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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, July 23, 2004

If I weren't already convinced that the present U.S. government would be less perfidious if Al Capone, Sonny Barger and Meyer Lansky were in charge of the three branches, I'd be a bit more outraged, shocked, etc. by the evidence laid out by
Michael Meacher. Not only is the evidence for high-level Pakistani involvement in the events of 9/11 categorically more convincing than the thin gruel supplied by con-men and phantoms that's been flogged by the cabal as evidence for Iraqi involvement, but the cabal is actively attempting to and thus far succeeding in suppressing the former. Hey, but at least they're not getting hummers in the White House (at least not that we know of given the lack of $100 million fishing expedition led by James Carville), and they're not peripherally involved in a real estate scandal in which they lost money (seeing how none of the Bush clan was ever either only peripherally involved or lost money in the con-jobs they ran).
Omar Sheikh, a British-born Islamist militant, is waiting to be hanged in Pakistan for a murder he almost certainly didn't commit - of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Both the US government and Pearl's wife have since acknowledged that Sheikh was not responsible. Yet the Pakistani government is refusing to try other suspects newly implicated in Pearl's kidnap and murder for fear the evidence they produce in court might acquit Sheikh and reveal too much.

Significantly, Sheikh is also the man who, on the instructions of General Mahmoud Ahmed, the then head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), wired $100,000 before the 9/11 attacks to Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker. It is extraordinary that neither Ahmed nor Sheikh have been charged and brought to trial on this count. Why not?

Ahmed, the paymaster for the hijackers, was actually in Washington on 9/11, and had a series of pre-9/11 top-level meetings in the White House, the Pentagon, the national security council, and with George Tenet, then head of the CIA, and Marc Grossman, the under-secretary of state for political affairs. When Ahmed was exposed by the Wall Street Journal as having sent the money to the hijackers, he was forced to "retire" by President Pervez Musharraf. Why hasn't the US demanded that he be questioned and tried in court?

Another person who must know a great deal about what led up to 9/11 is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly arrested in Rawalpindi on March 1 2003. A joint Senate-House intelligence select committee inquiry in July 2003 stated: "KSM appears to be one of Bin Laden's most trusted lieutenants and was active in recruiting people to travel outside Afghanistan, including to the US, on behalf of Bin Laden." According to the report, the clear implication was that they would be engaged in planning terrorist-related activities.

The report was sent from the CIA to the FBI, but neither agency apparently recognised the significance of a Bin Laden lieutenant sending terrorists to the US and asking them to establish contacts with colleagues already there. Yet the New York Times has since noted that "American officials said that KSM, once al-Qaida's top operational commander, personally executed Daniel Pearl ... but he was unlikely to be accused of the crime in an American criminal court because of the risk of divulging classified information". Indeed, he may never be brought to trial.

A fourth witness is Sibel Edmonds. She is a 33-year-old Turkish-American former FBI translator of intelligence, fluent in Farsi, the language spoken mainly in Iran and Afghanistan, who had top-secret security clearance. She tried to blow the whistle on the cover-up of intelligence that names some of the culprits who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, but is now under two gagging orders that forbid her from testifying in court or mentioning the names of the people or the countries involved. She has been quoted as saying: "My translations of the 9/11 intercepts included [terrorist] money laundering, detailed and date-specific information ... if they were to do real investigations, we would see several significant high-level criminal prosecutions in this country [the US] ... and believe me, they will do everything to cover this up".

Furthermore, the trial in the US of Zacharias Moussaoui (allegedly the 20th hijacker) is in danger of collapse apparently because of "the CIA's reluctance to allow key lieutenants of Osama bin Laden to testify at the trial". Two of the alleged conspirators have already been set free in Germany for the same reason.

The FBI, illegally, continues to refuse the to release of their agent Robert Wright's 500-page manuscript Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission, and has even refused to turn the manuscript over to Senator Shelby, vice-chairman of the joint intelligence committee charged with investigating America's 9/11 intelligence failures. And the US government still refuses to declassify 28 secret pages of a recent report on 9/11.

