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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.

The usual copyright stuff applies, but I probably won't get enraged until I find a clone site with absolutely no attribution (which, by the way, has happened twice with some of my other stuff). Finally, if anyone's offended by anything on this site then please do notify me immediately. I like to keep track of those times when I get something right.


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"When they say, 'Gee it's an information explosion!', no, it's not an explosion, it's a disgorgement of the bowels is what it is. Every idiotic thing that anybody could possibly write or say or think can get into the body politic now, where before things would have to have some merit to go through the publishing routine, now, ANYTHING." - Harlan Ellison

Old pals Rumsy and Saddam

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Friday, February 01, 2002

David Sprintzen has compiled a partial list of the Enron Administration's pre-9/11 accomplishments, which I reproduce here.

* Significantly eased field-testing controls of genetically engineered crops.

* Cut federal spending on libraries by $39 million.

* Cut $35 million in funding for doctors to get advanced pediatric training.

* Cut by 50% funding for research into renewable energy sources.

* Revoked rules that reduced the acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water.

* Blocked rules that would require federal agencies to offer bilingual assistance to non-English speaking persons.

* Proposed to eliminate new marine protections for the Channel Islands and thecoral reefs of northwest Hawaii. San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 2001

* Cut funding by 28% for research into cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.

* Suspended rules that would have strengthened the government's ability to deny contracts to companies that violated workplace safety, environmental and other federal laws.

* OK'd Interior Department appointee Gale Norton to send out letters to state officials soliciting suggestions for opening up national monuments for oil and gas drilling, coal mining, and foresting.

* Appointed John Negroponte - an un-indicted high-level Iran Contra figure- to the post of United Nations ambassador.

* Abandoned a campaign pledge to invest $100 million for rain forest conservation.

* Reduced by 86% the Community Access Program for public hospitals, clinics and providers of care for people without insurance.

* Rescinded a proposal to increase public access to information about the potential consequences resulting from chemical plant accidents.

* Suspended rules that would require hardrock miners to clean up sites on Western public lands.

* Cut $60 million from a Boy's and Girl's Clubs of America program for publichousing.

* Proposed to eliminate a federal program designed to help communities (and successfully used in Seattle) prepare for natural disasters.

* Pulled out of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty global warming agreement.

* Cut $200 million of work force training for dislocated workers.

* Eliminated funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program, which encourages farmers to maintain wetlands habitat on their property.

* Cut program to provide childcare to low-income families as they move from welfare to work.

* Cut a program that provided prescription contraceptive coverage to federal employees (though it still pays for Viagra).

* Cut $700 million in capital funds for repairs in public housing.

* Appointed Otto Reich - an un-indicted high level Iran Contra figure - to Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.

* Cut Environmental Protection Agency budget by $500 million.

* Proposed to curtail the ability of groups to sue in order to get an animal placedon the Endangered Species List.

* Rescinded rule that mandated increased energy-saving efficiency regulations for central air conditioners and heat pumps.

* Repealed workplace ergonomic rules designed to improve worker health and safety.

* Abandoned campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2), the waste gas that contributes to global warming.

* Banned federal aid to international family planning programs that offer abortion counseling with other independent funds.

* Closed White House Office for Women's Health Initiatives and Outreach.

* Nominated David Lauriski - ex-mining company executive - to post of Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health.

* O.K.'d Interior Secretary Gale Norton to go forth with a controversial plan to auction oil and gas development tracts off the coast eastern of Florida.

* Announced intention to open up Montana's Lewis and Clark National Forest to oil and drilling.

* Proposes to re-draw boundaries of nation's monuments, which would technicallyallow oil and gas drilling "outside" of national monuments.

* Gutted White House AIDS Office.

* Renegotiating free trade agreement with Jordan to eliminate safeguards for theenvironment and workers' rights.

* Will no longer seek guidance from The American Bar Association in recommendations for the federal judiciary appointments.

* Appointed recycling foe Lynn Scarlett as Undersecretary of the Interior.

* Took steps to abolish the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

* Cut the Community Oriented Policing Services program.

* Allowed Interior Secretary Gale Norton to shelve citizen-led grizzly bear re-introductionplan scheduled for Idaho and Montana wilderness.

* Continues to hold up federal funding for stem cell research projects.

* Makes sure convicted misdemeanor drug users cannot get financial aid for college, though convicted murderers can.

* Refused to fund continued cleanup of uranium-slag heap in Utah.

* Refused to fund continued litigation of the government's tobacco company lawsuit.

* Proposed a $2 trillion tax cut, of which 43% will go to the wealthiest 1% ofAmericans.

* Signed a bill making it harder for poor and middle-class Americans to file for bankruptcy, even in the case of daunting medical bills.

* Appointed a Vice President quoted as saying "If you want to do somethingabout carbon dioxide emissions, then you ought to build nuclear power plants."Vice President Dick Cheney on "Meet the Press."

* Appointed Diana "There is no gender gap in pay" Roth to the Councilof Economic Advisers. Boston Globe, March 28, 2001

* Appointed Kay Cole James - an opponent of affirmative action-to direct the Officeof Personnel Management.

