culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Thursday, July 31, 2003
The spoils of war, the profits of Halliburton, and the art of "finger quotes." Dick Cheney's alma mater shows a tidy quarterly net profit of $26 million (compared to a year ago when it lost $498 million), according to the
Wall Street Journal (sub. req'd):
Revenue climbed to $3.6 billion from $3.24 billion a year earlier, which the company said is largely attributable to projects at its engineering and construction group, including "government services work in the Middle East."
The benign-sounding latter phrase translates roughly to "a unilateral invasion championed by former Halliburton CEO and present US vice president Dick Cheney and waged on false pretexts of nonexistent Iraqi WMD programs, involving the ongoing deaths and injuries of dozens if not hundreds of American mothers and fathers in the Reserves who had offered to serve one weekend a month for the legitimate defense of this nation, but have since learned otherwise about the true nature of their work, which involves serving as an American taxpayer-subsidized slave labor force for Halliburton."
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
"...some of the research being done is unusual, it's different, it's new, it's got -- there may be people who see this as cutting edge and maybe beyond certain limits that they're comfortable with."

Lawrence Di Rita, Special Assistant to the SecDef, speaking yesterday on the termination of the Policy Analysis Market, characterizing some of the research DARPA performs to support initiatives like the Total Information Awareness program.

The Policy Analysis Market was planned to be the Blogshares of Middle Eastern politics, a fantasy marketplace for wagering on assassinations and the like. Here's MSNBC's report.

This is the sort of uncomfortable research American taxpayers are now funding via DARPA (on five-count Iran-Contra felon Poindexter's watch, no less).

Laughably, this effort was purported to have some counterterrorism value. In another case of poor timing (is Rove napping?), its termination arrived within hours of cutting the air marshal and airport screening programs, simultaneously with renewed Al-Qaeda hijacking threats.

The new Homeland Security Department, indicative of the Bush administration's hopelessly ineffectual approach to counterterrorism, is the butt of an extraordinarily expensive national joke that simply isn't funny anymore.

Transcript via Cryptome.
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Tom Hanks + Mujahideen = Yet Another Oscar. All-American actor Tom Hanks is preparing to play East Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson in a film adaptation of Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History (
Houston Chronicle):
Can Tom Hanks, who has handled a Southern drawl effectively in several films, master the distinctive East Texas twang? We're going to find out when he portrays flamboyant Rep. Charlie Wilson of Lufkin in a film based on the book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.

Author George Crile, a 60 Minutes producer, reports that Hanks' production company has just teamed with Universal Studios to buy movie rights to the book. Hanks has committed to the lead role. He will play the East Texas congressman who led efforts to provide money and weapons to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s in their battle against the Soviet Union.
This screamingly made-for-the-silver-screen story is not without its dark side, although the book reportedly soft pedals it, according to Molly Ivins:
One thing I especially like about Crile's treatment of all this splendid material is his almost tender portrait of Wilson himself, warts and all. Charlie is awfully easy to caricature or dismiss, though I think he is not quite as exceptional as Crile does. Brilliantly talented alcoholics are rather common in Texas public life, including Bob Bullock, Ann Richards, Oscar Mauzy, Warren Burnett, etc. I believe I am safe in claiming that at one time almost half the Texas Senate consisted of drunks. But Wilson was never the cartoon figure he liked to play. For one thing, most of those gorgeous women who worked for him over the years, known as Charlie's Angels, of course, were smart as hell.


One cannot, in this account, help siding with Charlie and his sidekick, Gust Avrakotos, "the blue-collar James Bond," against all the stuffed shirts, wusses and pompous [CIA] bureaucrats who worried about silly stuff like breaking the law and setting off World War III. Far be it from me to side with the grown-ups -- makes me happy just to think about the hot fantods Charlie and Gust must have produced amongst the mopes at the State Department.

On the other hand, dismissing "blowback" from CIA operations should not be done out-of-hand. It seems to me that even the CIA's "successes," like returning the Shah to Iran and the 1954 Guatemalan coup, produced hideous results. There was good reason to be anti-anti-communist during the Cold War. In this case, we are left with the unfortunate fact that Wilson's War armed a bunch of people who are now shooting at us. While Crile does not neglect that delicate topic entirely, his treatment of it is slight and defensive.
Wouldn't it be great if Tom Hanks chose not to portray a colorful, happy-go-lucky, aw-shucks Texas-via-Hollywood Charlie Wilson and decided not to gumpgloss over the immense difficulties (ahem, 9/11) that the real Charlie Wilson helped to bring upon us? Couldn't he color the role with some darkness, some "grown-up" quality that in fact matches the reality of the situation as it has developed over the last twenty years? Wouldn't it be more interesting not to spoon-feed another Forrest Gump oversimplification of history to a media-anesthetized public?

