7/06/2002

Kuff: Your low-cost, can't-do-any-worse answer at CEO Kevin points to this KTRK story of how Reliant Energy had to restate its earnings yesterday. Seems they somehow managed to overstate them by, uh, $7.8 billion.

I guarantee, if I were CEO, I wouldn't lose that much money. One billion, maybe two billion tops, and I'd save you a ton in salary, perks, and golden parachutes. Come and get me, Corporate America, while you still can!

7/05/2002

They are getting younger all the time Interesting Chron story today about how state judges in Texas have gotten a lot younger on average over the past two decades. The accompanying graph really shows the trend in recent years. Factors involved in this are pay and a change in the pension rules, coupled with electoral uncertainty.

But the Texas Legislature amended the judicial pension requirements in 1985, diminishing the economic incentive to become a judge and remain one. Before the legislative change, judges could begin earning a pension after serving 12 years on the bench or after eight years if the judge had prior military service.

Now, judges must serve 20 years on the bench to qualify for a pension. Because of financial and political uncertainty, many judges do not stay on the job that long anymore.

Serving 20 years means at least five elections. While I don't think enough incumbent judges get ousted to really make "political uncertainty" a strong reason for this trend, I can certainly understand more people not wanting to be locked into something for that long. And let's face it, raising money and campaigning all those times has to get old.

Judges say money is often a factor in determining whether a lawyer runs for or stays with a judgeship, considering the lucrative urban market for top-notch lawyers.

A first-year associate at one of Houston's prestigious firms can earn an average of $150,000 annually, lawyers and judges said.

The average state district judicial salary is about $114,000, although county-court-at-law salaries, tied to more county benefits, average about $122,000.

"Clearly if the Legislature wants judges to spend more than a few years on the bench, it will have to pay judges at least what top-notch, first-year lawyers make," [state District Judge Mark] Davidson said.

"How much can you ask of children to sacrifice their education because you want to do public service as a judge?"

While it's often hard to empathize with someone who makes $120K per year (I sure wish I made that kind of lettuce, and I'm far from underpaid), it's also hard to argue that nobility is worth $30K or more per year. And there's nothing quite so special as having your salary be captive to a state legislature, as my dad can attest from his 14 years on the state bench in New York.

7/04/2002

Harken-gate, coming to a theater near you Charles Murtaugh writes about the revelations that Dubya may have engaged in some illegal insider trading back in 1989 when he made over $800,000 selling stock at just the right time in the floundering Harken Energy company. Murtaugh notes that the meat of this scandal, if the Democrats want to get traction with it and avoid the mistakes Ken Starr made when he went Clinton-hunting, is not in the technicality of Bush's late report to the SEC or the details of how he made the money, it's his close personal connection to the whole thing:

So here's the beauty part for the Democrats: it doesn't matter whether or not Bush broke the law in his insider trading. The scandal here is moral, rather than legal: Bush was intimately connected with a corporate accounting scandal precisely akin to those now in the headlines, and costing tens of thousands of jobs. If the Democrats focus solely on the legalistic question of how Bush made his eight hundred large, they'll be making a Starr-esque error. It really didn't matter whether or not Clinton lied to the grand jury about his affair, the real Lewinsky scandal was that he'd been having the affair at all. The conservatives were right: character matters.

In Harken-gate, it makes little difference whether Bush broke the law by waiting thirty weeks to alert the SEC of his stock sale, instead of the required two or three (yawn... eyes... glazing... over... must... follow... the money...). What will be harder for Bush to shake off between now and 2004, particularly if the corporate accounting scandals continue to drag down the economy, is his guilt-by-close-association with a book-cooking energy company.

I think Murtaugh is absolutely right about the late filing, which I note that Team Bush is blaming on "clerical error". The bit about how Bush came out of this with nearly a million bucks is probably just a corollary to the moral scandal that Murtaugh talks about. The Chron article lays out the case pretty nicely, with the crucial bit being right here:

During the 1994 gubernatorial campaign, Bush denied knowing Harken was having financial problems at the time of his stock sale even though he was on the board's audit committee.

