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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 4 August 2004

Topic: Making Use of History

History: It's always the French, isn't it?
The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

William J. Watkins, Jr., is an attorney practicing in Greenville, South Carolina, and we see, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, and the author of the recently released Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and their Legacy (Palgrave MacMillan, 2004).

In the August 2, 2004 issue of The Independent Institute he offers this.

The Revolution of 1800 and the USA PATRIOT Act

The argument is straightforward. There are a whole lot of similarities between Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 - and he runs them down. His main point seems to be that when people really found out what the Alien and Sedition Acts said, they voted in such a way as to make the go away. Poof. Gone. He says we cannot do that with this new Patriot Act. Both Bush and Kerry support it, just to greater and lesser degrees. We don't have that choice. He doesn't like that at all.

Be that as it may, his reminding us of certain details is pretty cool, like here on the 1798 direct parallels with the 2001 Patriot Act -
In the summer of 1798, the United States Congress passed and President John Adams signed similar legislation. At base, the Alien and Sedition Acts prohibited criticism of the federal government and gave President Adams the power to deport any alien he viewed as suspicious. Americans found guilty of sedition faced prison terms of up to five years and hefty fines. In certain circumstances, aliens remaining in the United States could be imprisoned "so long as, in the opinion of the President, the public safety may require."
Yeah, yeah. History is a cycle and we've come to the same place again. History does repeat itself and so forth and so on.

But the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were bad - everyone knows that. They were a threat to everything we stand for. They made most of our basic freedoms - of speech, of assembly and of the press - just plain null and void. A terrible idea.

Now? Everything changed since 9/11 of course. John Adams didn't have to face Islamic radical fanatics with weapons of mass destruction, provided by a sly but brutal madman and his two awful sons in Iraq, and a madman who was sitting on the second largest reserve of oil in the world - a critical resource the importance of which John Adams couldn't even begin to understand. Different times, now. We have to do this.

Watkins also points out that the Bush administration unsuccessfully argued to the Supreme Court that it could detain American citizens and foreign nationals on US soil indefinitely and without access to legal counsel - "all when the writ of habeas corpus has not even been suspended." And he notes that even John Adams only claimed such a power over aliens, not citizens.

Different times, now. We have to do this.

But what was it John Adams and his crew so afraid of back then? The French of course -
... In the 1790s, a number of Americans feared the democratic excesses of the French Revolution would be exported to the United States. They believed that French agents were plotting the destruction of the Constitution and the overthrow of the Adams administration. Rumors abounded in Philadelphia that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison planned to assist a French invasion force that was sailing across the Atlantic. Some expected a guillotine would be set up to deal with patriotic Americans. In this environment, Adams and the Federalists pushed for legislation that would secure the home front in the face of invasion and that would also, they hoped, secure Federalist political hegemony.
Why are the French always the bad guys? Must be the cheese or something.

Well, now the French are only secondary bad guys. And Churchill and his British buddies hadn't invented Iraq yet, hadn't carved it out of the rotting Ottoman Empire and found Hashemite tools to become fake, then real kings, then be overthrown by ambitious generals and wild-eyed clerics. That wouldn't come for more than a hundred years. The French had to suffice for Adams and the Federalists.

Watkins notes that "fearing revolutionary France," most Americans at first supported the Alien and Sedition Acts. At first, but Jefferson became a pain in the ass. He spoke up. And James Madison joined him.
In Thomas Jefferson's words, the people were "made for a moment to be willing instruments in forging chains for themselves."

... To combat the Acts, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. In these Resolutions, Madison and Jefferson accused Congress of exceeding its powers and declared the Alien and Sedition Acts void. Times were so tense that Madison and Jefferson hid their authorship because they feared prosecutions under the dreaded Sedition Act. The Acts were seen as such a danger to liberty that there was also some discussion of resisting the measures by force and secession.
Folks got up a head of steam. We got the "Revolution of 1800." Jefferson's guys - the Republicans (ha!) won a wide majority in the House of Representatives. Jefferson was elected to the presidency. And what did he do? He suspended all pending prosecutions under the Sedition Act and pardoned those previously convicted of being uppity and critical of those in power.

But this was done by voting for a new crew.

