Drop a ball on Times Square! Drop a bomb on Gaza!


An agitprop video from the Israeli government. See the Forward's "YouTube Yanks Israeli Army Videos."

PRESS CLIPS Who would have guessed that, with the end of the disastrous Bush regime in sight, we would have been so gloomy on New Year's Eve 2008?

You'd think this would be a time of celebration, or at least some happy whistling to ourselves as we sweep out Dick Cheney's accumulated droppings from the past eight years.

But the dropping's not done, and the deepest suffering is yet to come, as the fallout from Wall Street's wreckage turns from flurries tonight on Times Square into a blizzard next year throughout the country.

It figures that Arctic temps are swooping in to make this an especially cold night in the city.

Global warning: It's hot in the Middle East, where bombs are dropping on Gaza (with Mayor Mike Bloomberg's support). And, to put it mildly, it's intemperate elsewhere: Aside from the numerous places like the auto junkyard in Detroit, builders and contractors will soon be dropping even those skilled workers who never drop tools. At this rate, things will be so bad by next Christmas that even Jesus's dad wouldn't be able to get a carpentry gig.

The shakes aren't typically a warning sign of an onrushing depression, but everybody's got them, especially bosses. The city's dropping Snapple from its vending machines, and one of Mike Bloomberg's aides is dropping his feverish P.R. campaign to give Princess Caroline Kennedy the vacant Senate seat. (See the Post's "MIKE'S AIDE COOLING HIS CAROLINE PUSH."

A whole lotta droppin' goin' on. As usual, few of those who are dropping the ball aren't themselves getting dropped.

And then there are those millions of Americans who wish that Bernie Madoff would simply drop dead. If it does happen, I hope it's on my watch.

Now it turns out, as the Madoff yarn keeps unraveling, that his outrageous behavior is dearly costing a slew of organizations like Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First (see this Bloomberg list), in addition to the big and small charities we already knew about.

So, Happy New Year to civil libertarians everywhere!

Madoff's not the only source of grief. Many journalists are being dropped every day — prompting a jeremiad (in both senses of the word) for Nat Hentoff, a modern-day Jeremiah who I'm pretty sure was a contemporary of the prophet himself. (For Hentoff, I'll drop an IBM Selectric typeball tonight in Times Square; it's the most I can do.)

Whatever you drop, hang onto your laptop. You need it to click on these stories ...

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

Bloomberg: 'Americans Under 70 May Find 2008 Was Their Least Favorite Year'

N.Y. Times: 'Glamour Still Rules, but With Fewer Debutantes'

Subtle signs of the recession were on display at the International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria.

N.Y. Post: 'UNREAL ESTATE PLUNGE: FISCAL CRISIS HITS HOME AS LOCAL PRICES FALL 7.5 PERCENT'

Crain's New York Business: 'Foreclosure suit filed against developers'

N.Y. Daily News: 'Gaza Strip invasion is right thing to do, Mike Bloomberg says'

N.Y. Times: 'No Mug? Drug Makers Cut Out Goodies for Doctors'

Jewish Daily Forward: 'Even With Aid, Groups Scramble To Cope With Post-Madoff Mess'

N.Y. Post: '"SOFT" DRINK SALES: CITY YANKING SNAPPLE'

Crain's New York Business: 'Big projects mask declines in construction spending'

N.Y. Times: 'Village Voice Lays Off Nat Hentoff and 2 Others'

N.Y. Post: 'CONEY GRINCH BOOTS BOUTIQUE'

N.Y. Times: 'After Unofficial Tally, Senator Trails Rival in Minnesota Race'

Crain's New York Business: 'Yeshiva revises Madoff losses to just $14.5M'

N.Y. Daily News: 'Bernie Burns Bacon: Actors Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick among Bernie Madoff victims'

N.Y. Times: 'SAT Changes Policy, Opening Rift With Colleges'

Jewish Daily Forward: 'YouTube Yanks Israeli Army Videos'

YouTube has removed videos that the Israeli army posted as part of a public relations effort to rally world opinion behind its operation in Gaza.

On December 29, the IDF began posting videos of its aerial strikes. The rationale was that it wanted to support the claim that it is not targeting civilians, but rather Hamas targets -- especially rockets destined for Israel.

N.Y. Times: 'Madoff Spotlight Turns to Role of Offshore Funds'

N.Y. Post: 'SPINNING WHEELS OF JUSTICE'

You go, Equinox! A Manhattan judge has let the gym chain off the hook in a lawsuit over an infamous spin class that went bad when one spinner attacked another for grunting and yelling things ...

Bloomberg: 'Macy's, New York Times Haunted by Debt Loads From Ill-Timed Stock Buybacks'

Macy's Inc., Gannett Co. and New York Times Co.'s attempts to prop up their stocks with debt- funded buybacks have left them saddled with higher borrowing costs as they work to pay off loans.

N.Y. Post: 'GET SET FOR A COLD LANG SYNE: ARCTIC TEMPS IN TIMES SQUARE FOR NEW YEAR'S BASH'

Bloomberg: 'Texaco Toxic Past Haunts Chevron as Judgment Looms'

N.Y. Times: 'In 2009, Economy Will Depend on Unlocking Credit'

N.Y. Times: 'Ad Agencies Fashion Their Own Horn, and Toot It'

N.Y. Times: 'Still Paging Mr. Salinger'

N.Y. Times: 'As Another Memoir Is Faked, Trust Suffers'

N.Y. Times: 'Films Reach Theaters a Drib Here, Drab There'

Bloomberg: 'Dollar Heads for Biggest Annual Drop Against Yen in Two Decades'

N.Y. Daily News: 'CHURCH-FLEECE PONZI RAP'

A Thousand and One Arabian Nightmares

Saudi King Abdullah's message of peace in NYC leaves his subjects back home in pieces.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia played New York City for a sucker yesterday with his homily about peace and mercy.

Even in a city that thrives on chutzpah, Abdullah's lovefest publicity stunt has no equal.

The king was so polite right from the start of his speech yesterday at the U.N. Peace Through Dialogue meeting:

"In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, Your Majesties, Highnesses, Excellencies, His Excellency the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Your Excellency the Secretary-General of the United Nations:

"Peace and the mercy and blessings of God be with you."

And now a word from the U.S. State Department's March 11, 2008, human-rights report on the peace and mercy during 2007 in the Saudi Arabia of King Abdullah:

• Violence against women and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. Limitations on the rights of foreign workers remained a severe problem.

• [Ministry of Interior] officials were responsible for most alleged incidents of physical abuse and torture of prisoners, including beatings, lashings, and suspension from bars by handcuffs.

• During the year according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the press reported 153 beheadings of individuals who were convicted of murder, narcotics-related offenses, and armed robbery, as well as of rape, sorcery and adultery.

Sorry, King Abdullah, were you saying something about "instruments to cause misery"?

"In the presence of this gathering of international leaders and representatives and members of the General Assembly — the conscience of the United Nations — and in front of the whole world, we state with a unified voice that religions through which Almighty God sought to bring happiness to mankind should not be turned into instruments to cause misery.

"Human beings were created as equals and partners on this planet; either they live together in peace and harmony, or they will inevitably be consumed by the flames of misunderstanding, malice and hatred."

No wonder it's so hot in Saudi Arabia. All those flames of misunderstanding. According to the State Department report on 2007 events:

• On May 23, religious police allegedly beat to death 28-year-old Suleiman al-Huraisi who was detained for the possession and sale of alcohol. After a three-month investigation, MOI officials charged two members of the religious police. On November 28, a court citing lack of evidence acquitted them.

