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Saturday, January 26, 2002
What did Tony say?
Tony Adragna
I finally got around to reading that Lewis column, Will. What can I say?...

After you strip away all the calumny there remains only two valid point (though Lewis spins them the other way): (a) there is properly a perception problem with those photos, and (b) that some terrorists are going to federal district court while others might face military tribunals does raise issues of arbitrariness.

Point (a) was all about a #22. It doesn't matter what we did as far as photos -- release photos, not release photos, release photos of prisoners in cells... -- the "activists" still woulda found a reason to bitch 'n moan. But, we did kinda pick the worst photos to release: the ones that needed the most 'splainin'.

Point (b) is stickier - I actually agree with Tony, but I would go the other way on resolving the dilemma: they all should face military tribunals, including al Qaeda Johnny!(n.b. I'm sick to death of people calling hin "Taliboy", the "American Taliban" - the rat bastard was a member of AL QAEDA)

Look, under both international and domestic law, military tribunals are a proper legal forum. Exempting Lindh and Moussaoui, based on citizenship or where the crimes took place, from military tribunals doesn't seem (to me at least) to be rationaly defensible considering the fact that these individual actors were part of the same play as the scumbags down at GTMO. Looking at the totality of circumstances, Lindh is no different from Moussaoui, is no different from bin Laden hisself - they had a shared pupose, and they oughta share the same consequences.

Well, I made the above argument before - to my usual no avail, so let me drop it...

I will agree, though, that Tony's in the tank with the tone of his message on this one...

Laugh Lines
Humorous orts thrown my way - Tony Adragna
Proctologist to the divorce' - "How in the world did your alimony check get way up there?!"

Toothbrush to the toiletpaper - "Sometimes I feel like I have the worst job in the world"

Seniors are the nations leading carriers of AIDS! - Hearing AIDS, Band AIDS, Roll AIDS, Walking AIDS, Government AIDS, Medical AIDS, and most of all - Monetary AID to their kids!

The golden years have come at last. I cannot see, I cannot pee, I cannot chew, I cannot screw. My memory shrinks, my hearing stinks, no sense of smell, I look like hell. My body is drooping, got trouble pooping. The golden years have come at last. The golden years can kiss my ass!

Tony Snow's Big Moment
Will Vehrs
Tony, I haven't seen the line-up for the Sunday talk shows yet, but last week Fox News Sunday said Tony Snow would be interviewing Vice-President Cheney. I wonder if it's an exclusive and I wonder if Cheney was looking for a "friendly" venue for his first big interview during this Enron/Energy Task Force "scandal" that's swirling around him.

The pressure's on Snow, Tony (so to speak). He could go a long way to dispelling Fox's reputation for being in the tank for conservatives with a tough interview. Cheney could go a long way toward silencing his critics, too, with open, honest answers to the questions everyone's asking.

I'm getting psyched for this one ....

UPDATE: I just heard that Cheney will also appear on This Week. Wonder if it'll be Sam or Cokie?

We don't need to entice...
Tony Adragna
I refuse to post gratutious photos of people who I find sexy. If we were like that, I'm sure could find time to do nothing else. Not that there's anything wrong with it -I mean, where would the world be without sexy people?

OK, y'all got me dead to rights - I LIKE BOYBANDS. Justin & JC everybody knows, and the other two are from O Town.

Before I go any further I just need to sneak another peak at the sexiest of them all... (actually, I like JC more now, with his long hair....)

Ya know, Sharpton "strikes" an impressive pose. I wonder how he lost all that weight?..... Methinks Rev. Sharpton's exercise is merely meant to agitate in advance of his advocacy of issues - I don't think even he thinks he's got a chance, though he did pass Kinsley's "Candidate Spin Test" - the one where the candidate not only stubbornly refuses that he ain't got a chance, but also asserts -- before God, Mom, and the whole of America -- that he's gonna win. Worst case scenario for the Dems: Sharpton "spoils" it for the party...

I gotta go do some housecleaning now... which reminds me - I hope Brian doesn't have too big a mess to clean up after that rowdy mob left his house last night. When are we gonna have our East Coast Bloggers Convention? I like Kathy's suggestion that we have it down in Florida - maybe we can even get that Newfie to make the trip down (if we can tear him away from his Dalton Camp reading)...

Please allow me a little literary license with one of The Emperor's famous lines: "Old NYT columnists don't fade away til they die"... I'll comment on the text later, I really hafta go clean the bathroom now...

He's Baaaaaack
Will Vehrs
Tony, I thought Anthony Lewis would find something to keep him busy in retirement, but he's back in today's New York Times. He's all bent out of shape about Camp X-Ray and totally sympathetic to European criticisms:

The handling of the prisoners in Camp X-Ray has given the United States a self-inflicted wound. Fencing around with legalistic reasons to deny them rights due prisoners of war convinces hardly anyone. The administration should have learned by now that the world may be with us in fighting terrorism, but it wants to hold us to our professed ideals.

Of course, he doesn't mention anything specific; he's just always in favor of giving the suspect the benefit of the doubt, even if it's a terrrorist committed to killing us all.

No Sex Appeal, No Justice
Will Vehrs
Tony, here we are, busting our humps on great constitutional issues, the Supreme Court, arcane Enron angles, and nitty-gritty politics ... and does a big-time blogger notice all that hard work and solid research? Of course not! Mickey Kaus notices the lovely Claire Berlinski's tongue-in-cheek Enron piece over at Dawson's blog.

It pays to be beautiful ... and a great writer. Maybe we better rethink our serious approach and start recruiting some serious cheesecake instead. We can cover both sides of the street, doubling our chances to get noticed on Saturday nights ....

Speaking of Kaus, he says that the Democrats are moving up their primaries to minimize their exposure to the "Rev," Al Sharpton. Ha! Anything they do to freeze out the "Harlem Huckster" is fine with him--it gives him one more grievance. He'll be a problem, no matter what the schedule is. I hope it's just a sideshow, though, and not a serious game of playing the race card and somebody trumping it.

Let's Be Judicious
Tony Adragna
Will, I think that part of Judge Moon's problem with finding that VMI's practice was the type of "historical tradition" that ought be protected is pointed up in the Times-Dispatch article you cite. The story gives "the 1950s" as when the practice started, and simply says it "was discontinued Thursday: Is that accurate reporting?

I think not! Returning to Judge Moon's opinion, it's clear that prayers were reinstituted in 1995 (page 7) after having been ended sometime after 1972 (footnote 2). Judge Moon goes further, citing a Supreme Court case that said the "historical approach is not useful in determining the proper role of church and state in public schools, since free public education was virtually nonexistant at the time the Constitution was adopted"(page 11), so even if VMI's practice was a historic tradition, it still wouldn't have stood up to challenge. Reconciling the opinion with the reportage: you have about 20 years of suppertime prayers, and then about 20 years without, and then the last six years the prayer gets a redux - sounds to me like you can't make a strong tradition case outta the suppertime prayers.

Since I've broached the Supreme Court topic, let me follow up on my writings of yesterday. I did return to that Dahlia Lithwick supreme court dispatch from July 3, 2001. In "The High Court's Eating Disorder", Dahlia discusses: judicial activism vis a vis Rhenquist et al's willingness to (a) wander into the legislature's territory, (b) make a mockery of "states rights"; and she touches on the summer retirement rumor that never came true.

In the final four grafs Dahlia deals with the 5-4 split, the influence of the swing votes -- O'Connor and Kennedy -- and finishes off with this zinger: "Will it be better when George W. Bush puts another Scalia and another Thomas on the court, as he's promised to do? It will certainly not be 'balanced' then, either. But at least it won't be weirdly schizophrenic. Or terrifyingly, blindly hungry." These are the grafs that I responded to, noting "[,,,] if the Court goes too far to the right, then we could see Kennedy "pulling a Stevens"(Kennedy is no foe of Civil Rights)." I'll rest my case on the argument in that posting...

Don't ge me started on comparisons, or I'll hafta start dis'n, which bills itself as a source of "Conservative News and Information" - as if "news and information" have intrinsic partisan political value (other than what can be spun, or what's obviously damaging to the opposition). In their self-identified "conservative columnists" section you will find some of the same columnists who I've ranted against for: pointing-the-finger at liberals (Armstrong Williams, Mona Charen), being whack jobs (Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan), and being disingenuous (Ollie North, Bill O'Reilly). Of course, some of the conservatives who I consider Good Guys are there, too (William F. Buckley, Robert Novak, Charles Krauthammer, George Will...). But, you know Will, Tony don't play that game...

p.s.: I think the anti-cross burning statute was correctly struck down - that some acts "intimidate", and even are offensive, isn't sufficient reason to legally proscribe those acts. As I have such a great disgust for these acts and the actors, I also have no expectation that the state should regulate such behaviour out of existence - it's enough that the law provides redress from actual harm.

