It's inaccurate and misleading for TV news to show a stock ticker during a Presidential speech--the markets don't react that fast, and a Presidential pep talk or lecture hardly carries the weight of a Greenspan prediction. But it's clear that over the last few weeks, Wall Street has delivered a massive vote of no confidence in the President's ability or willingness to clean up the mess.
Worse, the Dow numbers do not represent the opinions of a tiny poll sample. They represent a loss of wealth by real people.
I've been quiet about the wave of corporate scandals lately, but I've assembled a reading list that's a pretty fair reflection of my opinions. I don't pretend that this post will impress anyone in the conservative blogosphere, but it's increasingly obvious to me that crowd is simply blindly partisan, holding two entirely separate standards based solely on party affiliation. (I wonder, is there any evidence of malfeasance the echo chamber would find convincing?)
For example, this New Republic article points out that Bush critics may be missing the point in focusing on possible wrongdoing while the President was making money at a series of failed businesses. It contains this juicy little paragraph:
Throughout his political career, Bush has cited his experience in corporate America as proof that he understands the world of business and is, by extension, a capable steward of the American economy. But if the "charitable" explanation for Bush's explanation is true--if Bush really had no idea about Harken's troubled finances--it casts the president's business experience in a far less flattering light, whatever the legal implications. Put simply, more important than whether Bush is guilty of insider trading, his Harken past shows him to be either lazy, or stupid, or both.
TNR's Michelle Cottle follows up with this blast at Bush and his veep:
Remember all that nauseating talk during the campaign about how these guys had been "out there" in the real world, running businesses, creating jobs, making money for America? Sure, George W. didn't have much political experience, we were told, but look at all his years as an entrepreneur. A hard-charging oilman! A successful sports entrepreneur! The claims on Cheney were even more audacious. Although he had spent just a few years in the private sector--after a quarter century as a political hack--campaign supporters touted him as some sort of super executive. "He's as top-notch a businessman as he is a statesman," Roger Enrico, CEO of PepsiCo, told USA Today back in July 2000. With all the gushing about Cheney's tenure at Halliburton, you'd have thought the guy was Lee Iaccoca.
In reality, both Bush and Cheney were lousy businessmen. Their rise through the corporate ranks had nothing to do with financial or management acumen--and everything to do with cronyism and a gift for exploiting their insider status. By now, we're all familiar with the sad tale of how young W. had to have Poppy's friends bail him out of his spectacularly failed career as an oilman. And as not one, but two, columns in yesterday's New York Times op-ed page helpfully reminded us, it was family connections and political conflicts of interest that allowed him to buy and run the Texas Rangers baseball club. Now, as the story of Halliburton unfolds, it looks as though Cheney's much ballyhooed (and obscenely compensated) performance as CEO was largely a matter of smoke, mirrors, and cooked books. Far from a business whiz, Cheney was at best an average company steward, at worst an incompetent one.
It's not as though this news should shock anyone. Since way back on the campaign trail, a few critics have been pointing out the absurdity of allowing Bush and Cheney to paint themselves as savvy execs (although some parts of the Halliburton didn't become clear until more recently). But in recent years, with the New Economy making millionaires of us all, corporate executives have been regarded with an awe once reserved for gods and rock stars. (All hail Jack Welch!) Anyone with even weak ties to the business world could convince us of their inherent genius. Even now, we keep hearing about how Bush is "our first MBA president." Oooo, really? An MBA! How special for all of us.
Bottom line: Bush and Cheney don't have a clue how to succeed in business without inside connections, powerful friends, and the sorts of gray-area accounting acrobatics we're now expecting the administration to control. That's why, far from wishing the president or vice president would take a more active role in the current push to reform corporate behavior, I'm hoping they clear out and let someone else tackle the job. From what we know about these guys' business track records, I wouldn't trust them to manage my child's milk money--not because I question their ethics, but because I question their competence.
After all, counterfeit corporate bookkeeping and unjustified CEO self-enrichment both represent lack of character--don't conservatives care about character?--and discourage investors from offering their capital. Yet we've heard almost nothing from conservatives denouncing the revelations of widespread corporate quasi-theft.
