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Saturday, January 31, 2004
 
... And, For The Five Billionth Time ...

“You are more secure buying a
book from Amazon than you are uploading your results to a Diebold
server.”


Michael A. Wertheimer, former
NSA analyst


[Diebold] basically had no interest in putting actual security in this system. It's not like they did it wrong. It's like they didn't bother.”


Paul Franceus, computer security consultant


“I don't disagree with what
they say — they're the experts ... I think it's a very good
system.”


Linda Lamone, administrator of
the Maryland State Board of Elections


Comrade Lost Citizen Andrea
(By the way, Andrea: did you know that you have a
doppelganger
?) drew my attention to an interesting New York
Times
story. It's yet another damning account of all the horrendous
security glitches infesting the electronic voting machinery that all
the Very Important People are so keen for us to use.


Most of the outrage bouncing around the blogosphere is of
the generic “Oh, my GAWD! Can you believe how messed up these
things ARE?!” category.


All of which is true, of course. Lord, how we know it by now ...


... or do we? I draw your attention to this jaw-dropping
observation
:


In the security exercise, members
of the attack team said they were surprised to find that the
touch-screen machines used by voters all used the same physical key
to the two locks that protect their innards from tampering. With
hand-held computers and a little sleight of hand, they found, the
touch screens could be reprogrammed to make a vote for one candidate
count for an opponent, or results could be fouled so that a
precinct's tally could not be used.


In addition, they said,
communications between the terminals and the larger server computers
that tally results from many precincts do not require that
machines on either end of the line prove that they are legitimate
,
an omission that could allow someone to grab information that could
be used to falsify whole precincts worth of votes.


What the?!... You mean to tell me that any bozo with a
modem and a hankerin' for larceny could just call up Diebold
headquarters
and punch in to the main server at his or her
leisure? Is this stuff written in BASIC?


This has got to be the nadir for these people ... the lowest of
the low. They've taken us way beyond simple incompetence, and tossed
us deep into the shadowy territory of fraudulently
willful insecurity
.


What's next — hooking these things up to a wireless
connection, so that every drooling script-kiddie with a BlackBerry
could slouch down to his local precinct and commit mass nihilistic
mayhem on Election Day?


Oh.
My. God.


Southern Florida. Perfect. Jeb
Bush has just been elected Governor For Life
.


No, wait. He can't be: he's scheduled to be elected
President in 2008
, isn't he?


 
The Six Day Cola War

I wonder how you say “The
More You Know
” in Arabic?


The Bush Administration is
throwing up its arms in frustration at the sheer ungovernability of
those irascible Iraqis and falling back, like clockwork, on the only
thing at which its ever shown any
real competence
:


The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional
Authority in Baghdad wants to hire an advertising agency to sell the
Iraqi public on its plans for a new democratic government, even as
U.S. officials and Iraqi leaders struggle to decide whether that
government should be formed through elections, caucuses or some
combination.


The occupation authority invited
advertising agencies with Middle East experience to “prepare a
proposal for planning, developing and executing a full communications
plan in support of the Iraq electoral process.” Bidders were
given six days
to formulate their programs, and their proposals
were due today.


That's right: propaganda.


Americans have long been the
most propagandized people
in the history of the world, it's only
natural that we should be pretty darned savvy at dishing it out, too.
Sure, this does create bizarre
distortions
in the social (and
physical
) fabric of our country; but you can't expect our
500-channel, proto-Jetsonian, flying-car-and-colonies-on-the-moon
world to come without
a price
, can you?


And when it comes to dishing 'em out, we
know our stuff all right
... but warping the values of a
completely alien and ancient culture to our will virtually overnight?
Nobody's that good.


Yet, in the face of the obvious
and mounting propaganda
failures
that confront us in our
attempts to manipulate the muslim world
, we continue on to
whatever disastrous ends our hubris has in store for us.


Six days. The Bushies gave these agencies six days to wow
them with their proposed plans to:


... conduct a “major,
time-compressed advertising campaign
” to promote the
caucuses, or elections, that will allow the United States to transfer
sovereignty at the end of June.


The request for proposals said the
winning agency is to develop a “branding” symbol
and slogan for the transition along with “informational
campaign products
,” including tapes for use in radio and
television advertisements.


The plan is to “educate the
Iraqi population in a non-propaganda style about the electoral
process,” said the occupation authority's request. Once the
transition takes place, the campaign “is to quickly motivate
the Iraqi people to express a positive attitude and participate in
the process in order to make it a successful initiative.”


And so the end result of the fearful plague of propaganda abuse is
finally revealed: if you become overly reliant on the stuff, you
inevitably reach the delusional conclusion that all the crap you
tried to convince everybody else was true ... actually is
true.


Reality check, guys: branding
and slogans are elements of propaganda
. It doesn't matter
what information you piggyback along with it, the purpose of the
above two tactics are to provide a simplistic, easily digestible,
properly-spun psychological impact on the absorbing personality.


Propaganda is a Devil's bargain between the liar and those who
choose the pretty bliss of ignorance. The Iraqis are not so kindly
disposed to us that we can make such a bargain with them.


As a result, we've already managed
to turn
a pretty
fair chunk
of them against
us
. Now we may end up alienating them against the very concept of
democracy itself.


Friday, January 30, 2004
 
“Look Ma, No Boxcutters!”

The 9/11 commission has finally done some little bit of good. The other day, it finally put one of the hoariest 9/11 factoids to rest:


The hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001, blasted Mace or pepper spray at flight crew members and passengers to keep them away from the cockpits and wielded knives in their orchestrated takeovers of the aircraft, according to a report issued yesterday by the commission investigating the attacks.


Yep. Pepper spray and knives. Not boxcutters. Next question, please.


The report also mentions the use of bomb threats and surprise as a critical element in the takeovers. There is also a reference to the one report of boxcutters on any of the planes. By the way it's presented, however, it's evident that the panel doesn't put much faith in it.


Surprisingly, the panel also discusses the sole report of gunfire on board one of the aircraft — if only to declare its “skeptical” opinion of it.


It's not my place to say whether the gun report is valid or not. However, as was pointed out before, the person who was reported to have been shot would certainly have been the most likely candidate for such an ambush ... considering that he was probably the only passenger on any of the flights who was trained for exactly that sort of eventuality.


At any rate, with their boxcutter cover blown, the airlines were forced to deal with the reality of their own security lapses. In fact, most of the above article is little more than an excruciating rundown of each airline's poor security on that day, and how it was successfully exploited by the hijackers.


Not all the lapses were the airline's fault, however. In fact, they weren't even the most egregious ones. For that level of commitment to incompetence, you have to go to the government agencies; that's where the real, high-grade, professional SNAFU's are made.


I mean, look at these clowns: it was all just one long string of bad luck for these guys, wasn't it?



 
Yikes! It's 1986 All Over Again!

Looks like the Sharon government just took another political hit.


