Saturday, March 04, 2006
Quote of the Day
Getting fired can produce a particularly bountiful payday for a CEO. Indeed, he can “earn” more in that single day, while cleaning out his desk, than an American worker earns in a lifetime of cleaning toilets. Forget the old maxim about nothing succeeding like success: Today, in the executive suite, the all-too-prevalent rule is that nothing succeeds like failure. —Warren Buffett in his just-released 2005 Berkshire Hathaway letter to shareholders
How to lead a profitable life of crime
Our criminal justice system really is a marvel. Former Qwest executive vice president Marc Weisberg in a plea bargain agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in exchange for a sentence of 2 year's probation, a $250,100 fine and cooperation in the prosecution of former Qwest chief executive officer Joseph Nacchio, who is accused of a separate 100-million dollar peccadillo.
The original charge was that Mr. Weisberg fraudulently earned $2.9 million "for himself, family members and friends between 1999 and 2001."
According to Greg Griffin of the Denver Post, here's what Mr. Weisberg avoided—
10 counts of wire fraud and money laundering that carried potential maximum prison sentences of five to 20 years. Prosecutors also dropped a forfeiture count seeking repayment of $2.9 million in allegedly ill-gotten gains.
John Sarche of the AP was there for the sentencing—
In a brief statement before the sentence was handed down, Weisberg thanked his family for their support and said the court case taught him about fairness, loyalty and love.
"The last few years have been a learning experience. Though the tuition has been steep, the lessons have been quite valuable," he said.
Valuable indeed! If the U.S. attorneys didn't just pull the $2.9 million figure from thin air (always a possibility), Mr. Weisberg netted $2,649,900 minus attorneys' fees for his efforts. That wouldn't be bad money in my part of the woods.
But Mr. Weisberg now has a felony on his record, which I'm sure he cares about a great deal more than the money. He may be feeling a little bitter, though, about the selective prosecution.
U.S. Attorney Bill Leone said Friday he was pleased with the outcome of the case because it clearly defines Weisberg's conduct as criminal.
"Although many executives at Qwest participated in vendor-stock deals, we felt Weisberg's conduct went farther and we feel his more-severe penalty reflects that," Leone said.
"I think this rachets up deterrence for executives at public companies, that they shouldn't be doing this," he said. "We've advanced the ball with that kind of prosecution."
Yes. That should really put a stop to executive crime.
Still, Mr. Weisberg is lucky he didn't hold up a convenience store. He could be looking at some serious time!
Catch-22 of the Day
The law says you can't torture detainees at Guantanamo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts. —Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch as quoted in "U.S. Cites Exception in Torture Ban"
Language matters (5/26/05)
Friday, March 03, 2006
Rumor of the Day
Rejecting talk of the presence of bird flu in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Poultry Doctors Associations and poultry farm owners on Thursday alleged that an American pharmaceutical company belonging to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld had spread the rumor to sell its costly medicines. —article in The Frontier Post, a Pakistani newspaper from Peshawar (via Watching America)
"If Bush went native"
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn (via Watching America) gives us an idea of what Bush might look like if he "went native" in India. I don't think they quite captured his spirit. At the very least he would require a maharaja's bejeweled turban.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Paranoid Fantasy of the Day
Someone's put a radio in my head. No, really!
Dangling Participle of the Day
Barring an unlikely stabilisation of the situation in Iraq, the Pentagon will probably have to put on hold its plans for a big reduction this year in the US force in Iraq that could halve the present strength of 140,000 by the end of 2006. —in "Tape proves that Bush was warned of Katrina threat"
How much force by the police is justified?
In the United States news stories of the police killing a suspect alleged to have been holding a gun or a knife or even a suspicious shadow come a dime a dozen. And these killings by the police are largely indiscriminate, though summary executions of women are rare. The victim can be old or young, black or white, sane or insane. The only requirement is that he not be rich, a politician, or a rich politician.
You see, in the United States no one's life is considered as valuable as that of the police officer, with the exception of course of the politician, who is the most sacred of all. Many states have special penalties for those who would harm a police officer—or "other official," which you have to admit is rather odd in a democracy. On the other hand, if a citizen survives a violent confrontation with the police, there is almost no chance a police officer will be prosecuted, much less convicted for inappropriate use of force, unless of course there is video evidence—and even then it's very iffy.
