February 7, 2006

A Demonstration of Why Google-China Censorship, When It Becomes Fully Functional, Is a Bad Thing

Filed under: Business Moves,Corporate Outrage,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:41 pm

From the BBC (HT S.O.B. Alliance member Weapons of Mass Discussion; bold after title is mine):

China editor ‘died after beating’

A Chinese editor has died as a result of a police beating he received for his paper’s reporting on corruption, journalists and rights groups say.

Wu Xianghu had been in hospital since the attack in October, suffering from an existing liver problem made worse by the beating, earlier reports said.

….. Local media reported widely on the beating, but have been silent on Wu’s death, possibly reflecting its sensitivity.

There’s the key. Thanks to Internet Wall of Shame member Google (assuming the filtering apparatuses are fully functional; if it’s not, one would think they soon will be), someone trying to search for the truth from the BBC, on Chinese blogs, or in chat rooms trying to work around the intimidated “local media” won’t be able to, as “Wu Xianghu” will become one of the forbidden search and conversational terms. I don’t know whether the filtering also occurs in e-mail and instant messages yet, but based on what I’ve read, it would apppear that if the Chinese government tells Wall of Shame member Cisco and other “security” providers to jump, they’ll ask “how high?”

If the Internet were wide open in China, the truth wouldn’t be suppressed. Thanks to American high-tech, it’s moving to the point where it largely isn’t, and promises to get worse.

UPDATE: This Google China search on “Wu Xianghu” (warning: foreign characters that may affect your browser) has an entry (the 8th at the moment) about Wu’s death. It’s important to note that whatever someone outside of China can see at Google.cn may not be the same as what a person can see inside the country.

More S.O.B.s in the Fold

Filed under: General,News from Other Sites — Tom @ 3:16 pm

A long-awaited welcome to Steve Kelso at Made 4 the Internet, active since November 2004, from Columbus, and covering Ohio politics like a blanket. Passionately prolife. Another member of this “Instapundit Delenda Est” thing that I need to get my arms around.

Also, welcome to Interested-Participant — How have I missed this guy? He was a Weblog Award finalist in the Ecosystem’s 501-1000 category (good: maybe someone can finally explain the ecosystem to me, and I can figure out how to move up in the darn thing), and he’s nearing three years in the blogosphere (I get tired just thinking about that). His contribution to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy comes out of Painesville, near Cleveland, in what he calls “The Snow Belt.”

The unstoppable S.O.B. Alliance juggernaut keeps rolling.

Follow-up on Government Entitlement Promises: Time Is Indeed on Their Side

Filed under: Economy,Soc. Sec. & Retirement,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:41 pm

William Baldwin, editor of Forbes, writes the following in his space (requires subscription) at the beginning of the Feburary 13 issue:

U.S. household net worth, $48 trillion at last count, is on a long-term upward surge.

….. The Federal Reserve’s happy statistics on household wealth omit a big deficit item, and when you include it you have to stop talking about the national net worth. Instead, you have to talk about national worthlessness.

The deficit is the future gap between the federal government’s revenues (assuming no changes in tax law) and spending (assuming no change in spending habits). Two economists, Jagadeesh Gokhale of the Cato Institute and Kent Smetters of Wharton, have studied this gap in some detail, taking the spread for all future years and discounting it back to the present. In an academic article due to be published in the spring, they come up with $63 trillion. Forget net worth. We’re $15 trillion in the hole.

Now, households are not going bankrupt en masse and the government is not going bankrupt. Instead, we are in for a period of disillusionment. Benefits like Medicare drug coverage and Social Security will be scaled back. Or taxes will go up. Or both. Either way, you are not going to retire in the grand style you were expecting.

Disillusionment will not necessarily descend upon us in the next year, but it surely will over the next decade or two.

Smetters and Gokhale are right to make noise about the size of the problem (The Christian Science Monitor did a piece on their study in early January), but I’m not sold on the idea that “disillusionment” is inevitable. It’s our elected leaders’ job to get the government’s house in order, and our job to throw them out on their ears if they don’t. The fundamental element of any solution is to turn over responsibility to the citizens who have managed to accumulate the wealth and to take as much of it as possible away from the government, which has clearly squandered it.