• On June 1, a member of the religious police reportedly arrested Ahmad al-Bulawi in Tabuk on suspicion of being in "illegal seclusion" with an unrelated woman. An autopsy revealed he had been beaten on his face before dying at the religious police center. On July 30, the Tabuk General Investigation and Prosecution Authority ruled that the arresting authorities, members of the religious police and a security guard, were not guilty of any wrongdoing.

• During the week of August 5, a Bangladeshi man died in Medina while in the custody of the religious police. They arrested him for allegedly washing a car while he should have been attending prayers. The head of the religious police, Ibrahim al-Gaith, claimed that the man had fainted and that there were no signs of assault. At year's end the case was pending with the Shari'a court of Medina.

If washing your car is a sin punishable by death then I'll live forever. But that's another story. Sorry, King, I was preoccupied. What were you saying?

"Dear Friends: Throughout history, preoccupation with differences between the followers of religions and cultures has engendered intolerance, causing devastating wars and considerable bloodshed without any sound logical or ideological justification.

"It is high time for us to learn from the harsh lessons of the past and concur on the ethics and ideals in which we all believe. Matters on which we differ will be decided by our Omniscient Creator on the Day of Judgment.

"Every tragedy suffered in today’s world is ultimately a result of the abandonment of the paramount principle enunciated by all religions and cultures: The roots of all global crises can be found in human denial of the eternal principle of justice."

If there is an Allah, he'll remember for eternity this episode cited in the State Department report:

In March 2006 in Qatif, seven men found a woman and her male companion together in a car and gang-raped them both.

The perpetrators were sentenced to between eight months and five years in prison and between 80 and 1,000 lashes. The same court also sentenced the woman and her ex-boyfriend to 90 lashes for being unmarried and alone in a car with an unmarried person of the opposite sex at the time of the incident.

On November 14, after her lawyer requested a review of the case, the Higher Court of Justice sent the case back to the Qatif General Court which increased the woman's sentence from 90 lashes to 200 lashes and six months in prison and increased the perpetrators sentences to between two and nine years each.

The court also suspended her lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, for "insulting the Supreme Judicial Council and disobeying the rules and regulations," reportedly for his efforts to publicize the woman's case. The court confiscated al-Lahem's license and asked him to appear before a disciplinary session at the Judicial Investigation Department of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

On November 24, the MOJ issued a statement "clarifying" the role of the two victims who "exposed" themselves to the crime because of their behavior. The statement stated that because the victims were alone in the car, they had violated Shari'a and were thus liable for punishment. On December 17, King Abdullah pardoned both victims, citing his authority to overrule judgments not specifically prescribed by Islamic legal code.

Now that's what I call tolerance, King. Fill me in:

"Terrorism and criminality are the enemies of every religion and every civilization. They would not have appeared except for the absence of the principle of tolerance. The alienation and the sense of loss which affects the lives of many of or young, leading them to drugs and crime, became widespread due to the dissolution of family bonds that Almighty God intended to be firm and strong.

"Our dialogue, conducted in a constructive manner, should, by the grace of God, revive and reinstate these lofty ideals among peoples and nations. No doubt, God willing, this will constitute a glorious triumph of what is most noble over what is most evil in human beings and will grant mankind hope of a future in which justice, security and a decent life will prevail over injustice, fear and poverty."

The State Department report does agree, King Abdullah, that your minions are constantly searching for evil:

During [2007], the religious police harassed and detained citizens and foreigners of both sexes.

[In 2006, Saudi officials] received numerous complaints of beatings, humiliation, confiscation of personal property and unnecessary body searches and the use of coercion to sign confessions. . . .

The government and/or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, several individuals died after beatings that took place while in the custody of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), also known as the religious police or Mutawwa'in. . . .

The government also punished persons for various offenses with amputations for theft, and lashings, including for alcohol-related offenses or for being alone in the company of an unrelated person of the opposite sex. In contrast to previous years, there were no reports of lashings in the women's prisons.

I cut you off, King Abdullah. Were you saying something about a hand?

"We will continue what we have commenced, extending our hand to all those advocating peace, justice and tolerance.

"In conclusion, I would like to remind all of you, and myself, of the words of the Holy Qur’an:

" 'O Mankind! We have created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that ye may know each other. Very, the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you.' "

Or, self-righteous. Whatever.

Stop the presses! Jews, Arabs eat in the same general vicinity in NYC!

That's the best news from the Saudis' interfaith public-relations fest at the U.N.

bush-abdullah180.jpgIt was billed as a unique interfaith conference of religious leaders organized and hosted at the U.N. HQ in NYC by King Abdullah.

And it really wasn't — thanks to the very same King Abdullah.

You have to say, though, that the guy is touchy-feely. He's the Saudi monarch known for holding hands with a variety of world leaders while OK'ing the chopping off of sinners' hands in his own country.

Just to show you how bitter the Middle East is, it was big news at the U.N. conference that Jewish and Arab pols really did kinda share a meal, as the press reported today. But don't get your hopes up.

Well, raise them a little. The BBC reports:

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Arab leaders including King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have attended the same dinner at the UN offices in New York.

The joint attendance is a first for the two leaders, whose countries lack diplomatic ties, but reports said there was no contact between the men.

They are attending a two-day UN meeting promoting dialogue on religion and culture, proposed by Saudi Arabia.

But wait a sec before you celebrate this gathering of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian clerics.

The sharp New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar wrote a good preview yesterday about the vaunted conference:

Saudi Arabia, which deploys a special police force to ensure that a narrow sect of Islam predominates in the kingdom, is sponsoring a discussion at the United Nations on religious tolerance starting Wednesday. . . .

But human rights groups are crying foul that Saudi Arabia is being given a platform to promote religious tolerance abroad while actively combating it at home.

"It’s like apartheid South Africa having a conference at the U.N. on racial harmony," said Ali al-Ahmed, a Shiite Muslim dissident from Saudi Arabia based in Washington.

And even a far more radical Muslim source agrees with that Shiite dissident. The London-based Palestinian-expat paper Al-Quds al-Arabi notes, according to the Middle East Times:

While some have praised the Saudi-sponsored interfaith conference to be held this week at the United Nations among world leaders, others have criticized this meeting as a public relations stunt by Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom's prominent scholars, including the grand mufti (the state's top religious authority), are not attending the conference; sources in New York told Al-Quds al-Arabi that the Saudi delegation includes only dozens of princes without any Muslim clerics.

King Abdullah is certainly not the first imperial schnook getting the royal treatment in the city — Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov chatted in Mayor Mike Bloomberg's office and laid a wreath at Ground Zero, and Dick Cheney was feted at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

And it's not as if the U.N. conference is the first ballyhooed bullshit meeting in the city. But right now it's the most interesting one — because of who's not there and who didn't actually eat at the same table and didn't talk with one another.

At Ninth and Broadway, on the other hand, Jews and Arabs really have been spotted ordering food from the same Halal vendor. And standing in the same line. And even talking with one another.

Daily Flog: Economy, Iraq missions accomplished, Bush finally tries Afghanistan rescue

bush-and-barney240.jpgIt turns out that Hurricane Katrina — at least the Bush regime's late reaction to it — wasn't a once-in-a-century event.

After the administration let the economy and various wars veer out of control, the administration is wading into Wall Street to rescue bankers and thinking about rescuing homeowners. Now it's even considering negotiating to rescue our troops from Afghanistan.

What's next? A withdrawal from Iraq?

The Afghanistan situation is so serious that as the Wall Street Journal reports ("U.S. Mulls Talks With Taliban in Bid to Quell Afghan Unrest"):

The U.S. is actively considering talks with elements of the Taliban, the armed Islamist group that once ruled Afghanistan and sheltered al Qaeda, in a major policy shift that would have been unthinkable a few months ago.

