culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Friday, August 29, 2003
Celebrate Owners Day Weekend with the GOP. I received this email:
Dear Skimble,

As we celebrate with our friends and family this [Labor Day] weekend, let us be thankful for the small business owners throughout the country who are the engine of our economy.[1] With over 22.9 million small businesses across the country, they provide approximately 75 percent of the net new jobs added to the economy.[2] The President understands that when small business owners can keep more of their money, they are going to reinvest it in their businesses.[3] With the ability to update or expand, small-business owners will hire more employees, give raises to the employees they have, buy new equipment or invest in advertising.[4] The hard work of small business owners and their entrepreneurial vision creates jobs and helps to stimulate our economy.[5]

In celebration of their vision and our shared Republican ideals, let's renew our commitment to America[6] this weekend.[7]



Ed Gillespie
Republican National Committee
Our annotation:
[1] Small business is certainly not the engine of the Bush campaigns, which depend on the generosity of — and expected reciprocal generosity in favor of — big, not small, businesses.

[2] Bush has the worst job creation record since
Herbert Hoover's Great Depression era administration.

[3] I can speak to this one from personal experience as a small business owner. Any extra money scraped together will be allocated to skyrocketing medical insurance premiums, thanks to the total lack of a sensible medical care policy for American citizens — another GOP failure.

[4] Hire? Raises? Equipment? Advertising? I don't think so. See #3. Also, advertising is increasingly only for insiders, thanks to a media cabal controlled by a handful of boards of directors.

[5] Recent economic stimulus has been attributable to dramatic increases in defense spending, hardly the normal playing field for small businesses, except possibly one of Halliburton's Canadian suppliers called HEAT.

[6] It will be difficult for Republicans to renew their patriotic commitment to the sacrifices made by the Small Businesses of America since the party has outsourced its fundraising telemarketing efforts not to Indiana, but to India.

[7] None of this letter (including the edited portion) is about laborers — the point of Labor Day, which originally commemorated the effort, opposed by big business owners, to limit employment to the 8-hour work day at a time when 12 or 16 hours of work per day was the norm. For the party of ownership and big business, "shared Republican ideals" naturally refer to employers' opposition to the 8-hour work day — the celebration of a holiday weekend in an alternate GOP universe: an anti-Labor Day.
We're getting so used to the Republican party meaning the exact opposite of what it says that no one is even fazed any more. The propaganda is so chock full of nonsequiturs that criticism has nowhere to begin its work. What comes out of the mouths of leadership is uniformly expected to be utter self-serving nonsense.

In other words, America under Bush II has become the Soviet Union.

Happy Labor Day.

UPDATE: Looks like Matt Singer at Not Geniuses got the same letter.
"A Big Mac, freedom fries, and $23 billion worth of secret sauce." The Pentagon has placed its order — they're just not going to tell anyone
what it is (Washington Post):
"Black," or classified, programs requested in President Bush's 2004 defense budget are at the highest level since 1988, according to a report prepared by the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The center concluded that classified spending next fiscal year will reach about $23.2 billion of the Pentagon's total request for procurement and research funding. When adjusted for inflation, that is the largest dollar figure since the peak reached during President Ronald Reagan's defense buildup 16 years ago. The amount in 1988 was $19.7 billion, or $26.7 billion if adjusted for inflation, according to the center.

"It's puzzling. It sets the mind to wondering where the money's going and what sort of politically controversial things the administration is doing because they're not telling anybody," said John E. Pike, director of, a research group in Alexandria that has been critical of the administration's defense priorities.


...[Pike] said it is a good bet that some of [the classified money] is going to programs that the administration is known to strongly favor, such as missile defense and the development of hypersonic planes that can fly beyond Earth's atmosphere.

"This is an administration that likes to play I've got a secret," he said. "The growth of the classified budget appears to be part of a larger pattern of this administration being secretive."
There's that old discredited but never-say-die 1980s standby, missile defense. Further proof that Dubya's real father is Ronald Reagan.
Thursday, August 28, 2003
Only the crony survives. Bechtel is reaping the rewards of its insider track, the natural outcome of
yet another Bush administration lie (Wall Street Journal, sub. req'd):
August 28, 2003 8:52 a.m.

Faced with escalating costs and continued instability in Iraq, U.S. officials in Baghdad have decided to boost Bechtel Group Inc.'s postwar reconstruction contract by $350 million, or more than 50%.

The decision to steer additional funds to Bechtel is the latest sign that the Bush administration has seriously underestimated the cost and complexity of rebuilding Iraq. Although the U.S. plans a dramatic push for new reconstruction funds -- part of what one U.S. official said will be a $2.75 billion emergency budget request for Iraq next month -- the administration remains vague on what the overall project is likely to cost.

The new Bechtel money, which could be turned over within days, is part of at least $1 billion the U.S. hopes to pour into Iraqi power generation alone over the next year. U.S. officials and Bechtel assessment teams now estimate Iraqi reconstruction will cost at least $16 billion and likely much more. L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, has said that the costs of rebuilding Iraq and revitalizing its economy could top $100 billion.

