Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"It's -- Good for Ducks! Don't Complain When the Rain -- Falls Down..."

Better to sing Pere Ubu than "April Showers," eh?

Yesterday and today are classic early spring days and nights. It's more typical April weather than the balmy 70+ degree end-of-March we savored this weekend.

Seen from the front, our house is a tableau of this time of year's schizophrenia in VT: there's a wheel barrow and rake out from the weekend yard work, a snow shovel still parked by the front door. And yes, I'm keeping the snow tires on my car (typically until mid-May).

Last evening, Marj and I drove down to Brattleboro for her birthday movie (we saw Roger Donaldson's excellent World's Fastest Indian, which was indeed a treat; huh, I finally got Marj to a biker flick!).

It was 40 degrees and pissing rain, and the first frogs of the year were out and about on their first evening romp. Many, of course, were already pasted to the tarmac, the inevitable amphibious roadcall of the season, though we (well, I) saw a few mighty sizeable batrachians tom-catting in the gloom.

As we headed home, though, the temperature was falling to 38 degrees and those not wedded to the blacktop via vulcanized rubber death were no longer in sight -- what a difference two degrees makes when you're cold-blooded.

And speaking of cold-blooded:

I've written about this before here, back when President Bush was spinning his George Romeroesque press conference pipedreams in the Rose Garden about using military force to quarantine US populations should the avian flu descend upon us (I know, it's an impoverished fantasy next to his State of the Union dread of canine/human hybrids), but it's worth following up on:
  • Rummy Makes Hay While Americans Fear the Sneeze
  • Oh, OK, that's not the real headline, but that's the real link to "Donald Rumsfeld Makes $5 Million Killing on Bird Flu Drug" by Geoffrey Lean & Jonathan Owen, who write:

    "Donald Rumsfeld has made a killing out of bird flu. The US Defence Secretary has made more than $5m (£2.9m) in capital gains from selling shares in the biotechnology firm that discovered and developed Tamiflu, the drug being bought in massive amounts by Governments to treat a possible human pandemic of the disease.... The drug was developed by a Californian biotech company, Gilead Sciences. It is now made and sold by the giant chemical company Roche, which pays it a royalty on every tablet sold, currently about a fifth of its price.

    Mr Rumsfeld was on the board of Gilead from 1988 to 2001, and was its chairman from 1997. He then left to join the Bush administration, but retained a huge shareholding."

    In complete accord with Vice President Cheney's longtime Halliburton affiliation and the Bush family (and other prominent GOP) association with The Carlysle Group (who most recently took active interests in the port deals after you-know-what happened), Rumsfeld's profiteering seems too connected to ongoing Administration policies to be remotely coincidental:

    "The firm made a loss in 2003, the year before concern about bird flu started. Then revenues from Tamiflu almost quadrupled, to $44.6m, helping put the company well into the black. Sales almost quadrupled again, to $161.6m last year. During this time the share price trebled.

    Mr Rumsfeld sold some of his Gilead shares in 2004 reaping - according to the financial disclosure report he is required to make each year - capital gains of more than $5m. The report showed that he still had up to $25m-worth of shares at the end of 2004, and at least one analyst believes his stake has grown well beyond that figure, as the share price has soared. Further details are not likely to become known, however, until Mr Rumsfeld makes his next disclosure in May."

    The report I've linked to also discusses Rumsfeld's other shareholdings and earnings in unrelated firms and fields. Fair enough; the rich get richer, and since this Administration is composed of the 21st Century American Gilded Age Aristocracy, Rummy is in his element, and we're foolish to expect otherwise. But the increasingly blatant conflict-of-interests between Administration elite's investments and their fear-mongering policies should be putting up the dander on all Americans.

    "In a statement to The Independent on Sunday the Pentagon said: "Secretary Rumsfeld has no relationship with Gilead Sciences, Inc beyond his investments in the company. When he became Secretary of Defence in January 2001, divestiture of his investment in Gilead was not required by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Office of Government Ethics or the Department of Defence Standards of Conduct Office.

    "Upon taking office, he recused himself from participating in any particular matter when the matter would directly and predictably affect his financial interest in Gilead Sciences."

    Hmmmm, but that doesn't prevent pal George and Administration cronies from upping the ol' avian flu ante, does it?

