Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Fix Is In

Students sue 24 campus bars in Madison, Wisconsin

The Capital Times

Drink special ban is price fixing

By Mike Ivey and Aaron Nathans

A class action lawsuit was filed today in Dane County Circuit Court accusing 24 downtown Madison taverns and the Madison-Dane County Tavern League of conspiring to fix prices on beer and liquor.

The suit, filed by a Minneapolis law firm on behalf of three University of Wisconsin-Madison students, says taverns that agreed to eliminate weekend drink specials - a step strongly urged by Chancellor John Wiley - committed felony violations of both state and federal antitrust law, regardless of their intent. It also accuses UW-Madison of participating.

The suit maintains that the victims of price fixing - basically anyone who patronized the downtown taverns on Friday or Saturday nights and paid full price - are entitled to triple damages under antitrust law.

The three UW-Madison students, in their lawsuit, say they have four primary objectives:

To break up the "Madison Bar Cartel," which includes popular taverns such as the Nitty Gritty, Kollege Klub and Angelic Brewing Co.

To return price competition to the business of selling alcoholic beverages in downtown Madison.

To uncover the full duration, scope, nature of operation and economic impact of the "cartel."

To recover and return to victims, primarily UW-Madison students, the full measure of damages. The awards could be "in the tens of millions of dollars," the suit contends.

UW-Madison students Nic Eichenseer, Brian Dougherty and Eric Stener are listed as lead plaintiffs in the class action. All three said in the suit they purchased alcoholic beverages on Friday or Saturday after 8 p.m. from the taverns named in the suit.

A voluntary effort by downtown Madison bars to limit weekend drink specials has been in effect since Oct. 1, 2002, as part of the federally funded PACE project. PACE, which stands for Policy, Alternatives, Community and Education, is in the seventh year of a comprehensive campus-community partnership designed to reduce the negative consequences of high-risk drinking.

Casey Nagy, an assistant to Wiley, said today he hadn't seen the suit but said it was "creative" in making its argument for illegal price fixing.

"I think they'd have a hard time arguing there was any price fixing, but I guess we'll see," he said.

Lee Pier, general manager of the Nitty Gritty Tavern, said there has been no wrongdoing on the part of any tavern.

"I don't know of any kind of agreement on what prices will be," he said. "This is something we did on a voluntary basis in response to the City Council and the UW."

But Peter Carstensen, a professor at the UW-Madison Law School, said he was surprised nobody in the university's legal counsel office, nor at the City Attorney's Office, recognized there was a problem with the voluntary ban.

"The general rule of antitrust law is, competitors cannot agree about how they will compete. If that's what happened with these bars, then they're in serious trouble," Carstensen said.

The taverns named in the suit are Amy's Cafe, Angelic Brewing Co., Brothers, Buffalo Wild Wings, Bull Feathers, City Bar, Club Amazon, Kollege Klub, Lava Lounge, Mad Dogs Pub & Pizzeria, Madhatters, Mondays, the Nitty Gritty, Paul's Club, Plaza Tavern, The Pub, Red Shed, Spices Restaurante, State Bar, State Street Brats, Stillwaters, Vintage, Wandos and Irish Pub.

The suit contends that UW actively encouraged formation of the "cartel," making it the centerpiece of its anti-drinking effort. It says UW has no "legal authority to organize a cartel among of group of competitors whenever its social scientists believe that a particular product (beer, cigarettes, gasoline, ice cream, music, etc.) is being consumed in excess by its students."

It says the proper way to affect prices or behavior is through a taxing authority.

Carstensen agreed, saying that everything would have been different if the city or state had instead come up with an ordinance or law to forbid a certain type of conduct.

"One of the things that they say about conspiracies, you can do it best when it's out in the open and everybody's looking at you and nobody notices what's going on," he said.

Susan Crowley, a coordinator of the PACE program, said the lawsuit would have no impact on the program. She said the university is continuing to support the ban on weekend drink specials and noted that the program has another 2 years to run.

"It's still alive and kicking," she said.

Data on the effect of the ban on drink specials have been mixed. A study released by the project shows that since the implementation of bans on weekend drink specials in downtown bars, alcohol-related crimes have actually increased.

Tom Powell, a member of the Madison Alcohol License Review Committee, agreed that the voluntary weekend ban on drink specials didn't have much of an impact on student behavior, since most drink specials are offered toward the beginning of the week.

Powell said the students' class action suit is "misguided," and called the ban a "dead issue."

"I don't know how they're going to calculate the amount of damages," he said. "I hope they kept their receipts."


Boeings, Weapons, and the Threat of Force...

