August 8, 2003:  I haven't written here for more than six months.  I guess I kind of burnt out on it for a while.  Catching up with everything that has happened in that time is a job far to big for me to even attempt.  The small, unnoticed news items that have been a primary source of material have gone unnoticed by me during most of that time.  However, I do have a couple of items you probably haven't heard of.

During my time off here, topics related to Iraq and the War on Terror have been reported in blog format at The Rattler, which is a joint project with a friend of mine.  Such issues should, generally speaking, no longer show up here.  In that space we've reported a number of news items that were unrecognized at the time, but which are now, after the war, coming out as controversial questions about how the Bush administration got us into the war.  For instance, we reported admissions by White House insiders that Weapons of Mass Destruction never were the real reason to invade Iraq: that the essential purpose was simply to make a show of force in the Middle East and demonstrate the supremacy of America and (cough) democracy.  Some of the administration's pet media spinsters are now trying to sell the idea that we should just forget that WMD's were ever considered the primary purpose of the war.

But to mention one item related to Iraq, a fair amount of sound has been made in the media about the rather sleazy way that the Bush administration tapped their friends, Halliburton and Bechtel, for the job of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure (paid for, in all likelihood, with Iraq's own oil revenue) -- to the point that the UN agencies that normally have a role in such reconstruction are being cut out.  But here's a little item that hasn't been mentioned much:  it turns out that some of the money the White House is spending on reconstruction has a fair chance of ending up in the hands of, of all people, Osama bin Laden.  You see, the wealthy bin Laden family is invested in the Fremont Group, which is a spinoff of Bechtel -- it used to be called Bechtel Investments.  The Bechtel family is still the majority owner of it.  The Fremont group still "works closely" with Bechtel, and therefore is likely to reap some of the profits of the Iraq job.  (Okay, I have to admit it's kind of a thin connection.)  The bin Laden family, in the meantime, does not admit to working closely with Osama or Al Qaeda, but there is plenty of suspicion that some of them contribute... and if they really are completely dissociated from his band of terrorists, why has there been so much pressure on the FBI to not investigate them?

This scandal about the muzzling of the FBI has been out for a year or so, it's public knowledge, yet the problem has apparently still never been corrected; we still have completely avoided following up any leads that connect any terrorist groups back to anyone in Saudi Arabia.  Even though we are still getting new reports of prominent Saudis, including members of the royal family, funneling money to Al Qaeda and similar terror groups.  And yet, the continued obstruction has gotten so thick that even the Saudi government has come out with a demand that the facts be made public!  The Bush administration, when it received the official report of the Congressional investigation of the causes of 9/11, stamped the entire section about foreign support of Al Qaeda as secret -- a section that everybody is broadly hinting mentions Saudi Arabia a lot.  It is this section that the Saudi government has said should be revealed in full.  They've apparently concluded that the appearance of a cover-up protecting them is now more damaging than the truth would be... at least for the pro-government factions there.  (Al Qaeda opposes the current government.)

The official investigation into the 9/11 attack that killed over 3,000 people has still done less, and been funded less, than the investigation into the space shuttle accident that killed seven.  What investigation there has been has been delayed and delayed by political resistance coming mainly, it seems, from the White House.  For instance, they still block attempts by the investigating commission to question White House personnel out of hearing of their colleagues and supervisors.  It was Bush who picked Thomas Kean to head his investigation commission, and as I reported last time, Kean is a business partner of Osama bin Laden's brother in law, Khalid bin Mahfouz.  The one thing that he had to recommend him is that he's not as bad a choice as Henry Kissinger.

The California electricity crisis, which was the starting point of this whole venture of mine to expose assorted corruption, has produced its (hopefully) last and strangest piece of weird political fallout: the recall election to see whether the California voters will boot governor Gray Davis out of office.  Arnold Schwarzenegger just made his long-anticipated announcement that he is going to enter the race to be the replacement governor.  Democrats, remembering how Ronald Reagan got his start in politics, are not laughing at the idea that a dumb movie star with no gubernatorial skills whatever might win the election.  In fact, they generally seem to consider him a bigger threat than the other most discussed Republican candidate, Darrell Issa, who is the guy who put the whole recall campaign together with his own money.  Issa, after all, has had a bunch of scandal come out about his past: it turns out that when he was a young man, he was repeatedly involved in car thefts!  He was arrested twice for it, but each time avoided conviction by sticking one of his brothers with the entire blame, even though in one case it was a scam in which the theft of his own car was faked.  Kind of hard to see how a fake theft could have been arranged without any involvement by the car's owner.