    According to the online post by Dr. Joseph Mercola, whose credibility I cannot vouch for but who is prominent among those covering these issues, this is typical of Rumsfeld's history (note I've retained all of Mercola's links):

    "The current U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has a history of dabbling in health chicanery.  At
  • G.D. Searle
  •  he facilitated FDA approval for Nutrasweet. More recently he served as head of Gilead Sciences, the company that developed, then leased the rights to Roche Pharmaceuticals, to
  • the worthless flu drug Tamiflu.

  • When I wrote about Rumsfeld
  • in December,
  • it was unclear just how much stock he held and how much it was worth. Now we know.

    So far, Rumsfeld has made a "killing" (pun intended) on the stock market, and the estimations that set the current value of his remaining stock at $25 million are likely to be well under their actual value, considering
  • Roche's decision to expand Tamiflu production.

  • Sadly, current ethics rules in American government don't prevent Rumsfeld from owning stocks or making money from health-harming substances like Tamiflu or aspartame, even though he likely has some say in their purchase or approval by the government, and therefore their stock value.

    No surprise, since drug companies use their largesse
  • to buy favors and influence from Congress and the White House.
  • The most ironic thing about all of this is that not only is the "avian flu pandemic"
  • a hoax for which there is no evidence,
  • but Tamiflu can actually cause the flu virus to mutate into a more dangerous and potent viral strain, and may have
  • even worse side effects.

  • Avian flu does NOT readily spread from birds to humans or humans to humans. Most of the (very few) people who have acquired this infection were bird handlers who were in continuous contact with sick birds.

    Does anyone in their right mind envision similar circumstances in the United States? Research like this would typically be thrown in the trash if it did not strongly support some ulterior purpose."

    Make up your own minds, natch, but these matters do cut to one of the black hearts of the ongoing corruption steering us as a country further into an eroding "democracy" and real disaster.


    What to do?

    The civil of us cling to the hope of the next election, but one wonders how far this will push others.

    In reality, we read folks like J. Taber of New Castle, DE writing, "The United States Constitution did not expire on September 11th, 2001."

    Uh, it didn't, did it?

    I've been hearing and seeing former GOP favorite son and writer Kevin Phillips (author of The Coming Republican Majority, lovingly embraced as the "political bible of the Nixon Era" by Republicans, and the not-beloved American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century from Viking) all over the place, on radio and television, speaking out against the current regime with alarming precision.

    In The Washington Post, Phillips writes (thanks to HomeyM for sharing this with me via email):

    "In addition to its concerns with oil and terrorism, the White House is courting end-times theologians and electorates for whom the Holy Lands are a battleground of Christian destiny. Both pursuits -- oil and biblical expectations -- require a dissimulation in Washington that undercuts the U.S. tradition of commitment to the role of an informed electorate.

    The political corollary -- fascinating but appalling -- is the recent transformation of the Republican presidential coalition. Since the election of 2000 and especially that of 2004, three pillars have become central: the oil-national security complex, with its pervasive interests; the religious right, with its doctrinal imperatives and massive electorate; and the debt-driven financial sector, which extends far beyond the old symbolism of Wall Street.

    President Bush has promoted these alignments, interest groups and their underpinning values. His family, over multiple generations, has been linked to a politics that conjoined finance, national security and oil. In recent decades, the Bushes have added close ties to evangelical and fundamentalist power brokers of many persuasions.

    Over a quarter-century of Bush presidencies and vice presidencies, the Republican Party has slowly become the vehicle of all three interests -- a fusion of petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex. The three are increasingly allied in commitment to Republican politics. On the most important front, I am beginning to think that the Southern-dominated, biblically driven Washington GOP represents a rogue coalition, like the Southern, proslavery politics that controlled Washington until Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860...

    Unfortunately, more danger lurks in the responsiveness of the new GOP coalition to Christian evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostals, who muster some 40 percent of the party electorate. Many millions believe that the Armageddon described in the Bible is coming soon. Chaos in the explosive Middle East, far from being a threat, actually heralds the second coming of Jesus Christ. Oil price spikes, murderous hurricanes, deadly tsunamis and melting polar ice caps lend further credence.

