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Ethel the Blog
Observations (and occasional brash opining) on science, computers, books, music and other shiny things that catch my mind's eye. There's a home page with ostensibly more permanent stuff. This is intended to be more functional than decorative. I neither intend nor want to surf on the bleeding edge, keep it real, redefine journalism or attract nyphomaniacal groupies (well, maybe a wee bit of the latter). The occasional cheap laugh, raised eyebrow or provocation of interest are all I'll plead guilty to in the matter of intent. Bene qui latuit bene vixit.

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Friday, October 27, 2000

IN LIKE FLYNT - SHRUB'S ABORTION REVISITED
The folks at
Bush Watch are - unlike CNN - not "disappearing" the allegations by Larry Flynt that Shrub's wild years led to a pregnancy for which he paid for the abortion. They're giving this sordid tale the attention it deserves seeing how the villain therein would, if ***SHUDDER*** elected to the Presidency, undoubtedly choose Supreme Court candidates based on their disapproval of the Roe vs. Wade decision. Since his appearance on Crossfire (and that episode's complete disappearance from CNN's web site), Flynt's announced his allegations elsewhere:
Larry Flynt appeared on a talk show in San Francisco last night and was very specific about the proof that he claims he has that George W. Bush "was involved" in an early 1970's abortion. Appearing on Bernie Ward's KGO-AM 810 talk show last night between 10 and midnight, Flynt said the abortion took place in Houston in 1970 during the elder Bush's campaign for a seat in Washington. At that time, the younger Bush was working in the campaign. According to a Bush watcher who heard the show in Bakersfield, California, Flynt claimed he had affidavits from four witnesses, contradicting an earlier report from the BBC that Flynt was basing his story on the word of one person. In fact, according to our Bush watcher, Flynt said the BBC is now considering going with his story, along with the London Times. During the course of the two hour show, Flynt also described the consternation at CNN when he broke the story on Friday night, and discussed the ability of the Bush spin machine to smother information.
Another entertaining bit is CNN's ham-fisted attempt to further censor the story:
"Seems CNN has setup a bushwatch dot com filter in their chat channels now that prevents chatters from mentioning bushwatch.com. The first I noticed it was yesterday (10/24/00), and it is still in effect as of this AM. [Later...] CNN has now removed this [bushwatch.com] filter that was in place for over 24 hours ... this is too funny for words."
A piece at Negative Spin indicates that the women in question was a 15 year old child, in which case we can add statutory rape to Shrub's list of qualities that assure us he'll return honor and dignity to the White House.
posted by Steven Baum 10/27/2000 04:27:00 PM | link

ANOTHER STORY VANISHES
A story in the
San Antonio Express-News about sworn testimony revealing that Shrub lied under oath concerning the SCI case has disappeared from their site. It's not to be found via either their search engine for recent stories or their search engine for archived stories (i.e. those more than five days old). I've sent email asking about the current location of the story, but I'll probably get the same "response" I've received from CNN (for repeated queries) concerning the whereabouts of another article unfavorable to the Shrub.
posted by Steven Baum 10/27/2000 04:07:12 PM | link

