Jan 312010

Best line of the day is from George Will:

He called Wednesday for a third stimulus (the first was his predecessor’s, in February 2008) although the S-word has been banished in favor of “jobs bill.” It will inject into the economy money that government siphons from the economy, thereby somehow creating jobs. And you thought alchemy was strange.

Jan 302010


In the fall of 1964 the movie version of Nikita Khrushchev calls General Kuraev to ask (according to the English subtitles) “Then why your colleague killed himself?”

The answer: “If you mean Colonel Glushko, he had some troubles with his family life.”

This conversation took place because Khrushchev had been tipped off about vague things going on behind his back. Glushko had learned about them in greater detail, but he was killed by Khrushchev’s enemies before he could report to those who needed to be warned. To Khrushchev, the murder is described as a suicide due to family troubles. Yeah, right.

Here’s another one: “Congressman Blow is resigning so he can spend more time with his family.” Translation: Congressman Blow got caught and is leaving before the voters throw him out.

Another: “Wally is leaving the company to pursue other business opportunities.” Translation: Wally would be getting fired if he didn’t.

Yet another: “The management of the company is being re-organized. Joe will be in charge of special projects.” Translation: Joe will be leaving the company soon, but is being given time to polish his resume and look for other work.

I think we can also add the following one to the list. “Toyota is recalling cars due to sticking accelerator pedals.” Translation: Toyota has enemies in high places in the current regulatory regime.

Can anyone recall when carmakers weren’t doing recalls or getting sued over sticky accelerator pedals? For some strange reason, after decades of improvements to car safety, after advances in materials and production techniques, cars somehow continue to be made with sticky accelerator pedals and linkages. Curious, isn’t it, that there is no lasting solution for a simple mechanical problem?

Maybe Toyota’s quality really is slipping, but the latest news would be a little more credible if it wasn’t something as trite as sticky accelerator pedals. It’s almost as if the media/government are winking at us as they say it. And now, instead of simply fixing the problem, Toyota is going into public apology mode reminiscent of the Soviet show trials of the 1930s.

Respected automotive reporter Paul Ingrassia says Audi was accused in the mid 1980s of having a similar problem. “But the issue, fed by media hysteria, turned out to be bogus.” But Ingrassia says this time the problem “appears to be the real thing.” I’m glad he said “appears to be.”

Maybe Toyota really has a problem. We simply have no way of knowing at this point. One thing we do know, though, is that a successful Toyota is a threat to its government-run competitors at General Motors. When the chief regulator also has a political and financial interest in promoting one of Toyota’s competitors, it’s best to reserve judgment.

We need to replace our old Toyota Corolla soon. We used to buy Fords, but never had so few repair problems as we’ve had with our Corolla. It sounds like Ford is on a comeback, which is good, but we don’t want a new car. We want a pre-2009 model, so as to get one before Toyota started making the cars larger and with lower gas mileage. We’ve put it off because the stupid cash-for-clunkers program took most of them out of the used car lots. But maybe it will soon be a good time to buy. With all of the current media hysteria, maybe there will be some good deals.

Jan 242010

President Obama seems to be confused by the Supreme Court ruling.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Thursday strongly criticized a Supreme Court ruling removing limits on corporate donations for political campaigns, saying it was a major victory for banks and oil and health insurance companies.

Yes, it is a victory for those entities, but part of the President’s job is to look out for the legal rights of those entities. It’s a victory for those of us who aren’t banks and oil and health insurance companies, too. It’s a victory for all of us.

“With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics,” Obama said in a statement.

Which is as it should be. There are many special interests in this country, and all of them should have a right to spend their money to speak out and influence the political process. What’s bad is when no interests except governmental interests get the right to speak out, as happened in the takeover of GM and Chrysler.

“We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.”

I presume we shouldn’t take the President to have meant the term “forceful” to be taken literally. Given the way he has dealt with banks and automakers, it’s hard to say. But if by forceful he means legal and constitutional, that could be a good thing.

Now about that term “public interest,” I hope he realizes that there are and should be many public interests, many of them at odds with each other. There is not just one public interest. That’s why this ruling that ensures a voice for the many of the special interests in our society is a good thing.

Jan 182010

Cute rhetorical technique from the Boston Globe:

And in a veiled criticism of Brown, Coakley said she understood that “people are frustrated and angry,” but said there were no “easy answer to the tough questions.”

And how is that a veiled criticism of Brown?

Sounds to me like it’s an attack more than a criticism. Since she is a politician in the middle of a political campaign, we can be pretty sure Coakley is attacking Brown and not herself. No big deal there. It wouldn’t be the first time that one candidate has projected his/her own faults on another.