This silence is even more startling when you think about how the CEO deceptions violate the basic precepts of the free market. Economic theory says markets work best with "transparency"--information must be accurate and must flow openly in order for markets to be efficient. Markets can't be efficient if corporations are lying about their financial condition, clouding the air with disinformation. "Clearing," one of the essential tenets of free market economics--driving all prices to their true value--can also happen only in the presence of accurate information available to anyone.
Next, consider the two standard rationalizations that CEOs have used to justify high pay--that top managers possess incredibly valuable expertise, and that the market price of executives is simply rising. The supposed incredibly valuable skills are increasingly turning out to be the willingness to lie and cheat. When Lay and other Enron executives defended themselves by insisting they were so totally, utterly stupid they had no idea what was going on around them, it might have been pointed out that these same inspiring felons originally justified their high pay on the grounds they were extraordinarily skilled financial geniuses.
Let me make this perfectly clear: both Bush and Cheney campaigned touting their business acumen, as well as pledging to relieve business of pesky regulations. As exemplified by Bush's limp speech on corporate responsibility--in which he lectured Wall Street about the same sort of sweetheart loans he himself once received--Bush is going to have a hard time shaking the perception of corporate cronyism, and rightly so.
It doesn't matter whether Bush or Cheney did anything specifically illegal. The President is going to have a hard time avoiding the perception that his much-touted buisiness acumen was just another story of inflated claims and sweetheart deals for an executive who was at best asleep at the switch--and mind, that scenario presumes no criminal wrongdoing, which I do not concede at this point.
Oh, and by the way, the whole he-didn't-know-what-was-happening line was hackneyed back in the Iran-contra days, as Charles at SixDifferentWays recalls.
Part of the sniff test I give conservative commentary is seeing if it'd sound the same if the names were switched around. (It's easy and fun--here's an exercise: Would the supreme Court have voted the same way if Gore had been ahead in the Florida vote count?) For all the claims of Bush's "exoneration"--a term the SEC finding only uses in denying any such implication--wonder what the conservative blogosphere would make of an investigation of Clinton's finances when his father was President, let alone his personal lawyer playing a prominet role in the investigating agency, if not the investigation?
By the way, let's also remember that for much of the Clinton presidency--the one certain commentators are blaming for setting the moral tone or lack thereof that lead to these scandals--Republicans were in charge of Congress, having arrived with an agenda that called specifically for the limitation of regulation on business and accounting.
And Bush himself ran on the premise that business was over-regulated. Even now, he seems to be embracing reform half-heartedly at best.
Moral tone--that's a laugh and a half. While I'd be the last person to defend Clinton's personal ethics, don't pretend that the "moral tone" in the business world isn't all about making money. Money is the measure of the winners and losers, of who's right and who'se broke. While they were paying themselves exorbitant salaries--many times that of the average worker, beyond what even legendary financier J. P. Morgan felt was suitable (Imagine! Greed that would have made J. P. Morgan blush!), they claimed the market demanded their special qualifications. But now that so many of them seem to have been qualified mostly at lying and cheating, and by cashing out early, they keep their dough while the suckers get taken to the cleaners.
The bottom line: In addition to touting his so-called business expertise, Bush campaigned as the responsibility candidate. As such, he has not one to blame but himself if he's held accountable for his actions and statements. (Or--oh, my--was it all a pose?) In my view, it's high time.
I'm afraid I don't have a partitcular citation for you, but the other day on NPR I heard one of the Administration's hawks justify a pre-emptive strike on Iraq because the US should not tolerate a hostile nation that promotes terrorism and has access to weapons of mass destruction.
Excuse me for pointing this out, but that'd be a fair description of the former Soviet Union, whose government the US did in fact tolerate--admittedly not without varying degrees of conflict, but without ever resorting to direct military strikes or pressure for "regime change"--throughout the Cold War. Tell me with a straight face that Iraq poses more of a threat than the Russians ever did.
