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Friday, July 19, 2002

 
NO CONTROLLING MORAL AUTHORITY.

Neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney has spoken the precise phrase “no controlling legal authority,” but they’ve both come close in recent days, vigorously insisting that their behavior was within the letter of the law. (Mr. Bush went further, comparing his misdeeds at Harken to driving 60 in a 55 m.p.h. zone.)

They may or may not have broken the law with their shoddy behavior, but that’s beside the point. What they did was wrong. Perhaps their deeds were not criminal, but they were clearly unethical and immoral.

George W. Bush is a wrongdoer. What he did at Harken Energy was a sin. Same for Dick Cheney at Halliburton.

Jim Wallis made this point forcefully with regard to the Enron executives who pulled the Harken Maneuver:

“Let me be blunt. The behavior of Enron executives is a direct violation of biblical ethics; the teachings of both Christian and Jewish faith excoriate the greed, selfishness, and cheating of Enron's corporate leaders and condemn, in the harshest terms, their callous and cruel mistreatment of employees. Read your Bibles.

“The strongest media critics of Enron call it putting self-interest above the public interest; the Bible would just call it a sin. I don't know about the church- or synagogue-going habits of Enron's top executives but, if they do attend services, I wonder if they will hear a religious word about the practices of arranging huge personal bonuses and escape hatches while destroying the lives of people who work for you.”

Robert Parham responds "Preach, brother, preach!”

In a recent speech in Minneapolis, Pres. Bush asked: “The bottom line and this corporate America stuff, is that important? Or is serving your neighbor, loving your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself?”

Mr. Bush’s “either/or” is wrong. The Golden Rule applies to “the bottom line and this corporate America stuff,” and in his personal history as a businessman, that rule finds George W. Bush sorely lacking. Brother Wallis is right: the Bible would just call it a sin.

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The New Republic looks at Insidergate from the perspective of Hanlon’s Razor, which states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Or, as Spencer Ackerman puts it: “More important than whether Bush is guilty of insider trading, his Harken past shows him to be either lazy, or stupid, or both.” Michelle Cottle thinks it’s both.



posted by Fred Clark 3:08 PM

 
HEADLINE OF THE WEEK.

"Abstinence Movement Changes Strategy."

That teaser raised the hopes of Southern Baptist teens everywhere, but it doesn't mean what they want it to. (And I always thought that being part of the "abstinence movement" meant you didn't need a strategy.)

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TEAMSTERS DELIVER.

From this story in Wednesday's NY Times (reg. req.):

"Facing the threat of another crippling strike, the United Parcel Service announced yesterday that it had reached a tentative six-year pact that will give 210,000 Teamsters a 25 percent increase in wages and benefits.

"The agreement, covering more workers than any other private-sector union contract in the nation, was a victory for the union in other ways, too. U.P.S. promised to convert 10,000 part-time jobs to full-time and to give raises of more than 50 percent to many part-timers."

In this economy, with this president, and despite all the paid-for clout the Power of Brown exercises in Congress, the Teamsters just proved why unions still matter.

Never underestimate the power of people organizing, coming together and demonstrating for what they believe in. It has helped poor Nigerian women secure jobs for their villages. And if the nonviolent protests of those Nigerian women don't work for you, you can always try a semi-violent, hooligan riot, like some privileged prep-school attorneys recently did to secure cushy patronage jobs.

Power to the people.


posted by Fred Clark 8:36 AM

 
CONDITIONS FOR USE.

WARNING: The use of this system is routinely monitored and recorded. Anyone accessing this system expressly consents to such monitoring and is advised that if such monitoring reveals illegal or improper activity evidence of such may be provided to company officials for appropriate action.

Do you accept these conditions for use?


Every day here in The Cube I have to click “yes” to the above to gain access to this computer. Soon, if the Bush/Ashcroft gang has its way, citizenship may have similar “conditions for use.”

For a nice spoof of the Ashcroft Loyalty Brigade, check this out.

(And yes, this blog likely constitutes “improper activity” on this corporate computer.)

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ATTAQ?

Martha Stewart seems to have a stronger claim of innocence to corporate malfeasance than does George W. Bush or Dick Cheney – at least by merit of the facts so far.

