Arranology

Archive for September 2004

Watergate Revisited: Allbritton Taped Riggs’ Board Meetings

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Federal investigators from the DoJ to the US Attorney for DC have been gradually piecing together the picture of Riggs Bank’s money laundering for the likes of Augustus Pinochet and the Saudi Embassy. Last month that investigation got a big boost with the discovery of a box containing tape recordings of Riggs board meetings.

Federal regulators and prosecutors are listening to tape recordings of more than 150 Riggs Bank board meetings as they investigate what role top executives, including former chairman Joe L. Allbritton, played in more than a decade of violations of anti-money-laundering laws at the company, according to five sources familiar with the tapes.

Despite earlier requests from regulators and Senate investigators for documents related to the violations, the bank did not discover the more than 125 tapes until recently, the sources said. The tapes are of board meetings at the bank and its holding company beginning at least as far back as 1989 and ending some time last year, according to the sources, who spoke on condition that their names not be used because of ongoing civil and criminal investigations.

On the tapes, Allbritton, who left Riggs’s holding company board in May but remains its largest shareholder, makes what one source said were “derisive” remarks about federal bank regulators who were pushing the bank to correct years-long violations of money-laundering laws. Neither transcripts nor copies of the tapes were made available.

Under Allbritton, Riggs Bank was up to its eyeballs in laundering millions and millions of dollars in money stolen by Pinochet from Chile’s Treasury, and millions more in bribes to Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, from major US oil companies. Even worse, they helped the Saudis hide millions more that might have gone to fund terrorist organizations in the Middle East.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, bank regulators and the FBI began a detailed probe of Riggs Bank’s long-standing relationship with officials at the Saudi Embassy. That evolved into multiple federal investigations, including one by the Justice Department, of the bank’s relationship with other foreign customers, including inquiries into deposits by major U.S. oil companies into accounts controlled by Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

In May bank regulators at the Treasury Department fined Riggs $25 million for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, which has been in effect since the 1970s but was strengthened in the fall of 2001 to bolster efforts to interrupt financing of terrorist operations.

Earlier this summer, the Senate subcommittee held a hearing on Riggs that publicized for the first time what investigators called evidence that the bank helped Pinochet hide millions of dollars from international prosecutors over the past decade. Prosecutors in Spain and Chile have sought information about that money as possible restitution for families of thousands of victims Pinochet is alleged to have tortured and killed while president of Chile.

The Bush Admin’s lax attitude toward the enforcement of banking regulations apparently gave Riggs the idea that they could ignore them with impunity–after all, there were $$tens of millions$$ in fees on the line. But to their credit it must be said that for one of the few times in the last four years, the BA didn’t interfere with or attempt to quash an investigation into Saudi finances (Pinochet they don’t care about one way or the other).

The tapes make this case that rare instance when collusion to break the law can be proved to have come from the very top levels of a major corporation–scapegoats don’t cut it when you’ve got the BoD on tape, and therefore on the record, approving illegal actions by the CEO. Eventually, the tapes–or at least transcripts of them–will be released, and personally, I can’t wait.

Written by Mick

September 17, 2004 at 6:44 am

Maryland Gov Steals Election Process

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In a brazen bid to take control of Maryland’s election process–a move that has sinister overtones to say the least–Publican Gov Bob Erlich wants Maryland’s feisty, independent Elections Administrator fired and replaced by an appointee of his own. The grounds for her dismissal? She’s ‘crabby’ to him.

ACCORDING TO state law, Maryland State Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone can be removed from her job only for “incompetence, misconduct or other good cause.” The law, passed in 1998, is intended to insulate the administrator, and the management of elections, from the bump and grind of partisan politics. But now Ms. Lamone, who has managed elections in the state since 1997, is the target of what by all appearances is a putsch by the Republican-led State Board of Elections. Board members are appointed by the governor, and Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants Ms. Lamone out.

Despite taking the nearly Kafkaesque step of having Ms. Lamone investigated by a veteran agent of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which usually confines itself to probing abuses by prison employees, the elections board hasn’t found much to accuse her of. There are no criminal allegations; her main sin, it seems, is that she has been crabby at times in her relations with the board. On one occasion, according to the board’s complaint, Ms. Lamone was guilty of a scheduling conflict, choosing to testify before Congress rather than appear before the board. Compounding the damage, she testily informed the board that she “alone” will determine how to do her job. On another occasion, it took her six weeks to promulgate written guidelines for local election officials on how to deal with voters who refused to use the state’s electronic voting machines. Most damning, apparently, was that Ms. Lamone complained to a job applicant that the governor was “out to get” her. So she’s crabby, and she tells the truth.

It seems pretty obvious that’s what’s behind this nonsense is yet another attempt to put the election into partisan hands in an effort to ensure a Bush win by hook or by crook, like the bogus redistricting in Colorado and Texas and the (maybe) aborted voter disenfranchisement in Florida and other states. The Pubs are lining up their ducks, using any means necessary to get the power to make the election go their way.

The signs are mounting that the Cult of Personality is working its magic, justifying any action that sanctifies Our Leader’s continued imperium, seeing as how he’s The Only Man in the Whole World Who Can Save Us. It’s looks like this election will be stolen in pieces by a combination of local actions rather than, like last time, a single illegal election that is then confirmed by the SCOTUS.

Is it time yet to call in the UN election monitors?

Written by Mick

September 15, 2004 at 8:16 am

A Nation Remembers

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Mark Fiore: Freedom is on the march and bin Laden’s job has never been easier.

Written by Mick

September 14, 2004 at 9:21 am

Posted in Humor/Satire, The GWOT

The more things change …

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There is an excellent letter in today’s Washington Post describing the striking similarities between the scene in Athens 2500 years ago as it was losing its greatness during the Peloponnesian War and the scene in the US today:

The following applies just as well to the Bush administration as it did to Greece when Thucydides wrote it 2,500 years ago. The passage was quoted by Thomas Cahill in his book published last year, “Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter”:

“Practically the whole of the Hellenic world was convulsed . . . To fit in with the change of events, words too had to change their usual meaning. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man. . . . Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect. . . . Society was divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow.”