But until late summer 2001, the Bush regime was muddling along in a generally uncontroversial way when the unthinkable (not to the regime) happened on 9/11. That tragedy unleashed the Bush regime on the world. So far, his administration has wrecked Iraq, made a bad situation in Afghanistan worse, and presided over a historic Wall Street crash that threatens the entire world economy.

That's three exhibits right there for the new George W. Bush Presidential Libary being erected in Dallas. It would be nice if the libary put those three exhibits in the same hall, next to the Pet Goat Reading Room, which would display the August 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing with the same kind of reverence that real libraries afford the U.S. Constitution.

Bush's job as president is almost finished; there are no more worlds to conquer us. Unless, as Mike Bloomberg has done in New York City, Bush's handlers try to undemocratically erase term limits so he can serve a third term.

Is there a groundswell for abolishing presidential term limits? While you're being pinned to the ground by current events, listen for one. . . .

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

Salem-News.com: 'Hell Freezes Over: White House Drug Czar Backs Decriminalization'

Wall Street Journal: 'Rescue Plan Faces Delays In Hiring Asset Managers'

BBC: 'NATO's Afghan forces "hit limit" '

CNN: 'Global stocks rebound'

Wall Street Journal: 'Crisis Deals New Blow to Japan: Country's Top Bank in Capital Shortfall; Stocks at '82 Levels'

New York: 'Stimulus in Pinstripes: Why the Yankees will renounce their smart, sustainable team-building strategy and start spending like drunken lunatics again.'

Wall Street Journal: 'Post-Enron Crackdown Comes Up Woefully Short'
". . . Today's financial crisis has shown what a real debacle looks like. And it has made clear that executives' duties to public companies have, if anything, been loosened, not reinforced. What is worse, the post-Enron crackdown appears not only to have failed to stop flagrant corporate risk-taking, but to have lulled Washington to sleep."

Reuters: 'Skinheads held over plot to kill Obama'

Slate: 'Countdown to the Obama Rapture: Watch as the press corps battles its performance anxiety!' (Jack Shafer)
". . . if Obama wins, these scribes know that they'll be facing the toughest assignment of their careers. They've all oversubscribed to the notion that Obama's candidacy is momentous, without parallel, and earth-shattering, so they can't file garden-variety pieces about the 'winds of change' blowing through Washington."

N.Y. Post: 'PATERSON WOULD BEAT RUDY: POLL'

N.Y. Jewish Week: 'New Tactics By Settlers Worrying Authorities'

Slate: 'How Bad Are Electronic Voting Machines?'

McClatchy: 'McCain pushed regulators for land swap, despite pledge'

N.Y. Times: 'The Drug Czar’s Report Card: F'

Slate: 'Middle-Aged Feminists Longing for Their Father's Money'

N.Y. Times: 'Rice Visits Mexico for a Meeting About Its Drug War'

Slate: 'Registering Doubt: If we can nationalize banks, why not our election process?'

Dawn (Pakistan): 'Barbaric killing of teenager unfolds'
". . . was first thrown before hungry dogs and when she was mauled by them and in the jaws of death, she was riddled with bullets."

N.Y. Daily News: 'Ma charged in vicious mop-handle slay of 11-year-old daughter'

L.A. Times: 'McCain was frank, garrulous and accessible -- and then he wasn't'

Guardian (U.K.): 'The cost of the crash: $2,800,000,000,000'

N.Y. Post: 'DA EYES COPS IN SODOMY'

Human Rights Watch: 'Confessions of a former Guantanamo prosecutor'

McClatchy: 'As clock ticks, U.S. letting thousands of Iraqi prisoners go'

N.Y. Times: 'Can I Get an Arrgh?'

BuzzFlash: 'Memo to Palin: Fruit Fly Researchers Receive Nobel Prize for Medicine for Advancing the Understanding of Birth Defects in Humans'

Slate: 'Texts You Can Believe In: Forget robo-calls -- Obama's text messages are this campaign's secret weapon'

McClatchy: 'Slowing British economy could send immigrants home'

Guardian (U.K.): 'BP smashes forecasts as profits soar 148 percent'
"Oil giant BP has reaped the benefits of this summer's record oil prices, smashing all forecasts with a 148 percent rise in third-quarter profits. The figures are likely to spark fresh protests from motorists and businesses that have been hit hard by higher petrol prices."

RadioAustralia: 'China tries to kick start housing sector'

BBC: 'Arctic ice thickness "plummets" '

Wall Street Journal: 'Some Newspapers Shed Unprofitable Readers'

Wall Street Journal: 'Another Favorite Trade Bites the Dust'

N.Y. Times: 'Fractures in Iraq City as Kurds and Baghdad Vie'

Scotsman: 'Transcript of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross's phone calls to Andrew Sachs'

N.Y. Post: 'EASY TICKET TO RIDE THE GRAVY TRAIN'

Bloomberg: 'Volkswagen Overtakes Exxon as Most Valuable Company'

N.Y. Post: 'FUNDS' OCTOBER SURPRISE: HEDGES FACING WORST MONTHLY LOSSES IN DECADE'

Daily Flog: Saudia Arabia bails out homeowners while we still haven't

While our government is dragging its feet on bailing out endangered homeowners, one of the most repressive regimes in the world, Saudi Arabia, has already committed $3.2 billion to bail out its low-income borrowers.

Don't blame FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair. My homey from the University of Kansas laid it out for Congress last week ("Daily Flog: It's so bad that capitalists plan to help proles", Press Clips).

The week before that, on October 16 ("Daily Flog: Wall Street down the drain; White House plumber summoned," Press Clips), she told the Wall Street Journal:

"Why there's been such a political focus on making sure we're not unduly helping borrowers but then we're providing all this massive assistance at the institutional level, I don't understand it. It's been a frustration for me."

For quite a while. At a mortgage industry conference a year ago (as the AP recalls), Bair told the bankers themselves to get aggressive about modifying loans:

"Keep it at the starter rate. Convert it into a fixed rate. Make it permanent. And get on with it."

Neither Congress nor the mortgage bankers has taken action. As for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs is focused on bailing out his Wall Street buddies, instead of Josephine the plumber.

Paulson won't listen to the highest-ranking woman in the federal government's financial sector — even though she's also a Republican.

But Saudi Arabia's rulers, who don't listen to any women, are bailing out beleaguered homeowners.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, which still flogs women for having sex, makes women cover up from head to toe in public, won't let women drive, and forbids women from even traveling without written permission from a male.

OK, so Saudi Arabia probably doesn't even let women buy houses. But it is at least helping out its low-income male mortgagees.

Meanwhile, somebody needs to bail out Isiah Thomas.

Here's more grist . . .

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

McClatchy: 'Economic crisis hurting students' ability to pay for college'

Washington Post: 'Gun Sales Thriving In Uncertain Times'

Herald Sun (Australia): '$US700bn bailout may be used for bonuses, dividends'

N.Y. Post: 'WALL STREET REFUGEES SET OFF ON STEINBECK-STYLE MIGRATION'

Wall Street Journal: 'Bankruptcy Fears Rise For Chrysler, GM'

Washington Post: 'Unseen Iraq: A Grim Ritual at the Baghdad Morgue'

AP: 'World's heaviest man marries in Mexico'

N.Y. Daily News: 'Trendy neighborhoods can't escape New York City's housing slump as sales drop'

New Yorker: 'Greasing the Slide'

Guardian (U.K.): 'Asia stocks dive to 4-yr lows'

Wall Street Journal: 'Early Job Losses Compound Downturn'
"A rash of new job data show the labor market is the worst it has been since the two prior recessions, worrying economists who usually expect the weakest picture at the end of a recession."

