On oil profits, torture, 'insurgents,' beer fashion, etc.

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Dec 08, 2005 12:05 AM

Staggering stats and brief comments on this and that. . .

It long has been known that much of China's economy is built on a gulag of forced (or slave) labor camps fashioned after the Soviet model. Now the U.N. has succeeded in putting an investigator - Vienna professor Manfred Nowak - into China, and what did he find? Torture - on a massive scale. Suspicions confirmed: Considerable Chinese productivity is torture-derived.

From one news account: "Chinese authorities have submerged prisoners in sewage; burned them with cigarettes; hooded or blindfolded them; exposed them to extreme heat or cold; used handcuffs or ankle fetters for extended periods; and used numerous other torture methods." Standard remedies for Chinese with bad attitudes, deviationist beliefs or insufficient output of widgets: brainwashing in a psychiatric hospital or torture-based re-education in a labor camp.

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Stats: (1) A year from now, 40 million Americans will be listening to iPods. (2) The average cost of a U.S. wedding is $26,300 - and worth every penny of it. (3) In five years, satellite radio subscriptions will rise from the current level of 7 million, to 20 million.

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With Republican pols taking generally legitimate hits for their dubious behavior, let us not forget that Democrats can be similarly challenged. Consider the following updates on two refugees from the Clinton administration.

Exhibit A: Sandy Berger (national security adviser), on probation for swiping classified documents from the National Archives, was recently charged with reckless driving for going 88 in a 55 mph zone.

Exhibit B: Bill Richardson (U.N. ambassador), currently the governor of New Mexico and a hankerer after the presidency, now is acknowledging that his longtime claim to have been drafted to play for the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 while a right-handed pitcher at Tufts has been, um, less than truthful. The Albuquerque Journal checked out the claim and found it empty. Richardson's odd fess-up: "After being notified of the situation and after researching the matter . . . I came to the conclusion that I was not drafted by the A's."

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Will wine snobs soon form up with beer snobs? According to Forbes' Matt Miller, "Beer's share of the $154 billion U.S. booze business has dropped to 46 percent from its 58 percent peak in 1993." So the industry may begin urging restaurants to match menu items to beer as well as wine. One Anheuser-Busch exec wants beer guys to use a vocabulary of winey words such as "aroma," "balance," and "nose." Says Miller: Soon we may be wandering in a world of beer vintages, beer sipped from martini glasses or champagne flutes, and "beer connoisseurs debating varieties of hops."

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If big oil companies are taking in too much in profits, their profit margins nevertheless lag well behind other major companies such as Microsoft, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Citigroup. Why, then, the demagogic call for a "windfall profits" tax on oil profits alone? What's more, the Tax Foundation notes that since 1977, Big Oil "profiteering" has run to less than half of what state and federal governments have collected in gasoline taxes - $600 billion in oil company profits vs. $1.34 trillion in state and federal taxes on gasoline.

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Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, a retired Marine who got his 15 minutes of fame for advocating an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and then voting against a measure in the House advocating precisely that, now is taking on the U.S. Army. He terms it "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth." Army Col. Joseph Curtin has a different view: "The Army is not broken," he says. "Every day, our soldiers are making tremendous contributions in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and more than 120 countries around the world. Retention rates are at an incredible all-time high, particularly in the active component."

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With a whack at the press, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld adds: "We've arrived at a strange time in this country, where the worst about America and our military seems to so quickly be taken as truth by the press and reported and spread around the world." Earlier, Rumsfeld and pressies (and others) traded blows over use of the word insurgents to describe the enemy in Iraq. "I think that you can have a legitimate insurgency in a country that has popular support and has a cohesiveness and has a legitimate gripe." He prefers terrorists. This is a euphemistic hour. He's right.

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And a final stat: A survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education has found that last year college presidents voted 2-1 for John Kerry over George Bush (56-28 percent). Of those surveyed, 41 percent were registered Democrats, 19 percent registered Republicans.