Woops -- now Issa has dropped out of the race, and he and the other Republicans seem to be putting together a new strategy: everyone backs Arnold!  Honest to God, the party is unifying behind the idea that Arnold Schwarzenegger is what the state needs!

Somebody who thinks Davis should go, please explain to me how it is a responsible thing to do to back Arnold Schwarzenegger for the governorship.  He doesn't have a plan or a vision, he doesn't even have a single policy proposal, all he has is an image, some charisma, and ten men's ambition.  What on Earth gives you the slightest idea he has any ability for the job?  Even Jesse Ventura would be better.

Arianna Huffington is in the race as an independent, by the way.  She did more to get the truth out early about the electricity crisis than 99% of the media or politicians did, so on the Enronometer she rates pretty good.

Numerous legal challenges to the recall are being chewed through by the state Supreme Court, the most extreme being Davis's own contention that the whole election should be put off until the March 2004 primary election, despite the statute saying it has to be done within 80 days of the petitions being handed in.  Another case says there should be no free-for-all election accompanying the recall vote itself, since this will probably elect a new governor with the votes of only a single-digit percentage of the public, but that instead the recall vote should be a simple yes or no on Davis, with no new candidate being picked, only the Lieutenant Governor stepping up to finish his term.  The Lt. Governor, Cruz Bustamante, apparently likes this idea very much; he is one of the few Democrats who just announced that he will run as a candidate against Davis, while most Democrats wisely said that participating in this ridiculous election would be most bogus and heinous.  Davis is so unpopular that many Dems are now afraid he'll lose and they need a Democrat who can replace him... and that just maybe the huge number of non-Democrat candidates will split the vote and let a replacement Dem win.  Strikes me as terribly iffy and desperate, and most likely doomed to do more harm than good.

The Supreme Court is avoiding as many of these cases as possible, throwing them back unheard.

The infuriating thing about the recall, to me, is that there is just no good reason at all for it to be happening in the first place.  What are the reasons given by Issa and the other Republicans for recalling Davis?  There are two reasons, and both are monumental pieces of hypocrisy when coming from that crowd.  One is fiscal mismanagement -- they say he spent too much money in past budgets, which helped lead to catastrophic cuts this year when the revenues dried up due to a sunken economy.  And the other is that they attack him for signing long-term contracts for electricity during the power crisis.

As for Davis overspending government funds... which of these Republican critics of Davis has made the slightest peep of complaint about President Bush overspending?  Who among them does not defend absurd excesses of deficit spending on the federal level?  Who among them found anything to criticize in Bush's policy of first passing a tax cut, then spending a whole bunch of new money on major new federal programs, and then following that with a second tax cut, and following that with an expensive war?  (Which they planned before the second tax cut, don't forget.)  Fiscally, it's obvious that the Bush administration is the most reckless and irresponsible the nation has ever had in its history... and the GOP is behind this kind of leadership all the way.  And that includes drastic cuts in federal money going to states, which is one of the biggest causes of the current California budget crisis for which they are trying to blame Davis.  When any one of them criticizes Davis for not controlling the budget, we should laugh in his face, if not spit in his eye.

Attacking Davis's long term contracts for electricity is equally hypocritical.  What were these Republicans doing at the time?  What alternative did they suggest -- what else were they even willing to permit?  Davis signed these contracts for one reason: because he was desperate, because there was nothing else to do.  At that time the price spiral was running entirely out of control with no end in sight.  And every attempt to do something more direct, to actually stop it, was resisted and blocked by politicians who were unwilling to take any action to end the crisis.  The chief center of public resistance to doing anything was in the White House, which propagandized aggressively against any such measure as what eventually ended the crisis, which was federal price caps on the electricity market.  With the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stonewalling at that time and no sign that such caps would ever arrive, and the legislature unwilling to take drastic measures such as dismantling the spot market system for setting electricity prices, there was nothing left to do.  That is why the contracts got signed, and naturally enough Davis later went to court to get out of them, on the grounds that he had pretty much signed them under coercion.