Where have we heard that defense before? From Kenny Boy and the Enron Ensemble all the way back to Poppy "I was out of the loop" Bush, the standard response is always one of ignorance. Never mind my position of authority, I had no idea that things were going to hell in a handbasket all around me.

Well, forgive my impertinence, but maybe you should have known. As Gregg Easterbrook notes, CEOs have been built up as talented, visionary superheroes, with salaries and perks to match. Yet when performance fails utterly to justify the remuneration, the CEOs still get paid handsomely, often with bonuses, while the people who did the real work get shown the door.

Here's a modest proposal for corporations: Tab any random idiot to be CEO, pay him or her a simple million bucks, and keep doing what you're doing. The cheaper CEO will have as much effect on your long term profitability as any overpriced Jack Welch wannabee, and their cries of ignorance when your earnings inevitably have to be restated will be much more credible. It's a clearcut win-win for all involved. I'm available if you ask nicely, and I bet Larry would be happy for the chance to take a major step closer to his billion-dollar goal.

OK, I'm a bit off track here. Anyway, if the Dems keep it simple and say that whenever you put a Bush in charge, things fall apart while he and his friends make out like bandits, they might be able to get somewhere. We'll see what happens.

Oh, and as an aside to Mickey Kaus: This may not specifically be Enron, but it's close enough. Still think there's no campaign issue here?
RIP, Ray Brown It's been a bad week for bassists, as legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown died in his sleep at the age of 75. Brown, who was married to Ella Fitzgerald for four years, was on tour with his trio at the time.

A college buddy I lived with for a summer introduced me to Ray Brown via the excellent CD Soular Energy, which featured a lovely arrangement of Take the A Train and the rip-snorting Mistreated but Undefeated Blues, which is on my short list of Greatest Song Titles Ever. Take a moment and check it out.

Vaya con Dios, Ray Brown.
Unbelievable In an editorial on the budget deficit (from Wednesday, which I forgot to publish), the Chron actually gives praise to Bill Clinton in a manner that is neither snarky nor left-handed. Is the regular editorial board on vacation? How could they let this happen? Look! In the streets! I see dogs and cats living together! Aaaahhhh!
Bad news, good news Governor Goodhair picked up an endorsement from a group of black ministers, which may help him peel off some of the black vote from Tony Sanchez.

"I don't see why you need to change a horse in the middle of the stream," said alliance member the Rev. F.N. Williams of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

That doesn't sound like high praise to me, but the bottom line is what matters.

The good news comes from some poll numbers:

As Perry received the endorsement, the UH Center for Public Policy released its new Texas Public Policy Survey showing that Perry leads Sanchez by 42 percent to 32 percent.

Pollster Richard Murray, a UH political science professor, said the poll indicates a sizable gain for Sanchez, an oilman and banker from Laredo.

A separate Scripps-Howard Texas Poll released in early June showed that Perry had a 20-point lead.

Murray said Perry appears to be slipping amid attack ads by Sanchez and a recent string of bad news for Texas, including a projected $5 billion state budget shortfall.

"Sanchez isn't so much gaining support as softening up Perry," Murray said. "Perry is an incumbent governor, but he succeeded to the office and is not yet well known to many Texas voters."

[...]

The Texas Public Policy Survey -- a telephone poll of 739 registered Texas voters conducted June 20-29 -- had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The poll also showed that:

  • Democrat Ron Kirk holds a lead of 36 percent to 28 percent over Republican John Cornyn for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Phil Gramm. The earlier Texas poll showed Cornyn leading 35 percent to 30 percent. Cornyn is Texas attorney general, and Kirk is a former mayor of Dallas.


  • The race for lieutenant governor is tight, with Republican David Dewhurst, the state land commissioner, at 31 percent to 29 percent for Democrat John Sharp, a former state comptroller who narrowly lost the 1998 lieutenant governor's race to Perry. Dewhurst led the Texas Poll 36 percent to 29 percent.


Wow. Kirk is doing better than I'd have thought. I'm actually surprised that John Sharp is not leading his race, but a statistical tie isn't bad. And Rick Perry doesn't seem to have much of an incumbent's advantage. So all in all, not too bad.