Remember the Hezbollah prisoner exchange he orchestrated last weekend? You know — the one that was greeted throughout Israel with universal contempt as a cynical and desperate “wag the dog” excercise, and a downright stupid one, to boot?


Well, guess what. It turns out it was a stupid idea after all:


Hezbollah will kidnap more Israelis to secure the release of Lebanese prisoners, if necessary, the militant movement's leader warned Thursday.


Speaking at a mass rally to welcome 21 Lebanese prisoners freed by Israel hours earlier, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said his guerrillas could capture more Israelis to bargain for the freedom of Lebanese still held in Israeli prisons.


Turning to a huge poster of a guerrilla ambush in which three Israeli soldiers were captured in October 2000, Nasrallah said: “This is a choice.”


Figures. The one time in this century that the wit, wisdom and experience of Ollie North would come in handy, and he's too busy to pick up a phone and offer Sharon some advice. That's assuming, of course, that Mr. North learned his lesson the first time.


And, yeah ... that's a pretty big assumption.


 
CENTCOM In (Nondenial) Denial

While CENTCOM is concerned about the burgeoning fundo problem in Pakistan, this does not (necessarily) mean that any major US military operations are planned for inside Pakistan. The US is (kinda, sorta) deeply committed to respecting the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan.


Remove the parenthetical remarks from the above statement, and you pretty much have the US media rundown of CENTCOM chief General John Abizaid's opinion on the subject of Pakistani sovereignty. Call me a cynic, but I see his statements in a subtly different light:


Even with the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bigger challenge in the global war on terrorism is the threat posed by extremists in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the commander of U.S. forces in that region said Thursday.


Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, told a group of reporters that Pakistan has been a vital ally in the war on terror and should continue to receive as much U.S. assistance as it needs to defeat extremism.


He added, however, that it was not a matter that could be resolved by U.S. military power.


“It is a battle of ideas as much as it is a military battle,” he said, “and we’ve got to help him fight that battle,” referring to Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has survived two recent assassination attempts.


Thanks for the helpful input MSNBC; but frankly, I don't care what you think. Judging from the above statement, I'd say General Abizaid left both his options open — hearts & minds and boots & saddles.


The full transcript of Abizaid's press briefing doesn't appear to be online yet (I even swallowed hard and looked here), so there's no way to know whether or not he made any additional statements that might shore up the media spin. Until then, I'm sticking to my guns.


Pakistan continues to vehemently deny any such thing will happen — but can anyone expect them to say otherwise? Watching Musharraf in action is like being witness to some long-lost, extremely graphic Roadrunner cartoon. All he has to do is imply he's going along with this plan, and BOOM!!


He is, like, soooo exploded.


Frankly, it's hard to imagine how this much-ballyhooed “spring offensive” is going to succeed at all unless Pakistani territory is compromised in some way. Last I heard, northwest Pakistan was still more Taliban/al Qaeda territory than it was a part of the Musharraf government. Unless the socio-political situation has changed dramatically in that neck of the woods, we can hardly expect the local chieftans to suddenly start rounding up bin Laden and his fighters when the first shots are fired across the border, can we?


And if not them, who else are we supposed to trust on that side of the fence? The Pakistani government is little more than a military/ISI diumvirate (though mostly ISI), held together by the common glue of Islamo-nationalism. We may be able to cut deals with those guys, but don't expect them to believe that they're under any obligation to get our backs when the proving time comes.


Unless we already have bin Laden, that is. Or at least a reasonable facsimile. In that case, it's gonna be a piece of cake.


But that's just crazy talk, isn't it?


Thursday, January 29, 2004
 
You'll Love Karachi In The Springtime

One of the more startling reports on CNN today is the
admission that the US military is preparing to launch
a major spring offensive
against the Taliban. According to the
nice folks in Atlanta, the military is under the impression that bin
Laden and his top lieutenants are skipping to and fro throughout the
wild border regions of southeastern Afghanistan, and one final spring
push will be all it takes to finally bring him in.


Nice
timing
, don't you think? Sounds like Karl Rove has managed to
weasel his way into the CENTCOM
strategy sessions, too.


There's also the impression, from the way the talking heads rolled
it out this morning, that the story hit the public conciousness a
little too early — like it was undercooked.


Maybe it was. On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune carried a
story that was nearly identical to CNN's. After that, the Dow
Jones Newswire
picked it up; this news was going national whether
anyone wanted it to or not.


Oh, and there was just this one
little difference
between the Tribune story and the CNN
one:


The Bush administration is
preparing a U.S. military offensive that would reach inside
Pakistan
with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida
network, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday, citing
military sources.


The report said the administration
is motivated by deep concern about recent assassination attempts
against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and a resurgence
of Taliban forces
in neighboring Afghanistan.


Citing sources familiar with
details of the plan and internal military communications, the Tribune
reported that U.S. Central Command is assembling a team of military
intelligence officers that would be posted in Pakistan ahead
of the operation. As currently envisioned, the offensive would
involve Special Operations forces, Army Rangers and Army ground
troops. A Navy aircraft carrier would be deployed in the Arabian Sea,
the report said.


The Tribune cited sources as saying
the operation, referred to in internal Pentagon messages as “the
spring offensive,” would be driven by certain undisclosed
events in Pakistan
and across the region. It cited a source
familiar with details of the plan as saying this is “not like a
contingency plan for North Korea, something that sits on a shelf.
This planning is like planning for Iraq. They want this to be
executable, now.”


That's right, fellow citizens — at long last, the invasion
of Pakistan
is a go. The article goes on to indicate that we'll
be asking the Iranians for help in this, too.


Imagine that: an “Axis
of Evil
” country helping us invade one of our own allies.
Incredible.


Pakistan quickly jumped in and announced that it ain't
gonna happen
. The CNN version of the story includes the
Tribune's Pakistan allegations, but only in one paragraph,
tacked on sullenly at the end of the article, and with none of the
Tribune's backstory. It's pretty clear that it's only there
because the folks at CNN felt they had to address it.


If the Tribune's report is true, then let's hope it all
goes very, very well. This would be the first time in history that
any nation has ever launched a major invasion against another
nuclear-armed country. Pakistan may not have a lot of nukes ... but
all it takes is one
.


Then again, perhaps
that's why it's going down
in the first place. The US government
has long
been rumored
to have a contingency plan in place to secure
Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the event of radical destabilization.
The Tribune article did say we were “motivated by deep
concern” over the longevity
of the Musharraf regime
, too. Could an anti-Osama operation
actually be cover for an atomic “smash-and-grab” job?


If that's the case, we'd better not just hope it goes well. We'd
better pray it does.


 
So Greenpeace Has Suicide Bombers, Now?

Be forewarned, Japan! Consider the fate of Taiwan, and end your whaling ways, or else!


The Great Whale Insurgency has begun:


A dead sperm whale being transported through Tainan City on its way to a research station suddenly exploded yesterday, splattering cars and shops with blood and guts.


Certified by authorities as the largest beached whale on record in Taiwan, the 17-meter 50-ton carcass was being transported by a flat-bed trailer-truck to a special research location after National Cheng Kung University officials and security guards refused to allow the whale on campus.


