Senate Vote on Judicial Nominees: The Crunch Is Yet To Come.

May 27, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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Priscilla Owen, Federal Appeals Court Nominee. (Later Confirmed)

KARL Rove, who had helped select her as the Republican candidate,(Texas Supreme Court) helped raise more than $926,000 for her campaign, almost half from lawyers and others who had business before the court, according to Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group in Austin that tracks Texas campaign donations. Mr. Rove’s firm was paid some $247,000 in fees.

Prior to the May 23, 2005 agreement by fourteen Senators to allow an up or down vote on three Bush judicial nominees the Senate had approved 200 Bush judicial nominees and rejected only 10 including Owen, Brown and Pryor who were considered too conservative or otherwise unqualified for a life time appointment to the federal bench. In the case of Owen, Pryor and Brown they already had an ultra conservative judicial track record so it was transparent as to how they would likely vote on issues such as abortion, consumer rights, civil rights or issues involving corporate interests when they conflicted with individual interests. This group is on the extreme right on all these issues.

The Agreement Only Delays The Inevitable.
The minority and majority leaders, Bill Frist and Harry Reid were not parties to the agreement and indeed Frist has said he will still demand an up or down floor vote on the seven remaining previously rejected judges. This is Bush and Karl Rove’s in your face style. While the moderates in the Senate have avoided the filibuster and the threatened rule change to make judicial appointments exempt from the filibuster procedure it is only a matter of time before the issue comes up again.

Bush Wants A Supreme Court Appointee That Will Overturn Roe v. Wade. Frist Will Support The Nominee Because He Wants To Be President. Both Are Pandering To the Fundamental Christians.

The whole point of this judicial standoff is to appease the Fundamentalist Christians who supported Bush in the presidential election and the senatorial elections to allow him to gain a majority in the Senate. Bush and Rove want a fifty year conservative hegemony over the government and the judiciary. Frist wants to be president and in order to secure this voter base for the 2008 election he has to shepherd Bush’s Supreme Court nominee through the Senate. Who ever Bush and Rove nominate will be the most hidebound conservative Bush can find to accept the nomination. It will be someone at least as conservative as Owen, Brown or Pryor if not one of them. The person will be a faith based believer who will have no trouble voting his faith-based beliefs against human, consumer, civil and individual rights. Bush sees the recent agreement as a victory and the opportunity to push the most conservative nominee he can find for the next Supreme Court appointment.

The moderates have bought some time, but the fight will certainly come over the next Supreme Court nominee and it will be a no holds barred contest. Bush and Rove have won in the sense they have at this point obtained confirmation of three of their Circuit Court rejects and probably more while the Democrats prepare for the Supreme Court nomination battle.


Book Reviews: The Big Picture, The New Logic Of Money And Power In Hollywood. Edward J. Epstein. Rated A.

May 19, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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Why Hollywood Movies Are Technologically Superb and Intellectually Poor.

This book is an astute analysis of the motion picture business by someone outside the business. Many books are written about the movie business by insiders or entertainment reporters but often these writers are too close to the subject or in awe of the subject and as a result miss the mark. Mr. Epstien gives an astute analysis of the current state of the business using sources that normally are not available to the public. An example is the confidential disclosures by the six major studios to the Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA), which are then compiled into an industry compendium disclosing studios sources of revenue. Mr. Epstein confines his analysis to the six major studios, Disney, Sony, Universal, Warners, Paramount and Fox, which dominate the motion picture and ancillary entertainment businesses world wide.

Once a movie’s theatrical release was the primary source of a studios income and indeed in the beginning the only income. Now however the theatrical release is just the beginning of income to the studios that now earn more income from video/DVD sales and rentals than the initial theatrical release. Also particular types of movies that lend themselves to action figures, promotional tie-ins, theme park rides and sequels are the major earners for the studios. Examples of these are Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Batman. These movies are easy to understand, involve multiple spectacular action scenes and cater to a young demographic who go to movies, buy the action figures and memorabilia associated with a movie and after seeing it more than once in the theatres may buy the DVD or video of the movie.

While the cost of making and advertising the theatrical release may exceed box office receipts the picture will make money for the studio over the years in rentals, sales of the movie, leasing to television, pay per view, income from licensing toys and other products associated with the movie.

Mr. Epstein has described the historical development of the studios from creators of films shown in wholly owned theatrical chains to vast clearing houses greenlighting and financing producers to distributing, selling, licensing movies and related products world wide.
Why Hollywood Doesn’t Care About You If You Are Over 25.

This book was a profound look at the business side of the entertainment business and the people who control and profit from it. Every wonder why there is such a paucity of quality entertainment for persons older than twenty-five? Because in order to have a mega blockbuster that generates billions of dollars in income over the years it must be geared toward the 12 to 24 year old audience, with a story line that can be easily understood even it all the audience doesn’t speak the language of the movie well. This means action movies with a simplistic story line of good triumphing over evil.
This was an excellent book and after reading it you will understand why the major studios no longer care about making sophisticated movies for a mature audience


Mike Wallace Conducts An Insult Interview With Vladimir Putin. Come Back Dan Rather.

