Monday, October 30, 2006
Special Graphic Post:
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Antitrust and Labor Law Quiz
Yes, it is time once again for a Pulp Economics quiz. Make no mistake: this one is not easy. In fact, this one could very well qualify as a head-banger, the kind a professor gives without fair warning only when he doesn't mind having the tires on his car slashed. Fortunately for me, you who are about to take this little exam don't know where I park my car, so I'm feeling pretty secure right now. All in all, this is going to work out pretty well, except maybe for the hurtful comments that might follow in the thread for this post. We shall cross that bridge when we come to it.
Just remember: this is for fun... provided, that is, anyone can really have fun taking a quiz on antitrust and labor law.
The Dark Wraith thanks you for taking this rather brutal little test.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Special Blog Post:
The Remedial Future
It was primarily for parents, but anyone could come. The entire school district some years ago had pretty much dispensed with the traditional parent/teacher conferences in favor of these Open House affairs, where teachers and administrators give group presentations to the assembled audiences. A sense of urgency about keeping on the schedule of moving from place to place through the evening kept most people from trying to catch a teacher, a guidance counselor, or the principal for even a quick question. Things like that had to wait for that day when people were afforded the opportunity to "arrange" a 15-minute meeting with one or several teachers if there were some special, individual issues that needed to be discussed.
Those special conferences, complete as they were with the unspoken message that they were to be arranged only under extenuating circumstances, had replaced the old-fashioned parent/teacher conferences. In its own way, this seemed reasonable: if the kids are to be educated in warehouse fashion, then anyone interacting with that education system should enjoy the same kind of food processing environment.
The whole shindig that evening at the Open House would culminate in a big assembly in the "cafetorium" (a word new to me, it being defined as a combination cafeteria, auditorium, and gymnasium). The principal would speak for a few minutes, then the lead teachers in each subject area would give their brief speeches, and then the principal would conclude the night's activities with a few thoughts. I had hoped there would be a question-and-answer session at the end, but I was going to be sorely disappointed.
The evening started off uneventfully, though. I walked past several tables, missing one that I should have noticed but didn't because I got focused on the table that had a big sign over it with the word "RACISM" with a red slash through it. These signs were all over town, and I found them so ironic. This bustling community, with all of its up-and-coming yuppies and their ever-progressive churches, do so many things to show just how with-it and open-minded they are in their collective public expressions. Everything from bans on all smoking in public to mildly worded vows of "tolerance" for alternative "lifestyles," these are the kind of people trying very hard to have their noses in the progressive air, where they won't be able to smell the stench of their cowtown-gone-big-time with its street-level, grinding poverty, unemployment, and drug problems. That very school, where those anti-racism signs were wagging, is a hot-bed of simmering anger between the Black and White kids on one side, and the immigrant kidsmostly, but not all, Hispanicon the other. As an African-American mother had told me when we were talking about the bitter hatred the Mexican kids were engendering for their alleged misbehavior on a school bus, "My granddaddy always said Black and White folk would finally come together when we all had someone else we didn't like." I laughed at the time, but I knew very well she was right: the Blacks and Whites have almost no issues with each other, but they uniformly hate the Mexicans, and they seem to find all kinds of reasons why those Hispanic kids are making them get mad.
The D.A.R.E. table just made me cringe. I wondered if anyone in that school had even the slightest clue as to how rampant the use of meth and Special K (ketamine) are. The cop sitting at that D.A.R.E. table probably did; but then again, maybe he didn't, either.
So I went by all the tables, and I missed the one that, right there and then, would have set me off. As it was, I had to wait until nearly the end of the evening before my list of issues I wanted to bring up would evaporate in a storm of righteous indignation over one small matter highlighted in the last, big assembly.
Now, it sounds like I went to that Open House with a mission to stir trouble. That's right: I had several issues I wanted to have aired in an open forum where lots of parents were present. One was the problem with the pot of ethnic tensions that was on the verge every day of bursting into open violence.
Another was the RFID chips. Apparently, according to a number of junior high school students who had spoken to me in other venues, several teachers at that school had been telling the kids that, before they were finished with high school, every student would be required to have a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip injected as a requirement to attend public school. The refrain I had heard from several kids was that teachers were saying something along the lines of, "It's just like how we make you have vaccinations." After the tragedy at that Amish school in Pennsylvania last month, the harangue from a couple of teachers about those RFID chips had become more persistent. I wanted clarification on this matter, just to make sure it was nothing more than some teachers pulling kids' legs, and I wanted it where parents could hear all about RFID chips. My hope was that a paleo-conservative wave of Luddite indignation would roll across that room and put some brakes on this hare-brained idea, if by some remote chance it was seriously on the table. As it had been, far too many ridiculous, ill-conceived, and downright counter-productive ideas had come to fruition in that school district (and, in fact, in that whole community) because plans were hatched, executed, and entrenched before anyone knew what was going on. The RFID chips were just the latest and, in my judgment, the very worst of a whole string of nonsense that had made my job as a citizen and my career as a college teacher more and more difficult. RFID chips are already becoming required by far too many employers in the private sector, and within the next two years, U.S. soldiers will be giving up their dog tags to get those RFID chips shot into their arms (which should make it somewhat easier, I shall concede, to identify battlefield corpses).
I had my plan for a couple of diplomatically worded, yet pointed, questions. Then came the final assembly, and that was where my plans turned on a dime.