One small example: Cheering about the fact that Social Security drifted for another year, and dedicating your career to making sure its liability, along with that of Medicare, becomes so big that it is incurable, is particularly irresponsible:

Democrats stood and cheered when Bush said Congress did not act a year ago “on my proposal to save Social Security.” Bush got a bemused look on his face, shook his finger and continued, “yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away.”

It sure isn’t. The cost of doing nothing is the disillusionment mentioned above. It needn’t be final legacy of the Baby Boomers, the Real Entitlement Generation, but it will be if the do-nothings have their way.

Jack Welch’s Amazing Free Pass

Filed under: Biz Weak,Business Moves,Corporate Outrage — Tom @ 10:55 am

In March 2002 in Business Week (known as Biz Weak around here), Bryan Hindo expressed some reservations about Welch’s post-retirement, er, activities:

Welch retired with his reputation as sparkling as ever, his book set to soar to the top of the best-seller list, and his hand-picked successor, Jeffrey Immelt, taking the reins of the GE juggernaut. Sparkling until this month, that is, when the revelation that Welch had had an affair with Harvard Business Review Editor-in-Chief Suzy Wetlaufer dragged him off his Olympian perch into three-inch tabloid boldface.

The larger question, though, is whether money is all Welch stands to lose. Will the Wetlaufer affair footnote the Welch mystique forever? Will Suzy be to Jack what Monica Lewinsky was to Bill Clinton? Maybe not, if you believe management gurus at business schools across the country: By and large, leadership professors from top-name schools find the scandal irrelevant for a variety of what might be called technical reasons.

There have been other chinks in the Welch armor that have popped up in the past few years that have nothing to do with his personal affairs:

  • GE’s “legendary” record of 100-plus quarters of profit increases through 2000 is, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, a pile of manipulated horse manure. This passage from an article that appeared in similar form in New Republic Magazine in 2001 agrees:

    Observers are particularly suspicious of GE’s record of using unique gains and restructuring charges to offset each other without disrupting that quarterly earnings flow.

    Stories about this accounting creativity also ran in Money and Fortune in late 2000 and early 2001.

  • How about that bedrock nostrum that Welch didn’t want GE to be in a business unless it was first or second in market share? After his retirement, several in a position to know said that this was not true, though the closest I can get to proving it at the moment is this post which says that many “question” whether he practiced what he preached. James Frey of “A Million Little Pieces” fame, who was smoked out by The Smoking Gun, must be wishing he built his tall tales around being in business instead of drug addiction.
  • Then, six months after the scandal of his affair, there was the primal scream over Welch’s hefty retirement package, the details of which came out in his ex’s divorce filing. The Wall Street Journal, no knee-jerk enemy of CEOs, said the following (quoted here from a different source):

    “It raised shareholder eyebrows anew to learn the extent of GE-paid services that Mr. Welch is entitled to, from cars and airplanes to financial planning, home gadgets and use of a GE apartment,” the (WSJ) newspaper article observed. “What? No retinue of grape peelers? These goodies are in addition to the vast bundle he took home in stock options, a conventional retirement package and an ongoing consulting relationship under which GE pays him $86,000 for five days of work a year. He couldn’t offer free advice if successor Jeffrey Immelt called?”

    By September 2002 (“The Fall of an Icon”), Biz Weak’s Anthony Bianco thought that the retirement package plus his affair and messy divorce might permanently scar him, especially if GE were to stumble badly after his departure.

  • GE has done its part to repair Welch’s image. Though the give-me-a-break consecutive-quarter earnings increase streak ended, the company has weathered the challenging business environment since Welch’s retirement pretty successfully. Welch himself did a bit of a mea culpa about his hard-charging life last year as he released yet another book (co-authored with Suzy [yes that Suzy] Welch). But one observer was less than impressed about the work-oriented tenor of Welch’s career and expressed doubt about the sincerity of his confession:

    Jack Welch ….. is busy trying to clean up his reputation and sound like a tough, but nice boss, the fact is he’s completely out of touch, clueless, and heartless too.

So Welch, despite the manipulation of his company’s earnings, the espousal of management principles he didn’t really follow, an arrogance-revealing I’m-the-king-of-the-world retirement package, and betraying his wife and kids, appears to have regained whatever respectability he lost. I can, and did, get over that. I can even handle him being seen as some kind of management genius by people who should know better. He certainly isn’t the first person to pull that trick off.

