companies."
Not enough can be said about the abject irresponsibility of the lies told about the "stimulus package" which preferentially benefits the wealthiest 1% US households. Nancy Pelosi's on-camera disapproval recognized that W's statement — "This tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes" — is a lie that shows utter contempt for working people who pay taxes on wages, not dividends.

The federal deficit is out of control, thanks to the Bush enrich-the-rich giveaway. Each new forecast increases the amount of money squandered on lavish financial gifts to the wealthy, we'll-prove-it-real-soon evidence of threats from Iraq, and highly politicized Christian initiatives. From CNN:
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Congressional Budget Office increased its forecast for U.S. government deficits of $199 billion this year and $145 billion in 2004, affirming a bleak fiscal outlook already fueling battles over taxes and spending in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election.

In August, the CBO anticipated a deficit of $145 billion in 2003 and $111 in 2004.

In a report set for release later Wednesday, the CBO also predicted the 10-year U.S. cumulative budget surplus will rise slightly to $1.3 trillion from the $1 trillion it last forecast. As recently as 2001, the CBO saw 10-year surpluses of over $5.6 trillion. A CBO spokeswoman confirmed the contents of the report to CNNfn Wednesday.

Democrats generally blame President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut package in 2001 for the steep slide in the U.S. fiscal position and say the $674 billion in new tax cuts he recently proposed will only dig the deficit hole deeper.

Republicans counter that tax cuts, coupled with strict government spending restraint, will help the sluggish economy grow and, ultimately, move the budget back toward balance.
In two years, a move from $5.6 trillion in surplus to $1.3 trillion in surplus. Where did the missing $4,300,000,000,000.00 go? Market ruptures and wealth disappearance due to corporate fraud by the likes of key campaign contributor Ken "Kenny Boy" Lay? Tax cuts for the families — and the heirs — of Bill Gates and George H. W. Bush? War plans? All of the above.

The compassion in W's conservatism is directed toward a small and tight-knit corporate elite, who plan to use American citizens' lives to build its wealth and secure its borders, and then burn and bulldoze their bodies into mass graves once they have served their noble purpose.

How compassionate is that?

UPDATE: The best sentence-by-sentence dissection of the entire speech was written by David Ehrenstein. (Via Roger Ailes.)
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Tonight, when W tries to tell us how he's going to stimulate the economy, remember this.

DJIA 1993-2003

Compare the slow growth of Clinton's first two years — the first time the World Trade Center was attacked — with W's two-year record of out-of-control volatility. Market behavior like this is based on uncertainty and "lack of visibility," thanks to a deficit-welcoming warmaking policy and a friendly attitude toward corporate misbehavior. (We took the liberty of drawing the trend lines over actual market data.)

montgomery burnsIt's very clear who is hurt by the market damage wrought by Bush's policies: working people, union members, legal immigrants, women, children, foreign allies, retirees, seniors, people with IRA or 401(k) savings, small investors, entrepreneurs and small businesses. And it's also clear who benefits: the energy industry, the defense industry, the Bush family, politically expedient CEO cronies, the religious right, and the real thrust of the "stimulus package": making the
richest 1% of US households even richer.

This is a White House of, by and for the wealthy.

Polls show that disbelief in White House propaganda is gaining ground. The state of the union is disunited.
"The General Accounting Office, investigative arm of Congress, said it had postponed a study of investment bank involvement in recent corporate scandals until mid-March. The study had been expected this week." Via
FindLaw. [Note: The official GAO news site hasn't updated in more than two weeks.]

It's easier to give this sort of revelation a public burial while the media horse is blinkered with a war going on. So we wait.
marthaA Tale of Two Insiders. Jeffrey Toobin profiles
Martha Stewart in The New Yorker, focusing on the ImClone insider trading scandal that has engulfed her life over the last year.

To refresh your memory, here is Toobin's overview:
On December 26, 2001, Stewart's old friend Samuel Waksal, the chief executive of ImClone, learned that the Food and Drug Administration was going to reject the company's highly touted cancer drug, Erbitux. Knowing that the stock would plunge when this news became public, Waksal immediately tried to sell tens of thousands of shares of ImClone and encouraged his father and daughter to sell, too. For these actions, Waksal has pleaded guilty to insider trading, among other crimes, and faces as much as twelve years in prison when he is sentenced, in March. On December 27th, Stewart sold all of her stock in ImClone—3,928 shares, at fifty-eight dollars a share—grossing about two hundred and twenty-eight thousand dollars. The claim is that Stewart did so because she had an illegal tip.
Given her celebrity status as a purveyor of classy lifestyle porn, she was an easy mark and even her talk show host friends couldn't resist ripping into her during their monologues. But through the thicket of endless Martha-in-prison jokes, rays of light did shine:
Stewart looked cheerier when she recalled the support she's received—from Hillary Clinton, for one. "Look at her ups and downs," she said. "And she was one of the first people to call me after the article"—announcing the investigation—"and very nicely say, 'You know, you just have to hang in there. It's the process.' " Stewart continued, "First Lady, knocked to death and now senator. You know, a very important person, still. Because she's smart, she's worthy, she's great. You know, that's what I hope I'll be thought of as."
It's no secret that Stewart is a Democrat. It's also no secret, as Toobin writes, that the scandal has cost her in the vicinity of $400 million in stock losses as well as legal fees and lost business opportunities — the actual transaction cost of her $228,000 ImClone "insider" trade. (That she tried to sell her entire ImClone stake to Bristol-Myers two months earlier is rarely mentioned, although Toobin does.)

On the other hand, we have Thomas White, Secretary of the Army. This former Enron officer has a much clearer-cut case of insider trading than, well, just about anybody. If you want a summary of White's errors of judgment, here's a page courtesy of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Be sure to view the highly revealing chart.

With all this information floating free of useful context, we decided to look at Martha Stewart's and Thomas White's alleged insider trades side by side, to see what we could infer about the treatment each case is receiving with respect to public discourse:

Insider Trades: US Military Leader vs. Ex-Caterer

  Thomas White Martha Stewart
Position Secretary of the Army CEO
Martha Stewart Omnimedia
Former Position Vice Chair
Enron Energy Services
Insider Affiliation Enron Imclone
(via friend/CEO Waksal)
Insider Trades (Alleged) 405,710
Transaction Value $12,120,827 $228,000
Number of Insider Phone Calls and Meetings 81 3
Party Affiliation Republican Democrat
Google Search String "thomas white" enron "martha stewart" imclone
Total Google Hits (1/27/03) 4,660 11,200
Smoke & Mirrors Index* $2,601 $20

*The Smoke & Mirrors Index is Skimble's measure of ill-gotten money divided by Google hits.

If I stole $1,000 and got 10 Google hits, my Smoke & Mirrors Index would be 100, equal to $100 per Google hit. If you stole $100 and got 20 Google hits, your Smoke & Mirrors Index would be 5, or $5 per Google hit. I stole more money than you but fewer people are talking about it, so the smoke and mirrors are in my favor — distracting the world from my self-enriching crime.