Thursday, October 26, 2000

THE SALT PILLARS OF FINANCE
One of the most endearing lines to be found in John Kenneth Galbraith's
A Journey Through Economic Time is:
The world of high finance can be understood only when it is recognized that the greatest admiration is accorded those who are paving the way for the greatest catastrophe.
This appears in a chapter on the crash of 1929 wherein he then offers a rogues gallery of the roaring twenties equivalents of Ivan Boesky and Michael Millken. Richard Whitney, the vice president of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Black Tuesday (who became president in the ensuing months) ...
... was arrested and sent to prison for stealing funds from his customers' accounts and those of the Stock Exchange with which he had been entrusted.
Charles Mitchell, the head of National City, one of the two largest American banks, joined the ranks of the honorable via selling stock after the crash to his unknowing wife while seeking a loss for income tax purposes. Albert H. Wiggin, the head of Chase, the other of the two largest banks ...
... was found to be short in the stock of his own bank at the time of the crash, meaning that, quite shrewdly, he was gambling on the chance that it would do badly, which it did. This was not thought to be a constructive pursuit for one who was variously President, Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Governing Board of the institution. Wiggin said, nonetheless, that the short selling demonstrated his keen personal interest in the affairs of his employer. He was retired with a lifetime salary of $100,000, about a million dollars at today's prices, which, on examination, turned out to be his own thoughtful gift to himself.
There were those, however, who came out of the disaster with their reputations unsullied:
The danger from the speculative mood and its eventual collapse, it might be noted, was urged by Paul M. Warburg, one of the foudners of the Federal Reserve and, by later consent, the most intelligent Wall Street figure of his time. He spoke of the current orgy of "unrestrained speculation" and said that were it not brought to a halt, there would be a disastrous collapse that would "bring about a general depression involving the entire country." He was promptly accused of "sandbagging American prosperity." Some suspected him of being short in the market. Anti-Semitism was only slightly below the surface.
There were also those whose forecasting skills before and after the crash were not quite as keen as Warburg's:
"I cannot help but raise a dissenting voice to statements that we are living in a fool's paradise, and that prosperity in this country must necessarily diminish and recede in the near future." - E. H. H. Simmons, President, NYSE, Jan. 12, 1928

"We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poor-house is vanishing from among us." - President Herbert Hoover, 1928

"I can see nothing in the situation which warrants pessimism." - Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, Jan. 1, 1930

"All the evidences indicate that the worst effects of the crash on unemployment will have passed in the next sixty days." - President Herbert Hoover, March, 1930

"What the country needs is a good big laugh. There seems to be a condition of hysteria. If someone could get off a good joke every ten days I think our troubles would be over." - President Herbert Hoover, 1931

But there were those willing to provide words of comfort to the armies of the unemployed and hungry:
"All the really important millionaires are planning to continue prosperity." - Arthur Brisbane, publisher, 1930

"These really are good times but only a few know it." - Henry Ford, 1931

These quotations were snagged from a brief history of the precursors to Social Security.
posted by Steven Baum 10/26/2000 10:10:31 AM | link

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
Probably the stupidest "idea" making the rounds during the present campaign season is the proposal to privatize (at least partially) Social Security. The
SSA site even features a special "hot issues" publication entitled Will Social Security Be There for You?, in which you can find a big, red banner containing "THE SOCIAL SECURITY TRUST FUND WILL BE EXHAUSTED IN 2037." Before anyone decides to trust Wall Street and the next several rounds of coked-up leverage kingpins with their retirement funds, it might be propitious to take a closer look at the projections used to bolster all the crisis rhetoric.

A paragraph in Doug Henwood's Wall Street: How It Works and For Whom (updated edition, 1998) nicely summarizes the situation:

Since the idea [i.e. privatization] probably couldn't be sold on its merits - why destroy a system that is universal, successful, and deeply popular? - it has to be sold deviously. At the core of the deception is the line that the system faces inevitable bankruptcy when the Baby Boomers begin retiring about 10 or 20 years into the next century. The official source of these projections is the annual reports of the Trustees of the Social Security System. As is common with such official efforts, the Trustees present three sets of projections, a gloomy one, an optimistic one, and a supposedly moderate one. Thought there are a host of interrelated assumptions involved in each, the salient fact, buried in the report's tables, is that the Trustees assumed an economic growth rate over the next 75 years of 1.4% [the moderate or intermediate case in the 1995 report in Table II.D1] (down from 1.5% in the 1994 annual report) - half the rate seen in the previous 75 years, and a rate matched in only one decade in this century (1910-1920). Even the 1930s saw a faster growth rate (1.9%). My own simulations, using higher growth rates, show that with more reasonable growth assumptions - even a modest 2.0% growth rate, below the 2.3% average that prevailed between 1973 and 1995 - the system is not facing insolvency. So either the Trustees are using deliberately bearish growth assumptions to promote public doubt of the system, or are foreseeing 75 years of depression ahead of us. Big news, either way.
If we look at the Economic Assumptions section of the most recent, i.e. the 2000 report, we find the latest gloomy, optimistic and moderate assumptions to be, respectively, 1.2%, 1.8% and 1.5%. That is, the projections still assume a growth rate - even for the supposedly optimistic projection - for the next 75 years that is less than that during the depression years of the 1930s. If you don't believe this then simply compare the historical data for GDP growth since 1960 with the growth rate used for the projections to 2075 in Table II.D1 of the 2000 Report. Henwood is right. They're either assuming (for who knows what reason) that we're in for 75 years of depression, or they're attempting to deliberately mislead about the future status of Social Security.