* Cut $15.7 million earmarked for states to investigate cases of child abuse and neglect.

* Helped kill a law designed to make it tougher for teenagers to get credit cards.

* Proposed elimination of the "Reading is Fundamental" program that gives free books to poor children.

* Is pushing for development of small nuclear weapons to attack deeply buried targets-weapons, which would violate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

* Proposes to nominate Jeffrey Sutton-attorney responsible for the recent case weakening the Americans with Disabilities Act-to federal appeals court judgeship.

* Proposes to reverse regulation protecting 60 million acres of national forest from logging and road building.

* Eliminated funding for the "We the People" education program which taught school children about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights andcitizenship.

* Appointed John Bolton - who opposes nonproliferation treaties and the U.N. - to Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

* Nominated Linda Fisher - an executive with Monsanto - for the number two job at the Environmental Protection Agency.

* Nominated Michael McConnell-leading critic of the separation of church and state-to a federal judgeship.

* Nominated Terrence Boyle - ardent opponent of civil rights - to a federal judgeship.

* Canceled 2004 deadline for automakers to develop prototype high mileage cars.

* Nominated Harvey Pitts - lawyer for teen sex video distributor-to head SEC.

* Nominated John Walters - strong opponent of prison drug treatment programs-for Drug Czar. Washington Post, May 16, 2001.

* Nominated J. Steven Giles - an oil and coal lobbyist - for Deputy Secretary of the Interior.

* Nominated Bennett Raley - who advocates repealing the Endangered Species Act- for Assistant Secretary for Water and Science.

* Is seeking the dismissal of class-action lawsuit filed in the U.S. against Japan by Asian women forced to work as sex slaves during WWII.

* Earmarked $4 million in new federal grant money for HIV and drug abuse prevention programs to go only to religious groups and not secular equivalents.

* Reduced by 40% the Low Income Home Assistance Program for low-income individuals who need assistance paying energy bills.

* Nominated Ted Olson-who has repeatedly lied about his involvement with the Scaiffe- funded "Arkansas Project" to bring down Bill Clinton - for Solicitor General.

* Nominated Terrance Boyle -foe of civil rights - to a federal judgeship.

* Proposes to ease permit process - including environmental considerations - for refinery, nuclear and hydroelectric dam construction. Washington Post, May 18, 2001.

* Proposes to give government the authority to take private property through eminent domain for power lines.

* Proposes that $1.2 billion in funding for alternative renewable energy comefrom selling oil and gas lease tracts in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve.

* Plans on serving genetically engineered foods at all official government functions.

* Forced out Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck and appointed a timber industry lobbyist

posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 03:39:37 PM | link

Nick Nichols, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Nichols-Dezenhall Communications Management Group, Ltd., has a book out titled Rules for Corporate Warriors: How to Fight and Survive Attack Group Shakedowns, which purports to offer advice for the once-proud corporations hunted into near-extinction by the overwhelming power of left-wing activists and their allies in the anti-corporate media. PR strategies for dealing with activists tend to fall into either the "good cop" or the "bad cop" category, and Nichols is definitely in the "bad cop" camp, advising clients that activists are evil and must be ruthlessly crushed. If you want to see a sample of his advice and don't want to shell out $25 for the book, check out our free download of the presentation he gave recently to the National Pork Producers, in which he quoted the philosophy of Al Capone: "You can get more with a smile, a kind word and a gun than with a smile and a kind word."

posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 03:31:37 PM | link

A three part report on money laundering and other financial irregularities before and after 9/11 by
Tom Flocco includes some interesting tidbits about which banks are and, more significantly, aren't listed on the Presidential Executive Orders authorizing "crackdowns" on banks suspected to be financing terrorism via money laundering. By the way, all three parts of the series go into great detail the evidence that Deutschebank is floating in a sea of money laundering with connections to terrorist groups.
In fact, two banks located in Bahrain and Kuwait - The Faysal Islamic Bank and the Kuwait Finance House - which had been listed in European reports as having terrorist ties were glaringly omitted from George W Bush?s financial crackdown after September 11th. [Source: The Inner City Press, 9-11-99.] Both banks have correspondent relationships with Deutschebank.

In spite of mounting evidence of a number of connections between German financial giant Deutschebank and the terrorist attacks of September 11 - including previously documented links to insider trading based upon events of 9/11 - no press agency or government entity is questioning why certain banking institutions in Kuwait and Bahrain with deep financial ties to the Bush family have been overlooked in the President?s supervision of a so-called "worldwide crackdown on terrorist financing." Reuters reported on 11-7-2001 that the Treasury Department added 61 additional people and organizations to the President?s original Executive Order of September 23 -- including banks in Somalia and Nassau, The Bahamas. But mysteriously, no banks in Bahrain, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia were named in either the original order or its expansion.
In another curious disclosure, the FBI also says al Shamal Islamic Bank -- Osama bin Laden?s personal bank -- headquartered in Khartoum, Sudan -- which the terrorist leader helped capitalize with $50 million in private funds, "is being investigated by U.S. or overseas authorities." According to U.S. News (10-8-2001), the Bureau won?t say which authority. President Bush, however, has failed to place Osama bin Laden's al Shamal Islamic Bank in his Executive Order -- freezing all of its correspondent transactions with other banks of the world.