But the taint of scandal could still harm the bottom line of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Inc. How can she hope to regain her reputation and protect her good name? Maybe she should invade Iraq.

Found the Podling article via the always interesting Rittenhouse Review, which offers a defense of Ms. Stewart here. TRR also pointed to this piece on Stewart vs. Cheney by Michelangelo Signorile.

This RQ piece by Amy Laura Hall raises a completely different set of questions about Stewart.

Podling uses the term "wag the dog," referring to the 1997 Barry Levinson movie that squandered Robert Deniro, Dustin Hoffman and the vicious satiric premise it stole from Larry Beinhart's superior novel.


posted by Fred Clark 8:12 AM


Thursday, July 18, 2002

 
WOLFRAM & HART ANNOUNCE EMMY NOMINEES.

For fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- which includes the slacktivist and, oh, every TV critic on the planet -- the show's annual snubbing by the Emmys is becoming a running joke.

They expanded the "best supporting actor" list to six and still left out James Marsters and Nicholas Brendan? And apparently no one at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has noticed the consistently excellent Alyson Hannigan. (Fortunately we have AHAS to correct ATAS' oversight.)

Yet despite its perennial location on critics' "Top Ten" lists and year-in-review highlights, Buffy is still getting dissed by the Emmys.

Buffy received a total of four Emmy nominations this year: one for "musical direction" (for "Once More, With Feeling"), one for "outstanding hairstyling" and two for "outstanding makeup."

The ATAS folks hosted a Buffy event in June at which the series' creator Joss Whedon described one major theme of the show as: "to celebrate the joy of female power -- using it, being it, showing it." The Academy responded with nominations for hairstyling and makeup.

Female power indeed.


posted by Fred Clark 3:35 PM

 
ALL APOLOGIES, PART 1.

The IRA has apologized for killing civilian noncombatants during its 30-year violent campaign. I’m in no position to judge the sincerity of this statement or the motives behind it, but a few reactions:

1. The apology was necessary. You're not allowed to kill civilians. If the IRA truly regards itself as an “army,” then they must apologize for the killing of civilians. That’s at least part of (but not all of) the difference between an “army” and “terrorists.”

2. You’re not allowed to kill civilians. Period. Even a just-war fought justly will likely end up killing many civilians, and double-effect applies and intent matters and in practice this is more nuanced and yada yada. But the bottom line is you’re not allowed to kill civilians. Not if you’re IRA. Not if you’re part of some irreligious “martyr’s brigade.” Not if you’re combatting terrorism. Not if you’re piloting the Enola Gay over Hiroshima.

3. The point being this: you’re not allowed to kill civilians.

4. Does #2 above imply some kind of moral equivalence between say, al Qaida and the IRA? Or between Osama bin Laden and Harry S. Truman? No. Intent, cause, context and motive all matter, and the differences between bin Laden’s gleefully evil cowardice and Truman’s grave responsibilities combatting authoritarian evil are massively freaking obvious. But stop trying to change the subject: You’re still not allowed to kill civilians.

5. Apologies matter. They of course cannot magically fix the damage done, but that’s not what they are for. If the leaders of Hamas were to issue an apology for killing scores of Israeli civilians they would be making a significant stride toward both justice and peace in their part of the world. The fact that the leaders of Hamas are utterly unlikely to ever issue such an apology is at least part of what distinguishes their terroristic cowardice from a legitimate struggle for justice.

6. You’re not allowed to kill civilians.

7. You’re not allowed to kill civilians.

8. See No. 7.


posted by Fred Clark 10:35 AM


Wednesday, July 17, 2002

 
BUSH DEFENDS CHENEY.

At a noon press conference today, President Bush called Dick Cheney "a fine business leader" and said he was confident the SEC's investigation of wrongdoing at Halliburton would find that Cheney, as Halliburton's CEO, was not involved.

That's not what Dana Milbank thinks. Or Richard Cohen. Or Newsweek. Or Josh Marshall. Or, you know, Larry Klayman.

Meanwhile, Cheney remains hidden in an undisclosed, secured location, hiding from the SEC and the press.