It has been rumoured that Pearl was especially interested in any role played by the US in training or backing the ISI. Daniel Ellsberg, the former US defence department whistleblower who has accompanied Edmonds in court, has stated: "It seems to me quite plausible that Pakistan was quite involved in this ... To say Pakistan is, to me, to say CIA because ... it's hard to say that the ISI knew something that the CIA had no knowledge of." Ahmed's close relations with the CIA would seem to confirm this. For years the CIA used the ISI as a conduit to pump billions of dollars into militant Islamist groups in Afghanistan, both before and after the Soviet invasion of 1979.

With CIA backing, the ISI has developed, since the early 1980s, into a parallel structure, a state within a state, with staff and informers estimated by some at 150,000. It wields enormous power over all aspects of government. The case of Ahmed confirms that parts of the ISI directly supported and financed al-Qaida, and it has long been established that the ISI has acted as go-between in intelligence operations on behalf of the CIA.

Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate select committee on intelligence, has said: "I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted, not just in financing ... by a sovereign foreign government." In that context, Horst Ehmke, former coordinator of the West German secret services, observed: "Terrorists could not have carried out such an operation with four hijacked planes without the support of a secret service."

That might give meaning to the reaction on 9/11 of Richard Clarke, the White House counter-terrorism chief, when he saw the passenger lists later on the day itself: "I was stunned ... that there were al-Qaida operatives on board using names that the FBI knew were al-Qaida." It was just that, as Dale Watson, head of counter-terrorism at the FBI told him, the "CIA forgot to tell us about them".

posted by Steven Baum 7/23/2004 03:37:08 PM | link

That title basically sums up the current spate of heavy-handed attempts by corporations in Europe to screw their employees, with the process being benignly reported by such as the NYTimes as "Europe Reluctantly Deciding It Has Less Time for Time Off." "Reluctantly" my ass. The employers very much want to do this, and the employees very much don't want to. The only reluctance seems to be that of big media corporations to call a spade a spade when it comes to the ham-fisted tactics of other big corporations. Yep, there's a shock. It's stories like these that make me want to reach for someone's entrails.
Carl Bloice (via MaxSpeak) has a slightly different view of the matter.
The corporate plan is to pay their workers a smaller portion of what they get for each product or service they market. For the workers the drive means working more and harder for less.

But for most people this rather simple dynamic is not easy to grasp. They're asked to view the situation from the other end of the telescope. The major media and to a large extent the educational system can be counted on to view and describe what's happening from the perspective of the employers. In a world where the distribution of wealth is steadily moving upward, workers who think advances in science, technology and commerce should allow them to have somewhat easier and more satisfying lives are told instead that it means less break time to chat with their mates and less leisure time with their families. Meanwhile, what's produced during those 200 minutes a week the Germany automaker is asking its employees to give up translates directly into euros in the company coffers.

But it appears that those who own the banks, factories and hotels are simply doing what is necessary (nay, unavoidable) while the working women and men who resist their plans are portrayed as selfish obstructionists. Karl Marx considered it one of his proudest achievements to have shown how the market itself generates this mystified world view ('fetishism of capital') which shrouds the real relations between capital and labor.

Throughout Europe, across the U.S., indeed, throughout the world the drive to lower workers' pay - and thus their living standards - to the lowest common denominator is propelling a frantic race to the bottom. It's hurting workers everywhere and as it proceeds the pain will grow. To arrest the slide it is necessary for everybody on the workers' end of the telescope to make clear how this process works and reject the notion that there is no other way.

posted by Steven Baum 7/23/2004 03:02:09 PM | link

Swen's Weblog - wherein he posts about musical artists that appear in WIRE - I've found the MP3 of the week. It's a German tune called "Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei", which translates to "Everything has an end, except the sausage, which has two". It's by Stefan Remmler, a member of Trio. I'm a big fan of the wurst, and given the number of Germans and Czechs in this part of Texas, there's some damn fine stuff available to sate the urge when it makes its frequent appearances.
posted by Steven Baum 7/23/2004 10:00:01 AM | link