This is especially strange, since the Washington Post (9-29-2001) reported that a an unnamed bin Laden associate testified (at the U.S. trial on the 1998 African embassy bombings) that "$250,000 was wired from al Shamal Islamic Bank directly into the bin Laden cohort?s Texas bank account -- where he used it to buy a plane delivered to bin Laden... intended to transport Stinger missiles...."

posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 03:16:29 PM | link

CBS tells how 25% of the Pentagon's budget is unaccounted for. New World cover boy Donald Rumsfeld even declared war on the wasteful Pentagon bureaucracy ... on September 10, 2001. He grimly intoned (before the "world changed"):
"In fact, it could be said it's a matter of life and death."
So now he and Ken Lay's cigarette girl not only don't want to cut the waste, but want to waste another $12 billion, i.e. 25% of their desired $48 billion increase in military spending. The story goes on:
"According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions," Rumsfeld admitted.

$2.3 trillion - that's $8,000 for every man, woman and child in America. To understand how the Pentagon can lose track of trillions, consider the case of one military accountant who tried to find out what happened to a mere $300 million.

It goes on to tell how one military accountant attempted to find out where the hell a mere $300 million had gone to, and was rewarded with a reassignment by those who wondered why he gave a rat's ass about it anyway. Maybe we should just get the Carlyle Group to run the entire military industrial complex as a private company for obscene profit ... oops, too late.
posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 02:09:42 PM | link

Mark Weisbrot on the last 20 years of economic miracles wrought by the policies of the IMF and its mercenary arm in Washington, D.C.
Consider this: In Latin America and the Caribbean, where gross domestic product grew by 75 percent per person from 1960 to 1980, it grew by only 7 percent per person from 1980 to 2000. The collapse of the African economies is more well known, although still ignored: GDP in sub-Saharan Africa grew by about 34 percent per person from 1960 to 1980; in the past two decades, per capita income actually fell by about 15 percent. Even if we include the fast-growing economies of East Asia and South Asia, the past two decades fare miserably. For the entire set of low- and middle-income countries, per capita GDP growth was less than half of its average for the previous 20 years. Also, as might be expected in a time of bad economic performance, the past two decades have brought significantly reduced progress according to such major social indicators as life expectancy, infant and child mortality, literacy, and education--again, for the vast majority of low- and middle-income countries.

There is no disputing this data; nor can anyone take issue with the time periods chosen for comparison. This is not a cyclical phenomenon: Both of these periods contain a world recession, and the 1970s had major oil shocks. In fact, if full data were available for the 1950s, the past 20 years would look even worse.

The details of the IMF's Asian "miracle":
The Asian financial crisis of 1997 was brought on by an opening of capital markets that led to a rapid inflow of foreign funds. This was forcefully promoted by the U.S. Treasury Department, despite the fact that the affected countries had high domestic savings rates and did not necessarily need to increase their foreign borrowing. As Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz--the World Bank's chief economist at the time--has pointed out, the architects of this policy did not have a single study showing that opening up capital markets led to higher growth. In this case, the policy had the opposite effect: In 1996 and 1997, there was a reversal of capital flow that amounted to about 11 percent of the GDP of South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. The outflow of funds crashed the local currencies and set off a financial panic.

Washington intervened in several ways that helped transform the crisis into a serious regional economic downturn. First, Treasury convinced Japan to abandon a proposed Asian monetary fund, that would have provided at least $100 billion to stabilize the currencies before they went into free fall. Second, the IMF imposed unnecessary fiscal and monetary austerity on the crisis-ridden economies, with interest rates as high as 80 percent in Indonesia. There were other major blunders as well, and the result was disastrous: In 1998 Indonesia's economy shrank by 13.7 percent and Thailand's by 10 percent.

Russia provides a vivid example of the genius of IMF policies.
The transition economies are a special case, but they illustrate the monumental damage that can be done when America's best and brightest are given free rein to design a new society. Russia lost about half of its national income in just a few years after adopting the recommended "shock therapy" program in 1992. Although the IMF has tried to deny it, Russia really did follow its program, including immediate decontrol of prices (which resulted in 520 percent inflation within three months) and rapid privatization of industry. The government even met most of the IMF's fiscal and monetary targets, at least until the economy had collapsed to the point where barter became the preferred medium of exchange. The result was a newly underdeveloped country with a per capita income that was less than Mexico's; outside of wars or natural disasters, it was the worst economic collapse in history.
The problem is that those who scream "free market" the loudest really mean "guaranteed profits", i.e. "free money", e.g.
The failed policies of the past two decades are often described as a product of extreme free-market or free-trade ideology. But this is not accurate. For example, in the countries that sacrificed the economy in order to maintain a fixed exchange rate--Russia, Brazil, and Argentina--the free-market solution would have been to abandon the peg and let the currency fall. In the Asian crisis, one of the few things that Washington actually did accomplish was to get the governments of the region to guarantee the privately held debt of foreign lenders, rather than letting the banks be subjected to the discipline of the market.
That is, if the vagaries of the free market actually kick in and threaten the planned profits of the big lenders, corporate welfare kicks in at the expense of those whose worry is starving to death rather than putting off buying a new Mercedes for another year.
posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 01:40:48 PM | link