Henwood goes on to detail the perpetration of an inversion of reality based on the phoney crisis. An ad agency came ...

... up with the "Be Your Own Rock" slogan for its client, Prudential, a company that, even as the new slogan was unleashed on the world, was under investigation in 30 states for "widespread deceptive sales practices, including misleading consumers about the cost of the policies" and "churning" of policies to generate new premiums and commissions. It's all very surreal: the financial markets, characterized by nothing if not volatility and scandal, are portrayed as rock solid, and government, which has paid its pensioners without interruption and minimal scandal for over 60 years, is seen as wobbly.
And as to the supposed efficiencies of a privatized system, the Chilean system so often pointed to as the perfect model for the U.S. to adopt has administrative costs reaching nearly 30% of revenues, as opposed to 1% for U.S. Social Security and 12-14% for the U.S. life insurance industry. Henwood goes on to further belie the supposed wonders of privatization:
It's a mystery why the stock market should do any better at solving the demographic problem of Baby Boomer retirement than the public system. Over the long term, the stock market should grow roughly in line with the overall economy; the only way it could greatly exceed the underlying growth rate is if the profit share of GDP were to increase continuously, or valuations were to grow to Ponzi-like levels. Historical return figures - one of the privatizers' favorite arguments - assume that dividends and capital gains are re-invested, when in fact they will be drawn down to finance peoples' retirements; for financing retirement, the stock market is like a giant revolving fund, much like the public system, that finances net sales by one set of parties with fresh purchases by another. Were the Boomers to start selling stocks to finance their retirement, prices would fall unless there was even more coming in from Generations X, Y and Z. And of course any time between now and then, if one has the bad luck to retire in the midst of a bear market, then he or she may face a fairly miserable retirement.
There's only one small group of people guaranteed to make out like bandits if some or all of Social Security is privatized, and I'll bet not many of them are currently looking at an uncertain financial future from their windows on Wall Street.
posted by Steven Baum 10/25/2000 11:35:51 PM | link

Tuesday, October 24, 2000

SHRUB'S KEEN BUSINESS ACUMEN
The following tale of the genius of Shrub in business matters is condensed from a significantly longer version that appeared in the ultra-liberal
American Spectator in June 1999. Check the original version by those bomb-throwing radicals for further details (as well as Joe Conason's Notes on a Native Son from the Feb. 2000 issue of Harper's Magazine).

After passing up stuffy academic pretension for more real-world, down-to-earth matters (keggers, bordellos, etc.) at Andover, Yale and Harvard, Shrub returned to Texas in 1975 and scraped together $20,000 of trust fund money to start an oil and gas exploration company called Arbusto - Spanish for "bush." After consulting daddy's friends about what to do after picking up his trust fund check, he was told to sign up for classes at the Permian Basin Graduate Center, a school teaching the oil business. Three years later he decided to attempt to win the vacated House seat from his district and lost big time, so it was back to Arbusto. Further cash infusions from Uncle John, grandma, and several more of daddy's friends left him with well over $500,000.