Watkins notes that Jefferson would later boast how this revolution was brought about not by the sword, "but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people."

This is unlikely to happen now. Kerry did vote in favor of the Patriot Act and, in fact, he authored some of its provisions. Watkins listened to the very same Kerry speech from Boston we all heard - keep the powers in place and trust Kerry with these powers that Kerry admits have been abused. The problem is Ashcroft. And Bush. Not the Patriot Act.

Watkins concludes the problem is this very legislation, that Kerry has it wrong, and we're screwed -
The ballot box is a powerful weapon in the people's hands when they have real choices. With the franchise the people can defend their liberties and reform the government. To paraphrase Jefferson, they can effect a bloodless revolution. However, when both parties offer the people candidates with indistinguishable views on issues relating to fundamental liberties, the franchise is an impotent weapon. And if democracy so falters, the people are left with few attractive options in defense of their freedoms.

1. A revolution - an actual one - and one that doesn't have anything to do with ballots and voting. This would be to restore democracy, or establish one if you will. That's not going to happen. There are a whole lot of folks who like things just as they are, for good reason, and don't mind the Patriot Act or anything like it. That's probably most folks. The freedoms they lose are not something they miss. Who cares? Those freedoms don't pay the bills or get you a good life-partner or help you lose weight or any of that day-to-day stuff. Join the revolution? Why?

2. Leave. Find a place where people care about such things. France? Mon dieu ! l'Horreur ! Ne pensez pas de telles pens?es !

Posted by Alan at 19:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 4 August 2004 19:48 PDT home

Topic: The Economy

High Finance - You can't touch me! Ha!

Most everyone who follows such things saw this latest item about Halliburton, and the Times makes it all rather clear. Dick is clean.

Halliburton Settles S.E.C. Accusations
Floyd Norris, The New York Times, August 4, 2004

The bare bones?
The Halliburton Company secretly changed its accounting practices when Vice President Dick Cheney was its chief executive, the Securities and Exchange Commission said yesterday as it fined the company $7.5 million and brought actions against two former financial officials.

The commission said the accounting change enabled Halliburton, one of the nation's largest energy services companies, to report annual earnings in 1998 that were 46 percent higher than they would have been had the change not been made. It also allowed the company to report a substantially higher profit in 1999, the commission said.
Whoa, they lied about their earnings and mislead investors while Dick Cheney ran the place? They defrauded the market? Really?

Man, the Chief Financial Office and the Controller took a hit here. They did that. Big fine. It really is so hard to get good help these days.

But Cheney?
The commission did not say that Mr. Cheney acted improperly...

... A lawyer for Mr. Cheney, Terrence O'Donnell, said the vice president's "conduct as C.E.O. of Halliburton was proper in all respects,'' adding that the S.E.C. "investigated this matter very, very thoroughly and did not find any responsibility for nondisclosure at the board level or the C.E.O. level.''

Mr. O'Donnell, a partner at Williams & Connolly in Washington, declined to answer a question as to whether Mr. Cheney had been aware of the effect of the accounting change on the company's profits.
Did Cheney know what was up? No comment. He lawyer won't say, and Dick isn't saying dick.

What's this all about?
... The accounting change dealt with the way Halliburton booked cost overruns on projects. At the time, it was having large cost overruns on projects in the Middle East operated by its Brown & Root Energy Services business, which under its old accounting policy would have reduced its reported profit.

The actual change in accounting, the commission said, was permissible under generally accepted accounting principles, but the failure to inform investors that the change had been made - and of its effect on the company's reported profit - violated securities laws.

"At bottom, what this case is about is insuring that investors understand the numbers," said Stephen M. Cutler, the S.E.C.'s enforcement director. "If you change methodologies and don't explain that, then investors are not going to understand what they are seeing."
So? Caveat Emptor as they say.

What investors didn't know?
... Until the second quarter of 1998, Halliburton had dealt with cost overruns on projects by taking a loss for the amount of the overrun unless and until the company that it was working for agreed to pay part or all of the overrun. But confronted with a large overrun on a fixed-fee project to build a gas production plant in the Middle East - the commission did not say in which country - Halliburton changed its policy so that it would record the income it thought the customer would eventually agree to pay.

