AUSTIN -- And a happy New Year to all the friendly folks at the Henry Cisneros' special prosecutor's office, now coming up on its seventh year. Cisneros, who left office five ago as Clinton's housing secretary, is back in San Antonio doing good works in the area of affordable housing. But his special prosecutor David Barrett, like Ol' Man River, he just keeps rolling along.

Cisneros, having long since pleaded to a misdemeanor and paid a $10,000 fine, is no longer a target of investigation, but Barrett is reportedly still investigating someone who did or did not tell him something about Cisneros. It's bound to be a high crime, since the entire flap was over whether Cisneros had lied to the FBI -- not about whether he had given money to his ex-mistress (an affair that was both over and public knowledge well before Cisneros ever went to Washington) -- but about how much he had paid her.

So the moral here is: Don't ever lie to the FBI about how much you have paid an ex-mistress, even if it's common knowledge that you have done so. The Cisneros special prosecutor costs the taxpayers over $2 million
Conspiracy is going mainstream. On the morning of Jan. 8, Paula Zahn of CNN went into histrionic wide-eyed mode as she parleyed with Richard Butler, former head of the UN inspection team in Iraq, latter part of the wipe-out-Saddam lobby and now on the CNN payroll, coyly described by the lovely Paula as "ambassador-in-residence." They were discussing the hot book of the hour, ''Bin Laden, la verite interdite'' (''Bin Laden, The Forbidden Truth''), by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie. It's just appeared in Paris.

Zahn: "Start off with what your understanding is of what is in this book -- the most explosive charge."

Butler: "The most explosive charge, Paula, is that the Bush administration -- the present one, just shortly after assuming office, slowed down FBI investigations of al Qaeda and terrorism in Afghanistan in order to do a deal with the Taliban on oil -- an oil pipeline across Afghanistan."

Zahn: "And this book points out that the FBI's deputy director, John O'Neill, actually resigned because he felt the U.S. administration was obstructing ... "

AUSTIN -- The president has taken to saying peculiar things again. "There are no shades of gray in our war on terrorism," he announced the other day. Excuse me, but if you've ever seen anything grayer than some of our warlord allies in the Northern Alliance, please write at once.

I especially like the reports that the warlords are now calling in American air strikes on one another. "A City, Free of Taliban, Returns to the Thieves," reports The New York Times. "Jalalabad, a city in the hands of thugs and crooks." I'd say that's grayish.

"Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes," announced the president. Well, we know what he meant. According to bipartisan budget experts, we're back in deficit for at least the next several years. That didn't take them long, did it? Nobody is proposing raising taxes, but some fiscally prudent voices have been raised on behalf of postponing some of the generous tax cuts the Republicans gave to the rich in April. You may think Americans are smart enough to tell the difference between raising taxes and postponing tax cuts, but apparently Republicans don't. You can already see
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has released its Top Five List of Nuclear Events for 2001. Topping the list is the US notice of withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The second spot on the list is the US boycott of an international conference to speed up entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Foundation president David Krieger stated, "The US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and its hostility to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty reflect a pattern of US unilateralism that is extremely dangerous in the area of nuclear weapons. It is likely to lead to new regional nuclear arms races, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to competition for the weaponization of space."

Rounding out the Top Five List are the pledge by US President Bush and Russian President Putin to reduce nuclear arsenals, the destruction by the Ukraine of its last nuclear missile silo and Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

The Foundation also released Top Five Lists for 2001 of nuclear secrets revealed; events related to nuclear terrorism; events related to
First the tumult of war, now the fruits of peace. From Afghanistan comes bracing news about the new era of tolerance, now that the Taliban have, at least for the time being, slunk off the stage of history. Shortly before the turn of the year, Justice Minister Karimi declared Afghanistan's new government will still impose Sharia Islamic law on its people, but with less harshness.

The details were fleshed out by Judge Ahamat Ullha Zarif, who has told the French news agency Agence France Presse that public executions and amputations will continue, but there will be changes: "For example, the Taliban used to hang the victim's body in public for four days. We will only hang the body for a short time, say 15 minutes."

Kabul's sports stadium, financed by the International Monetary Fund, was where the Taliban used to carry out public executions and amputations every Friday. No longer. "The stadium is for sports. We will find a new place for public executions," he said.

