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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Fastow Pulls A Fast One 


Enron wench Lea Fastow's plea deal fell through today, meaning she may be the first former employee to go to trial.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner announced to a crowded courtroom this morning that he would not follow the plea arrangement between the government and Lea Fastow.

The judge would not tell her what his sentence might be. Instead he insisted she decide whether to take his sentence or not. She withdrew her guilty plea to filing a false tax return and now faces a Brownsville trial, with jury selection starting June 2.

Fastow had agreed with Enron Task Force prosecutors that she will serve five months in prison and another five months under home confinement. This was part of complex negotiations that led to her husband's guilty plea and his cooperation with prosecutors. The government has said Andrew Fastow's testimony helped indict two former officials, including ex-CFO Jeff Skilling, and could lead to charges against other top executives.

Prosecutors say Fastow's husband Andrew's government plea deal will not be affected in any way. He has accepted a ten-year prison term which will begin after he has testified in any trials. Analysts say prosecutors needn't have gone after the wife (she's charged with filing a false tax report), but wanted to get her on the hot seat, so as to influence Andrew. He is the big dog.

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Wal*Mart Gets Stuffed 


The residents of Inglewood, California took a stand against everyday low prices today, sending the retail behomoth a-packing.
A bid by the world's largest corporation to bypass uncooperative elected officials and take its aggressive expansion plans to voters failed Tuesday, as Inglewood residents overwhelmingly rejected Wal-Mart's proposal to build a colossal retail and grocery center without an environmental review or public hearings.

The company had spent more than $1 million on its campaign, and opponents had warned that if the company won, residents throughout California should gird for similar battles.

...Thwarted by officials in Inglewood and elsewhere, company strategists decided to take their proposal directly to voters, who the retailer said would be well served by new jobs, tax revenues and low prices.

The expansion encountered fierce opposition from organized labor, which insisted that Wal-Mart's aggressive business practices and anti-union employment policies would result in lost jobs and depressed wages for millions of workers.

Those evil California labor unions. First they try to maintain a living wage for lowly grocery workers, and now they gang up on poor Wal-Mart, forcing them to go by the same regulations and review that all companies are supposed to follow. It was this looming Wal-Mart expansion that prompted those massive grocery store strikes, and now, California lawmakers are uniting against the chain.
State Democratic legislators have introduced bills that would force Wal-Mart to provide health insurance to a wider number of employees and pay for expensive economic studies before it could build stores. In Los Angeles, officials are drafting an ordinance that would effectively ban such stores from the city.

The Supercenter in Inglewood was proposed for an area the size of 17 football fields between the Hollywood Racetrack and the Forum, the arena that once served as home court to the Los Angeles Lakers. In addition to the household products, clothing and drugs commonly sold in Wal-Mart stores, Supercenters sell groceries. Analysts have said that the chain's share of grocery sales in California could reach 20%.

Come on, it's only 17 football fields!

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Killer Poppy In Afghanistan, Dude 


Another success story of American imperialism: Afghanistan is on pace for a world record in poppy production this year, making it the leading source of opium.
The specter of nearly 300,000 acres of poppy cultivation this year would "empower both traffickers and the terrorists they feed," says Charles. The prospective bumper crop has been aided by unseasonably warm temperatures thus far this year.

But [State Department official Robert] Charles believes that if the United States and Britain act quickly and in coordination, the 2004 poppy crop could be much lower. Britain is taking the lead role in the counternarcotics effort in Afghanistan.

According to U.N. estimates, poppy exports were a $2.3 billion business last year, nearly half of the country's gross national product. While 90 percent of the poppy ends up in European streets to satisfy heroin habits, American interests are negatively affected as well.

A recent analysis claims the Taliban, though strictly forbidding of the heroin, almost definitely profits from the poppy trade. Other groups are reaping the economic rewards and using it, apparently, to combat the Karzai government (which has banned poppy production.) Officials also believe proceeds are being shipped out to other terrorist groups.

I can't think of another country in which the term "warlord" is thrown about with a straight face. We're dealing with lords of war here, and somehow pretending everything is okay. Warlords! And drugs. And fundamentalism. Oh my.

