March 8, 2007

Quote of the Afternoon: The World’s Quickest Path Out of Poverty

Michael Novak at the Corner (HT Instapundit; link to the President’s speech added by me):

Against the swampy tide of yet another socialism rising from the deep in South America, the President offered the light and sun of the rule of law, transparency, and universal inclusion of the campesinos in the dynamism of the market system.

Why not? The same forces, unleashed in China and India since 1980, have raised more than a half-billion persons out of poverty — the fastest exodus from poverty of any poverty program in the past.

That point sounds familiar (here, here, and here). It’s also something that the draconian policies advocated by the globalonists would stop dead in its tracks.

A Pitiful Puff Piece on UC’s Development Consortium That Can’t Slide by Without Comment

I really shouldn’t have let this one go by for so long.

A month ago the Enquirer put out an ridiculous puff piece about the Uptown Consortium. This is the group dominated by the University of Cincinnati that had its hat handed to it by a state appeals court over an eminent domain dispute relating to certain properties that the Consortium had taken. The Consortium was able to do this thanks to the old version of Ohio eminent-domain law that the Ohio Supreme Court threw out last year (as I understand it, preemptive takings are no longer legal). The area in question is a roughly three-square-block area between Calhoun and McMillan south of the University of Cincinnati Campus that was to become known as McMillan Park. The condo development was already known to be in deep financial trouble six months before the state court made its ruling.

That ruling, which in essence said that the taking shouldn’t have happened and that the compensation paid wasn’t fair, will only add cost to the McMillan Park project as the two victorious holdouts demand a higher amount of money (the holdouts’ properties have since deterioriated to the point where I can’t imagine they would want to keep them).

The area involved is now three vacant blocks of real estate that is, like the school’s losing basketball team, going nowhere.

So I guess the Enquirer has been tabbed the designated PR recovery vehicle for the feckless and largely futile Consortium. That’s the only possible explanation for drivel and wishful thinking like the following actually making its way into what is supposed to be a major big-city newspaper:

….. (The Consortium) has transformed itself into a development powerhouse. Included in the $325 million commitment is up to $75 million in approved investments from UC’s Endowment, money that otherwise would have been invested in the fixed-income market.

Joined by nearby hospitals and the Cincinnati Zoo, UC has helped form the Uptown Consortium to spark development in seven neighborhoods that collectively are one of the region’s biggest employment centers. It has helped finance apartments and retail near the Medical Center campus off Martin Luther King Drive and restaurants underneath student housing on Calhoun Street.

It hasn’t all been a success. Some of that retail space along Calhoun remains vacant, and across the street, the McMillan Park development is on hold until they can complete the financing.

Safety on and around the campus remains a problem.

But the big picture is clear, one of a university determined to integrate the education of its students with a thriving urban atmosphere, even if UC has to go out and create that atmosphere itself.

Even if they have to bulldoze the community to save it. Zheesh. One wonders if Enquirer reporter Cliff Peale isn’t drawing two paychecks.

NOW Springs to the Defense of Iranian Feminists — NOT

Filed under: News from Other Sites,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:08 am

I caught these two items relating to the same situation earlier this week from Iran Press News, and went to the sources:

(AFP) Iranian women rights activists arrested

Sun Mar 4, 1:37 PM ET

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iranian security forces on Sunday arrested around 30 women’s rights activists rallying outside a Tehran court where a group of their fellow campaigners were on trial over a demonstration last year.

(BBC) Iran women arrested over protest

Sunday, 4 March 2007, 14:18 GMT

Iran’s authorities have arrested more than 32 women activists protesting outside a courthouse in Tehran.

The protesters were showing solidarity with five women on trial for organising a protest last June against laws they say discriminate against women.

The Washington Post managed to get the story to Page A15 on Tuesday.

So of course I went to the web site of the supposedly leading feminist organization in the US (that would be, as Dr. Laura like to refer to them, the “National Organization of I Don’t Know What Kind of Women”) to see what they were doing to give this situation visibility or to provide them tangible assistance — and found nothing on the home page or in its Global Feminism section, which has no entries since October of last year (I didn’t know that women around the world are being treated so well that there’s nothing to report on or to be concerned about).

NOW is too busy working on the “Surge for Peace” and other nonsense.

Hmm — I wonder if Iraqi women are objectively better or worse off now than under Saddam “Rape Rooms” Hussein?

And it seems especially pertinent on International Women’s Day — a day the Iranian government has apparently focused on keeping free of controversy — to ask why the brave Iranian feminists aren’t deserving of NOW’s attention.