The big question for Republican critics of this move is: What would you have done instead?  What did you do at the time?  What did you suggest?  Anything at all?  Did you have any constructive input at all for dealing with the crisis?  For the great majority of Republicans, the answer is no -- if anything, their sole contribution was to try to preserve and protect the system that caused the crisis.  Many of them were also actively engaged in lying their asses off about the causes of the crisis, denying that it was a price gouging scam and claiming that it was a natural market result of our failure to have enough generators and transmission lines (even though by the time the contracts were signed, the state's generators were running at scarcely more than half of full capacity).

What we as voters have to do is to demand of any candidate who brings up this issue a full accounting of what they were doing about the issue at the time.  I think you will find that the only constructive actions being taken, poor and desperate though they were, were those of the Public Utilities Commission and the Governor.  And the contracts did succeed in stemming the flow of ever-rising electricity costs, though they did not cause a collapse to normal prices, which happened only after FERC relented and set price caps.

One effect that the contracts did have was to suddenly shrink the opportunity for making money by short-term trading of electricity price futures.  A direct result of this was the bankruptcy of Enron.  Governor Davis is the man who destroyed Enron.

(By the way, Mirant, another of the main companies participating in the price gouging during the crisis, recently went bankrupt too.)

This may be one reason the GOP is putting their money on Ahnuld: because he, unlike any politician, has an excuse for having no answers to these questions.  Namely that at that time he had no involvement with any political issues at all.  Schwarzenegger's only statements on the issue at the time that I can find consist of excitement over the fact that Davis's re-electability had come under question.  He said back then that he had already "thought about [running] many times".  His sole recommendation was for more decisive leadership.  He opposes indecisiveness.  But he says nothing at all about what decisions should have been made.

On the other hand, Ahnuld's lack of vulnerability in the area of policy hypocricy is may be balanced out by vulnerability in the area of sexual behavior.  It should be fun to watch veteran Clinton bashers trying to defend similar, or worse, stuff on their side.

So, given the phoniness of the reasons for the recall, why are we having one?  Because Davis happens to be unpopular, and the state GOP has not been winning any elections by normal means.  It's simply a matter of his opponents seeing an opportunity to gain power.  This election isn't an outgrowth of Davis's performance in office, it's an outgrowth of the Republican party having been taken over by a right wing faction that believes in nothing but that it must have power at any cost and by any possible means, with popular elections being seen as at best a tool and at worst an obstruction.  From the Clinton impeachment and the many years of fake scandal-dredging that preceded it, to the Florida election fiasco and its egregiously partisan resolution in the Supreme Court, to this recall campaign, the common thread is that we are dealing with people who are not willing to settle for only running the government when they can win the votes of the people, but believe that when the people vote against them, that vote must be overturned whenever possible.  And who care very little about actual policies of governance, compared to how much they focus on just getting their own group into power.  They will settle for, and support, the most irresponsible policies, violating every previously held principle of sound conservatism, just as long as it's one of their own who is setting those policies.

My great fear at this point is that we won't get an honest election in 2004.  In state after state, new electronic voting systems have been installed, supposedly to prevent "another Florida".  All too often, these systems create no permanent physical record of how the individual votes were cast -- we have to trust entirely in a software system that reports the totals, and that system could be made dishonest in a hundred ways without there being any thorough way to check.  Or if there is a paper record, the voter does not get to see and verify it.  (I believe that is the case in my own county now.)  And too often, the companies selling the systems are tied to the Christian right.  What we have here, supported and funded by the GOP majority in Congress, is a way to prevent "another Florida" in this sense: preventing there being another public dispute about the outcome, since there will be no means to recount votes more accurately.