Bad guys score high; (relatively) good guys score low.

In other words, the higher someone's Smoke & Mirrors Index, the more they are getting away with. The less scrutiny there is about great financial crimes, the higher the S&M Index. The more scrutiny there is about smaller crimes, the lower the S&M index.

t whiteUsing the Google-based logic of the S&M Index, we see that discourse about Martha Stewart is weighted more than one hundred and thirty times over discourse about Thomas White, relative to the financial value of their alleged insider trades. Once again, disproportionate treatment of administration insiders rules the day.

Could this have anything to do with media support for an American military leader at the advent of a propagandistic war?

Could this have anything to do with keeping the stink of Enron off the administration?

Could this have anything to do with wanting to take down a strong Democratic woman?

Could this have anything to do with the general bias and/or cluelessness of the American mainstream press?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
At least the last five days of posts at
Orcinus are worth your time. Go.
Monday, January 27, 2003
Another lesson in free market economics, from jilted Enron suitor Dynegy. We've got a gusher! The slippery stuff keeps pouring out of Houston (
Houston Chronicle):
A former Dynegy trader has been indicted on federal charges of reporting bogus data to a publication that puts out a benchmark widely used to set natural gas prices.

Michelle Marie Valencia, 32, who was recently fired by Dynegy, was arrested by FBI agents this morning [1/27/03] at her Houston home.


The indictment cites three separate times -- November 2000, January 2001 and February 2001 -- that Valencia allegedly fabricated natural gas trades for submission to a trade publication called Inside FERC's Gas Market Report.

All told, the indictment alleges, she made up 43 natural gas trades. Those trades were said to have been done in the western United States, including New Mexico and California.


When she was called before U.S. Magistrate Calvin Botley, her hands were handcuffed to a thick chain that wrapped around her waist.

Outside the courtroom, Valencia's attorney, Chris Flood, said his client was the "victim of a political prosecution by the current administration trying to do something to rid itself of the stain they have from the energy industry."
Stains, stains, everywhere stains. There is an unintentional stain theme in today's posts. Go figure. More:
"Our markets are the bedrock of the U.S. economy," [U.S. Attorney Michael] Shelby said this morning.

"The market works only when there is a free flow of truthful information among its members and we intend to hold criminally accountable any person who attempts to manipulate the market by knowingly disseminating false information."

Inside FERC's is one of several publications that compile so-called indexes, which are used as benchmarks to price billions of dollars in natural gas contracts in this country.

Manipulating indexes can skew the prices consumers ultimately pay for their natural gas or electricity. But because of the energy market's complexity, it's difficult, if not impossible, to quantify potential consumer harm.
The consumer harm may be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, but the plunder is not. One measure might be the net worths of energy markets geniuses Lay and Skilling and Fastow of Enron and others of their River Oaks McMansion class. The value, if not the location, of those assets can be calculated with considerable precision.

In November 2002 we wrote about Dynegy and the travails of whistleblower Ted Beatty, who reported Dynegy's bogus round-trip trades, here. And over here is the case against the Dynegy 401(k) plan, yet another breach of duty by yet another upper management cabal in yet another Texas energy company.
Is Al Sharpton another Ralph Nader, willing to give away the table in 2004 just so he can leave his personal stain on the tablecloth?

article by Garance Franke-Ruta in The American Prospect certainly put that idea into my head.

Similarly, under the heading "Eternal Political Mysteries," Media Whores Online today asks the question: "What is it that deludes otherwise intelligent men like Al Sharpton, Ralph Nader and Gary Hart into believing they could possibly be elected president?"

They don't believe it. It's the stainmaking that interests them.
Friday, January 24, 2003
Don't be surprised if Walgreens —
"The Pharmacy America Trusts®" — leads you out of the door in handcuffs:
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - A woman with a brain tumor filed a lawsuit against Walgreens Advance Care Inc., saying when she arrived to pick up her painkiller prescription one day, a pharmacist had her arrested.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court, Shannon O'Brien, 35, said she went to the drive-up window at a Walgreen Drug Store two blocks from her home last July 7. The pharmacist on duty thought she had faked her Percocet prescription and called police, the lawsuit stated.

"I was in hysterics - crying, very upset and very embarrassed," O'Brien told The Associated Press on Thursday. "They could have checked my records. I've had the same medicine every month."


O'Brien, who was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1994, said she told the officer who handcuffed her that he could call her doctor or her nurse to verify the prescription.

"I told him I had brain cancer, and I had a medical information card inside my wallet," she said. "It didn't matter to him. He didn't believe anything I was telling him."
American life gets more humiliating by the day. Story at FindLaw.
The SEC pulls back the mutual fund industry's veil of secrecy. One of the themes of this blog is exposure of the deception of small investors, so we must nod to what will undoubtedly be a lost story in the hurricane of pre-war propaganda (from
The New York Times):
The S.E.C. also approved rules requiring mutual funds to disclose how they vote investors' shares on corporate issues, a change that was criticized by mutual fund executives but widely praised by shareholder advocates.


Opponents of the disclosure rule warned that it would cost investors money while yielding little benefit. Supporters of disclosure noted that the new rule would not require mutual funds to send additional information to investors, but only to make it available.

"What they are really worried about is the end of all their conflicts of interest," Tim Grant, president of Pax World Funds, said on a conference call with reporters yesterday. Pax is a mutual fund company that does not invest in companies that produce harmful products or by-products or that have interests it considers socially unacceptable.
It is somewhat amazing to realize that, in all this time, mutual fund shareholders have not had any access to how their hundreds of billions of dollars in shares were voted. The power of those votes was held behind closed doors at the largest mutual fund companies. That power, and its political leverage, can now begin to be examined by the people who rightfully own it.

Increased disclosure is a step in the right direction. This is a noteworthy day at the SEC.
Underappreciated Blog of the Day. The first in an occasional series.

First Draft by Tim Porter consists of thoughtful looks at big media, journalism, readership, and the relevance of it all.

As I mentioned before, "The more I learn about Venezuela, the less I realize I know."

Bloggy steers us to a valuable post about Venezuela, courtesy of
"The average Democratic Senator represents about 6.5 million people, while the average Republican Senator represents just over 5 million people."

Tapped and its readers do the math. (Scroll to the end of the post.)

Wouldn't it be interesting to know the difference in aggregate household income and net worth between the regions served by Democratic and Republican senators?
McTort Reform. This letter appeared in The Wall Street Journal:
In regard to yesterday's editorial "Left Coast Justice": District Judge Robert Sweet's immediate dismissal of the frivolous lawsuit against McDonald's for selling Big Macs, etc., is an example of how to fix the tort system with several strokes of the pen. The fundamental problem of large recoveries in meritless litigations requires not legislation but a firm commitment to choosing judges who will, at the earliest possible stage, screen out of the system such claims. The fundamental requirements for excellence in judging are evident: intelligence, industriousness and common sense. Cases such as those brought against McDonald's (including the hot coffee case) would never pass the bar of dismissal.

