Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Spreading the wealth: Roll Call is reporting that House GOP member have been dissuaded from filing an ethics complaint against a Democratic House member after Minority Leader Dick Gephardt threatened to retaliate against Republicans.
Roll Call outlines the case against Rep. Paul Kanjorski:
GOPstrategists and party officials had been contemplating for months filing ethics charges against Kanjorski, who has steered more than $9 million in federal contracts to companies owned in part or controlled by his four nephews and daughter.
Two of the companies involved in the controversy, Cornerstone Technologies and Pennsylvania Micronics, were also at one time tenants in a building co-owned by Kanjorski. Several individuals familiar with the situation have publicly stated in news reports that Kanjorski was essentially in control of the two firms.
The Pennsylvania Democrat has repeatedly denied taking part in any improper or illegal activities.
Kanjorski has said he has no direct or indirect influence over the two companies at the heart of the allegations, and he told the Wilkes Barre Times Leader in February that the ethics committee had given him oral approval in 1995 to vote on appropriations bills including earmarks for the two firms.
Where's Paul Krugman when you need him? Why isn't he decrying the special favors that Kanjorski is steering to his family?
Another sad fact about this case is the fact that both Republicans and Democrats are playing politics with the ethics process.
The standoff over Kanjorski leaves in place the undeclared five-year truce over use of the ethics process that went into effect following the clashes over former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who was attacked by Democrats over the interlocking network of political nonprofits under his control. Gingrich eventually paid a $300,000 fine for providing false information to the ethics committee, but only after charges and countercharges had been filed against senior lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Congressional watchdog groups have complained bitterly about the ethics cease-fire, saying worthy cases have not received the scrutiny they deserve because of fears of retaliation.
"What's the use of opposition parties if they won't root out corruption in the other party?"asked Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project.
Where's Jefferson Smith when you need him?
I like James Lileks: In his latest column he takes on the silly lawsuits against fast food joints for selling tasty food. In the course of his column he offers a look forward at some upcoming lawsuits. I like this one:
Inexplicably Single Men vs. the Stuck-up Women Who Think They're too Good. A class-action suit against the female sex. It is alleged that the defendants have engaged in a systematic discrimination against men, using wholly subjective criteria as a basis for mating. The defendants are expected to present, in evidence, more than 10,000 snapshots of single men's bathrooms, and rest their case.
For the record, women have often commented that the bathroom in my apartment is the cleanest they've seen in any male's home. Of course, everything is relative.
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Saving a child: I wanted to point readers to this Sacramento Bee column by Marjie Lundstrom before it dropped off the Bee's Web site.
The article is something of an ode to what good laws can do. Last week a mother dropped her newborn child off at a hospital -- instead of into a trash can. The "Safe Arms for Newborns" law allows parents to leave babies at hospitals within 72 hours of the birth without facing prosecution for child abandonment.
It is especially ironic that this latest unidentified mom chose to surrender her baby in San Bernardino, much of which is served by Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte. It was Brulte who sponsored the Safe Arms law, which took effect in January 2001.
But it was Gov. Gray Davis who nearly torpedoed that law last year by eliminating any money to publicize it. Faced with bad press and a tough re-election bid, Davis suddenly "found" $500,000 earlier this year to help get the word out.
Then he assembled a news conference to trumpet the good news.
Set aside that small measure of disgust for a moment, and harken back to April when Davis restored funding for state trauma centers.
To quote once again:
The January media advisory promised a dramatic tale: "Governor Gray Davis to save state trauma centers from budget ax."
What it didn't say: The governor's own Department of Finance had put the $25 million on the chopping block.
Three months later, the governor told 400 doctors who belong to the powerful California Medical Association that he would expand a health care program for children. He didn't mention his original plans to phase out the program.
Notice a pattern?
Another take on Social Security: I came across this 1999 budget update from the Concord Coalition.
Short-term budget surpluses are not the long-term solution to the problems of Medicare and Social Security. Regardless of its size, a projected surplus is no substitute for the tough choices policy makers must make to address demographic realities. Simply using presumed general revenue surpluses to prop up the trust funds, regardless of long-term costs, is an illusion and not a solution. The underlying problems will remain, and even if the surpluses materialize, a unique opportunity to enact needed structural reforms before a crisis hits will have been squandered. Moreover, the situation will get even worse if the expectation of a surplus is used to expand programs that are already on an unsustainable footing.
At least I'm not a lone voice in the wilderness calling for some change to Social Security.
"Clinton," "Honest" in same paragraph: Yes, it's another Paul Krugman column. I'll let some bloggers from New Jersey, Tennesee and Alabama address some of the claims of mismanagement that Krugman alleges took place in those states.
It must be his training in business and economics, but Krugman repeatedly assumes in his attacks against President (and then-Governor) Bush and the governors of other states, like those mentioned in todays columns, that the governor or president has absolute power. It's almost as if Congress and the state legislatures don't really exist -- or maybe Krugman thinks they're like the board of directors of many major corporations today -- a rubber stamp.
What I do want to address is Krugman's continuing claim that Clinton was a "responsible adult" when it came to "running" the United States economy.
And the federal budget was in pretty good shape because the Clinton administration, unlike state governments, behaved responsibly. Budget projections were honest ? if anything, too cautious ? and boom-year surpluses were used to reduce debt.
Well, let's test the veracity of those claims.
What exactly is an honest budget projection? The truth is that all budget projections are is guesswork. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities produced a February 2001 report which basically said the OMB, CBO and GAO analyses are, to quote Henry Ford: "Bunk."
All projections are wrong, but the question is by how much. CBO found that, on average, its own projections of the budget deficit or surplus for the coming fiscal year have been too high or too low by an average of 1.1 percent of the economy (Gross Domestic Product, or GDP). Its projections five years out have been too high or low by an average of 3.1 percent of GDP. Therefore, if CBO's current projection is no better or worse than the its past projections, the unified budget surplus CBO projects for 2006 could be understated or overstated by $412 billion (3.1 percent of projected GDP in 2006).
Well, that's budget projections now. What about then?
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis:
In 1995, the first year in which the budget contained estimates for FY2001, President Bill Clinton expected a budget DEFICIT of $193 billion this year.
In his last budget, in January 2001, Clinton put the surplus at $256 billion, subsequently upped to $281 billion by the incoming Bush Administration.
As far as the contention that Clinton's budget number were purposely conservative -- that's generally considered a true statement. But why were the budget numbers so conservative. Is it a possibility that huge surpluses would spur calls for a tax cut? If the budget numbers can be kept sufficiently low, Clinton can resist calls for a tax cut.
As far as "boom-year surpluses" being used to reduce debt -- well, that's partly true. Some of the surplus went to debt-reduction -- and "SURPRISE" some of it went to new spending.
House Budget Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio) accused the administration of reverting back to a dangerous tax-and-spend style. "We need to have a smaller federal government, we need to have less taxes, we don't need to keep adding to spending. Now when the public hears that the president at the State of the Union said, 'the era of big government is over,' yet we are going to have $125 to $150 billion worth of new programs, they are not going to believe this. They are going to say, 'They are back at it again,'" Kasich said.
And that's the rest of the story.
Monday, July 29, 2002
A promising development: Today's San Diego Union-Tribune reports on a stem cell success story at La Jolla's Scripps Research Institute. (The story on the Web site is missing the lede -- I've typed it in from the paper itself.)
Growth of abnormal blood vessels deep inside the eye slowly degrades the retina, impairing vision for nearly 6 million diabetics in the United States.
But working with laboratory mice, a physician-scientist at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla and his team may have found a way to stop that process, called diabetic retinopathy.
Dr. Martin Friedlander and colleagues have discovered that a certain type of stem cells found in bone marrow of mice – cells destined to make blood vessels rather than blood – can zero in on damaged veins, repair them and prevent further damage.
While using a similar technique on humans is still several years off, it once again demonstrates the superior promise of adult stem cell research over that of fetal stem cell research. To get the stem cells to do the treatment, researchers report that "patients will have to have bone marrow extracted, usually with a fine-point needle inserted into the pelvic bone or breast bone, which can be painful."
It's interesting to contrast the straightforward report in the Union-Tribune to the Associated Press report that appears on the Baltimore Sun Web site, which includes the following paragraph:
Stem cells are a type of cell that can differentiate into many different cells depending on what is needed. They form in the embryo and are also found in adult bone marrow.
Instead of addressing the definition of "stem cells" to the details that are specific to this story -- that adult stem cells were used. The AP gives a broader, though accurate, definition to include embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cell research has become a cause celebre for the media and for some researchers. Any success with adult stem cells seemingly has to be somehow connected to embryonic stem cell research -- which has experienced failure after failure with few successes.
I'll be curious to see how many newspapers and Web sites report on this development. A google search turns up only the Sun and a Yahoo! News article -- depending on your search terms.
