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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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Friday, 6 August 2004

Topic: Photos

Friday night: La rando du vendredi ? Paris

Ric Erickson drops a line from Paris -

With all the publicity I've been giving Paris Plage in the sunshine and yesterday's rain - it seems only fair to mention that the year-round Paris Friday night roller rando carries on, rolls on, rolls around Paris for 3 hours every Friday night. Attached photo taken on Avenue du Maine, shortly after 22:00 start tonight from the Gare Montparnasse. Some liberal things never change.

Paris Plage? - Ric's photo and text at Eighteen More Days of Paris Plage from 31 July.

And there is this general explanation.
In was back in 2002 that this brave project was launched to turn two miles of the Right Bank of the Seine (near the Pont Neuf and Hotel de Ville) into a beach, complete with white sand, palm trees, sunbeds and parasols, for the summer season. It has returned every year since - welcome to the Paris Plage. The ?1 million initiative, branded by the Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe, as "a bit crazy", has become a permanent annual event. The Parisians literally took to the beach and showed what a good idea they thought it was! In addition to lounging on the sunbeds, visitors can take part in a range of free sporting activities, including petanque and volleyball, and dance in the old-time dance cafes, known as ginguettes.
A beach with palm trees in Paris? Why not? Everyone needs a little beach time.

Ric also mentions the word liberal because the posting here - Words, words, words... - on that term - has generated a lot of comment that will be incorporated in a much longer version of same in this Sunday's issue of Just Above Sunset - the weekly parent to this web log. Parisians are liberals, of course. And John Kerry speaks French.

I sent this back to Ric -
I wish I could capture the rumble as the hoard approaches - and I do remember the first time I heard that low rumble in the distance. As an L.A. guy my first thought was - Shit, another damned earthquake! - but then I got it, and they rounded the corner from rue des Rennes and right onto boulevard St-Germain under my hotel window and off toward the Odeon. Cool.
Ric shot this back -
Apropos 'rumble' - the patience of held-up automobilistas is astonishing. While the horde passes, somewhat slowly if there's a lot of them, the conducteurs cool their Friday night heels with nary a beep from a klaxon. With traffic stopped, yes, you can hear the rollers - but it's more of a swishing sound. So, as they traverse Paris the first thing you notice is the fall-off of traffic noise. Why did it get quiet? Then this wagon train of party people on little wheelies comes along, passes for ten to twenty minutes, and the end is swept up by six police vans and a couple of SAMU ambulances with the twinkling blue lights.
Yes, they pass in a swish - but you hear a distant rumble first.

So Paris has this thing on Friday evenings when thousands of rollerbladers take to the streets en masse. It is odd, no?

Every Friday evening of the year, from ten (22h00) to one in the morning (01h00) and the route for 8 August (Le parcours du 06/08/2004) is here:

And the website is (click on the little UK flag for the English version) -
You can watch or join a group at Friday Night Fever starting from Gare Montparnasse. At 22h00 (that's ten at night) rollerbladers take off for an eighteen mile tour around the city (with police escort). If in town, give a call for details - Rollerbladers Association: Loi 1901 23-5 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau Tel 01 44549442
But I think you can just go join in.

Ric sort of did once - see Paris:- Friday, 30. July 1999: The Friday Night Roller 'Rando' for the real deal.

But at ten at night here in Hollywood on any Friday it is already seven the next Saturday morning in Paris. Ah. Over. Missed it.

Posted by Alan at 18:15 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Bush

The president once again says something really dumb, which is a Freudian slip or not, a sign of incompetence or not, or just shows he's a causal kind of guy but has really strong convictions....

This topic has been around along time.

In this - July 27, 2003 Mail - you will find these remarks by the President - who was standing next to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in a photo opportunity, as documented by a White House Press Release on July 14, 2003 2:11 P.M. EDT
The fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful.
There was a lot of argument as to what was going on here. Was Bush detached from reality and actually believed this - or was he lying to make a point, thinking we would all buy the lie?

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, commented -
Was this a Bush "lie" or a Bush "goof"? An argument can be made for both sides. Technically, he's obviously wrong, UN inspectors did obviously go in and then leave shortly before the bombing started. On the other hand, he was probably thinking of that time before the UN resolution when Iraq actually was refusing to allow the inspectors in, at least unconditionally.

As for the question of what the media is to do about Bush's comments: Nothing much.