Steven J. Stein
Greenwich, Conn.

Updated January 24, 2003
Emphasis added. The boldfaced sentence above describes the root of the medical malpractice problem (see
this earlier post).

The professional wrangling between greedy lawyers and sarcastic physicians sidesteps the basic objective: proportional judgments in favor of actual victims. Determinations of "proportional" and "actual" should be screened by the courts, not the legislation. Caps, especially ludicrously low ones, are a distraction from the responsibility of judges and juries to make sense of damages and their compensation.

Lisa English of RuminateThis clued me into Vello Vannak's idea about a
"Sick of the War" day — a day on which we boycotted our regular business activities and just stayed home.

With W spending the next few days learning his lines for the State of the Union speech Tuesday, I thought we should tie the two thoughts together. I submit, for your consideration, the above Strike of the Union flag.

If you agree that the seeming inevitability of this war is sickening, copy the Strike of the Union flag from this page and email it to your friends or post it on your own blog. And stay home on Tuesday. Live your life instead of the administration's agenda.

Resist the scare tactics of meaningless terror alerts and unconscionable vagueness about the real threats to this country. The administration has already said that anyone who disagrees with it is a traitor. Apparently we aren't disagreeing forcefully enough.

The lousy Bush economy has made a dent in all our lives. Let's return the favor by not working on Tuesday and simultaneously showing our profound disapproval of his unilateral war plans.
Thursday, January 23, 2003
"The President considers this nation to be at war," a White House source says, "and, as such, considers any opposition to his policies to be no less than
an act of treason."

Via Orcinus.
"Isn't civilization what happens when people stop behaving as if they're trapped in a ruthless Darwinian struggle and start thinking about communities and shared futures? America as a gated community won't work, because not even the world's sole superpower can build walls high enough to shield itself from the intertwined realities of the 21st century."
Brian Eno in Time Magazine.
ann cWho's your favorite
Republican BABE of the Week?
PAST WINNERS: Bo Derek, Ann Coulter [shown], Laura Ingraham, Shannen Doherty, Patricia Heaton, Debbie Schlussel, Kim Alexis, Patriot Girl, Ellie Michaels, Betsy Hart, Lori Waters, Katherine Harris, Sara Evans, Rachel Marsden, Kristen Andersen, Kim Seraphin, Rachel Alexander, Michelle Malkin, Lauren Bush*, Debbie Brannigan, Ashley Judd, Cheryl Ladd, Emma Caulfield, Emily Pataki, Carol Gargaro, Kathy Ireland, Heather Locklear, Martina McBride, Condi Rice, Monica Crowley, India Allen, and Darcy Olsen.
This site is a treasure trove of tears-in-your-eyes hilarity. Physicists take note: there really is a parallel universe, and it's the Republican culture, or lack thereof.

Where else can you gawk at heaving GOP cleavage and read breathless profiles about the Goldwater and Cato Institutes?

Remember, these are the same über-partisan ladies who want to give lucky small businessmen a tax deductible Hummer.

*Daughter of Silverado S&L beneficiary and Florida educational software "entrepreneur" Neil Bush; niece of W and co-conspirator Jeb.
"This is the worst president ever," she said. "He is the worst president in all of American history."

She is
Helen Thomas, she is talking about George W. Bush, and she has a right to compare because she has known eight presidents.

Link via Media Whores Online.
Get on your knees and pray to the Lord for a new administration. Looks like a lot more of your money is headed toward Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and their ilk (
The New York Times):
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 — The Bush administration plans to allow religious groups for the first time to use federal housing money to help build centers where religious worship is held, as long as part of the building is also used for social services.

The policy shift, which was made in a rule that the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed this month, significantly expands the administration's contentious religion-based initiative.

The White House says it wants to end discrimination against religious groups. Opponents say the policy breaches the separation of church and state.

Current regulations generally prohibit religious groups from using federal housing and community development grants, which totaled $7.7 billion last year, to build or rehabilitate structures. The new rules, still subject to final approval by housing officials, allow the use of federal aid to acquire, rehabilitate or build centers used for religious and specifically approved nonreligious activities, so long as no federal money is used for the religious section.

A church could erect a building using federal money to create a shelter for the homeless in one part and private money to create a sanctuary in another part, officials said. A synagogue could use a grant to rehabilitate part of its building for a counseling center for AIDS patients or the poor. A Muslim group could apply for federal money to upgrade the lighting and equipment in a room in its mosque to allow it to be used as an counseling center for single parents.


"This is probably the most clearly unconstitutional aspect of the White House's faith-based initiative that we've seen up to this point," said Christopher Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "What this does is take federal money that is serving the neediest of the needy in our society and diverts it to the bricks-and-mortar construction of churches and sanctuaries and other places of worship."


The public has until March 7 to comment before the department is scheduled to issue its final approval.
Theoretically, Saudis could set up a mosque in Florida with a federally-funded flight school and counseling center attached to it. Imagine the convenience!

Link via TBOGG.
Still more astroturfing from
No More Mister Nice Blog and Failure Is Impossible.
The more I learn about Venezuela, the less I realize I know.

Today is
Keep Democracy Alive Day in Venezuela, so mark your calendar.
Wednesday, January 22, 2003
The archive and all internal links were down all day today.

They appear to be fine now. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Skimble's first porn link. Hustler magazine, which we only read for the articles, interviews
Greg Palast. Many topics are covered, such as the 2000 election and its racist tactics:
And again, you gotta go back to the fact, it's not everybody's ballot that was voided. The blacker the ballot, the higher the chances it will not be counted, and that was the evil of it. That's the modern way: Use computers and mechanisms to steal elections, and if you know the race of a voter, you know the color of their vote.
Found at the ever-dazzling Sideshow.
W wants small businessmen to get a Hummer. Inefficiently fueled by war plunder, the biggest SUVs are proposed to become increasingly
tax deductible (The New York Times), thanks to the maniacal generosity of the "stimulus package":
DETROIT, Jan. 20 — The Bush administration's economic plan would increase by 50 percent or more the deductions that small-business owners can take right away on the biggest sport utility vehicles and pickups.

The plan would mean small businesses could immediately deduct the entire price of S.U.V.'s like the Hummer H2, the Lincoln Navigator and the Toyota Land Cruiser, even if the vehicles were loaded with every available option. Or a business owner, taking full advantage, could buy a BMW X5 sport utility vehicle for a few hundred dollars more than a Pontiac Bonneville sedan, after the immediate tax deductions were factored in.

Tax experts and environmentalists say the plan would provide incentives for businesses to choose the biggest gas-guzzling trucks because it takes several years to depreciate the cost of passenger cars and smaller sport utility vehicles.
Conservation appears not to be today's theme. Neither is rationality.
On the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, compare and contrast two opinions:
Peggy Noonan's (this link will not be valid very long) and that of Get Your War On's David Rees (scroll down to the last two panels on the page), who takes apart the White House's National Sanctity of Human Life Day (January 20, 2002).