I have a feeling that had the research been successful using embryonic stem cells that the media coverage would be much more expansive.
The debate over adult vs. embryonic stem cell research is not about the science. It's about research money. We should be doing research where there is promise and we get results. By that measure embryonic stem cell research is tantamount throwing good money after bad. The successes have been in the adult stem cell research arena -- and the media should be doing a better job of informing the American people about those accomplishments.
Sunday, July 28, 2002
The Fall of Enron is the title of The Washington Post's excellent five-part series. Part one appeared in today's paper. You can find part two here.
These articles are a pretty damning indictment of former Enron CEO Jeffrey K. Skilling and one of his top aides Andrew Fastow. They should be on their way to jail for the fraud they've committed. Though many also want to see Enron founder Ken "ny-boy" Lay's head on a pike, The Post's series contains little damning evidence against him. He should probably receive a whopping for ignorance or incompetence, but I'm not sure there's enough evidence out there to really stick it to Lay.
Congrats! to American cyclist Lance Armstrong on his fourth consecutive Tour de France victory.
More unrest in Iran: Hardliners are cracking down again according to this article in today's New York Times
Hopefully Michael Ledeen will be able to provide some context for this action over at National Review Online soon.
Friday, July 26, 2002
Chinese government = evil Thanks to National Review's Jay Nordlinger for pointing out this piece in the Taipei Times.
It seems that Chinese women married to Taiwanese men who returned to the mainland to visit their families were: "ordered by Beijing to have abortions or to undergo surgery to have their fallopian tubes tied. They were also fined and threatened with punishment under China's one-child policy if they had more children, a Taiwan official said yesterday."
China's one-child policy and its affiliated forced-abortions is a crime against humanity. If the International Criminal Court is looking for someone to prosecute, it can start with Jiang Zemin and the rest of the ruling communist party for genocide.
I pray that someday the Chinese people will experience freedom. I hope that that day comes soon.
Visas revisited: I neglected to address the issue of refugees when I talked about my inclination to bar people from Arab nations from coming to the United States on student or tourist visas. I think that we should be increasing the number of people we allow into the United States as refugees from those countries.
People genuinely seeking freedom (refugees go through a more rigorous screening process than those seeking tourist or student visas) should be able to find it in the United States. I also think that refugees can become some of our best citizens -- they know better the worth of the freedom that too many native-born Americans take for granted.
How is Krugman like an ostrich? Let me count the ways. He's onery. He'll likely to kick you in the kneecaps if he gets riled. He has a tendency to stick his head in the sand when it comes to the fact that Social Security isn't viable in perpetuity the way it is currently structured.
In his latest New York Times piece, Krugman deviates from the thoughtful columns of days past (OK, Tuesday), and moves back into attack bird mode.
[S]ince the early months of 2000, the Nasdaq has fallen about 75 percent, the broader S.&P. 500 more than 40 percent. These aren't mere paper losses; they translate into disappointment and even hardship for millions of Americans. Now more than ever we need institutions that provide a safety net for the middle class.
Safety net for the middle class? Social Security isn't a safety net for the middle class. It's a safety net for the poor. It's a social program, as I am repeatedly reminded.
Yet George W. Bush still wants to party like it's 1999. On Wednesday he insisted that he continued to favor partially privatizing Social Security.
Isn't Krugman hip?
Bear in mind that ordinary Americans are already more vulnerable to stock market fluctuations than ever before. Twenty years ago most workers had "defined benefit" pension plans: their employers promised them a certain amount per year. During the long bull market, however, such plans were largely replaced with 401(k)'s ? "defined contribution" plans whose payoff depends on the market. This sounded great when stocks were rising. But now many will find either that they can't retire, or that they will have to get by with much less than they expected.
I've got money in a 401(k) -- like many people in America today -- so I've got an interest in this issue. I'm also not stupid (no matter how much Jeff Hauser wishes that to be the case).
I've heard around the newsroom the wails of people saying: "I'm never going to be able to retire now." Poppycock. Most of these people are in their 50s, own their own homes and are management types. Now, this doesn't make them rich -- they work for a newspaper -- but they're definitely not needy.
If you're an investor, you've got to use some common sense. If you're within 5-10 years of retirement and you've got your 401(k) money in an aggressive stock fund, then you're not too bright. I know of no company that doesn't have some option in their 401(k) fund that is mainly government bonds or even a money market account.
Younger people, like myself, are not panicking. Retirement is decades away. The reason that so many people have money in the market is, over time their money grows. Over the past couple of years the market has fallen, but it will go up again. We'd been spoiled during the dot com boom -- expecting the market to go up at an astronomic rate quarter after quarter. Anyone who expected that to continue was naive -- or stupid.
For some, Social Security will be all that's left.
Mr. Bush first proposed privatizing Social Security back when people still believed that stocks only go up. Even then his proposal made no sense; as I've explained before, it was based on the claim that 2-1=4, that you can divert the payroll taxes of younger workers into personal accounts and still pay promised benefits to older workers. But now even the nonsensical promise that individual accounts would earn stock market returns looks pretty unappealing. So why does he keep pushing the idea?
I've addressed the Krugman and his math problem before. I'm going to go out on a limb and make a prediction: Over the next 10 years the stock market will provide a better return on investment than Social Security. Am I really going out on a limb? Nope. The stock market has outperformed Social Security in every decade since WWII.
I'll also answer Krugman's question. Bush keeps pushing the idea because Social Security is broken.
One reason is ideology: hard-line conservatives are determined to build a bridge back to the 1920's. Another is Mr. Bush's infallibility complex: to back off on privatization would be to admit, at least implicitly, to a mistake -- and this administration never, ever does that.
Bridge? 1920s? Give me a break.
As I've pointed out before, every administration, every politician, every columnist is loathe to admit making a mistake. I'm still not sure that Krugman has admitted that his puff piece for Enron was a mistake. It took President Clinton about six years to admit that his tax increase was a mistake. Bush hasn't even been in office two years.
But there may be a third reason. Ask yourself: Who would benefit directly from the creation of "personal accounts" under Social Security?
Those personal accounts won't be like personal stock portfolios. The Social Security Administration can't and won't become a stockbroker for 130 million clients, most of them with quite small accounts. Instead it's likely that a privatization scheme would require individuals to invest with one of a handful of designated private investment funds.
That would mean enormous commissions for the managers of those funds. And those who would be likely to benefit showed their appreciation, in advance: During the 2000 election, according to opensecrets.org, campaign contributors in the two categories labeled "securities and investment" and "miscellaneous finance" (basically individual wheeler-dealers) gave Mr. Bush almost six times as much as they gave Al Gore.
Heck, I'm the first to admit that I don't know what form personal accounts should take. I'd be satisfied if we could put that money in government bonds. Yes, I know that they're currently held in government bonds. But those are the government's government bonds. If I die at age 64, I don't get to pass any of that hard-earned money onto my heirs. These government bonds would be in my name. That's an improvement to the current system -- especially for blacks -- who have a shorter life expectancy.
Bush got more money from Wall Street than Al Gore did. Is that really a surprise? Al Gore got more money from trial lawyers than Bush did. What does that tell us about Al Gore?
Here, too, Mr. Bush's past is prologue. I reported in an earlier column the story of Utimco, the University of Texas fund that, while Mr. Bush was governor and the current secretary of commerce, Donald Evans, headed the U.T. regents, placed more than $1 billion with private funds, many with close business or political ties to Mr. Bush himself. Among the beneficiaries were the Wyly brothers, who later financed a crucial smear campaign against John McCain. ("Bush reveals his poisonous colors" was the headline of a piece about that campaign, written by the online pundit Andrew Sullivan.)
Would Gore's past be prologue too? Krugman sounds so naive. Scroll down and you'll see a rebuttal to Krugmans Utimco crusade.
Let's draw a similar guilt by association for the Democrats. Gore got a lot of money from the NAACP. The NAACP ran probably the dirtiest attack ad of the 2000 presidential campaign -- suggesting that Bush was complicit in the vicious murder of James Byrd. If Gore was president, would Krugman be drawing a similar line?
Could America's retirement savings really be used to reward the administration's friends? Ask the teachers of Texas. In one of many odd deals during Mr. Bush's time as governor, the Texas teachers' retirement system sold several buildings without open bids, taking a $70 million loss, to a company controlled by Richard Rainwater, a prime mover behind Mr. Bush's rise to wealth.
I don't know the specifics of this case, but that won't stop me from commenting -- because I do know a little about Texas politics -- thanks to the Democrats. Remember again, that the Democrats control the Texas legislature. Remember the attacks on Bush during the campaign that, constitutionally, Texas' chief executive had less power than most other governors, therefore Bush couldn't really be responsible for the good things that happened in Texas? Now Krugman would have us believe that Bush could manage all this on his own, without any help from any Democrats in the legislature.