It's interesting that the Taliban had virtually wiped out all the poppy fields in Afghanistan by 2001. That is until September 11. Now they're making a ton of money. Or are they?
In the 1960's and 70's, as the Vietnam War raged, the CIA fostered and maintained a series of covert wars in Laos and Cambodia. They did this by funding their operations with heroin, refined from opium grown by indigenous tribesmen including the Hmong in Laos. The Hmong, in turn became surrogate U.S. armies and the money from the trade supported the CIA and its allies as the region became totally unstable. In the years since, the only difference is that drug money has become a $500-600 billion a year cash flow that is now an essential part of the world banking and financial system because it provides the liquid cash necessary to make the "minimum monthly payments" on huge stock and derivative and investment bubbles in the U.S. and Britain. These bubbles were already bursting in the weeks prior to the September 11 attacks.

Now, as the CIA moves to control the drug trade in the region you can be sure of several things. First, when the world sees an explosion of heroin from the region it won't be the Taliban's doing. Second, the cash flows from the smuggling will now be directed through U.S. banks and stocks. That is what the CIA does. Third, those cash flows - as direct air operations from Tashkent to the U.S. become commonplace - will be taken away from Russia, the Balkans, Turkey and Eastern Europe. Fourth, the result of that will be de-stabilization of the entire region. Fifth, destabilization in the region will Balkanize Russia. Sixth, the increasing U.S. military and economic presence will consolidate U.S. control over the vast oil and gas reserves in the region. A revived Unocal-Saudi pipeline project, which will begin construction soon after the U.S. establishes control, will take the oil and gas from Central Asia, through Afghanistan, and down to the Pakistani coast where it will then be sold to China and Japan. The profits from those sales will come back into Wall Street. This will be a further drain on Russian influence in the region and greatly increase global instability.

It's kind of funny, in a way, that we trained the mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight off the Soviet Union, and now we're fighting off the mujahideen, to intimidate Russia.

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Fighting Continues in Iraq 


It's gone from quagmire to bloodbath. A new round of fighting today left at least two dozen Iraqis and an unknown number of US troops dead. It was the fourth day of fighting there, after the closing of a popular newspaper last week, and a call to arms by the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr. His army, which US officials estimete at only 3,000, has successfully engaged troops, and even occupied official buildings across Iraq. To top it all off, soldiers bombed a holy building in Falluja.
On the third day of their "Operation Vigilant Resolve," marines bombed a mosque in central Fallujah, killing up to 40 insurgents inside, a marine battlion commander said.

The bombing came after several hours of small arms and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fire from insurgents, which left five marines slightly wounded, said Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne.

Byrne commander, said there were "as many as 40 rebels" inside the mosque. He doubted there were any survivors.

That should do the trick, bombing mosques. Because the occupation seems to be going so well right now. And the thing you want to have, already being perceived asan invading, imperialist force, is a photo of smoke rising from a mosque filled with forty charred bodies, brpadcast all around the world.

One White House prediction concerning post-Saddam Iraq has come true, however: the Sunnis and Shiites have come together for a greater goal. Defeating the Americans.
There may also be an ominous synergy developing between Sunni and Shiite insurgents. On Monday, insurgents fought a gun battle against United States troops in a Sunni neighborhood near Khadamiya in which three soldiers were killed. Witnesses said the attackers included a mix of Shiites and Sunnis. "There were Shiites from Sadr City and mujahedeen from Falluja," a hotbed of Sunni resistance, said Ayad Karim, a shopkeeper. "Now the resistance is united."

On a white sheet hung from the bullet-ridden walls of a Sunni mosque were the words: "Our banner in Adamiya is the same banner as in Khadamiya. If they have a problem, we are their backup and their right hand."

Adamiya is a mostly Sunni area. Khadamiya is mostly Shiite. The two neighborhoods are linked by a bridge over the Tigris River. Rival Sunni and Shiite gangs used to cross the bridge to rumble. Now, people say, militants cross the bridge to coordinate attacks.

So this does not look good. And what does the president have to say about it all? That there are a bunch of thugs in Iraq, spoiling freedom for everyone else. The usual red-carpet rant: we will not be deterred, we will stay the course, we will hand over sovereignty in time for the Election -- er, by the agreed-upon deadline. He seems to be right on top of everything that's going on, taking the time to do some vital campaigning in Arkansas, as hell rages in Iraq.