PATRICIA H. VANDERSLICE

Cobb Island, Md.

Written by Mick

September 14, 2004 at 1:22 am

Posted in The GWOT

Those Damn Trial Lawyers!

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The assault on John Edwards for the dastardly crime of being a trial lawyer that MoJo predicted is getting geared up. Corporations are pouring money into Republican Party coffers and right-wing advocacy groups, furious that one of ‘Them’ is on the Democratic ticket. Just how mad are they? This mad:

WASHINGTON — The billionaire chairman of an insurance company describes members of the group as “terrorists.” To the head of a national wholesalers group, they seem like “predators.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is co-sponsoring a $10-million advertising campaign to “educate voters about the devastating impact” these people are having on the American way of life.

The target of these attacks is not Al Qaeda or some new pestilence sweeping the nation. It’s trial lawyers.

These days, the people who bring personal injury lawsuits against corporations, insurers and healthcare providers have replaced “union bosses” as the group that corporate America identifies as its key public enemy. And this year, more than ever before, the war of words between corporate leaders and trial lawyers echoes in the battle for the White House.

President Bush has long campaigned against what he calls “frivolous and junk lawsuits,” and he hopes to make “tort reform” a centerpiece of a second term in office. Many business leaders hope he gets a chance.

“We cannot ignore what may prove to be a make-or-break election for legal reform at the national level,” said Thomas J. Donohue, the chamber’s president, shunning the business lobby’s traditional neutrality in presidential races. “When voters go to the polls, they need to know lawsuit abuse destroys jobs, drives doctors out of business and forces companies into bankruptcy.”

Everything Donahue just said is factually untrue–a lie–but it’s the myth we believe thanks to years of the Mighty Wurlitzer hammering away at terms like ‘frivolous lawsuits’ in their capacity as corporate surrogates. Look behind the frivolous reporting, and lawsuits that make it to trial are rarely if ever ‘frivolous’, nor is the amount of damages awarded or paid out ‘extreme’ except in a few high-profile cases.

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for State Courts track civil trials and verdicts in the nation’s 75 largest counties. In April, the bureau reported that in the last decade, the number of cases had gone down, not up.

The number of general civil cases disposed of by trial in the nation’s largest counties declined from 22,451 in 1992 to 11,908 in 2001, it reported — a 47% decline. The plaintiffs won about half the time, and the overall median award was $37,000 in 2001, down from $65,000 in 1992.

These cases included automobile accidents, medical malpractice and product-liability claims. About one-third of the cases involve contract claims, which typically involve one business suing another.

The medical malpractice claims resulted in larger verdicts; 27% won a verdict, but the median amount in 2001 was $431,000, up from $253,000 in 1992.

These data include only trials and verdicts; most civil suits are dismissed or result in settlements, and no figures are available on those outcomes. Nonetheless, government statistics do not show a sharp rise in big-money verdicts.

Those are facts, but they aren’t facts you’re liable to read in the entertainment-oriented corporate press. They make it sound as if filing lawsuits is a license to steal money from hardworking small businesses to load up the pockets of smarmy ambulance-chasers whose only talent is making something out of nothing. The truth is considerably different.

[T]rial lawyers find it laughable to hear stories that they get rich filing “frivolous” lawsuits.

Unlike corporate lawyers, who are paid handsomely by the hour to protect their clients, those who sue on behalf of plaintiffs usually get paid only if they win a verdict or a settlement.

Ken Suggs, the president-elect of the Assn. of Trial Lawyers of America, is a medical malpractice lawyer in Columbia, S.C. To win a verdict, he needs to convince all 12 jurors that a doctor or a hospital violated professional standards of care.

“Juries don’t like to hand down verdicts against doctors,” he said. “You can file a few frivolous cases, but if you do, you will be broke in a short time.”

If you don’t believe that, try this simple experiment: make up a frivolous lawsuit, then walk into any trial lawyer’s office and present it. You’ll be ushered–politely–out of the office after having been told–equally politely–that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a suit like that past the initial court review.

The reason for the attack on trial lawyers is as simple to explain as it is sinister to contemplate.

John O’Quinn, a veteran trial lawyer from Houston, also sees this as a make-or-break election.

“Corporate America is in charge these days. They control the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court. But so far, they don’t control the right to trial by a jury. That’s the only place where ordinary citizens can go and have their complaints heard,” Quinn said. “Ordinary people can’t hire lobbyists in Washington, but in the courtroom, they get an equal chance to stand up against a corporation.”

This is just the next act in a play designed to consolidate corporate control of American life, the last bastion of consumer protection since the takeover of the entire US govt by corporate stooges like Bush (oil), Cheney(energy), Elaine Chao (investment banking), Condi Rice (oil), Don Evans (oil and gas), Anne Venneman (corporate lobbyist), Rumsfeld (pharmaceuticals), Spencer Abraham, Denny Hastert, Mitch McConnell, and Tom DeLay (everybody)–the list could go on the length of this page, down unto under-secretaries and under-under-secretaries and on to the secretaries’ secretaries (sorry, ‘assistants’).

The problem for the Bushies, though, is that corporate control of govt decision-making is so pervasive, so complete, so in-your-face that it can’t be hidden any more, and there’s a counter-myth developing.

Most Americans — 80% in one recent poll — say the nation has too many lawsuits and too much litigation. Yet when Time magazine conducted a poll on the selection of Edwards as the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, his career as a trial lawyer helped him with voters. Among those surveyed, 55% said his work as a trial lawyer showed he was “willing to fight for the average person against the big companies.”