I'm too old and unhip to have ever attended a rave, one of those all-night techno dance parties, but InstaPundit's Glenn Reynolds spotted a threat to them--and by extension, the freedom to express oneself with music and dance--when he co-authored this New Republic article citing efforts by prosecutors to bust rave promotors under the so-called "crack house" laws. Now he links to a WaPo article documenting efforts by legislators to in effect make ravels illegal on the grounds that some ravers use drugs (and the grassroots effort by civic-minded ravers to fight the bill with petitions). In his post, Reynolds makes the following observation:
The thuggish idiocy, corruption, and pathetic lack of contact with reality that have marked the War on Drugs are the biggest arguments that our government isn't up to handling the War on Terrorism.
The sudden beatdown prompted the man to drop the young boy, but the mother caught her son before he hit the ground. The toddler suffered only a bump on the head during the incident; the assailant ran off and has not been found. Police said the assailant's description is similar to that of someone who attempted to kidnap a five-year-old girl from a Fresno apartment in June.
Here's a nifty little app...the Japanese Speaking Machine. Using your mouse, you can select a the romanji (English) equivlanet of a katakana character, see its calligraphic representation on screen, and hear it pronounced by a squeaky computer voice.
News that Angelina Jolie, 27, and Billy Bob Thornton, 46, have separated was quickly followed by word that they've filed for divorce. Now I learn that Japanese pop star Amuro Namie has filed for divorce from her husband Masaharu Maruyama, who goes by the professional name Sam. Namie, 24, and Sam, 40, were married in 1997 and had a baby boy, Haruto, in 1998. They were once considered Japan's ideal celebrity couple.
Five hundred million years ago, the moon summoned life out of its first home, the sea, and led it onto the empty land. For as it drew the tides across the barren continents of primeval earth, their daily rhythm exposed to sun and air the creatures of the shallows. Most perished — but some adapted to the new and hostile environment. The conquest of the land had begun.
We shall never know when this happened, on the shores of what vanished sea. There were no eyes or cameras present to record so obscure, so inconspicuous an event. Now, the moon calls again — and this time life responds with a roar that shakes earth and sky.
When the Saturn V soars spaceward on nearly four thousand tons of thrust, it signifies more than a triumph of technology. It opens the next chapter of evolution.
No wonder that the drama of a launch engages our emotions so deeply. The rising rocket appeals to instincts older than reason; the gulf it bridges is not only that between world and world — but the deeper chasm between heart and brain.
2001 was not alone in predicting humanity's colonization of space. From Space: 1999 to Star Trek to Destroy All Monsters, the popular culture of the late '60s simply presumed that a permanent space station and moon base were inevitable. Yet we deserted the moon, Skylab and Mir were both abandoned to a firey re-entry, and the International Space Station is still incomplete. Even so, images of space from the Hubble Telescope continue to inspire wonder.
The closing years of the Apollo moon program are among my earliest memories. My daughter Cecilia now has my old pajamas with pictures of astronauts--now faded--printed on the flannel. I imagine my daughters will have a phase, like I did, when they'll want to be an astronaut. I hope that her generation will have the opportunity we seem to have squandered.
Just noticed: a trio of posts by Steven Den Beste on the likely outcome of combat between dragons and modern military aircraft, inspired by a poster for the movie Reign of Fire. Along the way, Den Beste provides some erudite analysis of the basics of air combat (hint: Top Gun is almost total fiction, but you knew that, right?). Den Beste's take: the A-10 Warthog rules.
A couple of things I've been meaning to mention. I dropped by my local Video Update Tuesday night for my traditional cheap rental binge. This week's haul:
Local Hero (redux)
Enter the Ninja
Genocyber Vols. 2&3
Record of Lodoss War Vol. 5 (dubbed)
My Neighbor Totoro
I burned a data CD containing MP3s of the Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack (which spans four audio CDs), music from the Tokimeki Memorial soundtrack, and some full motion video (FMV) from a couple of PlayStation games, including the way-cool opening movie from Ridge Racer Type 4. I also created an audio CD of the Sailor Moon S soundtrack, which I obtained while looking for the music that plays under Sailor Moon's transformation. (If you can help me out on that score, please let me know.)