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Brendan O'Neill discovers another big propaganda lie that dissolves under the most rudimentary scrutiny. Remember those hundreds of mass graves containing hundreds of thousands of bodies? So far, they're apparently cleverly hiding themselves next to those devilishly well hidden WMD sites. The propaganda mantra:
There are without doubt many mass graves in Iraq, into which the bodies of thousands of Iraqis killed by the Ba'ath regime were dumped over the past 25 years. Coalition officials have claimed that they contain the bodies of 300,000 Iraqis. In November last year, Sandra Hodgkinson, then head of the coalition's mass graves action plan, told the press that 260 grave sites had been located, which contained the bodies of "at least 300,000".

In comments and speeches, Labour ministers and MPs have repeated this figure time and again. Tony Blair told the Today programme in April: "We have found the mass graves of 300,000 people already in Iraq. It doesn't get a great deal of publicity, but it's true." At the end of last year, Stephen Ladyman, Labour MP for South Thanet, declared: "We are rebuilding a nation where we found 300,000 bodies in mass graves so far." According to Denis MacShane, minister for Europe: "We've now uncovered 300,000 bodies in mass graves, there because of [Saddam Hussein's] torture and tyranny."

Some journalists took such comments as evidence that thousands of bodies had already been retrieved. In a press conference with a senior US official on November 20, a journalist asked about Blair's claim that "400,000 [sic] bodies have been exhumed from Iraq". The US official said: "We've seen numbers that are in the hundreds of thousands. It's certainly absolutely at least 300,000 or more; it could be as high as ... 500,000."

Hell, at this rate Saddam will pass Stalin's eleventy trillion bodies in just a few more months of breathless pronouncements.

On the other hand, the reality thus far:

Blair stated that the graves of 300,000 have already been found. Yet when I asked Joanna Levison of the US state department how many bodies have been exhumed, she said: "Through official procedures? None." Levison, who has taken over from Sandra Hodgkinson as head of the coalition's mass graves action plan, says that more than 270 grave sites have been reported and over 50 confirmed. At some of these there have been "community-led exhumations", where Iraqis have desperately dug around for the remains of loved ones, "but no coalition-led exhumations".

Jonathan Forrest of Inforce, the International Forensic Centre for the Investigation of Genocide at Bournemouth University, also says that no bodies have been exhumed, except unofficially by Iraqi communities.

Inforce is one of many teams of scientists from Europe that has carried out initial forensic tests on grave sites, to verify that they are graves and to estimate how old they might be. Forrest's team worked in Iraq for five months last year. "I do not believe that any forensic scientists have exhumed any bodies in Iraq at all," he says.

posted by Steven Baum 7/21/2004 11:00:21 AM | link

David Francis writes of a bankruptcy bill that won't die.
Bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren calls it the "vampire bill." That's because legislation designed to make it tougher for people to dissolve their debts in bankruptcy court has been pushed on Congress for seven years by banks, credit-card companies, retailers, and other financial institutions. The bill passes either the House or the Senate, even both houses in 2002. Yet it still dies. Then like the mythical vampire, the bill comes back to life in the following year.
And why won't it die? Repeat after me: "Follow the money."
"There is money behind it," says Warren. "This is about paying off big contributors."
The credit mafia claims that it's really, really being hurt by people who use the current bankruptcy laws to "game" the system, i.e. to run up debts, declare bankruptcy, and keep repeating the process. This is belied by evidence indicating that over 90% of bankruptcies result from job loss, enormous medical bills not covered by insurance, and divorce, with only 3% of those filing for bankruptcy fitting the category of "abuser." So just how badly is this supposed holocaust of abuse hurting the credit mafia?
In 2003, credit-card companies racked up about $30.2 billion in profits, according to CardTrak, a consumer group tracking bank credit cards. That's up from $20.5 billion in 2000 and $6.4 billion in 1990.
My lack of god! It's worse than being in the gulag!