Publicus takes a rather dim view of the possibility of anything being done to dig out the rot underlying the Enron fiasco.
Will there be a meaningful response from government? Probably not, unless it turns out that a great many more people were affected directly, or if we discover more Enrons in the coming months, or if a couple of mega-banks who went to bat for Enron, like Citigroup and J.P. Morgan, start to topple. Otherwise, this scandal will be swept under the rug in much the same way that the S&L mess was. In 1988, neither of the major party candidates for president would say anything about the S&L scandal -- too many members of their own party were tainted, as were too many of their party's donors. In the same way, neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore breathed a word about the enormous deregulation of the banking, finance and insurance sectors that was effected by the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act. That Depression-era law had forced commercial banks out of the hyper-risky business of stock speculation and set up the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to protect individual depositors from bank failures. Now the U.S. Treasury -- that would be taxpayers like you and me -- is in the position of bailing out speculators in the event that their risky market gambles threaten their solvency.
He also reminds us how pretzel boy is intimately familiar with the type of illegal shenanigans perpetrated by his pimp Ken Lay.
"Has Enron become a risky place to work? For those of us who didn't get rich over the last few years, can we afford to stay?" With those words, Enron Vice President Sherron Watkins began her memorable unsigned letter to company chairman Ken Lay, expressing her alarm days after the company's CEO unexpectedly resigned.

Too bad there was no Sherron Watkins working at Harken Energy Corp. in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when George W. Bush was just the president's son and a director of that struggling oil firm. Four times during that period, Bush sold hundreds of thousands of shares of Harken stock and failed to make timely disclosure of those transactions to the Security and Exchange Commission, in violation of federal law.

The full story has been unearthed by Knut Royce and the Center for Public Integrity, but the key point is this: Just like his longtime patron Ken Lay, Bush took advantage of inside knowledge of his company's shaky finances to sell his stock before public filings of that information drove its price down, harming innocent investors. On June 22, 1990, he sold $848,560 worth at $4 a share, "just weeks before the company filed a quarterly report revealing that it had hemorrhaged $23 million during that period," Royce writes. By the end of the year, Harken was barely above $1 a share. Harken had been ailing for at least a year, but masked its losses "by claiming in its annual report a capital gain on the sale of a subsidiary even though the transaction was through a seller-financed loan," he adds. Does this sound familiar?

posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 01:19:59 PM | link

Al Martin tells of yet another heartwarming moment on Fox "News".
Retired General Bernard Trainor, the chief military analyst for Fox News, talked about the "detainees," who were shown lined up between two barbed wire fences, kneeling with their heads toward the ground. He pointed out that we are forcing these people to spend twelve hours a day on their knees. It's done to punish and to control them. O'Reilly then asked Trainor if this wasn't considered cruel and unusual punishment, and Trainor actually said on the air, "These are just towel heads. This isn't punishment for them. They're used to spending a lot of their time on their knees in prayer." He actually used the word "towel head" and referred to these people as if they were sub-human. And I thought to myself after he said that - and we wonder why they hate us so much?
And on the reason for a change of color.
Rumsfeld said these are people who have threatened to kill an American before they leave, and I'm thinking to myself, "they got five hundred guys dressed in Homeland Security red detainee jumpsuits. As part of psychological warfare, they even changed the color from green to red because red is considered by the Muslims to be the unlucky or evil color. They're loaded on Thorazine, living in animal cages with their heads bobbing up and down - how dangerous could they be?

posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 11:35:42 AM | link

Boy howdy but Christopher Hitchens can still
turn a mighty fine phrase:
As for the accountancy profession, it provides a perfect illustration of the old conundrum about quis custodiet (who shall guard the guardians). Fully implicated in the racket, it discharged its duties of auditing and oversight by turning up the shredder to full blast. Nor was this some bucket-shop firm, but the bluest of the blue-chip; the whitest of the white shoe. To see one of its representatives doggedly pleading the fifth amendment, for all the world like some Teamster's Union heavyweight from the Hoffa days, was to realise how far the rot has spread. Men found dead in their cars, secret accounts in offshore locations, hearings where bought Congressmen pretend to interro gate grim-faced witnesses... all this scandal currently lacks is a decent moll; a Fawn Hall or a Paula Jones.

The two heroes are actually both heroines: the chief whistleblower and the journalist who broke the story. The latter, Bethany MacLean of Fortune magazine, is the very model of the bright-eyed girl reporter. And that brings one to another element: the almost complete failure of the press to do its job of investigation and disclosure. MacLean happened to be an expert at figures and the reading of balance sheets: she saw some numbers that didn't add up and asked, just like the child viewing the unclad emperor: "How does Enron make its money?" Up until then, the whole of the business press had been in slack-jawed awe of the company's mighty attainments. And Enron used a lot of muscle to get that little story downplayed. So the current media circus conceals the fact that the journalistic profession is playing catch-up, to compensate for a long period of inertia and incuriosity.