That change in policy was not disclosed until March 2000, when the company filed its 1999 annual report with the S.E.C. The commission said that pretax profit for all of 1998 was reported at $278.8 million, 46 percent more than the $190.9 million that would have been reported under the old accounting.
So you might have purchased shares of a chimera, a house of cards. What? You were tricked? You should have know better.

Don't you know Dick?

The Times mentions that at the time the accounting was changed, Halliburton was preparing to merge with Dresser Industries and was dealing with a decline in the company's share price partly caused by slumping oil prices. Hard times. And you don't want to discourage people, or discourage investors.

Yes, the Bush family once owned Dresser Industries. A minor bit of trivia the Times is too formal to mention here. They do quote Cheney at the time saying to investors - "Halliburton continues to make good financial progress despite uncertainties over future oil demand."

Of course. Of course.

And would Dick lie to you? He and his lawyer refuse to say what he knew and when he knew it - and the SEC shrugs. They couldn't find clear and irrefutable evidence to say he had any idea.

Oh well.

Kevin Drum over at The Washington Monthly seems, well, a bit unconvinced. He comments -
... All I can say about this is that it must be mind-numbingly frustrating to be an SEC investigator. Dick Cheney -- like most CEOs in cases like this -- is off the hook because there's no smoking gun. But anybody who's spent even a few minutes in the executive suite of a large corporation knows that of course Cheney knew about this. Not only did he know, but this over-budget project was almost certainly a subject of considerable interest to him, the cost overruns were probably a subject of numerous status reports, and its effect on Halliburton's earnings was surely a frequent source of conversation. There is nothing that a CEO pays more attention to than his company's quarterly and yearly earnings reports. Nothing.

So Cheney knew. But as long as his former CFO and controller are willing to fall on their swords for him, there will never be any proof. And we will all go on pretending that when FY98 earnings turned out to be 46% higher than expected, Dick Cheney just scratched his chin, said "I'll be damned, things turned out OK after all," and then went out and played a round of golf. When he got back, nobody on his financial team, nobody in sales, nobody on the board, none of the analysts who follow Halliburton, and nobody in operations ever mentioned the subject of surprisingly high corporate earnings in his presence again.

And they all lived happily ever after.
Is Kevin just jealous that he can't pull off something like this - that he is just an outsider with his own sour grapes watching the big boys play, and win.

There are winners and losers in this world. Deal with it.

Andy Borowitz here mocks the whole business -
Will Protect Assets Until Threat Has Passed

In the face of terror threats to America's financial institutions, Vice President Dick Cheney today urged all Americans to send him their money for safekeeping until the danger has passed.

In a nationally televised address, Mr. Cheney said that in the current climate the only safe place for Americans to put their money "is with me."

Using a chart and pointer reminiscent of real estate infomercials, Mr. Cheney gave a series of easy-to-follow instructions showing the American people how to transfer all of their worldly assets to him via check, wire transfer, or big bags of money.

"Your money will he invested personally by me in high-yield, no-bid Iraqi reconstruction contracts," Mr. Cheney said. ...
Oh hell, why not?

Actually this Halliburton case here - along with the cost overruns in Iraq now - and along with Halliburton losing one third of the physical equipment we supplied them to work in Iraq (trucks, computers and whatnot all gone) - along with the nearly two billion they cannot track down at the moment ... Well, it seems like this is all an political ploy, a way to gain votes.

How? Envy, of course.

Imagine the powerless white guys being pushed around by everyone and everything in the world every single damned day. They see stuff like this and think, "What sly bastards, and so clever putting it to the losers. In your face, world!" They smile. Dick and George are pretty cool.

As Jesse James is reported to have said, "Everyone loves an outlaw."

Posted by Alan at 16:18 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Law

Oklahoma and Los Angeles: Details, details, details...

Items on the Reuters wire Wednesday, August 04, 2004

From Oklahoma we get this -
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - An Oklahoma ice cream man opened fire on a customer after a summer ice cream sale turned sour, police said on Tuesday.

Police in Enid, about 75 miles north of Oklahoma City, said they arrested Markus Miller, 29, an ice cream truck driver for Summer Song, on Sunday on two misdemeanor charges as well as a felony charge of pointing a firearm.