I'll try to research this issue further later, but I'm skeptical.
In an Aug. 16, 1998, article in The Houston Chronicle -- which should be required reading for anyone trying to understand the Bush administration -- the reporter, R. G. Ratcliffe, matter-of-factly summarized this and many other unusual deals thus: "A pattern emerges: When a Bush is in power, Bush's business associates benefit."
I can't lockate Ratcliffe's article anywhere online. In fact, typing the quote into google brings up only left-wing hit sites. Of course, when Clinton was in office, none of his friends benefited. Does the White House Travel Office ring a bell? How about Charlie Trie, the Arkansas restaurantier?
Of course, personal Social Security accounts would have to be managed by nationally reputable institutions. Mr. Bush couldn't give the business to his old Texas cronies ? could he?
When a politician won't let go of a proposal that, by any normal calculation, should be completely off the table, you have to wonder.
Krugman sincerely believes that Bush just wants to steal grandma's money. That's the only explanation for this bizarre claim that Bush would be able to set up a system of personal accounts to benefit his friends -- I can think of 535 individuals who will guarantee that won't happen -- because all of them will be trying to rig the system ti benefit their friends.
I don't pretend that Bush's motives are always pure. My contention for months has been that all politicians -- on both sides of the aisle -- are beholden to special, but different, interests. Why Krugman gets so much space here is because he refuses to acknowledge that simple fact.
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Fact-checking Krugman: Last week Krugman took on Bush and his connections in "privatizing" Utimco -- the University of Texas Investment Management Co.
Well, someone with some credibility on the issue has answered Krugman, William H. Cunningham, former chancellor and formaer chairman of the board of regents of the University of Texas system.
You can read the response here.
Know who you're sitting next to: A friend of mine told me last night about an encounter his wife had a couple of weeks ago while flying back to San Diego from Chicago.
Wife (reading sports page of newspaper): I can't believe the Padres are 19 games out of first place!
Man seated next to her: Easy. Just settle down.
Wife: I'm a fan. But I can't believe that they're this bad.
Man (extending hand): Hi. I'm Phil Nevin.
No, my friend didn't get an autograph.
Cure what ails you: The Dow Jones Industrial Index is up more than 450 points as I write. Less than one hour before the market close. Why? Well, probably because the Feds arrested the founder of Adelphia Communications Corp. and his two sons this morning.
Want to improve confidence in the market -- put lying, cheating CEOs in the slammer.
Arthur Andersen was first. Adelphia is second. Others will follow.
Will this shut up critics of the Bush administration? No. But it makes the more overtly partisans look a little more foolish.
Saved by the courts: Last month I mentioned that California Gov. Gray Davis had made a little mistake when it came to submitting to arbitration with some lawyers who had sued the state over its illegal "Smog Impact Fee" assessed on people who registered vehicles from out of state in California.
Well, the courts have saved him -- and the California taxpayers.
Criticizing an $88.5 million payment as "completely in outer space," a state appellate court yesterday tossed out the award that would have been shared among three San Diego law firms that helped secure smog-fee refunds for some California motorists.
"The fact that attorneys even requested a fee award of that absurd magnitude from the taxpayers is a testament to the unreal world of greed in which some attorneys practice law," said presiding Judge Richard Sims.
The three-judge panel unanimously sent the case to a new arbitration panel with the direction that the attorneys cannot receive more than the $18 million originally awarded by a Sacramento County Superior Court judge, plus 10 percent interest accrued since the summer of 1998.
See, not all of the courts in California are wacky.
Am I a racist? I would have to say no. But then again, I could be wrong.
My good, old (we're both "old" now aren't we?) friend Tom Davis criticized my post suggesting that we prohibit the issuance of visas to "any male between the ages of 18-50 from any Arab nation during wartime." Tom said that my suggestion "This smacks of racist, xenophobic pap. I understand the frustration, but geez man."
Now, Tom is an extremely intelligent guy (his wife says he's not bad-looking either -- I would't know) and I respect his opinion. After re-reading my post and poking around the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Web site, I would like to revise and extend my remarks. These clarifications may or may not assuage some of Davis' concerns, but are unlikely lower Hauser's blood pressure. (I am seriously concerned about this guy. That much angst and outrage can't be healthy.)
We need to use our brains and common sense. In an effort not to appear racist, security personnel at airport terminals have taken to strip-searching a congressman, threatened to confiscate a war hero's Medal of Honor because it might be used as a weapon, and tossed former Vice President Al Gore's luggage. While security is worried about a disgruntled former presidential candidate, they're not necessarily checking that 22-year-old Arab Muslim wearing the "I love al Qaeda" T-shirt, because that would be racial profiling (aka racism).
I'm sorry, but if you look at the pictures of the Sept. 11 hijackers, they don't look like they popped out of Benneton ad. They're all young, Arab men. I didn't choose them. Asking airport screeners, or those who issue visas, to be willfully ignorant of the dangers some of these men pose is dangerous.
Tom referred to Timothy McVeigh as an example of why my proposed visa ban was wrong. After all, McVeigh was an American terrorist (a visa ban wouldn't have stopped him, but that's beside the point). Tom suggested that we need to worry about white males between the ages of 18-50. Well, if someone who looks like me goes out and buys a couple of tons of fertilizer -- and I doesn't own a farm -- then I think someone should tip off the FBI. Once again, I think we need to use common sense.
However, I will disagree with Tom on one point. White supremacist militias are a very small, but violent, minority in America. Hatred of America (and Israel) in most Arab countries is rampant.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, a San Diego State University student overheard some Saudi students at the school praising the attacks in Arabic. He challenged them on it -- and was subsequently censured by the campus for "hate speech." Remember, 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis.
Are there Arabs out there that are peaceful, America-loving (or at least America-neutral) people? Sure. My contention is that it is much too difficult to separate them from the ones that want to kill Americans.
You can disagree with me, but I think that a ban is a relatively minor step. I'm not talking about locking up every Arab or Muslim in the United States, like we did with the Japanese during World War II. I think that that was wrong then and would be wrong today. But I think it is fiction that most Arabs Muslims are good people. Is that racist? You could argue that it is, but I don't think that they're any less human than whites or blacks or asians. According to the American Heritage Dictionary racism is: "The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others." I don't believe that.
In fact, I pray for the day that many of these Arab countries become functioning democracies that respect the rights of all of their people. I look forward to the day that intelligent, moderate Muslims teach love and respect in the mosques. I hope for the day when Arab government-owned/run papers don't sell papers by inciting hatred.
As a result of my research at the INS, I would revise my ban. The ban would still apply to men from Arab countries aged 18-50, but I think it would be fine to allow them to come in if they had the intention of eventually becoming citizens (as confirmed by a reasonably exhaustive interview.) I would halt the issuance of tourist or student visas since those seem to be how most of the terrorists entered the United States.
And then there was Hauser: According to Hauser I'm the worst sort of person there is. I'm a racist, a bigot and worse -- a conservative.
Hoy advocates discriminating on the basis of an odd (more on that later) combination of ethnicity and nationality. Many bigots stop at bigotry based on only one characteristic -- say, race or orientation. Hoy does them one better. Maybe when he gets truly advanced he can attack another group also (how about instant death for gay Arabs from Arab countries?).
This was funny and ironic. You see, I don't advocate (and never have) " instant death for gay Arabs from Arab countries." However, all of the Arab countries do advocate this. Saudi Arabia beheads them. Headline: "Hoy more tolerant than Arab regimes."
What the hell does "from an Arab nation" mean? During law school I was friendly with a classmate who had spent substantial chunks of his youth in Saudi Arabia as the son of a Western businessman. Would he count as someone "from an Arab nation?"
Everyone knows what I mean, including Hauser. This is called a "word game." That depends on what the meaning of "is" is. I grew out of this phase in high school.
And what of the retaliation by those countries against Americans there? Before expulsion, isn't it likely that thousands will be taking [sic] hostage, ala 1979???? (more re Iran below)
Wow! I never said anything about kicking anyone out of the country that was already here legally. Hauser's taken what I said and embellished it. As far as hostage-taking goes: maybe. But then that would just further illustrate my point that there's a big difference between the United States and these thugocracies.
"In the end, any benefits from having those men from the Middle East in our nation don't outweigh the risks of another Sept. 11." Yup, because it's not like any of the 9/11 terrorists had visas from, say, EUROPE!!! Can you IMAGINE the international crisis if the US refused to accept visas for Europeans of Arab descent?
So, what does Hoy mean? Is it Arab ethnicity -- which it cannot be or, if he is to allow European Arabs to travel here. It cannot be Arab nationality, unless we wish to incur all the problems laid out above. No, Hoy cannot be serious. But he sures seems to be. Which is scary.
Where their visas were from is irrelevant. It's where they're from. Anyway, the Europeans already look down their noses at us. I don't trust the EU to put take the United States' national security seriously, so my attitude is: who cares what the European intelligentsia thinks.
