Friday, August 06, 2004

I finally saw The Corporation, the film which starts from the legal conceit of corporations as "legal persons", and asks, what kind of people are they?

Their answer -- well known at this point to anyone who cares -- is that they're psychopaths. But the value of the film is less in that case, or the making of it, than in the stuff you get to see along the way, from "underground marketing" right around the corner, to inside accounts of corporate espionage from a professional spy, to the enormous riots in the third world over water privatization which have gotten relatively scant coverage in major media.

Besides which, the film's case that CEOs are trapped in a system that literally does not give them the freedom to act according to their own environmental or ethical concerns is somewhat undercut by the frequent appearances of Ray Anderson, CEO of a carpet company who is doing exactly that. A few minutes on how he deals with the profit pressures that the film details elsewhere would have been easily worth the rather sketchy treatment of GATT and the WTO. So, despite the privatization advocate who gushes over the prospect that someday there might be private ownership of every little stream in the Amazaon, people who didn't walk in persuaded probably won't leave that way. (And I'm speaking as someone who was hoping for a better case).

But then again, people who didn't walk in persuaded might still learn something they didn't know. And as a bonus, if they stay to the end (nearly three hours!), they get to hear Michael Moore quoting Lenin. That ought to be worth at least ten minutes of raised eyebrows at the next cocktail party.

On the way out, I looked at a movie poster for "Festival Express", yet another documentary -- this one on a 1970 train tour of Canada by some really good bands. The trailer had featured the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. To which the poster added some other musical heavyweights. The Band. The Flying Burrito Brothers. Buddy Guy. And then -- Sha Na Na. And to think, all I remembered about them was the TV show...

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Well, now we have a bit of an idea what Ken Lay and Dick Cheney might have been talking about at those meetings of Dubya's Energy Commission whose minutes they're desperate to keep under wraps: their mutual problem defining the responsibilities of a corporate chief executive.

You know what kind of trouble accounting caused at Enron under Lay. And it seems that accounting was also a bit of a problem at Halliburton under Cheney -- they just got fined $7.5 million for booking, in effect, "you owe me" notes that they were sending their customers as revenue before the customers had actually agreed that they owed the money. This, in turn, greatly improved Halliburton's reported earnings performance at a time when that sort of shift was desperately needed to improve the publicity for a merger that was supposed to be Cheney's big project.

And yet Cheney now claims total ignorance of what was going on on his watch -- in which he is backed by the SEC, which, quoth Billmon, names him in neither their complaint against Halliburton, nor their Cease and Desist letter:

Apparently, we're expected to believe that Halliburton's CEO was completely ignorant of an accounting change so significant it turned a quarterly loss in one of the company's two main operating division into a gain - even though, as we shall see, the switch also may have played a crucial role in Cheney's most important business achievement (if that's the right word), the merger with Dresser.

This variation on the Ken Lay defense is pretty far-fetched to begin with, but it becomes even more laughable when you read the complaint, which tries to pin the guilt on the gray flannel shoulders of Halliburton's former CFO by noting that his signature was on a variety of misleading documents, such as the firm's annual report, that were filed with the SEC.

Which is true enough. There is, however, one signature above the CFO's on the company's 1998 report...

The signature to which he refers is, of course, Cheney's own.

Which brings us back to the time, oh so few short years ago, when the accounting scandals were big news, and the cureall advanced by Dubya's crew was making the CEOs sign the reports. As Cheney himself already had. And you can be assured that Dubya's enforcement arms will hold all the other CEOs to the same high standard for accountability which they've shown for Dubya's own veep...

And things were going so well in Iraq.

The news this morning: renewed fighting in Najaf, with a U.S. helicopter down. To Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere (the group formerly singled out for particular oppression by Saddam, so they were supposed to like us) this is roughly the equivalent of dropping bombs on the Vatican. And bragging about avoiding mosques is roughly like dropping bombs on the Vatican and then bragging that you didn't hit St. Peter's.

That news story, and others I've seen, quote the U.S. as saying that Sadrist militia started it. Then again, as I write, I'm hearing on the radio that the Sadrists claim that the U.S. forces started it. But Shiites the world over won't give a damn who started it. (And given that, is it too much to suggest that the Sunnis of al-Qaeda might be playing "let's you and him fight?)

By the way, if you thought things really were going well in Iraq, Riverbend, off a long hiatus in Baghdad, begs to differ. And Jeanne D'arc has pointers to a few more of the news stories you missed. Oh, yes... and if you thought we'd kicked the Taliban out of power for good in Afghanistan, think again...

More: Juan Cole says that tensions between the Sadrists, the police, and the Marines in Najaf have been escalating quite a bit all on their own...

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Fans of social security privatization believe that people are better managers of their own retirement savings than the government. But of course, if government were just going to be there to bail them out if they screwed up their investments, they'd invest in all kinds of risky stuff, and use the government cushion if it didn't pan out. (In economics jargon, it's a classic moral hazard). So, private management of retirement savings only works if the government isn't there to bail people out quickly.

Unless the private entities managing peoples retirement funds are corporate. Then it's OK:

In an echo of the savings and loan industry collapse of the 1980's, the federal agency that insures company pensions is facing a possible cascade of bankruptcies and pension defaults in the airline industry that some experts fear could lead to another multibillion-dollar taxpayer bailout.

Obviously, what these companies needed to do was make themselves subject to the discpline of the mark... er, never mind.

via Suburban Guerrilla...

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Quick tip of the day: when advertising a drum audition for your rock band, be sure to advertise all the fringe benefits:

note to all prospective drummers: I will work to get you groupies. I'll go out in the crowd, find the pretty girls and talk you up.

Pity I don't play drums...

You know about the Darfur genocide in the Sudan? Suburban Guerilla notes that Uganda's also getting ugly. Further comment when I figure out whether the human race should stick around, or just get out of the way and let the hamsters have a go at running the planet...
The baseball world is now abuzz with the unexpected and stunning question: if the Red Sox and Cubs are both involved in a blockbuster trade, can they both wind up on the short end of the deal?

Bear in mind that there are two other teams involved.

For what it's worth, initial fan reaction here to the trade, in which the Cubs got shortstop Nomar Garciaparra from the Red Sox, was outrage. Personally, I'm not sure that's justified. Nomar has only two months left on his contract, after which he was already nearly certain to leave. And he'll play them out hobbled -- lingering injuries have impaired his range, and had him sitting out games (including, infamously around here, an extra-inning game against the Yankees where he didn't pinch hit). In return for giving that up, they got two strong defensive players with lousy offense, which is at least a minor plus for a team that's been hemmorhaging unearned runs. But it's certainly not great.

That said, the Cubs' GM has to be enjoying his press. Quoth one Phil Rogers:

The trade that is bringing the 31-year-old Garciaparra, a five-time All-Star and .386 hitter this July, isn't just too good to be true. It's so good that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry needs your prayers. He must have sold his soul to beat the curse.

1908, Phil. 1908. It isn't often that a Red Sox fan gets to say that.