Great googly moogly! This is the coolest thing I've seen in a while! webPlayer is a Shockwave application that prses the HTML code of a URL you supply into musical tones. Planet Swank sounds like a cross between a Japanese flute and a Philip Glass composition. Check it out!
Well, it happened again. Some bonehead left her two-year-old in her car. This time, at least, the kid wasn't left die of hyperthermia. Instead, the toddler managed to put the running car into gear, whereupon it jumped the curb and ran down a group of four children, three of whom required hospitalization with non-life-threatening injuries. Authorities are considering charges against the mother, who was not identified.
My oldest girl is almost three, and she's been able to unbuckle herself from the car seat for some time. That realization makes me glad I drive a stick.
According to press reports, the government recruits will be well positioned to recognize suspect activities. Never mind that your typical letter carrier or utility worker — with all due respect to both professions — possesses neither the experience nor the expertise to pass judgment on what might be considered suspicious. Despite that, the new breed of federal informants is going to identify potential mischief and potential mischief-makers, then report directly to the Justice Department, where all that information will be stored in a central database — yet another database containing names of persons who have not been charged with any wrongdoing. Attorney General John Ashcroft and his staff will, in turn, make the database available to state and local authorities, for who knows what purpose.
...if the administration merely seeks more and better information from diligent citizens, then why not simply publish a phone number where questionable behavior can be reported? That would reach 285 million Americans, not just a paltry eleven million. Instead, the Justice Department will identify a special cohort of citizens who are presumably able to perform investigative work that the rest of us aren't positioned or equipped to perform. The administration's motives may indeed be pure. But the law of unintended consequences is apt to prevail.
...the program almost certainly won't work. In fact, it is more likely to be counterproductive. With limited resources to battle terrorists, federal, state, and local authorities definitely don't need an avalanche of worthless tips.
In the latest twist in the strange legal odyssey of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only individual charged with a crime in connection with the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, the judge in his case refused an apparent attempt by Moussaoui, who is representing himself, to plead guilty. The plea attempt follows Moussaoui's indictment on new charges that could bolster his likelihood of receiving the death penalty. In his statement to the court, Moussaoui admitted being an al Qaeda member, but in a rare ruling, the judge refused to consider the plea, giving the defendant a week to reconsider.
Police said the killer of five-year-old Samantha Runnion left numerous clues when he dumped the child's body. CNN quoted Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona as saying "He acted impulsively, and in doing so he left a lot of evidence at the crime scene in Stanton where the kidnap took place" and at the dump site. He declined to say just what the clues were.
In other developments, police are comparing the suspect's description with know sex offenders, cautioning that the have no particular suspect at this time.
Police publicly warned the child rapist and killer not to eat or sleep because they're going to get him. That sort of rhetoric isn't always followed by results, but I have a feeling that they're going to nab this guy. My readings on this sort of creep indicate that his behavior may have been impulsive; police beleive he's raped before, although this may be the first time he's killed. If he is not so much in control, it follows that he'd be careless about leaving clues that could lead to his capture. I fervently hope so, and that the police or FBI get him before he strikes again.
Yahoo! has announced that its free email system changes the contents of messages in a previously undisclosed effort to limit the spread of viruses. Unfortunately, in an, um, undocumented feature (bug!) the system apparently replaces strings--groups of characters--not necessarily complete words. For example, although Yahoo! declined to list the specific strings its system alters, one change that's been identified is swapping "review" for "eval." Since the program just looks for the string e-v-a-l, not the complete word, an email sent with the word "medieval" would arrive reading "medireview."
The NAB disputes the ruling that seemed to agree that broadcast stations should be subject to the same royalty fees on Internet transmissions as those recently leveled on Internet-only radio stations under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
AM/FM streaming -- the Internet transmission by an FCC-licensed radio broadcaster of the program fare offered by such broadcaster pursuant to its FCC license -- constitutes a "nonsubscription broadcast transmission" within the meaning of Section 114(d)(1)(A) of the Copyright Act, and thereby is exempt from the limited performance right in sound recordings conferred by Section 106(6) of the Act.