By the way, bringing up issues in another, perhaps more appropriate, forumlike, maybe to the school boardwouldn't be such a good idea. First would come the mantra that people with concerns should work their way up through the system. Second, and more tellingly, both the school board and the city, itself, have employees sometimes called their "kook handlers," otherwise known as community relations personnel. These are the individuals to whom the kooks who call are directed. These handlers are very nice, and they have absolutely no authority to do anything other than calm people down and assure them that their concerns will be addressed. I know these people well, both because I've worked with some of them and because I've been directed to them, like the time I called to find out why an apartment complex in town had secured its own police force that was writing "tickets," something that cannot be done by entities that are not 'sovereign' such as municipalities and states. A nice kook handler for the city was "helping" me until I brought in the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to deal with the matter since these phony "cops" were writing tickets to kids who were riding their bikes on the sidewalk instead of on the streets as required by the "laws" of the apartment complex. (Ever watch a five-year-old riding her little bike behind parked cars that might back out at any second?) No, I wasn't interested in getting into a discussion with the school board's community relations person, much as I enjoy talking with people I've never met before. The school assembly was where I might get some real answers to serious questions.
Returning to the grand finale of that Open House, the principal had her sayshe'd have a few last words at the end, toothen the teachers came through, one by one, saying the things parents and concerned citizens want to hear: students are expected to do their homework, respect their teachers and their peers, etc.
Then came the teacher spearheading the health program. It wasn't a minute before she said, "And I'm so excited about the funding we have for our abstinence-only sex education program here."
Oh, my. Following school matters as closely as I had been, I had heard nothing about this. But it got better. The health teacher started talking about the "coordinator" of the program out in the hall at her table: the table with the sign for the church that was behind this application of a "faith-based initiative."
I swear, I'm getting old. Either that, or a table sponsored by a church plopped right smack in the middle of a public school was so far outside my world-view that I just blocked it out.
I actually got out of my seat and went over to the doors and peeked out. Sure enough, there it was: a table with a church's logo parked front and center, along with "health education" signs; and there, sitting behind the table, was a real, live church lady, almost a caricature in flesh and blood, someone who would, by the very aura about her, bring many to vows of abstinence. Dear Lord, the woman was wearing floral print with a ruffled-lace collar that looked like it was throttling the hag.
The health teacher in the cafetorium was just bubbling on: the amount of "assistance" the school had received for implementing this program, how she could tell the "positive" impact it was making on the lives of so many young people, and how she could "vouch for" the dedication of that church and its church lady since she was a member of that very same house of God.
I looked at the row of teachers sitting with the principal, and all but a few had expressions of what I can describe only as serenity with what that health teacher was saying. Good Lord, those were people cut from the same cloth; but more importantly, this had been some kind of group decision to bring such a program on board, and that principal, nodding her head and smiling, somehow pushed this through, probably using the leverage of promises of federal money that would come with implementation of a heavily religious intrusion into what should be a completely secular institution.
Yes, the federal government has several of these programs, and schools desperate for funds are vulnerable to parochial, Christian interestsusually within the school systems, themselvesready to get the ball rolling. And these programs aren't in any way loose with respect to standards of content, scope of instruction, or even sequence of topics. They aren't particularly nice, either. For example, program "guidelines," which are actually curricular mandates, specifically address topics like homosexuality, which is described as a lifestyle that can be "exited" (yes, that's the language). That explained in a flash what I had noticed as a disturbing level of viciously anti-gay jokes the kids at that school seemed completely at ease with telling. It also explained why way too many girls had been telling everyone that two of their classmates are "lesbians" just because one of them sat on the other's lap one day. The cruelty of the name-calling was exceeded only by how proud all of the girls were that they'd "tagged" a couple of "lezzies."
The health teacher finished, the principal said the goodbye and thank you bit, and everyone left.
They'll have another Open House in the Spring, so I'll get my facts in order and be ready for the inevitable braying about this faith-based initiative being rammed down the throats of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. I'll let the lady have her fun, then I'll take my opportunity to growl rather loudly, "Before you sit down..."
Being a college teacher for 25 years has taken away any qualms I might have about taking over a room with my voice. Heaven knows why, but people I know get really fidgety when I start that intrusive snarl that inevitably leads to a long-winded lecture. It's my trademark; and for some reason, people who have been to college are rather afraid to tell a professor to shut up.
My script will be polished. "When and where was it decided that we would, in this school, set aside comprehensive sex educationthe kind that includes a strong message for abstinence along with an equally strong message that effective contraception is available and must always be used when the choice of abstinence has been declined?"
I'll probably get something like, "I really don't think this is the place..."
"It most certainly is," I'll say. "Your 'abstinence only' programas much as you, yourself, are 'so excited' about itis exactly the same as refusing to teach driver's ed students about safety belts simply because you're going to tell them not to have accidents."
I've already made it quite clear to anyone who will listen that I fully intend to make a loud noise when this matter comes up at the next Open House, and I have been quietly aghast at the number of peoplemost of them parentswho agree with me. "Good grief," I keep thinking to myself, "I really need to stop being so snotty about the people in this community."
Provided I'm not dragged out before I can finish, I must make one more point: "Studies are already coming in that give strong evidence that this abstinence-only sex education is simply not working, and this school is allowing one church, with one set of religious beliefs, to impose those beliefs on a community where a whole lot of people simply don't believe that way. In fact, one of the largest churches in town, the First United Methodist Church down just off College Avenue, specifically states in its public documents that gay people are welcome with open arms and no judgment; yet you choose a path that brings intolerant religion right into this public school, all while you wave around those 'no racism in our community' signs out there."