San Francisco-based Bechtel was originally awarded an 18 month, $680 million contract for Iraqi reconstruction work on airports, water, power, schools, roads and government buildings. After business rivals and some legislators criticized the limited competition involved in that award, Andrew Natsios, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, promised that no additional taxpayer money would go into the Bechtel contract beyond the $680 million ceiling.

According to a funding document from the U.S.-led Iraqi provisional authority, however, U.S. officials recently decided that Bechtel requires the additional $350 million "to maintain momentum in high-priority infrastructure projects." Mr. Bremer approved the new projects on Aug. 20, according to the document.

Wednesday, an AID spokeswoman said that "security conditions" had evidently led Mr. Bremer to lift the limit and give more work to Bechtel. The additional $350 million will come from what's left of a $2.5 billion Iraq reconstruction fund Congress approved early this year.
All Bush administration promises are broken because all Bush administration promises are, essentially, lies.

US taxpayers will pay for Bechtel's reconstruction of Iraq's power grid, because the Bush administration insisted on the urgency of invading a country without WMDs. But US consumers will pay for the reconstruction of America's post-blackout power grid.

Since the US tax base is increasingly made up of the lower and middle classes, thanks to Bush administration tax relief for the most wealthy, working Americans will first pay Bechtel and Halliburton to rebuild Iraq and further enrich the Dick Cheneys and Riley Bechtels who have built a rhetoric-rich neocon smokescreen for their crass robber baron capitalism. Then, once taxes have paid for Republican enrichment, what remains of the lower classes' after-tax dollars will go toward higher utility prices to rebuild the American power grid for negligent power providers like FirstEnergy, the likely source of the blackout, a company led by a Bush Pioneer who had raised several hundred thousand dollars for his 2000 presidential campaign.

Billionaire Riley Bechtel, like Cheney's employer Halliburton and a phalanx of shadowy cronies, is using his insider status within the Bush administration to place personal profit above the national interest.

$100 billion, the latest underestimate, is an extraordinary price to pay for imaginary Iraqi weapons. The lies of the Bush administration may be among the most profitable the world has ever seen, and among the most needlessly expensive that taxpayers will ever bear.
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Enron's secrets are safe with this Republican judge. The Houston Chronicle has led the charge to open up the testimony of former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow, possibly the single most important witness in the case (yet to be made) against former CEO, insider thief, and Bush über-contributor Ken "Kenny Boy" Lay.

But Judge Kenneth Hoyt is not feeling very generous with what is ordinarily
public information:
A federal judge today held two more closed hearings in the criminal case against Andrew Fastow and two other former Enron executives, and refused to unseal the transcript of a July 28 hearing he also held in secret.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt denied a motion by the Houston Chronicle to make public the record of the unusual closed hearings in July and the two on today. One conference was held in the morning with prosecutors and the lawyers for defendant Ben Glisan and a second in the afternoon with prosecutors and lawyers for Fastow, Glisan and Daniel Boyle.

All have pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud in connection with various deals at Enron. Fastow faces nearly 100 counts himself.

Hoyt denied a Chronicle request to be allowed to attend the two Tuesday hearings. The Chronicle's reporter and lawyer were told to leave the hallway outside by court security officers, who said Hoyt ordered them to do so. The officers said the two would be detained if they did not leave.

"There are matters that do not need to be discussed in public in ways that embarrasses or humiliates the government or the defense and particularly the court," Hoyt said from the bench.

The judge made clear that the defendants' lawyers had not asked for the multi-defendant closed hearings but that he had closed them himself. Hoyt said sessions with lawyers in a judge's chambers are common and his goal is a fair trial for the defendants and for the government.

He said some matters should not be public. He said it would be impossible to discuss publically such as questions about how much evidence has been obtained, when more evidence might be available or what the two sides recommend for a case schedule.

In other Enron cases and in most criminal cases such questions are routinely asked in open court.
Hoyt was appointed by George W. Bush's real father, Ronald Reagan.

UPDATE: It only gets worse: Hours later, the Chronicle reports "Chronicle shut out of 2 more hearings":
"Embarrassment is not an exception to the First Amendment," Chronicle Editor Jeff Cohen said. "With all due respect to the judge, we will continue to press him to open these hearings until he provides a better explanation."
I'm not an attorney, so I can't comment on whether Hoyt's rhetoric of embarrassment and humiliation is commonplace or appropriate. But to a legal outsider, it sounds overly secretive, disingenuous, and just plain weird.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Hoovering the country. Herbert is everywhere, first at Al Franken's appearance on CNN's Crossfire
FRANKEN: Listen, he's going to be the first president since Hoover not to add any new jobs in his first term.

CARLSON: I know. I'm sorry. We're totally, completely out of time. I'm getting it in my ear. They're saying they're going to cut us off.
Notice the timing of Tucker Carlson's not-so-smooth segue to commercial break.