I can't speak to the definition of song broadcast via Internet radio--although I will point out that streaming audio is neither a perfect digital copy nor easily duplicated, two concerns the odious DMCA was supposed to address--but I wanted to debunk part of the related notion that traditional radio should be exempt from royalties because of its supposed "promotional" value. To whatever degree that may be true for manufactured modern music acts like Britney Spears and 'N Sync, how the heck does that apply to the proliferation of "classic rock" and oldies stations? Can anyone argue with a straight face that the purpose of oldies stations is to spur record sales?
As I mentioned earlier, long-time singer-songwriter Janis Ian posted an eloquent diatribe against the notion that the RIAA intends to benefit anyone but the record labels. If current acts forego radio royalties in exchange for (over)exposure, fine and dandy...but there should come a point where royalties come due when the song gets perennial reply on classic or oldies radio.
Here's a wierd op-ed in the WaPo: Ralph Nader defending capitalism! Nader argues that the current system of government subsidies for big business, huge corporate campaign donations and usurpation of investor--that is, owner--control of companies by executives and rubber-stamp boards are contrary to the ideals of capitalism, a position I happen to agree with.
We had our babysitter over last night while my lovely wife and I actually got to enjoy an evening out together (yay!). Kim is a responsible young woman who's almost 14. Kim mentioned recently attending her first rock concert. I in turn remembered my first concert, seeing The Police on the Synchronicity tour. Cool enough...but then I figured it was some four years before Kim was even born.
When I mentioned yesterday that I'd added a hit counter to my site, Susanna of Cut on the Bias left a comment predicting that I'd have fun looking over the referral logs. Indeed I have; I already knew this blog could be found via search engines such as Google, but it's interesting to see the varied searches that resulted in a hit.
By the way, other than this one, here's my only post that uses the word "nude," in which I discuss a woman whose kid was booted from a Christian school because she was a stripper who agreed to pose for Playboy after reaching a compromise with the school.
A 24-year-old Missouri man was arrested Tuesday for torturing a kitten over the hot coals of his barbecue grill while a crowd of sleazebags stood around and cheered him on. The 7-week-old kitten was rescued by a bystander who braved the onlookers' taunts, but the badly burned animal had to be put down. The man faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for animal abuse and was jailed on $10,000 bail.
Unfortunately, a spokesman for the Clay County prosecutor's office said it's unlikely any of the dozen or so onlookers will be charged, because no witnesses could identify them.
Now's a good a time as any to air my views about a subject that frankly mystifies me by being an issue at all: animal rights.
There's no such thing as animal rights.
No matter how you slice it, rights come with responsibility, and there's simply no way animals can exercise responsibility. Whaddaya wanna do, let 'em vote? Ah, but the consistent argument is about critters' so-called "right" to be free from cruelty. There's the rub, because in my opinion the notion of "animal rights" completely misses the point (aside from the fact that nature obviously recognizes no such concept--animals do what they need to do for themselves and their species to survive, period).
The unfortunate dodge of the animal rights concept is that it obscures the fact that people have a responsibility not to inflict unneccesary cruelty on animals. That's why there have been laws against animal abuse for longer than this silly notion has been codified: society has recognized someone who kicks dogs or tortures kittens as morally lacking (and, I might add, potentially dangerous; I understand there's a link between violent behavior toward animals and later violence toward people).
I hope this scumbag who roasted the kitten gets the maximum possible sentence. I'm utterly flabbergasted that someone could find amusement by burning a critter to death. But my ire is not that the kitten had its rights violated, but that this individual lacks some fundamental element of humanity.
News stories are describing this tragedy as "every parent's nightmare," and they're exactly right. I simply can't express the horror of even contemplating such a thing happening to either of my girls, and my heart goes out to Samantha's family, who must be devastated by this tragedy.
toddler's death new scandal for child welfare agency
Unbelievable! The very day two-year-old Alfredo Montez was beaten to death by his babysitter for soiling his pants, a worker at Florida's child welfare agency was falsifying a report that she'd visited him and found him "happy." The scandal comes months after a four-year-old girl turned up missing after she left with individuals her caregiver believed were case workers; the girl's actual case worker filed false reports indicating she'd been visiting the child. In the two months since the girl was discovered missing, almost 140 state child welfare workers got the axe for various reasons, including failure to visit children in their care. Montez's case worker faces criminal charges, and the head of the agency is under pressure to resign.