Tom Hanks already has his archetypal home-spun roles and Academy Awards — hopefully he realizes that he need not contribute to the national stupor.
It's about the oil, Chapter 97. Executive Order 13303 is an evil document with a lot of implications that
Tom Paine wrote about yesterday...
...if ExxonMobil or ChevronTexaco touch Iraqi oil, it will be immune from legal proceedings in the United States. Anything that could go, and elsewhere has gone, awry with U.S. corporate oil operations will be immune to judgment: a massive tanker accident; an explosion at an oil refinery; the employment of slave labor to build a pipeline; murder of locals by corporate security; the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The president, with a stroke of the pen, signed away the rights of Saddam's victims, creditors and of the next true Iraqi government to be compensated through legal action. Bush's order unilaterally declares Iraqi oil to be the unassailable province of U.S. corporations.
...and we first noticed it way back in May.
Monday, July 28, 2003
"I'm thinking of my future, and you're not in the picture." That tawdry, thieving presidential brother and his nasty divorce! Compassionate conservative Neil Bush and former president Poppy are having a good old time pushing Sharon Bush into the back alley dumpster (
Houston Chronicle):
She wonders whether Neil, 48, was unfaithful to her throughout their marriage as he has admitted he was at the end. She wonders whether Neil is the father of the baby born to Maria Andrews, the 40-year-old Houston woman he is dating. Sharon wonders why he used e-mail to tell her he was leaving and why he told her by phone months later, "You better move on with your life or you'll find yourself in a back alley."


At one point, Sharon says, she tried to talk to her former father-in-law, and he changed the subject. "He said, 'Come and see the new hot tub.' Like, let's go play with the new toys."

Sharon wants Neil back. "I told him, 'Don't leave and scar the children. Give me a weekend to try to fix things.' "

Neil was not interested in so much as a walk around the block, Sharon says. "He told me, 'I'm thinking of my future, and you're not in the picture.' "


"Once I called my mother-in-law barbrafor help," Sharon says. "She told me, 'Neilsie will talk to me. You talk to your own mother.' "
Blah blah blah "Nielsie." Nielsie! That's a name fit for a poodle or a schnauzer or a gerbil — hardly a respectable name for the banking criminal son of a hot-tubbing former president. The child born to Friend of Mom and Other Woman Maria Andrews may someday find out that his real father's name is... Nielsie.

Unwittingly, Neil's words to his wife may actually describe brother George's feelings for his fellow countrymen. "I'm thinking of my future, and you're not in the picture" is an extremely succinct summary of the Dubya political agenda.

We've looked at the Neil-Sharon soap opera many times before, with the gleeful voyeurism that only the internet can provide.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
The Bush Empire, an article by Charles Shaw on four generations of Bush manipulations.

From Newtopia Magazine, via :::wood s lot :::.
Harry Santorum and the Goblet of Hellfire. Still more insane right-wing publishing adventures are in the works:
"After years of publishing titles that catered to an academic readership, ISI Books is capitalizing on the invigorated market for right–wing books and its own recent successes by launching two new series," notes Christopher Dreher in a Publishers Weekly report. Dreher says "the small conservative house located in Wilmington, Del.," will introduce "a line of original translations of contemporary and classic works," starting with the publication of an Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn title, his first new work to appear in English in eight years. Dreher says "ISI will also branch out into children's books," starting with "an anthology edited by Karen Santorum, wife of Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, and The National Review Treasury of Classic Children's Literature, edited by William F. Buckley Jr."
Link via Moby Lives, Thursday, 24 July 2003.

Previous misadventures in right-wing publishing include the Book-of-the-Month Club and Penguin and Random House, the two largest publishing houses.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
One weekend a month, or eternity. People are responding to the lack of information about American deaths in the press (
Editor & Publisher):
Last week, my daughter called me because a co-worker's daughter shot herself in Iraq. So I looked at the news and saw in a British newspaper a short line about a woman in the military in Iraq was shot. I was furious and wrote to papers like The New York Times demanding they ask about her suicide. Not a word from the military and not one question from the press. The mother is too bereaved and upset to talk to anyone and is now in seclusion.

The lack of curiousity in our press is very annoying. When terrorists killed 17 sailors, each got a long and loving memorial. We don't even get the names of the dead now. Always, it is "one was killed and four injured today." Not only that, there is seldom any description of how they died. I learned in the British and Muslim press that one soldier was on fire and ran through the streets, his face in flames, screaming before collapsing. He died but not one newspaper in America said he burned to death.

Another had his arm blown off and as he cried, clutching at it, dying, the Iraqis cheered because they want us to leave. This was hidden from us too. Finally, just this week, our press showed a photo of a dead soldier -- only he was completely covered.

America should be shown the burned soldier, the one with his arm blown off. We should see the 10,000 "injured", some of whom are missing arms and legs and eyes. Not one wounded soldier aside from Jessica Lynch, the propaganda victim of a faked-up story, has been shown.

Elaine Meinel Supkis
Petersburgh, N.Y.


Thanks for the article on the media's underreporting of Iraq-war casualties. I live in Elkhart, Ind., home of another U.S. soldier who died about a week ago -- whose death was not reported as a combat casualty. He was Craig Boling, a reservist, age 38, who is reported to have suffered a heart attack, though the autopsy report is not in yet. As you state in your article, had he not been in Iraq, in 120-degree heat and extreme stress, he would likely be alive to see his four children grow up. The whole community is grieving his loss.

Jenny Bartlett
Elkhart, Ind.
Every death and injury is tragic, but the number of middle-aged mothers and fathers who have suffered or died to bolster W's poll numbers and to enrich Halliburton shareholders is unconscionable.