Then in Slate is "The Best of George W. Bush: hooverville
Hooverville in New York
The bravest thing he ever did," by William Saletan and Ben Jacobs:
As to keeping Americans constantly informed, Bush held only nine press conferences in the first two and half years of his presidency, the lowest rate since Herbert Hoover.
Similar Hoover lines are popping up in the speeches of Dean and Kerry. None of this is new, it's just nice to see such comparisons trotted out in a coordinated fashion to gain critical mass in the public imagination.

The coordination of the Hoover references, of course, doesn't make them any less true.
Clear Channel: The Bootleg Sessions. Clear Channel is generating new sources of revenue for music acts — by creating instant, quasi-legal* CD-R recordings of live concerts that you can buy on your way out of the venue. The entire concert an audience has just witnessed, including the stage banter between songs, is preserved as a souvenir for each night's fans.

Because they create new cash streams for artists, Clear Channel is simultaneously devising new ways to control dissent (
Pitchfork Media):
Given that it's rock and roll, there's also a risk that an artist-- in a Replacements-like case of career suicide-- could record comments against Clear Channel or one of its properties. [Clear Channel Executive Vice-President Steve] Simon [the project director for the Instant Live program], allows that "there are all sorts of conceivable ways that one might deal with that," but he didn't consider it likely: "If an artist goes through the paces of doing this with us, they're doing it because they want to sell discs. They're doing it because we have a relationship with them, or have created a relationship... By the time you've been through all that I don't think there's much of a concern that the band's going to then get up there and call you names."
You hear that, rock and roll rebels? No name-calling. Clear Channel said so. If you want concert promotion, nationwide airplay, or Instant Live souvenir bootlegs, get on your knees and kiss the hem of your relationship with Clear Channel.

*The thorny issue of compensation for cover songs — songs written by someone other than the artists performing them — is sidestepped by Clear Channel according to this report.
Monday, August 25, 2003
Four moms, two towers,
one enormous pattern of lies.

The itch of incompetence. So who should be the new Secretary of the Navy? How about an executive vice president of General Dynamics? Check.

Need to nominate a director to the board of the United States Institute of Peace? How does an anti-Muslim racial profiler sound?
President Bush will nominate Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Gordon England to be Secretary of the Navy, the White House said on Friday.

The White House also said in a statement that Bush had signed the recess appointment of Daniel Pipes to the board of directors of the United States Institute of Peace, a controversial decision because Pipes has been accused of being anti-Muslim.

England, who has served previously as Navy secretary, replaces Bush's previous Navy nominee, oil executive Colin McMillan, who committed suicide in July.

He is a former executive vice president of General Dynamics Corporation.

Pipe's pending appointment has generated controversy because some Muslim-Americans and Democrats in Congress accuse him of defending racial and religious profiling.

Pipes has also suggested that mosques in America should be targets of police surveillance.
Once again, the least beneficial and most inflammatory choices are brought to you by Preparation W.

Link via Seeing the Forest.
Friday, August 22, 2003
"Sargeant, hand over half your money." If you know anything about mutual funds, you may be familiar with the load, or sales charge, that you must pay for investing in the fund.
Two to eight-and-a-half percent is a range of fairly common initial "front-end" loads. But military personnel are being slapped with loads of fifty percent on their savings for retirement (This article from Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine is in its paid archive. It appears in the September 2003 issue under the title "All Loaded Up."):
Our armed forces are being shot at and ambushed in Iraq, and may soon be quelling genocidal warfare in Liberia. The last thing they need is to be sold overpriced investments by the financial-services industry back home. Just ask Air Force Sgt. Michael Proulx. He attended a First Command financial-planning seminar two years ago near Ramstein Air Base in Germany. After a steak-and-schnitzel buffet, the 35-year-old noncom signed up to invest $166 monthly in a Roth IRA with Templeton Capital Accumulator fund. The first year's sales charge: 50%.

Little-known outside the military, First Command sells a class of mutual funds that levy huge upfront commissions. Some in the military are susceptible to First Command's pitch, says Richard Ferri, a money manager and retired marine major, because they have "zero experience" with funds. "What they're doing is totally legal," says Ferri. "Is it ethical? No." Replies Ivy McLemore of AIM Investments, whose products are sold by First Command: "It's a highly principled product."
These "highly principled products" are foisted upon inexperienced soldiers who have already been tricked into believing they are defending something other than the ability of their leaders to steal not only their lives but also their pittance of a salary from them.

Think about it: First Command keeps $83 out of Sgt. Michael Proulx's $166 monthly savings for the first year. He thinks he socking away money for his retirement, but half of it is eaten up in commissions.

Fifty percent of Proulx's retirement savings — after taxes, because it's a Roth IRA — is simply too much to skim off the top. Proulx already paid all the taxes on the half of his money that First Command confiscated as a sales charge. The government gets, then First Command gets, and if there's anything left in thirty years, maybe Proulx gets to retire. But that's a very big if.

First Command's practices are well beyond the expected boundaries of the inclination of businesses to invoke the letter of the law above the common sense ethical demands of the situation. These are our soldiers they are bilking. The words "unfair," "severely tilted playing field," and "lying, scheming scoundrels" come to mind.

