Friday, February 01, 2002

Bill Simmons wrote a column for ESPN in which he described the New Orleans native dialect as "Creole gibberish", the climate as unpleasant, and the Bourbon Street ambiance as "the aftermath of the greatest frat party of all-time", featuring "horse manure, puke, urine and every other bodily function you can imagine".

Much to his surprise, the local media took offense.

C'mon guys. He said it was a great party... isn't that enough?

To anyone still wondering why Democrats aren't as worked up yet about the Global Crossing "scandal" as we are about Enron: here's what's missing from Global Crossing. It turns out that the Cheney energy plan was a "virtual rewrite of an industry wish list supplied by former Enron chief Ken Lay", in a face-to-face meeting with Cheney. The meeting also discussed the then-ongoing California energy crisis, at a time when the White House was refusing to meet with California elected officials, including the governor.

That's in addition to what we already knew about Enron's influence over the entire shape of Bush administration energy policy --- like the way Lay personally got the administration's head energy regulator bounced over a policy dispute.

I'm perfectly happy to slam Democrats when they prove themselves putty in the hands of private interests --- as I've slammed the Democrat, Steve Peace, who shaped the California electricity deregulation bill for kowtowing to ... well who'da guessed? ... Enron.

But there's a reason that a White House which lets reporters into the War Room is standing on "principle" about not revealing its dealings with Enron... and I'll wager the principle involved is cya.

The Washington Post reports on the Safe and Pleasant World of Tomorrow:

Federal aviation authorities and technology companies will soon begin testing a vast air security screening system designed to instantly pull together every passenger's travel history and living arrangements, plus a wealth of other personal and demographic information.

To smooth our way into the Safe and Pleasant World of Tomorrow, travel industry officials are quietly hobnobbing with Congress about "the possible need to roll back some privacy protections in the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Driver's Privacy Protection Act".

Information in the system will be at least as reliable as that in the national credit bureaus. In fact, one of them, Equifax, is involved in one of the prototype efforts, as is Accenture, the former Andersen Consulting division. Isn't that reassuring?

Rights concerns are minimal, of course, since no one is obligated to use the system. If you don't want your living arrangements, travel history and demographic data to be collated and spit out on demand, just stay in your room and never go anywhere.

A thought on Mike Tyson: with his boxing career apparently washed up, there's been some speculation that he might wind up going into pro wrestling. I don't see it. Why would a reputable businessman like Vince McMahon sully his name and reputation by dealing with Mike Tyson?

Thursday, January 31, 2002

Reading through the Boston Globe's archives of its coverage on our local child-molesting priests, and the church hierarchy which needed the threat of subpoena to make them report child molesters in its ranks to law enforcement, I ran across an article with this chilling passage:

Until recent years, the church also had little to fear from the courts. But that has changed, as predicted in a 1985 confidential report on priest abuse prepared at the urging of some of the nation's top bishops, Law among them. "Our dependence in the past on Roman Catholic judges and attorneys protecting the Diocese and clerics is GONE," the report said.

The frightening part? The implication that there was a time when Catholic judges could be relied on to hush up atrocious crimes by priests...

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Now that the Patriots are in the Superbowl, the rest of the country is getting a good look at New England's third-ranked regional soap opera (after state government and the Red Sox). One of the continuing storylines is Terry Glenn, the wide receiver whose perverse determination to squander his prodigious talent most recently got him suspended from the team for the duration of the playoffs after he missed several practices without an excuse. Earlier in the season, he graced a Sunday evening sports show with an interview in which he linked his prolonged recovery from a hamstring injury to a dispute about his signing bonus, and made a point of saying that he "did, D-I-D" want to play for the team.

(The team had already tried to suspend him for the season, but that got overturned in arbitration).

His latest escapade has to do with the drug infractions that earned him the suspension and cost him all that bonus money in the first place. (The team had learned the lesson of six years of Glenn's shenanigans --- the bonus was conditioned on good behavior). He's now suing the NFL, claiming that he suffers from a disability, chronic depression, which makes him unable to pick up the phone when the NFL's agents call to tell him they'd like to run a drug test.

