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Al-Whoda? Just when President Bush hoped everyone would forget about Al Qaeda because he never mentions Osama bin Laden anymore, the little terrorist network that could is as active as ever. Suicide bombings in Morocco and Saudi Arabia last week raised international hackles, and the U.S. is back at Level Orange, which, let's face it, is the new black. The Arab news network Al-Jazeera played an audiotape Wednesday attributed to bin Laden's second in command, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. The tape urged Muslims to attack the West, a la Sept. 11. It's not only America that's getting a little freaked out by this, either. The Brits closed their embassy in Saudi Arabia to the public, fearing attacks. Britain issued a travel advisory against Saudi Arabia last week, as well. The U.S. State Department issued a similar warning for the entire Middle East region earlier this month.

That particular long national nightmare is sort of over. The United Nations Security Council voted 14-0 Thursday to end sanctions in Iraq. The vote also legitimized the presence in American and British troops in the country and conferred control of Iraq's oil to the occupying force. The vote was just short of unanimous, as Syria decided not to show up as a sign of its displeasure with the war. The United States and Britain will control Iraq for at least a year, according to the resolution. Additionally, the two nations will determine the future of Iraq's government. Lifting the sanctions will bring relief to hundreds of Iraqis, many of whom were denied basic necessities through the UN's non-violent effort to bring down Saddam Hussein's regime. UN ambassadors expect oil exports to begin immediately, with the sale of over 8 million barrels that had been previously stored in Turkey. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to appoint a UN special representative in Iraq whose job will be, among other things, to keep the world from thinking that America is there to stay. Good luck to whoever that poor bastard might be.

Just fade away. General Tommy Franks, commander of the war in Iraq, has decided to retire. Franks was thought to be a candidate for Army chief of staff, the military branch's top job, but the general has demurred. Among a career of achievements, Franks most recently planned America's battle strategy in Iraq. Now he can look forward to the next war, where he can join a cadre of retired generals who armchair QB for Fox News.




They're running from the Hill. The Bush administration lost two recognizable figures this week as the White House shifts its outlook to the 2004 campaign. The administration has told staffers that if they want out, it's this summer or after the election. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, master of not telling the press anything, announced that he would resign this summer. The one thing Fleischer did tell reporters was that the president kissed his bald dome upon learning the news. For once, Ari, that's too much information. A successor has not been named. Also, Christie Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, is stepping down as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Whitman told the press that she was stepping down to spend more time with her husband. She denied rumors that her departure was sparked by a White House that frequently contradicted her. Whitman got guff from both President Bush and the greens, making her position rather thankless. She was often stuck in the middle, most notably when she assured the international community that Bush would sign off on the Kyoto Environmental Treaty days before the president said he would not.

Get married and have kids. Now. Leaders of the House and Senate have reached an agreement on a tax-cut bill that President Bush says he will sign. Taxes will be reduced by $318 billion in the next 10 years, significantly less than the $726 billion Bush wanted originally. Those lucky taxpayers who have capital gains and stock dividends (Really: Do you personally know anyone with capital gains and dividends? And if you don't know what they are, you certainly don't have them) will pay 15 percent less in taxes on them for five years. Married couples get a break for the next two years, and all but the wealthiest families will see a $1,000 tax credit per child, up from $600 (Sorry, Mom and Dad. We're really no good to you anymore). If you have children, expect a check to appear in the mail worth $400 a tyke. If not, check your pay stub. You should see lower federal income taxes in the next six weeks.

You can smoke, but you won't get any money from it. Just cancer. Big Tobacco is wheezing a smoky sigh of relief after a Florida appellate court overturned a record $145 billion punitive damage judgment awarded to Florida smokers. The appellate court found that the case should never have been presented as a class action, since the roughly 700,000 patients had different smoking habits and medical histories. The judges told the smokes to pursue their compensatory claims (meaning seeking cash for medical bills, etc.) individually before demanding punitive damages for pain and suffering as a class.




Beef. It's not what's for dinner if it's Canadian. One poor cow somehow acquired mad-cow disease, and now all of Canada's edible pets are suspect. Seven herds are under quarantine as Canadian officials rush to determine the source of the disease before thousands of cows must be killed, or "depopulated." The ailing mooer was identified prior to slaughter as "unfit for consumption," and an autopsy revealed the presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Taiwan have all banned the importation of Canadian beef. Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien faked fearlessness and ate a steak at an Ottawa restaurant on Wednesday. Now we just have to wait and see if the PM develops the human version of mad cow, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. You know you have it when you have trouble spelling it. Oh. Shit.

Lest we don't do enough damage to each other. An earthquake has killed hundreds in Algeria. Casualty numbers differ, but hundreds are dead and even more are injured from the quake that measured 6.7 on the Richter Scale. A spokesman for the Algerian Embassy in Morocco blamed the number of deaths on the force of the quake, as well as flimsy construction. Also, since it occurred in the evening, many of those in Algiers were at home with their families and are consequently now under buildings. In a residential area covering 57 blocks, apartment buildings had actually collapsed. International relief workers are sifting desperately through the rubble to find survivors, chances of which decrease with time.




A little something for your troubles. WorldCom investors, the check could be in the mail soon. The phone company agreed to pay a fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission worth $500 million, the biggest fine levied in the history of the agency. WorldCom was fined as a result of its poor accounting practices, which helped pushed the company into bankruptcy. (WorldCom won't pay the fine until it emerges from bankruptcy protection, which is likely.) Shareholders will receive the bulk of the money, because WorldCom's creative bookkeeping cost them tens of millions. All is not lost for WorldCom, though. The Pentagon just hired the infamous phone company to build a small wireless network in Iraq. WorldCom's competitors, like AT&T, are a little miffed by the whole thing. The head of Sprint's wireless division said that WorldCom never even built a wireless network. Ah, bureaucracy. Now -- who at the Pentagon is a WorldCom investor?




It was over as soon as the fat man sang. More than 25 million people watched Wednesday to learn that Ruben Studdard was crowned "American Idol." Studdard's rendition of "Flying Without Wings" wooed audiences more than skinny boy Clay Aiken's attempt at "Bridge Over Troubled Water." More than 24 million people voted, and Studdard won by 130,000 votes. The Birmingham, Ala., native wins a $1 million recording contract, though runner-up Aiken will also record a single next month. If you can't wait till next January for more pap (er, pop), "American Junior" will premier next month. The Black Table can't wait for pushy stage moms and mean 13-year-old girls. Reminds us of middle school.

We'd want to sing, sing out loud, too. The South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services got a private concert from the Godfather of Soul after pardoning James Brown for drug-related offenses. Brown belted out "God Bless America" and noted in a statement that "I feel good." He certainly felt good in September 1998 when Brown, high on PCP, walked in on an insurance seminar next door to his office wielding a shotgun and accusing people of using his bathroom.


Aileen Gallagher, author of three children's books, writes Weekly Rundown every Friday.