If they go and steal the election in 2004, what can we do?  This question needs serious thinking about.  What can we do if a group that lost the election declares themselves winners a la Ferdinand Marcos, and the evidence that would prove otherwise is not available, having only existed as ephemeral electronic bits?  How are we ever supposed to reverse that -- by armed revolution?  Mass civil disobedience isn't likely to ever change who is in office.  In the end, I think if this happened we'd just have to sit and take it, with no recourse.  That is not an acceptable situation.  We cannot run our elections in a way where the results claimed by the "winner" are not accountable.

Anyway, back to the usual crap.  Some of this news is not fresh, it's spread out over the last few months.  Of course, there are ten stories that should have been covered for every one that is here.  And the selection is rather random and sloppy.  Well, I'm rusty, I'll get things running smoothly again in future entries.  I've put together bits and scraps over many weeks, and at some point I have to bite the bullet and upload it, sloppy or not.  So here you go.

Good old Enron is still producing more indictments.  Prosecution is still widening its net.  And by the way, the remnant of the company asked the IRS for a tax refund, on the grounds that they shouldn't have to pay taxes on income which they reported earning but didn't actually have.  Since they usually paid no net tax at all in spite of the exaggeration of their income, this request is unlikely to garner sympathy.  At least not nowadays, after they've collapsed and are no longer a power in politics.  Will we ever know how many companies today are still getting that kind of sympathy from the IRS?

The old Enron is not an active threat any more, but there are new Enrons waiting in the wings:  a tip from a reader points to Valero Energy of San Antonio.  As far as I can find, nothing has yet been published about this, pinning anything definite on them.  But watch this space; some investigations are in progress.

One interesting fact about them is that Valero bought Ultramar Diamond Shamrock, which among other things imports the majority of the oil from Pemex, the national oil company of Mexico.  Pemex has been the center of an ongoing scandal in Mexican politics.  When Vicente Fox took on Mexico's ruling party, PRI, a lot of Pemex money was being laundered into PRI... but Enron was doing its own laundry on the other side, which won.

The California legislature is taking up the debate of whether to throw out the entire deregulation scheme that allowed Enron and its fellow companies to strip the state of so many billions, and go back to a fully regulated utility system such as it had before, or to try to select some competitive aspects from the failed system that might be worth keeping.  This is a difficult question.  As I feared, though, the one part that I had hoped they would keep -- support for renewable energy and the consumer choice to insist that one's personal share of electricity come from renewable power plants -- has already been thrown out.  This was a worry I expressed from the very beginning when I first started to cover this issue in January 2001 -- that the gouging on electricity prices would, as a side effect, trample renewable energy companies.

Those who try to raise investment in renewable power production say that this sort of thing is one of the worst obstacles to getting larger scale renewable energy operations under way: not so much that the legal and regulatory environment is unfriendly, as that it keeps changing.  You never know what to expect five years down the road.  Policy swings drastically with shifts in the political wind.  The situation for fossil fuels and other traditional production methods, and even nuclear energy, is far more dependable: they all get subsidized steadily, and changes in the level support are infrequent and usually gradual.

Check out angrycalifornians.org.  This site keeps a scorecard on all the companies that helped rip off the state, and has a plan for how to handle future energy questions, starting with "the largest class-action lawsuit in history", which sounds to me like a good idea.  An awful lot of people, including many politicians and their buyers, want this all to be forgotten as last year's issue, but we must not just forget this whole mess: they still have our money.  The people at this site are not forgetting, and neither am I.

Fortunately, we have a bit of progress on that front:  the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission agreed to increase the refunds owed by power companies to the State of California, to about $3,300,000,000.  The state says this is bogus and the total refund should be five or six billion dollars more, because FERC arbitrarily disregarded any claims from before 2 October 2000 or after 17 January 2001.  The worst price spikes from the market manipulation were in the spring of 2001, but because the state became directly involved in the power market at that point, FERC claims the power companies are somehow off the hook.

One especially weird aspect of this ruling is that within that time interval, FERC is disregarding the legality of any market manipulation by the power companies, and working only by a formula of what they think a reasonably excessive power price should have been.  Yet before October 2000, they are willing to look at illegal market manipulation.  They claim that they are required by federal law to take this into account, but only up to that time.  This makes less and less sense the closer you look at it.