NFL Network: '49ers interested in Condoleezza Rice'

San Jose Mercury: '49ers rebut Condoleezza Rice rumor'

AP: 'Companies start competing for bailout money'

MarketWatch: 'Indian brides confront gold bears, again'

Christian Science Monitor: 'Scope of $700 billion bailout bill continues to widen'

Washington Post: 'Deeper Meaning Below a Glossy Surface'

L.A. Times: 'Wall Street wives had the richer, now they're a bit poorer'

Wall Street Journal: 'U.S. Mulls Widening Bailout to Insurers'

Al Jazeera: 'China divided over US election race'

Al Jazeera: 'UN: Major inequality in US cities'

Al Jazeera: 'China decries US "moral authority" '

Agence France Presse: 'Kuwaiti traders walk out of bourse again to protest losses'
"Kuwaiti traders staged another walkout Sunday and protested outside the stock market as shares in the Gulf region plunged amid growing expectations of a global recession. The traders, who also protested on Thursday, the business week's final day, left the trading chamber again after the index dived more than 300 points."

MarketWatch: 'Dimmed fireworks, fewer gifts this Diwali, but ...'

BBC: 'Syria condemns "US village raid" '

Dead presidents in Africa and on Wall Street

Still no word on whether Equatorial Guinea's dictator, Teodoro Obiang, is alive or dead.

Last week, it seemed that one of the world's most notorious despots — also a valued customer of the Bush-connected Riggs Bank in D.C. — was finally dead.

This story in Kenya's Daily Nation immediately surfaced: "Equatorial Guinea president denies rumours of his death."

Classic.

But that story was based on the word of the dictator's aides. And some of Obiang's aides have been known to torture prisoners with stinging ants, so, you know, not everybody on his staff might be trustworthy.

The president himself has still not surfaced.

Unlike on Wall Street, where millions of dead presidents have surfaced — stuffed into the pockets of the bankers who sparked the financial meltdown.

Today's Wall Street Journal points out that Merrill Lynch's "head of strategy," Peter Kraus, is leaving after less than two months on the job with a "buyout bonanza" of at least $10 million — and maybe $25 million — in his pocket.

When melting-down Merrill was swallowed up by Bank of America, thousands of Merrill workers were sure to be fired. But a clause in Kraus's contract kicked in. The WSJ story notes:

He isn't affected by a provision in the government's rescue plan that curbs executive compensation, a person familiar with the situation said. Those restrictions cover the CEO, chief financial officer and three other highest-paid executives of the firm.

Many other Wall Street execs have buyout clauses that kick in when control of the companies they work for changes hands. So Kraus won't be the only one walking away with all those dead presidents.

We can only hope that Kraus is not going into "public service." Not that he wouldn't make out like a bandit if he chose to.

When Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson quit in 2006 to become Treasury Secretary, he had to rid himself of his Goldman stock. After negotiating with his own company on a settlement, he walked away with a cool $110 million for his shares and options — don't think for one second that Paulson had spent much to obtain those shares; like other Wall Street execs, he got most of them just handed to him.

That deal gave him the experience he needed to figure out how to curb executive compensation during the bailout.

Torturing despot Obiang, a U.S. pal, reportedly dies

One of the planet's most despotic despots, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, ruler of tiny but oil-rich Equatorial Guinea and a star figure in the Riggs Bank scandal in 2004, may be dead. At last.

Unlike some of his prisoners, death didn't occur through torture by stinging ants.

Afrol News is reporting the ailing Obiang's "possible death or irreversible coma." That's the situation also of his little country.

Obiang%2C%20Rice%20240.jpg The Bush regime has helped out Obiang in numerous ways (here's Condi Rice with him in April 2006), and Obiang repaid the favors, at one time stashing some of his loot at Riggs National Bank in D.C., a former institution formerly owned by Bush family crony Joe Allbritton with a taste given to Dubya's uncle Jonathan Bush.

For details of Obiang and Riggs, see my August 4, 2004 item "Yes, Protect the U.S. Treasury! Please!," in which I noted:

The dangling thread that just this year [2004] doomed Allbritton's control of the bank was its link to Teodoro Obiang, dictator of Equatorial Guinea. He stashed millions of no-questions-asked dollars he got from — who else — U.S. oil companies in good ol' Joe Allbritton's friendly downtown D.C. bank, according to Senate investigators and others. When that was publicized in Senate hearings, thanks in large part to [Michigan senator Carl] Levin, the fabric of those expensive suits and ties inhabiting snooty Riggs Bank crumbled to dust.

As for Equatorial Guinea, well, people there are tortured by "stinging ants," according to our own State Department. Let's put that in context by quoting the entire sentence from the U.S. government's 1998 report: "Police reportedly urinated on prisoners, kicked them in the ribs, sliced their ears with knives, and smeared oil over their naked bodies in order to attract stinging ants."

The document continues, "According to credible reports, this torture was approved at the highest levels of the [Equatorial Guinea] Government and was directed by the chief of presidential security, Armengol Ondo Nguema, who is also President Obiang's brother. Ondo Nguema allegedly taunted prisoners by describing the suffering that they were about to endure."

For other greatest hits of Obiang, see my September 7, 2004, item, "Tales from the Vault," and this April 2005 item.

U.S. oil companies have danced the tango with Obiang for years, as noted in the Washington Post's 2004 piece "U.S. Oil Firms Entwined in Equatorial Guinea Deals: Riggs Probe Led to SEC Inquiry on Corruption, Profiteering."

But even those scandals didn't stop our government from continuing to give Obiang a hand. Check out Ken Silverstein's August 9, 2006, Harper's piece, "Obiang's Banking Again: State Department and Washington insiders help a dictator get what he wants."

Daily Flog: Smears and schmears; meltdowns on Wall Street and in the Arctic

Running down the press:

Post: 'HOLY SOW! BAM'S LIPSTICK BUNGLE: TAKES A PIG AND A POKE AT PALIN'

This'll teach Barack Obama to stick a fork in the other white meat:

Barack Obama stuck his foot in his mouth yesterday when he said "you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig"- which the angry McCain campaign immediately denounced as an out-of-bounds attack on running mate Sarah Palin.

The U.S. has made at least some progress: Only 60 years ago, he would have been lynched for talking like that about a white gal.

Obama wasn't directly referring to Palin as a pig — he was talking about the GOP's braying about how it stands for "change." But as the L.A. Times notes, his using that simile on the heels of Palin's "lipstick" comment — not to mention the mentioning of the sensitive word "pig" anywhere even near a female candidate — left him wide open.

Palin presents a potentially big problem for the Democrats. With only a short time before the election, how are they going to reveal her as a know-nothing, religious-right wingnut? Etiquette, unfortunately, precludes them from simply laughing at her. Joe Biden is a hard-working pragmatic pol, but his tight little smile and penchant for chattering on and on aren't made for TV. Besides, the Republicans know that any hard attack on Palin will only stir up the anti-intellectual reverse snobbery that gave two full terms to such an uninterested-in-issues moron as George W. Bush.

In some ways, Palin is more dangerous than Bush. Both are proud of not being brainy, and that's clearly no handicap these days — them East Coast big shots aren't going to tell us how to run our country. But she has the zeal of her extremely conservative convictions, like any number of other anti-Darwinists whose presence on the planet actually proves their own point that humans haven't evolved.

Poke the pig at your own peril.


Post: 'RANGEL HAS A BAD CHAIR DAY'

Charlie's provocative musing about reinstating the draft? Now there's a draft afoot to oust him from his powerful job:

Embattled Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel is facing possible ouster from his powerful committee chairmanship as he scrambles to file new tax returns in a desperate bid to hold on to his job.

The amended returns will reflect years of income he never bothered reporting from renting out his beachfront Caribbean villa, his lawyer said yesterday.