When the soldiers in Iraq need his advocacy, where is that guy who put on a flight suit and "flew" onto an aircraft carrier not so long ago?

It's August, so he's off vacationing and fundraising.

Meanwhile, the privatization of retirement saving, a cherished conservative goal, is once again deployed to screw the little guy. This situation is an echo of the Enron scenario, in which employees' 401(k) accounts were drained while, two years later, the corporate vampire and former CEO Ken Lay is still flying first class and undoubtedly devising new politico-commercial strategies to suck the money out of his next victims.

The word "unfair," though, turns out to be a word that has fallen from the president's lips in specific circumstances. Unfortunately, his sense of moral priority is completely upside down.

Unscrupulous crony capitalism is so much worse than the "unfair" taxation of dividends, wouldn't you agree?
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Which unqualified movie or porn star should we select to occupy the Oval Office after the
Bush recall?

Link via skippy.
Demolition: that's just what Republicans do. They break and destroy things — with glee (
Houston Chronicle):
Harris County [Texas] GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill is asking local Republicans to bring sledgehammers and other implements of destruction to help level the [former headquarter] building the Democrats vacated three months ago.

"You bring the muscle, we'll bring the refreshments and we will have a party as we tear down the Harris County Democratic Party headquarters," Woodfill said in his invitation to party faithful.

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg was quick with a metaphor. That's what Republicans do, he said, "tearing things down, destroying them."

"They did it to our economy, to our jobs market, to our voting rights, to our democracy, to civility in government, to civil rights, to health care for children, to fair pay for teachers -- they took out their sledgehammers and smashed them to smithereens."
True to their lying, thieving nature, Texas Repubs are trying to characterize the Democratic move as an "eviction," even sending a press release to that effect, when in fact the party simply moved its headquarters when its lease expired.

The Dems and local organized labor "will hold a 'peaceful' sidewalk party nearby to watch the GOP 'destroy the building and the economy.'"
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Supine media discovers sassy oracle. Bill Clinton is the talk of Aspen Institute conference, if you ask
Michael Wolff:
The psychic heart of the conference was Bill Clinton.

He was interviewed on the second day by [Walter] Isaacson, who began by telling a story about how when he was a Rhodes scholar he’d done a paper that his Oxford professor had said was not at all in the same league as a similar paper written by a certain Rhodes scholar from Arkansas a few years before. This was one of those overachievement-upon-overachievement stories that was bound to subdue anyone.

Clinton had lost weight and—with a great collection of just-out-of-the-wrapper pastel-colored polo shirts on view throughout the conference—seemed in fabulous form. He was in campaign mode but without the restraints of campaign mode. While there was clear bitterness on his part toward the successor who had rushed “to undo everything I’d done,” and the Republicans who “will run over you unless you beat their brains out,” there was a feisty humor too. Of the disputed Harken oil deal, Clinton said Bush had “sold the stock to buy the baseball team which got him the governorship which got him the presidency.”

Clinton kept referring to the media as (contrary to Kinsley’s view) the “supine” media, pointing out that when Bush insulted Helen Thomas (who, by asking a rough question in the infamous prewar press conference had, Clinton said, “committed the sin of journalism”), no “young journalists” stood up and walked out.

The media, the supine media, was going to have to “go to the meat locker and take out its brains and critical skills.”

Everybody seemed to love this. Clinton was not just the beloved former president, but he had become some sort of sassy oracle.

There was a party on the second day for Clinton at the Aspen version of Nobu, and then, later that evening, a discussion between Clinton and President Kagame, hosted by the William Morris Agency, at Whiskey Rocks Bar in the St. Regis Hotel (Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO, while not a conference attendee, slipped into the room).

This turned out to be the pivotal moment of the conference—even the primal one. When Clinton took questions, a young man from a technology company who identified himself as chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004 in California said he was offended by Clinton’s partisanship. To which Clinton, without hesitation, and with some kind of predatory gleam in his eye, said, “Good!” From there, Clinton went on, with emotion and anger, at a level seemingly foreign to most everyone here, to rip to shreds the motives, values, and legitimacy of the Republicans.

It was all anyone could talk about the next day. People seemed genuinely taken aback (some people kept offering that since it was late at night, in a bar, it didn’t quite count) that one of their own might have violated the accepted codes of lofty liberal behavior. There was a little current of fear at the sudden recognition that testosterone could fuel politics. It was a shock, apparently, that we might be this close to real feelings. That politics could actually be personal.
Link via Altercation.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
layFly the friendly skies of Enron. A frequent reader of this site emails to inform us that he or she spotted former Enron CEO Ken Lay on a Continental flight from Houston to Denver last Wednesday, August 13. Lay was likely flying to check on his extensive real estate holdings in Colorado, purchased with wealth purloined in the time preceding the collapse of his company and the obliteration of his employees' retirement savings.

As one of the most damaging and yet well-connected CEO criminals of our time, he was, of course, a passenger in First Class.