But, in light of all the history, you’ll have to forgive me if it takes me a while to get used to what I learned when I finally got around to reading the January 30, 2006 issue of Biz Weak. In that issue, the magazine introduced its new co-columnists (requires subscription) to answer tough questions about leadership, teamwork, and success — yep, Jack and Suzy Welch. Here’s part of BW Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler’s introduction of the column in his own space (requires subscription): “Written with his wife, Suzy, the column will deliver blunt, get-it-done answers to questions posed by readers about leadership, competition, and careers. I can’t think of a better duo to serve up smart, pragmatic advice to businesspeople.”

I can.

This Year’s Oscar Nominees: “Revenge of the Politically Correct Clunkers”

If George Bush and Karl Rove had set out to deliberately sabotage the movie business in 2005, they could not have done a better job.

Instead, the leading lights of the movie business did it to themselves, and continue to.

Steven Spielberg articulated the current groupthink in Hollywood just before the names of the Oscar nominees were released last week:

Bush “inspires” political films

….. Spielberg, whose film Munich deals with the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, said directors were “trying to declare their independence”.

“No-one is really representing us, so we’re now representing our own feelings and trying to strike back,” he said.

“Film-makers are much more proactive since the second Bush administration.”

“Film-makers” like Spielberg and others, along with the politically correct members of the Motion Picture Academy, appear to have become so obsessed with lionizing movies with “messages” that they seem oblivious to whether or not people actually go see them.

As far as the moviegoing public is concerned, the collection of movies that received last week’s Oscar nominations in the “Big 6″ categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor/Actress) is the least successful and least compelling group of films ever nominated.

Any doubt as to the truth of the previous statement was erased in the past week, as the already poorly-performing films with Big 6 nominations experienced no nomination-related bounce whatsoever:


Data was obtained from various web pages at BoxOfficeMojo.com, including this page for all nominations in all categories, pages such as this one for pre- and post-nomination box office grosses, and this page for the current dollar grosses (before adjusting for ticket-price inflation) of the Best Picture Winners since 1978. E!Online also has a complete listing of all nominees in all categories.

The first five films listed above are this year’s Best Picture nominees. On a ticket-price inflation-adjusted basis, this year’s Best Picture winner, unless it’s “Brokeback Mountain,” will have the lowest box office gross of any Best Picture in at least the past 25 years. “Brokeback” will have to pass the $72 million mark (a legitimate possibility) and be victorious in the category to beat out the ticket-price inflation-adjusted gross of 1987′s winner, “The Emperor” (which grossed $44 million at 1987′s ticket prices). No other Best Picture winner in the past 25 years has grossed less than $98 million on a ticket-price inflation-adjusted basis. As to the other Best Picture nomineees: “Crash” at $53.4 million is no longer in theaters, while the gross of the other three films is so small, and their momentum so minimal, that only “Munich” has a tiny chance of breaking $50 million, let alone the $72 million inflation-adjusted gross of “The Emperor.”

This year’s nominees are so unappealing that the media have taken notice:

  • The New York Times tried this face-saving headline: “Small Films With Potent Themes Lead Oscar Nominations”
  • OpinionJournal.com isn’t even impressed with the nominees’ supposed edginess: “In fact, few of the hot topics in movies mentioned in any award category this year are truly original or daring. Racism in America; big, bad government and corporations; sexual harassment; the death penalty; McCarthyism–any of that is news? ‘Brokeback Mountain’ startled some moviegoers with its theme of repressed homosexual love. But that artistically acclaimed film will be a hard act to follow.”
  • David Lieberman’s USA Today article, “Oscar nods for small films could kill ad buzz for show,” brought out the concerns of analysts and advertisers:

    “I don’t know how they get an attraction out of this. Look at the top films and tell me who’s starring in them. If I were an advertiser on the Oscars, I’d look for something else,” says independent analyst Dennis McAlpine. “This is not going to give Hollywood a chance to promote the idea of going to the movies for entertainment.”

Not that Spielberg & Co. care. “Sending a message” to George Bush and the “extreme right wing” is what is most important.

