In a stunning announcement today, Saddam Hussein (via a medium) admitted that he had been financing Osama bin Laden for years under the mistaken impression that bin Laden was somehow connected to Wheel of Fortune's Pat Sajak, and therefor, to Vanna White, for whom Saddam has had the most powerful crush, ever since he saw her in Playboy.
In the real news, Halliburton is moving the offices of their CEO and their headquarters to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Also known as the Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf. In this case, Las Vegas designed for really f**king rich people. This is the kind of place where multimillionaires go to blow their bank accounts on hotels and food, where Jim Carrey could easily spend his salary in weekend.
So, it's nice to know that one of the major corporations involved in overcharging our military for basic services is moving to a tax haven. Oh, but they'll remain registered in Texas. Yes... That's reassuring.
Of course, the democrats are a little bit POed. Halliburton's known overcharges to the military during the war in iraq have been reported over and over again, Halliburton's subsidiary, Kellog-Brown-Root (KBR) has been fined a couple of times for gross overcharging (KBR is being spun off, if that's any comfort). Then again, as long as no one is looking, why not overcharge? Halliburton and KBR's contracts are known as "cost-plus" contracts, i.e., they are given a job to do, they bill the government for the job, and the government gives them a little taste (2 to 3 %) on top of the bill for "profit's" sake. Which is all well and good, except that these are "no-bid" contracts. "Just do the work, and bill what you must, we'll give you a little extra for your trouble." So, the more they bill, the more profit they get. Someone overbills, eventually, maybe, someone finds out in the government, they spank KBR or Haliburton, a fine is leveed, and the excess has to be paid back. "oops!"
If no one notices, then no one is fined, and no one has to pay anything back. And oversight has only just become a sport in Washington again. So they may have a bit of a backlog looking up all this nonsense. By which time, perhaps Halliburton will have registered in Dubai after all, and KBR will be left holding the bag for the whole problem.
Panama - 1991 Where to start, where to start. Teddy Roosevelt, that's where! "I took it!", said Pres. Roosevelt, when asked by what right the United States had taken control of the Panama Canal Zone. I didn't know that theft was acceptable under international law.
Well, we'll grandfather this one in.
In 1968 Panama had become a military dictatorship under Omar Torrijos. Not fond of opponents, Torrijos was known for having his political rivals flown over the ocean via helicopter and thrown into the sea, far from any kind of swimming distance to shore. One was even beaten to death in Coiba prison, the whereabouts of his remains unknown. Torrijos was nevertheless a fairly popular ruler, due to his educational and land reforms, guaranteeing every Panamanian citizen a shot at an education through college level for free. The folks who had been brought in to build the canal (primarily from Africa) had always been second-class citizens, and their descendants, as well, were the largest component of the most impoverished sections of Panama. Specifically an area called El Chorillo, in Panama City. Under Torrijos, they got chances for education and employment they'd never had before.
In 1977, Torrijos signed an agreement with President Jimmy Carter, turning over the Canal to the Panamanians at the end of 1999. This was seen in conservative circles in the United States as essentially giving up sovereignty of a US strategic point to a bunch of ungrateful yokels. Ronald Reagan spoke vehemently about the Panama Canal as being as much a part of America as any of the fifty states.
In 1981, just after Reagan had taken office as President, Torrijos was blown up in his plane. After a certain amount of scuffling amongst the various military folks who wanted to run Panama, General Manuel Noriega managed to get the top spot. Central America at the time became very much the hot spot for Reagan to play anti-communist, and so Panama was an important strategic strong-point. Noriega proved a useful ally in the Nicaraguan situation. He had been recruited in the seventies by the CIA (then run by later-to-become President Bush 41). What also occurred was that Noriega was starting to make more and more money as a conduit for various drugs and drug money passing through Panama.
He was also becoming more and more independent from the US, and actually rebuffed their attempts to involve him more directly with the Contras in Nicaragua.
In the late eighties, American forces began clashing openly with Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF), running operations outside the canal zone (in violation of the Treaty). Eventually, tensions got to the point where the PDF stopped and forcibly interrogated a US Army Lieutenant, nearly raping his wife, before releasing them both. This was the flashpoint that brought on the Panama invasion. Thousands of civilians were killed in the invasion, primarily in the neighborhood of El Chorillo. Noriega was cornered in the Vatican's embassy, and he eventually surrendered to the Americans.
In the elections that followed, the United States spent $10 million promoting the candidates of their choice, Guillermo Endara, Ricardo Arias Calderon, and Guillermo "Billy" Ford. Normally, a foreign power financing one side or another in US elections would be a violation of US election laws.
Since Noriega's capture and trial (he'll be up for parole in September of this year), drug trafficking through Panama has increased, doubling in the first year alone after he was arrested. To quote the excellent book by John leCarre, The Tailor of Panama, "They got Ali Baba, but they missed the forty thieves."