I can't stop shaking, I'm so pissed off. The Lord's ways are becoming less mysterious and more insane with each passing day.
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Roboletter III: "Demonstrating genuine leadership" over and over and over and.... Gary Stock of UnBlinking catalogs the copycat antics of the White House's most gullible me-too propagandists with
37 appearances of the same letter in newspaper editors' in-boxes from Hawaii to Florida. (The practice is called astroturfing, as in grass-roots politics, but fake.)

Gary also provides other parrot letters (besides the most recent "demonstrating genuine leadership" stimulus package roboletter) to show how widespread the practice is.

The next logical Googlfication would be to identify and expose the individual frauds and miscreants themselves. For example, as Gary demonstrates, Hawaiian Dirk M. Maurins wrote (I mean, didn't write) not one but two fake letters. This little party apparatchik works at a place called Select Technical Staffing and is a member of the Association of Information Technology Professionals, Honolulu Chapter. Google "Dirk M. Maurins" yourself if you don't believe me.

If we can't stop the astroturfers (and the co-dependent lazy-ass editors who enable them), we can at least shame them for being such mindless robots in public places.
upside down world

There are other ways of viewing the world, such as this one by an Australocentrist named McArthur.

My office chair faces south, so this feels intuitively correct to me. I'm in Chicago; New York is on my left; Tokyo is on my right.
For media watchdogs: an overview of FCC policymaking. Philip M. Napoli dissects the communications policy process as it relates the interests and values of people who don't always agree:
It is clear that this communications policymaking process was initiated long before the Commission began its formal ownership review in 2001. That being said, the process has now reached the stage where the Commission soon will issue its decisions –- decisions that are the product of a variety of direct and indirect influences, the majority of which are a reflection of either political ideology or economic interest. Thus, in the end the key question is whether the Commission will issue decisions that effectively disentangle self-interest from the public interest. Those of us with no financial interest in the decision outcome, but who are instead concerned with maintaining the diverse marketplace of ideas that best serves the political and social values inherent in our pluralist democracy and culture, certainly hope that they do.
Emphasis changed from the original, which you can see at
Poynter Online.
Monday, January 20, 2003
"Since 1997, the C.I.A. said, Pakistan had been sharing sophisticated technology, warhead-design information, and weapons-testing data with the Pyongyang regime. Pakistan, one of the Bush Administration's important allies in the war against terrorism, was helping North Korea build the bomb."
—Seymour Hersh in
The New Yorker.

Found at War in Context.
Maybe you had read something, or maybe you heard someone on television talk about how the lawyers are fleecing all of us, and then maybe you learned that the
White House has proposed a $250,000 cap on medical malpractice suits under the rubric of tort reform, and maybe you thought, "Yeah, that's a good idea. Damn lawyers are ruining this country with bogus lawsuits."

That's when you should remember Linda McDougal, who was the recipient of an unneeded double mastectomy:
Dr. Daniel Foley, medical director of United Hospital, told a local television station on Friday that the hospital had made changes to ensure that "this kind of mix-up would never happen again."
In other words, "Gosh, we're sorry."

Now imagine that Linda McDougal is your mother, or your wife, or your daughter, or you.

The White House plan proposes a maximum of $125,000 per surgically removed healthy breast of Linda McDougal's.

Besides its inhumane favoritism of the interests of doctors and hospitals over those of patients, this disastrous plan would exacerbate the medical liability crisis by removing economic accountability — a pet Republican catchphrase — from medical practice.

We all need to stop thinking in terms of the spoon-fed soundbites emanating from the White House, and think more in terms of actual lives being affected by policy. Or, rather, actual lives being permanently damaged by poor policy.

Postscript #1: There are many excellent posts on tort reform and medical liability at The Bloviator.

Postscript #2: Dwight Meredith at PLA articulates this issue in useful and comparative detail, and even suggests a new cap.
Lisa English of RuminateThis has written a thorough and thoughtful overview of the influence media owners hold over Congress, and how the whole rancid mess prevents
true campaign finance reform.

Our own recent thoughts on some of the problems of American media ownership are here.
Honor Dr. King — remember the 2000 election. Scoobie screens
Unprecedented examines the aftermath in Florida after the 2000 Presidential election. Long-time readers of this site won’t find anything surprising in the film. However, most Americans don’t know about the thousands of mostly African-American voters whose voting rights were taken away in the phony felony purge by Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush; I can think of no other way to honor Dr. King than to buy the video.
And also to remember how the stupendously underachieving W got into Yale ahead of plenty of more deserving African-Americans whose only lack of achievement was in not coming from a whiter, richer, more socially lubricated family.
Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven achieves an almost perfect balance of script, cinematography, casting, art direction, production design, and direction to create incredible tension in one of the most sexually charged films ever — and no one takes off their clothes. Astonishing on several levels.

Skimble says: 9 out of 10.
Sunday, January 19, 2003
Antiwar to pro-war protest, final score: 200,000 to 50.

Demand a recount! I can't believe they had 50! (From
The Washington Post.)

Friday, January 17, 2003
"Hey, I didn't study, can I copy off your paper?" When it comes to
astroturfing, copycat propagandists can't even get it right. Bushisms are now creeping into the language of his minions and toadies.

Look at the grammar in this published letter (from the lazy-ass editors of The Boston Globe):
When it comes to the economy, President Bush has demonstrating genuine leadership. The growth package he has proposed takes us in the right direction...
The Globe can't even copyedit, let alone edit.
Impeach Bush. The sooner, the better.
Update your plutocracy vocabulary. Plutocracy, or government by the wealthy, was a common word back in the Gilded Age of a century ago. Many people have commented that we are entering a new Gilded Age brought about by two major tax reduction proposals by the current administration, both of which severely favor the interests of the wealthy above everyone else and above even the national interest.

During the old Gilded Age a number of words entered the American vocabulary, including plutolatry (the worship of wealth), plutology (the scientific study of wealth), and plutomania (the abnormal or excessive desire for wealth). These are all due for a comeback in our age of The Millionaire Next Door.

But the millionaires are not next door. They are elsewhere. Today's subscription-requiring
Wall Street Journal includes an article titled "Never Mind Pesky Scandals — Execs See Home Values Soar":
there once was a CEO from nantucketOne has seen the value of his island getaway quadruple since he built it. Another just sold his Aspen "cottage" for $10 million -- more than five times what he paid for it. And then there's former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who may have lost his $16.8 million Manhattan co-op, but can still relax at his $5.7 million Nantucket estate [shown] -- or at homes in Boca Raton, Fla., and Beaver Creek, Colo.

