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President Bush released his $2.13 trillion budget, which includes a massive arms buildup and severe cuts in popular domestic programs as well as additional tax cuts for the wealthy. The Pentagon complained that it needed more money. New government statistics revealed that the number of Americans making more than a million dollars doubled between 1995 and 1999 while the percentage of their income paid in federal taxes dropped by 11 percent; Americans who made less than a million dollars per year paid 2 percent more in federal taxes. Interesting details continued to emerge from the Enron scandal, such as the impressive ability of one company insider to turn a $5,800 investment into more than $1 million in about two months. The Senate Commerce Committee said it would subpoena Kenneth Lay, the former head of Enron, who cancelled his previously scheduled Congressional appearances. Lay reportedly told a friend that “every fiber of my body wants to talk and tell my side of this”; Senator Fritz Hollings said he doubted Lay would testify. Other Congressmen suggested that Jeffrey Skilling, the company’s former CEO, had perjured himself in his testimony. Tim Eyman, the man behind several tax-cutting initiatives in Washington State, admitted that he had diverted at least $45,000 of the money he had raised into “the black hole, the family budget”; “This entire charade was set up so I could maintain a moral superiority over our opposition, so I could say our opponents make money from politics and I don’t.” Maine banned the smoking of cigarettes by prison inmates, pushing the black-market price of a cigarette up to $10; the high value of tobacco has hurt prison sales of methadone and heroin. A federal appeals court in California declared that sentencing shoplifters to life in prison under the state’s “three strikes” law was cruel and unusual punishment. The town of Numidia, Pennsylvania, banned the public display of nudity, sexual intercourse, deviate sexual conduct, the fondling of genitals, and “the showing of covered male genitals in a discernible turgid state.”
After weeks of denials, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that American forces might have killed friendly Afghan soldiers (not to mention innocent civilians) in a raid last month in a village north of Kandahar; the Americans apparently were tricked by a warlord who was trying to take over the village. General Tommy Franks refused to say the raid had been a mistake: “We will adjust as we need to adjust in the event that we determine that mistakes were made.” C.I.A. operatives have already paid $1,000 to each of the casualties’ families; 27 village residents captured in the raid were released and described severe beatings and other mistreatment. The American Bar Association recommended that Congress be involved in the creation of any military tribunals used to try terrorism suspects and reaffirmed the traditional American axiom that defendants should be presumed innocent until their guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. At the urging of Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Bush changed his mind and decided to extend Geneva Conventions protections to Taliban prisoners (but not members of Al Qaeda) taken in the Afghan war, though they will not be classified as prisoners of war, which would require their repatriation if the war ever ends. A federal judge ruled against the Bush Administration in its attempt to replace a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission, which strongly objected to irregularities in the presidential election, so that the President’s allies would be in the majority, saying that the law was very clear and the President was wrong. Lord Pretender died. European observers of the disputed Zambian election confirmed reports of election fraud. Ugandan virgins henceforth will receive a TV as a wedding gift rather than the more traditional goat, an anti-AIDS committee decided, to give them more of an incentive to keep their virtue intact until marriage.
Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission condemned conditions at concentration camps in the South Australian desert where refugees, including hundreds of children, have been detained. Many children there have gone on hunger strikes, with some sewing their lips shut, to protest their prolonged confinement. Others have cut themselves or swallowed shampoo; one child carved the word “freedom” into his arm. Palestinians shot and injured an Israeli Arab who works for B’tselem, an Israeli human-rights group, as he drove through the West Bank, where he had been collecting information on human-rights violations by the Israeli army. Another Palestinian broke into the home of a Jewish settler in the Jordan Valley and murdered an eleven-year-old girl and her mother. Members of the Hausa and Yoruba tribes were killing one another with bows and arrows, machetes, and swords in Lagos, Nigeria. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia got into an argument with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill over who came from the poorer family. It was determined that both men used outhouses as children. Slobodan Milosevic was reportedly enjoying the novels of Ernest Hemingway and John Updike as he awaits his genocide trial at the Hague; he also enjoys listening to CDs by Celine Dion and Frank Sinatra. He particularly favors Sinatra’s song “My Way.” A man was decapitated with a machete in St. Petersburg, Florida, by his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend; when police arrived at the scene, neighbors were watching the killer put the victim’s head on the hood of a car. “He was adjusting the mirror,” said a police spokesman, “so the head, if it were alive, could see itself.” Speculation continued about the fate of Osama bin Laden; Senator Bob Graham said that “the best intelligence is he is still alive but where he is continues to be a question mark.” A British man had his name changed to Hong Kong Phooey. Giant Food Stores of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was in trouble for putting up a sign that read: “In honor of Black History Month, we at Giant are offering a special savings on fried chicken.” Monks in Thailand came up with 2,500 new surnames for people unsatisfied with the existing 702,059 names. The United Nations suggested turning the area around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor into an eco-tourism destination. Two Sicilians, a man and a woman, were diagnosed with the human form of mad cow disease. A senior Vatican official declared that illness is caused by sin.
More from Roger D. Hodge:
Price of ten pencils made from “recycled twigs,” from the Nature Company:
A loggerhead turtle in a Kobe aquarium at last achieved swimming success with her twenty-seventh set of prosthetic fins. “When her children hatch,” said the aquarium’s director, “well, I just feel that would make all the trauma in her life worthwhile.”
In Colombia, U.N. delegates sent to serve as impartial observers of the peace process aimed at ending the half-century-long war between the FARC and the Colombian government were chastised after they were filmed dancing and getting drunk with FARC fighters at a New Year’s Eve party.
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."