...


The beached whale was found on along a stretch of coast in Yunlin County on Saturday.


“The animal was close to death when someone found it beached on shore on Saturday ... Because of the natural decomposing process, a lot of gases accumulated, and when the pressure buildup was too great, the whale's belly just exploded and ...”


Yecch. OK, people, move along. No need to go any further here. We can all guess what happened next.


Next story, please.


 
Dead Men Don't Vote

Ladies and gentlemen, pigs are soaring majestically across the
heavens today. Vice President Dick Cheney has been spotted in the
presence of war casualties. Here he is, laying
a bouquet of flowers
in memorial to those Americans who lost
their lives ...


... at
Anzio
:




Sure, they aren't casualties
from this war
... and the sumbitch had to slink off across
an entire ocean — to Italy — in order to make the photo
op unmolested, but we have to remember who we're talking about here.
Cheney simply wouldn't survive a visit to any of the war
dead from this century
— his delicate heart, you know.


I happened to have lost a relative at Anzio. My great-uncle's
funeral is the earliest memory my mother has, and the flag from his
coffin is now a treasured family heirloom. I think this allows me to
deliver an especially vehement “fuck off, asshole!” to
the snarling, trollish little warmonger and his soulless, robotic
homage to The Fallen.


While we're on the subject, do you think anyone even bothered to
let Mr. Cheney know that all the Americans who were laid to rest in
this cemetary actually gave up their lives in the fight against
Fascism?


Yeah, me neither — his delicate heart, you know.


 
A Think Tank Of One

William Safire is very worried for the Democrats.


Safire began the current political season in high spirits, full of
hope that the Democrats were going to nominate someone sensible like
Saddam
Hussein
. But then the Butcher of Baghdad did remarkably poorly in
the early returns, ultimately bowing out in December.


After briefly toying with the notion of a
Jacques
Chirac candidacy
, Safire instead turned to his Old Flame for
solace, Senator Hillary
Clinton
.


Well, actually, there was the matter of this enormously
complicated Wesley-Clark-as-Judas-Goat
contraption
that had Safire all ensorcelled (hi, Maureen!)
for a while last fall, but that made poor dinner party talk, since no
one could ever tell if his punchline was a Hillary
Clinton nomination
or Rube Goldberg's.


Ultimately, Hillary called the faithful to the tower and nixed
the notion herself
— and then Rube Goldberg up and died
back in 1970 — so once again, poor Bill was forced to come up
with another Democrat Theory of Everything.



William Safire contemplates the Democrats.


Briefly, Safire became concerned that the Democrats might
get uppity and fracture themselves along a “Screwballs for Howard
Dean”/DLC Centrist axis.


This struck him as a Very Scary Idea, because then the Democrats
would lose the election by way too much come November. Abject Democratic
humiliation, he reasoned, would insure absolute, dictatorial control
of the country in the hands of George W. Bush and his Republican
political machine — and then how could Bill ever make a
deadline again if he had to spend the next four years masturbating
all the time?


“Or ...” he mused. “Maybe
that's just what Hillary wants me to think.


But then Dean faded, and the Kerry campaign suddenly took one in
the neckbolts and lurched back to life. This had Safire
fretting
about the return of the “Old Left” — a
discussion point which had everyone else just as confused as his old
“judas goat” theory.


“If there's an 'Old Left,'” Safire's dinner guests
muttered into their salads. “Then what happened to the 'New
Left?' For that matter, what was the “New Left?”


“Waitaminit ... y'mean
the 'Old Left' is the 'New Left'
... only older?
What kind of crazy talk is this? We're outta here, Bill ...”


But Safire had moved beyond all that. He was already back in his
lab, hard at work on his latest theory — one which was sure to
prove all those naysayers wrong.


It was all so clear now — so obvious; only a foolish fool
could not see the Deep Reality unfolding beneath all the
electioneering hoopla: it had to be a ... a ... a
brokered convention!


Yes! The Democrats in disarray! How else could it be? Here,
at last, Safire was certain he had hit on it. Sure ... it sounded
like some streetcorner loony's incoherent ramble, a cacaphonic mishmash of all his previous
theories. But this was his theory, dammit, and he was gonna run with
it if it killed him. Call it his “Grand Unified Theory of
Everything Democrat.”


And then, Bill plugged his old variables into his new theory, and a
startling truth was illuminated to him: Hillary
was plotting to steal the nomination
! Unbelievable!


Damn clever
woman
, that.


Wednesday, January 28, 2004
 
NewsMax, You Slay Me!

I swear, if there was any decent category to fit the NewsMax website into the sidebar of this weblog, I'd do it. Sadly, they're not a 'blog ... and as a news site they rate somewhere below Mad Magazine for reliability ... and I'm pretty sure The Economist would send an MI6 death squad to my doorstep if I placed them in the “News & Commentary” section — so I'm afraid if I really wanted them, I'd have to invent a whole new category for them.


And I don't want them that bad. Still, if they keep issuing gems like this one, I may be convinced to change my mind:


If Sen. John Kerry winds up as the Democratic nominee next summer, the first phone call he's likely to make is to Sen. Hillary Clinton - to ask her to be his running mate.


That's the prediction of Dick Morris, whose advice made Bill Clinton the only Democratic president since FDR to win re-election.


“Now that Howard Dean is clearly not going to be the nominee, there is a very good chance that Hillary will be the vice presidential candidate,” Morris told Fox News Channel's “Hannity & Colmes” Wednesday night.


“I would flat-out predict that whoever wins this nomination makes the first phone call to Hillary to ask her to run,” he said.


Sure, that makes sense. Senator Kerry already has his issues with Dixie. Adding Hillary to the ticket — whom I believe is still wanted in several Southern states on charges of witchcraft — will assure him of a memorable place in the annals of election history.


Just don't swing through Dallas with that ticket, Johnny Boy ... if you know what's good for you.


Lordy, NewsMax, there's so much more that I could write about this enormous, fat, dull-witted target that you let wander obliviously into my scopes. Why, it's got perennial crank-magnet FOX News in there ... and Dick Morris, too! And I love that snide little crack about the staying power of Democratic Presidents.


Let me pick that nit for a second: Lessee ... Harry Truman won as an incumbent in '48, but couldn't run for re-election in '52, Kennedy was dead in '64 (see above), and Lyndon Johnson (wisely) chose not to run in '68. That leaves us with Jimmy Carter to make their case.


... poor old Jimmy Carter, the Charlie Brown of American Presidents.


Even letting them have Johnson, that's only two Democrats since Roosevelt (who ... ahem ... was the Methuselah of Presidents, eh, NewsMax?) with no staying power.


On the other side, that leaves the likes of Ike, Ronny, and Tricky Dick to carry the two-term flag for the Republican cause. Ike did all right, but Dick was run out of town on a rail somewhat before his second term was up (although he did manage to outlast his running mate), and Reagan came within literally a half-inch of being best remembered as “that guy after JFK” in the Presidential trivia contests.


