404: Information Missing From Your Daily News
Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories
The logo of Amazon.com appeared on more than 60,000 web pages as of June, according to the company. Why is enyart.com different? Because radio and TV religious commentator Bob Enyart has made his career by suggesting that particular sinners be executed. According to his own web page and recent newspaper articles, he's called for death to gays, abortion providers, abortion recipients, women who use contraception, recreational drug users, and anyone caught twice with pornography.
Also, he calls for America to become a monarchy.
Umm... does Amazon.com agree with any of this?
Apparently not; their information page states that a web site can be rejected for their program if it promotes violence, discrimination, illegal activities (you'd think murder would count), and other criteria. The letter from the company prez was copied from a fill- in- the- blank template. But Amazon.com also claims that they evaluate web sites before accepting them -- if that's so, how did this site win approval?
While waiting on hold at the Amazon.com 1-800 number, there was plenty of time to browse more of enyart.com. Within a single click of the front page, Enyart boasts that he's the "nation's most popular self- proclaimed right-wing religious fanatic, heterosexual, anti-choice talk show host," and calls for execution of adulterers. Easily found were quotes such as, "the only rights homos should have is the right to a fair and speedy trial." A fantasy essay titled, "How would Christians govern America?" catalogs new capital crimes:
"Anyone aborting, attempting or conspiring to abort, or advocating the killing of an unborn child from this day forward, upon conviction, will be executed. Any manufacturer, provider, or advocate of, or anyone procuring, conspiring or attempting to procure, any abortifacient (such as RU 486, the IUD, or any birth control pill which also acts as an abortifacient) from this day forward, upon conviction, will be executed..."
Referred by their customer service rep to the corporate offices, "DeeJay" answered the phone for media inquiries. Does Amazon.com actually review the web sites of applicants? "They have to check up on it," said the youngish-sounding man. "They really go through every site. I've got friends over there." I asked: If that's so, does Amazon.com have a policy that adulterers should be put to death? Quickly I was placed on hold.
Media director Kay Dangaard acknowledged that they had already received a couple of calls about the Enyart web site and were investigating. Within the hour, she called back to say that enyart.com had been dropped as an associate of Amazon.com. While waiting, I had found even more about Bob Enyart in the Lexis-Nexis database -- including his 60-day jail sentence last year for belt-whipping bloody his girlfriend's 7 year-old child. (Curiously, that doesn't appear to be mentioned on his website.)
How rigorous is Amazon.com's review process? Dangaard said that the company doesn't disclose how many of their 1,600 employees work in the associate review department, but claims mistakes are rare. Still, given that some of Enyart's most radical material was easily available with a click or two of his home page, it's hard to believe that the page was reviewed at all.
The incident raises several troubling questions. Having the imprimatur of a well- known name like Amazon.com on a website conveys a certain legitimacy, particularly when it seems to be endorsed by a personalized letter from the company president. This makes the company's lax policing more than a casual concern.
Also, it presents a terrible ethical dilemma for this kind of commerce. Amazon.com gives an average 5 percent kickback when a book or recording is ordered from an associate. In the case of the Enyart web site, he wasn't promoting hate literature -- the most controversial titles listed were history books on Nazi eugenics. But instead, he was directly seeking donations for his controversial radio and TV broadcasts via the Amazon.com program: "Please consider ordering all your books and music from right here at enyart.com to help Bob Enyart Live."
Do you know of similar sites that Amazon.com is hosting? If so, call their corporate headquarters at (206) 622-2335. Also drop a note to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (November 6, 1998)
As a result, about 23,000 workers will now earn a whopping $25 per month. A recent study by watchdog group Global Exchange found that it costs a single worker about $34 per month to meet the most basic human needs.
Global Exchange says the company was motivated to bump wages by rumblings of a nationwide campaign this holiday season. Called "Nike: Can You Spare a Dime?" the campaign would have asked students on college and high school campuses to send Nike a dime -- to represent a doubling of the hourly wage of a single Indonesian worker.
In September, Global Exchange and three Indonesian groups released a scathing report that found Nike CEO Phil Knight's compensation to be 5,273 times the annual pay of an average Indonesian shoe worker. With the October raise, the gap is closing fast -- Monitor calculates that now he's making only about 3,796 more than his Indonesian employees. (November 3, 1998)
The tykes had been making demands, of course; in October, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others in the military told Congress that the Pentagon needs an additional $100 billion annually just to make ends meet. If granted, this would have placed the military budget near the historic spending levels found in Reagan's heyday. (The defense budget is $271 billion for next year, compared to $420 billion in 1986 -- now about 17 percent of the federal budget, down from 33 percent.)
Their demands were surprising, particularly since military brass had been boasting for the last seven years that America's armed forces were in tip-top shape. But when asked why the needed more money, part of their answer was even more surprising -- they (politely) blamed, in part, two of their biggest cheerleaders in Congress: Republican leaders Rep. Newt Gingrich and Senator Trent Lott.
At a September 29 Senate hearing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff complained that Congress had forced them to buy twenty $50 million transport planes they didn't want. The transport ships are made in Newt's hometown of Marietta, Georgia. As reported in the Christian Science Monitor, Gen. Michael Ryan, the Air Force chief of staff added, "Not only were the planes added, but then we were told where to put them." Most of the planes will be based in Mississippi, the home state of Lott. Also implicating the Senator, the Navy said they were forced to accept the $ 1.5 billion LH-D amphibious assault ship they didn't want. The ship will be built in Lott's hometown. Nor are the GOP leaders the only ones guilty; the military also doesn't want the nuclear-powered Seawolf subs that continue to be built at White House behest to keep shipyard jobs.