Judging by the headlines, 2002 was a pretty bad year for America's chief executive officers, from the debacles of WorldCom and Enron to a host of embarrassing Chapter 11 filings. But judging by the current values of their homes, many of them have made some pretty good investments. Indeed, while ordinary Americans watched their home prices grow an average 6% in 2002, some of the more newsworthy CEOs did far better, with the home values of a handful growing more than 40% in 12 months.
What's the word for hatred of the rich? Or, rather, hatred of the abusive behavior of the rich toward the people that help enrich them? Email me suggestions.
The dividend that keeps on giving. In a freakish coincidence of timing with W's proposed "stimulus package," Microsoft announced that it will start paying dividends.

Tech companies traditionally do not pay dividends, so this is news. Also, the $30+ billion in cash and cash equivalents that Microsoft has under the mattress is starting to look vulgar, even by Wall Street standards.

From the subscription-requiring
Wall Street Journal:
Software giant Microsoft Corp., finally bowing to mounting pressure to return some of its huge cash hoard to investors, said it will begin paying a regular annual dividend to shareholders.

The surprise move, coming on the heels of President Bush's recent proposal to eliminate the federal tax on dividends, represents a big shift for the nation's most valuable high-tech company, which for 17 years has spurned the idea of a dividend in favor of plowing cash back into product research and development.


Top Microsoft executives, however, could see their income rise soon because of the newly declared dividend. Chairman Bill Gates, who held 621.7 million shares of Microsoft as of Sept. 9, or 11.6% of the company, could expect an annual dividend check of $99.48 million. For chief executive Steve Ballmer, who holds 235.5 million shares, dividends would amount to $37.68 million.
Those attractive piles of $99 million and $37 million (try to picture them, in small denominations, in your living room) are tax-free under the ultra-generous Bush plan.

Generous to a very select few, that is. Even a truck driver with a winning Powerball lottery ticket has to pay substantial taxes on similar amounts of money. Why? He didn't work for it! It's unearned!

Why do these two already-rich men — and others like them — deserve to pay not one dime of taxes on an unearned sum of $136 million? Is it just for being alive at the same time as a dim-witted (or evil, take your pick) president?
Skimble's encounter with Big Brother. I live in a working class neighborhood in Chicago. Recently as I was working at home (actually, I was looking through logs to see if you had linked to this site), someone rapped at the window with a key. I keep meaning to fix the doorbell, but would rather blog than meet actual people who want to sell me something.

A tall man with an official-looking badge on a lanyard around his neck stood outside. I recognized the logo from a letter I had received a couple of days before. I waved to him to wait until I retrieved it.

Here is the letter:

[Skimble's address]
Chicago, IL 606XX

Dear Resident:

To better serve all segments of the American population, the United States Public Health Service, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), is conducting a national study on health-related issues (OMB Approval No. 0930-0110). Along with more than 200,000 other residences, your household was randomly selected. RTI [explained below] is under contract with DHHS to conduct the study, and soon one of their professional interviewers will be in your neighborhood to provide you with more information.

When the RTI representative arrives, please ask to see his or her personal identification card. (An example of the ID card is shown below.) he or she will ask you a few preliminary questions and then may ask one or possibly two members of your household to participate in a voluntary interview. It is also possible no one from your household will be asked to participate. If any members of your household are selected for the interview and choose to participate, they will receive a cash payment of $30 at the end of the interview.

Feel free to ask the RTI representative any questions you may have in the study. This research is authorized by Section 505 of the Public Health service Act. The confidentiality of the information collected is protected under Section 501 of the Public Health Service Act. The information collected is confidential and will only be used for research and analysis and cannot be used for any other purpose. This addressed is addressed to "Resident" because the initial selection is made by address, and we are unaware of your name.

Your help is extremely important to the success of this study, and we thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Sincerely yours,

Joseph Gustin
Assistant Project Officer, DHHS

David Cunningham
National Field Director, RTI
(800) 848-4079

[illegible signature]
Assigned Field Representative

[sample of RTI photo ID card]
"Fine," I said to him, "come in," apologizing for the usual volcano of books and papers on my desk. "So what is this study about?"

He handed me another paper, entitled the "2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health." There was a two-page description of the study, which included the following sample questions from the full questionnaire [the original emphasis is shown]:
  • Have you ever smoked part or all of a cigarette?
  • What is your best estimate of the number of days you drank alcohol during the past 30 days?
  • Have you ever, even once, used marijuana or hashish?
  • How much do people risk harming themselves physically and in other ways when they use cocaine once a month?
  • How many times during the past 12 months have you and your spouse spent an hour or more together doing an activity that you both enjoyed?*
  • During the past 12 months, was there any time when you needed mental health treatment or counseling for yourself but didn't get it?
  • How many hours did you work last week at all jobs or businesses?
  • In 2002, did you have money in any kind of savings or other bank account that earned interest?
*Does getting high and having sex count?

Notice how the researchers mix factual data collection (question #3 above) with opinion polling (#4).

I shook my head and said, "I can't participate in this. It's too invasive. So who is RTI anyway?"

"Research Triangle Institute, you know, Duke University," he said, scanning my eyes for a glimmer of sports enthusiasm. There was none. Disappointed, he tapped at an unfamiliar Palm Pilot-type PDA green glowing thing that didn't seem to be cooperating with him either.

"But your information is totally confidential," he insisted. "I don't even know your name." He pointed to the "RESIDENT" to whom the letter was addressed as proof positive of my anonymity. (Reminder: This guy is standing in my house.) Then he handed me a brochure:
What Happens to My Information?

Each computerized interview data file — which is identified only by a code number — is electronically to RTI on the same day the interview is conducted. The answers are then combined with all other participants' answers, and are coded, totaled, and turned into statistics for analysis. As a quality-control measure, you may receive a telephone call [!] or a letter from RTI to verify that the interviewer did complete the survey with you.
I can imagine the finished profile: Boozer. Check. Marijuana or hashish user. Hmmm.

Address. Check. Phone number. Check. Bank account. Check.

Name? Gosh, who knows? Could be anybody's guess.

But I had to know more. He gave me another brochure with some websites that address the question, What do they do with results of the survey?
Lots of things, including making the infamous "drugs and terrorism" television commercial. The survey results are also piped into White House Office of National Drug Control Policy which created the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign with its ad gallery and the faux-super-hip Freevibe where l33t sp34k kool kids can download the hottest J-Lo IM skins and get down with The Man.

The Office also collaborates with the following "Participating Agencies" in the city of Chicago, where I live so very anonymously:
Federal: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Internal Revenue Service, United States Attorney's Office, United States Customs Service, United States Marshals Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Housing and Urban Development-Office of the Inspector General

State: Illinois State Police, Office of the Illinois Attorney General, Illinois National Guard

Local: Cook County Forest Preserve Police, Cook County Sheriff's Department, Cook County State's Attorney, Grundy County Sheriff's Department, Kendall County Sheriff's Department, Will County Sheriff's Department, Bartlett Police Department, Blue Island Police Department, Bolingbrook Police Department, Braidwood Police Department, Calumet City Police Department, Chicago Police Department, Chicago Heights Police Department, Elk Grove Village Police Department, Joliet Police Department, Lockport Police Department, Matteson Police Department, McCook Police Department, Oak Forest Police Department, Oswego Police Department, Palatine Police Department, Plano Police Department, Railroad Police, Riverdale Police Department, University of Illinois at Chicago Police Department, Waukegan Police Department, Yorkville Police Department
The tall man asked a second time for my cooperation, but I refused and politely showed him the door.