The law of omerta, meanwhile, has spread throughout the administration. The vice-president declines to release, to his own general accounting office, the records of meetings where - it seems, prima facie - a bent corporation guided the signatures of government on the formulation of energy policy. There was not even a conflict of interest, by the sound of it. More like an identity of interest: an automatic assumption that what was good for one boardroom was good for America. The president's lame and misleading explanation of how he came to meet "Kenny-boy", as he used to refer to chairman Kenneth Lay, is - when coupled with his defence of Dick Cheney's mulishness - an additional insult to the very idea of the separation of powers.

The situation calls for a Galahad among lawyers and investigators, if one can still be found in a system so thoroughly compromised. It also calls for satire and bitterness. My current plan is to open a Washington restaurant called "Enron". On the prix fixe menu the starter would be fish wrapped in newspaper. The main course would be a garnished horse's head.

posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 11:24:43 AM | link

Arizona Daily Sun provides further unsurprising evidence that the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.
It took awhile, but Flagstaff has finally made it into a story of presidential family misdeeds.

Noelle Bush, 24, the niece of President George W. Bush and daughter of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, apparently was arrested in 1995 in Flagstaff on a shoplifting offense.

That's important because Noelle Bush was charged earlier this week with prescription drug fraud and was released from jail without having to pay a $1,000 bond and made eligible for a pretrial release program only after she said she had a clean criminal record.

But now, a Leon County, Fla., official who supervises the pre-trial release program said Bush may not be eligible.

"If we find out you lied to us, you violated our first rule," Wanda Hunter said. "That rule is to be honest. If she lied, then she most likely would be taken into custody or she'd have to pay that bond. Because of the profile of this case, this will be checked out."

Police and court reports show that a Noell Lucila Bush appeared before the Flagstaff city magistrate on Nov. 6, 1995, and paid a $305 fine for shoplifting underwear from JC Penneys. The woman, then 18, listed her home address as 3511 Verde Valley Road, Sedona.

So Jeb's daughter is a liar as well as a thief. I'm waiting with bated breath for those moral cops at Fox "News" to feature this in their headlines. Sure, it's nowhere near as horrible and unforgivable as Chelsea Clinton being late for communion, but it ain't very nice.
posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 11:17:22 AM | link

Jimmy Reid offers some interesting words to ponder.
I can't recall an armed conflict in the Third World in recent years that was not waged by weaponry provided by the First World, and in particular by America and Britain. Can you? Third World countries can't manufacture a pistol let alone an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. The proposition that the likes of Yemen, Somalia, North Korea and Iraq are bigger military threats to the US than the Soviet bloc ever was, and therefore have to be countered by a massive military budget greater than ever, is so fanciful as to be mad.

The real reasons are not difficult to discern. Since 1945, America has made no secret of its global strategy. Declassified documents describe the Middle East as "the strategically most important region in the world" ... "a stupendous source of strategic power" ... "the richest economic prize in the world".

That prize was oil. The richest known oil reserves in the world are in Arabia. America was no longer self-sufficient in oil. In the postwar world, colonialism was crumbling, democracy was in the ascendancy. The governments of these emergent nations wanted to govern sovereign independent nations. In Iran, the popular (and elected) prime minister, Mossadeq, tried to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. All hell broke loose. The United States intervened. Mossadeq was removed. The Shah was restored. America emerged with a big slice of the action relative to Iranian oil that had previously been in the pocket of the British.

The die was cast. In the Middle East, and in other parts of the world, American strategy favoured dictators, feudal kings and sheikhs on the grounds that they would more reliably serve American economic interests than the interests of their peoples. That is why the US could support Saddam Hussein when he was serving its interests and gassing the Kurds and then impugn Hussein for gassing the Kurds when he no longer served American interests. The same is true of Osama bin Laden. In all this there was no evident principle, only callous cash considerations.

For those interested in the gory and meticulous details concerning the history of oil in the Middle East, you can't do much better than Daniel Yergin's The Prize.
posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 11:08:35 AM | link

I guess if you need a Hitler of the Century of the Week to turn your crank, then an Axis of the Century of the Week isn't much of a leap. The State of the Union speech given by Ken Lay's bitch referred to an "axis of evil" comprised of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. State Department talking head Richard Boucher, when
asked about the connections that would establish such an "axis" ...
... said the word was appropriate because there were relationships between these countries, each of which had weapons programmes that constituted a danger to countries in the region and to the world. But he would not be drawn into discussing what the "relationships" were, saying he would just leave it at that.
My lack of god!!! They've each got weapons programs that could cause damage! If that's not a damning connection, then what the hell is? Boucher's also missing the most obvious connection. Iran and Iraq spent the best part of a decade reducing each other's populace by a combined total of over 5 million, with chemical and biological weapons considered fair game as well as the usual more humane weapons that go "boom!" and scatter your body parts over 10 square miles. It makes one shudder to think of the kind of intimacy and cooperation that kind of interaction can forge between nations.
posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 10:48:14 AM | link