Elsewhere in this piece, Sanchez bashes Perry for not returning all of the campaign contributions he got from WorldCom, and Perry bashes Sanchez for having made money off of Enron in the past. A Perry spokesman claims that Sanchez should return the money he got from selling Enron stock in 2000 as well as any profits Sanchez's oil and gas company made from doing business with Enron.

Um, I think there's a small bit of difference between owning stock in a company and getting a campaign contribution from a company. Plus, in 2000 when Sanchez sold his Enron stock, Enron was still on top of the world. Is Perry saying that Sanchez had really advanced knowledge of Enron's collapse, or is he saying that any money earned from Enron is tainted? If it's the latter, there are lots of people who will need to cleanse themselves. This all strikes me as silly.

7/03/2002

Final word on Cal the Cretin Two Andrews, Andrew Ian Dodge and Andrew Sullivan, continue with the conservative spankings of Cal Thomas. My thanks to those who took up the task, and those who helped find these examples for me.

On another front, TAPped has also been leading the charge against Anvil Annie Coulter. A number of people, such as Scoobie Davis and Bill Herbert, have been doing this for awhile - anyone who can read as much Coulter as Scoobie does is either superhuman or masochistic, I'm not sure yet.

I think Meryl really captures the reason behind why I sometimes obsess over things like this. I had tried to say something like what she said when I wondered where the conservative condemnations of Cal Thomas were, but I didn't say it nearly this well:

The fact that Coulter can proclaim this crap and not be excoriated from the rooftops of all conservative institutions bothers me a great deal. A great deal.

How you can claim this woman as one of your own astonishes me. How you can respect anything this woman writes astonishes me. How you can take seriously anything she utters angers me.

You ask liberals to decry the Cynthia McKinney loons. Fine. Now I'm asking conservatives to do the same for Ann Coulter. Stop being proud of idiots like Coulter and slam them the way you slam McKinney. I'm getting a little tired of the bozos getting a free pass because you agree with a few of the things they say. Fair practices, my conservative friends—that's all I'm asking for.

That's it in a nutshell. I'd come across a comment from Jeff Goldstein in this Matt Yglesias post that basically said "why should I bother?" and claimed that expecting some "equality of verbiage spent on putdowns" is a "lefty" argument, and until I read Meryl's piece I couldn't quite frame a response to that. Now I can. Thanks, Meryl!

7/02/2002

Not everyone's on vacation Yeah, I know, Reynolds is off galavanting around somewhere, Welch and Layne are off doing the "Hey kids! Let's start a newspaper!" routine, and Diane is taking a breather. Cheer up - I've taken about all the vacation I'm gonna take for the year. Doesn't that make you feel better?

And hey, Kimberley Swygert is back from her world tour, and she's got lots of interesting stuff. Go check it out.
Kuff beats the Chron to the punch On Sunday, Chron political columnist Clay Robison wrote about politicians who campaign on the promise to "run government like a business".

It was amusing last week to hear Sanchez, the Democratic outsider, vowing to "scrub" the budget and Perry, the Republican governmental veteran, defending state spending and insisting that Sanchez didn't know what he was talking about.

Which is pretty much the sentiment that I expressed on Wednesday. You read it here first!

(OK, so Robison's column only runs on Sundays. Sue me.)

Robison also throws rocks at Tony Sanchez's idea that "scrubbing" the budget will magically solve our looming multibillion dollar deficit. It's a pretty nice fantasy, the idea that, essentially, if we root around the government's seat cushions we'll find enough dropped change to make us solvent without having to make any unpopular choices. Anyone remember the Grace Commission, which was supposed to help Ronald Reagan balance the federal budget by eliminating "waste, fraud, and abuse"? Or maybe the liberal-fantasy movie Dave, in which Kevin Kline's accountant friend balances the federal budget, and they pass a full-employment bill after the Prez kicks the bucket? Each had about the same level or realism.