Hoy indicates absolutely NO awareness that Iran and Afghanistan are NOT ARAB COUNTRIES!!! So an AFGHAN passport would be fine, but not a Jordanian one. . . . And how do we characterize good old Sudan??? Of course, expecting the angrily ignorant Hoy to have wrestled with these issues before posting is, well, too much.
Hauser calls me ignorant because, well, he's got reading comprehension problems -- again. In my original piece I did not address Iran or Afghanistan -- or any other country by name. Because I didn't -- this means that I don't know that Iranians are Persian and not Arab? Well, if it makes Hauser feel better about himself -- fine. I love it.
Let's try this.
In Hauser's piece he shows NO awareness that the North Korean government, part of the axis of evil, is run by godless communists. He's SO ignorant.
Oh. Hauser didn't talk about North Korea in his piece? That's OK, I'm all-knowing -- he didn't know that and I chose to call him on it.
Halliburton's accounting practices (Pt. Deux): Hauser and others claim that there's something funny going on with Halliburton's accounting practices. I disagree. (surprised?)
One commentator on the Halliburton item below pointed out that any cost-overruns on a Halliburton project would likely be contested. Though Halliburton would get paid something for the additional work, since it doesn't have the check in hand, its figure would only be a guesstimate. As a result, when the payment for the overruns is finalized -- possibly at a lower amount than the guesstimate -- Halliburton would be forced to restate its earnings.
Well, that's just fine. As long as the guesstimate is honest, there should be no problems with this practice. Why? Well, my point was that the costs to do that extra work are already on the books -- even though the revenues aren't. For accuracy's sake, you would either need to keep the expenses off the books until you receive the payments for the work, or do what Halliburton was doing -- making a guess at what they would get paid for the extra work.
It really is as simple as that.
Another allegation, this one made by Hauser in one of his rants was that Dick Cheney was using his position as vice president to enable Halliburton to: "profiteering off the US defense budget." Hauser conveniently ignores the fact that when Cheney became vice president he was required to divest himself of his Halliburton stock. What does Cheney gain by Halliburton getting government contracts? Nothing. Apparently Cheney can be guilty because his previous job was in the private sector. Should we prohibit every presidential appointee (Cheney's not even an appointee -- he was elected) from holding a private sector job prior to serving in the government because their former company may get a government contract somewhere down the line?
The whole argument is just so silly.
Confession time: I don't religiously read all the comments posted on various items on this site. Sorry. It's just sometimes I'm not in the mood. Or I don't have time. Or I have some other reason that probably isn't really compelling.. (I do however read the vast majority of my e-mail, even if I don't respond to it.)
One thing I do check from time to time is the "referrals" generated by my counter down at the bottom of the page. Most of the referrals come from Instapundit. Some have no referrer at all (I think that these are the result of someone clicking on a bookmark). A few other blogs also refer a few odd people to me. Usually I'll go to their site, do a little search and find out what they've said about me.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, I hadn't read my comments recently, but I saw a single link (emphasis on purpose) to Jeff Hauser's "adjunct blog" entitled "Picking Fights."
After reading some of Hauser's extensive vitriol, I'm concerned that Hauser may not be around much longer -- he's going to suffer a heart attack. It's just not healthy. When you headline a post: "More Hoy -- God, I hate reading his site " Maybe you should just stop? Unless it's a sadomasochistic streak. Most normal people just don't repeatedly put themselves through something that's so painful.
Monday, July 22, 2002
The American Taliban: I didn't write much about it at the time, mainly because I was disgusted by the way the entire issue was handled from beginning to end. John Walker Lindh should have faced a military tribunal and then been executed for treason -- nothing more, nothing less. Instead, the plea deal gets Lindh out in 17 years with good behavior. Let's hope once he gets out he is forced to wander the land, shunned by all. But that won't happen.
Liberal apologists and race-baiters see the Lindh plea deal as a case of special treatment.
A piece in Saturday's Washington Post by liberal thinkers Angela Davis and Marc Mauer argue for compassion for other "misguided young men" and women now serving time in America's prisons.
Lindh's case is obviously unique in many respects, not least of which is that he is a young white man from a privileged background. This has led to intense speculation in the media and to popular discussion regarding where this "foolish young man" went wrong. Was it the influence of his birthplace in the liberal enclave of Takoma Park, or the trendy Marin County, Calif., environment of his teen years?
The truth is that it was only liberals like Davis and Mauer who were wondering how Lindh went wrong. Most Americans didn't really care. Where did murderer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer go wrong? We don't care. He was evil. We don't care how it happened most people understand that there is evil in the world. Some people simply are evil.
Behind all this is a collective national sigh of relief at the sentence. This young man will be punished severely, but at least he will have a chance to get out of prison and make a life for himself someday.
Only among Davis and Mauer's friends is there a sigh of relief. Most of America is disgusted by the fact that Lindh will get out of jail in 17 years. I think he should be executed -- at the very least he should rot in a prison cell.
Contrast this with the scene in most American courtrooms, where 70 percent of the defendants are African American and Latino, most of them from low-income backgrounds. Their "day in court" is often a fleeting affair. More than 90 percent are convicted, as was Lindh, through a plea agreement. In this era of pervasive mandatory sentencing, the incentives to plead guilty are powerful. Prosecutors can threaten a defendant with serious prison time -- 25 years to life for even nonviolent first offenders charged with drug offenses and other crimes far less serious than the violent acts to which Lindh pleaded guilty. Like Lindh, many of them have given statements or have been detained or searched under circumstances in which law enforcement officers are alleged to have violated their constitutional rights.
The race card has been played.
Kemba Smith, for example, was the girlfriend of one of the biggest cocaine dealers on the East Coast in the 1990s. Her involvement in drugs was minimal and clearly under the direction of her boyfriend. Yet, after her boyfriend was murdered, Smith bore the brunt of the drug conspiracy charges and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. In the last days of the Clinton presidency, her sentence was commuted to the time she had already served. Smith's case and others like hers exemplify the extremes to which federal sentencing policy can lead.
Let me be skeptical for a minute. From the little Davis and Mauer have described about Smith's case I'm not really sympathetic. She was dating "one of the biggest cocaine dealers on the East Coast," she obviously knew what he was doing -- that's why she was convicted. She also helped. How many lives were destroyed with her complicity. You can't associate with the scum of the earth and expect not to get dirty.
The crime rate is down because we've committed over the last decade or so to put criminals behind bars. It's as simple as that.
Krugman Watch: If Krugman wrote columns like this one in Tuesday's New York Times I'd have to find another whipping boy. It's not that it's 100 percent accurate, or that there aren't some points that I disagree with, but, uncharacteristic of Krugman, it's reasonably fair.
A few minor points of note about the latest column:
Realistically, we are looking at a decade of deficits, which will eventually pose serious problems for Social Security and Medicare.
Wait a second, I thought that Social Security was solvent until 2050 or so? The truth is that it isn't -- and that should be an issue subject to a vigorous public debate. Ignoring the problem, as has been encouraged by these false solvency claims, is a recipe for disaster.
On the other hand, with the recovery still wobbly, this is no time for fiscal austerity ? if anything, right now the federal government ought to be pumping more money into the economy than it is.
Wait. Is Krugman suggesting more government spending? Well, I believe he is. What will all of this spending do to the budge deficit? Make it worse? Yep. I think Krugman is henceforth barred from criticizing Bush for the budget deficit -- because Krugman is suggesting to make it larger. Of course, the difference between Bush and Krugman would be that Bush would propose pumping money into the economy with a tax rebate allowing consumers to buy products, Krugman would pump money in with increased government spending. But what would the government spend money on? Bombs, rockets and missiles? I'm for that. Entitlements? Very bad idea. Because when the economy improves those entitlements won't go away because they're no longer needed. Entitlements never go away.
Krugman quote of the day: "Let's ignore the politics and look at the situation objectively."
We all know how difficult it was for him to write this -- and then actually do it (for the most part). Kudos to Krugman!
I'll catch up on posting tonight, but here's a short and funny note mentioned in a book I'm reading that I thought some of you might like.
You can be honest; you can be intelligent; or you can be liberal. Or any two of those, but not all three.
When I read that I laughed out loud.
Friday, July 19, 2002
Our "strategic partners" the Chinese: The Washington Times Bill Gertz reports today that the U.S.is penalizing eight Chinese firms for exporting germ-weapons materials and missile technology to countries like Iran.
The sales occurred between September 2000 and October 2001 and violated the Iran-Iraq Nonproliferation Act of 1992. The act mandates sanctions against companies or governments that make sales that "could materially contribute to either country's acquiring chemical, biological, nuclear, or destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons."
The State Department notified the Chinese government of the sanctions yesterday.