Some personal details: He read at least three newspapers, including the New York Times, the Financial Times, and the Houston Chronicle. He was seen tearing out an editorial from the New York Times, probably
this one, which is about to go into the paid archive:
A Get-Along Voice at the E.P.A.

Gov. Michael Leavitt's nomination to succeed Christie Whitman as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency means that the country will be not be treated to a rerun of the political soap operas that marked the Whitman years. That is bad news. Mrs. Whitman almost always lost her internal battles on behalf of the regulatory framework that for 30 years has brought the nation cleaner air and water. But the country was better off for having her in Washington, a solitary if increasingly faint voice against the ideologues and lobbyists who occupy every other important environmental job. Mr. Leavitt, by contrast, is at one with the administration: a Westerner, unlike Mrs. Whitman, and an antiregulatory one at that. He should fit right in.

A three-term Utah governor who saw little point in seeking a fourth, Mr. Leavitt is also smart, soft-spoken and a formidable negotiator. Among his recent successes were the two back-room deals he worked out earlier this year with Gale Norton, the interior secretary, to strip federal protections from millions of acres of public land in Utah. The deals were deplored by environmentalists but celebrated by the oil, gas and off-road-vehicle interests, which hope to exploit that land for commercial purposes.

Mr. Leavitt says he is more sympathetic to the environment than his critics think. He will have some early opportunities to prove it.

On his desk are two pro-business proposals pushed by the White House that are vigorously opposed by the environmental community. One would greatly narrow the scope of the Clean Water Act by removing federal protections from millions of acres of wetlands, lakes and streams. This is a terrible proposal for which even the Justice Department has little enthusiasm. But it is favored by the home builders and other interests to whom the White House feels indebted.

The second proposal would gut a key provision of the Clean Air Act known as "new source review." That provision requires older power plants to install modern pollution controls whenever they significantly expand their output. Eliot Spitzer of New York and other attorneys general have successfully invoked the provision in a series of lawsuits against older power plants whose largely unregulated emissions contribute significantly to air pollution in the Northeast. Their most important victory came just last week in a federal case involving Ohio Edison. Since the decision is likely to influence other pending cases, the big utilities are sure to bring heavy pressure to bear on Mr. Leavitt to get rid of new-source review once and for all.

Mr. Bush plainly hopes that Mr. Leavitt's low-key approach will generally keep the E.P.A. and environmental issues out of the news. With crucial sections of two bedrock environmental laws under attack, that will not be easy.
It's frightening to know that he's still keeping up with all the latest trends in deception and deregulation, prepping himself for some kind of phoenix-like return to fraudulent corporate commerce or a return to his role as the antichrist of energy policy in the future.

While the circus of indictments of just about everyone else at Enron also deserving of prosecutorial attention continues, Ken Lay isn't suffering at all. Fat in his wide leather seat, it appears that he is on the Atkins diet because he ate only the meat from his First Class meal.
The Terminator gets Layed. The Enron-Schwarzenegger linkage is
coming to light:
In May of 2001, [Ken] Lay [CEO of Enron] convened a private meeting with junk bond king Michael Milken, Los Angeles' then-Mayor Richard Riordan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, at which Lay reportedly presented his vision of solving the state's energy deregulation crisis by, absurd as it sounds, expanding deregulation. The meeting, about which the public still knows very little, may become a major issue now that Schwarzenegger is no longer just a Republican movie star..."
Here's a more thorough and analytical report on the same meeting:
The 90-minute secret meeting Lay convened took place inside a conference room at the Peninsula Hotel. Lay, and other Enron representatives at the meeting, handed out a four-page document to Schwarzenegger, Riordan and Milken titled "Comprehensive Solution for California," which called for an end to federal and state investigations into Enron's role in the California energy crisis and said consumers should pay for the state's disastrous experiment with deregulation through multibillion rate increases. Another bullet point in the four-page document said "Get deregulation right this time -- California needs a real electricity market, not government takeovers."

The irony of that statement is that California's flawed power market design helped Enron earn more than $500 million in one year, a tenfold increase in profits from a previous year and it's coordinated effort in manipulating the price of electricity in California, which other power companies mimicked, cost the state close to $70 billion and led to the beginning of what is now the state's $38 billion budget deficit. The power crisis forced dozens of businesses to close down or move to other states, where cheaper electricity was in abundant supply, and greatly reduced the revenue California relied heavily upon.
Milken, Lay, the recently departed Poindexter — all these white collar criminals are continually prancing around the periphery, acting as lieutenants of the Bush Wimp Mafia. And Arnold's brand name and limitless ambition will enable him to sell his soul to these devils more quickly than the other hundred-odd gubernatorial candidates.
Monday, August 18, 2003
Lessons in how to lie, by
Brian Eno.

Link via Media Whores Online.
Friday, August 15, 2003
Less than shocking. Maybe I'm just naturally suspicious, but I doubt that I was the only person who found it unnerving to learn from all the coverage of the Big Blackout that Texas is on a different power grid than the
rest of the country.