Voters in the same poll were more troubled by Vice President Dick Cheney’s background as the chief executive at Halliburton, the Texas oil-services company and defense contractor that has received billions of dollars in contracts to help rebuild Iraq. About 15% said they viewed him more favorably because of his Halliburton connection, while 51% said they viewed him less favorably for this reason.

“People have conflicting views” on lawyers and lawsuits, said David Winston, a Republican pollster who has conducted focus-group discussions on the issue. “They tend to think lawsuits are detrimental to the country. But they want a lawyer when they have a real need for one.”

We aren’t sure what to think at this point, but we’re beginning to lean away from crony-governing, and that’s bad news for the Pubs and worse news for the corporations; a backlash could be coming that will threaten the control they’ve been taking for granted since Junior’s selection by the SCOTUS if democracy survives the ’04 election (not at all clear at this point).

So Edwards presents an opportunity for corporate America to kill two birds with one stone: working the myth may boost Kerry’s negatives and help ensure the selection of their own private sock-puppet as well as help turn public distaste away from the blatant cronyism in the govt they own and operate and back onto their last remaining enemies. Thay have nothing to lose and everything to gain unless (and this is the interesting part) Edwards takes them head on and uses the attacks to tell the American people what trial lawyers actually do–protect them from corporate greed, thievery, incompetence, and wilful, malicious and illegal anti-consumer and ant-labor practices.

We’re already moving in that direction. All Edwards has to do is keep pushing us that way. It’s a hell of an opening they’re giving him. I hope he exploits it to the max.

Written by Mick

September 13, 2004 at 5:21 am

Posted in Law

Brownshirts Arising 2

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And the hits just keep on coming. Literally.

Episode #3: The Civics Lesson

An anonymous commenter posted a story on the first ‘Brownshirts Arise!’ post which referred to an incident in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during Junior’s campaign stop there when two middle-aged civics teachers were arrested for asking police a question:

Police Officer: You can’t protest here. You’ll have to go somewhere else.
McCabe: Where should we go?
Police Officer: You’re under arrest.

That was it, the whole dialogue. The two women were arrested, strip-searched, fingerprinted, and thrown into a holding cell. They face a fine of $100 and/or 90 days in the county correction facility.

So much for free speech in BushAmerica.

McCabe: Let’s talk about freedom. George Bush is going to talk about freedom? Not my freedom. There was no freedom for me yesterday.

Nelson: There was a person arrested falsely yesterday. I was trying to show the students in my classroom that the system really does work, but they showed me it didn’t.

I could have told her that. So could you. We have to quit being this naive, people. Next time you go to a protest, assume you’ll be arrested and bring a toothbrush. As the election gets closer, you might want to prepare for being hosed, beaten with truncheons, maced, tear-gassed, and shot with rubber bullets (which hurt like hell and can do real damage, by the way). See your local 60-yr-old ex-Viet Nam protestor for detailed instructions.

Unfortunately, the link provided by the anonymous poster went to a billboard for the story, not the story itself. Here’s the correct page. Scroll down slightly to the 7th listed webcast: ‘Arrested protestors speak’. And once again, you’ll have to use Internet Exploder to get the video.

Episode #4: ‘Let’s See How Loud You Are When You’re Bald’

I know nothing about this picture–

–except that it was taken during a protest against Bush.

Episiode #5: ‘Watch Your Mouth’

This happened–

–during a protest in Portland, Oregon, during a Bush visit there. The student being assaulted is Kendra Lloyd-Knox. Here’s part of her story.

At about one or one-thirty in the afternoon, I found myself watching a woman yell and wave her hands in a well-spoken man’s face about five feet from me. She took the man’s sign and said something along the lines of “you should support your President and your country.” Frustrated with her comment, I walked over to the crowd that had gathered around the two of them and siad, “you should support the whole world.” In the heat of the moment, I must have cussed at some point because she told me to “watch your mouth” and forcefully pulled the bandana off my face. I responded that I had a right to free speech. Then she hit me in the jaw.

I’m sorry to have to keep harping on this, but this is the way it started over Viet Nam, and it ended in murders and riots: they murdered us, we protested being murdered, and they rioted. Police clubbed us and set dogs on us and maced us in our own streets, turning peaceful demonstrations into riots and war zones; National Guard units murdered us on our own campuses as we were crossing the Quad for class.

Iraq may not be Viet Nam, but the domestic front is looking more and more like 1964 and ’65 after Tonkin Gulf was used as an excuse to invade Nam and the first of what were to become massive protests were disrupted by right-wing defenders of the war. It got worse–a LOT worse–after Nixon’s election in ’68. As the Second Gulf War drags on and more American soldiers die and the insurgents become organized into a guerilla fighting force–that’s the road we’re on, let’s face facts–and the dying escalates, the fever of denial and kill-the-messenger anger will escalate, too. There’s going to be a lot more of this if Junior is re-elected, and possibly just as much if he isn’t.

The Beast has been aroused from its sleep, and it’s hungry.

The previous two incidents were cribbed from Diana at democracyforcalifornia.com who includes a third. I wrote about this when it happened but it’s worth a second look.

Episode #6: ‘How Dare You Sell Pictures I Don’t Approve Of?’

Last spring, right after the Abu Ghraib story broke (as Kathy at Random Thoughts points out here and here, someone has yet to held accountable for those crimes and it isn’t looking like anyone actually responsible ever will be), a Frisco art gallery owner named Laurie Haigh showed a painting by a local artist based on what happened at Abu Ghraib. This was her payment:

Laurie closed her gallery in the wake of death threats and continued verbal abuse.

“I gave it a week and weighed the options,” Haigh said. “Had I felt that there was enough support, my gallery wouldn’t be closed down right now.” As a single mother of two, she could not risk standing alone against the bullies, nor should she have to, and neither should anyone else in America.