It will take at least a full generation for the Reserves to recover from the abuse they've endured at the hands of the Rove-Cheney administration. Leaving aside the theft of the US Treasury and all that Iraqi oil for the moment, it is clear that the White House is literally destroying our military capability in pursuit, at best, of a half-baked geopolitical strategy that will certainly not protect us from further security threats.

Link via Cursor.
Felons and assassins. It's Special Prosecutor time, says
Mark A. R. Kleiman, on the felonious outing of a CIA undercover operative for the White House's politically convenience.

Meanwhile, Lambert in Atriosland questions the wisdom and effectiveness of killing Saddam's evil boys:
Turning them over to the Hague would have been better for the Iraqi people, too, who probably are not going to be persuaded that Saddam's sons are really dead by any dental records or DNA analysis CENTCOM can produce. Prosecuting them live on TV for weeks on end—that would have been persuasive. Such a strategy worked for the Peruvians when they captured Shining Path leader Guzman and put him in a cage. Why not go with what works?

Bush and his gang seem to think that "hard power"—killing lots of people using very expensive high-tech weaponry—is the essence of what it means to be a great power. The Bush gang likes it, their backers (e.g., Halliburton) like it, and it brings them a bump in news coverage and the polls. So they do it.
Once again, the White House's political expedience remains the only policy criterion there is.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Is the US pumping Iraqi oil to Kuwait? Try to get your head around this story by Billy Cox, via
The Balochistan Post:
On May 25, while scanning the Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program images pipelined into his desktop from 450 miles in orbit, Hank Brandli skidded at a nighttime photo of Iraq. It looked familiar. But not exactly.

Brandli retrieved another DMSP image he'd archived from May 3. He compared the two. The most recent photo showed a blazing corridor of light running the length of Kuwait, south to north, all the way to the Iraqi border. The image wasn't there on May 3.

"It's going right up to Iraq's oil fields," says the retired Air Force colonel from his home in Palm Bay. "Maybe I'm full of s---. Maybe all they're doing is building a highway to put in McDonald's and sell hamburgers. But why go that way? I think we're in bed with Kuwait. I think we're pumping oil out of Iraq to pay for this war."


"If you're building pipelines, you've got to have power, you've got to have light -- trucks and personnel and food and all sorts of support. If I had to bet, I'd say it looks like we're running Iraqi oil through Kuwait. It would make sense, because Kuwait's got its infrastructure intact."
The story originally ran in Florida Today in June. A followup was published on July 15:
The State Department seemed to be the go-to choice for answers about this river of light, but a spokesperson was in the dark and said to call the Coalition of Provisional Authority, the office in charge of rebuilding Iraq. But the CPA never called back.

The U.S. Agency for International Development doesn't have any answers, either, and advises you to call the Defense Department. But the Pentagon media desk doesn't know anything about it, and urges you to call the CPA or U.S. Central Command in Tampa. CPA doesn't call back again. At CentCom, Lt. Col. Martin Compton is stumped.

"There are a number of possible explanations. All kinds of things are moving into Iraq right now, and it could be something as simple as water," he says. "But if it's something going on in Kuwait, I wouldn't know where to tell you to go for that. We might not even be in a position to tell you even if we knew."

You call the U.S. Commerce Department's Iraq Reconstruction Task Force in Washington. They refer you to CPA. CPA doesn't call back again.

Surely the American Petroleum Institute in Washington would know something about new Iraqi pipelines running through Kuwait. But after reviewing the e-mailed images, API spokesman Bill Bush says a key colleague is skeptical that they're oil-related.

"Presumably, if you're drawing oil out of Iraq, it would make more sense to go east toward the Gulf, where it could be unloaded," Bush says.

But in Monterey, Calif., Bob Fett says "Hank got it right."

Fett and Brandli worked together in Vietnam. Fett was the head of the Tactical Applications Department for the National Reconnaissance Organization, the spy-satellite program whose very existence was a state secret for 30 years. Fett, now a consultant for Naval Research Lab, provided a map showing how the lights line up into the region of Iraq's Rumaila oilfields.

"It's been an impressive operation," Fett says. "(Construction giants) Halliburton, or Bechtel, or Brown & Root, were contracted to get the oil flowing out of Iraq as quickly as possible, and hundreds of workers have been going at it 24 hours a day, around the clock. They needed lights to work at night." Fett adds that the project, which runs south into the metropolitan glow around Kuwait City, doesn't have to reach the Gulf for it to be oil-related. "Why not bring it south where the infrastructure is already in place?"

Bechtel and Halliburton didn't respond to messages. What's important is, Halliburton stocks are over $22 a share now. That's up from $12.62 last October.
So sometime between May 3 and May 25, private contractors probably installed a new pipeline running from Iraq to Kuwait at taxpayer expense — diverting resources from the citizens of not one but two countries, the US and Iraq.

This is so much worse that Iran-Contra or Watergate. It's the heist of a lifetime.

Found at the invaluable Seeing the Forest.
When was this written?
What's at stake here is far greater than a bureaucratic turf battle. The CIA exists to provide pure and unbiased intelligence to its chief customer, the president. George W. Bush, whose knowledge of world affairs is limited at best, probably depends more heavily than most presidents on what his aides tell him about the outside world. And there is mounting evidence that the decision to go to war is based on intelligence of doubtful veracity, which has been cooked by Pentagon hawks.
Not this week. Not last week. Robert Dreyfuss wrote it in December 2002, over a month before the State of the Union address and over four months before the Iraq invasion started, in
The American Prospect.
Monday, July 21, 2003
Pizza beats cancer. This is not a joke, as far as I can tell (
Eating pizza could help reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, according to researchers at a Milan pharmacology centre.