And I'm sure a lot of people are beginning to wonder about the truth of statements like former energy secretary Bill Richardson's: "We're the world's greatest superpower, but we have a Third World electricity grid."

UPDATE: A good overview of the problem appears in the Washington Post.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
"How bad does it have to get?" The question is being asked not only by patients, but
US doctors:
"How bad does it have to get?," asks Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of Harvard Medical School. "How many patients have to die from lack of health insurance? How many seniors have to choose between medicine and food before our legislators enact national health insurance?"
It's clear we're approaching systemic crisis in the way Americans receive and pay for medical care.

In the face of this crisis, what is our vacationing president's highest priority? "Good tort reform."
Subsidizing waste. Besides the Bush tax cut program's intentional giveaways to the most wealthy, its incentives for waste and stupidity are a criminal side effect.

Kiplinger's, the personal finance magazine, spells out how US taxpayers are unwittingly buying
gas hog SUVs for the least conscientious among us:
Call it a loophole you could drive a truck through. Although tax write-offs for most business vehicles have long been limited in an attempt to prevent taxpayers from subsidizing luxurious rides, the squeeze doesn't apply to "light trucks" -- including SUVs that weigh 6,001 pounds or more loaded (many do) -- or cars that tip the scales at 6,000 pounds empty (good luck finding one). Buy a heavyweight for your business and you can "expense" it, meaning you deduct at least part of the cost right away rather than being constrained by limited depreciation write-offs over a number of years.

The amount eligible for expensing was supposed to be $25,000 in 2003. But the new tax law bumped up the limit to $100,000. So if you buy a $71,000 Range Rover this year for a business, you can expense the entire cost. In the top, 35% bracket, that basically means Uncle Sam picks up $24,850 of the tab.
But if you buy a piece of working-class crap, the magic of Bush-expensing doesn't work as well for you. It has to be an expensive guzzler to get the fullest financial benefit: "Besides the Hummer and Range Rover, SUVs that make the list include the BMW X5, Chevrolet Suburban, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg."

Meanwhile, jobless rates and the costs of medical care and college tuition skyrocket — because Republican policymakers don't regard funding the quality of Americans' lives quite as highly as funding a businessman's Hummer.
Savage Society. If you're a perverted fan of Dan Savage (and who isn't?), get over to Ginger Mayerson and Laurel Sutton's interview with him and his testicular observations in
The Journal of The Lincoln Heights Literary Society:
GM: Who would you like to see get the Democratic nomination and why is that?

DS: I'm for Howard Dean - because he's got balls, and he's not afraid of the right-wing attack machine. He knows that you can't play nice with the right, so you might as well go for it and play mean.
Sounds about right to me.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Ashcroft's Rolling Fascism Revue. No time for defending the Fatherland, John's busy defending his insane legislation (
Washington Post):
Faced with growing public questioning of his department's anti-terrorism policies, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft plans to kick off a cross-country tour next week focused on defending the USA Patriot Act and other legislation as vital tools in the fight against terrorism.

Justice Department officials said the series of appearances at more than a dozen stops from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City will be aimed at countering criticism from civil liberties groups and some lawmakers that authorities have gone too far in wielding anti-terrorism powers granted by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


But Ashcroft's travel plans underscore growing concerns within the Bush administration at increasing criticism from Congress, opposition from cities and counties across the United States and attacks from Democratic presidential candidates.

More than 140 cities and counties, in addition to state legislatures in Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont, have approved resolutions condemning the Patriot Act and, in a few cases, refusing to enforce it. Justice officials were also blindsided last month by the House, which voted 309 to 118 to cut off funding for part of the law that allows the government to conduct "sneak and peek" searches of private property. The act comes up for review by Congress in 2005.


Justice officials said yesterday that Ashcroft's itinerary has not been finalized, but would begin with a policy-focused speech in Washington on Aug. 19, followed by planned appearances in cities including Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Salt Lake City.
These four sound like relatively compliant cities as far as controlling or avoiding the more unruly elements of the thinking public. I wonder why San Francisco, Chicago, or the 9-11 capital itself — New York City — weren't selected as tour stops. No fan base, I suppose.

While the real terrorists tend to their long-range plans, Ashcroft turns his attention to more pressing matters of national security, showing his facility for prioritizing his do-list by indicting porn purveyors.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
We can't find Saddam's WMDs — but we found Halliburton's. Another headslapper from those Halliburton hooligans (
Wall Street Journal, sub. req'd):
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)--Jurors in a federal weapons case can hear about Halliburton Corp.'s (HAL) ties to a Canadian anti-terrorist consultant who faces trial next week, but they can't hear about Vice President Dick Cheney.

Federal Judge John Conway ruled Monday that Cheney, who headed Halliburton in the 1990s, was irrelevant to the impending trial of David Hudak.

Hudak faces 50 years in prison if convicted of stockpiling 2,400 missile warheads, providing military training to troops from the United Arab Emirates and several other charges.