 
Sunglasses & Submachine Guns, Pt. II

The saga of America's performance enhancing experimentation
through the use of mercenaries continues unabated. The San
Francisco Chronicle
has caught up on it, and notes one particular
benefit of staffing the killing fields of Mundus Noster with
rent-a-cop
grenadiers
:


U.S. officials say there have been
hundreds of attacks on private contractors in Iraq since the country
was invaded last March. Of this number, several dozen contractors
have been killed or injured. A more detailed breakdown of casualties
is not available.


They're not being counted
against the ledger
,”
[Peter] Singer [an analyst
with the Brookings Institution — ed.] noted. “Contractors
aren't factored in when figures are given for troops killed or
injured in Iraq. There's no official accounting of this. Almost
everything we know about them comes from the few stories that get
told and a lot of rumors.”


Cool! It's almost like they're not even dead.


No, strike that. You have to actually exist before you're allowed
to be dead. These poor schmucks weren't even on the all-important “ledger” — and if you don't show up in the corporate balance sheets, you may as well not even bother to sign in for your daily air ration. Everybody has their “Book of Life,” y'know ... even Capitalism.


The article is also noteworthy for the lengths it will go to in
order to avoid stating what is, to say the least, a quite obvious truth. “Whatever you do,”
it pleads to us in hushed, edgy tones. “Don't you mention that
word.
You know what we mean, anyway:”


By and large, the for-profit
armies
operating on the periphery of the Iraqi occupation are
comprised of former soldiers and military officers who have chosen to
take their unique skills to the private sector. Employees of
Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown & Root subsidiary are protected
night and day by a contingent of fierce Nepalese Gurkhas.


No need to be so coy there, fellas — you are still
journalists, after all. A “for-profit army” of “fierce
Nepalese
Gurkhas
” qualifies for the word “mercenary,” if
ever anybody did.


It's nice to know that the Gurkhas are still finding work, by the
way; I always figured times have been pretty lean for them ever since
the
Empire
broke up.


Guess
I was wrong
.


Tuesday, January 27, 2004
 
Like Clockwork

Let's see ... it's almost February. It's about time for Dubya to
issue his monthly “Justification for My Dumb-Ass War”
statement.


Yep. Here he comes – punctual
as ever:


President Bush on Tuesday vigorously defended his decision to
go to war against Iraq despite chief inspector David Kay's conclusion
that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, as the
United States had believed.


...


“There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a
gathering threat to America and others. That's what we know,”
Bush said.


“We know he was a dangerous man in a dangerous part of
the world,” the president said.


This time Dubya was accompanied in his dialectical flailings by
the illustrious President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski. The
Kwas-meister tried like a trooper to take rhetorical point duty for
our President, but only succeeded in looking like the punchline to an
ethnic joke.


Don't fret, Mr.
Kwasniewski
, everybody comes
off stupid
sitting next to Dubya. Go
ask Tony
; he knows.


In case you missed the memo, by the
way, the war no longer has anything to do with the letters “W,”
“M,” or “D” ... nor did it ever. As such,
those letters are never to be spoken in the presence of the any White
House staffer again.


Nope. Don't even try. Forget about it. Those
letters simply do not exist
.


 
“Some Poor Little Lambs, Who've Lost Their Way”

I've been trying to figure out what the heck it is about Senator
John Kerry that I find so personally obnoxious. It turns out I never
had to; there's a 33-year-old Doonesbury that hits the nail
square
on the head
:


Don't worry, you're eyesight isn't going all wonky on you. If you click on the image, it gets bigger.


Frame1


Yeah. That's
it
. That, and the whole creepy “Bonesman
vibe he shares with Dubya.


Is anybody else out there bothered by the fact that, if Kerry gets the
nomination, then three out of the last four Presidents will have been
fished out of the same incestuous, death-obsessed,
freakishly secretive society
of Yale plutocrats
? I mean, 800 living members out of a
population of 300 million Americans is a damned tiny demographic to
be exerting so much influence, don't you think?


On a similar note, the above Doonesbury comic is a subtle
reminder of exactly how incestuous the elites who guide this culture
have become. Gary Trudeau, the author of the strip, was a student
at Yale
at about the same
time as Dubya
.


He's also very
old friends
with fellow
Yale alum
Howard Dean. Reportedly, they first got to know each
other way back when they were both humble
little rich kids
, romping around in their short pants out in The
Hamptons
.


Yeesh. “Land of Opportunity,” my ass.


 
Rock Crushes Scissors ...

Here's an apt rule of thumb for our age: Any act of Congress that requires a long, jingoistic (or, alternately, “pro-family”) acronym in order to justify its existence is a bad, bad law that should never be allowed to see the light of day.


That 2001's post-9/11 U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act (i.e. “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”) is an obnoxious piece of legislation is such an obvious, in-yer-face fact that hardly any breath need be wasted in proving it. Even our Congress, after invoking the monstrosity and passing it on with much fanfare to We the People, have been conspicuously silent on the subject ever since.


Perhaps they're simply following the old dictum of “If you can't say anything nice about somebody, then don't say anything at all.” While that would imply the existence of a gestalt wisdom hitherto unseen in that body, stranger things have happened.


At any rate, while the USA PATRIOT Act may have been birthed into studious neglect by the Congress, it has been enthusiastically taken into apprenticeship by those highborn lowbrows of the Bush Administration. This, then, leaves only one avenue of defense for any of us who still believe the Constitution is worth the hemp it's printed on — the court system.


Well, it's worth a shot. It's not like anything else has worked yet:


A federal judge has declared unconstitutional a portion of the USA Patriot Act that bars giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated foreign terrorist organizations.


...


In a ruling handed down late Friday and made available Monday, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins said the ban on providing “expert advice or assistance” is impermissibly vague, in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments.


Hey, whaddaya know — it worked! Only 46,392 more court challenges to go, and we've got this sucker licked for sure!


Gosh, I wonder what all of the hullabaloo was about in the first place? According to the article, the defendants were facing up to 15 years in prison for whatever it was they were up to. It must have been some pretty serious terrorist-type activities if they attracted the attentions of ... The Authorities.


The case before the court involved five groups and two U.S. citizens seeking to provide support for lawful, nonviolent activities on behalf of Kurdish refugees in Turkey.


Oh.


I confess, I can't even figure out what the Hell that means. Since when was it illegal in this country to behave in “lawful” and “nonviolent” ways? Is this some kind of ploy on the part of the Bush Administration to make liberals heads explode, like one of those scenes in Star Trek when Kirk outwits the omniscient, human-exterminating supercomputer with his patented Amazingly Simple Logical Paradox?


Or was the US government just annoyed with the groups in question because their activities were regarded as unsanctioned lawful, nonviolent activities?