While George kisses babies (he did call an emergency meeting today, in all fairness), the situation is deteriorating worse than the US press is letting on. Members of the al-Mahdi Army claim to have taken US troops hostage, and an ally is pulling out.
In a further setback for US-led forces, the Ukrainian military today withdrew most of its troops from the city of Kut after heavy fighting with Shia militants.

Yesterday, one Ukrainian soldier was killed and five were wounded in the city. The death was the first combat fatality for Ukraine's 1,650-strong contingent in Iraq.

Despite the withdrawal, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US army in Iraq, remained defiant. "We will attack to destroy the al-Mahdi Army," he said. "Those attacks will be deliberate, precise and they will be successful."

He said that US forces were working to hunt down members of the militia in the mainly Shia district of Sadr City, in Baghdad, and called on Mr Sadr to surrender. "If he wants to calm the situation ... he can turn himself in to a local Iraqi police station and he can face justice," Brig-Gen Kimmitt said.

Kimmit says the surge in violence is designed to stimy the June 30th deadline for handing over power in Iraq. Uh, of course! Isn't that what freedom fighters do? These people consider themselves members of a righteous army, bent on deflecting an evil blow from an Infidel nation -- of course not all of them are so Wahabbist; in fact most are not. But they're fighting for their country, and they're growing in number and intensity. ANd the US still wants to decrease the number of troops there by June? How much longer will the Administration be able to call this resistance "terrorism" and thuggery? It looks like we have a real war now, tougher, a year later, than the sci-fi TV invasion we all saw through night-vision cameras. This one involves dust and blood, and all before an Election.


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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Law Won 


The ACLU, on behalf of seven plaintiffs, is suing the US government over the Transportation Security Association's no-fly list, which, though designed to prevent terrorists from getting on planes, is apparently a pain in the ass for ministers, too.
All seven claim they have been wrongly placed on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's "no-fly" list because their names are similar or identical to names on the list. The lawsuit demands that the government remove their names so they can travel on planes without being interrogated and searched.

The seven plaintiffs... range from a college student to a woman in the military to a retired minister...

The TSA compiles the list and distributes it to airlines which are instructed to stop or conduct extra searches of people whose names match the list as they could pose a potential threat to aviation.

"Individuals whom the TSA concedes are not security threats continue to be identified on the no-fly list," the ACLU wrote in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle.

"Passengers have no meaningful opportunity to clear their names and avoid being subjected to these delays, searches and stigma virtually every time they fly."


I guess that is a pretty bad stigma. And it's not exactly fair that just because you have an unfortunate name you must be subjected to such intense scrutiny (reminds me of that Seinfeld episode in which Elaine dates a guy named Joel Rifkin. Hilarity!), but life isn't fair. I don't know much about search and seizure, and I'll leave it to the lawyers -- I just know I want my rights protected. I don't know if it's a big deal that seven people have a hard time getting on planes, when put in the context of the whole country's safety. It's a pain, but is it unconstitutional? I have no idea. It will be interesting to see, though.

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Powell Gets Uppity 


Even though Secretary of State Powell reads the papers, watches the news, and has fought in wars himself, he apparently doesn't think there's anything wrong in Iraq. What he does find wrong, is criticism from the Democrats.
Secretary of State Colin Powell cautioned Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to be more careful in criticizing the war in Iraq after the Massachusetts Democrat called the conflict "George Bush's Vietnam."

Kennedy "should be a little more restrained and careful in his comments because we are at war," Powell said Tuesday on Fox News Radio's "Tony Snow Show."

Powell said debating the Iraq war was appropriate and an important part of American democracy. But, he said, "this is the also the time that we rally the nation behind the challenge that we face in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Tyranny with a smile, eh? Debate is okay, as long as it doesn't involve any criticism.

Powell did say he didn't see Kennedy's speech because he was in Haiti meeting with the interim Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue (Jerry the Tortoise). While there, Powell touched on the possibility of prosecuting ousted former-leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
"There are inquiries being made by our judicial authorities in the U.S. to see if there is any evidence of wrongdoing on his part," Mr. Powell said in a joint news conference with the new interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue.

Mr. Aristide went into exile in February after widespread violence and looting here. An American indictment against him on drug trafficking or other international charges would further inflame political tensions between those who contend that he was forced into exile by American troops and others, like Mr. Powell, who assert that the Americans saved his life.

...Mr. Powell, who came for a one-day visit to show the administration's continuing commitment to Haiti's recovery, opposed a request by the 15-nation Caribbean Community for the United Nations to investigate the terms of Mr. Aristide's departure from Haiti.