    The potential interaction between the end-times electorate, inept pursuit of Persian Gulf oil, Washington's multiple deceptions and the financial crisis that could follow a substantial liquidation by foreign holders of U.S. bonds is the stuff of nightmares. To watch U.S. voters enable such policies -- the GOP coalition is unlikely to turn back -- is depressing to someone who spent many years researching, watching and cheering those grass roots.

    Four decades ago, the new GOP coalition seemed certain to enjoy a major infusion of conservative northern Catholics and southern Protestants. This troubled me not at all. I agreed with the predominating Republican argument at the time that "secular" liberals, by badly misjudging the depth and importance of religion in the United States, had given conservatives a powerful and legitimate electoral opportunity.

    Since then, my appreciation of the intensity of religion in the United States has deepened. When religion was trod upon in the 1960s and thereafter by secular advocates determined to push Christianity out of the public square, the move unleashed an evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal counterreformation, with strong theocratic pressures becoming visible in the Republican national coalition and its leadership.

    Besides providing critical support for invading Iraq -- widely anathematized by preachers as a second Babylon -- the Republican coalition has also seeded half a dozen controversies in the realm of science. These include Bible-based disbelief in Darwinian theories of evolution, dismissal of global warming, disagreement with geological explanations of fossil-fuel depletion, religious rejection of global population planning, derogation of women's rights and opposition to stem cell research. This suggests that U.S. society and politics may again be heading for a defining controversy such as the Scopes trial of 1925. That embarrassment chastened fundamentalism for a generation, but the outcome of the eventual 21st century test is hardly assured."

    The most perverse irony, of course, is that accordingly to most Anti-Christ scenarios embraced by the faithful, the one man who fits the Late Great Planet Earth archetype for He-Who-Walks-Among-Us (and whom, polls tell us, an alarming portion of the American populace believes is among us!) is none other than -- George W. Bush.

    And here I believed all this time Bob(cat) Goldthwait was right when he said Scott Baio was the Anti-Christ.

    Scary times we're in -- scarier than we know.

    But our zeitgeist knows, and is awake.

    And the corporate media is eagerly fleecing the fear from all sides.

    Hell, the previews for 20th Century Fox's remake of The Omen are running in theaters right now ("6/6/06" -- how could they resist?).

    In movie theaters, the #2 movie in America again last week was a dystopian sf opus starring an enlightened-via-imprisonment-and-torture waif and a sympathetic terrorist: V for Vendetta.

    I continue to get emails insisting I write about V for Vendetta, which I've indeed seen (twice) and quite enjoyed. I'll do so later this week as time permits; in the meantime, though, check out this fascinating thread on
  • "If you were 'V', what would you do?"
  • -- and note the chilling effect the current fear of our Fearless Leader's unConstitutional surveillance policies is already having on the most innocuous of pop culture discussions.

    Self-censorship out of fear is becoming a very real characteristic of America, land of the free, home of the brave. Is this the democracy we seek to export so aggressively?

    And if our present state of affairs isn't enough to get your blood roiling, my friend Jean-Marc Lofficier (aka Lupin) has posted this fine piece, well worth a read this morning, particularly for you history buffs. It's thoroughly annotated with active links should you wish to investigate further...
  • "Even in the Noblest of Wars..."
  • Jean-Marc writes:

    "A very interesting documentary recently aired on Swiss TV, based on the research of American criminology professor, J. Robert Lilly.

    That documentary, entitled The Hidden Face of the Liberators deals with the rapes committed by American soldiers during the liberation of Europe.

    Dramatically, the documentary spotlights the execution by hanging, on 9 January 1945, near Chonville in Northern France, of an American GI, John David Cooper, 23. His crime: the rape of three women - one of them, in fact, attended the execution.

    According to Lilly, documents from the US Military show that, between 1942 and 1945, American soldiers were imnplicated in 17,000 rapes of women or children in Europe.

    Interestingly, even though African-Americans accounted for only 10% of the troops, 85% of the executions were of African-Americans..."

    Ah, the military.

    Ah, war.

    Ah, liberation...

    ...the noble fantasies we cling to as a country, as a people, as a species.

    And we can always be counted on to play the race card.

    Seeeeeeeeeeeeee ya --