AWPP Goes Long
Will Vehrs
Look, I'm America's Worst Pigskin Prognosticator. I'm a pathetic 4-4 so far in the NFL playoffs. If I had written this earlier, it would have looked like what John McBlog predicted. So, what do I have to lose?

The Steelers are favored by 9 1/2 points over the visiting Patriots. The Rams are favored by 11 at home against the Eagles.

Both underdogs will cover the spread. Brady and McNabb will have big days. Like I said, what do I have to lose?

Wake Up, Tony, Somebody's Got a Beef With Us
Will Vehrs
Hey, Tony, I got an email with this subject line:

the term ENRONOMICS....not Stephanopolis.... please credit Walt Starr

In the body of the email, we're directed to the Democratic Underground article where we can see that:

"Walt Starr coined the phrase way back in December, while all the "pundits" were still playing blind, deaf and dumb about Enron..

We have been researching this thing since Day One..

Tony, did we use the term "Enronomics" (btw, the article is called "It's the Enronomy, Stupid)? Did we misspell George S's name that way? What did we do wrong?

I checked the Democratic Underground site. Very interesting. A conservative page that mirrored it would be accused of being a part of the "vast right-wing conspiracy." I guess there's no "vast left-wing conspiracy." Take that, Bernard Goldberg! They do appear to have a "rebuttal" column for conservatives/Republicans and that's a good thing, because the rest of it is very ... ahem, Democratic.

Walt Starr, here's your credit!

Quasipundit Streak Broken!
Will Vehrs
After three winning entries in a row from registered posters to the Quasipundit Forum, a non-member won this week's Ipse Dixit caption contest. Michele Catalano, join before it's too late!

The coming week's contest looks promising. I've already submitted two losing entries.

Quasipundit: All VMI, All the Time
Will Vehrs
Correction to my piece yesterday on the court decision striking down supper prayers at Virginia Military Institute: Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore will appeal. I thought I heard on NPR that the decision would not be appealed and that erroneous notion (it was 6:06 AM, in my defense) stuck in my head, instead of what was plainly written in the article I cited. In other Jerry Kilgore news (GOP hopeful for Governor in 2005), he's going to appeal still another "hot" case:

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore asked the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday to uphold Virginia's law banning cross burning.
The Virginia Supreme Court struck down a nearly 50-yearold state law against cross burning in November, saying such acts of bigotry are a protected form of speech.

In a 4-3 ruling, the court threw out the convictions of three people in two cases. One involved burning a cross at a Ku Klux Klan rally; the other involved an attempted burning in the yard of a black person.

The Virginia Supreme Court's decision conflicts with rulings in Florida, Washington and California, where cross-burning laws have been upheld, according to Kilgore's petition.

It also conflicts with rulings of two federal circuit courts, which found that cross burning for the purpose of intimidation can be prosecuted, according to the petition.
[Richmond Times-Dispatch, State Briefs]

Kilgore is taking a high profile and getting on the "right side" of cases that appeal to significant blocks of voters. He is also a leader of the DNA sampling of all criminals movement.

But I digress; this is supposed to be all about VMI ....

VMI alumni were reacting to the court's prayer decision this morning:

"Why would anybody go there now?" said Bob Munno, 42, a New York businessman who graduated from VMI in 1981.

The school prayer ceremony, which began in the 1950s and was discontinued Thursday, would begin before dinnertime as cadets marched into the mess hall. During the exercise, a member of the corps would read a nondenominational prayer that mentions God, but not Jesus Christ.

"It was nothing major," Munno said. "Somebody would talk over the microphone, it would be garbled and nobody could understand him anyway."

Perhaps the case could be turned into a protection of free, unintelligible speech argument?

In other VMI news, one of your favorite people, Tony, VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting III went back and visited Viet Nam, where he served in the Army. His visit is part of starting a new program at the school:

Plans for the summer program, one of several the school has set up around the globe, call for 12 to 20 cadets to stay for four weeks to study Vietnamese history and culture.

Each cadet will spend at least one week living with a Vietnamese family. At the end of the study, cadets will tour the country with VMI alumni who served in the war.

Sounds like a good program for the Cadets, but no praying before they leave ....

Above the fold
QuasiPundit's daily list of top stories, without commentary
Washington Post:

Front Page Image

GAO Vows to Sue For Cheney Files ( The head of a congressional inquiry into the Bush administration's energy proposals said yesterday he would sue the White House next week if the administration does not comply with his demands, in what would be the first legal action of its kind between the legislative and executive branches of government.

Ex-Enron Executive Found Dead in Car ( The collapse of Enron Corp., the biggest business failure in U.S. history, took on another dimension of tragedy yesterday as a former vice chairman of the company was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in his car near Houston, police said.

'I Want to Go Home' ( Tony Oulai sat down in a small cubicle and picked up a telephone. Through the plexiglass wall separating him from his visitors, his chocolate complexion was stark against the pale cinder-block walls. Across the back of his forest-green jumpsuit, worn block letters spelled out "PRISONER."

Brianna's Godmother Sentenced ( Angela T. O'Brien, the godmother of Brianna Blackmond, was sentenced yesterday to 19 years to life in prison for fatally slamming the toddler's head on the floor and then telling several children who witnessed the assault to lie about it.

New York Times:

Front Page Image

President Assails Palestinian Chief on Arms Shipment WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 — In his harshest comments yet on Yasir Arafat, President Bush suggested today that the Palestinian leader was "enhancing terror" with a boatload of smuggled arms intended for use against Israel, as the president and top advisers met to consider ways to isolate and punish Mr. Arafat.

U.S. to Reconsider Agency Contracts in Enron Scandal WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 — The Bush administration ordered federal agencies today to review contracts worth more than $60 million a year with Arthur Andersen and the Enron Corporation (news/quote), saying the allegations swirling around both companies raised doubts about whether they should continue to receive taxpayer money.

Critic Who Quit Top Enron Post Is Found Dead HOUSTON, Jan. 25 — The body of a former Enron Corporation (news/quote) vice chairman who resigned last May after voicing concerns about the company's financial practices was discovered early this morning inside his Mercedes-Benz after he apparently killed himself.

A Harvard Star in Black Studies Joins Princeton One of the stars of the Afro-American studies department at Harvard University resigned his professorship yesterday and accepted an offer to join the faculty of rival Princeton University, raising questions about whether other professors from the department would follow.

'Sleeper Cells' in Singapore Show Al Qaeda's Long Reach SINGAPORE, Jan. 25 — Shortly after the United States began bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7, a 30-year- old Indonesian traveling on a false Filipino passport slipped into this tightly controlled city-state carrying a plan to strike back at America.

Washington Times:

Powell urges POW status -- The Washington Times Secretary of State Colin Powell has asked President Bush to reverse the president's position on al Qaeda and Taliban detainees and declare them prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

Enron, Andersen ethics under review -- The Washington Times The White House yesterday ordered a review of $70 million worth of federal contracts with Enron Corp. and the Arthur Andersen & Co accounting firm to determine whether the embattled companies are worthy of government business.

Los Angeles Times:

Front Page Image(pdf)

Arafat Helping Foster Terror, Bush Declares PORTLAND, Maine -- President Bush on Friday all but accused Yasser Arafat of direct involvement in arms smuggling, saying that he was "very, very disappointed" in the Palestinian Authority president.

2 Canadians Tied to Terrorist Plots WASHINGTON -- U.S. authorities drew their first firm link Friday between Canada and Al Qaeda-trained terrorists since the Sept. 11 hijackings, identifying two Canadian citizens who are suspected of plotting suicide attacks against America.

Former Enron Exec Found Dead in Apparent Suicide HOUSTON -- The Enron saga slipped from scandal to tragedy Friday as J. Clifford Baxter, a former vice chairman of the company who "complained mightily" about some of its off-the-books partnerships, was found shot dead in his car, an apparent suicide.

A Second Chance at Life, Gold ASPEN, Colo. -- This is Chris Klug's life now. There is snowboarding most mornings, followed by a late lunch at places only the locals know about, like Johnny McGuire's, where Klug is partial to the "trucker," a concoction of turkey, bacon, cheddar, mayo and barbecue sauce stuffed in a helpless roll.

Go to The Newspaper Rack

BLOG WATCH II: Your guide to who is saying what, where
AM Edition - by Will Vehrs

What’s hot: Sugarland suicide. Coming attractions: higher gas taxes (Fritz Schranck).

Joanne Jacobs: Fussed about Gitmo, Rumsfeld; complexities of religion in school; girls rule, boys drool.

Joshua Micah Marshall: Andersen's rebranding--some ideas; Baxter's suicide: a delicate conscience; talking to Victoria on WMAL; Lindsey misleading.