... According to police, an 18-year-old woman approached Miller's ice cream truck and the conversation degenerated into a heated argument.

Miller is suspected of taking out a pistol and firing two shots at the feet of the woman. She was struck on the collarbone-area by either a bullet fragment or debris from the shots, police said.
Miller was arrested in his ice cream truck a short distance from the incident and police recovered a hand gun from the vehicle, they said.

"It is not a normal or legal thing, anywhere in the country to carry a handgun without a permit while selling ice cream," said Sgt. Eric Holtzclaw, a spokesman with the Enid Police Department.
Oh really? Has Eric checked the statutes? I sense a second amendment issue here.

Anyway, one cannot be too careful as some professions are inherently dangerous.

Don't ask Markus for a "Nutty Buddy." He gets this wild look in his eyes, and...

And from here in Los Angeles we get this -
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fortune-tellers of Los Angeles, relax. Your future is safe from unwanted government regulation. But you probably knew that anyway.

Los Angeles police commissioners on Tuesday rejected a proposal to regulate the fortune-telling industry by requiring soothsayers, Tarot card readers, psychics and the like to obtain government licenses.

The commission rejected the idea because issuing licenses would have the unintended effect of misleading consumers into believing that "these people are somehow qualified to practice their trade," Commissioner Rick Caruso said.

The proposed law, modeled after a similar ordinance adopted in San Francisco, was suggested by vice squad police who say they get about 50 complaints a year about tricks practiced by those who claim to consort with spirits.

The average loss per victim was $5,000 but the true number of shakedowns was not known because victims are sometimes too embarrassed to admit being taken, police said.

Unlike the San Francisco law, which bans fortune-tellers from performing certain tricks that require customers to hand over "cursed" money, the Los Angeles ordinance would have required those who traffic in the mystical for profit to get a license, and post their rates and complaint procedures. ...
Our police commission here has far too much time on their hands, but then again, clarification is always welcome. Of course you do not regulate and license what is, essentially, foolishness - and thus imply such foolishness is legitimate.

And our police commission can now return to thinking about its officers beating unarmed suspects in custody while the cameras roll - which is a larger issue out here.

But we're on it.

Bratton to Ban Metal Flashlights
Praise - and skepticism - greet LAPD chief for his action in response to videotaped beating of suspect
Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and Monte Morin, The Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2004
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Tuesday that he would prohibit officers from carrying large metal flashlights of the type used by an LAPD patrolman to club car theft suspect Stanley Miller -- a beating that was captured on videotape and broadcast internationally.

Bratton told members of the Los Angeles Police Commission that he would soon require officers to carry smaller, rubber flashlights that could not be used as weapons.

"There is a stigma attached to these flashlights that won't go away," Bratton said after he displayed a metal flashlight like the one used to hit Miller and compared it to a much smaller one measuring about 6 inches.

... In deciding to ban large, club-like flashlights, the LAPD is following major metropolitan police departments including Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami and Detroit, which have banned them after highly publicized incidents involving their use as weapons.

Bratton said he will enact the ban after he receives a report now underway reviewing policies of other police departments.

The move drew a mixed response from civil rights advocates, several of whom had compared the Miller case to the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King. ...
Ah, the Los Angeles Police Commission rules on soothsayers, Tarot card readers, and psychics. We will not regulate. And agrees with the police chief on large metal flashlights. Bad flashlights, bad. All in a day's work.

Now, will the appropriate commission in Enid, Oklahoma take a stand on whether a nervous and insecure and quick to anger ice cream truck driver there can carry a concealed large metal flashlight in lieu of a concealed handgun?

In government as in all of life, the devil is in the details.

Posted by Alan at 09:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 3 August 2004

Topic: The Law

Ignorance of the law is no excuse... an odd little item that caught my eye...