"I don't think any purpose would be served by such an inquiry," he said. "We were on the verge of a blood bath and President Aristide found himself in great danger."

The Caribbean Community nations have refused to recognize the Latortue government, causing considerable embarrassment to the Bush administration, which had counted on their cooperation for police training and security.

Nah, no real need to investigate that. Nope. Things pretty much went exactly as the US says they did. Nothing too fishy there. Nuh-uh.

It's interesting that so many Caribbean countries are waving it in the Americans' noses. Unfirtunately, it's difficult to bring pressure to bear on the US and France on behalf of a nation as poor (and black) as Haiti. It would be great to see who's connected to whom in this whole debacle. Would Americans learn that their government had been supporting and arming drug dealers and thugs from the across the Dominican border in preparation for an uprising against Aristide? Would they care?

It's also fascinating how the Times writes simply that Aristide fled amid widespread looting, as if everything had simply erupted from a vacuum, and chaos reigned, out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. It was set up jointly by France and the US, and now, to threaten Aristide and legitimate his removal, we're going to try and put him behind bars. Very democratic.

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Over One Thousand 


So what if Yahoo gets someting like 20 million hits a day? I've passed a thousand in a little over a month (and a mere 967 of them are my own...)

So thanks to all who have checked it out, and please let me know what you think -- suggestions, criticisms, et al. It's fun.

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October Surprise 


If you haven't already read this commentary on Buzzflash, please do so. (The clip is long, but worth it.)
In Nov. 2003, you might recall, Gen. Tommy Franks told Cigar Aficionado magazine that a major terrorist attack (even one that occurred elsewhere in the Western world), would likely result in a suspension of the U.S. Constitution and the installation of a military form of government. "[A] terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world -- it may be in the United States of America -- [would cause] our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event," he said. [NewsMax.com]

...Right-wing columnists and pundits have since (surprise, surprise) tried to capitalize on such fears. "If a terrorist group attacked the U.S. three days before an election, does anyone doubt that the American electorate would rally behind the president or at least the most aggressively antiterror party?" David Brooks opined in the New York Times on March 16, [Libertypost.org] before Richard Clarke revealed that the Clinton administration was actually more "aggressively anti-terror" than the bumbling Bushes. (Could that be why the Bush administration refuses to turn over thousands of pages of the nearly 11,000 files on the Clinton administration's antiterrorism efforts?)

Sean Hannity twisted things further. "If we are attacked before our election like Spain was, I am not so sure that we should go ahead with the election," he reportedly said. "We had better make plans now because it's going to happen."

And, of course, what usurpation of democracy would be complete without Rush Limbaugh weighing in? "Do [the terrorists] bide their time and wait, or do they try to replicate their success in Spain here in America before our election?" Limbaugh asked, before revealing how "titans of industry," and "international business people (who do not outsource, by the way)" were "very, very, very concerned" that one true party forever rule the Fatherland.

"They all were seeking from me reassurance that the White House was safe this year, that John Kerry would not win," Limbaugh said. "Who do you think the terrorists would rather have in office in this country -- socialists like those in Spain as personified by John Kerry and his friends in the Democratic Party, or George W. Bush?"

...if martial law is imposed, Air Force General Ralph E. Eberhart will be able to blast through Posse Comitatus and deploy troops to America's streets. Gen. Eberhart, you might recall, is the former Commander of NORAD, which was in charge of protecting America's skies on Sept. 11. But instead of being scrutinized for NORAD's massive failures, he was promoted and now heads the Pentagon's Northern Command. And, as military analyst William M. Arkin explained, "It is only in the case of 'extraordinary' domestic operations that would enable Gen. Eberhart to bring in "intelligence collectors, special operators and even full combat troops" to bear.

Luckily there's a tin foil hat around the corner. It's becoming very popular these days. Because you can't make this stuff up: Eberhardt, who should be fired for the negligence (at best) of his post on the New Day of Infamy, actually got promoted, and would be in charge of militarizing the country, should such an emergency arise. What?!

General Tommy Franks speaks so openly about martial law. In Cigar Afficianado magazine. What?!

Rush Limbaugh says business executives are worried about a new terror attack, and a Kerry White House. So they go to him to do something about it. What?!