Update: Child welfare officials apparently investigated child abuse claims against a 22-year-old woman twice in the days before she drove into Biscayne Bay with her two children, killing herself and her five-year-old daughter and putting her three-month-old son into a coma.
A belated notice of yesterday's sentencing of Marjorie Knoller to the maximum four years in prison for her conviction in the dog mauling death of one of ther neighbors. Counting time already served, Knoller faces more than a year in prison. The judge reduced her second-degree murder conviction to manslaughter because he saw no proof Knoller intended to cause the death, but chastised the defendent severely for her actions,
"You knew those dogs were dangerous, you knew you could not control them, you took them outside anyway and it was clear at some point, someone was going to get hurt by those dogs," he said.
Frankly, although Ms. Knoller and her husband seem like odious people, the outcome seems fair. What happened seems to fit the description of manslaughter, and I got the distinct impression that the judge wishes he had a harsher sentence at his disposal, but despite his disenchantment with the defendant, he refused to mangle the law to achieve that end. Props to Judge James Warren.
A US District Judge recently told a university seminar that the Bush Administration's treatment of civil liberties is of questionable contitutional grounds. District Judge John Coughenour is a Reagan appointee.
The Sydney Morning Herald caused a splash in the blogosphere yesterday with a somewhat alarmist article about a proposed citizen informant plan. The Herald article was quick to invoke Orwellian imagery, as in this passage in the article's second graf:
The Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or TIPS, means the US will have a higher percentage of citizen informants than the former East Germany through the infamous Stasi secret police. The program would use a minimum of 4 per cent of Americans to report "suspicious activity".
and this, later:
Historically, informant systems have been the tools of non-democratic states. According to a 1992 report by Harvard University's Project on Justice, the accuracy of informant reports is problematic, with some informants having embellished the truth, and others suspected of having fabricated their reports.
However, the Operation TIPS Web page, while fairly vague about the program's scope, doesn't seem to present such an ominous picture. Frankly, giving delivery people and utility employees an easy way to report genuinely suspicious activity makes sense. A citizen informant program certainly carries the potiential for abuse, and frankly the Bush Administration's handling of civil rights doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence right now.
I've been thinking a lot lately that if the revelations about the warnings received before the Sept. 11 attacks demonstrated anything is that extraordinary measures to "aid" law enforcement don't really seem necessary. Various law enforcement and intelligence agencies had plenty of pieces of the puzzle without expanded search and detention powers; they just didn't put them all together.
By the way, the Citizen Corps Web site also offers a downloadable, printable preparedness guide in PDF format. For the most part its suggestions are pretty common-sense stuff--knowing where the exits are, don't bring a baseball bat in your carry-on luggage, that sort of thing--but it's free and worth a look.
Today's posts are short and sweet so far, but I didn't want to go without recognizing two of my favorite Web comix that were honored in the 2002 Cartoonist's Choice Awards. Megatokyo grabbed top honors: Best Comic, Best Writing, Best Serial Comic, and Best Dramatic Comic. Meanwhile, the dorm life parody Mac Hall was cited for Best Use of Color and Best Reality Comic.
Congratulations to Fred "Piro" Gallagher & Rodney "Largo" Caston of Megatokyo and Mac Hall's Ian McConville and Matt Boyd!
Obviously, there were no posts over the weekend. I spent a pleasant couple of days taking care of business around the house--getting the lawn mowed and the dishes washed. We spent a lot of time with the girls, of course...we took them swimming at the Y Saturday and everyone got just a touch of sunburn. On the whole, it was fairly relaxing.
I've been pretty busy today catching up, but I wanted to mention a couple of noteworthy events in the blogosphere. Meryl Yourish and Charles at SixDifferentWays have returned from vacation, while Susanna at Cut on the Bias is just beginning hers.