Monday, January 26, 2004
 
Florida: The Company State

Earlier, I mentioned the fact that Representative
Porter Goss (R-FL)
is an ex-CIA agent. While researching that
fact, I came across a very, very weird tidbit, buried deep in a story
about him in the Washington Post. It takes place immediately
after Goss was forced to retire from The
Company
(for health reasons), and was setting out on an entirely
new career as
a media mogul
:


With two ex-spy partners, he went into the newspaper
business. They established a weekly called the Island Reporter
in 1972, and Goss became politically active. By December 1974 he was
elected the island's first mayor, winning 1,356 votes. He was paid $1
a year. (It helped that his wife came from a rich, old Pittsburgh
industrial family.)

As it turned out, that part of Florida was a magnet
for former spooks. Attending a meeting with other local mayors —
from Naples, Fort Myers and Cape Coral — Goss realized they
were all former CIA men. So were some of the reporters covering the
meeting.


Of the eight people in the room, seven were
agency people!” he says, chortling.

Ha, ha. I get it — southern Florida's political
establishment was lousy with spooks!
That's a real side-splitter
there, Porter. And you say that even a good chunk of the reporters down there are
Company Men too, huh? Wow! That's rich!


And now you're their Representative! Heee!!


Hey ... waaaait a minute. Didn't something strange
go down in South Florida
a few
years ago
? You don't think ... it couldn't be ... that any of
those “retired” CIA agents got themselves all mixed up in
that
donnybrook
, do you?


Of
course they did
. This is South
Florida
we're talking about here, after all.


 
The Wal-Mart Of The Apocalypse

While our leaders were all preoccupied with trying to figure out
what kind of Arsenal of Doom Saddam Hussein could cobble together out
of 4000
Sony PlayStations
and a
little balsa wood
, it turns out that old-school badass Moammar
Khadaffy was just ordering the stuff in complete packages from
villainsupply.com.


Well, OK ... that's a fictional website. But the concept
of villainsupply.com
really does exist, if under a different
name. It's called Pakistan:


Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said on Friday it
appeared Pakistani scientists had sold nuclear secrets abroad, but
reiterated Islamabad's position that there had been no official
involvement.


Pakistan says it began questioning its nuclear
scientists, including the father of its atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer
Khan, after the U.N. nuclear agency began investigating possible
links between the Pakistani and Iranian nuclear programs.

That's where the Libyans come in. By now, it's common knowledge
that Khadaffy has long sought the opportunity to tear up his supervillain union card and
assume the position of respected world leader. What we didn't know
until now was how far along he got in his Evil Scheme before
he decided to give it all up
:


What was found in Libya marks a new stage in
proliferation,” said one knowledgeable source. “Libya was
buying what was available. And what is available, the centrifuges,
are close to turnkey facilities. That's a new challenge. Libya was
buying something that's ready to wear.”


... or who Khadaffy was willing to screw in order to bribe his way
into the club:


The German ship was seized by Italians after a tip-off
from the CIA. Knowledgeable sources said the centrifuges on board
were “made-to-order” in Malaysia for Libya, based on
designs directly or indirectly from Pakistan
.


While US government sources have claimed that the
seizure persuaded Col Gadafy to do his deal with Washington and
London, diplomats and analysts closely following the nuclear trade
are convinced that the ship was impounded because of information
provided by the Libyans.


According to this version circulating in Vienna,
headquarters of the IAEA, Col Gadafy told the CIA about the
shipment
as a goodwill gesture to convince the Americans and the
British that he was committed to the deal being negotiated.

Let's see. In addition to Libya, a cursory search of global news
sites finds Pakistani
fingerprints
all over Iran's
nuclear program
... and North
Korea's
... and maybe even Saudi
Arabia's
.


I defy anyone to contemplate the notion of the House of
Saud, in direct control of a nuclear arsenal, and not require an
immediate change of underwear.


May I also mention the fact that Pakistan is estimated to possess
up
to 50 nuclear weapons
of its own, too? Don't worry, you can go
change your underwear again. I'll wait until you get back.


Lest we forget, this is also the country whose colonialist
ambitions in Afghanistan
produced and protected the Taliban for
so many years, and who is currently believed to be harboring
Osama bin Laden
somewhere in the wilds of its sweaty streets, and
whose leader is the focus of relentless
and increasingly
brazen
assassination attempts from its fundo contingency. All
this, and it's regarded (for
now, anyway
) as our closest
ally in the region
.


While you're digesting all that, here's one more little fact to
chew on. It's from a news article that appeared roughly a month after
the World
Trade Center attacks
:


While the Pakistani Inter Services Public Relations
claimed that former ISI director-general Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmad sought
retirement after being superseded on Monday, the truth is more
shocking.


Top sources confirmed here on Tuesday, that the
general lost his job because of the “evidence” India
produced to show his links to one of the suicide bombers that wrecked
the World Trade Centre. The US authorities sought his removal after
confirming the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed
Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of Gen
Mahumd.

The ISI is Pakistan's main intelligence agency — their
version of the CIA. In other words, Pakistani intelligence has been
implicated at the highest level with direct
complicity
in the 9/11 attacks.


The other guy mentioned in the article (Ahmad
Umar Sheikh
) is, by the way, the same person who was later
convicted of the barbaric
execution
of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel
Pearl
in February of 2002. The Journal was one of the few
American news outlets to make
note of the ISI/al Qaeda story
; there is an entirely plausible
conspiracy theory floating around the web that Pearl was actually in
Pakistan pursuing this link, and lost
his head
for his efforts.


As for the illustrious Mahmud Ahmad, his whereabouts on September
11, 2001 are well known: He was in Washington, DC at the time. In fact,
even as the first airliners were hurling themselves into their
respective targets, Mr. Ahmad was just sitting
down to a breakfast meeting
with Representative Porter Goss,
Senator Bob Graham, and a few choice others.


At the time, Graham and Goss were each chairmen of their
respective bodies' Intelligence Committees. Ahmad's meeting was,
among other things, a follow-up courtesy for a visit Graham, Goss,
and Senator John Kyl had paid on him when they were in Pakistan a few
weeks earlier, in late August. Needless to say, the meeting was cut
short.


Goss and Graham are also the two men in charge of the joint
Congressional 9/11 commission
. Graham has gone on record as
believing that Administration foot-dragging is hampering the
investigation, while Goss has said that he thinks the intelligence
community is to blame.


Well, the man outta know: he's
an ex-CIA agent himself
.


 
“Go Ask Nixon ...

... when he's ten feet tall.”


• With apologies to Jefferson Airplane


Even if Ariel Sharon could get on the horn with good ol' Tricky Dick these days, it's likely that the only advice the Old Dead Bastard could offer to the Still Breathing Bastard would be to “Start drinking heavily.” Nobody knows better than Mister Sweaty how uncomfortable life can get when you're enmeshed in a burgeoning corruption scandal and some putz shows up at the party unexpectedly with a chip on his shoulder and a truckload of incriminating tape recordings:


Israeli police are examining more than 50 hours of potentially explosive taped conversation between Ariel Sharon and his sons, recorded by a former close aide who has since turned on the beleaguered prime minister.