I could say more, especially about teaching at the local colleges where I get to see 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old single mothers with one, two, three, or even (in the case of a student of mine right now at the community college) four children. Most of them, I'm trying to prep for the GED. A few, I'm teaching in remedial courses they have almost no chance of passing. They're tired, their lives are a shattered mess, their futures are written in the virtual stone of lost hope and minimum wage jobs for years to come. They'll suffer abuse at the hands of a nasty, so-called "free market"; they'll suffer abuse at the hands of boyfriends they desperately hope are a chance to live a better life; they'll suffer verbal abuse at the hands of their parents, who are themselves being burdened by children and now grandchildren who cannot adequately fend for themselves; they'll suffer abuse at the hands of a git-tuff-on-crime law enforcement machine that will kick their butts every time they do things that poor people often do by the very nature of their circumstances; and they'll suffer abuse at the hands of a scornful little sub-population of religious hate-mongers who will use them as the pretext for more and more ridiculous, counter-productive policies brought to bear through craven politicians trying to show just how pious, godly, and altogether Christian they, themselves, are.
I'll stop at that. If I were to keep going, I'd probably end up roaring, "God ALMIGHTY, teachers! Is promoting your own narrow views and getting a few extra bucks from Right-wing whores in Washington really worth the price you're exacting in more lives wrecked? IS THAT WHAT YOUR GOD BIDS OF YOU? If so, then yours is a false god, and you are the worshippers of an idol of self-satisfying pain visited upon those harmed by your abdication of responsibility to these kids, who by the way should always come before your mean little god as far as public policy is concerned."
Like I said, I'll stop before I go that far.
The abstinence-only sex education program will continue, of course, whether or not I raise holy Hell. It's not like schools are a shining example of democracy. After all, we pay those teachers and administrators to make decisions that can at times be unpopular. Perhaps if we paid teachers more, though, we'd get better decisions.
Setting aside my personal preferences for a comprehensive, well-tested, secular approach to sex education, I suppose I'm okay with how things are with the abstinence-only version; it most decidedly guarantees that I'll have plenty of work prepping single mothers for their GEDs for years to come.
Now, if only I could work an angle to do my teaching as some faith-based initiative type of gig, I'd definitely have it made.
The Dark Wraith believes there really is a place for God in remediating the future.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Special Graphic Post:
Hallowe'en Politics Graphic #2
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Public Policy and Intolerance in Commerce
As Pam recaps in her post, the original article in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune explains that cities across the U.S. and other countries have been grappling with demands by persons of certain religious affiliations for exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. As an example of such discrimination, some Muslim cab drivers refuse to transport blind people with seeing-eye dogs because dogs are haram ("unclean") according to the Qur'an.
Officials in Minneapolis have rejected the two-tiered system that would have allowed cab drivers at the airport to discriminate without having to go to the back of the line and start again waiting to pick up a fare. The reasoning behind the (Minneapolis) Metropolitan Airport Commission rejection of the Muslim cab drivers' request for exemption was that allowing Muslim drivers to decline fares without sanction "would amount to an acknowledgement that Shari'a, or Islamic law, is relevant to a routine commercial transaction." Moreover, and beyond the immediate matter of the Muslim cab drivers, making such an accommodation would likely be the first step onto a slippery slope where other groups claiming religious reasons for discrimination in commercial transactions would press their own demands for exemptions based upon a variety of religious tenets.
In the comments thread to Pam's post, I set forth a fundamental argument against government recognizing a commercial operation's right to discriminate, even when such discrimination arises as an expression of strict adherence to religious beliefs held by the owners or employees. In edited and extended form, I herewith present my statement originally published on that thread.
First, and as a general matter, the issue has to do with what is called "public policy." If we are to dispense with a world where government does not or should not exist, then we must accept that government has a duty to enact and enforce certain laws that promote order within the civil society. That means no business that anticipates earning revenues in that society may be permitted to act in a way that has been deemed contrary to what is right, just, and appropriate for securing, maintaining, and advancing that society. In a democracy, this ultimately places an affirmative and altogether compelling burden on the electorate to ensure that those who write laws promoting public policy see that such policy indeed expresses rightful action, just in its foundations and expressly beneficial to the good of the society.
In other words, it is a cop-out simply to throw up one's hands and say, "Every man for himself." It is far more difficult to be a responsible citizen insisting that decency and tolerance be the unwavering, guiding principles in determining what is public policy. Consequentially, it is the duty of the citizen to promote good public policy through the election of just, fair, and reasonable representatives and furthermore to actively participate in continuing dialogue with those elected representatives to ensure that they do not stray from proposing and enacting laws that ensure a fair and tolerant society for all, not merely for some.
Furthermore, once a reasoned and well-debated public policy is put into law and operation, both individuals and businesses must expect that, if they are to garner all of the benefits of the society and its embedded economy, they must abide by those rules. To the extent that they elect to do otherwise, they face not merely the risk of civil or criminal action, but also the certain scorn of the public at large for behaving in a manner that deviates from societal expectations.
Important to acknowledge in what has just been stated is that a society, acting through laws, regulations, and the very community, itself, can be neither authoritarian nor completely libertine: in the former case, the most mean-spirited and parochial expectations will be laid upon the members of a society; and in the latter, the public sector will have utterly abandoned to human nature, base as it would inevitably become, the duty to carefully, parsimoniously, and with good intentions shape the behaviors of its members. This, then, is the necessary dutydemanding as it does eternal vigilanceof the ideal society: that it not act with an iron and overbearing fist to impose strict standards of behavior, but neither that it for even a moment ignore its responsibility to appropriately but minimally circumscribe personal and commercial action.