Although people think journalists are always there, ready to jump all over slips like this, that's pretty much a misconception. Think about it. Although you may think you do, you actually rarely see news media, on their own authority, running around pointing out the lies of public officials. What you actually see is news media running around reporting on some political opponents' claims about the other guy's lies. Try as it might, objective journalism has yet to find a way to independently expose what may or may not be "lies" and even just "goofs" without appearing, maybe with some justification, like they're just pimping for some special interest or political ideology. ...
So we let such things pass.

See November 2, 2003 Other Mail for a general discussion of the president's use of language, and a note on Jacob Weisberg of SLATE, the online magazine, where for the last several years he has been publishing quotes from president Bush under the heading Bushism of the Day. These are direct, puzzling quotations from Bush. In fact Weisberg has two books of these in print - "George W. Bushisms: The Slate Book of The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of our 43rd President" along with "More George W. Bushisms: More of Slate's Accidental Wit and Wisdom of Our 43rd President" - both published by Fireside Press.

Also see March 14, 2004: Medical science is just catching up with George Bush? for a discussion of this language problem perhaps being the result of an undiagnosed language and hearing disability.

And here we go again.

This week (on August 5th) the president said this - "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

Ouch. Bummer. He didn't really mean that.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, fired off an email to me saying he had just heard about this from someone at ABC who insisted it was taken directly off the wires, and that he is not making it up. And no one in Bush's audience of military brass or Pentagon chiefs reacted.

And I responded.
Yeah, I saw the actual video clip on Judy Woodruff's "Inside Politics" on CNN - and she just looked depressed, and followed up quoting White House spokesman Scott McClellan - saying that Bush's misstatement "just shows even the most straightforward and plain-spoken people misspeak. But the American people know this president speaks with clarity and conviction, and the terrorists know by his actions he means it."

Your friend from ABC is not making up stuff. This is accurate. No one made it up. The White House even responded. (The McClellan quote is from the AP wire.)

The shorter McClellan: "Who cares about words? Actions matter. Get over it."

As you have often said, everyone knew what he meant and the press should not ever make too much of this. And I really don't think this is a Freudian slip revealing that Bush does mean to harm America - there is no plot to screw us all over. He not smart enough for that - mean enough, but not smart enough. On the other hand, that he is a not terribly coherent speaker and nearing pure buffoon-dom (the near Platonic ideal of the buffoon) is not reassuring. Yeah, you know what he meant. And he sincerely means to "get the bad guys." I don't doubt his sincerity, really. He just wanted to display conviction, but has a tin ear and did not pay attention to what the actual words really meant in the order he said them.

That he seldom pays attention to what the actual words really mean in the order he says them, is, I think, quite dangerous in the world of diplomacy for some and war for others. This slip is of no significance in and of itself. None at all. That he generally doesn't PAY ATTENTION - and just goes for the "close enough" broad idea - is why this is really, really dangerous. That can get people killed - and, as we know, has. It may get my nephew killed.

Yeah well, I think words matter, and think detail matters. Of course those who think that hate America and want the terrorists to win. Sigh.

Oh well, it's a frat-boy cool thing. Calling him out on it makes you prissy nerd. That is SO uncool. Everyone knows what he meant. And details don't matter - the BIG CONCEPT does. Close-enough got Bush through Yale, and close-enough got Bush through forty years of a constant alcohol buzz and failing in business after business before he found Jesus when Laura threatened to leave him. Close-enough has always worked for him. He's not going to change.

Four more years of this?
And now that I think of it, that no one in Bush's audience of military brass or Pentagon chiefs reacted is a sign that they all know words don't matter, and, what the heck, they'll clean up after George - as everyone has for him all his life.

But should the press clean up after George? Does this merit some serious attention?

Rick clarifies his old comments (above) on where the press should make something of this verbal incompetence - or not -
I think what I was saying, of course, is that since most viewers won't see this as a smoking gun and will not be swayed either way by this kind of gaffe -- I'm pretty sure, for example, that this was not that "tipping-point" that decided you, Alan, to not vote for the guy -- then making too much for it would open them up to the accurate accusation that they are trying to rally voters against Bush.

Personally, I hope a few swing voters will be swayed against him after hearing this. But that's just me, the citizen, not me, the sometimes-journalist.
Okay, agreed. And that is a useful distinction.

And Rick reviews what was said by Brian Montopoli at Campaign Desk - the daily web log of the Columbia Journalism Review:
This morning, President Bush made a beaut of a verbal gaffe. Speaking at the signing of a defense appropriations act, he said the following:

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

After CNN ran the clip of this portion of Bush's remarks, the network cut to a deadpan Jill Doherty, who didn't bother to react to, or even mention, the president's verbal faux pas. (Instead, she seamlessly transitioned to a report on where the campaign was headed next.)