With the selective but extremely potent fragments of personal information they requested, they could easily make the short leap to criminal record, political party affiliations, DMV reports, citizenship status, credit report, legal activity, insurance history, medical records, and so on. Basically anything they want to make nearly any case against anyone.

Saying "yes" to "Have you ever, even once, used marijuana or hashish?" is tantamount to a written, government recorded pre-confession. Whatever public health research benefit might result from the study is dwarfed by the individual risk of personal damage by a growing bureaucracy that, beyond becoming antagonistic to its own citizens as a matter of policy, is totally out of control in practice. They won't know which fifteen Saudi nationals are in American flight schools, but they'll know you smoke pot. J. Edgar Hoover is grinning ear-to-ear as he molders in his crypt.

My wife was upset because she wanted the thirty bucks, which would not have bought even the left foot of the shoes she currently covets. But then I wondered, Who the hell is footing the bill to extract these drug use pre-confessions from an unsuspecting public?

The answer is: you are.**

Is it me, or is American life beginning to resemble Terry Gilliam's film Brazil more and more every day?

**International disclaimer: If you're an American reader and taxpayer, that is.
Thursday, January 16, 2003
Last week I wrote about "
cracker chic," the phenomenon of wealthy people building million-dollar houses that are intentionally distressed to look like poor people's homes.

This new cultural wrinkle, featuring residential design as a weapon of class warfare or at least class insult, has haunted me ever since. The passage below, from the originally quoted article, has literally kept me awake at night:
The desire to get "back to the basics" is what drew Fort Worth native Michelle Coslik and her husband Steve to a two-story, $1 million vacation home in WaterColor, which is being developed by the homebuilding subsidiary of Jacksonville-based St. Joe Co.

Ms. Coslik's home features 1,000 square feet of screened-in porch. The screen door is made of mahogany and fitted with hinges that mute the slam into a sort of soft thud that one WaterColor marketing executive describes as "the sound of growing up in the South." The cost of the door, including handle, is $700.

Ms. Coslik, 36, isn't using her porch to escape the heat as the early settlers once did. She has air conditioning for that. For her, the porch is a place to meditate and practice Yoga. "When I think cracker," she says, "I think of getting back to the essence and away from material aspects of life."
It is the image of Michelle Coslik, meditating and practicing her yoga on her enormous screen porch while thinking sublime thoughts about southern poor folk, that resonates so strongly for me as a symbol of what has gone wrong with our country. It has bothered me ever since because I can visualize her blithe ignorance so clearly.

And so I asked myself: Who is Michelle Coslik?

We know from the article that she is the 36-year-old wife of Steve Coslik. They live in Fort Worth. They have a million-dollar vacation home in WaterColor, a development 30 miles outside Panama City in the Florida Panhandle, where developers are going beyond architecture to offer the "cracker experience." She wants to "get back to basics." She had a $700 door custom-made to evoke "the sound of growing up in the South." She has air conditioning, but prefers to practice yoga on her screened-in cracker porch.

But I needed to know more. What are Steve and Michelle Coslik like? Where did their money come from? What do they believe in? Michelle Coslik, the meditating wife on her cracker porch, my perfect symbol of ignorant vanity, needed to be fleshed out in my imagination. And so I turned as I would for any potential object of my curiosity to the source: Google.

Cracker husband Steve Coslik is the Chairman of The Woodmont Company, a nationwide real estate services firm, where he handled acquisition, negotiation and development of 11.6 million square feet of retail, office and industrial space. The 51-year-old owner of the $1 million cracker vacation home also enjoys running (#124) and damaging wetlands.

She and husband Steve have given at least $10,000 to Fort Worth's Bruce Wood Dance Company. In my mind's eye, I can see Michelle Coslik practicing her dance stretches on her cracker porch. But, alas, she is 36! Perhaps young enough to serve as the trophy wife of a real estate magnate fifteen years her senior, but too old for an aspiring dancer. If only she were younger and more limber — like the poor but chic (and doubtlessly photogenic) cracker wife she wishes she could be.

She and husband Steve are on the advisory board of the Sedona Intensive program, a self-described "Personal Growth Alternative Therapy," that allows its adherents to "finally break the grasp of addictions, compulsive behavior, and egocentric patterns. Resolve relationship conflicts."

Is that all the Sedona Initiative does? No, no, no. "To really hear God we need to clear away the static which clouds the channels God often uses to speak to us. After you clear away toxic blocks to the Creator, we will teach you to understand The New Language."

The New Language? Is that Orwell-speak for communication among God-sanctioned class warriors? Well, yes:
What the five days, or more, in Sedona will ultimately do for you is teach you The New Language — how to listen to God and get answers to your prayers, to know that you are on the right track even when plagued by worry, doubt and uncertainty.

Many years ago, after many personal struggles, I believe I began to hear God and experience His presence in the world around me, and my own life improved tremendously. I believe that God wants all of us to have a tie-in to Him. Knowing The New Language makes that possible.

But first, you must put the plug in the jug. Get clean. Get help with sexual addiction. Face compulsive/obsessive disorders. Surrender and clear your control dramas.
Clearing your control dramas evidently means submitting to guru Albert Clayton Gaulden, mentor to James Redfield of The Celestine Prophesy fame.
Gaulden refers to his methodology as "clearing," which is not to be confused with the term used by Scientology.

As a recovering alcoholic, sober for more than 22 years, he uses his honed intuition and Jungian archetypes to speed the plow of the process. Fearless and tough, Gaulden steers the prodigals who come to Sedona toward a powerful and personal relationship with the God within.
The Sedona Intensive, prodigal Michelle Coslik's faith-based luxury spa, has many delightful features:
On a typical day, you will attend a 12-step meeting, consult with a spiritual psychologist, relax with a hot lava rock massage, take a yoga class and receive a Network Chiropractic adjustment.

In addition you will breathe through core issues with a transformational breath worker, unwind in a Jacuzzi or steam room after meditation hikes through majestic Red Rock country.
When her muscles tense from stressful meetings with her cracker interior designer, Michelle likes to relax with a hot lava rock massage. Yoga is Michelle's favorite way of exploring the God within. If she inhales too much faux cracker dust into her lungs, her transformational breath worker is just a quick jet ride away. The Jacuzzi helps wash away the expensive cracker dust from her delicate pores. The "spiritual psychologist" must be useful in helping to calm the troubled seas of Michelle's soul, even in the comfort of her cracker home.