Now, to the second point, related to, but more specific than, the first. Cab drivers earn their living by using the public's facilities: its streets, its sidewalks, and its other pedestrian and motorized traffic infrastructure. That means they are using what is not exclusively theirs, and as such, they must accept that public rules, not their own, are what matter. The cab drivers use that which the public pays to build, maintain, and upgrade, so they do not get a free ride either in terms of safety, licensing, and operating standards or in terms of actual conduct toward those who would use their services.
If they wish to engage in discrimination, first, they should find a society where public policy either does not exist or where laws or lack thereof express support for intolerance; and second, they should use only what they pay for and own completely and exclusively. It is wholly unacceptable and in no small measure inexcusable for the intolerant to expect a just, tolerant, and right society to allow them to conduct commercial operations using the public's facilities while ignoring the expressed will of that society for its members to be in their own conduct just, tolerant, and right.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Costs to the U.S. of 20th and 21st Century Wars
The table and associated graphics below present the cost of GWOT to June 2006 in comparison to approximate costs incurred by the United States in the major conflicts in which it engaged during the 20th Century. All data other than for GWOT were derived from the Statistical Summary, America's Major Wars Webpage of the U.S. Civil War Center (USCWC) of Louisiana State University. The cost to June 2006 of GWOT was obtained from the Congressional Research Service as cited above, and the population estimate for the United States in calculating the per capita cost of GWOT was estimated at 299 million, based upon recent U.S. Census Bureau data. USCWC cost figures for wars of the 20th Century were presented at the USCWC Website in 1990 dollars, but are presented here in 2006 dollars based upon adjustments made using consumer price index data provided by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflating the USCWC data from the year each war ended to the present. (Note that on the USCWC site, the 1990 cost equivalent of World War I is incorrect: the figure reported there is $97 billion dollars, but the original cost of the war, which was $26 billion, would be $225 billion in 1990 dollars.) War durations were derived from war timelines at Infoplease.com.
Readers are cautioned that, unlike the other wars presented below, the Global War on Terror is not yet completed and will not be in the foreseeable future. This will most specifically affect total cost of the conflict, but may also affect both monthly and per capita costs depending upon the level and direction of future expenditures.
The Dark Wraith encourages a careful review of the data presented above.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Special Graphic Post:
Hallowe'en Politics Graphic #1
Friday, October 13, 2006
Silencing Corporate Whistleblowers
It was upon reading the title and the summary that all kinds of alarms went off in my mind, this despite the references on the Website to reputable places like the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and downright pseudo-liberal people like Arianna Huffington (see, however, my personal assessment of Ms. Huffington in the article "Put a Cork in It, Arianna").
This California First Amendment Coalition group looks like such a bulwark of liberalism that the very header graphic on the Website reads: "California First Amendment Coalition: Protecting & Defending the Public's Right to Know."
So what's up with such a fine, upstanding protector and defender of the public's right to know calling for freeing the Hewlett Packard 5?
For those of you not into corporate skullduggery, the 'Hewlett Packard 5' refers to the corporate executives of Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) who went so far as to have private investigative types pretend they were other people so they could find out who had told journalists about some of the inside goings-on at HP while it was under the rule of the incompetent former Chairwoman Patricia Dunn and her toadies. Ms. Dunn and four others have been charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, identity theft, and illegal use of computer data (People of the State of Calif. v. Patricia Dunn, et al., Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose, 06-1027481). The criminal complaint names Ms. Dunn and her chief ethics director and senior legal counsel, Kevin Hunsaker, as well as three people who provided private investigation services that included, in the account at the Washington Post, "...the use of false pretenses to gain access to personal phone records of HP board members, journalists and their families..." This use of a systematic pattern of oral and written lies to get personal and in some cases private information is sometimes called "pretexting," a term charmingly bland in hiding the venality of the acts. According to that same article in the Washington Post, the HP cabal even "...devised an unsuccessful e-mail sting to attempt to trick a reporter into revealing her source." Bloomberg.com provides the following account of the extent of the corporate surveillance operation:
"At least six investigators in Massachusetts, Florida, Colorado and Georgia hired by Hewlett-Packard faked the identities of directors, employees and reporters to obtain their phone records... [P]retexting compromised over 24 different individuals' telephone, fax and cellular accounts... [d]uring 33 months of call monitoring..."After all that, HP director George Keyworth resigned after admitting that it was he who had been the source of "some" of the leaks from the inner sanctum at the company. Both Ms. Dunn and former HP CEO Carleton "Carly" Fiorina (who is alleged to have been one of the targets of the pretexting) claim that Keyworth and fellow board member Tom Perkins 'plotted against them' because of the patriarchal culture pervasive at the executive level.
Despite what might be a hollow defense of corporate wrong-doers, the California First Amendment Coalition had my attention. A vigorous, well-sourced refutation of charges like those leveled against Dunn and her alleged accomplices would be worth reading, especially since the criminal complaint was filed by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat who happens to be running for California State Treasurer and has been rumored to have an interest in someday moving into the governor's mansion.
Criticism leveled at prosecutors for political timing is not novel to this case, of course. Down in Texas, former House Speaker Tom Delay, his attorney, and others have quite vocally made the charge that Democratic prosecutor Ron Earle is using his position in a political witch hunt against the former Republican powerhouse. If convicted on the most serious charge, that of money laundering, Texas state law specifies that Mr. Delay will spend the remainder of his life in prison. That gives him quite a bit of incentive to use just about any counter-attack, specious as it might be, in his defense. But such attacks on prosecutors' motives should not be roundly ignored, either. Only the naïve would believe that politically ambitious attorneys for local, state, and federal governments have not in the past used their position for their own advancement.