And what would happen if there were martial law? Well that's another story. I don't know if people would stand for it. And the military -- thousands of National Guardsmen and -women do not to me seem like the mindless, violent ideologues needed to keep totalitarianism in line (not that they necessarily need to be). They're teachers and coaches and doctors, as much a part of middle America as those of us theyd be expected to shutter in their homes. And then again, people do weird things in groups. Someone was telling me about the mob mentality: that as the group gets larger, the collective IQ truly drops so as to accommodate everyone. And bad things can happen in times of "war." Even a reluctant group of gatekeepers will tend toward aggression once met with resistance: if things go sour in New York or LA, it sets the tone for the rest of the country, and we have conflict everywhere.

Let's not forget that the President already has the power to declare a state of emergency -- in fact, we've been in one for over 60 years.

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Monday, April 05, 2004

Palestinians Dig The Passion 


Mel Gibson's new ($315,000,000.oo) Jesus flick is apparently pretty popular popular in Gaza.
"People are calling me from everywhere in the West Bank -- from Bethlehem, Hebron, Ram Alah and Nablus -- to ask for copies od the movie," said the owner of a Gaza city video shop, which sells pirated copies of new movies.

[It] has outsold other Hollywood blockbusters in Gaza and the West Bank's pirated video market, including Matrix Revolutions and The Last Samurai.

[At least they have good taste.]

In Israel, the local agent for the film's international distributor, Icon Entertainment, said it passed on its option to show The Passion of the Christ, but declined to specify its reasons other than to say the movie was "sensitive".

Two thousand years later, and this is still too sensitive. And the great thing about all this religious sensitivity is that none of it happened in the first place! Ha! That's the big joke! Millions and millions slaughtered and slaughterindg, and it's all made up!

Ungh.

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Remember When Civilization, Like, Crashed? 


It happened over the summer. I don't know if you recall, but something like 54 million people went without power (the foundation of modern civilization) for a couple days. Remember? (I remember, because I was on my way to Detroit for a wedding. The electricity went out when my cousin was trying on his tux. They got power back in the church and the reception hall the morning of. Sadly, though, Wendy's couldn't sell their famous salads for a lack of refrigeration -- with gas lines 'round the block, and the spectre of cultural chaos, you'd think people would have other things to get upset about, but nope; most of the testy Detroiters I saw were in Wendy's demanding a delicious salad.)

So anyway, there was an investigation into that fiasco, and it turns out greed is to blame. Turns out, all those energy companies (ie. Enron) who emerged from deregulation, jacked up wholesale prices, and shorted the market, and then beglected their duties really screwed things up for all 54 million of us. And it will probably happen again.
The power industry's disregard of its rules intended to ensure the reliable flow of electricity contributed significantly to last summer's blackout in eight states and Canada, investigators said Monday in their final report.

Another major outage could happen unless reliability regulations, with clear penalties for violators, are put in place, according to the report by a joint U.S.-Canadian task force.

It also recommended more independence for the private industry-sponsored group that writes voluntary requirements for power grids.

"The report makes clear that this blackout could have been prevented and that immediate actions must be taken in both the United States and Canada to ensure that our electric system is more reliable," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said.

Yes, yes, this was a terrible mistake, yes, and something must be done! Yes, yes, hmm...

How about re-regulating the energy industry? Would that maybe do the trick? If it wasn't run for profit, you know, but to, well, provide citizens with energy? That might work. Because this way, you wouldn't have shell corporations designed to funnel millions upon millions of dollars to executives while neglecting service; and you wouldn't have private companies with an eye only on the bottom line regulating themselves, and not actually regulating anything. Maybe there could be some synergy across the grid, and more fluid communication. Maybe it would prevent a worse blackout which would probably do more damage to the economy than 9-11.

Not that I know what I'm talking about. But I do know that Energy Secretary Abraham will not do squat for squat. Like most members of the Bush cabinet, he is totally beholden to corporate interests in the very field he is supposed to be presiding over. Abraham's major contributors while he was a senator from Michigan were GM, Ford, Lear-Corp, and Daimler-Chrysler, all of whom love to make wasteful use of energy. Abraham (whom, I believe, is the only Arab-American senator) also said while a senator that the Energy Deprtment should be abolished. And now he heads it up. If there weren't so much dark irony in this Administration, we'd have to make it up, and this way is much easier.

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