Meanwhile, the power companies are contesting FERC's right to order any such refunds at all.

By the way, the report that California submitted to FERC showing how the power companies had rigged the market was supposed to be a public document, but FERC demanded that it be kept confidential and that the public summary not mention the companies' names.

In more recent California news, PG&E, the bankrupt utility company serving the northern two thirds of the state, announced a grand deal with the Public Utilities Commission that would enable it to emerge out of bankruptcy in two years' time.  Unfortunately, the deal basically consists of ratepayers continuing to pay crisis-level prices for the next nine years.  Fortunately, it turns out that the deal was only reached with the staff of the PUC, not with the commission itself, and many of the sitting commissioners are scowling at the deal in an extremely unfriendly way.  The fight to get PG&E to take any responsibility for its own mistakes, instead of expecting the rest of us to pay for them all while it keeps the profits from when it guessed right, is still far from over.

It would be nice if the governor would step in for consumers on this.  God knows he needs something to show him as being a useful helper for the general populace.

PG&E lost a huge amount of money from its utility arm during the center part of the crisis, but it also made huge amounts in the periods immediately before and after this worst period -- money that it has attempted all along to shelter from their debts by keeping it under a different corporate sub-entity.  Right now, in fact, it is making huge profits because the rates are so much higher than required by current wholesale electricity prices.  Also, it should be noted that many of the debts that they are in bankruptcy protection for are to the power generating companies that are under various forms of civil and criminal investigation, and many of these debts may end up being altered by the courts if they rule that the generators' prices were illegal.

The one thing all the political entities involved in this conflict seem to agree on is that PG&E must be brought back out of bankruptcy somehow, to resume life as our more or less state-regulated utility provider.  Maybe the one person who disagrees with this is me.  I say, let PG&E die.  Let it resolve bankruptcy by selling off its assets, not by being given more ratepayer revenue.  (Hell, it would probably come out alive in that case, it just wouldn't be the utility provider any more.)  Replace it with a new state-run nonprofit entity, or a network of smaller local public utilities.  In the case of this industry, at least in this state, the track record of publicly owned nonprofit utility operators is superior to that of private for-profit outfits like PG&E.

Here is an interesting chart.  It seems to offer a scale by which one can more or less conveniently rank the dirtiness of various oil companies.  The one that looks the worst is one I've never mentioned here, and is hardly ever heard of in the US: the French conglomerate Total Fina Elf.  It's the world's 15th largest company.

And here is a handy conflict-of-interest-o-matic for the Bush administration:  select the official, or the industry, and it produces a list of financial ties and involvements.

Perhaps it's time to say a word about Mr. Conflict of Interest himself: Richard Perle.  He's a neocon "chicken-hawk" who has gloated over the "death of the UN" as a significant power, once the US stopped listening to it, and who has ties to a British intelligence company.  He's also involved in negotiations between the Pentagon and a company that's been mentioned in this space before, Global Crossing.  Which side of the negotiations is he advising?  Both.  Well, he had to drop out of one once this got (ahem) talked about.  One could go on for many paragraphs about Perle, but at this point it's pretty old news.  He still pops up occasionally, though, trying to help the administration spin its way out of finding no weapons of mass destruction anywhere in Iraq.  He's sure they're there, and we should keep looking for decades if that's what it takes to dig them up.

In the category of "how brazen do they think they can get":  the World Health Organization, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization, recently published a report recommending that for a healthy diet, you shouldn't eat too much sugar.  Now everyone knows that this is true.  Specifically, the WHO/FAO recommendation is that sugar should supply no more than 10% of your calories, which I think anyone would agree is a pretty generous allowance for sugar consumption.  There is plenty of evidence that high sugar consumption plays a big role, along with saturated fats and lack of exercise, in degenerative conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and others -- all the conditions associated with obesity, all of which are on the rise, especially in developing countries which are in the process of adopting junk-food diets.  But what does the sugar industry do?  Right out in the open, they make threats to retaliate by having WHO's budget slashed.  "If necessary we will promote and encourage new laws [on] WHO funding."  They want the report suppressed or discredited or both.  Their friends in the US Congress don't have any direct power over the UN, which WHO and FAO are agencies of, but they do have ample means to bring pressure on the UN, since the US supplies (when it's willing to) much of the UN's budget.