As such, the facts of the particular case at handto the extent those facts can be sorted out from the hail of charges, counter-charges, accusations, and public relations campaignsmust guide the outsider's assessment of the merits both of government claims and the representations of the defendant and his advocates in response. In any event, it can never become a standing or unspoken rule of law enforcement that important people are not to be charged with crimes during election seasons; neither, however, can it become a standing or unspoken rule that prosecutors' motives are off limits as points of vigorous defense.
Without following a speculative tangent about Attorney General Lockyer's true motives for prosecuting Dunn and her alleged co-conspirators, suffice it to note that the accused from Hewlett Packard opened a door on questions of great legal interest: how far can a corporation go in protecting its secrets, and where does the required 'due diligence' of a corporation end and the right of individual privacy take precedence? The California First Amendment Coalition wants to dismiss the second part of that question by holding the focus squarely on the matter of the government's duty not to interfere with journalists trying to get stories from insiders.
If readers just heard what sounded like a forensic grinding sound, that was a debate being shifted interdimensionally without benefit of a slipstream clutch. Note the subtlety: somehow, to protect journalists from the government, government must allow corporations to do whatever they deem necessary internally, thereby relieving the government of much of its need to go after journalists in the first place. Presumably, if companies can create a wall of silence around corporate operations by intimidating employees, journalists will have no one ever willing to speak out of turn. Problem solved: no whistleblowers, no stories in the media; no stories in the media, no First Amendment freedom of the press issues.
Before proceeding to summarily haul the California First Amendment Coalition over the coals, though, I must return to several matters of context in the particular case of Hewlett Packard. Patricia Dunn was no colossus of brilliance in corporate governance; neither, however, was Ms. Fiorina, the former CEO who came in on the wings of the appalling hand-over of Hewlett Packard to Compaq in a "merger" of miserably incompetent unequals. Ms. Fiorina was fired in 2005, perhaps in part as retribution by minority shareholders from the Packard family for her role in engineering the merger. Ms. Dunn's ascendance was on the executive body of Ms. Fiorina. As ABCNews.com reports, her self-aggrandizing style "...had turned HP into an armed camp," and the leaks from the boardroom started during her tumultuous tenure. Curiously, Ms. Fiorina's previous high-powered corporate gig at Lucent Technologies (NYSE:LU) ended just before federal enforcement power brought its fist down there. Ms. Fiorina, it should be noted in passing, was one of the targets of Ms. Dunn's private investigators.The jury may still be out on whether or not Ms. Dunn is largely the victim of mendacious forces aligned against her, but Ms. Fiorina's claims of victimhoodwell stated in her just-released book, "Tough Choices: A Memoir"are generally met in the corporate world with rolling eyes and barely suppressed grimaces.
However, setting aside the armchair assessment of who was more wretched than whom as head of HP, and especially setting aside Ms. Fiorina's efforts to tie her board-level struggles at HP to those of her successor, there is a human level that needs to be set forth with respect to the matter of charging Ms. Dunn at this particular time. She is suffering from a recurrence of ovarian cancer, having already been a survivor of breast cancer. As much as my professional judgment had from the outset of her ascendance to the chairmanship at Hewlett Packard been generally negativebut with no small touch of relief that, at the very least, she wasn't Carly Fiorinashe then and even now deserves grudging admiration for her sheer will to survive, rise, and flourish in the vicious, sexist, and altogether stylishly brutish world of high corporate power. Dragging a woman to court when she's probably going to suffer greatly and die relatively soon is distasteful to the point of disgusting. Occasions exist when Lady Justice needs to take off her blindfold to see upon whom she is about to wield her sword. Should the trial end in her conviction on one or more of the charges against her, I shall be one to call in the strongest of language for the utmost mercy in her sentencing. No one who is a regular reader of my articles and comments would accuse me of being other than a hard-ass, especially when it comes to meting out justice against the mean, the hateful, and the powerful; but beating the bloodied is repulsive. Readers may take exception to that position, but they shall do so at the risk of that hard-ass side of me coming out for a meal, one that would not exclude a tough look at Attorney General Lockyer.
Having made that point, and returning now to the article by the California First Amendment Coalition, my hope that this group would offer a spirited refutation of the charges against Ms. Dunn and her alleged accomplices was sorely and swiftly put to rest. The summary of the article says it all:
"Corporations must have power to police leaks internally so newspapers will remain free to publish leaks"That phrase 'police leaks internally' is as worrisome as it is loaded with subtext. Without saying so explicitly, the author of the commentary, Mr. Sheer, is starting off with the assumption that corporations must have internal policing systems with duties beyond ensuring corporate actions are in compliance with the laws of the land. Indeed, Mr. Sheer spends no small amount of space in his commentary describing an internal enforcement system that protects the corporation and its officers and directors. That, in and of itself, is not outrageous at all, provided the internal defenses the corporation deploys are specifically, categorically, and uniformly to the end of ensuring the maximization of shareholder wealth within the bounds of that which is lawful action guided by sound business judgment. In my article, "Rationality, Incentives, and the Agency Dilemma," I explain that any person, be it an individual, the parties bound in contract, or those working for a corporation, have incentive to act in their own self-interest rather than that of the principal for whose interest they are supposed to be acting; the extent to which they will do so is mitigated only by both the monitoring of the actions and enforcement of the rules under which they are to work. So internal policing within a corporation is altogether reasonable, but not when the monitoring and enforcement are contrary to standing statutory and/or civil law, and not when the monitoring and enforcement activities are to the end of protecting the officers and directors personally.