House Republicans yesterday pushed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to dump Rangel as head of the Ways & Means Committee, which writes the nation's tax laws.


Post: 'DAVE AND MIKE PUT TAX HIKES ON TABLE'

The last thing you want to hear is moaning from the state and city governments about their budget problems. What this and every other story doesn't tell you is that there's plenty of money in Manhattan; it's just being diverted, with little or no regulation, into the pockets of the Wall Streeters who churn money from your mortgage payments, bank fees, and pension funds to their own benefit.


Times: 'Across Country, New Challenges to Term Limits'

Good puff for Mike Bloomberg's attempt make himself into NYC's version of Turkmenbashi and other presidents-for-life:

A decade after communities around the country adopted term limits to force entrenched politicians from office, at least two dozen local governments are suffering from a case of buyer’s remorse, with legislative bodies from New York City to Tacoma, Wash., trying to overturn or tweak the laws.


Post: 'BEATLE GAL PAL'S EX IN MAYOR RUN'

Free advertising from David Seifman for a former stooge of the fabled Nassau County GOP machine:

Add another name to the list of mayoral contenders - Republican Bruce Blakeman, whose estranged wife is hot and heavy with Paul McCartney.

After months of sounding out would-be supporters and pondering his chances in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, Blakeman told The Post yesterday: "I am going to be running for mayor."

Here's more from the press release that poses as a story:

A 52-year-old former presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, Blakeman said he intends to follow in the mold of both Mayor Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, and to build upon their accomplishments.

"I think there's a real desire for continuity," said Blakeman.

Great quote!

Blakeman was one of the top officials spawned by the Nassau GOP, which was long controlled by Al D'Amato and responsible for George Pataki's ill reign. Until only a few years ago, the Nassau GOP (headquartered, fittingly, in a former bank building) was the most hilariously crooked local political machine in the country that was still controlling a sizeable population.

That background — not even a sanitized version — isn't in Seifman's story.


Wall Street Journal: 'Lehman Faces Mounting Pressures'

The head may not mean too much, but the story contains a frightening description of the U.S. economy:

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. came under mounting pressure Tuesday after hopes faded for an investment deal with a Korean bank, helping to trigger a 45% fall in the firm's shares.

Lehman's troubles mark the latest installment in the worst financial-system crunch in decades, coming just two days after the U.S. government announced its plan to take over the two giants of the mortgage business. U.S. stocks fell Tuesday, giving back gains that had greeted the weekend bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Yes, "the worst financial-system crunch in decades."

Forget that Toyota "sales event." If you really want a smokin' deal, bring your checkbook to Lehman's HQ at 745 Seventh Avenue — it's a closeout, clearance, fire sale! As the Financial Times (U.K.) notes this morning:

The bank said it would spin off the majority of its commercial real estate assets into a public company by the first quarter of next year, a move which will vastly reducing its exposure to the troubled sector.

It also intends to sell a majority interest in its asset management division.

Any second now, Lehman will be changing its corporate history, which now describes the company as "an innovator in global finance."

Soon to be a major non-player in global finance, Lehman does have a fascinating history. The Lehman boys immigrated from Europe and founded their company in 1850 in Montgomery, Alabama. The company made its fortune trading cotton in that slave-based economy.

Now, 150 years later, the whole cotton-pickin' conglomerate is about to go under.


Jewish Daily Forward: 'First Criminal Charges Filed Against Agriprocessors Owners'

The only NYC paper to cover the hell out of the slaughterhouse jive in Iowa — one of the most interesting immigration stories unfolding anywhere in the U.S. — is the Forward. Nathaniel Popper continues his fine coverage:

The first criminal charges were filed against the owners of the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors, in connection with a May immigration raid at the plant.

The Iowa attorney general filed more than 9,000 separate child labor charges against the company, its human resources managers and members of the family that owns the plant, including Aaron Rubashkin, CEO of the company, and Sholom Rubashkin, who had overseen operations at its Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse.

In the immediate aftermath of the charges, the leading kosher certifier in the United States, the Orthodox Union, said it would suspend its certification of Agriprocessors unless the company finds new management within a few weeks.

The Forward doesn't just cover the Jewish angle of this mess — it also explores the exploitation of slaughterhouse workers. Sticking close to home, the paper wades into the labor practices of another big Kosher processor operating right here in NYC. Popper's September 4 piece, "Workers Speak Out at Nation’s New Leading Kosher Producer," is a detailed feature that starts:

Luis Molina lost part of his middle finger to a 2,000-pound food mixer while working at what is now the country’s largest producer of kosher beef, Alle Processing.

Molina, 23, said that the accident, which happened when a fellow employee flipped a power switch, was not a surprise, given that he and others on his team had not received safety training. But he also said that what’s happened since then has added insult to injury.

The company, which operates a plant in Queens, stopped his pay the same hour he got injured, he said, leaving him in the lurch financially. Then, he continued, when he went into the office to talk to his supervisor, he was told that when he returned to work he would be suspended for four weeks without pay, because he used the machine improperly. After three years with the company, Molina said even this was not unexpected.

“They love suspending people there for any little thing,” Molina said while recuperating at his home in Brooklyn as his two children ran around him. “Two weeks, three weeks, they think it’s a joke ’cause they got that little power.”


Jewish Daily Forward: 'With White House at Stake, Ultra-Orthodox Work To Get Out the Vote — in Israel'

More praise for the Forward, which is the only NYC paper to consistently cover (and without doses of political correctness) right-wing Jews' political maneuvering. This one's about the black hats — the Haredi, the most ultra-Orthodox of Orthodox Jews — seeing McCain as the guy with the white hat:

As the American presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain heads into its final stretch, a group of leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel is preparing to release a statement that urges the country’s American expatriates to exercise their voting rights in November by casting absentee ballots.

The statement comes on the heels of a visit to Israel by Haredi lobbyist Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, who is the director of government affairs at Agudath Israel of America, a leading Haredi advocacy organization. Kalish spent a week in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak early this month, meeting with rabbis to request their help in mobilizing Americans living in Israel to register and vote.

Imagine the consternation in the U.S. press if some overseas imam controlling mosques over there and in the U.S. injected himself into our presidential campaign. Anyway, Nathan Jeffay's story gets past the bullshit and right to the heart of matters:

“Every vote cast from Eretz Yisrael comes from someone concerned for the safety and security of people living there, and this will be understood in Washington,” Kalish told the Forward. Aaron Spetner, a Jerusalem-based Agudath Israel activist who is heading the campaign, added that “if thousands of voter registration forms are coming in from Israel, it makes us powerful in Washington — with the president, senators and congressmen.”

There are an estimated 200,000 Americans living in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Only 35,000 are currently registered to vote.

Several experts contacted by the Forward voiced skepticism, however, at the organizers’ claim of nonpartisanship, pointing to conservative leanings among Haredi voters. “While I can’t be sure, Haredim are much more right-wing and want to show McCain that they are capable of delivering the goods,” said Bar-Ilan University sociologist Menachem Friedman, an expert in Haredi culture.

Political activists were more direct. “You would have trouble convincing me that this is not done in support for McCain by people who favor McCain,” said Gershon Baskin, founder and CEO of the dovish Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.


Times: 'A New Voice From Within'

Michael Kimmelman's lede strikes just the right note of condescension:

The name Thomas P. Campbell probably won’t ring many bells with the public. Inside the Metropolitan Museum, though, the news of his ascension to director is likely to be greeted by many colleagues with pleasure and relief.


McClatchy: 'Federal deficit soars, but McCain, Obama offer no answers'

Somehow managing to provide news with interpretation and also flaying both presidential candidates, David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall hold the smears and hold the schmears. Instead they write:

Just weeks before the government's fiscal year ends Sept. 30, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday projected a near-record federal budget deficit of $407 billion, sharply higher than White House projections six weeks ago and more than double last year's figure.