He goes on trial Aug. 19, a year after the warheads were found at his Roswell-based High Energy Access Tools Inc., or HEAT -a counterterrorism consulting and training company. Authorities allege he did not register the material with federal authorities as required.

Hudak was arrested last August with co-defendant Michael Payne, who pleaded guilty last month in exchange for a recommendation of leniency.

Hudak has been in federal custody for one year.

He contends Halliburton, a Houston-based oilfield-services and construction company, initiated the sale of the missile tips, billing them as demolition devices rather than warheads. Halliburton, through a spokeswoman, has confirmed selling demolition devices, but not warheads.

The devices were bought "as demolition charges, stored as demolition charges and used as demolition charges," defense attorney Robert Gorence told the court.

The devices were used to demolish unwanted buildings and for similar activities, the defense has said.

Cheney did not come aboard as CEO at Halliburton until a year after the 1994 purchase of the explosives.

But Gorence said in court documents that Cheney's presence at Halliburton underscored Hudak's belief that the company would operate legally.

A key issue in the case is what Hudak intended to do with the explosives, Gorence said.

But prosecutor Greg Wormuth said the explosives are warheads regardless of what Hudak intended.
Online, the headline for this story is "Judge Says Cheney Irrelevant To N Mexico Fedl Weapon Case," which somehow misses the mark by at least an ocean.

Incidentally, High Energy Access Tools Inc., or HEAT, is the lamest, forced-acronym podunk name for a crypto-military commercial enterprise I've heard all day. Hudak must be a total shithead, just like his masters.

UPDATE: Nice to know that HEAT is conveniently headquartered at a post office box in Casper, Wyoming. It has a vague website and a sister company called Hydro Cut, "the leader in tactical breaching equipment and training for law enforcement, military, corrections and government agencies." The latter website features an animated United We Stand US flag and lists its headquarters as a post office box in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Fair and balanced.
Napalm and other atrocities attributable to American actions in Iraq are greeted here in the US with media silence. At least
xymphora is watching (start with this post and scroll down):
The situation in Iraq has gotten so bad that I am having trouble keeping the American atrocities separate in my mind. I find myself reading about some new massacre, and mistakenly thinking it is a report of an old massacre, only to realize that it is in fact a brand spanking new massacre with similarities to the old massacres. The Americans have been in Iraq so long now they are resorting to repeating their outrages:
'Jittery' American soldiers shot and killed six Iraqis who were attempting to get home before the 11 p. m. curfew in Baghdad. Anwaar Kawaz, who lost her husband and three of her four children, said:

"We kept shouting, 'We're a family! Don't shoot!' But no one listened. They kept shooting. They killed us. There was no signal. Nothing at all. We didn't see anything but armored cars. Our headlights were on. He (her husband) didn't have time to put his foot on the brake. They kept shooting. He was shot in the forehead. I was still sitting next to him. I got out of the car to get help. I was shouting, 'Help me! Help me!' No one came."

Her husband didn't die for at least an hour, but no one tried to help. In fact, the father and two daughters would have survived if they had been taken immediately to the hospital, but the Americans refused to let anyone take them (this is very Israeli, and is starting to become an American trend). The daughter bled to death on the street.
Links to all sources at xymphora.
Monday, August 11, 2003
Leave no CEO behind. Dubya's tax cuts will have an obscenely stimulating effect on a very few household incomes — not including yours (
Wall Street Journal, sub. req'd):
The federal tax cut, which slashed the tax rate on dividends and prompted many companies to increase their payouts, is proving to be a boon for some corporate executives who are reaping millions in after-tax gains.

All shareholders benefit from higher dividends and lower taxes. But for senior executives holding sizable stakes in their companies, the rewards have been especially lucrative.

At Wall Street securities firm Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which raised its dividend by 108%, Chief Executive Henry Paulson will get a $2 million after-tax boost in dividend income each year. Charles Schwab, chairman of discount-brokerage firm Charles Schwab Corp., picks up an additional $5.4 million, Leslie Wexner of retailer Limited Brands Inc. will get $9.3 million extra and Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates, whose company announced its first, though modest, dividend earlier this year, gets an $80.3 million after-tax increase.

"You're using the extreme example but any assessment of who owns the most stocks would have to say this dividend cut will tend to benefit the wealthiest taxpayer group the most," says Mark Luscombe, chief analyst for the federal and state tax group at tax-information provider CCH Inc.
The Bush administration maintains its reputation for giving the most to those who need it least. The extra $80 million Bill Gates will get (that's just for this year — wait until you see what Gates gets in 2008 when the dividend tax rate goes all the way down to zero percent) comes directly from the US Treasury, the joint assets of 291 million American citizens. So when your town's police force is reduced, and Head Start is cut, and veterans' benefits are eliminated, remember who is to blame.
Friday, August 08, 2003
A gift from US taxpayers: $1 billion for Halliburton. Incumbent advantage and the shutting out of competition is paying off, non-metaphorically speaking, for Cheney's Halliburton (
New York Times):
A week ago, the Corps of Engineers Web site carried an amendment to the contract proposal, saying that 220 projects, mostly at installations above the ground, must be completed for Iraq's oil production to reach prewar levels. The projects are divided into three phases, with a total estimated cost of $1.14 billion.