Charles Johnson. Peretz's visa story; numbskull namesake; Saudis emulate Taliban, or vice versa?; ugly cartoon from Arab News; will anti-semitic agenda play better in EU?; Hanson, meet the anti-idiotarians; 4 year old, latest victim of brave PLO.

Jeff Jarvis Will Warren, poet laureate of Blogdom; glad I discovered Krugman; I'm up for a bloggie? blush, blush; Porky John Rat Traitor; cultural misogyny.

Libertarian Samizdata Johnny Student, attending Farce U; strikes stats struck, re-privatising needed; Fini the Fascist makes Natalija smile; harmonising high taxes.

Steven Den Beste Special Middle East Trifecta issue.

Dawson Overhauled in Orlando; Enron a pathological diversion from war; serial Canadian kisser caught; Claire, loyal and available--to Enron for $50K.

Kathy Kinsley Where were the bishops?; Australia Day, come and gone.

Fritz Schranck Watch the pumps--gas tax increases tempting as collections decline. Drive those SUVs!

Kevin Holtsberry Quick and Adragna on Indiana; making this blog watcher blush; absurd defense for Johnny Taliban; Buckeye Institute; Red Dog! An Analysis of the Blitz.

SGT Stryker cut the lingo, QP; real quality of life for troops; Enron slugs slog on, exec commits suicide; Den Beste: Moses; technical toilet talk.

Andrew Olmsted Reviews of the Rings.

In my craft or sullen ... Blog Watch
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed

Friday, January 25, 2002
BLOG WATCH II: Your guide to who is saying what, where
PM Edition - by Tony Adragna
Brian Linse: Something fishy 'bout Perry; Enron execs sank to the lowest low - pincing from the donut fund; a Fisk to de ear...

Damian Penny: Jonah watches too many Simpson's episodes; Matt is a standup kinda guy - probably because he's got a backbone

Dr. Frank: "Hammerin'" the prisoners; Simpson gives Powell a vocabilaru lesson - toadays' word is "D'OH"; it's unoffiicial, but Berkeley drivers at least support America;

Tim Blair: Happy Crocodile Day

Duncan Fitzgerald: Alterman is rolling; bad movie concept books

Alex Knapp: Quite a bit of advice from the Independent;

protein wisdom: Connecting the dots with Chalk

Daniel Taylor Taking it to "every human being on the planet"

Ginger Stampley: Taking Katy to work - Not Me!; hanging the trainers out to dry

"This is not the end of blog watching. It is not even the begginning of the end of blog watching. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning of blog watching."

Whose Name Do We Put on the Cake?
Tony Adragna
According to O'Connor's brother:

"There was never any talk of expanding the book to cover O'Connor's career or life on the Court, Day says. And when coaxed to speculate on the inevitable question of when his sister, 72, will retire from the Court, he says, 'That's something I don't ask her. But I'd say she has a real high energy level, and she has a lot of living left to do. She's not melting away.'"

It's either Stevens or Rhenquist - I wonder what kinda icing the Chief likes?

Has Lowry Lost his Mind?
Tony Adragna
I've been eavesdropin' on the guys over in the corner, Will. I agree with everything Rich says in this post ( I've been arguing all along that Lindh oughta face a military tribunal), until he gets to saying things like, "... the elaborate protections created by the Left to protect common red-blooded American muggers and thieves from the consequences of their crimes."

First, I don't think those protections were "created by the Left". Miranda v. Arizona was about the Fifth Amendment - a person's RIGHT against self-incrimination. Now, if Rich wants to argue that the Framers were liberals -- in the classical sense -- then I'll hafta concur. But nooo, Rich wants to take "the Left" to task for forcing The State to honour a citizens rights.

Second, Rich seems to agree with me that "rights" aren't "inalienable" - strip away the citizenship and the rights are gone - read "alienated". Does he really believe that, or is he just pickin' and choosin' when he wants rights to be inalienable? I don't know - help?

Finally, I like Rich's referrence to the "common red-blooded American muggers..." - it reminds me of a term that I hear used in Brit-TV detective shows: "ordinary decent criminal". But, I take issue with the inferrence that procedural protections only benefit "criminals" - they also protect Rich Lowry hisself if he were ever to find himself in a spot of trouble (don't tempt fate Rich - actually innocent people get caught up sometimes, too!)

Project Update
Tony Adragna
JohnMcG, who has his own blog now,, sounds off in The Refuge with a best explanation for why there are so many lefty-lib loonies in the Bay Area. I merely take exception with the inference that he's saying something other than what I said. I challenge any reader to cite an instance of myself in denial about "home grown" l-l ls. What I said was "the agitators" -- that is, the ones who get on everybody's nerves -- tend to be out-of-towners who have moved in and taken advantage of what has long been a culturally liberal atmosphere.

Here's a dirtly little secret - most locals actually resented the influx of pilgrims to the holy shrine of hippiedom: the Haight-Ashbury. The excesses that came with these people -- people like Peter Coyote , the son of an East Coast stockbroker -- effed-up the good thang the locals had going.

Here's an anecdote from my own growin' up: I had an old hippy [oops, I meant "hippie", though my hippie friend was also "hippy"] friend in Berkeley - legally changed his name to Saurkraut - who used to tell me and my friends where the good parties were. How did he spell "good party"? L-O-C-A-L-S-O-N-L-Y

p.s. Let's not forget that Californians can also be conservative - the state isn't a political monolith. Remember that Californians elected Ronald Reagan four times -- twice as governor and twice as president. The voters also gave Pete Wilson a Senate seat and the Governor's Mansion. And, don't forget about Congressman Bono. The city of San Francisco has also been known to elect (on occasion) Republicans (say it ain't so!)

California also has its share of right-wing loonies, neo-nazis, racial purists, etc.

Let's get with it: Californians are just like Americans from everywhere else, 'cept we got the Napa Valley and Hollywood...

Quick response on lefty-lib loonies
Tony Adragna
Hey, Will, Bill is pickin' on me again!. He makes a valid point in the closing lines:

"Something happened later, after all those idyllic romps through the cornfields and the drunken deflowerings while parked beside the reservoir on country road nine. My bet is that it was college. At least, if I were looking for 'root causes,' that's where I'd start digging."

So, I responded in Bill's comments linkie-thingie:

"How 'bout Purdue - was there something funny going on there whilst she was matriculating?(I just like that word) If she picked it up at Purdue (that's in Indiana too, isn't it?), then my point still holds - she brought it to S.F. like the plague on a rodent..."

The rodent comment is apt in Salter's case, since Bill uses the line, "If you a: grow up in Indiana and b: have a brain in your head, most likely your single biggest goal in life is to Get The Hell Out Of There And Go Someplace Civilized." Yeah, Bill - like a rat escaping a sinking ship....

On the Mikva deliberation, I need to go back and read Ms. Lithwick's previous remarks (It was last summer I think) on possible retirements, and my own comments in response. From what I can tell of Mikva's argument, it boils down to this: Hey, the court is involving itself in political disputes on a more frequent basis, so why not apply a little pressure to ensure that there are no forgone conclusions? That's Mikva'a point about the 5-4 decisions: if we lose one justice, then the court would be split 4-4, and neither conservative nor liberal would have an advantage. That's Mikva's thesis, and he makes a clear case that are no constitutional impediments to either changing the size of the court, nor to the court functioning with less than a full banc.

Wanna know what the flaw in Mikva's plan is? Psst - come close, and don't spread this around: if Stevens retires, then the liberals can only count to three - so much for the Mikva Plan... Well, maybe not, because I do remember noting on some prior ocassion that a Chief Scalia, or another Justice of the same ilk, could very well end up pushing Kennedy further to the left...

More Mikva
Will Vehrs
Tony, while I await your learned take on Abner Mikva's Supreme Court monkey wrench plan I brought up below, I've been wondering why this op-ed and why now. Does Mikva know something? He's undoubtably connected to at least a few of the "Democratic" justices. Are some retirements in the works?

The Democrats have one overarching goal for the Supreme Court in the near future: don't let it get any worse. Mikva's op-ed, it seems to me, is the only strategy they can employ.

Nominating a Supreme Court justice(s) in the near future would be a war-time President with approval ratings in the 80's. As a backdrop, two important terrorism trials will be going on with the public heavily in favor of convicting the defendants and imposing the maximum penalties.

The worst nightmare for the Democrats is the retirement of Justice Stevens. A slightly lesser nightmare is a Rehnquist or O'Connor retirement. Their nightmare in either case adds cold sweats if Bush nominates a Hispanic, African-American, and/or a woman with no surprises or problems in his/her past. They might be able to block a garden variety white conservative with any controversy whatsoever in his/her background. It won't be easy blocking a conservative, "law and order" type if that person is clean and if there's an undercurrent of judicial leniency in the country, e.g., if Moussaoui is acquitted.