Diana writes:

Should Kerry win, the Rightwingers, who defend their agenda at all costs, will only become more desparate, and hence more violent. They are organized, they are vigilant, and they are mean. They’ll stop at nothing to silence opposition. On the other hand, if their corrupt schemes can succeed in preventing John Kerry from winning the Presidential election (and don’t think it can’t happen), they’ll only become emboldened to act more violently. So either way, it doesn’t matter who wins the election, we have a very serious problem on our hands and we have to plan ahead to combat it. Never think the Rightwing attack dogs will continue to limit their predatory behavior to insults and trolling on the Net. They’ve already crossed the line between virtual and real, from verbal abuse to physical violence, and we have to be prepared for them to amp up their attacks.

How can we prepare?


The general consensus on the left seems to be that in order to level the playing field with the biggest, they have to try to become bigger, there has to be mass organization. As a natural born contrarian, I firmly believe the very opposite is true. What we have to do is scale down to human size, we have to act locally, personally, one-on-one as individuals. And by linking together in a network, we can become bigger than the biggest, if need be, but the nucleus of the network must be small, and local….[A]s Thomas Jefferson said: “Democracy is impractical outside of a town.”

And note that, once again, as before, all the victims are women. It’s an ugly pattern. Freeper sludge attacks what it is most afraid of–and believes to be weaker, so uppity women are now at real risk. Be careful.

Written by Mick

September 12, 2004 at 3:02 am

Posted in Iraq, Politics

O’Reilly Interviews Jesus

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Written by Mick

September 11, 2004 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Humor/Satire, Media

Jenna Jameson: The Most Dangerous Woman On Earth

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The threats we face come from all different places and all different angles. The Pubs like to talk about them all the time. “Fear” is their favorite topic of conversation. This isn’t too surprising given that conservatives are often conservative precisely because of their fears–they want protection from everything.

  • They’re afraid that someday the poor will rise up and invade their homes, throw them into the street, and then relax in their barca-loungers, change the settings on their wall-sized flat-screen tv’s, eat everything in the fridge and then criticize the drapes.
  • They’re afraid, because Islamic terrorists exist at all, that bevies of them must be hiding under their beds waiting to spring out at them and slit their throats and rape their children and put low-grade gasoline in their SUV’s (a variation on a theme: for most of the 20th century they were afraid that Communists were hiding under their beds waiting to spring out at them and slit their throats and rape their children and put low-grade gasoline in their Cadillacs; it’s what you might call a “theme”).
  • They’re afraid of change–any change.
  • They’re afraid of anybody who doesn’t think the way they do or believe what they believe.
  • They’re afraid of gays, immigrants, foreigners, anybody who betrays more skin color than your average tanned Hamptons’ beach bunny, and funny accents, especially the ones that sound vaguely French.
  • They’re afraid of people who have more money than they do and terrified of people who have less.
  • They’re afraid of dissent, disruption of the status quo, conjugal visits and chaos–none of which they can separate into its individual and unconnected piece.
  • They’re afraid that liberals will take their guns way, tax them into the poorhouse, make them drive little Toyotas that run on barley and wheat germ and couldn’t slam down the highway at 100mph if a Ferrari got behind them and pushed
  • They’re afraid that we’ll force their children to sing ‘Kumbaya’ every day and attend compulsory classes in prancing.
  • They’re afraid of art that isn’t commercial, sex you don’t pay for, and anything that’s done for love instead of money.
  • They’re probably afraid of the dark.

But what they fear more than anything else in the world and have since the dawn of time in almost every culture they’ve poisoned with their presence is the one thing they never have and never will be able to control (“control” is a Big Thing with conservatives; only when they have absolute control do they feel relatively safe).

Women.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Jenna Jameson–

jenna-jameson.jpg

–porn star extraordinaire and mega-successful businesswoman in her chosen field: sex. How did we get here from there, you ask? Stay with me on this for a bit longer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

September 11, 2004 at 12:08 pm

What Happened to TV News?

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I was cruising my favorite blogs last night and at one point wandered over to Eric Martin’s Total Information Awareness (highly recommended, and not just because he comments here). Eric has written an excellent piece on how the Neocon Wonder Boys used the CPA to make Iraq a guinea pig for their loopy economic theories and shows how that experimentation has a direct relationship to Iraq’s economic disintegration since the Occupation began. It’s a great post and you should read it to be up to speed–he connects a lot of the dots–but that’s not what this post is about.

In the comments to that post, a regular TIA commenter named ‘jonnybutter’ lamented, as many of us do, the fact that our media, especially tv, won’t cover important stories like this one with any degree of regularity or consistency any more. He said he thought there had to be ‘a market out there for that’. I responded by relating the story of the Turner station that tried to shift to a hard-news format and lost the ratings war Big Time, returning to HappyNews only a few months later. jb’s response to that was, ‘It didn’t used to be that news HAD to make a profit.’ Which is entirely untrue and got me to thinking (always dangerous) that a lot of people are under that impression and that it’s important that we understand what actually happened. Because it may not be what you think happened.

The decline in news standards and therefore quality has never–NEVER–been a result of news divisions not making a profit. Networks often present their choice this way: ‘We can do hard news and go broke, or we can do HappyNews and make money. We’re in the business to make money.’ That, not to put too fine a point on it, is a crock. News divisions make a LOT of money for the networks and always have, even in the bad old days when they were doing hard news and giving the Richard Nixons of this world a run for their money. This isn’t a choice between bankruptcy and solvency, it’s a choice between a lot of profit and a lot more profit.

That Turner station, even though it was dead last in the ratings, was still making a profit, just not as much as it had when it wasn’t last. In the 70’s, CBS News was making so much money it could keep the entire network afloat at a time when its entertainment programming was doing a Dying Swan act. Network news divisions have always been profitable, and the reason is simple: as expensive as a network news show is, it is 1/10 the cost of producing a prime-time, one-hour drama series and yet you can charge the same amount of money for advertising on it as for advertising on the series.