And to think, people actually complain about Randy Moss...

Enron's defenders insist it had no role in high energy prices in California. They will no doubt insist as well that it was just a coincidence that just after Enron went bankrupt, the prices sharply dropped.

Update: This premium story on Salon connects the dots. Electricity prices are driven, in California, by natural gas prices. At the end of 2000, the market rate for natural gas delivery to Southern California was $59.12 a decatherm, whatever that means. On the other side of Arizona, in San Juan, New Mexico, the going rate was $10.12 a decatherm. And the cost of delivery is less than a dollar --- meaning that someone was picking up $48 or so per decatherm in arbitrage between the two markets.

From May, 2000 till June, 2001 Enron controlled over 50% of gas sales for delivery to Southern California, so they were clearly picking up quite a bit of this action. How much is impossible to say, as the transactions were subject to no reporting requirements... but it's kind of suspicious that since Enron stopped trading, the "California premium" has just about vanished.

Rep. Rick Boucher explains what's wrong with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, basically describing it as a Congressional sellout to the "content industries" (record companies and movie studios), which effectively annihilates the public's right to use copyrighted materials which they've purchased as they see fit, without having to beg permission from the copyright holder for each new use even after they've already bought it.

The sad thing is that the legislative history of this bill is actually worse than Boucher makes it out to be --- while there weren't serious, substantive changes to the "content community"'s proposal once it hit Congress, there were serious negotiations between the "content community" and other business interests --- the electronics manufacturers, among others. That negotiation resulted in the "content community's" proposed bill, which they then, as Boucher describes, effectively rammed down the throat of Congress as a fait accompli. There's an only mildly sanitized account of the negotiations here, by one of the participants.

The upshot is a bill written through a process in which the private interests of various big businesses were considered, but the public interest was handwaved away.

So once again,

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Steven den Beste thinks that the United States hasn't been interventionist enough, and needs to become more so. And in some cases, he's obviously right --- the recent business in Afghanistan is, to a great extent, the United States belatedly cleaning up a mess we made some time ago, and let fester for nearly twenty years.

But on the whole, I think he's giving the U.S. too little credit. We certainly haven't been shy about intervening in Latin America --- think for instance of Panama, where the CIA sponsored Noriega throughout his rise to power, then pulled him out. Or the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup in Guatemala, which kicked out a democratically sponsored government in favor of an incredibly brutal dictatorship in order to save taxes for United Fruit. Or Chile.

And in the middle east, consider, the coup against Mossadegh in Iran, which left the country under the thumb of the Shah. That blew back at us twenty-five years later when the people of the country got so fed up with his rule that they lent overwhelming support to the only credible opposition they could see --- Ayatollah Khomeni --- who showed his gratitude in ways we can all remember.

(This is a pattern which Islamic extremists have been trying hard to recreate elsewhere, as I've noted several times).

Or Indonesia... but I think that's enough.

If there's a pattern here, it's not shyness at intervention. It's instead, a particular form of intervention, which, I think, has shown itself as counterproductive. The pattern is that we put thugs in place who promised support for our policy line --- often deposing democratically elected governments to put them in place, on the apparent theory that winning popular support for our party line was more difficult than buying a thug who would just do it.

There are problems with this policy. One, as I've also noted, is that thugs can't be permanently bought --- it's not in their nature. They can only be rented, and when their self-interest no longer aligns with ours, things get ugly in a hurry.

Another is the sheer brutality of it all. Moral considerations aside, it leaves large populations who are deeply embittered against us, often (as in Guatemala) for no good reason at all.

(BTW, if the Afghan rebellion doesn't fit the pattern, it's because we didn't even rent the thugs ourselves --- we used the Pakistani ISI as an agent to find them for us).

Sunday, January 27, 2002

As I write, it isn't clear who will be opposing New England in the Super Bowl. But we already do know one of the things that will make them easy to root against --- both possible opposing teams have quarterbacks featured in those damn Chunky Soup ads.