Karl Rove hasn’t even needed to lay a glove on them.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ Links (020706)

Free Links:

  • I’m not reading this — I take that back. It’s the English National Health System (NHS), so I believe it (HT S.O.B. Alliance member Conservative Culture): Self-harmers to be given clean blades — NURSES want patients who are intent on harming themselves to be provided with clean blades so that they can cut themselves more safely.”
  • On the other hand, if you want to receive the drugs you need to keep living (HT EU Rota) from the NHS, you must sometimes go to court, and there’s no guarantee you’ll win. EUR notes: “How wonderful it is when our betters are in charge of our life.”
  • The Prospect of Internet Taxation never seems to go away, as the Instituate for Policy Innovation notes. In Ohio, the battle is over, at least legally — the state’s use tax is supposed to be due any time you buy a taxable item on which you are not charged sales tax. There is even a separate line item on the Ohio Individual Income Tax return where you are supposed to include use tax you owe. I suspect that high-income filers who report no use tax due are very likely to be audited.
  • RConversation’s multilinking marathon on Google-China and free expression on the Internet has continued here (Feb. 3), here (Feb. 4), and here (Feb. 6).
  • Separately, RConversation announces that a new wireless company has been funded with venture capital. The idea of “Foneros” sounds promising: “people with broadband in their homes or offices can share their WiFi signals publicly, safely and reliably. Anybody who becomes a Fonero can then roam onto the Wifi networks of other Foneros for free.”
  • Marty Angelo, a “Christian prison evangelist” and probably a very well-meaning guy, issued a press release in mid-January backing Oprah and James Frey. The release was issued shortly after Oprah’s infamous call into Larry King Live in support of Frey after The Smoking Gun’s expose of the pervasive falsehoods in Frey’s book, “A Million Little Pieces.” Now, because Oprah has backtracked, thrown Frey under the bus, and apologized to America (but only sort of, in my opinion), and because Frey has had to issue a voluminous addendum, Angelo has to try to recover from his own embarrassment. Read his attempt, and be amused.
  • Here are two pieces (HT The Big Picture) claiming that getting oil from shale (or sands) is nearing viability — That’s been said before, but I have a great indicator that it must be so this time around. It has to be pretty close because environmentalists in the Colorado-related piece are already howling.

Free Link — But Consider Putting Off Until Lunchtime:

  • Right Wing News has a tremendous interview with Judge Charles Pickering on the judicial confirmation process and “common understanding” constitutional interpretation. Especially if you haven’t heard that term before, don’t miss it.

Requires Subscription:

  • Patco is now NatcaThe Wall Street Journal notes that an air traffic controllers’ strike is not out of the question, and that the controllers, whose annual pay averages $166,000, have become heaving financial lobbyists for their “cause.” I didn’t even know that they had reformed their union after President Reagan fired them all in August 1981.

Positivity: Western NY Pair Takes Turns Saving the Other’s Life–7 Years Apart

Filed under: General — Tom @ 6:06 am

If this were a Hollywood script, it would be laughed off as ridiculous. But it has happened with Penny Brown and Kevin Stephan:

….. (Today Show) News anchor Ann Curry eyes the camera and says, “In Western New York, a young Emergency Medical Technician used the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of a woman who was choking.”

She told how the life of the young EMT, Kevin Stephan, had been saved seven years earlier by a nurse who gave him CPR, a nurse named Penny Brown. Penny Brown is the woman Kevin recently saved from choking to death.

On TV, Matt Lauer looks incredulous. “She saved him (seven) years ago, now he’s an EMT and he saved her?”

“Exactly,” Curry replies.

And just to make sure we get the point, Al Roker sums up the impact of what happened. “So if she had not saved his life, he couldn’t have saved hers. Wow. Two lives saved, just like that.”

Two lives saved because both Penny and Kevin were prepared. Penny, a registered nurse at Buffalo General Hospital, and Kevin, a high school student and volunteer firefighter who learned the Heimlich maneuver several years ago. Says Kevin, “I think the importance of joining Explorer posts and fire departments and taking courses will pay off in the end.”

Penny says, “Because we were trained in the Heimlich maneuver and CPR, we were able to help each other.” She pauses, and adds, “Immensely.”

Penny and Kevin tell us they are ordinary people trained to do extraordinary things when called upon.