May 10, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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On the anniversary of the end of WWII Mike Wallace interviewed President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. The interview was conducted in the confrontational style of Mr. Wallace. It was conducted through interpreters so the question and answers were on a broad basis.

Most of the questions were on generalities and the answers were also. Wallace acted if he was interviewing Nikita Khrushchev during the cold war. His questions were asked as if was expecting to get a rise out of Putin. Putin was amused by Wallace’s confrontational manner and pointed out the deficiencies in our own system. When Wallace accused Putin of moving away from democracy by appointing governors rather than allowing them to be elected as they first were after the break up of the Soviet Union, Putin pointed out that the same system existed in India, which is considered to be one of the worlds great democracies. Putin also pointed out that four years ago the U.S. Presidential election was decided by the courts, which is not democratic. He then made the point that the President of Russia is directly elected by the people and not by electors appointed by the states.

Putin also admitted that he is a man of faith and that this was a part of the human experience.

He supported George Bush in Iraq but said it was a grave blunder by the Bush Administration to go to war in Iraq. However he added there are many problems in the world, which the U.S. and Russia face together and he hoped, would work together to resolve.

President Putin came out of the interview as a positive man committed to democracy in Russia as well as freedom of religion.
Come Back Dan Rather.

Dan Rather or Bob Schleifer should have been sent to interview President Putin. Mike Wallace is known for his attack style of interview and Putin was way ahead of him. Someone subtler like Rather, Schleifer or perhaps Charlie Rose should have conducted the interview in a manner reflecting the post cold war spheres of mutual interest shared by the United States and Russia. In the end the interview was non productive and an insult to the American people and the President of Russia. Dan Rather when he was head of CBS News would have conducted a better interview. Apparently although he is still at CBS he is not being used for what he did well.


Movie Review: Sin City. Visually Stunning But Brain Dead.

May 9, 2005 by · 1 Comment
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Robert Rodriguez And Frank Miller Creators Of Sin City

Robert Rodriguez has transferred Frank Millers crime comic book noir to the silver screen using real actors and digital sets. In doing so he has advanced digital film noir to a new level. The film is mainly in black, white, silver and gray with splashes of color used for maximum effect. The main characters are Jessica Alba (Nancy), Devon Aoki (Miho), Alexis Bledel (Becky), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Benicio Del Toro (Jackie Boy), Michael Clarke Duncan (Manute), Carla Gugino (Lucille), Josh Hartnett (The Man), Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Roark), Jaime King (Goldie/Wendy), Michael Madsen (Bob), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Nick Stahl (Roark Jr./Yellow Bastard), Bruce Willis (Hartigan) and Elijah Wood (Kevin).

This sounds like a lot of principal actors, but the movie was adapted from three separate Miller stories and runs for 2 hours and 6 minutes. The stories are not separate vignettes but all are interwined stories that are related a la Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Tarantino also directed the car scene with a dead Jackie Boy giving directions which also is reminiscent of the car death in Pulp Fiction. However while there are a few parallels with Pulp Fiction the film stands on its own.
Basin City is a place ruled by corruption and criminals.

Bruce Willis pays a good cop trying to save Jessica Alba from a serial killer, Yellow Bastard. Intertwined with this are two other stories involving Mickey Rourke a good/bad guy trying to go straight and avenge the death of a beautiful woman who was kind to him and the Sin City prostitutes led by Rosario Dawson who are trying to preserve their old town turf against crooked cops like Benico Del Toro, crime lords and crooked politicians. This film has a lot of violence and a lot of beautiful woman in various states of undress. All the characters are simplistically drawn and so is the noir plot line, as one would expect of a story drawn from a comic book. While Robert Rodriguez has lovingly recreated a comic book on film with great skill and talent that’s all it is in the end. If you like crime comic books with lots of action and beautiful woman then this film will be a treat. However the story line is simplistic and the characters are not subtle but caricatures. Mickey Rourke has infused his character Marv with the most emotion. However the other characters are so sharply drawn as either pure good or pure evil that the actors are limited in what they can do with their roles. All that said this film is worth seeing as a beautiful example of the genre. However it is eye candy and not brain food.


Movie Review: Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room. A Documentary Film.

May 2, 2005 by · 1 Comment
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Skilling And Lay In Better Days

How Enron And The Governmental Institutions Designed To Prevent Frauds Like Enron Betrayed America.