A Stevens only retirement makes the court 5-3. Stevens and one of Rehnquist or O' Connor leaves it 4-3. Stevens and both leaves the court 3-3 and very shorthanded. Stevens staying and Rehnquist and O'Connor both retiring makes it 4-4. I can't imagine that three justices would retire in the same year, but one never knows.

I don't think op-eds in the Washington Post just magically appear. I think they are usually messages, tip-offs, or trial balloons. Something's up, Tony, for Mikva to put this out.

Anthony Adragna, Bay City P.I.
Will Vehrs
Jeesh, Tony, I make an off-hand joke about your San Francisco roots and you turn into Inspector Javert, hunting down "outside agitators" who give "the greatest city in the world" a bad reputation. Ease up!

An outside agitator I want you to immediately drop as a suspect is Sue Millian (always "Suzie Creamcheese" to me), Stonewall Jackson High School of Manassas, VA, Class of '71, who is now a San Francisco resident. She was my date for the 1970 Homecoming Dance and she's no looney.

So the mess deck food is pretty good, huh? Best Army food in the field that I ever had was at the US Armor School in Ft. Knox, KY. The best garrison food was at the "Follow Me" dining facility at Ft. Benning, GA. When I was stationed in Germany, the food was okay, but I lived to slip out and grab a jagerschnitzel at the local gasthaus. I never got to sample any military chow at brass-heavy places like the Pentagon or The Presidio ....

I heard about the apparent suicide death of the ex-Enron executive on the radio when I was out and about in the car. Rush Limbaugh seemed to be blaming it on all the investigations and media focus. Earlier, the big topic was the six year sentence given to the hockey Dad killer in Massachusetts. I was surprised to hear how many people on talk radio were blaming the victim. I suppose they had a point that he may have instigated the fight that eventually killed him, but somehow I just can't accept that someone had to die over a kids' game.

Breaking News
Former Enron Exec. Found Dead ( HOUSTON (AP) - A former Enron Corp. executive who reportedly challenged the company's questionable financial practices and resigned last May was found shot to death in a car Friday, an apparent suicide.

(lookin' more like us "fraud conspiracy" theorists are right - Tony)

Where do those Lefty-Lib Loonies come from, again?
Tony Adragna
Just a bit of housekeeping - I've been ever defensive of the accusations pointed at my hometown in re Salter & Co. I've made the point before about my boyhood recollections of the agitators in Berkely, S.F., etc. It seems to me that these people mostly come from "somewhere else" (it's common sense - UC Berkeley isn't packed with people from the Bay Area), can't handle the freedom, never heard the word "mederation", and end up giving us homeboys a bad name.

So, I've decided on a project to discover where these people are really from, and I started with Stephanie "The Voice of God" Salter. I'm guessing she's maybe from some place like Terre Haute, Indiana. Ya' know, one of those places that Mr. Sullivan says is the "Red" America, where everybody learns right from wrong, and are good patriots...

Readers: send me an email of your favourite lefty-lib loons - I wanna nail these people down...

Chow Call!
Tony Adragna
Will, I don't know how well those cay-dets get fed, but, I'll tell ya, there were no atheists on any Navy mess decks that I ever visited*.

The curious thing about Judge Moon's opinion is the limited scope of the order. Plaintiffs were asking that all mandatory prayer cease, but Judge Moon's order only "grants" on the supper prayers. I haven't read the whole opinion yet, so I don't know how the supper prayers are distinguished from other mandatory prayer.

I think that Judge is correct that there is an Establishment Clause infringement in the case, so he didn't have any choice but to grant some kind of relief. VMI shot itself in the foot by emphasizing the "spiritual" nature of the exercise. OTOH, if VMI had argued that this was purely a leadership exercise, then the question woulda been "what point the religious character?" I don't have any problem with Judge Moon's opinion, my dispute is with the BIG BABIES who brought the suit - nobody forced to to attend VMI. Once the case was brought, though, the conclusion as a matter of law was forseeable. Hey, it coulda been worse...

Note also that VMI did win on two of it's motions - state claims and monetary damages.

I've been waiting for Terence Smith -- my favourite "media watcher" -- to comment on the current Bias debate, and I missed it. Guess I'll hafta read the transcript (don't need to see the faces - I know the manerisms of these gents)...

n.b.: Chow on the enlisted mees decks is actually good - much better than wardroom fair, but not as good as what the Chiefs eat...

On Mikva - I need to finnish reading it, and do a little review of the history. I've taken the issue, and will deliver an opinion this evening...

Illegitimate Mikva
Will Vehrs
I'm disturbed by former Democratic Congressman, Federal Judge, and Clinton Counselor Abner Mikva's op-ed in today's Washington Post. In the midst of Enron-mania, he reminds us of what will really turn the nation's Capitol upside down: a Supreme Court vacancy. I think Mikva wants to make it worse than a circus--he wants to make it a war between branches of government:

What kind of person would President Bush nominate? And what kind of nominee would the Senate confirm? Suppose the Senate did not confirm anybody. Would that be deemed political conduct? Would that be a responsible exercise of the Senate's constitutional power? I think the answer to both questions is yes.

This Supreme Court is in an activist mood. Each year yields a bumper crop of decisions that overrule or modify political choices made by Congress. If there are to be changes in its personnel, they ought to be made by a president who has a popular vote mandate. I think the Senate should not act on any Supreme Court vacancies that might occur until after the next presidential election. Changes in the existing delicate balance could put the very legitimacy of the court as an institution at risk. Other than the black robes and the high bench, that legitimacy is all that the court has going for it.

I find Mikva, himself once mentioned for the court years ago, to be making an offensive case. A President is the President, regardless of the circumstances of his election. There is a lot of danger in challenging a President's legitimacy in one area, yet having to rely on that President in the critical area of foreign policy. President Bush got more votes than President Clinton ever did and, unless I'm mistaken, more people voted against Clinton than voted for him 1992. Should that have been an impediment to Clinton's legitimacy? Should he have been disallowed from nominating judges? Absolutely not.

Extending Mikva's logic, should a President with a popular vote mandate get all of his/her nominees confirmed pro forma?

I've always supported prompt and fair consideration of judicial nominees, no matter what their perceived ideology, no matter who is the President. The Senate should hold hearings on nominees and then vote for or against them for whatever reason they choose, but they shouldn't just stall or refuse to consider nominees. This Mikva tactic--nullification, in essence--is dangerous and I think will strike most Americans as bizarre and anti-democratic.

Tony, you're a legal eagle. What's your take?

Answered Prayers
Will Vehrs
Tony, a topic we discussed many weeks ago has been resolved. U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon has declared Virginia Military Institute's supper prayer unconstitutional. Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore will not appeal.

The non-denominational, VMI chaplain authored prayers, given by different Cadet leaders each night, have been ended in response to the judge's order:

"Because of the intense, coercive environment created by the institute's adversative method . . . the primary effect of this practice has been to compel students to participate in a state-sponsored religious exercise," Moon wrote.

Although not appealing, AG Kilgore couldn't resist exploiting the decision by deviating from the facts of the case a bit:

"It is a shame that while American soldiers are fighting for our liberties in places like Afghanistan, our young men and women training to be soldiers and leaders at VMI are prevented from praying for their safety as a body," Kilgore said.

Fellow blogger Bill Quick was on top of this decision yesterday, agreeing with it. I disagree with him and Judge Moon very strongly. This prayer exercise was not rooted in coercing any religion, it was a leadership exercise. This case is another example that there is only one kind of diversity. VMI is a unique educational experience, but it is continuously having to give up the things that make it unique. This prayer decision is not important in and of itself, but only as part of a larger story. VMI, freely advertising itself for what it is and what it is trying to do, must change to accommodate litigating students who enter knowing the conditions up front or litigating outsiders who want to remake the place. Somehow, a supper prayer is coercive and unconstitutional, but making Cadets eat dirt and stand at attention for hours isn't. That'll probably be challenged next and we'll rename the place Virginia Ex-Military Institute (VEMX).

Two Minute Drill
Will Vehrs
Time again for my annoying collection of mini-items on my radar screen:

Media Bias Bombast: Worst PBS segment ever--Marvin Kalb debating Bernard Goldberg last night on The News Hour, moderated by a bemused Terence Smith. Goldberg kept repeating his beef of "Senator Boxer" versus "Conservative Senator Santorum." Kalb kept calling Goldberg Spiro Agnew. It was pathetic all around.

The Constitution is Not a Coordination Pact: Representative Greenwood (R,PA) was on NPR this morning talking about Congressional investigations into Enron. Asked if there was a problem with coordinating all the hearings and findings, he replied that the constitution didn't make much of a provision for coordination.

