Friday, October 07, 2005

The Enron scandal destroyed two great (or at least large) American companies: Enron itself, and their auditors, the venerable firm of Arthur Andersen, who turned a blind eye to the rot at Enron, and then got into trouble themselves for shredding papers concerning their own prior blindness.

What has the accounting profession learned from this? Well, here's a bit of news coverage which is behind the "New York Times Select" pay wall, because a columnist happened to write it. A recent white paper issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants discusses how accountants should act in due diligence meetings for potential underwriters of a company's stocks and bonds. And it poses the following question:

Is it appropriate for an auditor to address questions from the underwriters regarding the auditor's awareness of any instances of fraud or illegal acts?

According to the Times's Floyd Norris

The answer was no. The paper adds that is true even if the company authorizes the auditor to disclose confidential client information. The answer suggests the question be referred to the company's management, which may not help if they are the ones suspected of fraud.

The white paper also says auditors should keep quiet if they hear management issue misinformation to underwriters, and should not tell them much of anything that is not already public information.

So this, evidently, is the lesson of the Enron scandals: keep your head down, bury the evidence, and maybe you won't get hurt. And if Andersen had acted like that... well, I guess they did.

Times Select article here, for those with access. It turns out that a lot of people are upset about this proposal, and a couple of them, at two different trade associations, were upset enough to leak this to Norris. Of course, this may be a case where the leakers are just as happy with the pay wall; the less potential scandal like this gets out to the hoi polloi who might ultimately be buying those stocks and bonds, the better, as far as the underwriters are concerned...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Dubya ran for President on the "character" issue. He's threatening to veto a bill which would limit his power to order the torture of detainees. If he does, it'll be the first time he ever vetoed anything. That's his character.

To be achingly fair, he has threatened vetoes of other bills in the past...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The latest from Tom Friedman:

Iraq is a multiethnic society that had to be held together by a dictator's iron fist. What Iraqis are struggling with today is whether they can forge their own social contract in which Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis can live together - without an iron fist. That is critical because virtually every Arab state today is a mix of religions and ethnicities held together by a hard or soft fist. If Iraqis can find a way to live together, any people out here can, and democracy has a future. If the Iraqis can't, probably no one can, and we can look forward to dictatorships and monarchies in the Arab world --- with all the pathologies they bring - forever.

So, if "democratizing" fails in Iraq, then we have nothing to blame ourselves for, because there was no saving it anyway. And so, the people who invaded without a rebuilding plan; who tried to use an undermanned army, untrained for the purpose, to keep civil order; who cut over-generous deals with extremists and separatists (SCIRI, the Kurdish parties) when that didn't work; who dissolved the major multiethnic institution (the Army); who gutted civil society by over-aggressive de-Baathification; who took the Shiite and Kurdish side against the Sunnis in inter-ethnic feuding; and --- oh, yes --- who bungled the the economy terribly: the people who did all that take no share of the blame. Whatever happens, it's not our fault.

I obtain these insights courtesy of "Times Select". But wait, there's more! Times Select also offers a forum page in which Friedman answers readers' questions. He tells one reader today that if Gaza turns out like Singapore, there's more hope for peace than if it turns out like Mogadishu. Who else in the world would tell you that?

I signed up for the Times Select trial mainly for the business and sports columns. If there were an a la carte option, I'd be rather more likely to continue. (Likewise if Krugman started writing more on his own forum page --- if he decides to put anything worth reading inside the Times's walled and sparsely populated garden, which he hasn't yet). But as for Friedman, I'm with The Editors:

Times Select needs to work harder to hide this shit from me. Can't you make them write in Esperanto or something?

More: I didn't include links in this post originally, because Times Select actually does work quite hard to hide this stuff from non-subscribers. But for those who are, well, indulging themselves, Friedman's column itself is here, and his wise words about Gaza are at the end of this. None of which, I'll wager, will be much help to most of the people whining in Atrios's comments...

Seen on the Boston University campus: a van selling labelled Ralph Lauren blue-jeans not only pre-washed, but pre-spattered with house paint. So you can have whatever chic cachet you get from pretending to be a house painter who's stupid enough to wear expensive Ralph Lauren blue jeans on the job.
I've turned on the "retype the funny word to prove you're a human" feature on my comments. Apologies to anyone who is inconvenienced. I've been discovered by comment spammers, and I am not feeling the love.

Monday, October 03, 2005

And now, tomorrow's news last week:

For those of us salivating at the DeLay indictment, and the prospect of highly-placed losers in the Plame Game, Billmon reminds those of us who never knew how a similar cascade of scandals wound down in Italy. Briefly, a few highly-placed politicians ended their careers, but the system survived --- the people who ran it figured out that they ultimately had the power to fire the prosecutors.

That's a trick that didn't work for Tricky Dick. (Though it seems to have worked better so far for the Rovians, at least in Guam). Nixon actually did find someone to rid him of troublesome special prosecutor Archibald Cox --- though he had to fire two Attorneys General, in a series of events that became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre", before he arrived at the somewhat more pliant Robert Bork. (Yes, that Bork). But it ultimately didn't help --- Congress, playing its role in our system of checks and balances, brought executive abuse to heel.

Things are a bit different now. Republicans are running Congress, and they have an iron grip on the schedule. But I'm sure that Democrats will be able to arrange some sort of investigation --- so long as they're willing to defer it, as Governor Blanco defers her own defense against Mike Brown's slanders, to the Republicans' idea of "when the time is appropriate".

2056, perhaps?

More on feckless Democrats: Even the wingnuts are shocked that Harriet Miers, a White House lawyer known for little more than her remora-like attachment to Dubya's person, was nominated for the Supreme Court. And the Dems? Senator Reid, their elected leader in the Senate, personally urged Dubya to nominate this career suck-up last week. It seems he was impressed that she was courteous and professional in her dealings with him. When it comes to Supreme Court nominations, what more could the Democrats want?