The sanctions bar the eight companies from doing business with the U.S. government and prohibit the latter from issuing export licenses to U.S. companies that seek to sell goods to the sanctioned firms.
The measures will be in place for two years.
China is communist. These "companies" are merely arms of the government -- it's not like they're rogue organizations running their own foreign policy.
Forget slapping sanctions on those eight companies. We need to slap sanctions on China -- period.
The persecution of Christians. The persecution of Falun Gong. The barbaric one-child policy.
The Chinese government is evil. We should be doing nothing that helps that evil government maintain its grip on power.
Paranoia Inc. An editorial in today's Washington Post takes Bush to task for defending Vice President Dick Cheney.
PEOPLE SAY that Harvey Pitt, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, damages the president's post-Enron credibility. On Wednesday, however, it was the president who damaged Mr. Pitt's credibility. At a news conference with Poland's president, Mr. Bush was asked whether he was confident that the SEC's current investigation into Halliburton Co. would exonerate Vice President Cheney, who used to run that company. "Yes, I am," the president replied. This sort of comment is almost enough to kindle nostalgia for the old days when independent counsels investigated top government officials.
To paraphrase Shakespeare: Givest thou me a break.
Seriously. This SEC investigation is a joke, unless they come up with something more than just the change in accounting practices. Wednesday night's "Special Report with Brit Hume" was very informative about what exactly this accounting change was. If you missed it, luckily you can find the transcript of the piece here
What the entire issue comes down to is this: If Halliburton did in a one fiscal year, but the payment for the work hadn't come in yet, it still counted the money as revenue.
Let's say that in late 2000, Halliburton was hired to build an oil derrick. On December 1, construction is completed. Halliburton spends $1 million to build the derrick. The steel, the labor, etc. All of the expenses for that work are counted on the year 2000 balance sheet. But the check for the work doesn't come in until Jan. 1, 2001. So the balance sheet in 2001 shows $2 million in income with no associated costs.
So, prior to the accounting change, Enron's 2000 balance sheet would show the company doing worse than it actually was in 2000. But better than it really was in 2001.
The accounting change in no way misled investors. It actually made their accounting statements more accurate.
The Democrats can keep on lamely beating this drum, but the American public isn't hearing it.
Thursday, July 18, 2002
Which is sillier? OpinionJournal.com's "Tony & Tacky" piece this week features an Ohio woman who is suing the Brookfield (Pa.) School District fo $1.5 million. Why? Well it seems her son wanted to write about Jesus being the person who most influenced him for a essay assignment. The teacher said nope, because Jesus was not a real person.
The lawsuit is silly, and so is the teacher.
Washington, we have a problem: National Review Online has posted a letter from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson. The important part:
Unfortunately, the information we have received from FTTTF (Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force) so far has been insufficient to permit a consular officer to deny a visa. The information we have received states only that the FTTTF believes the applicants may pose a threat to national security and therefore the FTTTF recommends against issuance.
Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), only consular officers have the authority to issue or deny visas. All visa refusals must be based on a specific statutory ineligibility; if there are no grounds under the law on which to deny an alien a visa, the consular officer is required to issue the visa. In order to deny a visa, a consular officer must know or have reason to believe that the applicant is ineligible under one of the specific statutory grounds.
If Armitage is reading the law right, the law needs to be changed -- yesterday. That's just nuts. If we suspect they may be a terrorist, then they don't get in! End of story. It's just not worth the risk.
In fact, I'll go a step farther I think Congress should pass a law requiring the State Department to refuse to issue visas to any male between the ages of 18-50 from any Arab nation during wartime. Which is now. I don't care how much money they've got. How important they are for Middle East "peace." Any country affected cultivates hate against America in their nation's media. Remember that recent poll of the Arab world? Even Kuwait, which we liberated just over a decade ago, was overwhelmingly America-hating.
In the end, any benefits from having those men from the Middle East in our nation don't outweigh the risks of another Sept. 11.
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Social Security watch: I've said before that Social Security is broken. It's a simple issue of demographics -- in coming years there won't be nearly enough workers to support the growing number retirees. Many officials have set the date that Social Security stops being able to pay its obligations at sometime in the 2040s or 2050s, depending on the economy at a particular time. That date takes relies on being able to draw from the fictional "lockbox" where all of the Social Security surplus resides.
Well, since all of that surplus is held in government bonds (basically IOUs) that will have to be cashed in, we are really faced with a crisis much sooner. The current date is 2017. National Review's Jay Nordlinger points to (4th item) an interview with Dan Crippen, outgoing head of the Congressional Budget Office that appears in the National Journal (not available online).
Asked about Social Security — which, in the words of the interviewer, "starts doing a turn-around on cash flow in 2017” — Crippen says, "What happens then is the Treasury will have to raise taxes, cut other spending, or borrow from the public.”
Do we not have to worry about this impending disaster for another 50 or so years? Nope. Think 15 years. You can disagree about the push to partially privatize Social Security, but something must be done. Republicans at least recognize there is a problem. Democrats seem content to bury their heads in the sand.
A Walk to Remember: I got the book. Read it. Loved it. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see the movie in the theaters. The trailers had made me a little wary. It seemed, at first glance, that God had been taken out of the movie. However, I got the movie on Friday and watched it over the weekend -- several times.
The movie is loosely based on the book. The broad strokes are there. God is toned down in the movie, but it's still a great film. Some critics have compared it to "Here on Earth." While there are some similarities -- "A Walk to Remember" is about 100 times better.
It is the first movie I've seen in quite some time where a character who holds sincere religious convictions is not belittled, caricatured or mocked. Jaime Sullivan, played excellently by teen pop artist Mandy Moore, is secure in who she is and in her faith -- a rare portrayal in Hollywood today.
A lot of critics assailed "A Walk to Remember" for being excessively sweet and for its unrealistic portrayal of teens today -- specifically Moore's character. According to Hollywood, when people fall in love, they show it by hopping in the sack. Waiting for marriage is bizarre, if not insane.
I spent some time reading the amateur reviews on IMDB and it was really obvious that people either loved the film or hated it. There were very few lukewarm comments. Most of the critical comments complained that the movie was unbelievable because kids today have sex at the drop of a hat. In fact, one person who wrote a review said that she had read the book and thought it was believable when it was set in the 1950s, but not the 2000s for that very reason.
However, I wanted to quote one review, because it captured what the mainstream doesn't get about Christians today.
I've read some negative comments about this flick coming from European (especially British) male reviewers. Pretty much, what they have to say is that the movie sucks because it is either totally unbelievable or a 'remake' of 'Here on Earth.'
Now, I'm a male, I'm European, and I grew up in Europe. I think I have an idea or two on why European males consider this movie totally unrealistic. Let's get to the core of the issue here.
The plain truth is that Christianity is a mystery in Europe, especially for the new generations. Girls like Jamie Sullivan in Europe are like white flies (even among the evangelical Christians that I know over there!); therefore, when your typical European guy sees this movie, he'll be thinking, `This thing does not make sense…'
See, the truth is that Europeans can relate more to the girl of 'Here on Earth,' who does not have any problem betraying her boyfriend with the main character of the flick, or with the girl of 'Autumn in New York,' who does not have any problem flirting with the male lead after five seconds she's known him (and going to bed with him after fifteen minutes), even though the guy could be her father and actually had something going on with the girl's mother a few years before.
See, those kinds of creepy things are perfectly acceptable in a movie for your average European guy. But, when you see the pure and innocent love story of 'A WALK…,' they say: 'Already done.' Already done? Really? A love story where two teenagers do not go to bed and yet show the greatest intimacy you can see in a movie, where the guy blesses his girlfriend with total love without expecting anything back, just for the sake of making her whole. You've seen this in many movies? Really? Ok, I'll tell you what. Name one other recent movie where you see the kind of unconditional love, purity, innocence, redemption, forgiveness, and spiritual growth (the average European guy will want to look up the words 'spiritual' and 'growth' in the dictionary, since he's probably not accustomed with them) that you see in 'A WALK…' Since, this story has been done so many times, you won't have any problems naming at least one other movie, right? Oh, and please, do not come up with a movie like `Life as a House.' I saw that one, and it falls under the same category as 'Autumn in New York' and 'Here on Earth;' movies that want to win my heart by showing one aspect of love while showing lack of respect for all or most of its other characteristics.
One final word of advice for your average European guy out there: look up the word 'love' in your dictionary. Too many years of European cultural influence might have led you to confuse it with the words 'Lust,' 'Selfishness,' and 'Sex.'
This guy's got it right.
Now there is some cussing in the film, but not much. The movie was rated PG, and there's only one sexually suggestive part in it, but it doesn't involve Jamie Sullivan.
"A Walk to Remember" is truly a unique film -- and one of my favorites. It's not as good as the book, but then nothing made by Hollywood could be. But for what it is, it is a great film.