UPDATE: Apparently 33 women were involved. BBC, which noted earlier that the women had gone on a hunger strike, now reports that 30 were released on Wednesday, and were “warned not to take part in any protests to mark International Women’s Day on Thursday.” As to the others:

Two of the activists and their lawyer are still in jail but the rest of the women arrested on Sunday were freed in the middle of the night.

The families of two other activists were visited at night by the authorities and asked to sign pledges that the women would not demonstrate on International Women’s Day.

Apparently they didn’t. More from the BBC report:

The decision to arrest so many prominent women in one go for peacefully holding up placards outside a court has won the Iranian government much negative publicity internationally.

Women activists say they have been subject to increasing intimidation since they launched a campaign to collect 1m signatures on a petition to change discriminatory laws like polygamy and child custody, which normally goes to the father in Iran.

The Iranian situation is a perfect opportunity for NOW to show what they’re made of. Actually, by their silence, they have.

UPDATE 2: AP is reporting that “Most were freed on bails ranging from $11,000 to $55,000.”

Now He Tells Us: Oxley Acknowledges SarBox Was Rushed, and Flawed

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:18 am

Thanks, Mike (HT Tom Kirkendall via Bainbridge via Instapundit; bolds are mine):

….. Oxley — the former Republican congressman from Ohio and co-author of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance law — was asked during the question period whether he realized he had helped create one of the most crushing financial burdens ever imposed on business.Was Oxley aware, his questioners asked, that the law that he and Senator Paul Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, rushed onto the books five years ago after the collapse of Enron and WorldCom had contributed to a sharp decline in listings on U.S. stock exchanges? And, knowing what he knows now about the cost and effects of the law, would Oxley — who retired in January after 25 years in Congress — have done it any differently?

“Absolutely,” Oxley answered. “Frankly, I would have written it differently, and he would have written it differently,” he added, referring to Sarbanes. “But it was not normal times.”

But no one in the political sausage factory is clean, and that would include the Oval Office:

….. “Everybody felt like Rome was burning,” Oxley, 62, recalled during an interview after the dinner in Paris. “People felt like they were getting cheated. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in Congress in 25 years in terms of the heat from the body politic. And all the members were feeling it.”

….. At the same time, Sarbanes was pushing through an even tougher version of the bill in the Senate, adding a requirement that companies conduct internal and external audits of their financial controls. That measure, known as Section 404, rang alarm bells among U.S. companies and foreign ones that feared it would exact punitive costs for good governance.

Oxley said he felt at the time that Section 404 could spell trouble. But in the summer of 2002, with pressure also mounting from the administration of President George W. Bush, there was no question that the bill needed to be pushed through, however imperfect.

“The president called Paul and I down to the White House almost immediately after the Senate passed its bill, 97 to 0″ on July 15, Oxley recalled.

“I remember it was in the Cabinet Room and you could see the pressure he was under because the Democrats were pressing his relationship with ‘Kenny boy’” — a reference to Kenneth Lay, the chief executive of Enron, who had sought help from the administration to avoid a bankruptcy filing in the weeks before the giant energy trading company collapsed.

“The president basically said, ‘Get this wrapped up,’” Oxley said. The House and Senate quickly agreed on a new draft, and Bush signed the bill into law on July 30.

….. One reaction, he said, was that auditing entered a period of extremely conservative practice, encouraged by rulings from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a new regulatory body created by Sarbanes-Oxley. The board gave the accounting industry “almost carte blanche to do almost everything they wanted to do, which turned out to be far more expensive than anticipated,” Oxley said. “They just went crazy.”

Kirkendall says: “Yet another example of the legislative overreaction to a perceived problem being far worse than the problem itself.”

Yeah, and good luck trying to undo the damage legislatively — which is why anyone interested in a growing economy and efficient capital markets should be rooting for Ken Starr (yeah, HIM).

The Smithsonian’s Showtime Shenanigans, If Continued, Should Scuttle Its Hallowed Status

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:19 am

This goes back about a month, but deserves wider exposure than it received at the time.

After reading this column by Oliver North and this news item from the Washington Post about the Smithsonian’s “deal” with Showtime and the restrictions it is placing on other filmmakers, I have to ask, “When did the Smithsonian decide it’s not a public institution any more. And if it really isn’t, when will any and all public funding of it cease?”

Even though they later apparently came to some kind of agreement (WaPo snippet is at the bottom at this link), it would not surprise me if the Smithsonian’s exlcusion of North was selective. The institution embarrassed itself immensely by nearly putting on a hopelessly warped exhibit on the Enola Gay in the mid-1990s before an intense outcry forced a reconsideration (a chronology of what happened is here), and North happens to be doing a documentary on the history of nuclear weapons.