International Herald Tribune tells of more heavy action between competing "warlords" who are, wholly unpredictably, doing exactly what they've been doing for hundreds of years. Well sure, more Afghan civilians have been killed than the number who perished in the WTC and Pentagon bombings, and the Constitution has been knocked around like a five-dollar whore at a Navy convention, and Rumsfeld is out-stranging Strangelove, but at least Osama Bin Laden's been captured ... er, never mind. The most entertaining sentence in the item is:
In an illustration of the general confusion of Afghanistan today, former Taliban supporters are present on both sides.

posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 10:40:13 AM | link

Before you take yourself in hand while watching "Black Hawk Down", you might want to peruse another version of the events portrayed therein.
George Monbiot tells us, among other things:
As the feud escalated, US special forces were brought in to deal with the man now described by American intelligence as "the Hitler of Somalia". Aideed, who was certainly a ruthless and dangerous man but also just one of several clan leaders competing for power in the country, was blamed for all Somalia's troubles. The UN's peacekeeping mission had been transformed into a partisan war.

The special forces, over-confident and hopelessly ill-informed, raided, in quick succession, the headquarters of the UN development programme, the charity World Concern and the offices of Médecins sans Frontieres. They managed to capture, among scores of innocent civilians and aid workers, the chief of the UN's police force. But farce was soon repeated as tragedy. When some of the most senior members of Aideed's clan gathered in a building in Mogadishu to discuss a peace agreement with the United Nations, the US forces, misinformed as ever, blew them up, killing 54 people. Thus they succeeded in making enemies of all the Somalis. The special forces were harried by gunmen from all sides. In return, US troops in the UN compound began firing missiles at residential areas.

So the raid on one of Aideed's buildings on October 3 1993, which led to the destruction of two Black Hawk helicopters and the deaths of 18 American soldiers, was just another round of America's grudge match with the warlord. The troops who captured Aideed's officials were attacked by everyone: gunmen came even from the rival militias to avenge the deaths of the civilians the Americans had killed. The US special forces, with an understandable but ruthless regard for their own safety, locked Somali women and children into the house in which they were besieged.

So many Hitlers. First, Bush I tells us that Saddam Hussein is the "modern Hitler", next one of a pack of indistinguishable warlords (another loaded term, that) is deemed Hitlerian, then Abu Nidal assumes the role, and now we have Osama as the Nazi We All Love To Hate. And then of course there's Castro with that permanent air of Hitlerity about him. And each and every one of these Hitlers is at the very least every bit as horrible as the man who presided over the massacre of millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, etc., the deaths of 20 million Soviets and millions of other combatants among the Allies, and the massive destruction of huge parts of Europe. Hell, we should have a national referendum every year to select that year's Hitler. Maybe Time could have a Hitler of the Year along with their Man of the Year.
posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 10:21:04 AM | link

And speaking of head terrorist Ariel Sharon, he now
regrets not assassinating Arafat 20 years ago, and his government is now claiming it never adopted the Mitchell Report. I guess it was just a pun when Sharon advisor Ranaan Gissin said last year that Israel had "accepted and adopted" the report. Look for Gissin to be assassinated by "Palestinian terrorists" in the near future.
posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 09:37:44 AM | link

Looks like the evil pro-terrorist liberals have
infiltrated even the Israeli armed forces. Too bad they'll never be able to counter head terrorist Ariel Sharon.
Israel's armed forces are struggling to contain the most serious internal challenge of the 16-month Palestinian intifada after more than 100 combat reservist soldiers signed a petition saying they would not serve in the occupied territories.

At least four of the signatories have been stripped of their command positions, and the army's chief of staff, Lt-Gen Shaul Mofaz, declared that "there is no place in Israel's military forces for such occurrences". The petition, which by last night had attracted 104 signatures, has prompted a national debate, and a backlash within the army. Another group of several hundred reservists has signed a counter-petition accusing the petitioners of "lies, distortions and unbridled defamation of the army".

The issue erupted when a group of reservists, led by two young lieutenants, published an indictment of Israel's 35-year occupation in the newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, saying that it was "corrupting the entire Israeli society". Some of the signatories are officers and others are from frontline units - the paratroops, infantry and armoured and artillery corps.

The petition said soldiers had been issued commands while serving in the occupied territories that "had nothing to do with the security of our country", and had "the sole purpose of perpetuating our control" over the Palestinians. "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people," it stated.

posted by Steven Baum 2/1/2002 09:32:24 AM | link

Thursday, January 31, 2002

TNR summarizes them nicely:
What is it about Enron that makes George W. Bush so careless with the facts? First there was his amnesic appearance before reporters in the Oval Office in which he suggested that he hadn't really known Enron CEO Ken Lay (a.k.a., "Kenny Boy") before 1994, and that Lay had backed Bush's opponent, Ann Richards, in that year's Texas gubernatorial campaign. Short of the most Clintonian parsing, both statements were untrue. On Tuesday, making his most extensive remarks about Enron to date, he stated: "There has been a couple of contacts [from Enron officials] with people in my cabinet." Ummm, maybe a couple dozen. By the most recent (but still presumably incomplete) count, top officials who spent time on the phone with Enron executives last fall include Don Evans, Paul O'Neill, Spencer Abraham, Mitch Daniels, Alan Greenspan, and Peter Fisher. Bush then claimed that his Labor secretary (a notable--and telling--exception to the list of officials who had been in touch with Enron) had been dealing with the Enron crisis "before anybody started paying attention to Enron." Again, not quite. The Labor Department announced its investigation three days after Enron filed for bankruptcy. By that point, the company's collapse had already been chronicled in print and on television for months. Finally, Bush played the victimized-mother-in-law card, asserting that Laura's mom had bought Enron stock "last summer." Later that day a low-level aide was dispatched to the press section of Air Force One to sheepishly explain that the stock was actually bought in 1999.