The scale of the evidence has been revealed by the aide, David Spector, in an exclusive interview with the Telegraph. Mr Sharon is fighting for his political life over a long-running scandal about murky political payments and alleged illicit campaign financing.


Mr Spector, 50, who is credited with planning Mr Sharon's successful attempt to become the leader of the Likud party in 1999, believes that his tapes could be important evidence in the police investigation into the Israeli leader and could possibly bring about his downfall.


For many years Mr. Spector recorded four-way conversations involving himself, the prime minister and Mr Sharon's sons, Gilad and Omri, on audio and video tapes.


Mr Sharon has consistently denied to investigators having any involvement in campaign funding, saying that he left complex issues of financing to his sons. In one short clip from Mr Spector's tapes that was broadcast on Israeli television last week, however, Mr Sharon can be heard asking Mr Spector for information on transfers from foreign bank accounts linked to campaign financing.


Oy Gevaldt! It's as if Karl Rove suddenly decided to turn State's Evidence against Dubya! If these tapes are as scandalous as Spector says they are, the scandal should achieve critical mass by spring, if not sooner. With any luck, Likudniks everywhere will be sitting shiva on the Sharon family's respective political careers by early summer.


Ask anyone in Lebanon, and they'll tell you exactly how dangerous it is to cross a man like Sharon. David Spector is well aware of this, too; he has made multiple copies of all his tapes, and has them all stored away in locations known only to him. He has also provided Israeli police with all sorts of other tasty documentation, such as foreign bank account numbers and the like.


The Jaded Israeli electorate has long been willing to casually ignore the increasingly acrid stench of corruption coming out of Sharon's corner of the House of David. This new development is clearly different, however. A recently announced prisoner exchange deal with arch-enemy Hezbollah, for instance, is widely regarded throughout the Israeli political establishment as irresponsible geopolitics — not to mention a blatant example of “wag the dog” subterfuge.


All of means that Sharon must be one very ill political animal; one can only hope that the entire Likud zoo will at least catch a cold from the disease he's carrying.


While Sharon's death spiral is a very welcome development for those who care about the long-term viability of the state of Israel, it is (ironically) a severely destabilizing and dangerous development for the region in the short run — particularly with this nasty sand devil eerily spinning away over the cedars beyond the Galilee.


Saturday, January 24, 2004
 
First You Laugh, Then You Howl — Then You Pitch The Molotov

“... it is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd. I can't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.”


• Then-President Richard Nixon


Going back to the topic of Harry Shearer for a moment (see below), I noticed that his website has a link to a 2002 movie he wrote, produced, and directed called “Teddy Bears' Picnic.” It looks like he's gathered up a few of his usual ragged collection of vagabonds for the effort, too.


Like the execrable Vincent Gallo's “The Brown Bunny” and “Buffalo '66,” I haven't seen this film. Unlike the other two, however, I desperately want to see “Teddy Bears' Picnic.” You should do it, too — if not for your sake, then for the Good of the Old Republic.


If you can find it, that is. For reasons we'll discuss below, it's not a very widely distributed film. Here's the nickel abstract:


A comic junket behind-the-scenes of the world's most exclusive power-broker retreat. The true story: the richest, most powerful white men in America gather each summer in Northern California for a super secret retreat [i.e. “Zambesi Glen” — ed.] that takes them back to their sophomore year in college. They're there to unwind, but they get really unwound when that secrecy is threatened.


Yes, the story is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the ... well ... the fat asses of the reactionary, rich, white guys who rule the world.


There is a place like Zambesi Glen; it's real name is “Bohemian Grove,” and for roughly ten days out of every year (usually at the end of July) it plays host to what are indisputably the wealthiest and most powerful men in the country. Quite literally (and yes, I do know what I mean when I say that) all of them sneak in there at some time during the retreat, along with the occasional specially invited guest speaker/performer. This paranoid and insanely secretive male-only conclave has been going on now, right under most of our noses, for well over a century.


From what is known about the goings-on at Bohemian Grove, the amount of drinking, puking, whoring, outdoor peeing, vague homoeroticism, pseudo-Pagan pageantry, and other frat-boy skullduggery that goes on there is absolutely astonishing. These guys rule the world ... and dammit, when they need to let go, they gotta do it on a Biblical scale.


And speaking of ruling the world, that's another interesting side effect of the get-together. After all, you can't expect these guys to get all networked up and not hash out your destiny over a couple of dozen post-binge bloodies, do you? And such progressive ideas they have, too:


On June 4, 1994 a presentation at the Grove from a University of California Berkeley professor stressed that, elites are important and must set the values for society that are translated into “standards of authority,” and that elites cannot allow the “unqualified masses” to carry out policy. The speech was given an enthusiastic standing ovation by the over 1,000 men present and seemed to represent the feelings of many club members.


Reportedly, the first rough outlines of the Manhattan Project were hashed out at The Grove. It was also the place where, in 1967, Richard Nixon nudged Ronald Reagan's elbow over a couple of drinks and convinced him not to jump into the 1968 Presidential contest. Most recently, it was at last summer's Bohemian Grove gathering that southern-fried Machiavelli Karl Rove is reported to have convinced Arnold Schwarzenegger to usurp the throne of the state of California.


We do know Rove was there last summer. He sorta lets that fact “drop” in this quasi-literate essay, in which he also gives us the dish on where Reaganophant Marty Anderson scored all those Gipper-grams he compiled in order to write “Ronald Reagan: A Life In Letters:”

Marty Anderson emerged from his cabin at the top of the gully at the Bohemian Grove last summer bearing a wide grin and a sheft of letters. I knew then that Reagan: A Life in Letters had to be on my Amazon.com wish list. Dip into the deep pool of RR's thoughts in this big volume. There's plenty to enjoy.


Yeah, but don't jump in head first, if you know what I mean.


There's plenty more to discuss about this place, but it just gets too damn depressing to contemplate it for very long. One can easily imagine, for instance, what sorts of boozy-floozy pep talking were being bandied about the camp during the 2002 extravaganza — mere weeks before Andy Card's notorious nationwide “rollout” of the prewar anti-Iraq bloodlust campaign. Let's just say they own you, and be done with it.


But all is not lost, my fellow hoi polloi. The hippies are on to the Grovers and their nefarious schemes of world domination, and they're prepared to wield the awe-inspiring power of giant puppetry and fruity cosplay for as long as it takes to convince those elitists to stand down and let our planet breathe free air once again.


Yeah. I'm not holding my breath for that day, either.


 
The Blurring Of Fantasy And Reality Continues ... In Very, Very Wierd Ways

Remember that hilarious scene near the end of “A Mighty Wind” when reunited 60's folk has-beens The Folksmen are shown schlepping gigs on the Indian casino circuit ... and we learn that their bald-as-an-egg bassist (Harry Shearer) has decided to live the rest of his life as a blonde-haired woman?


Well ...


A former member of the Seventies rock band Jethro Tull has had a sex-change operation to become a woman.