But what is veiled about it? Maybe the news writer meant muddled. Or clumsy. Or desperate.

But then, the use of any of those terms would be editorializing rather than reporting.

Perhaps the news writer doesn’t want to make Coakley look silly by just quoting her words, so is trying to give the impression that there is some subtlety to them.

Jan 162010

Google has to be feeling a lot of pressure from both sides of the issue of governmental censorship in China. Now would be an especially excellent time for Congress to pass the Global Online Freedom Act in order to support Google in its efforts not to be evil.

There are those who sneer at Google for waiting until now to act, after its business interests have been undermined by hackers. They say it’s profit more than heroism that’s motivating Google. But I argue that it’s good when the profit motive is aligned with the desire to do the right thing. We ought to have more of that.

There are those who say we should mind our own business and let China handle its affairs in its own way. Companies doing business in other countries need to obey the laws of those countries. But some laws are beyond the pale.

And it’s not a matter that concerns China alone. It creates some very bad corporate habits when American companies participate in oppression in other countries. When agents of our own government approach Google to spy on our own dissidents or to censor content, whether such approaches are made in underhanded ways or openly, it would be good for Google and all of us to recoil in horror. But if Google is already are in the bad habit of acceding to such requests in China, a lot of the moral energy to resist here in the U.S. will have been dissipated.

Pass the Global Online Freedom Act.

H/T to Kathryn Lopez

Jan 102010

Yes! Michael Kinsley in The Atlantic explains how newspaper writers could do better by making their articles shorter, leaving out extraneous fluff that doesn’t inform. Among the fluff is the quoting of experts or other anonymous persons so the reporter can pretend to be reporting instead of opinionating.

But there is another type of fluff that Kinsley didn’t mention. It’s the ways some newspapers now report as fact things that they have no possible way of knowing.

To find an example or two, I went to the WSJ and searched for the word “fear.” One item that came up was a January 4 article titled “Celebrating a Year of Highs and Lows.” Here are some of the examples from the article of what I’m talking about, interspersed with my comments.

Wall Street lived, thanks in large part to Main Street. Hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money helped nurse the financial system back to relative health, with the country’s biggest banks paying back the government rescue aid by year’s end. But executives’ outsize compensation stood in contrast to an unemployment rate that topped 10%.

We don’t know that. We know there were billions of dollars in taxpayer money, and we know the financial system still lives. But we don’t know that the system is healthy. Nor do we know that any health it might have is due to taxpayer money. It’s far too early to know such a things.

And speaking of contrasts, why point out the contrast between executive compensation and unemployment without mentioning the contrast between unemployment and the so-called health of the financial system?

Barack Obama was inaugurated president and set off on an ambitious agenda to remake health care, reform the financial system and reclaim the U.S.’s standing on the world stage. The bear turned into a bull and the Dow industrials reclaimed 10000 in October. Recession probably ended late in the year as global stimulus efforts bore fruit. US Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was a hero with “the Miracle on the Hudson” in a year of sex scandals, reality-TV stunts and financial schemes (alleged and proved) stealing headlines.

Global stimulus efforts bore fruit? Some people would like to think so, but we don’t know that.

On the world stage, Iran and Afghanistan reelected leaders under clouds of suspicion and violence. Pyongyang tested nuclear weapons, while many countries suspect Tehran wants them. China flexed its muscles on climate change, currency and a host of other issues as it assumed a more prominent role in global affairs.

China flexed its muscles? Without inside information we don’t know that’s what China was doing, metaphorically or otherwise.

Fiscal and debt burdens came to bear in Dubai and Greece. Terror still raged in Iraq, Afghanistan and, in the year’s waning days, in the air, as an alleged bomber tried to take down a Christmas Day flight.

Even though news reporters tell us about lots of things they have no way of knowing, there are others they are not quite so sure about. Hence the word “alleged.” BTW, if they’re going to say “alleged”, wouldn’t it be better to say, “a passenger allegedly tried to take down a Christmas Day flight”? And wouldn’t it be better to say that China allegedly flexed its muscles, or that a global stimulus allegedly nursed the financial system back to relative health?

Bank of America completed its $19.36 billion purchase of Wall Street firm Merrill Lynch, becoming the largest U.S. bank by assets, as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression continued to reshape the U.S. banking industry. The deal would haunt BofA throughout the year.

Haunt? Newspapers are now reporting on hauntings?

The U.S. transferred control of the Green Zone to Iraqi authorities and handed back Saddam Hussein’s former palace.