Mammoth federal-budget deficits feed inflation, make America dependent on foreign lenders, cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments on the growing national debt and drain capital savings from more productive investments.

The widening gap between what the government spends and the revenue it brings in is sure to weigh on the next president and impede his efforts to spend on new or larger programs or to cut taxes.

Yet John McCain and Barack Obama show few signs that they're ready to take tough steps to curb deficits, according to budget analysts.


McClatchy: 'Low levels of Arctic sea ice signal global warming's advance'

One great thing about global warming: We don't have to worry about destroying the Arctic ice by drilling into it because it's already gone. Renee Schoof explains:

This year will see the second-biggest loss on record of Arctic sea ice — a sign that the area of ice coverage is shrinking at a pace faster than once expected.

The trend also suggests that global warming is likely to increase, polar bear habitat will decline and previously icebound areas could be opened to oil and gas exploration.



Daily Flog: Campaign's rich laughs; Bolt beats Phelps; fatal wounds to Musharraf, John Galt, Georgia, and a boxer

Running down the press:

Gross overplaying of the Phelps story all over the press — "his cellphone is blowing up . . . the hottest commodity in China right now was made in the USA," ESPN breathlessly "reports" this morning.

No matter all the hubbub about Michael Phelps and his eight gold medals — he's great, even though some of them were earned with the collaboration of others, and all of them were predicted — here's the fact:

Usain Bolt: Fastest person on Earth. Unexpected, and in the most basic, fundamental athletic competition.

Next to him, Phelps is just another pretty gill.

I love to swim, and luckily I live by the ocean. But any kid who's ever run around a playground (and that's just about every kid on the planet who's physically able to) can appreciate what Usain Bolt did, despite the fact that he's a Jamaican, not a jingoized American athlete.

Simon Turnbull says it best, in the Independent (U.K.):

For 9.69 seconds, this 6ft 5in Jamaican phenomenon had taken off and touched speeds no human had ever before reached without technological assistance.

We're assuming (and hoping) that Bolt is not on on a speed-inducing drug (or drug-induced speed).

And so what if he coasted and boasted to the finish line? What winning kid on the playground hasn't?


Times: 'U.S. Watched as a Squabble Turned Into a Showdown'

The paper promo'd it this way:

The U.S. seemed to have missed -- or gambled it could manage -- the depth of Russia's anger and the resolve of Georgia's leader to provoke the Russians.

In other words, George W. Bush can say, as he said in Iraq in May 2003: "Mission accomplished."


Times: 'In Areas Under Russian Control, Limits for Western Media'

Russian authorities have given Western journalists little or no access to villages that have been looted and burned in Russian-controlled areas of South Ossetia and northern Georgia, making a full public accounting of the aftermath of the violence here all but impossible.

Would it be asking too much — and I guess it was — to at least mention the severe limits the Bush regime likewise placed on Western journalists covering the Iraq War who weren't embedded?

Not asking for a mention of the phony agitprop that the Bush regime sometimes tried to get away with (I broke one of those stories, in October 2005).

Just one tiny mention of the Bush regime's censorship of press coverage in Iraq.


Post: 'SLAIN BOXER'S 'DANCE' OF DEATH'

Nice job by Joe Mollica on a very brief piece:

Dancing to blaring music from his hours-old car stereo sparked the murder of rising South Bronx boxer Ronney "Venezuela" Vargas, his grieving older brother said yesterday.


Post: 'SHELTER IS. REHAB STORM'

A proposal to open a luxury drug and alcohol rehab center on the grounds of a historic East End inn has enraged area residents, who fear the chi-chi cleanup camp will spoil their island's tranquility.

The owners of the Ram's Head Inn, overlooking Coecles Bay on tony Shelter Island, have agreed to lease their 18-room colonial building to an entrepreneur who hopes to have the sober school up and running in November.

"Sober school," right. I stayed there several years ago, when it was a well-appointed, but dying and empty, hotel, and the place was as creepy as the manse in The Shining.

Maybe it would scare these rich addicts straight.


Post: 'DA TIGHTENS NOOSE IN DEUTSCHE PROBE: GRAND JURY WEIGHS RAPS VS. CONTRACTOR'

A self-proclaimed "exclusive" on the 9/11 reconstruction-in-progress building:

One year after two firefighters died in a ferocious inferno at the former Deutsche Bank building, a grand jury has been eyeing evidence of racketeering and money laundering against the contractors in charge of the structure, The Post has learned.

Among the issues being probed is that officials from John Galt Corp., which was subcontracted by Bovis Lend Lease to raze the tower, laundered millions of dollars through various shell companies, sources said yesterday.

One angle the story doesn't address: Who are the principals of this corporation that's being probed?

More to the point: Who is John Galt? Waiting for Dagny Taggart's folo.


Daily News: 'Safety warnings were ignored before Deutsche Bank fire'

Not too exclusively, this story has more detail, noting:

Inspectors hired to look for safety failings warned a dozen times that John Galt, the company decontaminating and demolishing the tower, did not have enough safety managers to watch for blowtorch sparks.

Wait till Dagny Taggart finds John Galt. You'll really see some sparks.


L.A. Times: 'Who's rich? McCain and Obama have very different definitions'

Some rich campaign laughs, some of them at McCain's expense, in Greg Miller's extremely interesting piece this morning.

Obama: "I would argue that if you are making more than $250,000, then you are in the top 3, 4 percent of this country. You are doing well."

McCain: "I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million?" He added that he knew "that comment will be distorted"; his campaign later insisted that he was joking.

What a knee-slapper.

Seriously, some of the quotes in the story are funny.

No doubt Miller's editors insisted on the tired old dictum of making him get quotes from "experts," but the ones he dug up are doozies:

Rand economist James P. Smith: "To be fair to both of them, 'rich' is an adjective. Economic science is not going to tell you that 'this' is the cutoff point."

Americans are laughing all the way to the food bank.

Not mentioned in Miller's story — I'm not being critical of him — is the "economic science". From the Census Bureau in August 2007, some "cutoff points":

There were 36.5 million people in poverty in 2006, not statistically different from 2005. The number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 44.8 million (15.3 percent) in 2005 to 47 million (15.8 percent) in 2006.

And what's the official cutoff of "poverty"?

As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2006 was $20,614; for a family of three, $16,079; for a family of two, $13,167; and for unrelated individuals, $10,294.

Agence France Presse analyzed those stats this way:

The number of poor out of the total US population of 302 million was equivalent to the entire state of California — paradoxically one of the richest states — one-and-a-half times the population of Malaysia or nearly everyone in the central European nation of Poland living in poverty.

Not trying to be funny, I wrote in September 2004, during that particularly abysmal presidential campaign:

As NYU professor Ed Wolff has pointed out, the richest 1 percent of American households own 38 percent of all wealth. And as the Center for Responsive Politics notes, fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of the U.S. population gave 83 percent of all campaign contributions over $200 for the 2002 midterm congressional elections.

But let's get back to the Census Bureau's economic science: An American family of four making $25,000 a year is not officially in poverty. But here's the good news: They don't have health insurance, so they don't have to spend any of their money on it.

That's also not in Miller's story. But his other piece of rich humor from an "expert":

Len Burman of the research org Tax Policy Center, noting that 95 percent of people "think they are middle class": "I guess it says something nice about America that rich people don't want to act like they're better than anybody else and poor people don't like complaining about how tough it is to pay their bills."

Of course it's possible that rich people who aren't super-duper rich are just being jealous while they're relentlessly striving to want to join up with the super-duper rich. Nice.

And, poor people don't like complaining about their plight? What do you think their dinner-table conversation is like — when they have enough food to have dinner?