Mr. Sheer in fact makes a valiant attempt to bind blanket protection of internal corporate policing practices to statutory law, itself:
"I start from the proposition that public corporations are allowed to have secrets and to take measures to protect them. A corporate board needn’t function as openly as a city council. Indeed, depending on the circumstances, the disclosure of corporate secrets can be a violation of federal securities laws."Now we have the Securities Act of 1934 being brought to bear: regulatory and law enforcement authorities, and obviously then the laws that inform civil and criminal actions against transgressors, must allow a corporation broad latitude to internally police, including, according to Mr. Sheer, the very duty "to force its employees to submit to polygraph tests [as Apple Corp. did]," because of the dangers of insider trading.
Magnificent is the conflation. It is as if the author is claiming that due diligence in the form of vigorous investigation of suspected insider trading is somewhere on the same planet with having the 'director of ethics' and some Magnum PI wannabes pretend they're who they aren't to find out who's spilling the beans about boardroom discussions. The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and other relevant Acts of Congress and the several states regulating secondary securities market activities and the actions of participants therein place affirmative burden on public corporations to comply not just in letter, but in spirit. In fact, the term "scheme" is used in regulatory language to convey the broad latitude the Securities and Exchange Commission and the state securities regulatory agencies have in considering what constitutes lawful versus unlawful activities, including those by the directors, officers, and other insiders of a public corporation. This, however, is not in any way related to the chairman of a public corporation authorizing and directing private investigators to go out and lie to get information about who is telling boardroom "secrets."
In fact, Ms. Dunn's conduct goes to the heart of the matter of that over-used but still profoundly important word "transparency": a board of directors, the executive officers of a corporation, and even legal counsel to the firm may see behind-closed-doors discussions as meriting all the privacy in the world; but the outside observer, especially a shareholder sensing inadequate transparency, could see matters very differently. For all the lip service modern corporations give to the pre-eminence of their shareholders, many of those corporations behave in ways that are truly appalling to those who have little or no voice in director-level decision making, as is evident from the outrageous compensation packages laid at the feet of executive officers whose performance at the helm would have gotten them fired were the relationship between compensation committees, decision-makers on the board, and the executive beneficiaries not so incestuously tight and non-transparent. By virtue of its egregious offenders, corporate America has taken off the table any presumption of a "right" to have "secrets" other than those directly having to do with proprietary technologies, in-process negotiations, and access to uncertified financial information.
The mere presumption or declaration that some boardroom or executive-level matter is a "secret" cannot take precedence over the public's right to know: it is that public that claims at least some degree of ownership if a corporation poses to benefit from "public corporation" status with respect to broad access to capital markets.
Here's the distillate from this corporate lawyer dream world being promoted by the California First Amendment Coalition.
Let corporations do their own 'internal policing' as they see fit because they can get the job done better. The Bill of Rights circumscribes government actions against citizens, not the actions of private entities like corporations. Sometimes, courts go so far as to take that constitutional stuff seriously when it comes to the government trying to deny rights enumerated in or constructed from the Constitution; therefore, it's best to remove the entire line of defense about "rights" someone might have.The California First Amendment Coalition deserves credit: they've done their best to construct a false choice between a specific constitutional right, freedom of the press, and a broad right of citizens not to have private corporations for which they work spy on them using means the courts would have to approve before the government could do the very same things.
Probable cause? Not needed. If we've heard a rumor about you, to the back room for a polygraph test you go. Just be glad we're more civilized than the government about getting the truth out of you.
Unreasonable search and seizure? Sure. We can do whatever we want because the corporate offices belong to us. Actually, if you work for us, you do, too, but we'll let you go home most nights.
Lie to get information? No problem. We're protecting those shareholders we love so much. Anyway, it's all about compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley (otherwise known as the Securities Lawyers' Revenue Enhancement Act).
Due process? Where's that written in our corporate by-laws?
Presumption of innocence? Like we'd ever make a mistake.
Freedom of speech? Not if you've ever been on our payroll.
Freedom of the press? Absolutely! Like anyone who's ever worked here is going to rat on us after we've made examples of a few troublemakers.
It is, however, on its face nonsense; but it is also the troubling and persistent mentality of the corporate world that labor is just one more factor of production to be used, abused, and discarded as necessary without the interference of laws that might insist that people are citizens first, and the rights and libertiesall of the themthey carry as such citizens are not and cannot in any way be waived when they give a company the privilege of their productive effort.
At a congressional hearing last week, Hewlett Packard executives, former executives, and security experts testified about the snooping done by the company at Ms. Dunn's behest. The gruesome eight hours of testimony by Dunn and others left members of both parties at times incredulous and at other times outraged. Stalled efforts to bring corporate spying of this kind under control will likely be re-invigorated, particularly because the hearing made it very clear, in the words of privacy consultant Robert Douglas, "[T]he biggest buyers (of pilfered phone records) are attorneys, corporations, banks, finance agencies, car financiers — the business community."
(And, yes, these outraged congressmen are of the very same U.S. government that is engaged in a massive, wholesale, unlawful campaign of spying on U.S. citizens without any court oversight whatsoever, so the irony of their outrage is so deliciously palpable that it should have a gag warning attached to it.)