Betrayal By Enron
This film received almost unanimous critical approval from ninety-six critics. Yet, on opening weekend April 22, 2005 it only earned approximately. $76000.00. Apparently the owners of multiplexes are only willing to exhibit films like Dumb and Dumber where they think the most profit lies despite the financial success of Farenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me both documentaries. This film documents, mostly with news reel footage, interviews and voice overs the last years of Enron when it went from a 65 billion dollar company to bankruptcy. Of course the 65 billion was a paper- stock market valuation bestowed by Wall Street. The truth was that the balance sheets were fraudulent. False profits were created by Jeff Skilling’s “mark to market” accounting. This allowed the company to book as present profits future hypothetical earnings on deals the company had made. Jeff Skilling, CEO, and other corporate executives would estimate these nonexistent future earnings and post them as present earnings. For example the L.A. Times reported on June 13, 2001,” In reporting record financial results for the first quarter of this year, Enron said it posted a 281% increase in revenue to $50.1 billion and a 20% increase in net income to $406 million.” The company was actually bankrupt and had been for a long time.

Andy Fastow, CFO, was an expert at getting non-profitable deals off the books and into “independent” partnerships sold by the major Wall Street Brokerage houses to their clients. The profitability of these partnerships was guaranteed by Enron stock. As long as Enron stock was appreciating it could meet its obligations. Ken Lay was the mastermind of this fraud who brought Skilling and Fastow into the company. The picture doesn’t point out that there were many eminent people on the board of directors, including at least one business professor from Stanford who stood by and said nothing while this massive fraud on the public and their own lower level employees was perpetrated. Lay in a PBS interview before the demise of the company said he believed regulation of energy had cost the energy providers about $300 billion. This wasn’t in the film for some reason but it indicates his thinking.
How The West Was Defrauded

The film touches on how Ken Lay engineered deregulation of energy markets by donating hundreds of millions of dollars to politicians on both sides of the aisle. He all but controlled The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which stood by and did nothing when Enron took control of energy supplies in the Western United States and was able create an artificial shortage and raise the price of energy in California so the State lost almost $30 Billion dollars to Enron. FERC is still in existence. Both President Clinton and Bush said they were powerless to intervene.

When the stock market began to decline in 2001 the Enron employees who had purchased company stock for their retirement through 401 K plans were restricted from selling that stock. At the same time senior executives like Lay, Skilling and Fastow (Lay around $300 million overall, Skilling around 100 million and Fastow around 60 million) exercised stock options on the stock they had manipulated and then in the case of Skilling and Lay they retired or distanced them selves from the company. Meanwhile a lineman from Portland Gas And Electric watched the Enron stock in his 401 K plan go from over $400,000.00 to $1200.00 when he was allowed to sell. People like Enron accountant, Sherron Watkins, noticed that the company had no positive cash flow from its day-to-day operations in fact there was a huge negative cash flow. Lay was told of this fact but chose to deny its relevance.

Lay and Fastow could not meet company obligations like retiring the “independent” partnerships because they they could no longer pump up the stock with fraudulent accounting and the whole house of cards fell. Skilling at this time had retired after previously exercising massive stock options when the stock was still viable to spend “more time with his family.”

Betrayal By The Politicians And The Bureaucrats.
Enron and a lot of other companies like Tyco, Global Crossing, Qwest, Worldcom , forced other companies like Shell and El Paso Gas to overstated their assets to increase their stock price to prevent themselves from being brought out by companies that had a fraudulently inflated their stock price like Enron.

The picture is well done and documents the massive fraud perpetrated by Enron and its executives. However it only touches on how Enron manipulated Washington and the state governments to deregulate energy while keeping in place those government regulations that protect utility companies.

Mark to market and outside partnerships didn’t develop with Lay, Fastow and Skilling. They were approved by the Security and Exchange Commission to be applicable in particular cases where they made sound accounting sense.

Also The Financial Accounting and Standards Board (FASB) had received SEC approval of such transactions in rare cases where they applied. Enron executives and others applied them and other illegal methods, like overstating the book value of the company, without restraint so they could pump and dump their stock options.

Congress in the 1990’s passed legislation to protect corporate advisors like Enron’s law firm Vinson and Elkins and their accountants Arthur Anderson from shareholders suits and, in particular class action suits, for questionable advice not rising to the level of fraud. These are the same class action remedies that hold crooks in check that President Bush has curtailed by limiting such suits. The Washington Post reported that: “The Class Action Fairness Act is designed to funnel most such lawsuits from state courts to the federal system — a procedural change that could have substantive implications, because federal courts traditionally have been less sympathetic to class-action cases waged by plaintiffs claiming they have been victimized by fraud or negligence by corporations.”  Bush and Congress have set the stage for the next great fraud on the public including consumers, stockholders, borrowers, mortgagors and credit card users.

The film exposes the Enron executives for the frauds and cheats they were but it does not expose the facilitators in our federal and state governments who fail to protect the public they are elected or hired to represent. None of his elected or appointed representatives protected the PG&E lineman who lost his $400,000 retirement nest egg.

While this documentary was worth seeing it was old news and didn’t deal with the root causes of why a massive fraud like Enron was possible in the first place. Because the facilitators of the fraud sleep snugly at night be ready for the next major fraud, which will probably be in the credit area since that seems to be driving the economy now, and Bush and Congress have loosened the laws and the liabilities governing corporate activities in this area.