October 25, 2002: Here's an item I read a few days ago and had been planning to include here, possibly thrown in near the bottom: The re-election campaign of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) has suddenly come under attack by a gigantic out-of-state ad campaign that looks to be better funded than his and his opponent's campaigns combined. The group responsible for the ad is a DC-area group called Americans for Job Security (a totally meaningless name, of course) which was founded by the insurance industry, grew on attacking the AFL-CIO, and has since embraced all kinds of pro-business causes and issues. They aren't telling where they got the money. Wellstone has been made a target of the national Republican strategy -- one of a few senators they're focusing resources on from all over, because they either see the seat as vulnerable or just can't stand the liberalness of the incumbent... Wellstone qualifies on both counts. He was one of the most liberal people left in the Senate. Among the conservative agendas he resisted were the bankruptcy "reform" effort, and the war on Iraq ("I told my wife it might be the end of the race. The conventional wisdom in Washington was that if you cast that vote, you lose," he said... but after the vote, his poll numbers went up). He the first member of congress to sign a twelve-point pledge outlining a thorough plan of action for corporate reform backed by Ralph Nader. (Bush, meanwhile, is still working to undercut even the tiny amount of reform that's been passed, by gutting protection for whistleblowers, and is reducing the SEC budget for enforcement -- cutting the extra funds he called for himself in his big speech on corporate responsibility.) One move I could criticize is that Wellstone was an author of the recent giant farm pork bill -- a bill that now has Mexican president Vicente Fox trying to pressure the U.S. to do something about all the farm subsidies that are helping impoverish his country.
This would have been a minor item here, but a new event has suddenly made this story more interesting: Paul Wellstone just got killed in a plane crash, along with his wife, his daughter, and five others. This tragedy is presumably a simple accident, but the timing is rather alarming. I don't want to be paranoid, but I do hope that this crash is thoroughly investigated.
The crash has been called "eerily reminiscent" of the one that killed Mel Carnahan in Missouri two years ago. (Carnahan was the one who defeated John Ashcroft at the polls posthumously.)
The death has already been misused by Pete Domenici (R-Arizona) as an excuse to duck debating his Democratic rival, Gloria Tristani.
The effort to buy a war with Iraq, meanwhile, is getting seamier. We now have news that the Bush administration knew more than a year ago about the North Korean nuclear arms effort. They did not reveal the news to Congress until after they had voted to let him attack Iraq. Many in Congress are pissed at being kept in the dark on something that might well have changed the debate. Since the North Koreans (once part of the "axis of evil") are now admittedly guilty of just what we're supposed to attack Saddam Hussein for just possibly being guilty of, the rationale for invading Iraq is growing even more senseless than it was before. In dealing with the North Koreans, Bush decided that even blocking an oil shipment would be too strong a response. But the insanity of the Iraq policy gets even worse: Bush just approved $92,000,000 for training and equipping Iraqi opposition groups. The largest and most organized such group is the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an Islamist group based in Iran. They're open to U.S. help in toppling Saddam.
Now Saddam Hussein is many unpleasant things, but one thing he is not is an Islamist -- the kind of extreme fundamentalist who bases their politics on religion, like the Taliban, the ayatollahs of Iran, and the kind of people who make up the membership of the major Middle East terrorist groups. Al Qaeda is an Islamist group. Bush wants to replace Saddam Hussein's Baathists with a group that is more friendly to Osama bin Laden! Because this is the only group he can find that stands the least chance of looking like a home-grown new Iraqi regime, rather than a puppet government that the Iraqi people would never accept. Who else is it gonna be -- the Kurds? They'd never be able to rule the non-Kurdish majority... they've already admitted one of their main goals after regime change is to grab a much bigger share of the oil revenue for themselves. To get Saddam Hussein, Bush has started backing militant groups that are philosophically closer to Al Qaeda than they are to us -- closer, in fact, than Hussein is to Al Qaeda. The Baathists didn't hate the West on principle -- they were anti-American only when we came in conflict. They were glad enough to accept our help against Iran in the nine year war between those two countries, though many must have suspected we were helping both sides. (It appears as if our goal in that war was to lengthen it rather than shorten it.) And now we may well be finally "healing" that conflict by putting Iraq under a pro-Iran regime.
The other main recipients of this aid are ex-Baathist officers who probably have few plans for a regime any different from Saddam's. These are the ones who get mentioned in public, for lack of anyone more appealing. If Bush thinks the Iraqi people will rise up to welcome these assholes as a replacement for Saddam, I have some lovely beachfront property to sell him. It's in Cuba and it's called the Bahía de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs.