A study of 8,000 Italians found that regular eaters were 59% less likely to contract cancer of the oesophagus, and 26% less likely to get cancer of the colon.
I'm sold. Out to lunch.

A possibly related story: "US children fatter but less violent"."
Don't ask, don't tell. Forget your sexuality, the Pentagon means "Don't talk about your morale or your career is over" (
San Francisco Chronicle):
On Wednesday morning, when the ABC news show ["Good Morning America"] reported from Fallujah, where the [Third Infantry] division [whose stay was extended] is based, the troops gave the reporters an earful. One soldier said he felt like he'd been "kicked in the guts, slapped in the face." Another demanded that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quit.

The retaliation from Washington was swift.

"It was the end of the world," said one officer Thursday. "It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers."

First lesson for the troops, it seemed: Don't ever talk to the media "on the record" -- that is, with your name attached -- unless you're giving the sort of chin-forward, everything's-great message the Pentagon loves to hear.
The quality of the US civilian leadership is looking shabbier, more expensive and less effective by the day.
Friday, July 18, 2003
Cheney's war. Within two months of assuming the vice presidency, Dick Cheney embarked on a series of secret meetings among the members of the Cheney Energy Task Force. He has battled ever since to keep the content of those meetings

But Judicial Watch has fought for and won access to some of the task force's documents, including this smoking gun — a map cheney-iraqof Iraq oil fields:
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption and abuse, said today that documents turned over by the Commerce Department, under court order as a result of Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit concerning the activities of the Cheney Energy Task Force, contain a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as 2 charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” The documents, which are dated March 2001, are available on the Internet at:

[The title above the graphic says "Iraqi Oilfields and Exploration Blocks."]
Remember that these meetings were held six months before 9/11/01, so any associations of the American invasion of Iraq with a "war on terrorism" or alleged Al Qaeda connections are well after the fact of these documents, which prove an abnormal interest in Iraqi energy resources long before the Twin Towers fell.

Can we make impeachment retroactive?

Link via Daily Kos.
Lethal knowledge. The lack of Iraqi WMDs takes yet another life. The suddenly famous British Iraq expert David Kelly has been found dead (
Earlier this week, Dr Kelly denied being the BBC's main source for a story claiming Downing Street had "sexed up" a dossier about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.


Huge media attention has been on Dr Kelly since the Ministry of Defence said he had admitted meeting Andrew Gilligan, the BBC correspondent behind the controversial Iraq story.

Mr Gilligan said a source had told him that the dossier on Iraq had been "sexed up" by Downing Street.

The BBC correspondent has refused to name his source, but the MoD said Dr Kelly had come forward to say it may have been him.
The knowledge of "sexed up" British intelligence dossiers that are used by an American president to launch a unilateral invasion can now be credibly categorized as lethal knowledge.

Lethal to oneself.

More: Josh Marshall opines on Kelly. How lethal is Robert Joseph's knowledge?
Thursday, July 17, 2003
As a person ultimately responsible for publicizing dubious reports, why is Howell Raines held to a higher standard than George W. Bush?
Which are the following are true stories?
  • An Al Qaeda member had slain a state trooper, engaged police in an armed standoff, and had managed to escape capture and was at large in the countryside.
  • An Al Qaeda sympathizer was arrested for blowing up the mailboxes of Jews who lived in his vicinity and was found with a large arsenal of bombs in his home.
  • A member of Al Qaeda was appointed to the town council of an American city.
Actually, as reported quite thoroughly by David Neiwert at
Orcinus, all of these are true stories. But instead of Al Qaeda members the subjects were (1) an Amercian cop-killing Christian Identity religious terrorist, (2) a New Jersey anti-Semite, and (3) an American white supremacist who routinely denounces cultural diversity, mixed-race couples, homosexuals, Jews and feminists.

Why didn't anyone beyond the local areas hear about these stories? Because the churlish Bush-Ridge variety of "homeland security" involves creating imaginary WMDs and chasing phantoms instead of pursuing tangible threats. And American national news editors, in their self-censoring bovine conformism, reflect the Bush-Ridge editorial bias of "all distractions, all the time."
It's their way on the highway. Chicago is a large American city where millions of people live and work. Interstate 94 is one of the main highways running through it, and if you drive its length within the city limits, you will see billboards for five Chicago radio stations: hip-hop and R&B
WGCI, "smooth jazz" WNUA, "today's hit music" KISS 103.5, soft rock WLIT, and "today's R&B and old school" V103.

What do these five stations have in common?

(1) They are all owned by Clear Channel.

(2) All of their billboards are also owned by Clear Channel.

During a recent drive I did not see a single non-Clear Channel radio station advertised on the entire 20-plus-mile stretch of Interstate 94 that snakes through Chicago.

Billboard spaces (called showings) on major highways rent for many thousands of dollars per month. The costs increase dramatically with higher traffic, location visibility, arterial street sightlines, and so on.