I've started to wonder just what issues Sanchez will campaign on. As Robison notes, the "run government like a business" claim is even dicier these days. The other article I linked says he's going to attack Perry for the bills he vetoed last year. Perry got a lot of criticism for that, so maybe there's some traction there. I haven't watched much TV since the various season finales, so I haven't seen any recent ads. I have to say, though, I'm getting more worried about Sanchez's ability to win. He's easily the weakest part of the "Dream Team", and if he doesn't at least boost turnout among likely Democratic voters, we can look forward to four more years of GOP domination of the state.
Campaign finance reform the hard way The implosion of various companies has hit politicians in the wallet, as several Texas candidates line up to divest themselves of tainted WorldCom money.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has already forfeited $85,000 in campaign contributions from failed energy giant Enron, has decided he won't keep a $10,000 contribution from WorldCom Inc.

"We will not keep the funds," said Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan. "We are looking for alternatives rather than return the money to the company."

Other candidates who will be donating WorldCom funds include GOP Senate candidate John Cornyn ($5000), GOP Attorney General candidate Greg Abbott ($3000) and incumbent GOP Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander ($4500). The article did not indicate if any Democratic candidates are in the same position.
There's a market for everything The University of Texas Medical Branch here in Houston is apologizing for the actions of a former employee who may have sold donated body parts for profit, and for accidentally mixing up the ashes of cremated bodies:

Federal agents are investigating allegations that an employee at the University of Texas Medical Branch illegally sold body parts for his own gain, an FBI spokesman said Monday.

And, in what UTMB President Dr. John Stobo called "an unforgivable failure of oversight," officials at the medical school said they have discovered that the cremated remains of many people who willed their bodies to science were mixed.

[...]

The problems were revealed in a management audit of UTMB's Willed Body Program that began in March and resulted in the May 9 firing of Allen Tyler Jr., 56, of Galveston.

Tyler was responsible for receiving and shipping all bodies and body parts at the medical school, as well as for dismembering bodies and shipping parts to other research facilities across the state and nation, according to a document obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

The Willed Body Program receives an average of 300 bodies a year, officials say, only about half of which are used by medical students and researchers at the Galveston medical center.

Under direction of the Anatomical Board of the State of Texas, UTMB can ship cadavers and body parts to medical schools and research facilities in other states, but not for profit.

The FBI is investigating whether an employee at the center was running an illegal body-part brokering operation, Houston FBI spokesman Bob Doguim said.

"There may have been someone inside that program who was selling those body parts," Doguim said.

He did not mention Tyler but said officials at the medical center had asked the FBI to investigate its Willed Body Program.

Stobo said Monday that UTMB requested the investigation when Tyler was fired.

You gotta hate it when that sort of thing happens.

7/01/2002

Testing, part deux Also testing the Weblogs ping form. Larry, please tell me if I'm doing this right. Thanks!
This is a test I'm fooling around with Blogrolling. Let's see how this looks...
RIP, Pete Gray Pete Gray, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1945 despite having lost his right arm in a childhood accident, died Sunday at the age of 87. For sure, we will not see the likes of him again in the big leagues.
An immodest proposal Larry sends an open letter to Larry Flynt regarding the woman in Florida who insists on covering her face for her driver's license photo. It got me wondering - When do you think Playboy will feature its first Muslim/Arab Playmate? They've featured a Jewish Playmate - Conservative, even, not Reform - and we all know how fast-growing Islam is, so it makes you wonder. Well, okay, it made me wonder.
Texas No Call kicks in Today is the day that the Texas No Call law kicks in, meaning that people who have signed up to be on the no-call list for telemarketers should start to see a decline in annoying telemarketer calls.

Naturally, the evil telemarketing industry is trotting out its usual sob stories:

"I think folks at the state and federal levels had in their mind that this was kind of a small business that kind of annoyed people, so it's OK to revile it," said Louis Mastria, spokesman for the New York-based DMA. "But those things don't match up with the economic reality."

An estimated 185 million Americans purchase goods or services by phone each year, including many older residents who don't feel comfortable doing business over the Internet, according to industry records.

For every 19 people who yell at or hang up on telemarketers, there's at least one who's receptive to the sales pitch, according to industry statistics.

"I don't think people mind being called at home. Most consumers are bothered by the volume of calls," said Kevin Brosnahan, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based American Teleservices Association.