posted by Steven Baum 1/31/2002 02:38:13 PM | link

case of Mike Vreeland becomes ever more interesting. Vreeland's been held in a Canadian jail since December 2000. In the first part of August 2001 he attempted to alert his jailers about an impending attack on the U.S. They ignored him so he wrote down his warning in a sealed envelope which, when opened on September 14, was shown to reveal a list of targets including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. After this revelation, the U.S. suddenly wanted Vreeland back to be prosecuted for credit card fraud in Michigan. Vreeland fears for his safety and wants asylum in Canada.
The US wants Vreeland back in the States on a Michigan warrant for credit card fraud - using his own credit card. Vreeland, convinced that a return to the US means certain death, wants to stay in Canada in a witness protection program. His lawyers Rocco Galati and Paul Slansky, two former Canadian prosecutors, agree with Vreeland's assessment. They should. Both have been the victims of harassment and threats including dead cats hung on porches and car windows smashed out in car burglaries.

The position of the United States government, as represented by Crown Solicitors in Toronto, is that all of this is nonsense. Vreeland, says the Navy, was discharged as a Seaman after a few months of service for unsatisfactory performance in 1986. He has never had anything to do with intelligence according to 1200 pages of Navy records filed in Toronto Superior Court.

"How is it," says Galati, "that the Navy says that he was only in the service a few months and then send us a 1200 page personnel file? Some of the entries are obvious forgeries or alterations and the sanitizing of his records was done so hurriedly that some dates of medical exams in the 1990s were left intact."

In a January 10, 2002 tactic worthy of Perry Mason, with the greatest possible risk to his client if it failed, attorney Slansky got the judge to agree to let him call the Pentagon from open court. Using a speaker phone, in front of at least six witnesses, Slansky first dialed directory information and got a number for the Pentagon switchboard. Then, calling that number he asked the Department of Defense operator to locate the office of Lt. Delmart Vreeland. Within moments the operator had confirmed Vreeland's posting, his rank as a Lieutenant O-3, his room number and given Slansky his direct-dial number.

All of this is part of the court record.

The U.S. claimed later in his hearing - via the Canadian solicitors - that Vreeland had broken into the Pentagon computers and placed false records about himself there. Vreeland has been in jail for 13 months without access to a computer. Further claims got so outrageous that even the judge started questioning them. This is really quite the fascinating case.
posted by Steven Baum 1/31/2002 02:16:00 PM | link

CNN reports that Bush and Cheney are both attempting to limit Congressional investigations of the events of 9/11.
President Bush personally asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle Tuesday to limit the congressional investigation into the events of September 11, congressional and White House sources told CNN.

The request was made at a private meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday morning. Sources said Bush initiated the conversation.

He asked that only the House and Senate intelligence committees look into the potential breakdowns among federal agencies that could have allowed the terrorist attacks to occur, rather than a broader inquiry that some lawmakers have proposed, the sources said.

Tuesday's discussion followed a rare call to Daschle from Vice President Dick Cheney last Friday to make the same request.

"The vice president expressed the concern that a review of what happened on September 11 would take resources and personnel away from the effort in the war on terrorism," Daschle told reporters.

That is, if Daschle investigates he will be supporting terrorists and therefore will become a terrorist. It should be noted that the special prosecutor's investigation of Henry Cisneros is still ongoing, as are a few others started during the Clinton years. And you can bet Indiana-based looney tune Dan Burton is in the middle of several more of his dozens of investigations of Clinton and undoubtedly about to start a few more. These are all of course essential uses of those precious resources that could otherwise be devoted to the Holy War on Terrorism.
posted by Steven Baum 1/31/2002 02:04:17 PM | link

John Pilger offers his usual mix of interesting facts and fire and brimstone commentary.
Breaking our silence means not allowing the history of our lifetimes to be written this way, with lies and the blood of innocent people. To understand the lie of what Blair/Straw/Hoon call the "outstanding success" in Afghanistan, read the work of the original author of "Total War", a man called Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's National Security Adviser and is still a powerful force in Washington.

Brzezinski not long ago revealed that on July 3, 1979, unknown to the American public and Congress, President Jimmy Carter secretly authorised $500million to create an international terrorist movement that would spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and "destabilise" the Soviet Union.

The CIA called this Operation Cyclone and in the following years poured $4billion into setting up Islamic training schools in Pakistan (Taliban means "student").

Young zealots were sent to the CIA's spy training camp in Virginia, where future members of al-Qaeda were taught "sabotage skills" - terrorism.

Others were recruited at an Islamic school in Brooklyn, New York, within sight of the fated Twin Towers.