David Palmer, 66, the band’s former keyboard player, has swapped his trademark beard for long blonde hair and make-up, and is now called Dee. She is recording her first solo album.


Palmer, once a soldier in the Royal Horse Guards, said that she had “felt like this since the age of three,” but that it was only since the death of wife Margaret nine years ago that the feelings were pursued.


She added: “I want to be judged on my musical ability alone. It’s not just wimps who want to do this. To be a girl, it goes a lot deeper than that.”


Gender-etiquette point: I am not a woman, but I've been around enough of them to know that 66-year-old ladies don't go around referring to themselves as “girls.” Especially ones who — let's face it — probably look a heck of a lot more like Queen Elizabeth II than your average dotty old Englishwoman.


Other than that, I wish her the best of luck. Going from old man to old lady is probably an even bigger culture shock than the regular guy-to-gal shuffle. I hear it hurts like hell, too.


Friday, January 23, 2004
 
“Old MacDonald Had A Mainframe ...”

The scientific community is only now beginning to realize the vast, world-changing potential of grid computing systems. Some recent discoveries, on the other hand, may indicate that plants have known about its benefits for much longer:


Plants appear to 'think', according to US researchers, who say that green plants engage in a form of problem-solving computation.


David Peak and co-workers at Utah State University in Logan say that plants may regulate their uptake and loss of gases by 'distributed computation' — a kind of information processing that involves communication between many interacting units.


...


This might not sound much like what a computer does, but it is. In distributed computation, signals exchanged between components of the system define the process for solving a problem. Researchers are now exploring the possibility of using distributed computing with swarms of simple robots to carry out tasks, such as searching a landscape, more efficiently than a single, more sophisticated robot could manage.


Does this mean that farmers are going to start measuring their harvests in terraflops, now?


 
When Republicans Attack

They get 100 days in jail. Even if they inadvertently kill somebody:


Bill Janklow, who dominated South Dakota politics for three decades as governor and then congressman, was sentenced to 100 days in jail Thursday for an auto accident that killed a motorcyclist and ended Janklow's career in disgrace.


After 30 days behind bars, Janklow will be allowed to leave jail during the day for up to 10 hours to perform community service. After he completes his jail term, he will be on probation for three years, during which he will not be allowed to drive.


The 64-year-old Republican was found guilty Dec. 8 of second-degree manslaughter, speeding and running a stop sign for a collision that killed 55-year-old motorcyclist Randy Scott at a rural intersection on Aug. 16. Janklow announced his resignation from the House hours after the verdict.


He could have gotten up to 11 years.


I'm not saying that they should have thrown the book at the guy, but it seems like he's getting off awfully easy considering that a very decent human being is dead because of his recklessness.


... and considering his long and very public history of thoughtless behavior behind the wheel.


At least Janklow's looking at a fine of ten grand; that doesn't sound like much for taking a life, but it's pretty close to the maximum the court could give. I suppose (and expect) the dead man's family will extract a nice, stiff weregild from him, too.


 
He's Groovy And G.O.P.

East Coast Auteur Vincent Gallo is on a mission ... a mission to prove
that “cool, creative hipster” and “unabashed,
Mussolini-is-my-copilot reactionary” are two great tastes that
go great together.


Well, he's got the
reactionary part down
...


... Mr. Gallo insisted that he’s the real deal.
“There’s a picture of me at 6 years old campaigning for
Richard Nixon. I’ve always been the same. Always. I was against
hippies,” he told his Young Republican Club hosts. He loves
President Bush and loathes “self-serving” lefties,
particularly “that commie crawfish, Al Franken,” and that
“destructive hog,” Michael Moore. And he thinks
politicians spend too much time pandering to special interests like
“the gays, the AARP, handicapped groups.” When he gets
going on the media’s anti-Republican bias, as he did the other
night, Mr. Gallo sounds like a regular Bill O’Reilly.

I’ve been on 125 magazine covers
worldwide during my career—which is a lot for an unknown person
who doesn’t have a career—and I’ve written about
200 articles in all kinds of magazines, and I’d like to let you
know that there is media bias in an extreme way against the
Republican Party,” he said. “I have never been quoted in
any article that I’ve been interviewed for saying anything
positive in any way about the Republican Party.”

Consider yourself duly quoted, dumbass.


Gallo was the Total Creative Force behind Buffalo
'66
, a film that I never saw, but which many very
sophisticated people did. It's grainy self-indulgence was a
tour-de-force
of nineties retro-realism
— at least according to the
sophisticates who saw it.


Gallo was also the Total Creative Force behind The
Brown Bunny
, a film that I never saw, but which was inflicted
upon a captive audience of very sophisticated people at the most
recent Cannes Film Festival. It's droning, time-warping self
indulgence is responsible for driving that same audience into a
post-apocalyptic
frenzy
of wine-addled hooting
and derision
. Roger Ebert compared it unfavorably with a
colonoscopy
video
.


Or so I'm told. Like I said ... I've never seen either film.


But I have seen The
Groovenians
. It's a loopy, computer animated, self-indulgent
crapfest
that conned me out of 30 minutes of my life one weekend afternoon
last spring. For that, every single goddamn media gnome who took part
in its unholy conception owes me each a half hour in a small,
brightly lit room with nothing else but them, a pack of cigarettes, a
gallon of gasoline, and a splintery baseball bat.



Yes,
Gentle Readers, these are the Groovenians ... and no, you don't
wanna know anything else about them.



I'm afraid that means you, Dennis
Hopper
. And you, Ru
Paul
. And especially you, Vincent
Gallo
.


If the world isn't throwing enough laurels at Mr. Gallo's feet, it
might not be entirely due to an international
conspiracy of navel-gazing liberals
. It might simply be that
people just plain don't like very much of his work.


If he really wants to prove the elitist cabal wrong, he could rent
out church basements and Legion Halls across the country and personally show his
movies off to the denizens of God-fearing, decent, red-state Middle
America for a couple of bucks a pop.


They're judgement will be swift and strong, I assure you.


Thursday, January 22, 2004
 
Art And Julio Down By The Schoolyard

I am shocked ... shocked to discover that 60's pop crooner Art Garfunkel has been exposed as a Dope Fiend.


I am so disappointed. If I had any kids, I'd forbid them to listen to any of this guy's albums. His career is toast, for sure.


I hope you got yourself a long, funky ride out of that “Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” of yours, you depraved, junked-up little hippie, because from now on you'll be “Feelin' Groovy” all right ... in jail!!



Just look at those shifty eyes. What kind of “plants” are those in the foreground there, Art?


I just wanna know one thing before we lock you up forever, punk. Does Paul Simon know about you and your pet monkey?


Oh. Never mind.


 
Israel's Worst Enemy
Then did Solomon build an high place for
Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before
Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.”

1
Kings, 11:7

It is entirely possible to respect and admire the state of Israel
while despising the current
cabal
which governs it. In fact, since the ham-handed
paleo-policies
of the current Sharon
Administration
is likely to lead to the state's
ultimate demise
(one
way
or another),
it's arguable that a true patriot for Israel should stand in
opposition to the machinations of Sharon and his cronies at every
turn.