Corporations will forever presume that any effort by the government to circumscribe internal practices constitutes an unacceptable burden upon the right to conduct operations in the most efficient way possible to maximize shareholder wealth. Theirs will permanently be the position, expressed or implied, that they as the employers by nature have the right to grant and deny privileges as a consequent application of business judgment, and one such discretionary 'privilege' is employee privacy. Their occasional claims that the well-being of their employees is so crucial to success of the enterprise notwithstanding, the backdrop of corporate treatment of its workforce is instilled with the mentality that people are hired and retained as a favor to those so graced. Most employees see it that way, too: there exists no "right" to have the job, and from that presumption then logically flows the conclusion that virtually nothing about the job is infused of prior rights other than those clearly set forth in law, and only then in law vigorously, pervasively, and consistently enforced.
It is, then, the permanent duty of the government through legislation, regulatory oversight, and the courts to ensure that worker abuses by corporate America are held in check and those representing the interests of corporations are resolutely, swiftly, and severely punished when their wholly expected attitudes contrary to relevant law become expressed in action, as happened in the case of Hewlett Packard. It is, then, only when the government re-asserts itself as the unwavering guarantor of the rights of workers by virtue of their citizenship in a free country that corporations will have even the hint of incentive not to act as the officers and directors at Hewlett Packard did.
Unfortunately, that commitment by government first, foremost, and always to serve its citizens will first require that the United States government fully reconstitute its own understanding that the people of this country have the fundamental, inalienable right to be left alone.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Enter the Dragons
Surprisingly, however, despite multiple reports of seismic detectors recording the event, estimates of the yield of the device vary strikingly, with The Independent reporting a 15 kiloton yieldapproximately on the order of the atomic bomb used by the United States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945while other news sources, including the Los Angeles Times, are reporting that at least some U.S. officials claim the yield was "less than one kiloton." The Los Angeles Times expands on this U.S. claim by noting that the nuke might have "...failed to achieve its full explosive potential." At less than a kiloton, it is actually within the realm of possibility that conventional explosives were used to simulate a nuclear blast.
A device yielding 15 kilotons is well appreciated for its ability to lay waste to an entire city, so a nuclear weapons capability even of such modest power by modern standards is nonetheless a clear indication that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has, indeed, become a full-fledged nuclear state capable of inflicting extraordinary damage on a military target.
If, however, the explosion was less than a kiloton, a number of possible scenarios emerge. First, it is possible that U.S. officials are deliberately underreporting the yield in an effort to calm domestic and international fears about and reaction to the test. On the other hand, if the device was a nuke and didn't achieve full potential, it would indicate that the North Koreans have not yet perfected the high technology of the triggering and aiming mechanisms that bring the fissile material inside the device into the compaction state required to create the critical mass that causes the material to become a fuel-exhausting, destructive nuclear explosion.
Even if the North Korean nuclear test came off without a hitch, few would dispute the objective evidence that Pyongyang is months if not years from becoming a genuine regional threat. Although it could right now deliver a nuke (if it really has any) by traditional aircraft, a bombereven if it were to appear as a civilian aircraftcoming from North Korea would be confronted and turned back or shot down were it to come anywhere near a target in South Korea, Japan, or the United States. And as far as using ballistic missiles, although the North Koreans have intermediate-range missiles they have tested successfully, their sole test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Taepodong IIpossibly a variation on the Iranian Shahab 3 or a straight upgrade from Nodong and Scud technology used in the Taepodong Iwas a failure, having exploded either unintentionally or by ground directive about 40 seconds into its maiden test flight.
But even if North Korea were to suddenly have long-range ballistic delivery vehicles in its arsenal, the nation's nuclear research and development community must still make it through a long, expensive, and technologically challenging set of hurdles with miniaturizing the nukes so they can be fitted in warheads atop missiles. Beyond the miniaturization still await the complications of remote arming, accurate vehicle targeting, and hardening to countermeasures ranging from missile command signal jamming on through to mid-air interception by the latest generation of anti-ballistic missiles the United States is deploying. (Whether or not the U.S. ABMs are effective is another matter entirely, but their existence serves as a factor in the attack calculus of what a missile would need in order to survive to target.)
Reports vary somewhat on the size of the North Korean nuclear arsenal: a lower bound might be six to eight, and an upper bound might be twelve; but the size and the very existence of the North Korean arsenal is at this point irrelevant to the important events that will occur in the region over the coming several years. Japan is more than capable of going nuclear in a matter of months, and its legendary industrial expertise combined with its already-existing rocketry program ensures that, long before North Korea can become a regional menace, Japan could become a significant threat to the government of Kim Jong Il in North Korea.
Mainland China, once the principal benefactor of Pyongyang and its chief protector against the worst of international sanctions that would otherwise have already been imposed on the DPRK, is now not only making starkly harsh, public statements about North Korea, but is also engaging in an almost disturbingly warm dialogue with Japan, this latter turn at least possibly in part the result of the stepping down of Japan's long-time prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who had a bad habit of repeatedly souring Chinese-Japanese relations, particularly with his official visits to shrines honoring the Japanese Imperial Army troops of World War II, whom the Chinese to this day consider nothing less than the very worst of all possible war criminals. Even though Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe, is a protégé of the former prime minister, and even though Abe openly supports a more robust Japanese military posture, he has managed (with some help from North Korea's petulance) to get started on the right foot with the leadership in Beijing, with the two sides forging an alliance that could conceivably result in China allowing Japan to play the role of hitman-in-waiting to remind North Korea that its ambitions for regional influence will not go unchecked.