Where Coup Plots Are Routine, One That Is Not

New York Times
March 20, 2004
By Michael Wines

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea, March 17 — This malarial West African dictatorship quashed another coup attempt this month, which is like saying the corner 7-Eleven served up another Slurpee. Quashed coups (five since 1996) are a political staple here, so routine that some say the government stages and then quashes them to burnish its image of invincibility.

But the coup this month was different. Nobody could make this coup up.

The coup attempt of 2004 features a dysfunctional ruling family, a Lamborghini-driving, rap-music-producing heir apparent and a bitter political opponent in exile who insists that Equatorial Guinea is run by a gonad-eating cannibal. It is said to involve a Lebanese front company, a British financier, an opposition figure living in exile in Spain and some 80 mercenaries from South Africa, Germany, Armenia and Kazakhstan.

Its messy denouement unfolded not in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea's capital, but 2,100 miles away, aboard an American jet in Zimbabwe.

With such a polyglot cast, this whodunit has become almost a parlor game among Africa watchers. Not since Christmas 1975, when Moroccan palace guards shot 150 suspected plotters in the city soccer stadium to a band's rendition of "Those Were the Days, My Friend" has a botched takeover set tongues wagging so briskly.

"Normally, the people involved are just rounded up, paraded before the state media, and then they disappear forever," said Patrick Smith, the editor of the London-based newsletter Africa Confidential, which has scooped competitors on the coup's juiciest details. "This one is the most extraordinary ever."

Until lately, few cared. Equatorial Guinea, a Spanish colony for 190 years, was seen as a sweltering backwater, so destitute that many citizens foraged for food. But in the mid-1990's American drillers struck oil, and everything changed.

Today, this Maryland-size nation has $5 billion in American oil rigs and drilling gear parked offshore, pumping 350,000 barrels of petroleum a day. Washington is reopening an embassy closed in the mid-1990's after the ambassador, a vocal human rights critic, began getting death threats.

Most Equatorial Guineans remain subsistence-level survivors. But the president since 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, owns mansions in Maryland and Virginia and banks up to $700 million a year in oil revenues in personally controlled accounts.

As Mr. Obiang said at a news conference on Wednesday in his meticulously restored ceremonial palace, having money is a mixed blessing, seeing as so many people want to take it away. Participants in this month's quashed coup were promised a share of the oil wealth if their takeover had succeeded, he said.

Instead of benefiting those it is supposed to, "it is causing them a lot of problems," he said through an interpreter.

Yet, toppling Equatorial Guinea's government would be no mean feat, because removing the president would barely scratch the surface. The military is peppered with Mr. Obiang's cousins and nephews. One of his sons is the natural resources minister. A brother-in-law is ambassador to Washington.

A brother, Armengol Ondo Nguema, is a top internal security official and, according to a 1999 State Department report, a torturer whose minions urinated on their victims, sliced their ears and rubbed oil on their bodies to lure stinging ants.

Finally, a second son, Teodoro Nguemo Obiang, is the infrastructure minister and his father's anointed successor. To the dismay of some relatives, he also is a rap music entrepreneur and bon vivant, fond of Lamborghinis and long trips to Hollywood and Rio de Janeiro, who shows few signs of following his father's iron-fisted tradition.

On its face, this month's coup seems to threaten none of these leaders. Indeed, the 80-odd mercenaries said to be the coup's advance force are now in prisons in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea where, if human rights reports are any guide, it is possible they will face torture, if not execution.

Equatorial Guinea's government said Wednesday that one captured mercenary, a German held in a Malabo jail, had died of cerebral malaria in a local hospital. But this is among Africa's most opaque regimes, and long one of its most repressive. The only real constant is that appearances are deceiving.

The outside world first learned of the coup attempt on March 6, when Zimbabwe officials said they had seized an old Boeing 727 jet with American markings after it stopped in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, on a flight north.

Inside and waiting on the tarmac outside, the government said, were 67 mercenaries, mostly South Africans and Angolans. They were said by Zimbabwe to have landed in Harare to pick up a cache of weapons illicitly purchased from government weapons makers.

Mr. Obiang's security men then announced that they had arrested 15 more people — Germans, Kazakhs and others — in Equatorial Guinea, thwarting a plot to kill the president and take over the government. It soon became clear that the flight had originated in South Africa, and that intelligence officials there, in Zimbabwe and in Angola had tipped Mr. Obiang to the impending coup.

Two mercenaries stood out. In Zimbabwe, the plane had been met by Simon Mann, a British expatriate and onetime aide to senior British military leaders. Mr. Mann is a flamboyant soldier of fortune, a figure in books and even a cameo actor in a war movie. In the 1990's, two companies tied to him, Executive Outcomes and Sandline International, reclaimed Angolan oil fields and diamond mines from rebel armies and imposed peace in war-racked Sierra Leone in the absence of a United Nations force.