Network news shows were–have always been–and are now major league Cash Cows. They pump money into the system that gets spread around to all the other divisions. A series has to be a runaway, blow-em-off-the-charts hit before it even begins to compete with the profitability of news shows. This was even truer in the days when they did hard news than it is today when they don’t.

It wasn’t losing money that was the catalyst for the switch, it was a combination of two prime factors that resulted in their making less profit than they had been. The first was increasing competition from alternate sources. Starting in the mid-80’s, cable news was a viable competitor; by the early 90’s, it was an out-and-out rival, stealing audience by the millions from the networks whose overall ratings began to slip. Their audience share (that’s what they call it in the business) went down as the cable share came up and their advertising rates fell accordingly. This was endemic–it had nothing to do with the news divisions, which were only slightly less profitable than they had been–but the increased competition forced the networks to look for ways to maintain their audience share and keep revenues up.

The second prime factor is a little more complicated. To understand it, we have to back to the genesis of HappyTalk in the early 80’s. Remember ‘It’s Morning in America!’? Ronald Reagan ran his campaign on a HappyTalk formula: ‘Everything is wonderful. Don’t worry. Be happy.’ When he died, you may have noticed that the one word everybody applied to him in honoring his life was ‘optimism’. That’s all we heard–how ‘optimistic’ he was, and how they would never forget what an ‘optimist’ he was, on and on and on, over and over, ad inifinitum. Remember that because it’s important.

Now come the early years of the Reagan Administration and Ronnie is making idiotic statements about how trees pollute and how welfare recipients were buying Cadillacs with food stamps and how you can lower taxes and still raise revenues (‘So as the budget gets more and more out of balance, it balances out–PERFECT!’ as Jackie Mason summarizes Ronnie’s budget policy). Almost everything he says is demonstrably, factually untrue (sound familiar?), and the press–hot off the high of the Watergate scandals–calls him on it. They are not ‘vicious’ or ‘murderous’ or ‘hateful'; in fact, they’re more amused by his blatant ignorance than anything else. They poke a little gentle fun at him but everybody’s having a hard time believing the guy really believes what he’s saying; they think it’s just politics. After all, the President of the United States can’t be that pig-ignorant, can he?

What happened next was both brilliant and terrifying. Since Barry Goldwater’s quixotic presidential bid in 1964, right-wing tycoons like the Mellons and Joseph Coors and corporations like GE and Boeing had been lavishing money on a whole new group of think-tanks with a single mission: destroy the ‘liberal press’. The Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Insitute, the Cato Institute, and others worked night-and-day for 15 years to come up with a plan that would work. Not surprisingly, they did. In 1982, they began to put that plan into action.

Using surrogates, an early version of astro-turf, and the core of conservative pundits like Bill Kristol and George Will that they had managed to place in positions of influence inside the major American media outlets, they orchestrated an across-the-board assault on that media. What was the main weapon in that assault? Outrage over the way the ‘liberal media’ was picking on Reagan. Here was this decent, gentle man (that’s how he came across on tv; he was an actor, after all) pilloried by a decadent liberal press just because he made a few ‘mis-statements’. That wasn’t why they were going after him, said the attsckers. They were going after him because he was an optimist, not a Carterian pessimist; because he said positive things about America instead of focusing on all the negative stuff; because he was trying to build America up and the liberal press wanted to tear America down.

Ordinary people responded, ‘Yeah, how come you’re always giving us the bad news? Why don’t you tell us what’s good for a change?’ and the next thing you know newspapers and networks were flooded with angry letters and phone calls demanding that they leave Ronnie alone and stop trying to pull America down into the gutter. Profits plummeted. Some newspapers went under. Even the all powerful Big Three networks suffered. Dan Rather became for a while the Most Hated Man in America because he continued to report Reagan’s lies and fantasies about reality, but even he–the most respected anchorman around at the time–was finally forced to cave in to the assault.

It was unprecedented. It changed everything. Reporting a president’s lies or ‘mis-statements’ had become taboo–‘disrespectful’, they called it–but worse, reporting bad news had become an invitation to a pig roast, and the press was the pig. In spite of the pressure, it wasn’t the reporters who caved, and it wasn’t the editors. It was the owners, the publishers, the CEO’s, the BOD’s, and most often and most telling of all, the Ad depts. There’s a moment in the movie The Electric Horseman when a corporate CEO, his assistant, and his PR guy are in a limo. The CEO wants the press, especially tv, to take a certain slant on this story. The PR guy balks at the idea of approaching the news department and ordering them to do the story a certain way, not for ethical considerations but because he doesn’t think it will work. The CEO’s assistant then explains patiently, ‘You don’t talk to the news department. You talk to the advertising department and let them talk to the news department.’ And that’s pretty much in a nutshell how it went.

In other words, the plight of the press today is a direct result of wholesale intimidation; they’re not losing money and they never have; they’re afraid they might start losing money if they don’t treat popular conservative presidents wih kid gloves. They’ve never forgotten the mid-80’s and the scare it threw into them. Sometimes I think they never will.

There’s more to this, but that’s enough for now.

Written by Mick

September 10, 2004 at 4:05 am

Posted in History, Media

Kinky For Gov! (Updated)

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As an antidote to the previous post, we offer this exciting news to any of our Texas readers–assuming we have any, which I personally wouldn’t bet an old shoe on–for action and to the rest of you for entertainment. Via ‘adrienne’ at Martinimade, we discover that one of our favorite people in the whole world is running for Gov of Texas in 2006: Kinky Friedman.