I'm gonna assume that "185 million" refers to the number of annual transactions and not actual number of Americans who buy things from telemarketers, as there are roughly 200 million adults in the US, and I have a hard time believing that 90% of them bought goods over the phone last year. It sure doesn't square with the statement that 19 out of 20 people hang up on telemarketers. And for the record, Kevin, I do mind being called at home.

It's too soon to tell whether the no-call laws will prompt companies to cut back on telemarketing, industry officials say.

But the additional costs -- registering with the state, buying no-call lists several times a year, hiring people to input the lists and paying hefty fines for violations -- likely will be passed on to consumers.

"It will force legitimate telemarketers to pay for the sins of the 20 percent of the industry that give us all a black eye," Mastria said.

Oh, cry me a freakin' river. Are you saying that the cost of condo timeshares and satellite TV installations and low-rate credit cards are going to go up because the state of Texas is generously filtering out the people who would have slammed the phone down on you? Look at it this way: With all the telemarketer-haters out of the way, your hit rate per call will go up. Don't you think that will make your costs go down? Amazing.

Meanwhile, a four-Claude rating goes to this headline: "Some telemarketing officials think no-call list unneccesary".

Many telemarketing industry officials say the Texas no-call list, effective today -- and more than two dozen other states' similar lists of residents who don't want telemarketing calls -- is unnecessary. They say consumers already are protected under federal law, which:

  • Prohibits telemarketing calls before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., based on the resident's time zone.

  • Prohibits companies from using automated dialers and leaving prerecorded messages for commercial purposes on a resident's answering machine.

  • Requires firms to keep a no-call list of residents who specifically have asked that company not to call them anymore.

  • Requires every telemarketer to state his or her name, which can be an alias as long as the company can identify the employee if a customer files a complaint.

  • Requires telemarketers to state their company, that they are calling to sell a good or service, and the seller's address or phone number if a customer wants to cancel the order or lodge a complaint.


Man, I get at least a dozen auto-dialer prerecorded messages on my answering machine per week. If there are existing laws which are supposed to prevent that, they ain't working.
Principles, schminciples The Chron gives Dubya the business for abandoning his free-trade principles. It's a good piece, and it's always heartening to see a bastion of pro-Bushiness such as the Chron take him to task, but would it kill them to note, even in passing, that Clinton (who bucked his party on NAFTA) and Gore (who eviscerated Ross Perot in a debate on NAFTA) had solid records on free trade? I know, the cognitive dissonance would probably make their heads explode. I'll go off into a corner and be happy with what I can get.

I see that Owen agrees with this editorial, noting that "like a broken watch, the Chronicle is still right a small percentage of the time". Given our differing perspectives, it's amusing that we both see Houston's Only Information Source (motto: As If You've Got A Choice) as being the classic blind pig finding an acorn on this issue. Note to theChron's editorial board: This is not one of those times when you should take comfort in the belief that you must be doing something right because you're being attacked from all sides.
Feeding frenzy! I got mentioned on TAPped. Woo hoo! Just goes to show what a relentless commitment to quality and a well-placed double sawbuck can do.

Anyway, Atrios points to this entry from Privateer. Well done! He also points to this VodkaPundit entry. I agree with Atrios in that VodkaPundit misses the point. Look, many of us on the left thought Noam Chomsky was an idiot long before 9/11. We've had to spend a lot of time since then disavowing him and people like him since then, people with whom we'd never identified or sympathized. There were many reasons why we felt compelled to do this, not the least of which was a strong desire to not be associated in any way with the kind of wrongheadedness that they espoused.

It may seem like a waste of time to shoot down idiots like Cal Thomas. It is in some ways, but there's an important reason to do it anyway: There is probably some portion of my readership, as well as VodkaPundit's, that had never heard of Cal Thomas before today. We're doing these people a favor by making sure they know who he is and why, should they ever encounter a blogger who quotes or cites him favorably, they should seriously consider whether that blogger has anything worthwhile to say. I suppose VP's blithe dismissal of Cal Thomas accomplishes that, but I still wish he'd taken this more gravely.