Among agricultural businesses, the sugar industry might be historically the dirtiest after tobacco.  Many of the more unattractive aspects of our relations with poorer Latin American countries have been connected to sugar.  Growing it down there is rougher on the land than most crops, and requires more toxic chemicals.  And within the United States, sugar is our most heavily subsidized agricultural product.  We are paying tax money in order to make sugar cheaper and more abundant in junk food!  We are all contributing, involuntarily, to reducing the healthiness of the food sold in our stores.  Ethically, that's about as justifiable as subsidizing cheap rotgut whiskey would be.

Here's the latest goodie in the ongoing struggle by the major drug companies to stop Communism: the Food and Drug Administration has decided it's going to crack down on US citizens who visit Canada in order to buy affordable medicine up there.  It's threatening legal action against anyone who "aids" such trips across the border, or the mail-ordering of drugs from Canada.  It's unpatriotic not to pay monopoly prices, I guess.

But wait, suddenly this has been reversed once it got publicized.  They've turned completely around and are legalizing the mail-ordering of cheaper Canadian drugs, or at least thinking about it.  They're completely flipping back and forth on this issue, it's getting confusing.  But Tom DeLay, who is probably ready to inherit the title of Most Disgraceful Senator now that Strom Thurmond is gone and Trent Lott is easing into retirement, is fighting it tooth and nail.  Besides the extremity of his defense of huge tax cuts for corporations ahead of even the smallest tax cuts for lower income working people, he was recently caught handing out favors to a Kansas utility company called Westar that gave him $55,000 -- he successfully got them exempted from certain kinds of regulatory oversight and may well have saved them billions.  Jesus Christ, Tom, if you're going to skim off a billion or two for some friendly corporation, couldn't you at least make them give you more than a measly $55,000 for your share?  I mean, come on, have some self-respect, ask for ten percent at least.

The medical and pharmaceutical industries are probably the most thoroughly in bed with the Bushies of any industry except energy.  The above-mentioned database of ties between the White House and various industries finds an awful lot of hits for pharma.  Some of the goodies they're getting, just in the last few months, include a Bush plan to curb appeals in Medicare cases, not to mention a general plan to reshape Medicare to "make the elderly more reliant on private health plans"; a prescription drug plan that would mainly boost profits for the pharma and medical insurance industries; and a move in Congress to cap malpractice awards, as has been tried in various states (especially in Jeb Bush's Florida -- but wait, the one in Nebraska got ruled unconstitutional).

(I recently heard the head of the A.M.A. speak out in favor of tort caps... it was one of the most one-sidedly self-interested public speeches I've ever heard anyone give.  To hear him tell it the whole medical profession is being destroyed by greedy lawyers and greedy patients.  Of course, some politicians have made similar claims, notably Governor Jeb Bush®, and they turned out to be fabrications...)

On the subject of malpractice caps, it has come out in a story from West Virginia that the rising health costs which insurance companies blamed on malpractice awards were, in reality, scarcely affected by such awards; the actual cost that the insurance companies were trying to cover with raised premiums was their investment losses in the stock market.

(Kind of reminds me of how the record companies always start screeching about pirate copying of songs every time their sales slump due to selling lousy boring records.  This happens whenever they get too heavily into recycling bland bubblegum pop and not signing interesting and innovative musicians, which is what they're doing right now.  They go through cycles in which innovative performers are sometimes accepted and sometimes excluded, and the exclusion phases are always followed eventually by a sales slump, which ends once they start bringing in some interesting new sounds.  The cycle is that innovation leads to success, success leads to repetition, repetition leads to boredom, and boredom leads to innovation.  But somehow that last step is always the one that gets resisted and dragged out for years as the industry digs itself ever deeper into the habit of recycling pop crap.  At which time their sales sag, and they rediscover the big issue of piracy... but once the new sound breaks out, they resume making money and the piracy problem is put aside again.  The new sound breakouts, by the way, tend to come at surprisingly regular intervals of about 13 years.)