But the corps notes in the plan that the first two phases, which together would require about $967 million in investments, would have to be completed by Dec. 31.

Halliburton's competitors worry that if the winner of the new contracts is not announced until Oct. 15, that company could not even begin the work before year's end. The only company that could do the work based on that timetable is Halliburton, its competitors say.

Only the third and final phase, worth about $176 million and requiring the work to be completed by March 31, could realistically be performed by a Halliburton competitor, its rivals say.
Wall Street is looking kindly on Cheney's Halliburton fraternity and its incumbent advantage as they record increased revenues, thanks to invaluable US taxpayer assistance in restoring them to profitability.

Link via Matthew Yglesias.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
Enron's Fastow gets hot in Houston. Much to its credit, the Houston Chronicle has successfully led the charge for a hearing to make public the
transcript of last week's closed hearing in the criminal case against former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow:
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt said he will hear from the Chronicle Aug. 26. Citing the First Amendment, the newspaper has asked Hoyt to make public the record of a July 28 hearing that was scheduled for open court, but was instead held behind closed doors.
It's 101 degrees in Houston today — much too stuffy for closed doors. A little sunshine and First Amendment fresh air for Enron's secrets might be beneficial.

And with the help of the judiciary, life will continue to get hotter still for W's Enron friends who are still at large, as more and more of their dastardly secrets come out into the Texas sun.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
The cold light of science shines on Chuck Colson. Mark A. R. Kleiman, a
blogger and UCLA professor, outs Christian felon and presidential faith-buddy for fake science (i.e., lying) in Slate:
When he was governor of Texas, Bush invited Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship to start InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a fundamentalist prison-within-a-prison where inmates undergo vigorous evangelizing, prayer sessions, and intensive counseling. Now comes a study from the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society reporting that InnerChange graduates have been rearrested and reimprisoned at dramatically lower rates than a matched control group.


But when you look carefully at the Penn study, it's clear that the program didn't work. The InnerChange participants did somewhat worse than the controls: They were slightly more likely to be rearrested and noticeably more likely (24 percent versus 20 percent) to be reimprisoned. If faith is, as Paul told the Hebrews, the evidence of things not seen, then InnerChange is an opportunity to cultivate faith; we certainly haven't seen any results.


...if you're smart, you don't listen the political advocates of "faith-based" this and that when they say they're only asking us to support programs that have been "proven" to work.
Once again, fuzzy math to support faith-based science, undoubtedly to cast a voodoo economic magic spell. Why doesn't Dubya just appoint Colson to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Exorcism, Leeches and Alchemy?

The United States of America — marching toward medievalism!

Link via Tapped. We most recently wrote about Chuck in June.
Trenton makes — the world takes. Tom Tomorrow photographs and comments on one of my
favorite city slogans in the world.
Monday, August 04, 2003
If it's August, this must be Crawford. The World's Laziest and Most Incompetent Leaders have left
the White Building:
In what has become an annual tradition, Bush stopped at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for the exams on his way to a month-long stay at his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch, which he will use as a base for traveling to political and official events.


Vice President Cheney, who is spending the month at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., is following Bush's lead and giving up fishing time to raise money for their reelection campaign. Between them, Bush and Cheney plan to travel to 13 of their own fundraisers during August, and each plans to make a fundraising stop for another Republican candidate.


A CBS News tally shows this is Bush's 26th presidential trip to Crawford. He has spent all or part of 166 days at the ranch or en route -- the equivalent of 5-1/2 months. When Bush's trips to Camp David and Kennebunkport, Maine, are added, according to the CBS figures, Bush has spent 250 full or partial days at his getaway spots -- 27 percent of his presidency so far.
These all-August, every-August vacation schedules don't seem representative of the American workplace, even by CEO standards.

In fact, they sound downright French.

UPDATE: A new presidential statement from "...I did briefly consider cutting my Crawford time short this year – because, you know, when those Arabiacs spent my 2001 vacation plotting to fly into the World Trade Center, it sure made me look like a slack-ass Bozo when I finally rolled back into Washington. But, then Laura reminded me that I am not just taking a vacation for myself. I'm also vacationing for all our boys in uniform who have been on duty for the past 365 days straight. So, I may take even longer, and will certainly be adding one additional tribute day for each American National Guardsmen who gets mowed down by some Iraqi who's jubilantly embracing the freedom to exercise our Second Amendment."
Friday, August 01, 2003
"Subverting all of the values to which they give lip service." Elaine Pagels is a theological historian and author I have admired for years. Her perspective on the political motives of religious ideas and rhetoric was always fascinating, but never more so than at this moment in America. It was thrilling to find this
interview about Christianity and politics at that I will not excerpt because I would just end up copying and pasting the whole thing.

Don't miss it.

Link via Arts & Letters Daily.

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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