Kinky Friedman, who became infamous for heading the only Jewish country music band, I think, in history, Kinky and the Texas Jewboys, which was also the only group ever to do an Austin City Limits that was banned from broadcast; Kinky Friedman, who wrote such classic country ditties as ‘Shield of Abraham’ and ‘Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed'; Kinky Friedman, who once ran for mayor of his hometown, Kerrville, TX, on the slogan ‘I’ll Keep Us Out of War with Fredricksburg’ (the town next door); Kinky Friedman, who pioneered such unforgettable catch-phrases as: ‘Hold the weddin!’, ‘Taking a Nixon’, and ‘I like It here'; Kinky Friedman, author of a string of murder mysteries featuring–ta da!–himself (who else) as the detective but even more interesting, populated by fictive versions of old friends like Don Imus and Willie Nelson. Imagine him as the Gov of Texas. It’s almost too delicious for words.

Visit his ‘Campaign Store’, where items like these–

Bumper Stickers T-Shirts

–are cheerfully coughed up for sale, apparently to the Best Reasonable Offer.

I think he’s missing one good bet for a slogan. How’s this: ‘Get Revenge for W–Move to Texas and Vote Kinky!’ Huh?

Update: He lost.

Written by Mick

September 9, 2004 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Humor/Satire, Politics

Brownshirts Arise! Your Time Has Come Again!

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I’m not being flippant about these incidents. Call it Black Humor. Bitter Black.

Episode 1: Xtian Counselor Counsels Punching, But Only Kerry Supporters

Courtesy of andante at Collective Sigh comes this charming little story from Colorado. It seems that a group called ‘Veterans for Kerry’ was marching in the Windsor, CO Harvest Festival Parade when a member of the fundie Xtian group Colorado FamilyLife Marriage Conference started swinging. Here’s how it went down.

According to police, Laughlin was handing out pamphlets for his group while making loud insults about Kerry to the crowd gathered to watch the parade.

After about a mile, the veterans group asked Laughlin to go back to his own group, but he refused and instead stood in front of the Kerry group, refusing to move, according to a Chris Humphries, an Army veteran and Kerry campaign employee.

That’s when a fight erupted and Laughlin grabbed a veteran by his shirt and started swinging, according to Gary Fedel, a Lakewood, Colo. member of Veterans for Kerry. Humphries said Laughlin then turned around punched her in the mouth.

Police arrested Laughlin on charges of misdemeanor assault.


FamilyLife is an organization that holds conferences to bring married couples closer together.

Apparently, being a veteran and daring to support anyone but W is now a punchable offense, especially if you’re a veteran, a Kerry supporter, and a woman.

I put that one first because I knew you wouldn’t have the stomach for it after you watch what comes next.

Episode 2: Latest from the ‘Hitler Lives!’ Film Festival

A group of Young Republicans, those clean-cut, always courteous YP’s, was having a meeting in NYC. A group of protestors from the group Act Out decided to try to disrupt the meeting by chanting and holding up signs. The YP’s reacted with the courtesy they are so noted for–they started a fight*.

Now go watch what happened next, because if I tell you, you won’t believe me. (I stole this from Adam at A violently executed blog who warns that those of you using a decent browser like Firefox or Opera may have difficulties getting the video, and suggests you use ‘Internet Exploder’ just this once.)

Did you watch it?

That’s right, campers, that Manhattan tv station did indeed catch this clean-cut YR–

–kicking a female** protester who was being held down by 3 (that’s right, three, count em) Secret Service guys. Should you see the right-wing hero pictured above outside your local 7-11, be advised that you have permission from the Pope to get three of your friends to hold him down while you kick him. (The Pope is a great believer in karma. Trust me.)***

Notes:
* Note that in both cases it was the right-wing sludge who started the fracas.
** Note that in both cases the said sludge attacked a female. (At least the first one wasn’t tied down.)
*** In each of these cases, it was the protester who was arrested. In the second case, NO charges were filed against the scum pictured above.

Sorry to ruin your day like this, but I thought you ought to know.

Written by Mick

September 9, 2004 at 11:27 am

F9/11 Makes Kerry Voters

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Some startling numbers are emerging from polls done in connection with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, according to Moore himself. In his latest newsletter, Moore cites marketing research showing that hardly anyone going into F9/11 a Bush voter is coming out one.

9/6/04
Dear Friends,

I had dinner recently with a well-known pollster who had often worked for Republicans. He told me that when he went to see “Fahrenheit 9/11″ he got so distraught he twice had to go out in the lobby and pace during the movie.

“The Bush White House left open a huge void when it came to explaining the war to the American people,” he told me. “And your film has filled that void — and now there is no way to defeat it. It is the atomic bomb of this campaign.”

He told me how he had conducted an informal poll with “Fahrenheit 9/11″ audiences in three different cities and the results were all the same. “Essentially, 80% of the people going IN to see your movie are already likely Kerry voters and the movie has galvanized them in a way you rarely see Democrats galvanized.

“But, here’s the bad news for Bush: Though 80% going IN to your movie are Kerry voters, 100% of those COMING OUT of your movie are Kerry voters. You can’t come out of this movie and say, ‘I am absolutely and enthusiastically voting for George W. Bush.'”

His findings are similar to those in other polls conducted around the country. In Pennsylvania, a Keystone poll showed that 4% of Kerry’s support has come from people who decided to vote for him AFTER seeing “Fahrenheit 9/11″ — and in an election that will be very close, 4% is a landslide. A Harris poll found that 44% of Republicans who see the film give it a “positive” rating. Another poll, to be released this week, shows a 21-point shift in Bush’s approval rating, after just one viewing of the movie, among audiences of undecideds who were shown “Fahrenheit 9/11″ in Ohio.

My pollster friend told me that he believes if Kerry wins, “Fahrenheit 9/11″ will be one of the top three reasons for his election. Kerry’s only problem, he said, is how many people will actually be able to see it before election day. The less that see it, the better for Bush.