Don't get me wrong. The police are entitled to every reasonable protection of life and limb—the best training, bullet-proof vests and any other consideration that can make them safer in their jobs—which is what I would expect for all workers. But the nominal job of the police is law enforcement, not murder.
People who enter the police force do so voluntarily. By its nature the job entails an elevated risk of injury and even of losing one's life. But so do many blue-collar jobs. And police work is far from the most dangerous profession. In fact it doesn't even fall within the top 10 most dangerous jobs.
What level of force is justified?
I use the Bouncer Test. Bars all over this great country are rife with volatile, violent and sometimes insane people not infrequently armed with guns and knives. They're known as "the customers" or "the clientele." And in all the states that I've toured the bar owners must possess a license to sell alcohol to these people. The license usually comes with a stipulation that the bar must not present a public nuisance, which is to say that it will keep all those drunk, volatile and violent people out of the public eye. For this reason bar owners absolutely hate to call the police; it's a black mark—for which they might end up having to pay somebody off. So bars have their own enforcers—the bouncers.
Now you and I know that bouncers are not free to maim or execute customers willy-nilly, and in many states they are not even free to draw a weapon. First of all, unlike the police, they may be indicted, tried and convicted if they harm anyone. Second, the bar owner might be sued. And third, a lot of bars can't afford to lose the customers.
For instance, at the Pink Snapper one of my fellow convivialists once followed me into the parking lot and flashed a knife because I didn't love the Lord Jesus Christ quite as much as he did. Fortunately I was near the door of my car and had my cellphone handy. I made a dash, called the bouncer and the problem was over in a jiffy. I believe they barred him for a week, and I haven't had the problem since.
If I had called the police, the outcome might have been very different. Since the man who followed me had a visible weapon, the police might have shot him. On the other hand, if they learned why I was being menaced they might have shot me instead. (Fundamentalist Muslims could learn from some of our Christian brethren in these parts.)
By now you're probably tired of this screed and wondering what could have set me off. Was there no post yesterday because I was being held incommunicado in a jail cell? Not yet.
No, it's those Swedes again. Yesterday this appeared in The Local—
A drunk young man who threatened to kill himself and his mother in their apartment in Borlänge was shot in the leg by police early on Wednesday morning.
The 18 year old man came out of the flat and pointed a handgun at police, who shot him. The injured man went back into the apartment with a wound in his lower left leg, said police.
Before the shooting, which occurred at about 3am, he had released his mother from their home.
A special police unit from Stockholm arrived in Borlänge at 8am and began negotiations with the man an hour later.
After 45 minutes of negotiations the special unit broke into the apartment and arrested the man.
According to police spokesman Sven-Åke Petters the man handed himself over to police calmly and was then taken to hospital for treatment of the gunshot wound.
He is now suspected of making illegal threats, serious weapons offences and threatening a police officer.
The man himself rang the police during the night and made the threats against his mother. She said that he had drunk a large quantity of homemade spirits.
The 18 year old is said to be known by police.
Though I've written about the abusive use of Tasers, this is a situation in which a Taser really would have been better than a non-lethal bullet, since the boy would have been totally disabled and the police would have been safer. But do you think this kid would have survived in the U.S.?
Ah, to live free in Denver! (1/28/05)
Tasmania touched by angels in UFOs (4/1/05)
What this country has become: He-men in action (7/18/05)
The Taser: A shocking toy for the police (7/20/05)
A law professor comments on the murder by London police (7/26/05)
Why did the London police shoot a bomber suspect? (7/27/05)
Murder now legal in Britain for officers of the Crown (11/27/05)
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Your military-industrial complex at work
It appears that although some December contract awards were already announced, an addendum was necessary "due to an administrative oversight and change of personnel." You know how that can happen when your mind is on other matters.
I did a quick and dirty calculation to see how much had slipped their minds. The total came to $4,488,356,536 or $4.5 billion, which were enough goodies in the corporate stockings to free Africa from poverty—or at least the Appalachians.
The press release advises that if you have any questions about this you should call a certain technical sergeant.