On a related note: Where are all of the women like Jamie Sullivan? Even at the fairly-conservative church that I attend, too many women wear clothing that is very provocative. It's not attractive. That's not what real men are looking for in a woman. They're looking for strength of character. Intelligence. Self-confidence. Compassion. Grace. Kindness. Patience.
Monday, July 15, 2002
WWKD? What would Krugman have done if he'd been writing for the New York Times at the beginning of the Clinton administration? Would he have been decrying Hillary's health care task force and its refusal to release minutes from its meetings? Would he have been critical of Clinton as allegations arose bout him using state troopers to help him get women?
In Krugman's latest, he attacks Bush for his administration's "obsession with secrecy and its intermingling of public policy with private interest."
Of course, the same can be said of any administration. Do those kaffeklatches ring a bell? I mean, seriously, at least the Bush administration is selling out to Americans and not the Chinese.
First, the city of Arlington built the Rangers a new stadium, on terms extraordinarily favorable to Mr. Bush's syndicate, eventually subsidizing Mr. Bush and his partners with more than $150 million in taxpayer money. The city was obliged to raise taxes substantially as a result. Soon after the stadium was completed, Mr. Bush ran successfully for governor of Texas on the theme of self-reliance rather than reliance on government.
Mr. Bush's syndicate eventually resold the Rangers, for triple the original price.
Ummm....when was the last time a professional sports team -- especially one with a brand new stadium -- lost value? I thought Krugman was a brilliant economist. As far as the taxpayer subsidizing of professional sports stadiums -- it's nothing new. San Diego is building one for the Padres using a similar model. Of course, I think that Krugman would've found something suspicious if the stadium had been funded 100% privately. It seems that Krugman can see evil in just about anything a Republican does.
Krugman then insinuates that Bush somehow funneled money to the same guy who bought the Rangers, Tom Hicks. Now, I'll admit that I don't know a whole lot about the University of Texas' endowment (UTIMCO) and how it is administered, but there's been no indictments and no convictions (or I'm sure Krugman would mention them). Yet Krugman gets a lot of mileage out of insinuation. Now, if I recall correctly, Bush did appoint Hicks to be chairman of UT's endowment fund, but the privatization that occurred couldn't have been done solely on Bush's authority. It would have been approved by Texas' democratically-controlled legislature.
It's a similar complaint that you hear from Democrats about the accounting scandals in corporate America. While most of the monkey business with the books occurred when Clinton was president, House democrats (especially Rep. Dick Gephardt) have taken to blaming Newt Gingrich and his talk about deregulation for the scandal. Of course, neither is really responsible for the corporate accounting scandal, but it's the blame game.
Krugman wants to blame Bush for any problems with UTIMCO solely on Bush, when to be fair the democratically-controlled Texas legislature is just as culpable.
One last item: Mr. Bush, who put up 1.8 percent of the Rangers syndicate's original capital, was entitled to about $2.3 million from that sale. But his partners voluntarily gave up some of their share, and Mr. Bush received 12 percent of the proceeds ? $14.9 million. So a group of businessmen, presumably with some interest in government decisions, gave a sitting governor a $12 million gift. Shouldn't that have raised a few eyebrows?
I'd agree with Krugman, if it weren't for Joe Conason's piece that Krugman referenced earlier. From Conason I learned that when it came to the Rangers, though Bush owned a very small stake, he was a great PR man and salesman. He was the public face of the ownership and, according to Conason's reporting, was key in promoting the stadium deal.
If Bush had done nothing, then I'd agree with Krugman, but I see nothing wrong with some profit-sharing for someone who'd done so much to increase the value of the franchise. Of course, any group of businessmen may have some interest in government decisions. Actually, everyone has some interest in government decisions. Does Krugman want to ban all outside income to elected officials? Personally I don't have a problem with requiring elected officials to liquidate all of their stock (as opposed to placing it in a blind trust) and put the money in T-bills.
And then the unsupported allegations continue.
Finally, there's the indifference to conflicts of interest. In Austin, Governor Bush saw nothing wrong with profiting personally from a deal with Tom Hicks; in Washington, he sees nothing wrong with having the Pentagon sign what look like sweetheart deals with Dick Cheney's former employer Halliburton.
So the Pentagon signs "what look(s) like sweetheart deals" with a company formerly headed by V.P. Dick Cheney. A company he no longer has any financial interest in.
Whatever. Paul "Desperately in Search of Wrongdoing" Krugman can continue on his crusade, but I don't see him ever gaining much traction outside of Washington -- because there's nothing there. Maybe 10 years ago this sort of thing would've raised some eyebrows, but compared to what former president Bill Clinton did, this is amateur hour, even if every one of Krugman's sinister allegations turns out to be 100 percent accurate.
Krugman got tired months ago. He needs to try a new tune, or pretty soon even his fans are going to abandon him.
Sunday, July 14, 2002
A point for Pitt: On "Meet the Press" today, host Tim Russert took pains to point out in the Xerox accounting scandal that the SEC fine was $10 million -- on an overstatement of $6 billion. Yes, the fine is a pittance -- but who pays that fine? Give you a hint: It's not the accountants, the board of directors or the corporate officers.
The fine comes out of the shareholders' pockets in the form of a smaller dividend payment (if any). Of course, Xerox shareholders have already been punished with lower stock values.
Russert suggested that the fine should be much higher because of the size of the accounting fraud -- but instead of ameliorating the hurt felt by the average investor, the bigger fine would hurt more.
The fine can be used to make a public relations point, but if you're really seeking to punish the wrongdoers a fine to the corporation doesn't work. It's like trying to punish the knight by killing the squire. All it hurts is the knight's feelings -- maybe.
Saturday, July 13, 2002
HIV+Muppets=good idea? A friend of mine sent me a short e-mail with a link to the Fox News story on how the South African version of Sesame Street plans to introduce a muppet who is HIV+ when the fall season starts up.
My first response was: ho-hum. If Sesame Street plays it like it says it will, that is no references to drugs or sexuality, I think its no big deal.
What people have to realize is that the demographics of HIV and AIDS are very different in Africa than they are in the United States. In the U.S., despite the propaganda, the vast majority of those infected are either homosexual or IV drug users. In Africa, it is a a disease that is rampant among the heterosexual community. The result is that you have many children in Africa who suffer from the disease. If this promotes tolerance for kids who have the disease, through no fault of their own, then that's fine.
However, any effort to put a similar muppet on Sesame Street here, would be misguided and wrong, for the very reason I outlined above. In the United States, very few children have HIV or AIDS -- or are likely to get it. To introduce a HIV+ muppet on American Sesame Street necessitates a discussion of its origins -- homosexuality and drug-use. That isn't something that young children need to be exposed to. That shouldn't happen.
On a light note: Since I've moved, I've had to find some new things. New restaurants, new shortcuts, and a new barber. I got my hair cut today. Worst haircut I've had in my entire life. I asked for a flattop -- I got something that my elderly father calls a "roby." (sp?) It was simlar to an extra-wide mohawk, except the sides weren't quite bald. After taking some digital photos for posterity (no, I'm not posting them here -- unless someone puts a load of money in my tip jar), I now have a buzzcut.
Why is it that some hairstylists are ashamed to just say that they can't do a particular haircut? I must confess, I've been butchered getting flattops before, but never to the point where the only way to salvage it was just cut nearly all of my hair off. One of my college roomates, Matt Winslow, used to do great haircuts -- without any "professional" training. Why are flattops so tough for some people?
I guess I've learned my lesson when visiting a new barber/hairstylist. Pointedly ask them if they can do it. Not if they can "try." Not if they "think they can."
Friday, July 12, 2002
Compare and contrast: It's Friday, and that means that we can expect New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's latest screed against the Bush administration.
Krugman reveals in his piece that the Bush administration is full of corporate or Washington insiders. Well, what administration isn't? The former secretary of the treasury under Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, was definitely an insider. As was Clinton-era SEC chairman Arthur Leavitt.
Current SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt is under attack by Sen. John "Keating 5" McCain because he is allegedly too close to the big accounting firms, who he used to represent as a lawyer. Others, including Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, are willing to give Pitt a chance. Sometimes "insiders" have insight and connections to get things done faster and better. My point: being an insider isn't necessarily bad or a disqualifying attribute.
And the Bush administration is full of such insiders. That's why President Bush cannot get away with merely rhetorical opposition to executive wrongdoers. To give the most extreme example (so far), how can we take his moralizing seriously when Thomas White -- whose division of Enron generated $500 million in phony profits, and who sold $12 million in stock just before the company collapsed -- is still secretary of the Army?
If White was guilty of cooking the books, he should go. Thus far there's no evidence out there that White knew about the book-cooking. (Of course, ignorance is a pretty lame defense. Maybe he shouldn't be running the Army for that reason -- but that's a different issue.) What Krugman is doing here, lacking evidence of White's malfeasance, is guilt by association. By that measure, Krugman is sitting in a glass house with a handful of very large rocks.