Oh, Really? Johnny Taliban "loves America." That's going to be a tough sell--he didn't seem too enamoured of the USS Cole, but maybe that's not a part of America to him. Johnny also wanted a lawyer. Wonder why he didn't mention that to CNN? One thing that steams me are Johnny parents wailing about long it's been since they've seen their son and how he's been kept incommunicado. Hmmm ... don't they have more of a beef with Bin Laden than Uncle Sam on the incommunicado issue?

The Union Label Tony, I'm not surprised that you're not too favorably disposed toward unions. I've never been a member of a union, but I've supervised union workers and had some involvement in negotiations and grievances. Those were small unions, not "biggies." I think the big unions are all about preserving their leadership and influence, not looking out for the real long-term interests of the rank and file. As for the United workers, if the airline goes under, I hope their workers can find comparable $37/hr work.

Andrea Yates SandyC and xarmywife have heartfelt posts in The Refuge about Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her children in the bathtub. I know the woman is mentally ill, I know that somewhere, somehow, her family and husband should have done something, but I don't yet know what that should means in terms of her punishment. I hope others will talk about their feelings in response to Sandy and xarmywife.

Above the fold
QuasiPundit's daily list of top stories, without commentary
Washington Post:

Front Page Image

Andersen Officials Grilled on Shredding ( House members probing the sudden demise of Enron Corp. pressed executives at the company's auditor, Arthur Andersen, yesterday on why they didn't do more to preserve Enron audit documents last fall, after they learned that federal regulators were investigating the energy trader's finances.

New Players On an Old Stage ( Flanked by two lawyers in rimless spectacles, David B. Duncan, the former accounting executive at the eye of the Enron storm, took his seat at the witness table yesterday. He stoically ignored the whirr of clicking cameras as Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.) bid him a polite if perfunctory welcome.

Campaign Bill Heads For a Vote In House ( Legislation to curb the influence of special interest money in campaigns received a powerful boost yesterday as its supporters in the House gathered enough signatures to force a vote despite the wishes of House Republican leaders.

U.S. Forces Raid Taliban Compounds ( U.S. Special Forces raided two Taliban compounds in the mountains north of Kandahar yesterday, killing at least 15 fighters and capturing 27 others in one of the largest known U.S. ground combat operations of the Afghanistan war, Defense Department officials said. One American soldier was wounded by enemy fire.

New York Times:

Front Page Image

Enron Hearings Open, Focusing on Destroyed Papers WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 — Lawmakers investigating the Enron Corporation (news/quote) said today that new evidence showed that the company's auditors, Arthur Andersen, destroyed documents knowing that they might be relevant to criminal and civil investigations.

Ex-Workers Say Unit's Earnings Were 'Illusory' A major division of the Enron Corporation (news/quote) overstated its profits by hundreds of millions of dollars over the last three years, and senior Enron executives were warned almost a year ago that the division's profits were illusory, according to several former employees.

House Vote Is Set on Campaign Bill WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 — The advocates of overhauling the nation's campaign finance law gained enough support today to force a House vote on legislation that would make the most wide-ranging change in the campaign law since the Watergate era.

Police in Chechnya Accuse Russia's Troops of Murder GROZNY, Russia, Jan. 22 — Nearly two years after major hostilities ended here in Chechnya, the devastated republic in the Caucasus, Russian troops are killing civilians in a campaign of executions and looting that takes place alongside military operations aimed at destroying rebel forces, according to Chechen police officials.

Washington Times:

Fed: Economy on rebound -- The Washington Times Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan yesterday said the economy is improving on its own and may no longer need additional tax cuts and spending increases to achieve recovery.

Lindh tells judge charges are clear -- The Washington Times American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh politely told a federal judge yesterday in his first appearance in a U.S. courtroom that he understood charges brought against him of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens in Afghanistan and the penalties he faces.

Los Angeles Times:

Front Page Image(pdf)

House Yields on Campaign Money Reform WASHINGTON -- With the Enron Corp. scandal providing powerful momentum, campaign finance reform advocates Thursday broke through a major legislative barrier and won the right to a House vote on their bid to limit the role of big money in politics.

State Court Backs Police on Searches SAN FRANCISCO -- Police in California may search cars if a driver fails to produce a license or registration regardless of whether the officer has a warrant, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Enron Auditor Says Fired Partner Drove Shredding WASHINGTON -- Senior Andersen accounting firm executives told Congress on Thursday that a fired partner destroyed potentially revealing Enron documents in an apparent attempt to keep them away from federal investigators.

Taking a Flier on a Scam With three years' experience putting money into get-rich-quick programs online, Jack Reitzel believes he has learned all the rules.

One rule is not to believe anything the promoters say. If they promise a 300% return on investors' money in two weeks, it's more than likely the site will disappear before the deadline arrives. If they claim their response is slow because they've had emergency surgery or technical problems or a dispute with their bankers, it's time to worry.

Go to The Newspaper Rack

BLOG WATCH II: Your guide to who is saying what, where
AM Edition - by Will Vehrs

What’s hot: Weblog denial. Most alarming news: Porn goes musical (Steven Den Beste).

Joanne Jacobs: Repressed memories of molestation by "Sharkie"; Suing critics, hot idea for Kingsolver and Bay Area malcontents.

Joshua Micah Marshall Reynolds extracts clarification--"no shoulding" here.

Charles Johnson. Bush: J'accuse!; weblog that's not a weblog; 4800 forgotten suspects; Steyn on temperature-challenged reporters; not to brag, but we're a "bloggies" finalist.

Jeff Jarvis Hirsch's essay on 9/11 images; home, sweet Blog Watch home.

Libertarian Samizdata Stick it where the sun don't shine, Petritsch; Samizdata takes credit for NRO weblog [no, that's us--ed]; Natalija tells lawyer joke, exposes Perry and friend; gun comment puts amendments in conflict; now libertarians hate Buchanan as much as everybody else; posturing pomadours in cheap suits; student types explained by mysterious Johnny Student and more mysterious "Jane Studen."

Steven Den Beste Jealous rancor erupts over bloggies; a clever plan in Saudi?; history lesson for Hochstatter; hey, Russkies, try this "firm legal basis"; Debbie Does Dallas, the musical? Big ambitions ....; scam defense; cops under a bad spell.

Dawson Roving eye turns to Stacy--no cheesecake, sorry; drink to deter dementia.

Kathy Kinsley Second thoughts after Steyn; Steyn's lovely rant; crazy bus driver; homeland security gets moving; air potatoes [did I spell that right?--Dan Q]

Kevin Holtsberry NRO blog?; an Ohio bill equalizes creationism; flight of the long knife radio caller; blasting the southern strategy strategy; questionable Derbyshire award.

Fritz Schranck Embarassing database--wave of the future?

Andrew Olmsted Kaus' blind spot; oh, no, government official lets truth slip; Cato Institute pushes private sector spending, who knew?; fast food a feast for tort lawyers.

SGT Stryker Email pile; Life of an Airman, Part III; tough terrorism test; war is good.

Altarwise by owl-light in the halfway house
The gentleman lay graveward with his ... Blog Watch I.

BLOG WATCH II: Your guide to who is saying what, where
PM Edition - by Tony Adragna
Brian Linse: Brian's got his own list, and there's some very bloggable people on it...

Andrew Hofer: 401(k) non-scandal scandal; Matt gets goodies

Damian Penny: Lakers get stapled at the center; is a "Zwicker" some kinda Canadian cultist?; Canadians can't even do "condemnation" right!; more pleas for the U.S. to come take Canada (just a little while longer, D' - Tony)

Dr. Frank: British are quite the journalists; more Euro Jew baiting

Moira Breen: Scientific creation and other mysteries resolved

Tim Blair: Guest Editor Day!; Let's skip class and go to the public house instead; SMH's Bovine Bloviator

Duncan Fitzgerald: Norton saves a Bush; a crime story straight from "Law & Order"

protein wisdom: Get down off of Clinton, Andrew!; Euro mental onanism; blogging in the corner

Daniel Taylor clocks, commercials, and checklists - Oh my!

Ginger Stampley: training the trainer; Houston Hangin; On

"Damn the blog watchers, full speed ahead!"

Thursday, January 24, 2002
Outgoing Mail Box
Tony Adragna
Will, you know I can't resist sending mail to the media - check out what I sent to NRO:

Subject: Hey! You in The Corner!

The format is great! Will Vehrs and myself have been using it in our "Shouting "Cross the Potomac" section at (that's ) for several month's - IT WORKS! You folks (being professionals) oughta be able to make it work even better (so, if you don't make it work, then I'll know that Glenn is right).