One might theorize the real reason for the credit mafia so desperately trying to get the legislation passed. It just might be that they see fairly clearly (at least in private) what the economic fallout of the Bush adminstration is going to be over the next several years, i.e. a deluge of job losses, mortgage defaults and other disasters wholly unrelated to "gaming" the system (at least on the side of the consumers declaring bankruptcy).
posted by Steven Baum 7/21/2004 10:30:29 AM | link

Stephen Roach tells us about a hedge fund that shouldn't be a hedge fund.
The title belongs to America's Federal Reserve. Not only is the Fed the unquestioned leader in world central banking circles, but the US monetary authority has led the way in setting up the biggest macro trades of modern times. Highlights include Carry Trade I of 1993, the equity bubble of the late 1990s, and now Carry Trade II -- all direct outgrowths of trading strategies implicitly recommended by Greenspan & Co. So far, the world is no worse for the wear. But it's a world that now lives from trade to trade. And with that precarious existence comes the ever-present risk of breakage -- the aftershocks that follow the unwinding of every trade. We have the Federal Reserve to thank for that.

This transformation began in earnest in 1987. As the US equity market surged toward excess that summer, there was deep conviction that downside risks were not to be feared -- that they would be protected by the options strategies of the perfect hedge, "portfolio insurance." The Crash in October unmasked the flaws in that supposition. The Fed responded to this crisis by offering up the unconditional palliative of an open-ended liquidity backstop. Out of that chaos nearly 17 years ago, the dip-buying mindset of a generation of equity investors was borne. In retrospect, the buying opportunity created by the Crash of 1987 was a bargain that no serious investor -- especially the levered hedge fund community -- could afford to miss.

Five years later, financial markets were offered another learning experience. In response to what Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan dubbed "financial headwinds," the Fed slashed its policy rate to 3% in September 1992 and held it there until February 1994. The Fed believed that an unusually steep yield curve was the appropriate antidote for the credit crunch it thought was hobbling economic activity -- an outcome brought about by America's saving and loan crisis and widespread loan losses in the commercial banking system. With the federal funds rate pushed down to the inflation rate, overnight money was essentially "free" in real terms. For a troubled banking system, this was a great opportunity to re-liquefy balance sheets. For the levered hedge fund community, this was another no-brainer -- the only question was where to play the spread. The origins of the modern-day "carry trade" are traceable to this period.

Fast-forward to 2004, and it's déjà vu -- but with several important new twists. First, the financing of the current carry trade is now occurring on much more generous terms; the federal funds rate of 1.25% is fully 200 basis points below the headline CPI inflation rate (3.3% Y-o-Y as of June 2004) -- offering a negative cost of overnight money. The real federal funds rate hasn't been this low for this long since the late 1970s. In effect, levered investors are now being paid to play the yield curve. Second, suffering from a shortfall of income generation in a uniquely jobless recovery, American consumers have turned into the functional equivalent of heavily levered hedge funds -- going deeply into debt to extract purchasing power from their homes. Third, the carry trade has now become central to America's twin-deficit financing imperatives; record budget deficits and current account gaps have been funded "painlessly" -- in large part though purchases of dollar-denominated assets by Asian monetary authorities. The yield curve play has turned foreign central banks into hedge funds as well.
Unfortunately, the role of the US central bank goes beyond benign neglect. Over the past several years, the Fed actually has been quite aggressive in arguing why excesses are not bad. That was the case when it repeatedly justified the equity bubble on the basis of the so-called productivity renaissance of the New Economy. It has also been the case when the Fed has argued that America is not suffering from a debt problem, nor a twin deficit financing constraint. By serving as a cheerleader when financial markets are going to excess, the Fed is losing its credibility as an objective observer. It is no longer the tough guy that relishes the role of "taking away the punchbowl just when the party gets going" -- to paraphrase the legendary mantra of former Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin. By condoning excesses, the Fed, in effect, has become a stakeholder in the carry trades it spawns. Investors, speculators, income-short consumers, and financial intermediaries couldn't ask for more. It's the ultimate moral hazard play that that has turned the world into one gigantic hedge fund.