By the early 1980s Arbusto was losing money and - when the price of oil dropped significantly in 1982 - Shrub was close to losing everything. Fortunately for him, a wealthy friend of James Baker - daddy's chief aide de camp for several decades - came up with a $1 million dollar investment to buy 10% of a company that was worth less than $500,000. Shrub also changed the name of the company to Bush Exploration in case any of daddy's friends couldn't read Spanish. By 1984 Shrub's assets were once again disappearing as fast as a keg at a frat house.

Fortune again reared its smiling head in the guise of an oil exploration company named Spectrum 7 - owned by a businessman named William DeWitt, Jr. - that stepped in and bought out Bush Exploration. Family friend Paul Rea - a top executive in Spectrum 7 - has stated that they didn't really want Bush Exploration as much as a new business manager for Spectrum 7. Something about Shrub's performance as daddy's son, er, head of Bush Exploration had apparently impressed the folks at Spectrum 7.

By 1985 Spectrum 7 was in trouble. Even Shrub's business genius couldn't guide them successfully through another drop in the price of oil. Shrub and Rea looked to merge Spectrum 7 with another company. Dame Fortune came calling this time in the guise of a Dallas company called Harken Energy, but not because they thought Spectrum a great deal. According to Rea, "One of the reasons Harken was interested was because of George's name. They wanted to get George on their board."

A former Harken director named Stuart Watson has stated that, "George was very useful to Harken. He could have been more so if he had had funds, but as far as contacts were concerned, he was terrific ... It seemed like George, he knew everybody in the U.S. who was worth knowing." All that hard work being born with the name Bush was beginning to pay off. Despite his keen business acumen, Harken wanted him on the board instead of running the company. The 1986 deal brought him Harken stock worth $500,000 at the time as well as a consulting contract worth $120,000 per year. I'll wager that the consultations didn't involve his sharp nose for oil.

Shrub helped out in daddy's Presidential campaign in 1987 and 1988 while still employed by Harken. After the election he returned to Texas to await opportunity's familiar knock. After an anxious several days, he was contacted by William DeWitt, the owner of Spectrum 7 during Shrub's unsuccessful administration thereof. DeWitt was attempting to buy the Texas Rangers baseball team but had been told by the baseball commissioner that he needed more money from local, i.e. Texas, investors. Knowing that Shrub was a baseball fan in addition to being one hell of a son, er, keen businessman, DeWitt immediately thought of him as a likely candidate.

The very small problem of Shrub not having that kind of scratch was smoothed over by a couple of fortunate coincidences. First, then Rangers owner Eddie Chiles was an old, old friend of daddy's, and after he found out Shrub was interested he lost interest in all other bidders for his team. Second, Shrub happened to run into a couple of daddy's rich friends in Dallas as well as a wealthy old college buddy who all, upon realizing the wisdom of investing in his keen business sense, ponied up the $46 million asking price. Shrub borrowed $500,000 to put up a total of $606,000 for a 1.8% interest in the team. Realizing that this was a sorry pittance for the man who'd brilliantly brought together the whole deal via the tireless effort of making a few phone calls, the partners decided to give him an additional 10% once they'd recouped their investment. Thus he would own 11.8% of a $46 million team (i.e. $5.4 million) for his investment of a little more than $100,000 of his own money.

Shrub needed to pay off the $500,000 loan, though. His largest asset was the Harken stock he'd received upon officially linking his name with the company, so he decided to sell that off to pay off the loan. His keen business acumen once again paid off as he sold 2/3 of his Harken stock for $850,000 just a few weeks before the company announced a quarterly loss and its stock price declined to a quarter of what it had been when he sold it. Daddy's SEC investigated this transaction since not only was Shrub a member of the board, but also on the committee assigned to study Harken's financial situation. It is usually illegal to use insider information for such purposes, but dad's SEC took no action, undoubtedly because they realized that Shrub had already been given a severe talking-to by the Old Man and humbly realized the appearance of impropriety of his ways.