The senseless mess that the Bush administration has made of the U.N. weapons inspectors' situation has now reached the point where Iraq is accusing us of stopping the inspectors, rather than us accusing Iraq as in the old days. Bush is determined to have his war, and no possible peaceful settlement will be allowed to stand in his way. And, of course, he's not reluctant to invent weird fictional stories about the Iraqi menace: he recently claimed that they are building up a stock of unmanned aircraft capable of delivering bombs to the U.S. Our government is now even trying to tie some kind of link between Iraq and the Oklahoma City bombing (even as it continues to stall on a full investigation of 9/11).
[UPDATE: the link to Oklahoma City has been discredited. Apparently it originated with someone who decided to make up a story about seeing Iraqis with McVeigh.]
A Jordanian official has told the media that Bush promised his country up to $450,000,000 a year to cover against any losses they suffer due to an Iraq war. Bush may end up spending as much on buying support for his war as on fighting it... yet his party still wants more tax cuts.
There's a big anti-war march scheduled tomorrow in several cities. I don't normally do marches, but this one I'll attend.
Remember when Bush promised that he would not rest until he brought Al Qaeda to justice? We see now what he's really going to "not rest" for. Lately tracking down Al Qaeda has somehow become "not that important. It's not our priority." (G.W. Bush, 3/13/02.) But intelligence agencies are warning that Al Qaeda is building up strength for new attacks, and have warned that possible targets may include our oil industry infrastructure. The oil industry at least seems to be taking the security issue fairly seriously... unlike the chemical industry and the computer industry, each of which reacted to new security rules by complaining they would be too onerous and by using lobbying pressure to get the Bush administration to change its mind and leave them to take care of the issue as they thought best -- the Bushies acquiesced in both cases.
(Not that the Bushes are above still getting involved in oil-related conflicts of interest... here's one of Jeb Bush's. And here's one between Jeb and the advertising industry. His daugher Noelle, by the way, just got her sentence for smuggling crack into a drug treatment center: ten whole days! The President, meanwhile, continues to shower federal largesse on Florida, including tons of stuff in the recent military buildup. We'll see how much of this sticks around after Jeb loses the election.)
Nowadays, the effort to track and stop Al Qaeda has decayed to such a point that the government of Germany is now complaining that the U.S. is no longer cooperating with them at even a routine level on tracking terrorists. The city of Hamburg had a major Al Qaeda presence, and the U.S. and Germany were cooperating well on tracking down leads there... until Chancellor Gerhard Schröder came out against war with Iraq. Since then, German officials have been reduced to flying to Washington to personally plead for cooperation... and Al Qaeda in Germany is, as far as the U.S. goes, given all the freedom it could want.
To take a brief look back at domestic corruption issues, the effort to extract Dick Cheney's energy task force papers continues to win court victories, while the Department of Justice continues to stall. In one embarrassing incident, the judge recently got the DoJ lawyers to admit that many of the papers they insisted contained sensitive secret material had actually never been read by them to see what they contained.
In the Judicial Watch lawsuit against Halliburton, the court's deadline to respond has passed by without Cheney or Halliburton doing anything.
Bush and Congress have been playing an interesting game lately with the pharmaceuticals industry. These companies are some of the most profitable in the world, and have plenty of lobbying power, spend heavily on political advertising, and may in some cases be as disgustingly intimate with George W. Bush as Enron ever was. So it was rather a surprise to read that Dubya had come out in favor of a bill which would make it easier for generic drug companies to get past the barrage of legal harrassment that big pharma commonly uses to tie them up in patent litigation. This would, after all, mean cheaper drugs and would benefit consumers at the expense of Bush's drug pals. But now Democrats are saying that the bill closes one path for corporate abuse of the legal system only to open up several others.
Meanwhile, the FDA is now backing off on the degree to which it polices pharmaceutical industry advertising to doctors for truthfulness. They did, however, make an attempt to require safety tests for children independent of tests on adults, before perscribing medications to children.
Remember the great Stem Cell debate? Well now, according to one researcher, the major outcome of the current restrictions has been not to block morally questionable research, but to keep such research as does continue firmly within the financial grasp of a few companies, which are allowing independent researchers to work with their approved stem cell lines only if they hand over all profitable advances. As a result, what could be one of the furthest reaching set of practical medical breakthroughs in history is mostly stalled.
One other bit of domestic military corruption: it seems that civilians can be allowed access to the Pentagon's secret material, if they're prominent members of the Heritage Foundation. Unfortunately the link to this story seems to have gone away...
As always, there's more. I didn't manage to cover a single item related to Enron this time... like the deal they once made with Harken Energy, or their special license to do business with Iran... I'll just have to dig into such matters on another day.
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