Thursday, October 24, 2002

More fun with Republican accounting: Doug Forrester, their Senate candidate in New Jersey, won the primary by scaring off other candidates with the war chest he supposedly had earned from his privately held company, which he valued at $100 million, even though it has a profit margin of under ten percent on revenues estimated at $13 million. (The usual rule of thumb is to value a company at roughly ten times earnings; even if the revenue estimate is low, that would yield a value well under $20 million, and perhaps under ten).

How was that justified?

"P.B.M.'s are a high-growth industry," Mr. Forrester said. "Look at the course of the valuation of Amazon dot-com stock. Their worth was remarkable, but their earnings were negative."

This logic comes from the same party which insists that the Bush tax cuts don't have anything to do with the burgeoning budget deficit, which is entirely the fault of Osama bin Laden. But in this case, they're apparently getting what they voted for --- imaginary money won't pay for real ads, and Republican party faithful, having heard all about Forrester's fools' gold, are somehow reluctant to supply the more tangible variety.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Microsoft wants to give control of your computing environment to the folks who really ought to have it. Who are, of course, the fine folks at Microsoft.

Their latest license agreements allow them to probe your computers and upload software at will, which is causing problems for banks and hospitals, who are required by law to restrict access of third parties to their clients' private information. Indeed, one banker who raised questions about this was apparently told that Microsoft "plans eventually to eliminate users' ability to disable Microsoft's access to their systems".

They're not the government. They don't need no steenking search warrants. Hard-core libertarians, if you want to know what a legal system dictated by the unfettered marketplace looks like, this is it.

(via Slashdot).

There was news on Enron the other day --- Tim Belden, the Enron trader who plead guilty to fraud in the California energy markets, is now apparently naming co-conspirators not just among his higher-ups at Enron, but at other companies as well. Rumors are circulating that Enron's erstwhile competitor Dynergy dumped both its energy trading business and its trading-savvy CEO to stay one step ahead of the Justice Department, and prosecutors are now dropping hints of a conspiracy so vast that Patrick Ruffini and Jane Galt may yet be embarrassed by it.

So, that's what the Justice Department is doing about corporate fraud, after the fact. What about the SEC, which is supposed to keep it from happening? Things were bad, scandals happened, heads must roll, and prominent heads too. And the head that will roll off the cherry wood guillotine, into its woven wicker basket, is Martha Stewart's. The SEC's investigation into her insider trading on ImClone stock has reached a fever pitch, and even if there are no criminal complaints, the SEC is still very likely to force her to step down from her post as head of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Yet for some reason, the press just keeps looking for bad things to say about the agency. Its head, Harvey Pitt, is in the thick of things, having done work for latter-day SEC target AOL, and may have been personally involved in some of the deals now under investigation. Which has resulted in, perhaps, some tittering comment, especially since he initially denied having worked for AOL at all. But he's still copacetic, viewing the recent $200 million cut in his agency's budget with equanimity. And he's not about to let a little thing like that shame him into, say, reinstating the job offer he made to John Biggs, who was going to head a new accounting review and investigatory board until it became clear that Biggs actually wanted to review and investigate.

These bagatelles have led to carping criticism of Pitt's stewardship of the agency, which is surely undeserved. Because its important business is still going forward. Martha Stewart will be brought down. So the people who really run corporate America will have their cover, and the public will have its scapegoat. That's a good thing.

Besides, she was a pushy, showy arriviste, and nobody in the Hamptons really liked her anyway.

To be pedantically precise, what actually happened to the SEC budget was a reduction in the scheduled increase, which the administration boosted earlier this year to great fanfare, then cut back to nearly nothing much more quietly, when they thought no one was looking. If a reduction in a scheduled tax cut is a tax increase --- as Republicans preach to the skies anytime anyone proposes altering the bulk of the Bush tax cuts which are not yet in effect --- than a reduction in a scheduled budget increase is a budget cut.

Some links via Atrios.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Defenders of the World Trade Organization, and similar bodies, frequently say that claims of its detractors are exaggerated. The WTO, they say, doesn't have the power to invalidate laws in its constituent countries, but just to authorize trade sanctions against countries with laws that restrict food additives, ban noxious chemicals, or otherwise, in the view of the trade organizations, restrain trade.

Defenders of Microsoft may want to take note: it has no more power than the WTO. After an Australian court acquitted a guy accused of selling chips to modify PS/2 consoles to play imported games, Microsoft is dropping heavy hints that they will withhold their Xbox game console from the market unless the law is changed more to their liking. Which would count as a minor sanction; they aren't threatening to withhold Windows security updates. Yet.

Two quickies on the war:

People who think the United States is going to take over Iraq and establish a warm fuzzy democracy, take note: that's not what we're telling the Kuwaitis. But amid all the overheated, half-baked pro-invasion rhetoric, it is nice to see that someone can put together a case for an American invasion of Iraq which actually makes a little sense.