Another point to make is Krugman's suggestion that White sold off $12 million in Enron stock knowing that the company was about to go under. In fact, White sold that stock (months after) he was ordered to sell it by the government's ethics office. If he had sold it off when he was first directed to, he'd have made even more money. On the other hand, if he'd defied the government ethics office and held onto it, it would be worthless -- but then Krugman couldn't claim that he'd made millions. What a dilemma.
And he still opposes both reforms that would reduce the incentives for corporate scams, such as requiring companies to count executive stock options against profits, and reforms that would make it harder to carry out such scams, such as not allowing accountants to take consulting fees from the same firms they audit.
Actually Bush supports the only reform that would reduce the incentive for corporate scams -- tougher penalties for white-collar crimes and zealous prosecution. With the exception of a CEO having strong moral fiber (which too many lack), the only thing that creates a desire to be honest is the prospect of going to jail if you're not. CEOs who spend the day looking at balance sheets, marketing reports and pondering opportunity costs, needs to conclude, when the opportunity comes to cook the books, that it just isn't worth it. Other reforms may make it more difficult to carry out scams, but a determined cheat will always find a way around them. That's why the prosecution is of primary importance.
The closest thing to a substantive proposal in Mr. Bush's tough-talking, nearly content-free speech on Tuesday was his call for extra punishment for executives convicted of fraud. But that's an empty threat. In reality, top executives rarely get charged with crimes; not a single indictment has yet been brought in the Enron affair, and even "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap, a serial book-cooker, faces only a civil suit. And they almost never get convicted. Accounting issues are technical enough to confuse many juries; expensive lawyers make the most of that confusion; and if all else fails, big-name executives have friends in high places who protect them.
Charles Keating. Michael Milken. Leona Helmsley. Do these names ring bells? It's true that no indictments have been brought in the Enron case -- yet. And Krugman, unwittingly, tells us why -- because explaining accounting nuances to juries of consisting of your average Joes and Janes is difficult. It takes time to get all your ducks in a row. Imagine the cry from Krugman and his friends on the left if the Justice Department ran into court with criminal charges -- and lost. Krugman seems like the type of guy who wants to learn patience -- and wants to learn it quickly.
In this as in so much of the corporate governance issue, the current wave of scandal is prefigured by President Bush's own history.
An aside: Some pundits have tried to dismiss questions about Mr. Bush's business career as unfair -- it was long ago, and hence irrelevant. Yet many of these same pundits thought it was perfectly appropriate to spend seven years and $70 million investigating a failed land deal that was even further in Bill Clinton's past. And if they want something more recent, how about reporting on the story of Mr. Bush's extraordinarily lucrative investment in the Texas Rangers, which became so profitable because of a highly incestuous web of public policy and private deals? As in the case of Harken, no hard work is necessary; Joe Conason laid it all out in Harper's almost two years ago.
Just for the record, you can find the Joe Conason article here. I've read the article, and the best I can come up with is -- so what. Krugman makes a big deal out of the "highly incestuous web of public policy and private deals" regarding the Texas Rangers and the public/private funding of the Ballpark at Arlington. Well, they're building a new ballpark for the Padres here in San Diego and it was done much the same way. If Krugman wants to write an article on how the public is helping fund millionaire sports teams owners then he should go ahead and do that. (He won't be the first one.) But to suggest that Bush did something illegal or unethical in his dealings with the Texas Rangers -- Conason doesn't even attempt to make that case.
But the Harken story still has more to teach us, because the S.E.C. investigation into Mr. Bush's stock sale is a perfect illustration of why his tough talk won't scare well-connected malefactors.
Mr. Bush claims that he was "vetted" by the S.E.C. In fact, the agency's investigation was peculiarly perfunctory. It somehow decided that Mr. Bush's perfectly timed stock sale did not reflect inside information without interviewing him, or any other members of Harken's board. Maybe top officials at the S.E.C. felt they already knew enough about Mr. Bush: his father, the president, had appointed a good friend as S.E.C. chairman. And the general counsel, who would normally make decisions about legal action, had previously been George W. Bush's personal lawyer -- he negotiated the purchase of the Texas Rangers. I am not making this up.
Let's just walk through this. You're investigating to see if Bush had inside information regarding bad financial news before he decided to sell his stock. Do you interview Bush first? No. You get documents, you interview others who aren't the target of your investigation. If all that turns up negative, then why would you need to interview Bush? What's he going to say?
SEC: Mr. Bush, did you engage in insider trading?
Where did that get you?
Of course, all of this ignores the fact that someone approached Bush asking to buy the stock -- and not the other way around. Krugman still hasn't mentioned in his column that Bush did file a form announcing his intent to sell the stock on the day he sold it.
Note Krugman's wording: "And the general counsel, who would normally make decisions about legal action, had previously been George W. Bush's personal lawyer -- he negotiated the purchase of the Texas Rangers." [emphasis added] This seems to imply that Bush's former personal lawyer recused himself from the case -- as he should have. If he had made the decision and exonerated Bush that would've been reason for a serious look. Unfortunately for Krugman's hunt for dirt, he can only make lame insinuations.
Most corporate wrongdoers won't be quite as well connected as the young Mr. Bush; but like him, they will expect, and probably receive, kid-glove treatment. In an interesting parallel, today's S.E.C., which claims to be investigating the highly questionable accounting at Halliburton that turned a loss into a reported profit, has yet to interview the C.E.O. at the time -- Dick Cheney.
I'm sure that the SEC has not interviewed Cheney for the same reason that no indictments have come down against Enron executives (yet). It's a case of the government getting information and getting its ducks in a row before it goes after the big fish. Of course it could also be a lack of manpower. The July 8 issue of Fortune magazine revealed that the SEC has too few lawyers and the turnover rate is alarming -- that's something that does need the Congress and the president's attention.
The bottom line is that in the last week any hopes you might have had that Mr. Bush would make a break from his past and champion desperately needed corporate reform have been dashed. Mr. Bush is not a real reformer; he just plays one on TV.
Can we expect an apology from Krugman once a bill is passed and the president signs it?
In contrast to Krugman's Captain Ahab-like obsession with President Bush, The Washington Post has an excellent editorial on the Harken energy "Distraction."
I'd quote the entire thing, but you're better off just hopping over there and reading it if you haven't.
Thursday, July 11, 2002
Our friends the Saudis: If you don't get ticked off at the State Department and the Saudi government after reading William McGurn's piece in today's Wall Street Journal then you've got no heart.
If you want a glimpse at what all of American foreign policy would be like if we made our No. 1 priority getting along with every other country on the face of the earth, look at how we dance around Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, we treat American women, soldiers and not, like the Saudis treat our women. No driving cars. Until recently, women soldiers in the Kingdom had to wear the same head-to-toe covering as Saudi women when venturing off base.
The U.S. embassy is more concerned with assuaging any Saudi sensibilities than it is at protecting the rights of American citizens.
The Saudis need us far more than we need them. Let the Saudis whine and go into conniption fits, but allow these kidnapped American women to return to the U.S. Make them diplomats. Fly them from the country on U.S. military jets.
What can the Saudis do? Two things, one bad, the other worse.
First, the Saudis can refuse to sell oil to us. It still has to sell that oil, we just have to buy from other suppliers -- big deal.
Second, the Saudis can kick our military off their Saudi bases. Of course that's fine too. We just invite Saddam Hussein to invade -- again. Once Hussein has knocked off the Saudi royals, we go back in and knock Hussein off. We put some sort of benevolent dictatorship in place -- as a precursor to eventual democracy. Return the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to Jordan, and after some uncomfortable months/years the Middle East would be a much more peaceful place.
While Saudi Arabia is a particularly evil society when it comes to its treatment of women, it should be noted that the failure of the State Department to fight for the rights of Americans overseas extends to more friendly countries, including Germany.
Neither Republican nor Democratic presidents have been able to shake the State Department out of coddle mode and get it fighting for the rights of American citizens. Despite all of the cries about the U.S. thinking it's above international law with its refusal to join the International Criminal Court, in reality that attitude extends only to vital national security concerns -- individual U.S. citizens who are victimized overseas are left adrift.
When Bush was putting together his cabinet, he made a mistake. It would've been better to put Donald Rumsfeld in the State Department and Colin Powell in the Defense Department. Rumsfeld's take-charge, no-BS approach is sorely needed in Foggy Bottom.
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Gray Davis watch: The news is a little old, but when the economy tanked and the California government was faced with a large budget deficit, Gov. Gray Davis announced a hiring freeze. It turned out the freeze wasn't exactly real, and since then the state has hired about 9,000 additional workers.
According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, the announcement of the hiring freeze, as far as Republicans are concerned, was mainly a PR move.