In Equatorial Guinea, the crucial plotter was identified as Nick du Toit, a South African special forces veteran who once worked for Executive Outcomes. This time, Mr. du Toit worked for Mr. Mann in a company called Logo Logistics. An official in that company, who goes by two names, has told reporters that it bought the Boeing 727 in Kansas this year as part of an innocent contract to protect gold miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo — not to overthrow a government.

Whatever the truth, Mr. du Toit appeared on state-controlled television in Malabo last week to make a dramatic, seemingly case-closing confession. The entire plot, he said, was hatched by Severo Moto, an Equatorial Guinean opposition figure and longtime fomenter of quashed coups who lives in exile in Madrid. Mr. Moto's coup was said to be financed by $5 million from a British businessman, washed through a front company in Lebanon.

"It wasn't a question of taking the life of the head of state, but of spiriting him away, taking him to Spain and forcing him into exile," said Mr. du Toit, who has not been seen since.

Mr. Moto makes no secret of his hatred of President Obiang: on Spanish radio this month, he called him a demon who "systematically eats his political rivals."

"He has just devoured a police commissioner. I say `devoured,' as this commissioner was buried without his testicles and brain," he said, adding that Mr. Obiang hungered for his body parts as well.

"We are in the hands of a cannibal," he warned.

That said, Mr. Moto also told Spanish radio that he had played no role in the latest coup against Mr. Obiang. In turn, his denial underscored an intriguing omission in Mr. du Toit's own confession.

According to Africa Confidential, Mr. Smith's London-based newsletter, the same Mr. du Toit who is accused of plotting to overthrow the government held a contract with that same government to train Equatorial Guinea's paramilitary and customs forces. The contract was reported to have been signed by Armengol Ondo Nguema — President Obiang's half brother, the head of internal security and perhaps the nation's most feared man.

Some Guinea watchers say Mr. du Toit played a deadly game clumsily, trying to penetrate Equatorial Guinea's inner leadership as part of the coup plot, and lost. Others find it inconceivable that the wily Mr. Armengoldid not know what Mr. du Toit had up his sleeve, and say he was either a willing participant or was stringing Mr. du Toit along.

There is nothing to indicate that Mr. du Toit's contract to train the military of the government he sought to overthrow is untoward. Indeed, President Obiang said at Wednesday's news conference that he knew "for sure" that his brother was not involved in any way with any venture involving Mr. du Toit.

"I think it's not true," he said. "Because if it was like this, I would have known."

Still, a jefe in a place like this always looks over his shoulder. After all, the sole successful coup here occurred in 1979, when Mr. Obiang himself, then a lowly lieutenant colonel, overthrew and executed the self-proclaimed "Unique Miracle," Francisco Macias Nguema.

Mr. Nguema was his uncle. It was a family affair.

NYT Lie Detector: An article yesterday about a foiled coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea misstated the status of a company tied to one of the mercenaries accused in the plot. Sandline International, a private military contractor cited for its activity in Africa in the 1990’s, is still functioning; it is not defunct.

Read The New York Times Article

Peru Ends Intelligence Gathering Service

Peru dissolved the country's intelligence Service on Tuesday following Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero recent statement that too many of its agents had ties to former president Alberto Fujimori.

He said the decision was reached after the chief of the National Intelligence Council, Vice Admiral Ricardo Arbocco, tendered his resignation following questioning about ties to Vladimiro Montesinos -- the former intelligence head and a close ally of Fujimori -- who fled to Japan and resigned the presidency in 2000.

Montesinos has been sentenced after corruption trials and faces several more. Fujimori is wanted on corruption charges.

Arbocco quit in order "not to affect the government of President Alejandro Toledo," said the prime minister.

Ferrero said the government then decided to deactivate the service and to close its headquarters located south of the capital, near Las Palmas Air Base.

Channel News Asia

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Property Rights in China?

Could it be true?

Is it possible?

Wanted: Lost Israeli Cell Phone

The head of the Mossad has reportedly misplaced his cell phone.

It is considered a breach of national security and your help in its retrieval is needed.

Any news on its whereabouts is greatly appreciated.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Spin Sisters by Myrna Byth

How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness

Town Hall Book Review

"Disgust" with the major woman's magazines is putting it mildly.

And let us not forget the advertising companies who prop up all this garbage.

Wake up woman of America!

Shoot your television.

We may all be oppressed victims of a statist society, but not a patriarchal one.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

South Korean Parliament Votes to Impeach President

South Korea's opposition-dominated parliament passed a bill on to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun for violating election laws.