posted by Steven Baum 7/21/2004 10:23:53 AM | link

Unknown News reminds us that the Enron scam wasn't hatched in a vacuum.
Citigroup, the world's biggest bank, today reported 2nd quarter earnings 24 percent higher than the year before...excluding a $4.95 BILLION setaside for legal costs related to Enron.

Even now, Californians pay higher utility costs than before the scandal, month after month, and year after year. So where's my money? I didn't own Enron stock, yet I have to pay something like an extra $20 a month for the rest of my life in higher energy bills.

It seems that the American public has a short memory, so I will REFRESH: nearly every large financial institution in America was in on the Enron scheme. Basically, "they" were all in it. Google around and you see names like Merrill Lynch, Citibank, J.P. Morgan, B of A, and more.

Plus, many wealthy investors were in on the special offshore dealings -- and these investors were in possession of things called "prospectuses" showing how the schemes worked. Imagine Charles Ponzi documenting the Ponzi Scheme and then going to Merrill Lynch to IPO his business... and then having nearly every large money company in the country decide to participate in the Ponzi Corporation's new ventures.

That's the gist of it, folks. It was not just "Kenny Boy" Lay, George W. Bush's best friend. The stench of Enron permeates the American financial sector. The politicians who aided and abetted Ken Lay are playing stupid and the banks and brokerages are making some partial restitution, but only a few people are in jail.

OK? Now that is class warfare. Legalized thievery. White collar crime DEFINITELY pays on a risk-reward basis.

posted by Steven Baum 7/21/2004 10:13:39 AM | link

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Craig Matthews penned a
Jazz Primer for Rock People in late 1995. It's a lengthy and very good introduction. There will be a quiz Thursday week.
What I can do in this primer is supply basic rudimentary facts and trends in the history of jazz, point you in some directions, and give you some suggestions of some avenues to explore. As I said before, for this Jazz Primer, I am going to assume that you are familiar with music in general, and may have heard of a few of the musicians I will mention, but really know next to nothing about jazz.

Before I go on, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, I am only covering the history of jazz up until 1975; I don't evaluate jazz of the last 20 years. You'll have to discover that scene for yourself.

Second, simply talking about jazz is pointless. The best thing to do in order to understand jazz is to expose your ears. I'll clue you where to start looking as far as recordings go.

Third, in the interest of space, I have oversimplified and over-categorized the history of jazz. The trends and recordings I mention are so not easily pigeonholed and labeled. It's always a risk to divide any art into periods of time or into a definitive set of characteristics. For example, take the Miles Davis 1959 record Kind of Blue. This one record could fit into several categories (cool, post-bop, fusion, funk), yet at the same time, it strictly fits into none of them. So keep in mind that the movements/categories I mention should be considered loosely, their purpose to give you some general bearings within several decades of musical development.

posted by Steven Baum 7/20/2004 02:58:11 PM | link

Wayne Madsen outlines a potential cabal gambit to take California in the upcoming election. Forewarned is forearmed.
... Here's the scenario we must be all be prepared for:

If the pre-election internal tracking polls and public opinion polls show the Kerry-Edwards ticket leading in key battleground states, the Bush team will begin to implement their plan to announce an imminent terrorist alert for the West Coast for November 2, sometime during the mid afternoon Pacific Standard Time. At 2:00 PST, the polls in Kentucky and Indiana will be one hour from closing (5:00 PM EST–the polls close in Indiana and Kentucky at 6:00 PM EST). Exit polls in both states will be known to the Bush people by that time and if Kentucky (not likely Indiana) looks too close to call or leaning to Kerry-Edwards, the California plan will be implemented. A Bush problem in Kentucky at 6:00 PM EST would mean that problems could be expected in neighboring states and that plans to declare a state of emergency in California would begin in earnest at 3:00 PM PST.