We are belly-up-to-the-bar lifting a cold one to you guys in The Corner

Tony Adragna & Will Vehrs

Bush got paddled by the Board
Tony Adragna
Hey Will! I know that you're "in deliberations" on the Bioethics Panel (btw: I think Glenn's "advice" was more an admonition - my read is that he clearly sees it as a "packed panel"). Did you read our favourite conservative cloumnist's latest? I'm not sure what Bob Novak is calling a "blunder" - Bush's decision to go with an emergency board packed with professional arbitratiors to settle the United Airlines/IAM embroglio, or the panel's decision. In either case, the opening line is harsh: "The president was totally screwed"...

Should I renew my rant against unions? It may seem odd that I've been lately advocating for employees, and now I'm gonna step up to the plate for business, but I am an odd fellow.

Actually, my opposition to unions isn't inconsistent with my advocacy for the working guy, not when you consider what unions have become - just another "corporate" entity in which the individual's interests get lost. I mean, what good is it to force a company to pay more than it obviously can afford, driving it into bankruptcy, so that everybody suffers. Well, at least they'll be suffering together...

I once belonged to a union in San Francisco. I worked as a security guard for American Protection Services (APS was bought by Securitas in 1999), and had to join a union. You know how much those mafiosi took outa me? - and for what? To "represent" me? No way, Jose - Tony don't play that. If I got a beef with my employer, it's between me and my employer. If my employer wants to give me some-some, then I don't want "union rules" nor a contract to hold me back.

If these United workers don't like the pay, then why not go to another airline?!

Anywho... maybe Mr. Bush learned something from trying to be fair, and that's why we now have a packed Bioethics panel. Just something to think about...

Trash Day
Tony Adragna
Didja ever read Lucifer's Hammer, Will? The mailman (excuse me - letter carrier) used to save all the junk mail for one day a month (mighta been once a week - don't remember) so that the people on his route didn't hafta fool with it.

I have my MSN "spam protection" on. It puts all of my spam in a seperate folder, then when nobody sends me mail (or, I'm looking for some new porn viewage) I can go through all of it at the same time. No muss, no fuss...

More than you might know!
Tony Adragna
Hey Will, how come we're just getting around to discovering PPC? Needn't ask how Jack discovered us! (is it still en vogue to blame Glenn?)

We even got an indirect bit of praise from the folks over in The Corner. Jonah wonders about the format working - Hey Jonah, it works!

Now, on to the contr"aw"versy...

Yes, Sen. L' did oppose FASB's proposal, which was similar to an International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) proposal. The idea was that stock options should be charged against a company's earnings, and business -- especially "New Economy" business, where stock options are a large part of compensation -- went ballistic. Expensing stock options would definitely have changed the balance sheets, but I'm not sure that not-expensing would cause a company's value to be mistated in the way that Enron's apparently was. What it would do, though, is take away some of the incentive to offer stock option in lieu of salary - so it's still a good thing in my book.

What Sen L' is referring to in the second quote from A20 is the off-balance-sheet financing, which allowed the company to show less debt than it actually had - totalling some multiple of billions of dollars.

Neither of those two quotes conflict Al Hunt's correction, which specifically addresses the auditor independence issue. I can't find any instance of Sen. L' voicing opposition to the notion, but I can't find any instance of him [supporting it], either (If somebody's got the dirt, let's have it).

How's Your Spam Count?
Will Vehrs
Tony, do you get good spam? Today I received 31 pieces of spam in my in-box. Is that a good number? Am I ... normal? Most of it was the usual stuff --Viagra, a guaranteed larger penis, hot teens, casino winnings, making money at home, a free prize waiting --but I had two new subject lines that I almost hated to delete:

3 Free Panties From Fredericks of Hollywood
Dramatically Increases Organism

I wonder how I got on those two lists, although I am a fan of larger organisms.

We've Been Honored!
Will Vehrs
Hey, Tony, we've been selected as today's "Cool Site" by Jack O'Toole of Jack's got a great site dedicated to "the business of politics." Within the site you'll find Jack's own blog, the O'Toole File. A sample of O'Toole, responding to Jonah Goldberg's question of how giving social security benefits to same sex marriage partners strengthens the system:

The trick here is to remember that most Dems don't think of Social Security as a spending program, per se, but rather as a "political covenant between generations." Therefore, anything that extends the reach of Social Security (more recipients = greater political support for the covenant) does, indeed, "strengthen" the system.

Thanks, Jack, for the recognition, and we'll be checking you out from now on.

Senator Lieberman: Only His Hairdresser Knows For Sure
Will Vehrs
Tony, there's an interesting pair of items in today's Wall Street Journal (I don't have a subscription, but get to see a "hard" copy). On page A19, Al Hunt ends his "Politics & People" column with this:

(CORRECTION: In last week's column I wrote that when former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt tried to end the accounting industry's conflict of interest in doing consulting and auditing for the same company, members of Congress, including Sen. Joe Lieberman, forced him to retreat. Thirteen senators intervened, but Sen. Lieberman did not.)

On page, A20, there's an article by Michael Schroeder and Greg Hitt entitled "Congress Fought Changes to Accounting Rules Over Past Decade." At the top of the article is a "Changing Tone" box with a drawing of Senator Lieberman and these two quotes:

"The accounting board's proposal is so potentially damaging and offers so little improvement in the comparability and integrity of financial statements that I have concluded ... that it must not go forward." --Sen Lieberman, in helping block accounting-industry proposal to force companies to deduct employee stock options from profits. April 8, 1994

"Why did Enron's auditors allow the company to overstate its profits for four years by over half a billion dollars, using what now appears to be very questionable accounting practices?" --Sen. Lieberman, commenting on Enron's collapse, Jan. 2, 2002

The body of the article contains this statement: "In the fall of 2000, amid the tight presidential race, Mr. Lieberman joined with a bipartisan group of 13 senators in a letter urging the standards board to postpone consideratioin of the changes until Congress reconvened in 2001."

Who's right, Hunt or Schroeder/Hitt? Why isn't there much questioning of Senator Lieberman's standing to hold hearings given his past actions?

I guess I'm just not in the mood for a lot of sanctimony in this Enron debate.

Ask an expert
Tony Adragna
Tom Veal, of Stromata, who makes his living dealing with ERISA issues, sends the following:

"Mr. Lay's retirement benefits, except for whatever he has accrued under Enron's qualified pension and 401(k) plans, disappeared when the company entered bankruptcy. His claims now have the same status as those of other unsecured general creditors and thus are almost certainly worth nothing.
The fact that senior executives have so much of their wealth tied up in stock options and nonqualified deferred compensation makes bankruptcy much more expensive for them than for rank-and-file workers."

Mr. Veal is, of course, correct. Right now, Ken Lay's package is as worthless as everybody else's. But Mr. Veal is missing the point of my criticism: Ken Lay was able to cash out on a substantially valuable part of his package prior to the "lockdown" -- avoiding the pain -- and the circumstances raise some valid questions.

You are so Right!
Tony Adragna
Notice, Will, that myself hasn't said anything about the matching contributions- I think there's a problem with those, but it's not the problem that's been misreported.

As a general rule, I think everybody should be encouraged to invest for retirement. The long-term returns from a well diversified portfolio outweigh the short-term risks. And you don't need to be a Rockefeller to afford good investment advice - your local bank probably has an investment consultant (employed by the corporation's investment company) on site, and most bank officers nowadays are licensed financial planners. There's no excuse for not planning for one's own future. An excellent planning vehicle is the 401(k), and employees should take full advantage of matching programs.

My problem with matching contributions is that they can be the fuel for cooking benefit plan books. If the stock was overvalued, then the 401(k) balances must've obviously been overstated as well - that's a PROBLEM considering that 50% or more of the plan's balance was in Enron stock.

I agree that employees shoulda been streetwise in looking at Enron performance in the months prior to collapse. However, I still maintain that the decision to hold was perfectly rational based on historical performance, and their trust in the man who made that history happen. If only they knew that the history was a myth...

My Take on Your "They're All Wrong!"
Will Vehrs
Tony, since you may not remember the days when companies changed slowly and the Dow didn't routinely move up and down 100 points in one day, I can see why you think you don't agree with Jenkins. In the "old" days, executives with just a large cash salary probably were cautious and self-protective. I think he might be as skeptical as you are of stock value being the overriding indicator, especially when that value is tweaked by hype and accounting gimmicks.

I think the emphasis on stock value is often a destructive force that emphasizes the short-term, not the long-term. I note that this obsession with stock value has correlated with more general ownership of stock, more stock and stock options as a pay component, and innumerable shills on CNBC and the like hyping stocks and companies. Following stock price is like a sport for many and "the street" can be harsh if the numbers don't beat "expectations."