Does anyone truly believe that these five stations are paying cash at the exorbitant retail value of the billboards' placement? No doubt Clear Channel has established some kind of byzantine, cashless barter scheme in which only its own stations can participate. All other stations — the ones without sweetheart ad deals from their centralized owners — are left out in the cold.

With media consolidation continuing along its current path as sanctioned by the Republican-dominated FCC, not only will big media control the distribution of news and entertainment but also who gets to advertise.

The net result: based on the billboards they see, Chicago highway commuters are left with the impression that there are only five radio stations in Chicago — all of which are also quietly owned by Clear Channel. This is a market effect that FCC Chairman Michael Powell views as "competitive."

Many stations, many billboards, one exclusive owner. Ignoring the esthetic cesspool of consultant-decreed and format-driven commercial radio or billboard advertising for the moment, can there be a clearer or more glaring example of "unfair business practice"?

Just tuning in? Clear Channel is notable for being the largest radio consolidator in the US, with a weekly audience of over 100 million people, as well as for its recent funding and support of nationwide pro-war rallies in advance of the Iraq invasion.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Is Ahmed Chalabi behind the Niger forgeries?

Xymphora provides a credible hypothesis.
"If Gray Davis is responsible for California's budget gap, why isn't Bush responsible for the
Federal hole? They each have the benefit of their parties controlling the legislature. They both suffered the adverse consequences of the stock market bubble bust and the recession (California more than the U.S. as a whole). Too bad we can't recall Bush. Impeachment is the only humane alternative."
Max Sawicky

[The link to The Guardian was added here.]
US Army Reservists solve the equation. The political algebra needs no more calculation — the soldiers have cracked the puzzle:
First, they heard it would be May. Then they heard June. Then they thought they had a departure date of July 20.

Now, members of the 319th Transportation Company fear they could be in the Middle East as late as September.


During the first two weeks of the war, the 319th hauled all the bulk fuel for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in its drive to Baghdad, a job that took them through hostile territory and into ambushes and firefights.

The 319th [the Augusta-based Army Reserve unit] is now working for the Army's 260th Quartermaster Battalion. It is stationed at Camp Arifjan, south of Kuwait City.

Soldiers say most of their work involves civilian contractor Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton Corp. The company has contracts to haul fuel, and 319th members are riding along as armed escorts.

"The main reason we're still here is to support Brown and Root," said Sgt. 1st Class David Uthe, 45, of Augusta.
Story by the
Augusta Chronicle, via Media Whores Online.
Putting the "evil" back in "empire." Suddenly public doubt is back in vogue throughout Washington. Scrutinizing fabrications in the State of the Union address has become as fashionable as questioning the fundamentals of current foreign policy (Alan Murray in the
Wall Street Journal, sub. req'd):
An unusual manifesto is circulating through the e-mail boxes of prominent Washingtonians from an ad hoc group calling itself the "Committee for the Republic." Its five sponsors include conservative C. Boyden Gray, a White House lawyer in the first Bush administration; Chas. W. Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia; and Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The manifesto is a work in progress, its authors say. But the goal is clear: to educate Americans about the dangers of empire.


The U.S. is operating open-ended protectorates in Afghanistan and Iraq, at a combined cost of $5 billion a month, or $60 billion a year. That's roughly triple the entire foreign-aid budget, and almost double the federal government's budget for elementary and secondary education. Meanwhile, intervention in Liberia appears just around the corner. U.S. soldiers reside in nearly 100 different countries. During the president's trip last week to Africa, there was talk of opening bases elsewhere on that continent.


You can argue that none of this is "empire" of the British or Roman variety, since it doesn't involve, for the most part, elaborate systems of civil as well as military governance. But it's close enough. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. has struggled with what it means to be the world's sole remaining superpower. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush moved with surprising force and speed -- and with surprisingly little resistance -- to put an expansive definition on that role.

The Committee for the Republic is saying, in effect: "Whoa, hold on a minute. Shouldn't we talk about this first"?

"The American Revolution was a nationalist revolt against the British Empire," the draft manifesto argues. "Our country was born as a defiant rejection of the legitimacy of imperialism." Citing the lessons of the classics, it argues that the "inevitable cost of empire" is a loss of political and economic freedom at home. "Domestic liberty is the first casualty of adventurist foreign policy."

While the draft was written before the latest flap over bad intelligence used in the State of the Union address, it also argues: "To justify the high cost of maintaining rule over foreign territories and peoples, leaders are left with no choice but to deceive the people."

The events of the past week have provided new heat to the debate over the war in Iraq. For the first time since this past fall, Mr. Bush's defense and foreign policies are encountering serious questioning at home. For the first time, Democrats seem to have found a consistent voice in criticizing those policies. And for the first time, Washington's political punditocracy has begun saying that the defining issue of the 2004 election might not be the economy or health care but foreign policy.

That is a good thing. Mr. Bush may have defined a bold new course for the U.S. in foreign policy, but he hasn't yet had to defend it before a skeptical public. And while the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls are getting more aggressive in their foreign-policy attacks, none has yet articulated a clear alternative vision.*

The Committee for the Republic thinks it is time to have a great national debate about America's role in the post-Cold War world. I say: Bring it on.
*Some solutions are beneath articulation. A clear alternative vision to driving off a cliff would be to stay on the road. Do we really need to spell that out?

The alternative to unilateralist military mania, built on a foundation of 9/11 fraud, is to secure the homeland (instead of Iraqi oil fields) and to build a multilateral front against stateless terrorism.