The U.S. Northern Command, which has military jurisdiction over the United States, will, along with the Department of Homeland Security and Schwarzenegger's police and homeland security officials in Sacramento, declare an "imminent" terrorist threat–a RED ALERT—affecting California's major urban areas.

Although the polls in California will not be closed as a result of the declaration, the panic that sets in and the early rush hour will clog major traffic arteries and change the plans of many voters to cast their ballots after work.

That terrorist emergency declaration could be made around 5:00 PM PST and with only three hours left for voting throughout the state, a number of working class voters in urban centers will either be caught up in California's infamous freeway traffic and be too late to get to their polling places or be more concerned about their families and avoid voting altogether.

Without a doubt, many Democratic voters might simply opt to pick their kids up from day care centers or relatives and then go home without voting. These would tend to be the lower and middle income Californians and the Democratic base. The affluent voters in California who vote Republicans and can easily vote early (and be late for work) or have the option of leaving work at any time during the day to vote will have likely already cast their ballots. Therefore, the recipe of a White House-induced California terrorist alert and a low Democratic turnout could toss 54 electoral votes into Bush's lap, especially if the scare tactics affect the turnout in such urban and typically pro-Democratic vote-rich areas as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Sacramento.

At 7:00 PM EST (4:00 PM PST), the polls will close in Florida (except for the Panhandle in the Central Time Zone), Georgia, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. A half hour later, they close in North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia. If Kerry-Edwards wins Florida and that is coupled with similar pickups in Ohio, West Virginia and too-close-to-call races in Virginia and maybe North Carolina, the Bush team may seek to extend the terror alert to other Western or even Midwestern states, particularly Washington State (since Oregon votes by mail, it would be largely immune from any polling manipulation on Election Day). A terrorist alert for the Seattle area after 5:00 PM PST would result in a similar situation to that of California's, with the exception that many potential voters could be trapped on Seattle's commuter ferries. Washington's polls close at 8:00 PM PST (11:PM EST). A low Democratic turnout in the vote-rich Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton area could be offset by a large Republican turnout in eastern Washington, thus possibly throwing the state's 11 electoral votes to Bush—a net pick up of 65 electoral votes from the West Coast, adding those votes to California's. If Kerry picks up Ohio and some border states, the Bush team will be looking for a West Coast electoral offset and a terrorist alert would be the key to replacing lost Bush electoral votes in Ohio (21 votes), Florida (25), and West Virginia (5), a total of 51 electoral votes for Kerry. ...

That is what all this talk about a terrorist attack on Election Day is about. It is to prime the population and allow Bush surrogates at Fox News, CNN, and MS-NBC to begin their perception management campaign that an attack will occur around the election. But there will be no postponement of the election or cancellation—this is simply another plan to manipulate the public through the use of phony threats and fear tactics. The problem is that it just might work for Bush and his cabal of "the ends justify the means" manipulators.

This article is a wakeup call to all those who can try to forestall such a series of events. California's Democratic majority in the state legislature and its Democratic Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General must take steps now to ensure Schwarzenegger does not conspire with his fellow Republicans in Washington to do to California in 2004 what Jebbie Bush and his people did to Florida in 2000. Similarly, Washington's Democratic Governor Gary Locke and all the Democratic officials, including the two Democratic U.S. Senators, must take similar action to avoid a similar scenario in their state.

Action needed now includes:

1.Informing all state election officials about such a scenario and its potential impact on voter turnout.

2. Making contingency plans now to keep the polling places open to ensure that people can vote later or after any state of emergency is lifted.

3. Prevent the National Guard from being used to facilitate such a state of emergency.

4. Close coordination by the Democratic Party, smaller parties, and minority and labor rights organizations to respond to such a scenario.


posted by Steven Baum 7/20/2004 10:05:43 AM | link





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