In the comments on yesterday's entry, Josh points me to this Midwest Conservatove Journal entry, and to today's WSJ Best of the Web, in which James Taranto makes the same body-count observation that I did. Thanks, Josh!

Andrea Harris nominates Cal Thomas for Dumbass of the Month. With all due respect, he should get a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Andrea points to Rand Simberg, who I believe gives Cal way too much credit for subtlety:

If he'd said, "I believe it's a greater injury..." then I might say, what an idiot. But he's simply saying that many will conclude that, which may, as far as I know, be perfectly true.

Mmm. Sorry, but I agree with Andrea: This sounds like a royal "we" to me, too. There's a reason that English teachers and Microsoft Word deprecate the passive voice. I like what David Ross says in Andrea's comments, that Thomas is "too cowardly to stand by his own beliefs, and too dishonest to admit that no-one of any brain would support them either. A 10th grade teacher would dock a cool 10% from a term paper for that."

DailyPundit takes the same ho-hum approach that VodkaPundit does. As noted above, I think that's copping out. It's easy to point to one stupid thing someone says and say "I always knew that guy was an idiot". If you really believe that, you ought to provide some evidence for it.

Besides, it's not the case that TAPped "suddenly discovered" that Cal Thomas is an idiot. When TAPped says "But never did Tapped believe that anyone -- even Cal Thomas -- would say this", that sure sounds to me like there's an implied "a big dumbass such as" in there. The point that TAPped was making was that even by Thomas' incredibly high standards for idiocy he managed to shock them. That's worth commenting on, frenzied or not.

On a completely unrelated note: Is it just me, or does Cal Thomas bear an uncanny resemblance to Dabney Coleman?

6/30/2002

Trivia time Who is the only NBA player taller than 7'2" who has played on a championship team? Read this article on the life and times of the league's biggest players to find out. Anyone who gets this right is a serious sports fan.
Where's the outrage? TAPped recently printed this excerpt from a dreadful Cal Thomas column:

On the eve of our great national birthday party and in the aftermath of Sept. 11, when millions of us turned to God and prayed for forgiveness of individual and corporate sins and asked for His protection against future attacks, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has inflicted on this nation what many will conclude is a greater injury than that caused by the terrorists.

You read that right: Cal Thomas believes that the recent 9th Circuit Court ruling about the Pledge of Allegiance is a greater injury to America than the 9/11 attacks.

Putting aside the fact that the death toll from this ruling was considerably lower than that of airplanes flying into buildings, Thomas seems to verge awfully close to saying that the attacks were somehow the result of those individual and corporate sins that we were supposed to be asking forgiveness for. Does anyone want to bet that if there is another attack, Thomas will write a column that mentions this ruling as a contributing factor?

I'm not going to waste too much time on this drivel. Cal Thomas is a predictable right-wing shill in the David Horowitz/Ann Coulter mold. He's a modern day Pharisee who writes tirelessly about the virtues of people like himself. There's no starting point for engaging in debate.

TAPped says that the blogosphere "ought to get itself whipped into a frenzy about this one." I agree, but for liberals like me and some of the others who have responded to TAPped's call, it's shooting fish in a barrel. Thomas may have grooved one for us here, but let's face it, we could randomly pick any one of his columns and find something that we consider reprehensible. There's no challenge to this.

So what I would like to know is where are the denunciations from conservatives? This is easily the equivalent of any stupid thing Noam Chomsky or Ted Rall has said. I know perfectly well that the vast majority of conservatives, even those who I find appalling, would disagree with what Cal Thomas has written. I want to see some examples of conservative pundits and bloggers taking Thomas to task for this. Otherwise, given that more than one conservative writer has attempted to make hay by tarring all liberals with the Chomsky/Rall brush, many of those freestyle Fiskings of the loony Left were really nothing more than scoring points.

Please feel free to use the comments to point me in the right direction. I will happily give credit where it is due.

By the way, Thomas begins the last paragraph of his hit piece as follows: "The overwhelming majority of Americans have been forced to stomach a lot of garbage in recent years". You can add your column to that garbage heap, pal.