The segment left us scratching our heads for a variety of reasons. (Bush appeared to be reading his comments, after all.) But, as media critics, we were left to ponder: Why on earth did CNN play this particular clip? If they wanted to bring attention to the president's blunder, they should have acknowledged it, instead of treating the words as just another sound bite. And if they just wanted to show a portion of the president's speech, surely they could have found a section in which the president doesn't assert that he doesn't ever "stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people."

We're often told that folks in the news business grow weary of candidate's speeches, and tune out more often then they'd like to admit. So maybe CNN simply didn't notice the gaffe, and some producer just queued up the tape, oblivious to the president's accidental declaration of war on his own people. But, na?fs that we are, we would have thought that someone at the network was paying a little bit more attention than that.
No, they were paying attention. The just decided not to say anything.

Rick says he would have posted this comment if he didn't have to register as a member to do so:


When news happens, CNN brings it to you, but without necessarily attaching all the spin that the various partisans would prefer they attach.

I suppose some Republicans would want Jill Doherty to add that it was obviously a harmless slip of the tongue that means nothing and that he's still the best man for the job, while some Democrats would want her to point out that Bush is a bumbling buffoon who has finally fallen victim to his own melodramatic demagoguery and is unfit for the office. I don't know what you, Brian, would have her say, but wonder how closely it lines up with one of the above.

But a principle that seems to be slowly getting lost in our democracy is that the main job of the news media is to inform the world, not reform it. Armed with the information that you, the citizen, get from them, the media, it's up to you to decide how (and even if) you want to make the world a better place.

This clip of the latest Bush gaffe stands or falls on its own merits and really doesn't require a comment from an anchor or reporter. They might choose to tag it with a comment, or they could decide not to; there really is no deeper significance to whichever road they take.

If, on the other hand, you insist on having someone decide for you, instead of report to you, you should probably be watching Fox News Channel, where they famously claim they don't do that sort of thing but are widely understood to do it all the time.

And here, I actually agree with Rick.

CNN cannot comment either way. It really isn't their job to do that.

Arguing that someone whose use of language is vague and who only gets the general idea of things - and who thinks close-enough is good-enough in running this country and its foreign affairs and in committing us to war - arguing that this sort of person is unfit for the office, and so far has caused us all enormous damage - well, arguing that is actually the job of those who work on having someone else replace him, someone detail-oriented and who recognizes complexity, and who is careful and precise in what he or she says. And that might be someone who might even read books and be curious about the world and listen carefully to all sides of things.

The job of saying it doesn't matter, that everyone gets the general idea when Bush speaks, that nuance and precision are for wimps and sissies? That's for Bush's political supporters. They can argue strong conviction is a far more important thing to show the county and to show the rest of the world - far more important than coherence and competence. We have to appear resolute - and so on and so forth. "It's very simple, really...."

CNN and all of the actual journalists can report on what each side is saying. And actually they do. Fox News Channel will take sides. But that's another matter.


By the way, the next day Bush said this -
We actually misnamed the war on terror, it ought to be the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.
He's working on it.

There is a curious use of the phrase "a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world" and one assumes he meant confidence, not conscience. But maybe not - maybe he understands that terrorist acts do make us examine our conscience, as we think about what grievances might give rise to such suicidal madness. We wonder about what we might have done to make folks behave like that - if we played any part in this. Such acts start us thinking and wondering and doing some research and reading and....

No, Bush couldn't mean that. Not Bush. He's said all along such grievances are unimportant - as they are evil and we are good. "It's very simple, really...."

But note he is working on a bit more nuance. The sentence is longer, and much closer to being coherent. And too, this statement is the first time Bush has publicly acknowledged that a War on Terror may be a bit broad and need some more precision... or nuance. It's a start.

Posted by Alan at 15:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 5 August 2004

Topic: Photos

Words, words, words...

From Rick Brown, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Lately I've been wondering if there isn't a way to launch a campaign to bring the word "liberal" back into the mainstream where it belongs. Maybe in the process, also find a way to demonize the word "conservative"?

I was thinking bumper-stickers, which takes the message directly into enemy territory, starting with a message that hits many of them where they live: "THINK ABOUT IT: JESUS WAS A LIBERAL!"

Later, you can put other good-person names in there, such as "GEORGE BAILEY WAS A LIBERAL!" and such.

And you could follow up all that with things like "THINK ABOUT IT: DARTH VADER WAS A CONSERVATIVE!"


And if you dare deal with really complex concepts (although being complex, they run the risk of not being understood by conservatives): "THINK ABOUT IT: SCROOGE WAS A CONSERVATIVE, BUT WAS CURED!"
Anyone up to the challenge?