Executive pay is an abomination, in my opinion. Shareholders and Boards of Directors ought to be more vigilant. There ought to be carrots and sticks. Unfortunately, big-time executives have created this aura about themselves that allows them to cut huge sweetheart deals and golden parachutes. Anybody who came to a company with outlandish demands to be compensated if they screw up and get fired ought to set off alarm bells. I bet there are five people in every major company--the men and women who supervise the number crunchers and the visionaries and the technocrats and the marketing wizards--who could be CEO. The problem is, most of them don't have a PR outfit making them look golden. They're too busy doing their job.

Sorry about that little rant.

The WSJ lead editorial today, if it is to be believed, makes some good points about the much maligned Enron 401K plan. It followed standard industry practices. Employees had 20 investment choices for their own contributions. Enron matched worker contributions of up to 6% of base pay, no matter what investment choice the employees made, with Enron stock. This stock was free to the employees. Only about half of Enron employees participated in this plan that was worth $1 billion. Somewhere between $500 million to $600 million was in Enron stock--probably the majority of that was of the free variety. Apparently, some employees were wise enough to invest at least $400 million of their own money into those non-Enron stock options. True, Enron required that employees hold matched Enron stock--the free stuff--until age 50. What do you want for free? With their own contributions, employees were allowed to switch out of Enron stock at any time except for the brief lockdown period when a new plan administrator was installed (again, a standard practice, but I have said before that this change should be investigated to see if it was "innocent.") During the lockdown period, the stock dropped from $15.40 to $9.30 per share. It had once traded at $90. If your stock goes from $90 to $15 and you haven't asked some questions or made some moves, whose fault is that? Who are you going to believe--Ken Lay or your own portfolio?

From January 1998 to January 2001, Enron stock increased by a factor of five. Was anybody telling employees holding a large concentration of Enron stock in their portfolios then that they were making a big mistake? I bet employees who held diversified portfolios at that time were feeling stupid.

Those who want to focus on the political angle--the special favors, the donations, and all the rest--are telling Enron employees that they never should have had it so good. Their company shouldn't have been trying to advance company interests with government regulators and policy makers. Maybe that's the right message. But I still fall in with those who see this from the business angle. Enron's business activities should have been legal and transparent--information should have been out there for investors, analysts, and employees to evaluate honestly and fairly. That might have resulted in Enron employees not having it so good, or it might not. I think the jury might be out on that--if Jeffrey Skilling had stuck to things Enron knew and kept things "on-shore," Enron might still be a darling.

Above the fold
QuasiPundit's daily list of top stories, without commentary
Washington Post:

Front Page Image

Enron Chief Quits as Hearings Open ( Kenneth L. Lay resigned yesterday as chairman and chief executive of Enron Corp., caught between unrelenting pressures from the energy company's creditors and a circle of federal and congressional investigators pursuing the reasons for Enron's precipitous collapse late last year.

Budget Reversal To Yield Deficit ( The federal government is projected to run a $106 billion deficit this year, the White House said yesterday, confirming the sharpest turnabout in the nation's fiscal health in half a century.

Prisoner Flights to Cuba on Hold ( The U.S. military has temporarily suspended flights carrying al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners from Afghanistan to a U.S. naval station in Cuba to avoid overcrowding and to quell international criticism of the prisoners' treatment, officials said yesterday.

New York Times:

Front Page Image
(n.b: this morning's headlines may not accurately reflect what's "above the fold")

Wide Effort Seen in Shredding Data on Enron's Audits WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 — Scores of people who worked at Arthur Andersen's Houston office were involved in the destruction of documents related to the Enron Corporation, the chairman of one of the Congressional subcommittees that will begin hearings Thursday on Enron's collapse said today.

Calling Inquiries a Distraction, Enron Chief Quits Under Pressure HOUSTON, Jan. 23 — Kenneth L. Lay resigned this evening as chairman and chief executive of the Enron Corporation (news/quote) under pressure from outside creditors, nearly two months after his company filed for one of the largest bankruptcies in the history of American business.

President to Seek $48 Billion More for the Military WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 — President Bush said today that he would seek $48 billion in additional spending on the military next year, a war- time increase that will be the centerpiece of the budget proposal he sends to Congress next month.

U.S. Suspends the Transport of Terror Suspects to Cuba WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 — The Pentagon today suspended the transfer of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan to its naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Many Ride Out the Recession in a Graduate School Harbor PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 17 — The sagging economy has created a bonanza of applicants for the nation's schools of business, law, journalism, education and many other graduate programs as laid-off workers and college seniors are deciding to wait out the recession by honing their skills.

Washington Times:

Bin Laden's cronies quiet -- The Washington Times U.S. intelligence has noticed a lack of communication in recent weeks by those close to Osama bin Laden, causing some analysts to believe he may be executing a ruse to convince Washington he is dead, officials say.

'Rocket Docket' has reputation for speed -- The Washington Times American Taliban member John Walker is scheduled today to become the latest high-profile defendant routed through the "Rocket Docket" — the nickname among lawyers for Alexandria's Eastern District Court of Virginia.

Los Angeles Times:

Front Page Image(pdf)

Bush Seeks $48-Billion Defense Hike WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Wednesday that he will ask Congress for a $48-billion defense budget increase next year to help pay for the war on terrorism, futuristic weapon systems and a military pay raise.

Debating War's Sway Over Voters WASHINGTON -- Can Republicans wield the war against terrorism as a weapon against Democrats in this year's midterm elections?

Karl Rove, President Bush's top political advisor, is arguing that GOP congressional candidates can build their campaigns around the administration's success in prosecuting the war. But history suggests that won't be easy.

Iran Casts Shadow on Afghan Political Map KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Iran has sent senior military officers into three southern provinces of Afghanistan in an attempt to undermine the fragile process of this war-torn nation's reunification, a respected member of Kandahar's provincial government charged Wednesday.

Beware the 401(k) Gamble WASHINGTON -- Until recently, the flood of millions of working people into the stock market, principally through their retirement accounts, was hailed as evidence that Americans at all economic levels can make it on their own.

Go to The Newspaper Rack

BLOG WATCH II: Your guide to who is saying what, where
AM Edition - by Will Vehrs

What’s hot: Tali-boy's defense, cooking data. *** Pick: Jeff Jarvis, Superdoofus Scenario

Joanne Jacobs: Insta-cloned; Bucher drop kicks hoity toity Morford; vainglorious or self-conscious Bushies?; Kaus and Primuson on welfare reform success.

Joshua Micah Marshall Be patient, my brothers and sisters, we'll get Bush on Enron yet; calling all Ari-watchers; I'm with Tim on that lyin' Doris.

Charles Johnson. Wink and nudge anti-semitism; The Mirror's assumptions; what Friedman missed; terror accounts; al Qaida opening new branch offices.

Jeff Jarvis *** Superdoofus shoulda said; Sullivan and Keyes are borrrr-ing.

Libertarian Samizdata Harpied, not herpe'd; IRA and the Kentucky hills; pants down war coming?; comparing al Qaida, IRA, and UFF; the peace process is working; how Argentina's fate was sealed.

Steven Den Beste Ludicrous Lindh defense; the lure of dinosaurs; science v. social science: no cooking scientific data; supplementing Iain on captive precedents.

Dawson BS detector still works on Linse; Sullivan; Coulter lionized; pic of Claire Berlinski always worth a click.

Kathy Kinsley Mail call for CMC Mustain; Palit agrees on Calcutta attack; it's not about burqas; designer bias; victim funds backlash.

Kevin Holtsberry Dungy to Colts; Toledo Blade editorial is bad bloviating; Enron ripped off in Ohio; Peter the Great and close shaves.

Fritz Schranck Cooking data is against the rules.

Andrew Olmsted Don't raise tariffs on imported steel.

SGT Stryker Still in sick bay with nasty virus. Get well, Sarge!

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of ... Blog Watch I.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002
BLOG WATCH II: Your guide to who is saying what, where
PM Edition - by Tony Adragna
Brian Linse: Ain'tNoBadDude BadeDudeDad

Andrew Hofer: What did you just call me?; psycho historians; what did he just say?

Damian Penny: Lokking at The Mirror and saying "No!"; revolting Zimbabweans; Bob oughta took his cues from Popeye

Dr. Frank: Camp Bravo Bravo Charlie hosting Guardianistas; consumables cabal

Tim Blair: Buon Giorno, Roberto...

Duncan Fitzgerald: Ozzy finally found his niche; OJ's still around...; Power, Gayle & Enviros

Alex Knapp: Putin Pulls Plug; Friedman frets

protein wisdom: Dissecting members of HRW; do you know the dif' between a "schlemiel" and a "schlemozzel"?; Helen's harrangues;

Ginger Stampley: Harrison Ford is da MAN!; I am Woman, hear me Roar!; Lay has jumped out - with his Golden Parachute (natch)

"There's nothing to blog watch but blog watching itself"

They're All Wrong!
Tony Adragna
I definitely don't agree with Jenkins when he says, "we dangle large stock rewards in front of managements: to overcome their bias in favor of caution and self-protectiveness." That's utter non-sense. As I said before, these plans are supposed to: (a) attract top performers, and (b) reward them for continued high performance. The problem is stock value has become the overriding indicator of performance - you don't need to grow your business to attract investors, you just need to grow your stock.