North Korea's alleged nuclear test, in and of itself, is not nearly as important as a military achievement for Pyongyang as it is as a signal event in the shifting military dynamics and diplomcatic relationships matrix on the western side of the Pacific Rim. Although the United States can be a force in economic retribution against North Korea, its ability to impose a swift military solution is virtually non-existent, although the possibility always exists, given the current leadership in Washington, that the Pentagon might be ordered to try a military option. Absent a complete loss of connection to proper assessment of probable outcomes, the U.S. will not use military force either to destroy North Korea's nuclear facilities or to kill its leader. This is due only in part to the fact that American military forces are already stretched to their limit in the twin theatres of Afghanistan and Iraq. North Korea does not need to have or use nuclear weapons to be extraordinarily dangerous: not only does it have a huge standing army, but it also has tens of thousands of short-range rocket launchers that could within a matter of minutes begin what would be an almost incalculably destructive hail of hundreds of thousands of rockets onto South Korea. Within a day, such a siege would do at least as much damage as a concerted air force bombardment campaign; and given the dispersal of the launchers, it would be impossible to neutralize more than a fraction of the launchers before the collective effect of so many rockets had exacted a crippling toll on the economic vitality and physical infrastructure of the South.
That the United States does not have a viable military option is good news to the extent that, first, such an approach to dealing with Pyongyang would likely be counterproductive in the extreme and, second, such an effort would press the U.S. military to its breaking point. On the downside, though, the fact that the United States continues to decline North Korean demands for bilateral talks further circumscribes the range of options in which the United States could be the defining force in taming the ambitions of North Korea's leader.
This, then, leaves South Korea, Japan, and China at least to some extent in the position of finding their own accommodation for each other in their common desire to control Pyongyang. It means a re-militarized Japan, quite possibly to become a nuclear state; it means an already fully militarized South Korea very likely to follow suit and go nuclear within a matter of less than a decade; and it means these two emergent, economically strong Asian nations becoming allied with the 800-pound gorilla of the region, China, which has every incentive to present itself as the far closer, economically growing, and very reliable alternative to Washington, mired as it now is and will be for years to come in wars of its own making on the other side of the world.
In short, the 21st Century will just keep getting more interesting, whether or not the United States is capable of maintaining even the façade of relevance to it.
The Dark Wraith will have more good news as the new century proceeds.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Special Graphic Post:
Nightfall of the Vanquished
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Special Blog Post:
Fun with Trolls
The happy little Right-wing seal came out to the rocks jutting out of the water at Big Brass Blog Beach, and there he started his Right-wing bark:
Oh, by the way. To all members of the lunatic left-wing fringe:And the killer whale came up from behind, creating a giant wave that washed the little Right-wing seal into the frothing surf, where the killer whale snatched him and took him out to open water, there to playfully toss him up and down and up and down... and then to eat him alive.
In the District of Columbia, the legal age of sexual consent is 16.
Need a link?
Now, if you're going to start bitching and screaming that even if it's legal, it's inappropriate for a 50-something politician to have sex with an unpaid young volunteer, and any such politician should be forced to resign immediately just for suggesting it ...
... need I remind you ...
by: GrouchoMarx (contact) - 03 Oct '06 - 01:25
Good evening, GrouchoMarx.
Rep. Foley committed a federal crime. In fact, an indictment would include multiple counts on the charge. That is the issue. Oh, yes: conspiracy after the fact and obstruction of justice by several members of the Republican House leadership might be issues, too. Sometimes I'm so forgetful when I'm getting giddy watching hateful, power-hungry, old White men doing an impromptu group implosion. It's like watching group sex, except there's no cheesy music, and the moaning isn't fake.
But let's set all that legal mumbo-jumbo aside. I need to point out something else, something far more timely and compelling. Should you decide to try Mr. Foley's trick on a 16-year-old girl or boy in my custody, be sure to remind me about that age of consent thing of yours.
I'll find that pretty informative while I'm putting your perverted ass into one of those wheelchairs with the built-in, gravity-assist pee-bag attachment.
And by the way, if you don't understand the difference between a 23-year-old who went to Washington to "earn [her] Presidential kneepads" and a 16-year-old smoothie who doesn't need Mr. StiffWood helping him figure out which gate swings with the sweet song for him, I'll bet you already qualify for the Libertarian Consequences of Too Much Free Speech re-imbursement program for that wheelchair.
In other words, you and Foley take heed: bother the wrong kids and swear to God you thought they were 23 years old, and the last thing you'll need to worry about is being the Featured Special in the Fresh Meat Aisle at some federal penitentiary grocery store.
Come to think of it, you'll be so messed up you'll have to dress up like a pork chop to get ugly dogs to like you when the vigilantes are finished with the old one-two counseling session. Trust me, Groucho, it's not worth stepping up to the plate to join the Pervert Dinner Brigade to get a helping of the Ass Beating Buffet. You'll end up paying for your meal and theirs.
In other words, Groucho, get off it. When those 'lunatic left-wing fringe' folks take over the government and start doing the renditions on the likes of you and your buddies, you really, really don't want any of that sex stuff on the interrogation agenda, especially if you get sent to someplace like Syria or Egypt. Those torturers do special things to the perverts and their supporters. I think you'll agree with me that being Mr. Foley's friend right now isn't going to be worth the price when you meet 'Dr. Omar' in a dungeon on the other side of the world, where he'll use special electrodes designed to make testicles flash "Eat at Joe's... Eat at Joe's." I mean, really. But, hey, it's your call.
I'm not paying for your wheelchair. Or the smoke detector.
The Dark Wraith has thus finished the friendly toss-the-seal session for the evening.