Washington Post: 'Across the Northeast, GOP's Hold Lessens: Party's Decline Could Worsen as More Areas Lean Democratic'

The D.C. paper's Ben Pershing does a recon of my state and reports back:

As recently as 1998, 13 of New York's 31 House districts were represented by Republicans. Today, just six of 29 seats are in the GOP column (the state lost two seats after the 2000 census), and four of those six are in danger of falling to Democrats in November.


Washington Post: 'Musharraf to Resign as President of Pakistan'

Candace Rondeaux (I've worked with her, and she's good) quotes the ex-strongman's speech with a straight face. Because this is ostensibly a news story, she probably wasn't allowed to analyze those three sentences, so I will:

"I am leaving with the satisfaction [delusional] that whatever I could do for this country I did it with integrity [no]. I am a human too [maybe]. I could have made mistakes [not only could, but did] but I believe that the people will forgive me [no]."


Post: 'HOMING IN ON PROFITS: INVESTOR SEES NICE MARGINS ON BULK REO BUYS'

One foreign government is eagerly swooping down to make a killing on our foreclosure crisis.

But which country is it? (Actually, which government is it this time?) The story refers to a "sovereign" — see this definition — and Terri Buhl writes this press-release-sounding piece:

"If investors want to make sizeable returns they have to know their market, buy at the right price, and have a solid exit strategy," says one mortgage consultant hired by a real estate broker working for a foreign investor. The investor, a sovereign fund, is believed to have $29 billion available to purchase some of the 750,000 or so bank-owned, or REO (real-estate owned), homes in the US.

While the sovereign fund - along with hedge funds, Wall Street banks and private investors - expects to profit handsomely from snatching up these REO properties, the deals now beginning to take place around the country will also benefit the public at large and the markets by cleaning up banks' balance sheets, unclogging the lending pipeline and getting folks back into affordable homes.

Back into affordable homes? Now that's funny.

At least the Post regularly has more business news than any other NYC daily (aside from the Wall Street Journal, and not counting the New York Times's constipated, usually uninteresting bulk).

For those who don't know, a "sovereign" investor is a government-controlled entity — think Dubai's investment companies, which are actually the UAE's government, which is gobbling up NYC properties.

But, again, which country is the one in this Post story? And does John Galt live there?

Daily Flog 8/7/08: Hamdan acquitted but papers dance around it; the best anthrax stories; Mary-Kate isn't talking; there's a war in Afghanistan

Running down the press:

Times: 'Panel Convicts Bin Laden Driver in Split Verdict'

William Glaberson's story is particularly lame, failing to note until way down on the jump that Salim Hamdan, one of several drivers for Osama bin Laden, was not a war criminal in the first place:

The two-week trial included references by both sides to the Nuremberg trials.

Prosecutors, eager to shore up the image of the commissions here, presented a video that included graphic images of Qaeda terror attacks and their victims that they titled “The Al Qaeda Plan,” in reference to “The Nazi Plan,” a film shown at Nuremberg to document the Holocaust.

The defense noted that Hitler’s driver, Erich Kempka, was not prosecuted as a war criminal at Nuremberg.

In fact, Hamdan was acquitted on the only charges that amounted to "war crimes." A stunning defeat for the Bush regime.

You'll have a hard time finding the best coverage of the Hamdan trial. That's because it was an oral report yesterday by veteran newsman Fred Graham on Court TV. Graham was one of the few U.S. newspeople who actually covered the trial at Guantánamo.

Solidly in the mainstream, Graham rose above it, describing Hamdan throughout his thoughtful, articulate coverage as a "very low-level driver" and emphasizing that he was hardly a figure whose alleged acts rose to the level of "war crimes."

Even the Washington Post — consistently more reliable than the Times for national and international coverage — didn't rise to Graham's level, fouling up its headline and story:

'Hamdan Guilty of Terror Support: Former Bin Laden Driver Acquitted Of Aiding Attacks'

A military jury on Wednesday found a former driver for Osama bin Laden guilty of supporting terrorism but not of conspiring in terrorist attacks, handing the Bush administration a partial victory in the first U.S. war crimes trial in a half a century.

The hed should have been turned around, leading with the acquittal, and the story's no better. But you're still better off reading the WashPost's version, which includes this pretty high:

Deputy defense counsel Michael Berrigan called the trial a "travesty" but said the defense team "is not at all unhappy with the results."

Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who attended the trial as one of several human rights observers, ridiculed the administration for inaugurating the military system on "a marginal figure."

As for the tabs' coverage of Hamdan, well, just count on them (as I noted earlier this morning) for news about the other guy known for his drives: Brett Favre.


Times: 'In E-Mail, Hints of Delusions'

Bruce E. Ivins went to work each day in a high-security federal laboratory where he handled some of the world’s deadliest substances. But more than a year before the 2001 anthrax attacks, the scientist admitted to himself that he was losing his grasp on reality.

“Paranoid man works with deadly anthrax!!!” he wrote in one e-mail message in July 2000, predicting what a National Enquirer headline might read if he agreed to participate in a study on his work.

“I wish I could control the thoughts in my mind,” he added a month later in another message to a colleague. “It’s hard enough sometimes controlling my behavior. When I am being eaten alive inside, I always try to put on a good front here at work and at home, so I don’t spread the pestilence.”

Well, the guy was self-aware. As for delusional e-mails, I've received a ton of them and have even written a few. It's unfortunate, of course, that Ivins didn't stick to just writing e-mails, at least if the FBI is to be believed.


Post: 'FEDS BARE CHILLING CASE AGAINST MAD SCIENTIST TO PROVE HE ACTED ALONE IN REIGN OF BIOTERROR'

Now this is the way to promo the anthrax story:

Twisted scientist Bruce Ivins was the sole person responsible for killing five people with a rash of anthrax mailings that terrorized Americans after the 9/11 attacks, federal authorities declared yesterday, as they released hundreds of pages of . . .


Wall Street Journal: 'FBI Paints Chilling Portrait Of Anthrax-Attack Suspect'

Today's most complete collection of anthrax coverage, starting with the start of the main piece, which is hands-down the most concise and soberly best-written handling of all the main angles:

In a series of court documents that were at turns chilling and bizarre, federal investigators said U.S. Army microbiologist Bruce E. Ivins misled government agents investigating the 2001 anthrax mailings, sent emails with language closely matching the handwritten letters sent to victims and had access to the strain of anthrax used in the crime.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation says the evidence, including hundreds of pages of unsealed documents, proves that Dr. Ivins was the sole person responsible for the 2001 anthrax mailings. Many of the documents contain previously unknown details and shed fresh light on the seven-year investigation, one of the most complex and controversial undertaken by federal law enforcement.

Much of the evidence is circumstantial and was criticized sharply by some scientists and former colleagues, suggesting that this long-running saga is far from over. Dr. Ivins's lawyer denies the charges.

Dr. Ivins, one of the world's foremost anthrax experts, emerged as the central figure in the anthrax probe last week. He committed suicide on July 29 after federal prosecutors informed him they intended to charge him in the attacks that killed five people and injured 17. Investigators haven't found a suicide note.

See Ivins's e-mails here.


Daily News: 'Heath Ledger probe closed, Mary-Kate Olsen doesn't have to talk'

And we don't have to listen to her.


Post: 'FEDS TURN UP HEAT ON GOTTI-CASE "DIRTY COP" '

A former NYPD detective is under investigation by the FBI for his alleged role in a mob hit ordered by John "Junior" Gotti and is expected to face federal charges, the Post has learned.