Yes, it was a very merry Christmas for the American war industry. Companies that would have perished long ago in our much-beloved free market were given a dose of restorative elixir. Others were perhaps forgiven their many sins and welcomed back into the fold.
Take Boeing. They led the list of Air Force contracts with a cool $1 billion. Well, don't think it isn't money well spent. Boeing was awarded this "indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract fee" as a sole-source contractor. The company is to act as a "Product Support Integrator (PSI)." If you're not familiar with the term, let the Pentagon explain—
The PSI will be responsible for all logistics, maintenance, modernization, and engineering activities to ensure a coordinated and synergistic sustainment and modification, and engineering activities to ensure a coordinated and synergistic E-4 efforts currently procured on separate contracts are being combined into one contract. This includes the current Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) effort, Engineering Support Services (ESS), Message Processing System (MPS) maintenance and software support modification block one-production installations.
It looks as if they're going to be very, very busy.
This may be kiss-and-make-up time between the Air Force and Boeing. According to the Wikipedia entry on Lockheed Martin—
In 2003 Lockheed Martin benefited from a USAF decision to punish Boeing for conducting industrial espionage against its rival. The USAF revoked $1 billion worth of contracts from Boeing and awarded them to Lockheed Martin. The company sued Boeing in 1998 for stealing documents related to a military contract.
Fancy that! In 2003 Boeing lost a billion-dollar contract and at the end of 2005 they gained it back, with some other contracts thrown in to sweeten the pot. So it all works out, doesn't it?
When you consider that Boeing was—at least temporarily—penalized a billion dollars for doing what capitalist corporations do naturally—i.e., steal, it may surprise you to learn that providing information to foreign governments is a mild offense by comparison—
In 2000 Lockheed agreed to pay a $13 million settlement to the US government for breaching the arms export control act. The company passed information to AsiaSat, a major shareholder of which is the Chinese government.
I haven't thoroughly inspected the contracts to assure against fraud and waste because I know that reporters from our major news organizations and staff from the Congressional offices have already done that, right? But a few items did catch my untrained eye.
For instance, the Missile Defense Agency, which our civilian scientists doubt will ever knock out a missile—even one of our own, has contracted with Raytheon to "provide algorithm development and analysis of radar systems for ballistic missile defense critical functions." The ballistic missile defense's critical function is presumably to knock out incoming missiles. Does this mean that Raytheon is to provide the software to do this for a mere $50 million? They may be underbudgeted.
Then there's the Lockheed Martin contract for $14,300,000 to help with foreign military sales to Greece, Taiwan, Chile, Jordan and Oman, which is like a grant to sell hotdogs at a baseball park.
But the most vital contract may be with a company I had not heard of—Applied Minds. Their task is
to establish Innovation-Nodes (iNodes), which will be small, flexible organizations that execute Rapid Reaction Innovation solution efforts or tasks. iNodes assemble teams from a network of experts, supply teams with the infrastructure and enablers that allow them to accomplish their jobs quickly and effectively, and quickly innovate, demonstrate, and deliver prototypical hardware, software, integrated systems solutions, or services to solve urgent operator or other user problems.
In other words, they're to assemble teams who will apply their minds to urgent problems. So far they haven't been called upon.
2Such exact numbers may come as a surprise. You might have supposed that the Pentagon budgets in units of millions, but they are wonderfully precise in the amount of tax money they are going to spend—down to the dollar. [back]
Monday, February 27, 2006
Quote of the Day
Don’t believe that socialism is dead! This is just the material propaganda of neo-conservative diehard capitalists. Real Socialism has never been tried on a large scale. Socialism is the opposite of the individualism with which we are brainwashed today. —Ajarn Buddhadasa whom UNESCO will be honoring upon the 100th anniversary of his birth, as quoted on Steve's Weblog
Acting the part
Film director Lee Tamahori pleaded no contest to criminal trespass in return for two prostitution charges against him being dropped, authorities said Thursday.
Tamahori, who was not present at the hearing, was placed on three years probation, ordered to attend an AIDS education course and perform 15 days of community service for the Hollywood Beautification Project, Mateljan said.
He will not be able to loiter, congregate in alleys or accept rides with the intent to engage in prostitution, the spokesman said.