Strong words, true — but we should not forget that it was
Sharon's deliberately
planned expedition
to the Temple
Mount
in 2000 which is the mustard seed for the most recent spasm
of Molechian
violence
which has engulfed the region. That he surfed
this wave
of blood and fear into the highest
office
the Israeli people have to offer is a particular
abomination to behold.


All the while, allegations of corruption continued to dog him and
his family. The Likud government has been able to keep the lid on
these charges for a while, but that may soon change. Just this
Wednesday, the
indictments were handed down
:


Mr. Sharon is on the hot seat after an indictment was
issued Wednesday against a property developer for allegedly trying to
bribe him.

The indictment presented in the Tel Aviv district
court says in part that the developer, David Appel, paid hundreds of
thousands of dollars to Sharon's son Gilad in an attempt to bribe
Sharon to advance his business deals.

A
portion of the indictment is reproduced here.
Although he paid the Sharons “hundreds of thousands of
dollars,” he actually promised them millions. The Deputy
Prime Minister — Ehud Olmert — is also named. It's all
pretty damning stuff, if followed through.

That's
not all
. Waaaay down near the bottom of the page, the article
gently reminds us of yet another Sharon family entanglement still
coiling in the shadows of the Israeli legal system:


In another embarassing case, Gilad and another son
Omri are currently under police investigation in connection with
illegal funding of Ariel Sharon's 1999 Likud primary election
campaign.

Sharon has denied
wrongdoing in the matter
, but has come under fire from the media
for possibly misleading Israel's state comptroller about the affair.

The Likud government remains more-or-less popular with the
shell-shocked
Israeli people throughout all of this. Sharon's own popularity,
however, is waning. Over half of all Israelis now have a negative
opinion of him
, a precipitous drop from the high sixties positive
number he enjoyed as recently as last August. Polls also suggest that
the Israeli people expect
Sharon to resign
if the allegations against him are proven.


Of course, that'll just put Netanyahu
in charge. He's an obstructionist jerk, too — but at least he's
not an insanely
obstructionist
jerk.


Wednesday, January 21, 2004
 
The Long Answer Candidate

“For every difficult question, there is an answer that is clear and simple and wrong.”


• George Bernard Shaw


Bless him, General Wesley Clark never stoops to dishing out the simple answers. He seems to possess one of those voraciously curious and complicated minds that requires constant input, and reflexively analyzes every detail. Minds like that never just say “yes” or “no,” and then be done with it. Answers like that just aren't informative enough to be of any use to anyone, even if they are more press-friendly.


The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent little rundown on all the Democratic candidates, with capsule descriptions outlining their personal histories, philosophies, and other errata. One of the categories is “Religion.” Every candidates answer in that category is a simple one-liner: Edwards is a Methodist, Kerry's Catholic, Gephardt is a Baptist, et cetera.


Then there's Clark. His religious resume practically reads like the history of ecclesiastical dialectics in Europe:


Born to a Jewish father; raised Baptist; converted to Roman Catholicism. Now attends Presbyterian services.


Be assured, this observation is not at all intended to be critical of Clark's theological meanderings. There's absolutely nothing wrong with taking a long, hard look at God before deciding how to worship; and he's certainly not the first person to do it. I only offer it as an example of how truly complicated the man actually is.


Another remarkable little tidbit in the Monitor's Clark rundown is this transcription of what they describe as his favorite campaign line:


“I'm not here to bash George W. Bush. I'm here to replace him.”


I'm fascinated by the fact that Clark's quote is an almost exact structural and thematic antonym to Marc Antony's line from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:


“... I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”


In Shakespeare's play, Marc Antony's line is part of a speech he delivers to the citizens of Rome — a speech designed to rally support for a fallen dictator's despicable cause, and against those who plotted against it. The result, as students of literature and history all know, is civil war, and the ultimate collapse of the Roman Republic into centuries of Imperial despotism.


Clark's version of the line puts Dubya in Caesar's slot, but takes the opposite side to Antony's. I don't know for sure if Clark realizes he's riffing on The Bard. But if he is ... then what does that say about his opinion of the State of the Union?


I'd say the answer to that question is pretty obvious.


 
Big Wheelbarrow-Loads Of Money That Simply Don't Exist

The sheer scale of the money and corruption pit opening up in the wake of Italy's Parmalat scandal long ago achieved Enron levels. The audacity is striking, too; who knew that you could steal so much money using just scissors, glue, and a sledgehammer?


The other day, an Italian lawyer by the name of Carlo Zauli announced that he had discovered the existence of a Bank of America account that reportedly held over seven billion euros in misappropriated cash:


Mr. Zauli, speaking with journalists here on Saturday, provided an account number as proof of his discovery. He said that the New York account had money that had been transferred from an account in Malta, where it had been held for a unit of Parmatour, a travel company owned by the Tanzi family that declared bankruptcy on Friday.


A statement released by Parmalat on Saturday described what it said Bank of America had found. “The account number in question is not amongst those used by their New York branch, but that in any case the bank has initiated an internal investigation,” the statement said.


At current exchange rates, seven billion euros is the equivalent of nearly nine billion dollars. At the moment, no-one knows exactly where it is — or even if it exists at all. If it does exist, European regulators strongly suspect that a good chunk of it is resting comfortably in bank accounts over on this side of the Atlantic.


Today, Bank of America came back and reported that, for its part, the account uncovered by Mr. Zauli never existed:


Bank of America has denied the existence of an account allegedly containing 7 billion [euros] of funds missing from collapsed Italian food group Parmalat.


...


Bank of America said yesterday: “We have completed our system-wide search of deposit accounts and that account does not exist and never existed at Bank of America.”


Carlo Zauli isn't just some crank. He's one of a trio of lawyers hired by the Parmalat Creditors Committee, an umbrella organization that claims to represent some 20,000 investors with claims against the imploding conglomerate. It's his job to find this stuff, and he faces the collective wrath of thousands of angry Italians if he does it wrong.


Despite the fact that Zauli has an account number, other documentation on the flow of the money into US banks is scarce. Of course, this breeds skepticism on the quality of information he's discovered. That's valid, but we should remember that what has been uncovered so far is evidence of a longstanding and vast illegal conspiracy to defraud the entire world. Guys like that don't cash their checks in their own name.


Zauli's certainly uncovered something worth investigating. Whether it's an actual transaction record or a crude, ass-covering forgery, we'll just have to wait to find out.


If, in fact, the money went through Malta, then there probably wouldn't be much available documentation of it. Malta has long had a richly-deserved reputation for being a major transfer point for those seeking to launder insanely large amounts of money. Once scrubbed in Malta, the money would be blanketed in another level of anonymity in America, where (according to Zauli) it was quickly shuttled off into the vast, obscurantist labyrinths of the US Treasury market.


US Treasury Bonds as a global corruption magnet? Well ... that's one way to keep our interest rates low.



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