Putting his close brush with having to abide by the same laws as everyone else behind him, Shrub turned his keen business acumen to turning the Rangers - not the most profitable of baseball teams - into a winning proposition, and if not on the field then at least at the bank. Bush and his fellow owners (i.e. the guys that owned the other 99% of the team) decided that a new stadium with luxury boxes was the quickest and best way to cash city, especially if they got others to pay for it. They came up with the brilliant idea of telling the city of Arlington to pony up $135 million or they'd take their team elsewhere. They and the mayor decided to finance the stadium via a tax referendum, with the mayor heavily promoting the deal as one that would bring $100 million a year into the city's economy. They mayor also promised the taxpayers that the Rangers would put up the first $30 million for the stadium. The referendum passed easily.

Afterwards the taxpayers were informed that the Rangers (i.e. Shrub et al.) would not produce the $30 million up front but rather over time in the form of a $1 per ticket surcharge to be paid by the fans. Shrub et al. additionally got a loan from the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority (ASFDA), a quasi-governmental body created to handle the financing as well as other matters, to cover most of the rest of the cost. They also negotiated a rent-to-buy agreement wherein they'd pay $5 million in rent and maintenance each year for 12 years. This would be applied each year to a total price of $60 million, i.e. they'd own the stadium outright after 12 years for only the cost of rent and maintenance over that time.

Another of the matters handled by the ASFDA was the condemning of 200 acres adjacent to the new stadium so Shrub et al. could use them for commercial development. That is, the power of eminent domain - usually used for taking land for some compelling need - was used to grab 200 acres so Shrub et al. could profit from developing it.

In 1998 Shrub et al. sold the team for $250 million, with Shrub's take coming to over $15 million for his original $106,000 pre-loan investment. Eat your heart out, Hillary. By the way, the increase in the value of the team is attributable almost completely to the value added by the new stadium.

This is the sort of tale of keen business acumen that would turn even George Soros green with envy. A young man achieves great success after starting out with with nothing more than a trust fund, a dad who was President, and the willingness to work hard to take advantage of his connections. Not to mention fighting his way past substance abuse and addiction and the onerous demands of the National Guard. If this story doesn't just scream integrity, courage, hard work and dignity, then what does?
posted by Steven Baum 10/24/2000 05:42:24 PM | link

THE BIG MYTH
George Kennan is universally considered as one of the chief architects of the Cold War, affectionately so by those on the right and less so by those on the left. His famous Long Telegram (published in "Foreign Affairs" in 1947 under the title "The Sources of Soviet Conduct") from Moscow in 1946 was considered must reading for those involved in creating the strategies and tactics used to wage the Cold War. To put it bluntly, he can in no way be considered a liberal and his gravitas makes Dick Cheney look like a coked-up frat boy (i.e. Shrub).

So what does Kennan have to say about the end of the Cold War in his At a Century's Ending (1997)? As regards the myth that the Gipper personally rode up to the Kremlin (on the same white horse he "remembered" using to ride up to and free the Jews at Auschwitz) and made them soil themselves:

The suggestion that any American administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous domestic-political upheaval in another great country on another side of the globe is intrinsically silly and childish."
As to the seeds of Soviet self-destruction, Kennan - who wrote his Long Telegram from Moscow and witnessed much of what happened during the late 30s and 40s - says:
It was quite clear, even at those early dates, that the Soviet regime as we had known it was not there for all time. We could not know when or how it would be changed. We knew only that the change was inevitable and impending. By the time Stalin died, in 1953, even many members of the Communist Party had come to see his dictatorship as grotesque, dangerous, and unnecessary.
And just what did the multi-trillion dollar U.S. military build-up from 1945 to 1990 have to do with the fall of the Soviet Union?
The extreme militarization of American discussion and policy, as promoted by hard-line circles in this country over the ensuing 25 years, had the consistent effect of strengthening comparable hard-line elements in the Soviet Union.