Consider this letter to the editor in the Arizona Republican -

Let's hear Bush define 'liberal'
August 5, 2004 12:00 AM
President Bush rarely delves into the vast gray area between the extremes. So when he calls John Kerry a liberal, he is trying to convey that Kerry, and his policies, are less than desirable.

Instead of just simplistically using the word "liberal" to negatively portray Kerry, Bush should have to tell the country in detail what liberalism is and why it is bad.

For too long, Republicans have been able to acquire political power by demonizing liberalism. I'd like to see the candidates discuss their understanding of liberalism during the upcoming debates.

Our founders would be dismayed at the way Republicans today discount liberalism's contributions to the making of a great nation. A shallow-thinking electorate led by shallow-thinking political leaders is a recipe for disaster.

- Robert J. Barboza, Phoenix
A discussion of they what they mean by the term? Unlikely.

It's just shorthand. Just imagine a skinny lesbian arts professor from some minor school in New England driving her eleven-year-old Volvo station wagon, with the required Save the Whales bumper sticker, into Cambridge to attend a rally in support of vegetarian anti-abortionists in Venezuela, sipping a latte as she drives, listening to a biography of Edith Piaf on NPR - who distrusts big business, actually thinking they might take advantage of folks, who thinks the meager amount she pays in taxes should go to schools and the hungry and homeless and all those other lazy losers who just want to use us all so they can eat bons-bons, drive around in a big Cadillac and watch Jerry Springer (the Welfare Queens Reagan identified). Socialist who like the French and want to claim they are better than the rest of us. A lot of words. One will do. Liberal.

Over at Fact Check there's a long page of the history of the term, and after a rundown of British political history, this entry regarding the United States.
In recent decades the most common use of the term liberal in the USA is greatly at variance from the use of the term in the rest of the world, and with the historical meaning of the word in the USA through the mid 20th century.

Some think that conservatives have been successful in undermining progressives as 'liberals', by deliberate public relations campaigns, through repeated use of the word, 'liberal', in ways that associate it with irresponsibility.

Some independent leftists and libertarians who dislike the USA's two leading parties allege that since liberal means being in favor of liberty, both parties are telling the truth when they deny that they are liberals.

In the United States, the label of liberal is sometimes used as derogatory or politically undermining label. It can imply an overly free-spirited, unaccountable, and compromised character, or someone in favor of vast and needless government intrusion into peoples lives.

USA Conservatives in recent years, often those of the Republican Party, sometimes use liberal as an subversive adjective for anyone who is a member of or supports any policy of the Democratic Party. Consequently, while far right wing politics often are debated and voiced in the political world, liberalism has been associated with far-left politics, whose agendas are often voided.
Basic stuff. The hypothetical Volvo driver above is certainly overly free-spirited (sexually), unaccountable, and a compromised character, and seems to be someone in favor of vast and needless government intrusion into peoples lives. Someone who does NOT play by the conventional rules - whatever they are.

Liberals are threatening. They want our money. They like gay people, and black people, and the French! They're always talking about human rights and stuff like that - but they want our children.

In fact, the San Francisco-based conservative talk show host Michael Savage (he was on MSNBC for a bit but is back to radio), on the August 3 broadcast of Savage Nation, took on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and human rights activists in general, calling them "the worst people in America ... communist or Nazis or both" and he told his listeners, "When you hear 'human rights,' think gays. When you hear 'human rights,' think only one thing: someone who wants to rape your son. ... When you hear 'human rights,' think only someone who wants to molest your son, and send you to jail if you defend him. Write that down, make a note of it." (MP3 audio clip here if you want to listen.)

You've been warned. Liberals.

Then there is this
Imagine my surprise when I looked up the word "Liberal" in my thesaurus.

Liberal: ... generous, abundant, lavish, broadminded, tolerant, enlightened, charitable among others. Not bad, eh?

Conservative: ... stingy, miserly, reactionary, regressive, bigoted, prejudiced, biased, narrow-minded and more. Ouch!

Considering that, and the track record of conservatives (anti-women voting, anti-blacks voting, pro-segregation, pro-Vietnam War, anti-Head Start, etc.) you can see why I'd be embarrassed to call myself a conservative.

So with all those accurate, flattering words to describe "liberal"... And all those appropriate, hateful words to describe its antonym, "conservative"...

After I stopped laughing at the irony, I knew I had to make a t-shirt out of it.
And here's the t-shirt. But I like Rick's bumper stickers more.

Posted by Alan at 20:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 5 August 2004 20:53 PDT home

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

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