Roh's powers are suspended until the Constitutional Court rules on the parliamentary vote -- a process that could take up to six months.

Under the constitution, Prime Minister Goh Kun will run the country in the interim.


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

A Reflection

A Reflection

By Kate Chopin

Some people are born with a vital and responsive energy. It not only enables them to keep abreast of the times; it qualifies them to furnish in their own personality a good bit of the motive power to the mad pace. They are fortunate beings. They do not need to apprehend the significance of things. They do not grow weary nor miss step, nor do they fall out of rank and sink by the wayside to be left contemplating the moving procession.

Ah! that moving procession that has left me by the road-side! Its fantastic colors are more brilliant and beautiful than the sun on the undulating waters. What matter if souls and bodies are failing beneath the feet of the ever-pressing multitude! It moves with the majestic rhythm of the spheres. Its discordant clashes sweep upward in one harmonious tone that blends with the music of other worlds--to complete God`s orchestra.

It is greater than the stars--that moving procession of human energy; greater than the palpitating earth and the things growing thereon. Oh! I could weep at being left by the wayside; left with the grass and the clouds and a few dumb animals. True, I feel at home in the society of these symbols of life`s immutability. In the procession I should feel the crushing feet, the clashing discords, the ruthless hands and stifling breath. I could not hear the rhythm of the march.

Salve! ye dumb hearts. Let us be still and wait by the roadside.


"Time takes it. Time takes everything and everyone..."

A short biography of a great author, Knut Hamsun.

Brought to you by your friends at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Knut Hamsun

(1859 - 1952)

Knut Hamsun was born on 4 August 1859 in Garmo, a remote mountain hamlet on the western shore of Lake Vågå. He died at his country estate Nørholm, near Grimstad, during the night of 19 February 1952. A life of 92 years and 6 months, stretching from the age of horse-drawn carriages to that of the atom bomb. A life full of restlessness and complications, yet at the same time a life rich in experiences. And, most important of all, a life in the service of words.

By Lars Frode Larsen

One is tempted to ask whether it is at all possible to find a leitmotiv through this life, something which can bind all the individual events into a meaningful whole. Some commentators have tried to reduce the marathon of Hamsun's life to a mere 100-metre Nazi sprint, thinking that in this way they would be able to forge a key which could be used to unlock the "enigma" Knut Hamsun. It is a rather worthless key: it fits the lock too poorly. The only tool of any real potential use to someone wishing to fathom Hamsun and his work is an understanding of his relationship with words.

To use as a point of departure the theory that Knut Hamsun wrote his books in order to further a particular ideology or to earn his livelihood is to set off on the wrong track. His motive was not the great pleasure he could obtain from entertaining his fellow human beings with good stories; not moral indignation and a sense of commitment, not vanity, social ambition, the desire to be feted and famous, either. All these elements may have played their part in determining Hamsun's "choice" of career, they may also have been of varying consequence at different times in his career. None, however, was the most important driving force behind his activity as a writer. Rather than choosing the career of man of letters, Hamsun probably felt that he had been chosen for it. He succumbed to an inner necessity, an imperative which doomed him to a perpetual labour of writing. If ever in the history of Norwegian literature the use of the word "vocation" is justified, it must be in the case of Hamsun.

His creative talent, his very ability to write was, then, of crucial significance to Hamsun; it was his alpha and his omega. Oscar Wilde wrote in a letter that "to the artist, expression is the only mode under which he can conceive life at all". As for Wilde so for Hamsun; writing became a sort of affirmation that he was still alive.

From his early youth, Hamsun was absorbed by the opportunities of expression afforded by words and language, and by their secret lives. In 1888, two years before his breakthrough came with "Hunger" (Sult), he wrote in an article:

"Language must resound with all the harmonies of music. The writer must always, at all times, find the tremulous word which captures the thing and is able to draw a sob from my soul by its very rightness. A word can be transformed into a colour, light, a smell. It is the writer's task to use it in such a way that it serves, never fails, can never be ignored. The writer must be able to revel and roll in the abundance of words. He must know not only the direct but also the secret power of a word. There are overtones and undertones to a word, and lateral echoes, too."

The preacher and writer Kristofer Janson, who had known Hamsun as a young man, wrote of him that he had never met a person with the same "pathological passion for aesthetic beauty" as Hamsun. "He could jump for joy and wallow in delight for a whole day over an original, particularly expressive adjective he had found in a book or made up himself..."

On Knut Hamsun from Odin

I would suggest starting with his classic work Hunger, then Mysteries, then Victoria, then Pan...and on and on.