The more American political leadership was seen in Moscow as committed to an ultimate military, rather than political, resolution of Soviet-American tensions, the greater was the tendency in Moscow to tighten the controls by both party and police, and the greater the braking effect on all liberalizing tendencies within the regime. Thus the general effect of Cold War extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook that country at the end of the 1980s.

What did the greatest damage was ... the unnecessarily belligerent and threatening tone in which many of [the U.S. military strategies] were publicly carried forward. For this, both of our great political parties deserve a share of the blame.

Nobody 'won' the Cold War. It was a long and costly political rivalry, fueled on both sides by unreal and exaggerated estimates of the intentions and strength of the other side.

So what exactly did the Great Prevaricator, er, Communicator do during the 80s? That is, other than triple the national debt, continue and escalate the policies that delayed the fall of the Soviet empire, and let Ollie North, William Casey and Elliot Abrams run a worldwide cocaine and weapons distribution network out of the White House?
posted by Steven Baum 10/24/2000 11:22:07 AM | link

PHONING IT IN
The MADD lobby just got Clinton to
sign a law mandating all states to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunken driving to 0.08 percent. One wonders how many members of MADD use cellular phones when they drive their monstrous SUV death machines around warning all of the evils of drinking. One also wonders how many of them have heard of the following results of various studies:
  • All forms of cellular phone usage lead to significant increases in response times or non-response to highway traffic situations.
  • The risk of collision when using a cellular phone was four times higher that the risk when the cellular phone was not being used.
  • Cellular units allowing hands-free operation offered no safety advantage over hand-held units.
One of the studies indicates that 39% of the cellphone users involved in collisions use them to call for help afterwards, although as an extenuating circumstance this is on par with a kid who kills his parents asking for mercy because he's an orphan. The personal experiences of myself and many others of my acquaintance offers a simple rule: if you see someone in another vehicle using a cellphone, then go into hyper-defensive driving mode immediately since they can and will do anything stupid while they're yammering just to be yammering. It'd be nice to see some legislation about this, especially as a substitute for MADD's inevitable eventual call for a return to prohibition.
posted by Steven Baum 10/24/2000 10:48:49 AM | link

LYING UNDER OATH
Lying under oath will most likely soon join avoiding Vietnam, hard drug use and illegal abortions on the list of pecadillos the GOP no longer considers to disqualify someone from being President. Well, that is it will if
the following item ever makes it to the "liberal" mainstream media, which is about as likely as Shrub opening his mouth and stringing together 10 words without either tripping over one of them or lying.

In 1999 former Texas Funeral Commission executive director Eliza May filed a lawsuit against Shrub for firing her for investigating irregularities in the funeral procedures practiced by SCI, a Houston-based funeral conglomerate that donated $45,000 to Shrub's gubernatorial campaign. In a sworn affadavit concerning the suit, Shrub ...

... said he never had any conversations with anyone at SCI concerning the investigation and had never asked anyone to take a role in the investigation.
Unfortunately for the man who continually promises to bring honor and dignity back to the White House:
A deposition from the former Texas Funeral Services Commission chairman contradicts a sworn statement Gov. George W. Bush gave a year ago in a whistleblower lawsuit that accuses him of impeding an investigation of a funeral home conglomerate that has been a campaign contributor.

Ex-funeral commission chairman Charles McNeil said in a deposition last week that Bush asked him about the investigation during a 1998 fundraiser in Fort Worth.

Expect to hear the phrase "disgruntled former employee" shrilly intoned by official Shrub spokesperson Karen Hughes over this one. You can also expect the same media shrieking heads that swarm like sharks whenever the phrase "sworn deposition" is used in the same paragraph as "Clinton" or "Gore" to let this story - as is standard operating procedure in Texas - be quickly killed with little or no further investigation or scrutiny.
posted by Steven Baum 10/24/2000 10:09:05 AM | link

Monday, October 23, 2000

GDP
A popular tactic of the "we'll be invaded by godless foreigners if we don't start shoveling more money at the military-industrial complex" crowd is to grouse that military spending has gone way down as a percentage of GDP. It is an undisputed fact that it has indeed decreased as a percentage of the GDP since 1960 as is shown in the following table (with the following numbers obtained from
Historical Budget Tables: Outlays by Superfunction and Function, 1940-2002):