The better question, of course, is what someone lacking North’s clout will face.

Could SarBox Lead to MORE Fraud?

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:14 am

Former Hewlett Packard Board member Tom Perkins thinks so (HT Techdirt via ValleyWag, whose lone commenter surely doesn’t get it):

Ex-HP director laments corporate board trend
Perkins Sees Less Business Expertise

Storied venture capitalist Tom Perkins, credited with blowing open the spying scandal at Hewlett-Packard, says corporate boards obsessed with legal and regulatory compliance cannot detect an Enron or WorldCom-type fraud if board members don’t fully understand a company’s business.

In his first public remarks since the HP spying scandal erupted last September, Perkins on Tuesday told an audience at a venture capital event that in light of his recent experience on the HP board, he sees an alarming trend in corporate America of compliance-obsessed directors with no expertise in the firm’s business setting the agenda on big company boards.

Emerging director

“Perhaps they will eventually understand the actual business, perhaps not,” he told more than 200 people gathered at the VentureOne conference in San Francisco. “One of the great ironies, in my opinion, is that the best of compliance boards would be entirely unable to prevent another Enron.”

During his 35-minute talk, Perkins outlined two kinds of board members, placing himself in the category of an old-style venture capital-type who is extremely involved in the business. He called that type a “guidance director.”

In contrast is the new emerging director, whom he called the “compliance director.” He described that person as someone increasingly focused on Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, who jumps from company board to company board, dispensing and heeding advice from consultants and lawyers.

Perkins, 75, derided the latter, which he called a “plug-to-plug compatible director” who believes he or she is equally capable of serving on a bank board as on that of a technology behemoth such as HP.

It is a peculiar conceit indeed for someone to think that they can really “direct” any business in any industry. Perhaps such a person can enforce compliance, but that’s not what “direction” is. Perkins is very right about the fraud exposure — If the compliance hawks dominate and really don’t understand the business, an orchestrated collusion by execs could indeed get past these types, especially if the auditors, as they typically do, assign 25-27 year-olds with no other business experience to be the ones doing the onsite auditing.

A Couple of Benefits-Related Stats to Keep Handy

Filed under: Business Moves — Tom @ 6:09 am

From San Jose’s business weekly:

Employee benefits now account for more than 44 percent of payroll expenses, according to an annual study of employers by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The percentage of payroll going to employee benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off, increased by 4 percent.

….. Medically related expenses cost employers $5,924 per worker, according to the survey.

SCHIP-ping Way Away at What’s Left of the Private Healthcare System

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:04 am

Porkopolis’ post on the subject is a classic case study of a government program run amok that is opportunistically being used as an agenda-expander (as many predicted would happen when the program first appeared). Go there.

Positivity: 45 days later, dog returns home

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

From Kenai, Alaska:

Doggone! 45 days later, Chipper returns home
Peripatetic pooch returns to Alaskan family — and fetches the newspaper

Updated: 1:44 p.m. CT Feb 27, 2007

Chipper, a 3-year-old Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, wasn’t looking so chipper after 45 days on the lam.

His owner, Jim Butler, said the dog is normally a good listener but took off on a walk on Dec. 12. Looking the worse for wear, he returned home Jan. 29, to the disbelief of his family.

“It’s the darndest thing,” Butler said.

Butler said Chipper normally walked attached to a 10-foot leash. Occasionally, the family would let the dog run free because he would come back when called.

“Something distracted him, though, and he booked it,” he said.

Butler said he didn’t think the dog would go far, especially since he was pulling a small plastic sled attached to his collar by a length of cord. But after several hours of searching, Butler knew the situation was bad.

“We put up flyers at the pounds and veterinary clinics. We ran adds on Dog Gone News and in the newspapers. We did all the usual things,” he said.

No sign of peripatetic pooch
Days turned to weeks and still there was no sign of Chipper. The family feared for the dog’s well-being, but never gave up hope.

“We never got rid of his bowl and cushion,” Butler said.

When Chipper returned home, he still had his collar and tags on. He was missing the sled.

“His hair was falling out in places and when he left he weighed 49 pounds, but was only 27 when he returned. He was a bag of bones,” Butler said.

They began giving Chipper water and small amounts of puppy food to help start the recovery process. Butler said they weren’t sure he would make it through that first night, but in the morning Chipper he was back to his old routine.

“He loves fetching the paper and he brought it up that first day back,” he said.