But 20 million people have already seen it — and the Gallup poll said that 56% of the American public has seen or plans to see “Fahrenheit 9/11″ either in the theater or on home video. The DVD and home video of our film, thanks to our distributors listening to our pleas to release it before November, will be in the stores on October 5. This is very good news.

(emphasis added)

These polls galvanized him to try to get F9/11 aired on television before the election. The DVD distributor so far has said No, fearing its profits on the DVD sales would be hurt. Moore is currently trying to talk them into considering a single, one-night-only showing right before the election–preferably the night before.

There’s a price, though–if the film is shown on TV then, less than 9 months after its theatrical release, Academy rules make it ineligible for a run at Best Documentary. Moore responds to that this way:

I have decided not to submit “Fahrenheit 9/11″ for consideration for the Best Documentary Oscar. If there is even the remotest of chances that I can get this film seen by a few million more Americans before election day, then that is more important to me than winning another documentary Oscar. I have already won a Best Documentary statue. Having a second one would be nice, but not as nice as getting this country back in the hands of the majority.

His enemies in the corporate press, however, have come up with another reason–they’re suggesting he’s just angling for Best Picture.

What happens when pugnacious filmmaker Michael Moore, incendiary documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11″ and Oscar gunslinger Harvey Weinstein team up for an Academy Award run? An explosive, and extremely risky, decision to pull “Fahrenheit” out of the documentary race to fight for consideration as best picture.

Moore said he got the idea — it represents a first in Academy Awards history — from veteran Oscar campaigner Weinstein, the Miramax co-chairman who is also an executive producer on the documentary.


Bruce Davis, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ executive director, confirmed that no documentary has ever been nominated for best picture.

And there’s a reason for that:

An Oscar strategist for another studio who asked not to be identified criticized the move, saying “Fahrenheit 9/11″ might be popular with some writers and directors who want to make a political statement, but no actors will vote for it because there are no actors in the film, likewise, the crafts unions.

No one who knows more about the movie business than your average 12-yr-old could possibly take this theory seriously. This has Harvey ‘Mad Max’ Weinstein written all over it–a pure press play aimed at getting plenty of ink for Miramax–and a much longer run for the film. Harvey has proved to be a genius at manipulating Academy voters (he’s the guy who got Oscars for The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love when everybody said it was impossible), but even he doesn’t really expect to pull this off in the face of the rock-ribbed Academy prejudices against non-fiction film.

The Academy Award is worth millions of dollars in extra tickets to the winner and a bigger jackpot in video and DVD sales, and F9/11 had a good chance of winning Best Documentary again. It must have hurt Harvey like a hernia when Moore said he was giving it up. Both Miramax and Moore himself are giving up $$millions$$ by doing it. In my book, that makes them heroes–especially since there’s no guarantee the film will even be shown on tv and they may be giving up all that money for nothing. That Moore is doing this for no more than a wing-and-a-prayer hope that the film might be shown on a mass media outlet before the election says a lot about his commitment.

The ‘Best Picture’ ploy is just a gambit to take up some of the slack and renew interest in the film. Anybody who says otherwise is talking through his tinfoil hat.

Written by Mick

September 9, 2004 at 6:40 am

Do You Know Where Your Uzi Is?

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Despite a nationwide effort and widespread support from all sides of the political spectrum, assault weapons will be back on our streets as of Monday. Congressional Republicans, some of whom apparently like to go out and shoot things with them, are refusing to extend the ban, caving in to the NRA like the craven cowards they are.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 – Despite widespread popular support, the federal law banning the sale of 19 kinds of semiautomatic assault weapons is almost certain to expire on Monday, the result of intense lobbying by the National Rifle Association and the complicated election-year politics of Washington.

While President Bush has expressed support for legislation extending the ban and has said he would sign it into law, he has not pressured lawmakers to act, leading critics to accuse him of trying to have it both ways.

Efforts to renew the ban, which polls show is supported by at least two-thirds of Americans, have faltered this year on Capitol Hill. Democrats are well aware that they lost control of the House of Representatives in 1994, the year President Bill Clinton signed the original legislation, and have shied away from the issue of gun control, while Republican leaders have opposed the ban.

“I think the will of the American people is consistent with letting it expire, so it will expire,” Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said on Wednesday.

The House majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, dismissed the ban as “a feel-good piece of legislation” and said flatly that it would expire Monday, even if Mr. Bush made an effort to renew it.

“If the president asked me, it would still be no,” Mr. DeLay said.

The NRA will get its way once again and more people–maybe kids like the last time–will have to die before these chickenshit bastards will be forced to consider it again.

If you didn’t have enough reasons to vote against this radical Republican party efore, this ought to be the clincher.

Written by Mick

September 9, 2004 at 5:44 am

Slowly, Slowly, the Truth Dawns

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We’ve been saying for some time that there are two strands to Junior’s quivering bow. The first is his belief that govt exists only to help corporations increase their profits, the other is his fundamentalist Xtian belief that govt should be a theocracy, accountable to and run by his personal version of the Xtian god.

This is a Christ a lot of us wouldn’t recognize. This is the other Christ. You know, the one who, instead of throwing the money-lenders out of the temple, blessed their work and extorted 10% of their take for himself (it’s called ‘tithing’); the one who told the blind and the lame to quit faking and get back to work; the one who said feeding the hungry just encouraged them to stay on their fat asses instead of signing on to be thrifty slaves as the Good Lord intended; the one who said that when someone smote you on one cheek, you should turn to your trusty .45 and blow them away; the one who said making friends with your enemy was appeasement and appallingly French, and that a much more appropriate response was to rain down fire on them in shock and awe. You know, that Christ.