How can we have a debate without a forum? For almost two years, Americans who want to discuss these issues have had to endure a cheap, ersatz "patriotism" promoted relentlessly by a corporate media cabal working in lockstep.

But the last several days offer fresh hope for something resembling a national discussion. Even Time Magazine is beginning to connect the dots, and is drawing the conclusion that our national hallucination may not hold up to inspection.

"You woke me out of oh! such a nice dream!" — Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass.
Spellbound, not the film by Hitchcock, follows the trails of eight 8th-graders who make it to the National Spelling Bee in Washington DC. In our age of ignorant cynicism, this wonderful documentary on a curious piece of Americana and the last days of prepubescent childhood offers a fascinating portrait of intelligence with a heart of innocence.

Skimble says: 9 out of 10.
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
The maturity of the French. It is difficult preventing one's gag reflex from overworking whenever colleagues or casual acquaintances indicate with some bull-headed remark that they have swallowed the anti-French bait whole. The Americans who are "boycotting" French wine have likely bought nothing but a box of zinfandel or rosé at the grocery anyway, so it's no great loss, but still.

There's a lot to be admired in the French who have not forgotten, as Americans have, how to eat and how to live (
Christian Science Monitor):
Contrary to many North American assumptions, France - according to wealth produced per hour worked - is one of the most productive countries in Europe. Labor is expensive in France, so industries are extremely mechanized. The French would be even richer if they limited their paid holidays to two weeks, but they look at the problem differently. If fewer people are necessary to produce the same wealth, they reason, then why not translate that wealth into more holidays? As many of our French friends remarked, whether holidays are good or bad for the economy is beside the point: "The economy is supposed to work for us, not the other way around!"


The French also have a very distinct work ethic. They pretend they're not busy even when they're working like crazy.

"To us, looking relaxed shows you're in control," a friend explained. Hence, long leisurely lunches at cafes. Make no mistake: They're working hard, they just don't have stigmas about taking their time and looking relaxed in public.


Although 98 percent of the French lead urban lifestyles, they vacation in the countryside. This injection of capital helps preserve ancient ways of life in barely productive rural areas - a major reason French regional cuisine continues to flourish.
American vacations, often childlike exercises in canned environments like Disney World, preserve nothing at all — except media monoliths and vested corporate interests in the copyright on the damn Mouse.

Oddly enough, it is Dubya who most resembles the French in that he takes the whole month of August off every year (excluding fundraising excursions), something that the workers who empower his corporatocracy are simple unable to do. (How else could he have missed those ominous August 2001 intelligence warnings that something big and awful was on its way? He was busy not riding nonexistent horses on his Crawford ranch.)

We Americans are sacrificing our regional cuisines and cultures to corporations whose interests do not overlap with our own. The relatively mature French society manages to put its own heritage and lifestyle above the commercial agenda, something that the adolescent American society has not yet figured out for itself.
To: Sharon Bush
From: Neil Bush
Subject: I'm divorcing you!
Bcc: Poppy and Barbara Bush

Here's the latest on
Neil Bush's divorce, for those of you keeping score.
She said she received an email
Sharon Bush
from her husband saying, he wasn't sure they should remain married.

"And I, after 22 years was stunned," she says. "I said, 'You're firing me?' I said, 'What do you mean, you're firing me?' He said, 'No, I just don't love you.'"
Why do I bother keeping up with this story? Because it represents three themes of great currency: (1) the inner machinations of the Bush dynasty, which has so far supplied the American people with two lousy presidents and is prepping a third (Jeb) in the wings, (2) Neil is one of the crooked Silverado beneficiaries of the 1980s savings and loan multibillion dollar bailout engineered by his father, and (3) the shabby treatment and blackmail of Sharon Bush exposes "compassionate conservatism" as the tissue of lies it is.

We last wrote about Neil yesterday, as well as in more than a dozen other posts.
Why the stock market will not recover. This year Dubya's annual tax cut focused on dividends in a move that was publicized as a stimulating tonic to the stock market.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The cyclical rally we've just seen masks a more sinister development as more and more money will be moved out of R&D, the labor market, company growth and capital investment into — you guessed it — untaxed dividends. So instead of investing in itself or its people, a company will be giving away that same money, tax-free, to its largest shareholders.

We've noted the Bush tax cut phenomenon before with regard to
Microsoft (and Bill Gates' subsequent $99 million windfall) but it's becoming an epidemic among other blue chip companies as well. Here are the latest developments at Citigroup, the sixth-largest stock in the US (Wall Street Journal, subscription required):
Citigroup Inc., in a significant change in the way it rewards investors, declared a 75% increase in its dividend, a move that more companies are expected to follow as earnings announcements pick up this week.

Dividends, those quarterly payouts that investors and companies dismissed as irrelevant during the stock-market bubble, are back in vogue, driven by improving business conditions, investors seeking the relative safety of dividend-paying stocks and, perhaps most important, a tax cut that has made dividends more valuable to individuals.

"It's on everyone's mind, it's on everyone's calendar, you know it's in every boardroom," said Howard Silverblatt, a quantitative analyst at Standard & Poor's. "This looks like it's getting more attention than earnings."