Judge Zarif makes it clear that the ultimate penalty will remain
If my memory is correct, it was a Jerry Lewis movie. More than 40 years later, I still remember the scenes of a grown man so gullible that he believed his television. What a laugh riot! The guy dashed out to shop every time a commercial told him exactly what to buy. Then he'd sit in front of the TV set, dyeing his hair and smoking cigars, awaiting further instructions.

It was quite funny -- to a 10-year-old, anyway. Even back then, it seemed incontrovertibly absurd to think that someone would be so credulous about televised messages.

Today, print journalists may roll their eyes at the mention of television. Those of us who write for newspapers are (ahem) rather more sophisticated and nuanced. But even someone who sticks to reading the news has probably gotten the authoritative word that Sept. 11 changed "everything."

And so, it was unremarkable when, on the last Sunday of 2001, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch flatly stated in an editorial: "The unspeakable, the unthinkable, the inconceivable horror of that day changed everything." Meanwhile, a couple of thousand miles away, Northern California's largest
AUSTIN -- Here comes everyone's favorite season: The tree is down, the bills are due, January, February, Ry-Krisp and cottage cheese.

T'is the festive season for one of our nation's leading industries -- dispensers of diet advice. Since we all spent a couple of months home with mac and cheese even before the holidays, it could be a growth year for the stationary bicycle.

Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are still out there somewhere, with Judge Crater and Chandra Levy. Now that we've won the war, all the king's horses and all the king's men have to put Afghanistan back together again --- warlords and all. OPEC just cut production by 6.5 percent.

Looking on the bright side, as we are wont to do at this stand, privatization of Social Security is a dead letter and at least Congress didn't pass the economic stimulus package.

Incredibly enough, the Washington pundit corps spent a couple of weeks running around bellowing, "Whose fault is this?" and fingering Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as the most likely suspect. No Republican was
AUSTIN, Texas -- Ecuador recently moved to the dollar standard for its economy in an effort to bail itself out of one of those credit-flight crises that seems to afflict countries like a case of flu going around the globe. The dollarization of that economy has touched off a flurry of commentary among economists, who are on-the-one-handing with even more vigor than usual.

The alternative to the Ecuadorean move is something like what Singapore tried to do, a little late, during the collapse of most of the Asian economy two years ago. Basically, what Singapore did was to freeze foreign capital and say, "Sorry, buddy, but you can't take your money out of here for a while." This naturally upset all those geniuses at the International Monetary Fund, who are wedded to the "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" school of economic repair.

There's a wonderful word, "iatrogenic," describing an illness that you get from going to the hospital to have another illness treated. I always think of the IMF as a dispenser of iatrogenic ills.

"We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented,disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so." - Oscar Wilde

When I was thirteen I spent a wonderful summer with cousins living and working on a large dairy farm in northern Indiana just outside the small town where my father was raised. I am thankful for that summer, but one momentary experience of that visit still causes me difficulty around Thanksgiving Day.

My cousins (first cousins/once removed [the adults] and second cousins [the kids]) were wonderful, god-fearin', country folks, and at some point the elders shared a bit of their homey religious philosophy.

"Tommy," they said, " if there is no God and you don't believe in Him, when you die you just go into the earth. If there is no God and you do believe in Him, when you die you still just go into the earth. If there is a God, and you don't believe in Him, when you die you will suffer in hell for eternity. But if
A.N.S.W.E.R. FACT SHEET ? The Media and the Government


In the past weeks, images have been seen around the world of bombings of villages, hospitals, mosques, Red Cross facilities and more. What has been the response of those dropping the bombs? The U.S. and England are opening what they call ?Coalition Information Centers? ? a plan for 24-hour-a-day domination of the news to manipulate and refute these images.

In the last weeks, the Bush administration, the Pentagon and the CIA have been battening down all of the hatches to deprive the people of the United States of any independent source of information. Why is the government so afraid that people in the United States will have the opportunity to receive uncensored news and information? It is because the Bush administration, having learned a crucial lesson in Vietnam, knows that if the people actually learn the truth about the war, they may become its most vocal and effective opponents.

In some countries, governments have waged violent and repressive wars against journalists. Reporters have been


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