After my exhausting research, I feel that I now know Michelle Coslik much better. And, believe me, it was worth the time. Using my honed intuition and Jungian archetypes, I am beginning to understand her. I can even detect the faint silhouette of the God within her. Given the burden of her wealth, I can almost sympathize with the shallow, hateful disrespect she feels for poor people — the cracker lifestyle she finds so chic.

Speaking of "control dramas," we're engaged in one right now. WaterColor, the cracker chic development of vacation residences for millionaires who aim to make poverty more picturesque, is one of the enclaves of faith-based and wealth-based insanity that now characterizes the USA. The Cosliks represent the kind of brain-poor but asset-rich people the Republican "stimulus package" is designed to benefit.

Cracker chic is class warfare, and the blissful, ignorant and wealthy Michelle and Steve Coslik are the enemy.
Atrios of Eschaton points out that the same letter praising W's self-stimulus package and sporting the phrase "demonstrating genuine leadership" (a poll-friendly subliminable message) is simultaneously appearing under different names in newspapers nationwide. The practice of such unreality is called astroturfing.

You can google the phrase for a current look at which lazy-ass editors have been hoodwinked by propagandist drones most recently.

UPDATE: One day later I wrote more on this topic here.
British spy novelist John le Carré investigates a new mystery: the insanity of the USA.

The Times:
America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.

The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded.


The imminent war was planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible. Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron; its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for the world’s poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties. They might also have to be telling us why they support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions.


Those who are not with Mr Bush are against him. Worse, they are with the enemy. Which is odd, because I’m dead against Bush, but I would love to see Saddam’s downfall — just not on Bush’s terms and not by his methods. And not under the banner of such outrageous hypocrisy.
Ouch. Blair doesn't come out smelling much better, either. (Via the indispensable TBOGG.)
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
dickJosh Marshall of
Talking Points Memo has written a scathing point-by-point catalog of the incompetence of Dick Cheney, brought on by his mindset of "cartel-capitalist" arrogance.

A few isolated quotations from Marshall's article in The Washington Monthly:
"If there were any justice or logic in this administration as to who should or shouldn't keep their job, there'd be another high-ranking official in line for one of those awkward [resignation-demanding] conversations: Dick Cheney."

"...the evolution of White House Iraq policy might be described fairly as a slow process of overruling Dick Cheney."

"Not since the Whiz Kids of the Kennedy-Johnson years has Washington been led by men of such insular self-assurance. Their hierarchical, old economy style of management couldn't be more different from the loose, non-hierarchical style of, say, high-tech corpor-ations or the Clinton White House, with all their open debate, concern with the interests of "stake-holders," manic focus on pleasing customers (or voters), and constant reassessment of plans and principles. The latter style, while often sloppy and seemingly juvenile, tends to produce pretty smart policy. The former style, while appearing so adult and competent, often produces stupid policy."

"...Cheney's reputation as the steady hand at the helm of the Bush administration--the CEO to Bush's chairman--is so potent as to blind Beltway commentators to the examples of vice presidential incompetence accumulating, literally, under their noses."
What a treat! It's all here: Paul O'Neill, John Snow, Condoleeza Rice's gentle scolding, the energy task force, sidestepping the Hart-Rudman antiterrorism commission, the unilateral Iraq war plans, tacit approval of corporate malfeasance, his insular background, and his colossal lack of judgment. Quite a portrait of worthlessness, which, at the vice presidential level, amounts to massive acts of national damage.
Next stop for Al Franken: talk radio? Scratch Michael Moore and Phil Donahue, let's try again for a regularly scheduled voice from the left in the mainstream media. Check out this
AL FRANKEN: People on the left -- liberals -- don't want to hear simplistic demagoguery. They want to hear information. This is why NPR is accused of being liberal -- because liberals [LAUGHS] listen to it, [LAUGHS] and liberals listen to it because you get a BBC report about what's going on in Afghanistan. And they don't want to hear Rush Limbaugh going like [IMITATING] "There was not one iota-- of memorializing at the Wellstone memorial, my friends." [LAUGHTER]

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so sometimes he's a little skimpy on the facts; that's true.

AL FRANKEN: Oh -- sometimes?! [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]

BOB GARFIELD: Are you suggesting that it - were there a liberal counterpart to Rush Limbaugh who used the same techniques, they couldn't make it because the liberal mind, by its very nature, simply will not countenance such distortions and, and sophistry and trickery?

AL FRANKEN: You put it very well. I really believe that.
From WNYC (NPR). Found at Cursor.
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Let the gouging begin! How is Enron like BCCI? How is Bush Senior like Bush Junior? Is there a reason beyond nostalgia why John Poindexter is still hanging around? What do Iran-Contra, Enron, Halliburton, Harken, Arbusto, BCCI, the savings and loan crisis, Gulf War One, and Gulf War Two have in common?

From today's
Houston Chronicle:
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott blasted Enron's bankruptcy attorneys Monday, saying they are "lining their pockets" with fees at the expense of taxpayers, former employees and investors.

At the present rate of spending, Abbott said, the money spent on lawyers and accountants sorting through Enron's remains could approach $1 billion. He said the company should consider an immediate liquidation.

Since going into bankruptcy 13 months ago, Enron has spent more than $300 million on professional fees -- easily a record -- and is burning through $25 million a month. The situation could linger for months, even years. [...]

The meager prospect for a meaningful reorganization appears to be falling apart, rapidly burning money as it does so, some creditors say.

The fee total has already surpassed a widely cited record, $200 million spent in the early 1990s by the Luxembourg-based bankruptcy of the Saudi Arabian Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or BCCI.

And although WorldCom's bankruptcy is larger, its financial problems are far more straightforward, and thus its professional-fee expenses are much smaller than Enron's.

The primary firm representing both companies in bankruptcy is New York-based Weil Gotshal & Manges. Early on, its monthly billings to Enron were running more than $6 million a month. In comparable stages of the WorldCom case, the firm billed $1.5 million to $2 million a month.
Can't you just smell the money burning in Texas? And it's always someone else's money. Not the Bushes'. Not the Lays'. Not the Skillings'.

Lewis Lapham of Harper's said in 2001:
How else to describe the new administration's legislative agenda — elimination of the inheritance tax, revision of the bankruptcy laws, the repeal of safety regulations in the workplace, easing of restriction on monopoly, etc. — except as an act of class warfare? Not the aggression that Karl Marx and maybe Ralph Nader had in mind, not the angry poor sacking the mansions of the rich, but the aggrieved rich burning down the huts of the presumptuous and troublemaking poor.
"Class warfare"? Where have we heard that phrase before?