Spending as Percentage of GDP
Year Total Defense
1960 17.8 9.3
1970 19.4 8.1
1980 21.7 4.9
1990 22.0 5.3
2000 20.9 3.0
However, one thing you don't hear from the defense doomsayers is that the supposedly wildly out of control federal budget is, by the same measure, less than it was in 1980 or 1990 as can easily be seen in the second column of the table. The decrease in both total and defense spending in the 90s by this measure is due to the tremendous growth of the GDP during that decade. The decrease in defense spending is much less dramatic (and the total spending increases) if you redo the table in constant 1992 dollar numbers (which can be accomplished via the official Statistical Abstract PDF files freely available from the Census Bureau).

Another thing one never hears from the defense hawks is any sort of analysis as to what the size of the defense budget should be predicated on. Arguments based on the percentage of GDP implicitly assume that the defense budget should be based on the size of the U.S. economy, which makes sense if you're going to use the military to take over the U.S. But if you're going to base your defense spending on what you're supposedly defending yourself against, it might be propitious to see what the enemy is spending. The following table was derived from The Military Spending Briefing Book and the references indicated therein:

U.S. and Possible Enemies Military Budgets
(in billions of dollars)
Country 1985 1997
U.S. 367.7 273.0
USSR/Russia 343.6 64.0
China 28.3 36.5
Iran 20.3 4.7
North Korea 5.9 5.4
Iraq 18.3 1.3
Libya 1.9 1.3
Cuba 2.3 0.7
That is, all the so-called "rogue states" plus the heathen Chinese plus the capitalist Russians are currently spending in total about 42% of what the U.S. is spending on defense, as opposed to 114% in 1985. Even if we get ultra-paranoid and include the good guys, we have to sum up numbers 2 through 9 (Russian, UK, China, Japan, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Italy) before we arrive at a number higher than our current defense expenditures.

One could and indeed should use arguments involving percentages of GDP when talking about domestic spending, but it just makes no sense to base military spending - which is supposedly predicated on the threats posed by the rest of the planet - on how our own economy is performing. The GDP percentage argument applied to military spending is at best self-delusion and at worst a deliberate, fearmongering lie.
posted by Steven Baum 10/23/2000 03:10:00 PM | link

THE DISAPPEARING DIALOG

Note: The entire transcript of the Crossfire episode discussed below was missing from the CNN server as of 2:00 PM CST on Oct. 23.

CNN's Crossfire - long a venue for shrieking heads from the far right and the moderate right to attempt to constrict political debate to ideologically correct issues or positions on those issues - featured guests Larry Flynt and Donna Rice Hughes in a show about "Pornography and the Internet" on Friday, Oct. 20. As you can tell from the transcript for Oct. 20, the show mostly concerned the hosts, Flynt and Hughes discussing whether or not the government should force schools to install Internet censorship software. Flynt was all for parents and schools voluntarily installing the software to keep the young 'uns from seeing evil nekkid folks, but balked at federal laws being passed to force schools to do so, e.g.

Well, it's not, but it's when Congress starts passing a law, you know. It tends to have a farther-reaching effect than you would actually think. You know, you would believe that parents knowing that these blocking devices are very simple and are available all the time, that they can make use of them and that the schools -- I can't imagine a school not taking the responsibility to do the same thing.
Later Novak attempts to start the requisite Clinton-bashing with:
Mr. Flynt, I notice by the records of the Federal Election Commission that you tried on several occasions to give money to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996. The money was returned to you. They didn't want your money. But are you disappointed that the president would sign this legislation that apparently has wide support in Congress as part of another bill which would require filters on the Internet?
Flynt's reply:
Obviously I'm disappointed. I was disappointed when he signed the communications decency law. That was unbelievable. We knew it would be overturned at the Supreme Court, which it was, thankfully. Clinton's done many things that has upset me, but I don't believe he's quite as dangerous as George W.
Then we get to the fun part. The dialogue is produced below courtesy of the Ampol site.
Novak: Mr. Flynt, NEVER let it be said that we CENSOR any of our guests here on CROSSFIRE -- and you said you wanted to talk about the election. Tell me what you wanted to say.