In Pakistan, they were directed by British MI6 officers and trained by the SAS.

The result, quipped Brzezinski, was "a few stirred up Muslims" - meaning the Taliban.

At that time, the late 1970s, the American goal was to overthrow Afghanistan's first progressive, secular government, which had granted equal rights to women, established health care and literacy programmes and set out to break feudalism.

When the Taliban seized power in 1996, they hanged the former president from a lamp-post in Kabul.

His body was still a public spectacle when Clinton administration officials and oil company executives were entertaining Taliban leaders in Washington and Houston, Texas.

posted by Steven Baum 1/31/2002 01:46:59 PM | link

The gallant saviors comprising the Afghan Northern Alliance are busy doing gallant things, at least according to a
newspaper account originating from the USA's new extra special friend Pakistan.
The Russians are believed to have shipped six containers full of currency to Afghanistan, which never reached Kabul and was grabbed by Northern Alliance allies.

The NA is apparently busy in fulfilling its own secret agenda, in what appears to be a widening gap between the Karzai Administration and its allies, diplomatic sources here said.

Reports said General Fahim's brother Yaseen is busy in selling Afghanis recently delivered to the NA through these Russian containers. Yaseen was buying up to $600,000 daily through certain moneychangers. Bags full of Afghanis were also reportedly being sent to the money markets in Peshawar and Quetta to buy dollars.

Sources say the Punjsheris of the NA also seem to be unwilling to disperse the freshly printed Afghanis it is receiving from Germany through Russia. Recently seven container loads of Afghanis had arrived in Punjsher valley and all were kept by the NA and not sent to Kabul's Karzai administration, in spite of the great shortage of funds at Kabul.

Intentionally, or perhaps ignorant of such moves, the interim Karzai government has asked UN to provide funds to pay government officials in Kabul. NA leaders and warlords as in the past, are still serving their own as well as foreign interests. Security situation all around Afghanistan is extremely poor, night being the worst time. Looting, massacre, car lifting and war lordism is once again order of the day. Most of the Afghans, have supported NA, only to bring a change. Almost all Afghans remember the atrocities of NA in pre-Taliban era and do not trust them. They also feel that despite presence of coalition troops, the situation will deteriorate and cannot be controlled.

Well, sure, there's that looting, pillaging, raping and murder stuff going on, but the women are at least temporarily being treated less oppressively than those in, say, the burgeoning democracies of special USA allies Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
posted by Steven Baum 1/31/2002 01:35:01 PM | link

According to the Bush adminstration accountants (on temporary leave from Arthur Anderson), the government will be back in the black by 2005 even if the entirety of his $1.35 trillion tax cut is implemented and he throws as much money at the domestic and international military machines as the wants. Those who haven't been sniffing glue
beg to disagree:
The [Bush administration] budget director predicted that Washington will be back in the black by fiscal 2005. Daniel Crippen, director of the Congressional Budget Office, said last week that the return of surpluses could come a year earlier, in 2004.

But analysts said there are reasons to believe the end of deficits will be more fiction than fact.

In congressional testimony, Crippen said the budget will be able to be considered in the black in 2004 only if the Social Security surplus, which Bush vowed last year not to touch, is included in the count. If the Social Security money is not counted, the budget won't achieve a surplus until the end of the decade, and then just barely.

The surplus will not return to the size that it has run in recent years until 2011 and 2012, according to the CBO estimates. And even then, that's only because the budget office assumes the 10-year, $1.35-trillion tax cut Bush advocated and Congress approved last year "sunsets" and goes out of existence. Bush last night called for making the tax cut permanent, which could extend the red ink indefinitely.

In other words, expect to see Bush buddies like, for instance, the head of Enron to get even richer via huge tax cuts while others like, for instance, the former employees of Enron and those who had their pensions invested in Enron wait for the volunteer corps to show up and feed them bread and water.
posted by Steven Baum 1/31/2002 11:29:55 AM | link

It appears that Rumsfeld has woken up to or at least admitted the reality of eternal factional warfare in Afghanistan. It's too bad it took being
hoodwinked into supplying a hit squad for the equivalent of a gangland rubout to get the lesson across to Captain Doublethink, though. But what the hell, they all look the same anyway.
posted by Steven Baum 1/31/2002 11:17:10 AM | link

While expecting volunteerism to replace government services in the U.S., Bush has no problem
opening up the bank vaults for the terrorist organization known as the Iraqi National Congress. That is, the INC would be categorized as terrorist if the definition of the word were operational rather than based solely on political expedience. The INC funding had been cut because they hadn't accounted for any of the previous millions that'd been shoveled in their direction. They're getting $2.4 million over the next three months with more to come "contingent on the completion of accounting improvements." That last bit is pricelessly funny coming from those in the Enron Administration.
posted by Steven Baum 1/31/2002 11:05:05 AM | link

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

story sure to push both Enron and terrorism out of the headlines:
A fun-filled bachelor party at a strip club turned deadly when a 32-year-old groom-to-be who was enjoying the attentions of a well-endowed stripper suffocated while his face was buried in her breasts.

posted by Steven Baum 1/29/2002 10:29:21 AM | link





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