Naturally, Congress responded to all this in its usual way: It gave the Pentagon more money -- and also added even more pork barrel projects.
Prominent in the budget is an unrequested $1 billion for the mutant descendant of Reagan's "Star Wars" projects. Although the Pentagon already has been spending over $3 billion annually since 1984, Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee wanted to give the program more money, although the Deputy Secretary of Defense testified, "You couldn't give us more money to accelerate that [research] because it just couldn't go any faster." John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists, an outspoken critic of the high- profile effort to shoot down incoming missles, said "It is absolutely without human precedent that such a large amount of money has just vanished into thin air." Pike noted that the most promising research -- the THAAD (Theater High-Altitude Area Defense) system -- had failed all five tests. "I'm rather amazed they've gone so long without hitting anything," Pike jibed to the Boston Globe.
But a far larger chunk of unrequested funds are going to the "black budget" of intelligence operations, including $1.8 billion to the CIA alone. This follows an undisclosed amount of "emergency assistance" money given to the Agency in April. In the past year, the CIA has been criticized for numerous blunders, including failing to anticipate India exploding a nuclear bomb, the extent of the economic collapse in Asia, and the mistaken targeting of a Sudan pharmaceutical plant as a chemical weapons factory.
Another $1.5 billion windfall goes to new Pentagon-run satellites and intelligence operations, mostly run by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and National Security Agency (NSA). These agencies are always the top feeders in the black budget, with NRO usually collecting about $6.2 billion and NSA $3.6 billion. Unusual in this grant was $200 million for anti-terrorism intelligence, given jointly to the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon.
Overall, the Pentagon received $9 billion more than it requested. (November 1, 1998)
One ongoing story that reads like a John Le Carre thriller surfaced again recently, capturing headlines throughout the European press. A portion of the story was introduced in a previous 404 report, describing how Banco Ambrosiano, the largest privately-owned bank in Italy, served to funnel $1.3 billion from the CIA and the Vatican to phony corporations in Panama that were really fronts for anti-communist groups. Adding to the mystery of the case, bank chairman Roberto Calvi was found hanged, his body dangling under London's Blackfriars Bridge with a brick in the pocket of a melodramatic black monk's robe.
In mid-October, Licio Gelli, the mastermind behind the Banco Ambrosiano swindle, was returned to Italy to face a 12-year jail term. Gelli, now 79, had evaded authorities since his 1982 conviction for bank fraud in the Ambrosiano case, but other evidence confirmed that he was involved in schemes far darker.
Gelli was the head of "P2" -- Propaganda Due, an ultra-right group that used any means necessary to keep communists from power in post-WWII Italy. Technically a Masonic Lodge, P2 became a true secret society controlling Italy. While searching his villa in 1981, police discovered a membership list that included 953 high-level officials: Judges, bankers, police chiefs, members of Parliment and the Cabinet, admirals and generals, respected political leaders, even religious leaders connected to another secret society, Opus Dei. A parliamentary commission concluded that Gelli and P2 were operating as "a state within the Italian state." It remains the greatest scandal in Italy (and maybe, Europe) since the end of WWII.
But rumors had swirled around both Gelli and P2 for decades, and many thought the neo-fascist organization a myth. At worst, P2 was thought to be a CIA-funded outfit that resorted to terrorism, including the 1980 bombing that killed 85 -- Gelli and others were convicted of involvement, although the judgement was overturned on appeal. P2 and Gelli were also said to be linked to the 1978 assassination of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro and mysterious death of Pope John Paul I. (An excellent article on CIA ties to P2 appeared in Covert Action Quarterly in 1994.)
Who was Gelli? A member of Mussolini's Black Shirts during WWII, he spent the two decades after the war living in in South America among the European fascist emigres. Gelli was always ready to open his wallet to help neo-fascists, anywhere; in 1974, he was a major player in the return of Juan Peron to power in Argentina. Called l'intoccabile (the untouchable), police captured Gelli three times after he was convicted for the P2 conspiracy and each time he escaped, once by bribing a Swiss jailer.
What was the source of his fabulous wealth? Legend held that Gelli made his fortune by helping "escort" a Red Cross-marked train loaded with 55 tons of plundered Yugoslav gold in 1942. ("Pure nonsense," he was always quoted.) But as Gelli was extradited to Italy last month, police stumbled upon 150 gold bars worth more than more than $1.76 million buried in patio flowerpots among his geraniums and begonias. Authorities believe that the markings on the 363 pounds of gold bars show they are from Eastern Europe, probably confirming his legendary WWII cache.
Did any of this amazing story appear in the American press? Only a short Associated Press description of the extradition of "fugitive financier" Gelli, with a muddled rehash of the entire Calvi / Ambrosiano / P2 / flowerpot story, altogether less than half the length of this 404 item. By contrast, almost all of the leading European papers featured in-depth stories about Gelli's past and P2.
The scandal of Gelli and P2 is clearly not over, but don't expect mention of it in the U.S. media. (November 2, 1998)
Albion Monitor Issue 53 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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