Flynt: Mr. Flynt: Well, during the impeachment debacle, we did an investigation which resulted in the resignation of Bob Livingston and others, and we have continued this investigation -- and for eight months we've been looking into George W. Bush's background.

And we've found out in the early 1970s, he was involved in an abortion in Texas -- and I just think that it's sad that the mainstream media, who's [sic] aware of this story, won't ask him that question, when they were able to ask him the drug question without any proof at all -- and we've got all kinds of proof on this issue.

Novak: Well, you're ...

Flynt: You know, the guy ADMITTED he was a drunk for twenty years, and if the abortion issue is true, then that puts him lower on the morality scale than Bill Clinton!

Novak: Mr. Flynt, you said IF it's true and you have no proof of that. I gather you are a very strong...

Flynt [smiling]: THE HELL WE DON'T HAVE PROOF!

By the way, this entire section, from when Novak lies that "NEVER let it be said that we CENSOR any of our guests" to Flynt's last statement, doesn't appear in the official transcript of the show, thus making the following dialog immediately following the elided portion seem a bit out of context:
Novak: Sir, I gather you're a very strong Gore supporter. Is that correct?

Flynt: I'll vote for the lesser of the two evils -- I don't like either one of them!

Novak: All right! Larry Flynt -- a man who speaks his word. But we remind you, they are Larry Flynt's words and not ours. Larry Flynt, thank you very, very much for joining us...

As to further details, the following exchange took place a few minutes after the show in the CNN chat room:
CNN: CNN - Mr. Flynt, I would like to know how you plan to protect yourself from a law suit by claiming to have the goods on GWBush.

Flynt: Because we have them and the truth is an absolute defense.

CNN: When and where are you going to publish information about George W. Bush?

Flynt: When I said that we had the proof, I am referring to knowing who the girl was, knowing who the doctor was that pereformed [sic] the abortion, evidence from girlfriends of hers at the time, who knew about the romance and the subsequent abortion. The young lady does not want to go public, and without her willingness, we don't feel that we're on solid enough legal ground to go with the story, because should she say it never happened, then we've got a potential libel suit. But we know we have enough evidence that we believe completely. One of the things that interested us was that this abortion took place before Roe Vs. Wade in 1970, which made it a crime at the time. I'd just like the national media to ask him if abortion is okay for him and his family, but not for the rest of America. We're not looking at it as a big issue, we're looking at it as a situation of people not being told the truth. I think the American people have a right to know everything there is to know about someone running for President.

It should be reiterated at this point that Flynt was right about the moral transgressions of Bob Livingston, Newt Gingrich and Henry Hyde, with two of those three self-righteous hypocrites having since resigned.

The Shrub camp is of course denying the credibility of the source, despite that supposedly incredible source having been correct about the failings of those other GOP moral towers, and also despite Shrub's admitted "lost years" including his "did I or didn't I?" coyness about using or even selling cocaine. Would CNN and the rest of the supposedly liberal media censor this story if Al Gore's name were involved? Would the accuser be asked if he were a "strong Bush supporter" or dismissed as not credible (or, if a formerly loyal party hack, a "disgruntled former employee")? It's amazing how questionable military service, drug use and now even irresponsible sex leading to an illegal abortion have become non-issues to the party claiming they're going to bring "dignity" and "respect" back to the White House. This is also the party that wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade and make abortions illegal, i.e. to outlaw them for those not wealthy enough to afford them and avoid the legal consequences, you know, like Shrub and his real constituents.
posted by Steven Baum 10/23/2000 10:16:23 AM | link


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