My reaction is that, like many things the governor does, it seems to be all about public relations and nothing about substance," said Assemblyman John Campbell, R-Irvine. " ... Freeze means you stop. This is clearly not stopping. Call it a slowdown."
The problem goes beyond perceptions, Campbell said: A real freeze would have put the state in a better position to deal with a budget shortfall now estimated at $23.6 billion.
"I don't think the governor or the Legislature have taken this thing seriously," he said.
Davis administration officials have said that the hiring freeze was never intended to apply to any agency providing essential government services. Of course, in some people's view, every government agency provides essential services.
Interesting fact: While the rate of hiring at most government agencies decreased during the "freeze," the rate of hiring of prison guards actually increased during this time period. It was the prison guards' union that was at the center of an apparent quid pro quo earlier this year with the governor.
If all of that isn't bad enough, Fox News is reporting a new development. In that same news article, the publisher of Capitol Weekly, Ken Mandler, attacked the Davis administration for advertising the inappropriately-named "hiring freeze" because it hurt his newspaper, which makes much of its money on government job ads.
Nine out of 10 people will say there's a state hiring freeze," (Mandler) said. "They just saw the headline. Politically, that's the only thing the governor needed."
Well, Mandler got more than he expected for his comment. According to Fox News (last item), the Davis administration has pulled all state advertising from Mandler's newspaper. The administration claims it's a cost-cutting measure, but if those "essential" state jobs really need to be filled, Capitol Weekly is one of the best places for that advertising.
It smells a whole lot more like petty, small-town politics. It's also not like Gov. Davis. If you'll recall, earlier this year Davis noted that he saved the San Diego Union-Tribune (aka "this friggin paper") during the California energy crisis. And now he's used his vast powers in an attempt to destroy a different paper.
Fact-checking Krugman: It would be nice to do this as a full-time job, but I don't have that luxury. NRO's Byron York does a thorough and honest analysis of Bush's Harken Energy "scandal" -- pointing out a variety of misleading and false charges by The New York Times' Paul Krugman.
Regarding the late filing of SEC Form 4 that Krugman and his ilk made such a big deal about:
Whatever the reason, the fact that the report was filed late, while a violation of SEC rules, does not seem particularly damning in the absence of any underlying wrongdoing that a late filing might have been intended to conceal — and especially in light of the fact that the Form 144 was filed on time. In addition, it appears that at the time Bush sent his form to the SEC, late filing was not seen as a very serious offense. "If it had come to the SEC's attention back then, somebody would have said, 'Get the bloody form filed,' and that would have been it," says (former SEC commissioner Edward) Fleischman. "There was precious little attention paid to a timely or tardy filing of Form 4."
Regarding the same issue, yesterday's "Political Grapevine" piece on Fox News had the following information:
The New York Times and Washington Post carried front-page stories on the cat energy stock President Bush sold 10 years ago. Both papers said that Mr. Bush, as the Post put it, "disclosed the transaction to the SEC 34 weeks late." What neither paper mentioned is that the president did notify the SEC of his intention to sell the stock on the very day he sold it. Both papers also took note of an SEC investigation of whether the president was improperly acting on inside information. The Post reported that the SEC had "concluded that he did not have access to inside information." The Times, though, never mentioned that either.
Incompetent journalism or catering to some political agenda? If it was some small-town newspaper I'd lean towards the former. But since it's two of America's most prestigious newspapers, I think it's the latter.
Tuesday, July 09, 2002
At least they're consistent: Thanks to Instapundit for pointing out this article by Julie Hilden over at Findlaw.com on the Bush v. Gore case that decided the 2000 presidential election. Hilden illustrates that the justices' 5-4 decision in favor of Bush was not based on politics, but on solid, consistent legal reasoning.
Recall that in Bush v. Gore, the same 5-4 conservative majority ruled, just as it did in White, that a state (there, Florida) did not have carte blanche to decide how elections in that state would be held. Instead, the Bill of Rights (there, the Equal Protection Clause) restricted how elections had to occur. In short, the Justices held the very same positions in 2000 that they have this year. They have been consistent and thus, arguably, principled both times.
That casts the common critique of Bush v. Gore severely into doubt. Did the Court really decide the election, casting policy-minded votes just as the voters who went to the ballot box did? Or did the Justices simply decide to adhere to carefully-considered views of how much deference a state deserves to run its own elections? The White decision suggests, perhaps surprisingly, that the answer may be the latter, since the Justices voiced the very same views two years down the road, as well.
Despite what either side claims, the real legal travesty in the 2000 election was just about everything done by the Florida Supreme Court. They are the most partisan group of jurists in this nation.
Is that a huge lawsuit I hear? Last week Wendy McElroy took the California Chapter of the National Organization for Women to task for their biased and fundamentally flawed "report" on the injustices suffered by women in family courts. Well, she apparently got deluged with e-mail and there may be some libel suits on the way against some related feminist organizations.
A letter from the National Alliance for Family Court Justice is quoted in McElroy's piece, but if you follow the link she provides (it's here), you discover that McElroy has wisely omitted the names of certain individuals that the NAFCJ says "FR (father's rights) groups are affiliated with pedophiles and others who advocate incest and deviant sex, including ...."
Those people named, if innocent, should get some lawyers and run the NAFCJ out of business.
Love of country: Former Arizona Cardinals' safety Pat Tillman has turned down a 3-year $3.6 million contract to enlist in the Army. Tillman's decision is one few would make -- and an honorable sacrifice for his country. In a world where bad athletes are often role models, Tillman is an honorable man who shoule be a role model to more young people. We're in a war -- it's something that American needs to remember.
Religious relativism: The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof attacks Islam for its brutality towards women, support of terrorism and dearth of freedom and democracy. But American Christians are just as bad.
[T]he Islamic world represses women, spawns terrorism, is prone to war, resists democracy and has contributed remarkably few great scientists or writers to modern civilization. So it's time to defend Islam.
In speaking to Arab friends, I've reproached them for the virulent anti-Semitism in their societies. But it's a cheap shot for us to scold Arabs for acquiescing in religious hatred unless we try vigorously to uproot our own religious bigotry.
That's right. Evangelist Billy Graham's son, Franklin, is just as bad as the imams throughout the Middle East who exhort their followers to kill Americans and Jews.
I'll let NRO's Rod Dreher take the first shot:
You just can't make this stuff up. In this column, New York Times big thinker Nicholas Kristof admits that Islam has some problems with, oh, violence, and this discrimination against women thing. But citing American critics of Islam, who call it "a religion of war," he suggests that America is just as bad. Mmm-hmm. When Paul Weyrich orders a mob to stone a retarded man claiming to be the Prophet, as happened in Pakistan yesterday, or Franklin Graham exhorts Christians to kill Muslim men and enslave their women, as God hath commanded, as a Palestinian imam did months ago, then Kristof will have a point. Until then, he's full of the same self-hating liberal guilt we've come to expect from the Times.
If Kristof's premise isn't bad enough. He tries his hand at Biblical exegesis in an effort to make his point.
Of course, Islam is troubled in ways no one can ignore. The scholar Samuel Huntington has noted that the Islamic world has "bloody borders," with conflict around much of its perimeter. Of the 26 countries torn by conflict in the year 2000, 14 have large Muslim populations. And on average, Muslim countries mobilize twice as large a share of the population in armed forces as do predominately Christian countries.
This is fair grounds for debate, but the sweeping denigrations of Islam are mush. Critics often quote from the Koran, for example, to argue that Islam is intrinsically violent ("fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them"). But the Koran, like the Bible, can be quoted for any purpose. After all, the New Testament embraces slavery ("Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling").
While it is true that you can pick and choose verses from the Koran, Bible or Torah to make any point you want, there are larger, overarching themes and ideas that run through these books. While the Bible is a story of God's love and redemption of humanity. The Koran is about God's venegence. Kristof suggests that the call to kill infidels is but a small part of the Koran -- it isn't -- as evidenced by Sept. 11 and the violence throughout the Middle East directed at Americans and Jews.
It's curious that Kristof chose the verse he did to juxtapose with the one from the Koran. With the wealth of verses available in the Old Testament where God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the inhabitants of the Promised Land (and they usually disobeyed), you'd think that those would be more attractive and a better comparison for Kristof. Instead, Kristof says that the New Testament "embraces" slavery.
Unfortunately slavery was a fact of life in the ancient Roman empire.The New Testament writer wasn't condoning slavery, merely addressing the life situation that many early Christians found themselves in. Does Kristof recall his history, and the fact that the 19th Century abolitonist movement in this country was spurred by Christians? Why?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -- Galatians 3:28
Christianity sees value in every person -- no matter what their station in life is.
There are those who claim to be Christians that are racist, violent hatemongers. They are a minority.
There are those who claim to be Muslims that are racist, violent hatemongers. They are a majority.
You'd think that Kristof would recognize and appreciate the difference.