Citigroup's annual dividend is jumping to $1.40 a share from 80 cents. While boosting its dividend, Citigroup, which also posted a 5% quarterly earnings rise, said it would cut back on share repurchases. It cited the new tax law, which makes dividends just as attractive as share repurchases, which are designed to boost stock prices and had become the most favored way for companies to return cash to shareholders. "This substantial increase in our dividend will be part of our effort to reallocate capital to dividends and reduce share repurchases," said Sanford I. Weill, Citigroup's chairman and chief executive.

Citigroup, the sixth-largest stock by market capitalization, said that the dividend increase will be funded with capital previously used to buy back shares. The dividend program will cost the company about $1.8 billion per quarter, up from about $1 billion before the increase. During the second quarter, the company spent $359 million buying back shares, down from $1.2 billion in the first quarter, to preserve capital for the dividend increase, according to Todd Thomson, the company's chief financial officer.

One of the largest beneficiaries of the dividend increase will be Mr. Weill himself, who owned 22.4 million shares of stock as of July 1. His annual dividend income will rise to $31.4 million, up from $17.9 million previously.
The Citigroup CEO's $13.5 million raise in dividend income will be tax-free, thanks to the generosity of the George W Bush tax cut. The simultaneous reduction in stock repurchases will likely have a long-term depressing effect on the stock price (at least in the absence of its stimulating effect), which will in turn keep a heavy lid force a cardon the upside potential of the stock price. While Weill cashes his check for $13.5 million in tax-free dividends, anyone with Citigroup stock in a 401(k) or brokerage account, which depend more upon the long-term increasing value of the stock rather than its dividend yield, will see a whole lot of nothing.

Now that one of every two Americans owns stock it is in the best interests of the ruling class to depress the stock market in order to maintain the distinction and hierarchy among the classes that keeps them on top. So even while they cash their dividend checks, they have moved on to hedge funds, timberland and Old Master paintings as core investments. Meanwhile, the little people are stuck with the stagnating stocks and mutual funds in their low-balance 401(k) accounts. The partial privatization of retirement income, defined as 401(k) plans, helps speed the net flow of capital away from workers and toward owner-shareholders.

Think Enron, played across the entire S&P 500. It's three-card monte played on a multitrillion dollar scale.

Sorry, retirement investor — you picked the wrong card. Tough luck.
Monday, July 14, 2003
"Three or four" affairs for Neil Bush. Dyslexic brother of Christian president George W admits that he knows what the definition of "is" is — it's "SI," which also stands for Sexual Intercourse (
The Mirror):
Neil Bush, 48, told of the affairs during leaked video depositions to lawyers representing his former wife, Sharon.

The father-of-three said: "I had sexual intercourse with perhaps three or four - I don't remember the exact number - women at different times."

The affairs took place while he was on business trips to the Far East, according to a report in the New York Times.

Mr Bush allegedly told the lawyers: "In Thailand once, I have pretty clear recollection that there was one time in Thailand and Hong Kong."
"There was one time in Thailand and Hong Kong"? Sounds quite memorable — maybe even difficult to forget.

No word on how much Neil paid for the companionship of the women whose number he cannot remember.
Department of Uh Oh. The backstory for next year's annual invasion just got a lot more interesting:
Iran makes huge oil discovery

Oil fields contain estmated 38 billion barrels of reserves

TEHRAN, Iran, July 14 — Iran has made a major new oil find containing estimated reserves of more than 38 billion barrels, making it one of the world’s biggest undeveloped fields, a senior oil official was quoted as saying Monday.
Looks like Cheney and Rumsfeld will have several months to create new fictional Iranian WMDs in time for the State of the Union speech in January 2004.

Story by
MSNBC, link via BuzzFlash.
Skimble playlist. My drive from Chicago to the east coast and back over the past two weeks resulted in a lot more listening than I've been able to manage recently. There were just three standouts on the playlist, all new to me:

Nothing to Fear — A Rough Mix. 9 out of 10.

Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers. 9 out of 10.

Frank Loesser: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. 9 out of 10.

For recent work, 9 is the highest score. The Skimble system is on a 10-point scale, but to receive a rating of 10 a work must be at least ten years old and still be recognized as an indisputable masterpiece.
Friday, July 11, 2003
The buck stops elsewhere. The sight of heads rolling in Washington will not alter the fact that Dubya is a big baby, pretending that the responsibility for his myopic, maniacal march to invade Iraq belongs to someone else, namely
CIA Director George Tenet.

Iraqgate, Yellowcakegate, Whatever-you-want-to-call-it-gate — the entire executive branch needs to be swept out and disinfected before the chickenshit virus spreads any further.
Abstinence: the newest form of greed. "No sex, please, we're American," may be the motto of the newest gimme-gimme hypocrite — the "abstinence consultant." In Las Vegas Weekly, Richard Abowitz's pleas for rationality fall on deaf ears as
abstinence activists invade Sin City:
I tell one of the protesters about a study done in a Nevada brothel showing just how surprisingly effective condoms can be at preventing disease transmission when handled by users as expert as hookers. She informs me that I am mistaken, and then has a reverie about filing product-liability suits against condom manufactures on behalf of pregnant and STD-ravaged teens led astray by school nurses and left-wing sex-ed teachers.