Besides ratting out his boyhood pal Gotti, mob turncoat John Alite fingered retired cop Phil Baroni, 56 for being in a getaway car and helping dispose of the body of coke pusher George Grosso, a source said. Grosso was shot in the back of the head on Dec. 20, 1988. At the time, Baroni was getting a generous disability pension from the NYPD.

"[They] just took him out of the car and dumped him on the side of the road" in Flushing Meadow Park, the source said.

Can't wait for the movie? Read the story.


Daily News: 'The Scattered Dutchman'

David Krajicek's story is a few days old, but that doesn't matter because it zooms in on an event that's 100 years old. It's the kind of piece that daily papers don't usually do, let alone write so well. Krajicek starts it out:

It was the summer of 1897, and pieces of Willie Guldensuppe began bobbing up in the East River.

His upper torso and arms were found by boys playing on the E. 11th St. docks. The lower torso was fished from the water in Harlem. The legs found their way to the backwaters of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Each section was neatly wrapped in distinctive oilcloth - a flower design of red and gold, like a homemaker might use for a tablecloth - and bound with window-shade cord.

Coroners unwrapped the packages and pieced together the body, lacking only a head and a 4-inch square of skin cut from the chest.

The human jigsaw puzzle was soon identified as Guldensuppe, a German - stout as an anvil - who worked as a masseur at the Murray Hill Turkish Baths on E. 42nd St.

Makes you want to keep reading.


Times: '500: Deadly U.S. Milestone in Afghan War'

Back to the grim future of 2008: This death story contains the paper's "Quotation of the Day" (for God's sake, loosen up and call it a "quote" instead of "quotation"):

"People have forgotten. There's a real war going on. People are dying all the time in Afghanistan." — DAVID ROUGLE, whose brother, Staff Sgt. Larry I. Rougle, was killed in a Taliban attack.

That "quotation," or at least the idea behind it, should have been worked into the paper's Hamdan story — while the U.S. is conducting a show trial (yes, kinda fair, and yes, the Bush regime lost it), there's a war going on.

And speaking of war crimes, the U.S. committed a crime of war years ago by shifting its focus away from Afghanistan so it could unjustifiably invade Iraq.


Times: 'Iraqis Fail to Agree on Provincial Election Law'

Touted electronically by the paper as its top "World" story, it's not.


Times: 'China’s Leaders Are Resilient in Face of Change'

Skip the first few grafs and see this:

But if the Olympics have presented unmistakable challenges and crises, the Communist Party has proved resilient. Public appetite for reform has not waned, but the short-term byproduct of the Olympics has been a surge in Chinese patriotism that bolstered the party against international criticism after its crackdown on Tibetan protesters in March and the controversy over the international Olympic torch relay.

Economic and social change is so rapid in China that the Communist Party is sometimes depicted as an overwhelmed caretaker. But in the seven years since Beijing was awarded the Games, the party has adapted and navigated its way forward, loosening its grip on elements of society even as it crushes or co-opts threats to its hold on political power.

The party has absorbed entrepreneurs, urban professionals and university students into an elite class that is invested in the political status quo, if not necessarily enthralled with it. Private capitalists may be symbols of a changing China. But the party has also clung tenaciously to the most profitable pillar industries and the financial system, and it is not always easy to distinguish the biggest private companies from their state-run counterparts in China’s hybrid economy.

"Unmistakable challenges"? That's a dull understatement.

"Not always easy to distinguish the biggest private companies from their state-run counterparts"? You can't.

Think Halliburton as the profit-making arm of the Pentagon in the early days of the Iraq Debacle, and you get the picture.


Times: 'Little Pieces of Politics, Some Obscure, Lure Collectors'

Really? I did not know that.


Times: 'Minorities Often a Majority of the Population Under 20'

Sam Roberts's lede, relying on the hackneyed phrase "tipping point":

Foreshadowing the nation’s changing makeup, one in four American counties have passed or are approaching the tipping point where black, Hispanic and Asian children constitute a majority of the under-20 population, according to analyses of census figures released Thursday.

Racial and ethnic minorities now account for 43 percent of Americans under 20. Among people of all ages, minorities make up at least 40 percent of the population in more than one in six of the nation’s 3,141 counties.

The latest population changes by race, ethnicity and age, as of July 1, 2007, were generally marginal compared with the year before. But they confirm the breadth of the nation’s diversity, and suggest that minorities — now about a third of the population — might constitute a majority of all Americans even sooner than projected by census demographers, in 2050.

A colored country. It's a good thing for Jesse Helms that he finally died.


Times: 'Bush to Urge China to Improve Human Rights'

On the eve of the Olympic Games in Beijing, President Bush said that he had “deep concerns” about basic freedoms in China and criticized the detention of dissidents and believers, even as he praised the extraordinary gains China has made since he first visited more than three decades ago, according to remarks released by the White House on Wednesday.

That, and $5 million, will buy you a cup of coffee in Zimbabwe (where inflation is over 1 million percent).

Bush has "deep concerns" about basic freedoms. Please. Do us a favor and just add this phrase: "constantly criticized at home by human-rights organizations."

That wouldn't be editorializing but simply adding context or perspective, and it would be fair to Bush.


Wall Street Journal: 'Bush Conveys Concerns About Fate of China Dissidents'

Much better and more rational angle about Bush than the Times's less-specific, buy-into-Bush-bullshit version. James Hookway's lede:

U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his concern about the fate of political dissidents in China and his determination to bring an end to the "tyranny" of the military regime in Myanmar a day before he is expected to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in China.


Times: 'Freddie Mac’s Big Loss Dims Hopes of Turnaround'

The gloom over the nation’s housing market deepened on Wednesday as Freddie Mac, the big mortgage finance company, reported a gaping quarterly loss and predicted that home prices would fall further than previously projected.

The announcement disappointed those hoping that the housing market might be bottoming out and heightened worries that the government could be forced to rescue Freddie Mac and the other mortgage finance giant, Fannie Mae. The news also signaled that mortgage rates were likely to rise.

For some background on Freddie Mac that you're unlikely to see anywhere else, take a look at my colleague Wayne Barrett's new piece, "How Andrew Cuomo Gave Birth to the Crisis at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

At last, detailed reporting on a New York politician who's fucking us instead of fucking hookers.


Times: 'State Board Lets Ciprianis Keep Their Liquor Licenses'

Continuing its hard-hitting coverage of NYC's rich snoots (see yesterday's Daily Flog), the paper sez:

The verdict is in: Patrons of the Cipriani family’s empire of opulent restaurants and catering halls across Manhattan will not have do without their favorite cocktail when they order the calamari risotto or Venetian calf’s liver.

Huzzah, my good man! Muffy won't have to bring her 40s wid her.


Times: 'China’s Gold Rush'

Matthew Forney's lame op-ed piece contrasting what China and U.S. do with their athletes is promo'ed this way:

In China, sports schools now train thousands of professional athletes with Olympic gold as the ultimate goal.

Yes, unlike in the U.S., where colleges train thousands of professional football and basketball players (while giving them free rides and other perks) with just gold as the ultimate goal.


Post: 'Mess for Success'

Danica Lo chides fashion-faux-pas New Yorkers with her "pet peeve don'ts," introducing it this way:

Summer is steaming up offices all over the city - and we're not talking temperatures.

Lately, exposed cleavage, pastel bra straps, the odd half-moon and plenty of toes have been popping up for air all over town. Dressing professionally in 85-degree-plus weather is never easy, and with heat and humidity a daily battle now for weeks on end, so much of the city's office populace has thrown in the towel - as well as the jacket, the cardigan, the pump and, well, any office-appropriate apparel you can name.

Since reinterpreting dress code is a major no-no in many corporate offices, it's the business-casual class that is committing the most serious faux pas this season.

Reinterpret this. I haven't worn socks since May. Danica, you put a sock on it.

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