Now, the notion of giving the most senior execs the majority of their compensation in stock options isn't something I disagree with per se. I also don't have any problem with the pay disparity between the bottom and top. The senior execs oghta get paid more for taking bigger risks, and putting that pay in the form of stocks should highlight the risks taken by senior execs. In the real world, though, we know the difference between what is and what should be. What happens is that these packages tempt some people to fool around with the books, convince everybody that things are better than actual, driving up stock value without producing anything real. "Chainsaw" Al was real good at it.

So what? Well, nothing, except that the senior execs no longer are exposed. If the Sunbeam story doesn't prove the case, then try this except from Kurtz (RonK forwarded it to me, I don't have a WSJ sub):

"At a time when Enron Corp. was cutting back on its employee retirement plans to save money, executive benefits at the energy company kept getting richer.
"Beginning in the 1990s, Enron joined many other U.S. companies in trimming its employee-pension and savings-plan benefits to cut costs. But throughout the same period, Enron also was continuing to offer a lavish set of pension and retirement plans for its top executives.
"Those benefits, including a lifelong pension and company-paid insurance premiums for Chief Executive Kenneth Lay, are likely to come under more scrutiny, given the effect of Enron's collapse on the company's employees. . . .
"According to company filings, Enron will pay Mr. Lay a pension estimated at $475,042 a year for life. In addition, as part of an agreement Mr. Lay signed with the company in 1996, it agreed to pay a total of $1.25 million in insurance premiums through 2001 on a $12 million life insurance policy. Other executives have similar pension or insurance agreements with Enron.

This is the problem - senior execs face less exposure, while employees are losing their PBGC insured defined benefit plans and being forced to take risks that some would rather not take. CEOs get all the incentive, and employees take all the risks - that bass ackwards!

I try to make a habit of not interjecting myself into family disputes. I'd like to back Brother B', but his dad raises a valid point. However, I can't let it go - they're both doing the finger-pointing exercise all wrong. Two things I wanna point out - Richard Cohen's "everything was legal" piece from the other day was oversimplstic, and we (the U.S.) have been working on fixing the "offshore" tax avoidance problem for years.

It's true that Enron went through all of the legal niceties, but if the primary purpose of the transactions was "tax avoidance", then the transactions may very well have been against the law. The "deferal" provision for offshore investments has more to do with avoiding "double taxation", rather than allowing companies to legally avoid paying taxes on profits earned in the U.S. That the transactions happened on "Slick Willy's" watch has to be balanced against the fact that Clinton's administration did work to combat the problem.

From the Seattle Pouch
I tried to get Mike Kinsley, but he's not available. I guess well hafta settle for our own version, RonK. His most recent dispatch is chock-a-block full of oddities (not the least of which is his prose).

I'll be back later...

Good Dad for Bad Dude
Will Vehrs
Thank goodness Brian Linse has a father who still cares enough to straighten out his wayward son. It's a wonder the man still has the energy, what with all the straightening he has probably had to do over the years. Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Linse--lord knows we've tried to show him the light with a notable lack of success.

Brian may be short this week this week, but remember, "tough love" is the best.

Enron for Beginners, by Holman W. Jenkins Jr. in WSJ
Will Vehrs
A little over a year ago, not many people were trashing Enron. A lot of folks were still worshipping it as a marvel of the "new economy." Joshua Micah Marshall is dredging up evidence that Kenneth Lay was being considered for appointment to the Bush cabinet, or at least was on the radar screen of "the great mentioner." Lay's name is now a dirty word. What happened?

Jenkins' column in the WSJ today (not available online) gives a few answers.

The Wall Street Factor: Enron ran into the dilemma that comes to companies whose share prices reflect extravagant hopes about the future that prove unfounded--how do you let the air out of your own stock? Our legal system and the ethos of shareholder capitalism make it very hard for companies to do that, so some stretch accounting logic in an attempt to protect the share price.

The psychological factor: Ken Lay's name may be mud among Enron employees now, but an earlier generation remembers him as a decent guy and irrepressible visionary ... [but] he had a weakness for the meteoric personalities in his midst.

Jenkins cites Rebecca Mark ("bombshell and live wire") who did the Dabhol deal in India and Jeffrey Skilling (Lay "protoge and wunderkid CEO") who moved Enron into bad investments in fiber optic bandwidth and led the debt-hiding strategy.

He doesn't say it, but in some ways, "Enron is us."

,,, an irony that will surely escape Congressional sleuths is that Enron wouldn't have failed if investors had not rewarded it with an excessively optimistic stock price in the first place.

The fact is, as trading becomes cheaper and as investors diversify their risks with mutual funds, the public's appetite for risk has been growing stronger. We push companies to live dangerously now, to roll the dice on inspired innovation. That's why we dangle large stock rewards in front of managements: to overcome their bias in favor of caution and self-protectiveness.

Jenkins says those stock rewards make sense as a behavior modification tool for top executives, but they make no sense for an average employee who can't affect a stock's price as an individual, like an executive can. "The typical worker is already exosed enough to his firm's fortunes through his job. His pension savings should be put safely out of harm's way."

I don't know if I totally agree with Jenkins on what Tony calls the "top hat" stock deals for executives, or that the average worker shouldn't have some stock exposure. I think that there's a balance in there somewhere. And I think it's worth continuing to ponder how Enron fell so far, so fast. Paul Krugman says there are more Enrons out there. Hopefully, somebody will start naming them and recommending that no one buy their stock, instead of just saying "I told you so" the minute another company goes under.

Rummy, Reluctant Diplomat
Will Vehrs
Tony, I think if Rummy was just answering stupid questions from the press, he'd come down like a ton a bricks on the Camp X-Ray hand wringers and bedwetters. Unfortunately, he has to be oh-so-diplomatic with the sensibilities of our allies and reporters are speaking for those allies with their questions.

You go, CMC Mustain! If Kathy Kinsley is reading, how about a email deluge of support to that warrior from the Bellicose Women's Brigade? I hope she passes by those caged terrorists with her--gasp--shirt sleeves rolled up! Nothing wrong with inadvertant psychological torture--Dershowitz probably wouldn't even require a "torture warrant."

Will Vehrs
Tony, it's no secret that Glenn Reynolds, the prolific Instapundit, has been a frequent and tough critic of Leon Kass, now head of President Bush's Council on Bioethics. When I saw that Glenn's Tech Central Station column was going to be about Kass, I figured it would be a tired rehash of well-worn arguments against the University of Chicago scholar.

I guess I've been reading too much Paul Krugman and Joshua Micah Marshall, too many all too predictable partisan warriors.

Glenn, having "been there, done that" on a Presidential Advisory Group, has some excellent advice for Kass. It's fairly obvious how Glenn leans, but the column is scrupulously fair.

The Council on Bioethics is just getting organized. It would be easy to assume that Kass is going to steer it in one direction, a direction that might disappoint many, and perhaps he might. But Glenn resists the temptation to attack a straw man, instead setting out markers that can be used to evaluate the final product. Glenn will have standing to criticize or praise any Kass report, because he had an open mind at the beginning.

If only some of the more heralded pundits followed Glenn's lead.

Real "Warrior Woman" at GTMO
Tony Adragna
Gotta love this, Will - one of our sources has informed me that the senior enlisted person at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is -- get ready for it -- Command Master Chief Ellen Mustain (AW/SW). As one of her duties as a CMC is to maintain a close raport with the troops, I hope she pays special attention to the Marines at Camp X-Ray. She oughta show up for daily visits, and the Marines should make a show of giving her deference and respect.

Oh no! - that might be viewed as a bit of psychological torture.....

Why, for the love of God, is Rummy pussyfootin' with the critics? He oughta just come right and tell ' em that they don't know what the hell they're talking about! For instance, the ICRC complains that the photo distribution may be a violation of the Geneva Convention, but never makes a valid argument that any of the prisoners shown in the photos qualify as PoWs under that same convention .

Jump to the very next graf, and what you see is Amnesty International insisting that the prisoners ought to have lawyers.

Um... which is it folks? - these are either PoWs who aren't entitled to lawyers (unless and until they are actually charged with a crime, which hasn't happened yet), or they're war criminals who don't enjoy the Geneva Convention's protections.

Is there any way we sell the public on the idea that these "activists" are "terrorists"? - their ideas sure scare the hell outta me!