P.S. Marshall's TPM is on a roll today, with this .pdf post of a GOP strategy memo outlining the dangers of talk about "privatizing Social Security." The memo includes a list of "attacks that really hurt," i.e. ways in which Democrats' truth-telling could beat up on Republican candidates. It includes:

"He voted to spend social security trust funds on other things, and now there's a $1 trillion hole in the trust fund."

"He's spending over $1 trillion dollars of the Social Security trust fund on tax cuts for the rich."


Note that the memo does not in any way suggest that these statements are not true.


posted by Fred Clark 1:24 PM

 
DR. ATKINS' LETTER ON CORPULENCE.

The best-selling "Atkins Diet" recently got a big boost from the New York Times Magazine.

I'll let others discuss the possible health-risks associated with this popular diet, but I present for your reading pleasure the following entry from the Wordsworth Dictionary of Eponyms, Martin H. Manser, ed., which points out that Dr. Atkins' "New Diet Revolution" really isn't all that "new":

banting
Banting is a method of slimming by eating high amounts of protein and avoiding sugar, starch and fat. It is named after a London undertaker William Banting (1797-1878). Grossly overweight himself, Banting tried various slimming methods with no success, so he resorted to a strict diet. He lost 46 pounds (21 kg), reducing his waist measurement by 12 inches (32 cm). His efforts attracted some publicity, and he wrote a book about his experience, Letter on Corpulence (1863), outlining his methods of slimming.

More on Mr. Banting's Letter here and here.


posted by Fred Clark 12:52 PM


Tuesday, July 16, 2002

 
PRESS. ON.

Although George W. Bush has evaded the story of his insider-trading at Harken Energy for years, the AP's Pete Yost may have found a smoking gun.

George W. Bush campaigned on the strength of his business successes, but you won't find any mention of Harken Energy in his official White House bio.

People should know these things. Read Joe Conason. Read the Kristof and Krugman pieces in the Times. Then e-mail your president and ask that he put all these rumors to rest with full disclosure of the SEC's investigation of his dealings at Harken.

posted by Fred Clark 5:20 PM


Monday, July 15, 2002

 
BEATING UP ON GANDHI.

In last week's big speech on Corporate Responsibility, President Bush (or at least his speechwriters) alluded to the teachings of M.K. Gandhi: "In the long run," the president said, "there's no capitalism without conscience; there is no wealth without character."

The structure and content of the language here is too close to Gandhi's "Seven Social Sins" for me to believe it a coincidence, although Gandhi's original phrases are terribly mangled in Bush's speech. Here's the original, you can decide for yourself if the Bush team intended the reference:

Seven Social Sins

Politics without principles
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice


Bush seems to have been piggybacking on the moral authority and resonance of Gandhi's formulation, but I'm not sure this was wise. The biggest problem with Bush's speech, after all, was his "glass-houses" vulnerability. "We must be the change we wish to see," Gandhi said. That's not something Mr. Bush wants to hear when it comes to corporate responsibility.

Mr. Bush changed "commerce without morality" into "capitalism without conscience," which is probably a neutral change.

But Mr. Bush also changed "wealth without work" into "wealth without character," which is an incredibly telling substitution. After all, Mr. Bush himself has loads of wealth that did not come from work, but from his family connections and inheritance. To recast privilege as "character" is to pervert Gandhi's original meaning beyond recognition. This perverse notion -- that wealth implies virtue and poverty implies vice -- helps to explain support for estate-tax repeal even among those who are not the uber-rich who would benefit from that repeal.

Gandhi's grandson has some reflections on the above list here. Or you can just buy the T-shirt.


posted by Fred Clark 3:36 PM

 
NON-APOLOGY APOLOGY WATCH.

From the First State's paper of record, (where I work when not here in The Cube) comes this classic Non-Apology Apology. It's from Rich Abbott, a county councilman who represented a private developer in a lawsuit against the county, which was viewed by everybody except him (and perhaps Harvey Pitt or Dick Cheney) as a blatant conflict of interest:

"I do admit ... that I may have made a mistake in judgment regarding the public's perception of my representation. For that, I apologize ..."


posted by Fred Clark 3:14 PM

 
FORTUNE'S WORST-OF LISTS.

Last week, Fortune magazine released it's list of the "Best Companies for Minorities." Some thoughts:

1. Their methodology is intriguing, and probably sufficient to tell us something about these companies and their "commitment to diversity," but it's hardly the sort of study that gives the claim of "Best Companies" any real heft. (Plus if you're looking for real insight into the minds of "minority" workers in America, I'm not sure Fortune is the first place one should turn.)