We have insisted that a key ingredient of the Bushian worldview is his belief that he was meant to be president in order to bring about the Apocolypse, and that the whole Rovian sales pitch actually centers on identifying Junior as The World’s Savior, the Only Man, the Country Itself–‘L’etat, c’est me, buddy.’ We said that this explained his listlessness toward environmental issues (“What’s the use worrying about it? The Lord’s going to abandon the place anyway.’), his hostility toward the separation of church and state, and his open contempt for non-believers (on several occasions he has barely been able to restrain himself from calling them ‘infidels’).

We were attacked for saying these things, both by ardent Bushian followers and by thoughtful but unimaginative liberals who–as liberals too often do, god bless em–insisted on giving him the benefit of the doubt and took us to task for ‘going too far’ and ‘losing our perspective’. But the events of the past 4 years have tended to confirm what we said, and now some people are beginning to catch on.

Look. This much has become clear. Bush is, more than anything else, an extreme fundamentalist Christian. He is widely regarded as the most openly pious and sanctimonious president in modern American history. He actually preaches the GOP screed in evangelical churches across America. He panders so slavishly to the anti-choicers and the Bible-thumpers and the homophobes it makes Jerry Falwell swoon and giggle.

And Bush actually says, out loud, that God speaks through him, and that God is on our side we bomb the living crap out of Afghanistan and Iraq and that it is the Almighty’s wish that we take control of these angry pip-squeak nations and in so doing kill thousands of civilians and tens of thousands of young Iraqi soldiers, as over 1,000 American soldiers are now dead over a makeshift cause that never really existed. God wanted it this way, that’s why.

Bush has called Jesus his “favorite philosopher.” He has claimed that the act of being “born-again” saved him from a long, sad life of vaguely homoerotic frat parties and repetitive binge drinking and going AWOL from the National Guard, all so he could turn his full attention to righteously ruining multiple businesses and then making Texas the most murderous and polluted state in the union.

But, you know, why stop there?


[A]bove all, God is nothing if not all about putting a quick and fiery stop to all this Earthly nonsense ASAP. He is nothing if not all about the coming apocalypse. And He is nothing if not all about saving those who believe, as Bush does, that he is among the chosen to be saved.This is the fundamentalist truth. And this is the BushCo maxim. The End Times provide the ultimate meaning, the final straw, the only thing worth caring about, because it defines the BushCo worldview like nothing else except maybe embarrassing grammar and crushing deficits and a secret craving for gin. You can see it in his sad, vacant eyes: Bush is absolutely convinced that God is a Republican.

That’s what we’re facing. That’s why they will steal the election if they have to; that’s why every demonization of dissenters or opposition is justified; that’s why raping the world’s resources as quickly as possible for the profits is acceptable–they need a nice stash of cash for the easy life when they get to Heaven, not to mention that they might as well make themselves as comfortable as they can here for whatever time is left before The Trumpets Call.

This isn’t a joke, though it sounds like one. It isn’t overkill and it isn’t hyperbole. It’s the ultimate destination of their actual beliefs, and it’s the only element that fully explains their insane foreign policy. Believers in the other Christ, the Bizzarro Christ, are running the country in his name, getting ready for the End Times. If you want to know what Bush’s second term agenda is, read the Book of the Apocolypse. It’s all in there.

Written by Mick

September 9, 2004 at 12:12 am

The Junk-Fax Enabling Act

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If there is any question left in your mind about who’s pulling the strings that make the US puppet govt jump, consider House Bill S 2603, the so-called Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2004. Lauded by its Republican supporters as a bill that fights the epidemic of pervasive junk mail, what it actually does is help corporations spread the infection even further.

In one of the most dishonestly named bills of all time, the House recently passed the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2004. The legislation would, in fact, open the floodgates for these intrusions into our lives.

The bill, S 2603, would allow anyone who’s done any kind of business with you during the last seven years — seven years! — to send you faxes without getting your permission first. You would have to opt out each time.

The FCC’s latest regulations, which proposed to tighten the current rules against junk faxes, were too much for corporate America and its marketing wizards who continue to invade every corner of our lives. Their power with Congress is far greater than yours, so far.

At least they could tell the truth, naming S 2603 the “Junk Fax Enabling Act.”

I have to quibble with the phrase ‘most dishonestly named’–there’s way too much competition in this Orwellian, corporate-owned govt for that particular title–but dishonest it certainly is. What struck me most, though, was how specialized this pandering is. Apparently corporate forces have successfully moved most of the macro legislation they wanted and are now working their way down into the details, those little things that mean so much–like legislation allowing their brazen band of marketing spammers to jam your fax machine from here to Tempie, Idaho.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there, no no no no no. There’s a lot of other legislation pending that was written by and for corporations to make their lives easier. For example, HB S 1890. Forced during the Enron/WorldCom/Global et al scandals to put the breaks on corporate accounting tricks designed to fool investors, one of the changes made was a requirement to include the cost of stock options on their balance sheets. S 1890 would simply…remove it. No sweat, no muss, no fuss, and the rule is history.

Listing the cost of options as expenses would not change the actual financial condition of any company. It would, however, reduce reported earnings in many cases.

For that reason, many in Silicon Valley furiously oppose the change, saying it will introduce new uncertainties in understanding a company’s books. As I’ve noted before, the valley approach seems to be that investors are smart enough today to figure out what’s going on, but will suddenly become too stupid to understand if we move to a system that notes the very real cost to shareholders of options grants.

Bills like these suggest that corporations are moving to consolidate their hold on what used to be our govt. They’re already treating our Treasury as their own private piggy bank; now they’re down to using the Republican Congress as a business-enhancement and policy-enforcement tool. This is the wave of the future, campers. Anybody who thinks this is going to go away once Kerry is elected President is living in a fantasy world–these guys are dug in so deep it’s going to take a bulldozer and several tons of dynamite to dislodge them now.

Written by Mick

September 8, 2004 at 10:24 pm

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