The more the Enron crooks (and their esteemed law firm) drag this out, the less monetary retribution will be available to the people they financially molested.
Wisdom from the father of the world's richest person. "Long Live the Estate Tax!" is Bill Gates Senior's response to the immoral machinations of the White House in its relentless crusade to concentrate wealth. The article appears in
The Nation:
We are now in a second Gilded Age. Instead of taking steps that would strengthen our democracy, we're heading backward to the wealth inequalities of a century ago. We need to preserve the estate tax in states and at the federal level for exactly the reason it is under assault. In a democracy, we should be offended when the power of concentrated wealth brazenly attempts to shape the terms of policy debate and dictate the rules of our society.
Coming from a man who is asking for a tax on his own heirs — the richest family on earth — this logic is all the more striking in its clarity. He is insisting that rational taxation of family wealth is better than the damage to democracy that would otherwise occur.

These ideas are not unique to technology Democrats or their dads, either. Kevin Phillips, the economic historian whose own background is Republican, argues in his excellent book Wealth and Democracy:
For example, by 2000 the United States could be said to have a plutocracy, when back in 1990 the resemblance to the previous plutocracy of the Gilded Age had not yet fully matured. Compared with 1990, America's top millennial fortunes were three or four times bigger, reflecting the high-powered convergence of innovation, speculation, and mania in finance and technology. Moreover, the essence of plutocracy, fulfilled by 2000, has been the determination and ability of wealth to reach beyond its own realm of money and control politics and government as well. In America, explains political scientist Samuel Huntington, "money becomes evil not when it is used to buy goods but when it is used to buy power... economic inequalities become evil when they are translated into political inequalities."
If there is a running theme to the political content of this blog, it is best expressed by that quotation. We don't hate wealth or power. We hate the abuses of wealth and power.

Bill Gates Senior's article is heroic because it is ethical in an unethical time. He demands what is right — even when his family has so much to lose. By recognizing the greater good of American democracy, even for the wealthy, he reveals a backbone of political and economic morality that is totally absent from the White House.
Monday, January 13, 2003

whoops!The Chicago Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times, reports on the antiwar protests there:

Thousands of people protesting a looming U.S.-led war against Iraq marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, with many chanting, "We want peace!"

According to police, the crowd numbered between 5,000 and 7,000. Many wore their opinions, such as "No War" or "Don't Cut Medicare for Bombs and Missiles," on T-shirts, buttons and baseball caps. Organizers estimated the crowd at 15,000.... [...]

At the Federal Building, rock singers, poets, activists and actor Martin Sheen, star of the NBC series "The West Wing," denounced war over loudspeakers. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack also took part in the event, which was a precursor to a series of upcoming demonstrations set to take place in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
I voted for President Bartlett, and all I got was this lousy Supreme Court coup.

The rush to dividend-paying stocks has begun. Want to take advantage of Bush's latest salvo in the War against Non-Rich Classes? Here's a tip sheet from
NEW YORK, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Even before U.S. President George Bush this month unveiled his tax cut plan that could eliminate dividend taxes for investors, Merrill Lynch's chief U.S. strategist picked 18 dividend-paying companies he said could offer investors safety and income, according to Barron's magazine.


Bernstein's picks include Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE:MRK), Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE:PG), Abbott Laboratories Inc. (NYSE:ABT), Gillette Co. (NYSE:G), 3M Co. (NYSE:MMM) and BellSouth Corp. (NYSE:BLS).
"Let Us Praise Steady Dividends," the original article in Barron's (subscription only – link) adds to the above information with a little-known aspect of the "stimulus package":
Of course, there will be other ways to benefit from a dividend tax cut. One lower-profile area set to benefit is the market for perpetual preferred stock. Those shares pay a dividend (although they typically give the issuer the option not to make the dividend payment), and they do not mature.

There is about $24 billion of perpetual preferred stock outstanding, estimates William Scapell, a director at Merrill Lynch. That's about 15% of the larger preferred market, which also includes trust preferreds and preferreds issued by real estate investment trusts. Those two, however, wouldn't benefit from the Bush plan because their issuers have already received a tax benefit.

Unfortunately, many of the more appealing preferred issues have rallied sharply in anticipation of the tax change. For example, Alabama Power, a unit of Southern Co., has perpetual preferred that pays a 5.2% dividend. On December 18, the yield to the 2008 call date was 11.3% and now it stands at 5.96%.

Likewise, Citigroup's perpetual preferred, with its 6.365% dividend, once offered investors a yield of 9.26% but now yields 5.53% to its 2007 call. But if Bush's tax cuts and Bernstein's predictions of a more risk adverse world come to pass, even low dividends could command the market's attention.
How much does W love the rich? Giving them $674 billion is a very public display of affection.

Say farewell to growth stocks for a while. Kiss computer technology, wireless, biotech and nanotech goodbye.

The "stimulus package" is already shaping up to be a scandal analogous to Daddy's S&L debacle, which was quite generous to W's competence-free brother Neil Bush.
Charity begins at home — Ken Lay's home. In the shell game played by wealthy friends of George W. Bush, you would expect not to find evidence of their larcenies in reports on private charitable foundations. This report in the
New York Times might change your mind:
Consider the Linda and Ken Lay Family Foundation of Houston. Mr. Lay was chairman of Enron, and 90 percent of the foundation assets, valued at $52.2 million at the end of 2000, were in Enron stock.

The foundation could comfortably afford a full-time director, Heather H. Herrold, whose salary was $83,684. Mr. Lay got a tax deduction based on the value of Enron stock when he gave it to the foundation.

Enron went bankrupt amid scandal in late 2001, and the foundation recently reported that its assets had fallen to $2.4 million, forcing it to postpone many pledges. The Internal Revenue Service may not, however, retroactively revoke part of Mr. Lay's deduction to reflect the decline in the foundation's value.
Bear Left!, in an excellent overview, reports that Lay donated over $20.5 million in stock in 1999 and 2000. Tax deductions are only useful when applied against income, which suggests that Ken Lay had substantial income to protect in 2000. Since we know that his insider trades prior to the Enron bankruptcy amounted to roughly $70 million, this means that not only did he lie to analysts and shareholders while he was selling his shares, but, adding injury to insult, he also underpaid taxes on his insider plunder.

Let's review:
  • Ken Lay created a foundation out of Enron stock worth about $52.2 million in 2000 — which he was simultaneously selling to the tune of about $70 million.
  • Ken Lay did this while urging stock analysts and employees to invest in the stock for investment growth and 401(k) participation.
  • Ken Lay took a multimillion tax deduction for the donation of the stock.
  • The foundation recently reported that its assets had fallen to $2.4 million.
  • The foundation is reneging on its pledges to the charitable causes it would supposedly help.
  • The IRS "may not" retroactively revoke part of the deduction to reflect the decline in the foundation's value.

Ken "Kenny Boy" and Linda "Jus' Stuff" Lay received the full benefit of a multimillion tax deduction on now near-worthless stock used to fund a charity foundation which has helped no one. No one but them.

Meanwhile, close friend Bush's "stimulus package," half of which is tax elimination on dividend (i.e., unearned) income, benefits the wealthy who don't need help, already have figured out all the loopholes, and are playing the existing shell game of insider trades, charitable foundations and tax deductions in their favor.

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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