Note this press release from the American Library Association -
For Immediate Release
July 30, 2004

Statement from ALA President-Elect Michael Gorman on the destruction of Department of Justice documents

CHICAGO -- The following statement has been issued by President-Elect Michael Gorman, representing President Carol Brey-Casiano, who is currently in Guatemala representing the Association:

Last week, the American Library Association learned that the Department of Justice asked the Government Printing Office Superintendent of Documents to instruct depository libraries to destroy five publications the Department has deemed not "appropriate for external use." The Department of Justice has called for these five public documents, two of which are texts of federal statutes, to be removed from depository libraries and destroyed, making their content available only to those with access to a law office or law library.

The topics addressed in the named documents include information on how citizens can retrieve items that may have been confiscated by the government during an investigation. The documents to be removed and destroyed include: Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure; Select Criminal Forfeiture Forms; Select Federal Asset Forfeiture Statutes; Asset forfeiture and money laundering resource directory; and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA).

ALA has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the withdrawn materials in order to obtain an official response from the Department of Justice regarding this unusual action, and why the Department has requested that documents that have been available to the public for as long as four years be removed from depository library collections. ALA is committed to ensuring that public documents remain available to the public and will do its best to bring about a satisfactory resolution of this matter.

Librarians should note that, according to policy 72, written authorization from the Superintendent of Documents is required to remove any documents. To this date no such written authorization in hard copy has been issued.
Now wait a second here. This is mighty odd.

A hypothetical - as I live in Hollywood just off the Sunset Strip say that in a massive drug sweep I am arrested on suspicion of, say, laundering money for the low-life types down there, or given the history of the British movie star Hugh Grant, arrested for soliciting and actually employing one of them there ladies of the night in the relative privacy of my parked car on a quiet side street. (Yes, a number of years ago Grant got busted for just that three blocks east of here.) Whichever case, sex or drugs, I was in my car, which I rather like, actually. It was confiscated. They can do that - and have been doing that with "johns" who used to cruise the area looking for companionship with these ladies of the night. And that has been, by the way, very effective. That stuff stopped over the last several years. They scared away the customers. You could lose you car forever - sometimes even if you were cleared of all charges. There's been some controversy about that, but it has happened - and still happens. Anyway, whatever the charge in my hypothetical case, I'm cleared. They discover that I'm really a harmless nobody - which everyone knew anyway - and the authorities after a time drop all charges and send me on my way. And then I think, maybe, I can get my car back. It's worth a shot.

So how do I get my cute little black convertible back - if they haven't sold it at auction and used the profits to buy more gizmos for their police cruisers? I need a lawyer - because the laws - and the applicable procedures and forms - have been withdrawn from public access. I'm not supposed to see them. They are not appropriate for external use. This is not a do-it-yourself thing anymore at all.

What the heck - it only adds a bit of expense. And lawyers have to eat too. And maybe these things are too complicated and dangerous for us civilians.

I just hate not knowing things, and being told I'm not supposed to know things.

I should be more trusting. The Department of Justice must have its reasons for hiding selected statutes and procedures from the public, to which they apply - calling for all copies to be destroyed - and must be right in not explaining those reasons to anyone.

But it bothers me.

On the other hand, no one wants to be a pain in the ass, always asking questions and seeming to know so much more than he or she should. That really puts people off - and we are, after all, at war and pesky impertinent questions aid the terrorists who want to kill us all... or something.

This is a minor issue - one of the most minor. Add it to all else that has happened in the last almost three years with the Patriot Act and whatnot and you could get all paranoid about some sort of creeping police state.

Not here. Not here. You just have to trust those in power and not rock the boat.

Posted by Alan at 21:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 3 August 2004 21:36 PDT home

Topic: Photos

My subversive neighbor ...

Claudine, who lives across the courtyard, was born in France. In Toulouse. But she has been an American citizen for many years. She chose to make this her country. She loves this country.

She makes her living as a tour guide for French groups visiting America for the first time. Claudine is often off to Las Vegas to hook up with one more group of elderly French tourists in search of the real America. She shows them around. Heck, I don't think the real America is in Las Vegas - but maybe it is. Sometimes it's a group of fifty-two who will listen, in French, to whatever explanation Claudine can come up with for Las Vegas. And then she shows them around Hollywood. The French adore Hollywood. As if this is America. Maybe it is.

Ah, the life of a tour guide.

When she's off-duty, she has her own views...

Posted by Alan at 17:23 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 3 August 2004 17:30 PDT home

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