2. The list is interesting for what's there (note the prevalence of government, quasi-government and public utility companies in the top ten) and what's not there (were black-owned businesses not included?).

3. There's something crassly PR-minded about this list. It gives several companies something nice for their newsletters and for plaques in the lobby. But it's still hard to hear corporations talk about "diversity" without smelling their fear of an EEO lawsuit. I'd be much more convinced by a substantial word -- "justice," "equality," "equal rights" -- than by a mealy-mouthed PC-ism like "diversity." Advantica, the parent company of Denny's, finishes high on the list for the second year running. Is this because of the substantial changes the company has made since its infamous racial troubles? Or is it part of the company's PR-efforts at re-spinning after those troubles?

4. Fortune's "Best Companies to Work For" list is compiled partly through use of a random survey of employees called the "Great Place to Work Trust Index." I'd like to see Fortune construct a similar survey geared particularly to concerns of minority workers (they'll need some outside help on this) as part of the minorities list.

5. Fortune attempted to survey some 1,200 companies for this list. As interesting as it is to read about the 50 best, reading about the 50 worst would be much more interesting. Fortune, of course, is not about to invite lawsuits and tick off potential advertisers by publishing a list of "The 50 Worst Companies for Minorities," but their methodology implies that somebody had to come in last in their rankings.

6. While we're at it, how 'bout a "MisFortune 500" list of the 500 smallest or biggest-losing companies in America? Or maybe in contrast to their annual lists of gazillionaires, they could start publishing a list of the world's poorest 500 people? Or at least the occasional story about somebody in the bottom 3.5 billion people on the planet -- you know, those people who make up the majority of the world's population, who live on $2 a day or less, and whose combined net worth and income does not equal that of Fortune's No. 1 individual?

posted by Fred Clark 3:00 PM

 
NORAH JONES: THE ANTI-BRITTANY.

Had the pleasure of catching Norah Jones last night at Wilmington’s Grand Opera House. She’s touring with much the same band that plays on her outstanding debut CD, “Come Away With Me.”

Three Things:

1. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and pick up the disc. The 22-year-old Ms. Jones was the subject of some controversy for appearing on Blue Note. Jazz purists can probably argue that Jones is more of a singer-songwriter than a pure jazz artist, but sometimes the music, to paraphrase Monk, is between the official categories.

2. Last night’s set opened with J.D. Loudermilk’s “Turn Me On,” a sultry country-blues tune that Jones infuses with a Gospel-flavored piano. That country-gospel alchemy is a magic trick the band performs again and again, so just when you think they’re about to launch into “Precious Lord” or “It Is Well With My Soul” you find yourself instead hearing “Tennessee Waltz” or Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart.” That cross-breeding of country and gospel may not strictly be “jazz,” but it’s just as American, and Norah Jones does it as well as anybody since Ray Charles. (No, really.)

3. Pleasant surprise in the opening act, singer-songwriter Richard Julian, whose lyric “Young frat boys turn into old fat men” I will long-treasure. His song “The Good Life” -- with its catchy, upbeat chorus masking a more critical perspective – is prone to being “Born in the U.S.A.”-ed, getting co-opted as an un-ironic anthem for the very things it challenges.

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SPEAKING OF RAY CHARLES …

Those of you not living in Pennsylvania are spared the appalling spectacle of a music legend prostituting himself doing jingles for the state lottery. The Pepsi commercials were bad enough, but fizzy sugar-water is relatively innocuous compared to the state-sponsored con of Pennsylvania’s lottery, which preys on the poor and the vulnerable by exploiting their despair. The lottery is just plain evil, and that evil is compounded when they debase a once-great artist to promote the scheme.

Please, someone, intervene to preserve what’s left of Mr. Charles dignity. Right now, a CD collection called “Ultimate Manilow” is raking in boffo bucks for the king of schmaltz – wouldn’t an “Ultimate Ray Charles” set do at least as well? Or just sit the man at a piano and record whatever he feels like singing. But please, please, please just stop with the lottery ads.


posted by Fred Clark 2:02 PM


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