Oops. Here’s a counter example showing that news reporters are capable of reporting on things that can be reasonably known.

The Dow industrials posted the worst Inauguration Day performance ever, falling 332.13 points, or 4%, to 7949.09, amid fears the government would need to nationalize the most deeply wounded banks. But the next day, stocks jumped 279.01, or 3.5%, to 8228.10.

Amid fears? What does that word “amid” mean? Is the WSJ trying to make a cause-and-effect conclusion on the sly?

General Motors surrendered its crown as the world’s biggest auto maker to Toyota Motor after 77 years. The Detroit company was struggling to stay afloat with loans from the U.S. government.

The auto companies are competing for a crown? I had thought they were competing for customers. No wonder they are in trouble.

John Thain agreed to step down from a top job at Bank of America after CEO Kenneth Lewis, angry about the way the former Merrill chief handled losses and bonuses at Merrill, asked him to resign.

We don’t know whether or not Kenneth Lewis was angry. People in the public eye fake anger all the time. They also fake contentment and delight. Since we don’t know, why not say, “allegedly angry”?

Microsoft said it planned to cut 5,000 jobs, stunning employees and investors.

Did the WSJ conduct a poll of employees and investors to see if they were “stunned”? Did any of them act stunned?

Iceland’s government collapsed amid popular anger over a financial crisis that gutted the economy.

There’s that sneaky word “amid” again.

President Obama blasted Wall Street for bonuses he called irresponsible and shameful.

See, here’s an example of the honest way to report these things. President Obama may or may not have been angry. He may have felt the bonuses were irresponsible, and maybe he didn’t. We don’t know those things. But we do know that he blasted Wall Street, and he do know how he described the bonuses. Good job by the WSJ reporters on this one.

Big-bank CEOs endured a seven-hour barrage of questions from House lawmakers, angry over executive pay and lending.


New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Merrill Lynch secretly moved up its date to award bonuses, giving $1 million or more apiece to nearly 700 employees. In March, it was reported that as Merrill staggered in 2008, 11 executives were paid more than $10 million each in cash and stock, and 149 others got $3 million or more.


The government’s plan to overhaul its $150 billion bailout of American International Group relaxed loan terms and wiped out interest. It was a nearly complete reversal from the plan first laid out in September. Later in the month, some AIG employees returned bonuses or said they would do so amid public outrage. And the insurer said roughly two-thirds of the $173.3 billion in aid it received went to trading partners in the U.S. and abroad.


The Dow industrials fell 79.89 points, or 1.2%, to 6547.05 as tech stocks dragged major indexes to fresh bear-market lows on economic concerns. But four days later, the stock market had managed to post its best week since November, up 597.04 points, or 9%, to 7223.98, as scattered bits of good news gave some reason to believe that the economy might be closer to a bottom.

“Some” had reason to believe? The reporter who wrote this needs to read Michael Kinsley’s article.

Bernard Madoff was sent to jail after confessing to an epic fraud, his decades-long Ponzi scheme that cost investors billions, saying he was “sorry and ashamed” for bilking so many out of their life savings.

Madoff used the word epic? Or did he just confess to fraud? By the way, I like the way the words “sorry and ashamed” were put in quotes. Maybe the reporters should use those things more often when our nation’s leaders say things, especially given that they, too, have bilked us out of billions of dollars.

Jan 082010

Yes! That’s what we’ve been lacking to keep our country safe. We’ve been lacking a “fresh and penetrating look.”

If you think the CDN story is intended to make President Obama look like Dilbert’s boss’s boss, read the directive from the White House. You’ll see it could have been worse. The White House could have been allowed to write the story itself. My guess is that Scott Adams and the staff of the Onion were hired as consultants on this project, and CDN was merely trying to do damage control.

Jan 052010

I continue to be amazed by the Tom Lauricella article in the WSJ: “For Rebuilt Markets, A Test in 2010 : Government Saved the Financial System from Collapse. Now Investors Have to Stand on Their Own.”

How dare this Government thing have such delusions of grandeur when it was I, Julius Caesar, who saved the financial system from collapse, just as surely as I saved the Roman Republic back in 49 B.C.

Jan 042010

The lead headline from page R1 in today’s WSJ:

For Rebuilt Markets, A Test in 2010 : Government Saved the Financial System from Collapse. Now Investors Have to Stand on Their Own.

The article that makes this wild assertion is written by one Tom Lauricella, who must not care a great deal about his journalistic credibility. Maybe he’s thinking of quitting his day job for something else, and this is his way of burning his credibility behind him. I just made that up, but then so did Lauricella make up his stuff.