In other health-related corruption news, an international treaty that would restrict tobacco advertising is being blocked by the US.  And in a minor health matter, Orrin Hatch is trying to defend the dangerous drug ephedra from regulation, after taking money from its sellers.

The most visible excesses of the Bush administration lately, aside from the war, have been in the effort to get the insane second tax cut passed.  This idea is so irresponsible that even Wall Street investors, the group that contains many of those who would benefit most directly from it, are far from supportive of the plan.  President Bush has, at times, resorted to absurd fabrications in an attempt to sell the tax cut:  he cited a finding by hundreds of the nation's top economists that his giant tax cut would help revive the economy and bring about substantial economic growth.  But the report he cites doesn't mention his plan at all; they were just guessing the most likely growth rate for 2003, and happened to pick an optimistic number.  Also, somebody should tell the President that Grover Norquist is not somebody to be included in a list of top economists.

Norquist's current job is doing political outreach for the GOP to Islamic voters.  (They were already solidly in the Bush camp in the 2000 election... but perhaps he's less popular with them now, do you think?)  He's trying to smooth over the embarrassment caused by the discovery that wealthy Bush backer Sami Al-Arian, who is said to have helped "deliver Florida", is linked to terrorists.  Bush taking money from these people, and protecting the Saudis with Al Qaeda ties, seems like a textbook example of Lenin's saying about capitalists being eager to sell you the rope you hang them with.  Look what the far right does with a story like this: here's one group that takes the attitude that Norquist himself is aiding terrorists.  The Al-Arian case is an interesting one, in that it was pro-Bush conservative media who first ganged up on him with allegations of terrorist ties, and more liberal outlets that defended him as an innocent man caught up in anti-Muslim hysteria, saying that the allegations were old and discredited, which seemed true at the time.  Then he was arrested, the charge being that he was the head of the U.S. branch of Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian suicide-bomber outfit.  Woops.  But we still don't know the facts; his trial is not scheduled until early 2005!  He made a motion for a speedy trial, and despite the Sixth Amendment, it was denied.

Gosh, I wonder if the timing of the next election could possibly have anything to do with that long delay.

Here's a little item that doesn't come out of the news:  I happened to catch an insider report from someone who participated in a Rand Corporation think tank meeting which was writing a policy report to the President on current problems related to science and technology, and recommendations for what to do about them.  According to this participant, everybody in the meeting saw energy production as the single biggest problem issue that had to be addressed, yet their final report made no mention of it, because "energy is dog shit at the dinner table" -- meaning that seeing runaway fossil fuel consumption as a problem is extremely unwelcome to the oilmen in the White House.  If this document helps Bush get re-elected, this participant sadly concluded, "We will have done our small part in the destruction of Western civilization."

(But Christie Whitman went on Letterman and told us all that George Bush is really doing something about global warming.  Don't you believe her?)

Speaking of energy consumption, check out this quote from Rick Schmidt of the International Hummer Owners Group (which very aptly acronyms as I-HOG).  "In my humble opinion, the H2 is an American icon.  Not the military version by any means, but it's a symbol of what we all hold so dearly above all else, the fact we have the freedom of choice, the freedom of happiness, the freedom of adventure and discovery, and the ultimate freedom of expression.  Those who deface a Hummer in words or deed deface the American flag and what it stands for."  Yeah, that's what makes me proud to be an American: our God-given right to drive 9 MPG military trucks to the grocery store, and do it proudly without anyone sneering at you.

If Ahnuld doesn't get elected Governor (which, if he does, will probably be with the votes of about a tenth of the population, which is probably a big reason why the GOP doesn't want to wait for a regular election), he will still be remembered for an important contribution to the California lifestyle: it was he who first popularized the use of Hummers for civilian driving.

Oh, and our old friend Katherine Harris has a news item: seems she's locked in a bitter court battle with her relatives over the estate of her rich grandfather.  She's suing her own uncle, and a cousin.  Gee, I never would have thought she was the kind of person who would want to demand a bigger share of what she wants than the normal legal process would give her...  This time around, the judge threw out her case.

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