It is worth pointing out that abstinence advocates are now themselves reaching out for public dollars from a friendly Bush administration. "There are federal dollars for abstinence right here in Nevada," [president and founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, Leslee] Unruh told me.
Despite having brains small enough to fit inside a condom, Unruh and her cross-legged comrades have open arms when it comes to the public till. The smell of federal money is so much sexier to them than any human pheromones — their libidos consist entirely of greed.

This great article from the Washington Post a couple weeks ago on born-again virgins is well worth your time.

And then there's always the abstinence greed of Christian felon Chuck Colson, no stranger to fraud in the White House.
I know entertainment, and that's no entertainment. Odd how the "Shut up, lowly entertainer" rhetoric consistently levelled at Sean Penn and the Dixie Chicks manages never to apply to Arnold Schwarzenegger, even when he attends a multibillion dollar fireworks display and filet mignon barbecue in
Baghdad. But inconsistent logic, presented as inarguable truth, now pops up everywhere and is indeed a hallmark of these times. Even among the grunts in the embattled town Arnold visited:
"You think about it every day. You know they don't want us here," said [Army Spc. Irvin] Spencer, sitting on a concrete block with a pack of Newport cigarettes tucked into his waistband. "I don't get these people. We're here to help and they shoot at us."

Spencer's friend, Spc. Byron Aiken, 27, of Converse, Texas, said he had no problem putting his life on the line for the sake of the U.S. mission here. But he wished the Iraqis appreciated his work.

"It's time for us to go," Aiken said, an M-16 rifle propped between his knees. "As long as we stay here, we'll keep dying. They just don't want their country run by Americans."
The hostility to Sean Penn and the warm welcome for Arnold Schwarzenegger have nothing to do with their status as entertainers. They reflect the growing American inability to think consistent thoughts of any kind — about entertainers and other frauds in politics, about tangible reasons for war, about the vested interests and commercial motivations of those in office, about the value of soldiers' and civilians' lives, about impeachable offenses.

We are losing the war on stupidity.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Kenya advises against travel to US. This opinion piece by C.Y. Gopinath in
Outlook India argues that travel advisories ought to be a two-way street:
...Nairobi does have its share of crime, and is certainly not the safest of places. My compound has electrical fencing, and my home has safe havens, motion detectors, and panic buttons.

But while petty theft, burglaries and carjacking are common, killing is not the norm. Some of my friends have been carjacked by polite and cheerful young unemployed men of reasonable education, who have been at pains to explain the dire circumstances that have forced them into such diversions.

There is another city where I was cautioned, just a year ago, to exercise extreme caution, and it was Washington DC. I was told that its crime rate was horrifying, and that I should be specially careful not to venture into certain marginal areas of the city, such as where the blacks and latinos live. In Nairobi, you will be similarly warned not to move around in Eastleigh and certain colonies in the industrial belt.

I was struck by another similarity with Nairobi - just as the US Embassy in Nairobi was the target of an Al Qaeda terrorist attack in 1998 (in which mostly Kenyan bystanders perished), the Pentagon in Washington DC was hit, on September 11, 2001, by an aircraft manned by Al Qaeda terrorists.

I made enquiries to find out if there was a travel advisory out against Washington DC, or against other cities in the United States. I was told that Washington's gates remained wide open to tourism (and other isms, like neoconservatism). Indeed, it transpired that there is no travel advisory out against any US city at all, though reliable sources such as CNN and BBC routinely report that people there live under constant threat of unexpected attack by viruses, microbes, Kalashnikovs, snipers, serial killers, shoe bombs, water supply poisoning, anthrax, truck bombs, nuclear strikes, radiation leaks, surveillance, loss of civil liberties, and so on.
The similarities between Washington and Nairobi are multiplying faster than the differences. Makes you wonder if Kenya's Department of State should start issuing travel advisories similar to this one.
Six hours for
Botswana, 3,864 hours for Crawford, Texas.

Botswanans are not necessarily impressed:
Bush is not the first U.S. president to visit Botswana.

Bill Clinton took a two-day trek through the country in 1998. At about six hours, Bush's visit is much shorter.


"I'm scared of Bush coming," said 19-year-old Keneilwe Sebonye, an office assistant making her way to work in downtown Gaborone. "He will kill us."
For the 40% of the Botswanan adult population infected with HIV, it might be a bit late for the Texan to preach abstinence.
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Is there a market for anti-stupidity in America? In a brilliant, counter-intuitive business move, the UK paper The Guardian is looking to bring its unique brand of intelligence to the US market
in the form of a magazine:
Rather than a lot of readers at a small price, the idea is fewer readers at a greater price (whereas most U.S. magazines discount their subscription price as much as 80 percent). Rusbridger figures that the American Guardian, charging a hefty subscription price, will be in safe financial territory at a 100,000-level circulation. (Advertising, in this approach, is welcome but not the main driver.) In other words, against the trend of all other commercial media (wherein the price the consumer needs to pay or is willing to pay gets progressively lower), the job here is to make the magazine—the writing, the attitudes, the opinions, the content—worth more by being better, smarter, more exclusive.
Better and smarter may not turn out to be quite as exclusive as they predict. The record-breaking sales of Hillary's book proves that there is indeed pent-up demand for intelligent narratives as an antidote to the shrillness of the right wing's more simple-minded screeds (Coulter, Savage, et al.).

Link via the glorious Cursor.

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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