At the time of his arrest, the 55-year-old director wore an off-the-shoulder dress and black wig, and allegedly approached the officer and got into his car, Mateljan said.
Tamahori is set to direct Jessica Biel, Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore in "Next," a sci-fi thriller based on Philip Dick's "The Golden Man," Variety reported Thursday.
The costumes should be grand.
Fictional Story of the Day
Mark Sherman of the AP writes,
Wolfowitz is now president of the World Bank. Kevin Kellems, a spokesman for the World Bank, said Thursday, "This old story is fictional and is authored by anonymous people who have no real knowledge of what his role was."Put another way, the story is tired and the FBI officials are liars, refuse to reveal themselves and don't know what's going on anyway.
Assisting the CIA in torture? Prove it!
Two governments alleged to have cooperated with the CIA's foreign extradition and torture program have taken an interesting tack: They scarcely bother to deny or rebut the charges; they simply demand that human rights activists prove that they were cooperating!
According to an AP report, a request under Canada's Access to Information Act has produced government documents that reveal the CIA has landed its not-very-well-disguised planes 74 times in Canada since 9/11. Human rights groups wonder if some of the planes were ferrying suspects to other destinations for torture. Amnesty International says it would be a violation of the Canadian constitution if in fact the Canadians were cooperating with such an enterprise.
Canadian officials have been hard at work on the problem—
One memo dated Nov. 28 instructed officials to tell the media that there was "no credible information to suggest that these planes were used to ferry suspected terrorists to and from Canada, or that illegal activity took place."
A spokesman for the CIA in Washington declined comment on Thursday.
U.S. intelligence officials have said in the past that the planes are more likely to be carrying staff, supplies or Director Porter Goss on his way to a foreign visit.
The Public Safety Department in Ottawa said in January that a federal review of landings by the supposed CIA flights showed no evidence of "illegal activities."
Now it is often said that "you can't prove a negative," which makes sense when the proposition you are trying to prove involves a myriad possible outcomes. Such a proposition might better be called "untestable" rather than "unproved." For instance, if you allege that I was drunk last Friday night and there is no evidence as to my whereabouts other than my own denial, I can't prove I wasn't since I could have been absolutely anywhere doing anything. But when there is a finite amount of evidence, it may be possible to prove the negative, or at least take a reasonable stab at it.
Such is the case with the CIA flights to Canada. Only 74 are known. The Canadian government either knows or does not know who and what was aboard each of these flights.
It is a rather weak denial to say that "there is no credible information" or that "the supposed CIA flights showed no evidence of 'illegal activities.'" Instead, why doesn't the government aver that "We are aware of the cargo and passengers aboard all 74 flights, and we unequivocally deny that these flights were used to transport prisoners"? That would take care of all cases in which the CIA wasn't hiding captives in the wheel well or disguising them as Porter Goss. And more to the point, it would take the Canadian government off the hook.
We are led to suspect that this weak formulation is a way of disguising the fact that the Canadian government hasn't a clue what was aboard those flights. In other words, the Canadian government has allowed (or been unable to prevent) the unrestricted use of its airspace by the CIA. Such an admission would be an embarrassment not only internationally but before its own citizens. Hence it has taken the innocent-till-proven-guilty stance of the courtroom defendant rather than the if-this-were-going-on-we-would-know-it stance of a sovereign government.
The same article brings us up to date on Romania and the allegation that it allowed its airspace to be used for prisoner transport and that it has hosted a secret U.S. detention center—
Romania, meanwhile, challenged human rights groups Thursday to provide evidence that his country hosted a secret U.S. detention center or allowed its airports to be used in CIA transfers.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch organization has alleged terror suspects captured in Afghanistan have been transported through Romania, which has denied the claims.
Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, who was in London for talks, said there remained no proof of impropriety.
"I've always asked those who pretend to have proof, to offer us that proof, it would be extremely important for us," Ungureanu told a news conference.
If I understand this correctly, the Romanian government is denying that it has allowed itself to be used for transport of torture victims or that it harbors a secret U.S. prison. But it can hardly wait to find out otherwise—if anyone can prove it.
You just can't make this stuff up.