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Wednesday, September 11, 2002

A year ago today, the population of Hell was increased by at least nineteen, the number of hate-filled wretches who murdered over 3,100 people on American soil. The airwaves and Internet will be filled today with people expounding on this event, some of them with dignity and insight, more with embarrassing self-centered mawkishness. I don't care to add to the overload except to say this: may we soon find the last of those who assisted the nineteen, and the last of their compatriots, and reunite the whole despicable lot with their brethren.

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; Preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

Hide me from the secret counsel of evildoers,
From the tumult of those who do iniquity,
Who have sharpened their tongue like a sword.

They aimed bitter speech as their arrow,
To shoot from concealment at the blameless;
Suddenly they shoot at him, and do not fear.

They hold fast to themselves an evil purpose;
They talk of laying snares secretly;
They say, "Who can see them?"

They devise injustices, saying,
"We are ready with a well-conceived plot";
For the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep.

But God will shoot at them with an arrow;
Suddenly they will be wounded.

So they will make him stumble;
Their own tongue is against them;
All who see them will shake the head.

Then all men will fear,
And they will declare the work of God,
And will consider what He has done.

The righteous man will be glad in the LORD and will take refuge in Him;
And all the upright in heart will glory.

posted by Woodlief | link | (4) comments

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

On Owing and Being Owed

The Washington Post reports that 4,000 former employees of bankrupt Worldcom who have been laid off in recent months are asking a federal bankruptcy court to approve an additional $36 million in severance payments. The AFL-CIO is loudly on their side, proclaiming through a spokesman that: "The employees need the money now, are owed the money now and should get paid the money now." A Worldcom spokesman agrees, but the company needs permission from the federal judge because bankruptcy law, in order to protect creditors, caps what departing workers can be paid.

So let's recap: thousands of investors loan Worldcom money so that it can attempt to create value in the marketplace. The management and employees fail to create value. Now they demand to be first in line to get paid, because they are "owed." It can be financially difficult for many people when entrepreneurial ventures fail. But when it comes time to decide who will suffer most and least, does it make sense for the people most responsible for the failure to incur the least financial pain?

This holds true for Enron employees as well. Many of them, abetted by red-ink chasing attorneys, demand to be reimbursed by someone (shareholders who are not Enron employees, ultimately) because for a short time they were unable to sell their Enron stock (which was already in a free-fall well before the sell window briefly closed). Think about that. The people with the greatest access to knowledge about the state of their company, and some amount of responsibility for its failure, find it unjust that they were not allowed to unload their worthless stock, which they freely chose to purchase, on the rest of us before it bottomed out. Remember that the next time you see a weepy Enron employee on "60 Minutes."

It is a sign of the times that the AFL-CIO is likewise arguing that higher severance shouldn't preclude Worldcom workers from suing because they were offered too much company stock in their 401-K plans. I hope the next judge to hear one of these "we were duped into buying our own company's stock" lawsuits agrees to let it proceed only on the condition that all plaintiffs wear a sign 24 hours a day which declares: "I am not competent to make my own financial decisions."

It used to be the case that failing to create value after borrowing other people's money was a cause for remorse, if not shame. Now it has become an opportunity to assert grievance. The question is simple: who will wear the risk inherent in economic ventures? The answer would appear to be fairly straightforward -- one's share of the risk should be more or less commensurate with one's investment. This means that shareholders (including shareholding employees, indeed one might argue, especially including shareholding employees), creditors, and employees will all have skin in the game. This is not only sensible from the point of view of incentives, but also from the standpoint of justice. Those who stand to reap great rewards if a venture succeeds must shoulder much of the burden when it fails. This novel theory that employees, who deserve credit when a company excels, should be sheltered from financial pain when it fails, is at odds with the entrepreneurial culture that makes a society thrive. We advance it at our own peril.

posted by Woodlief | link | (6) comments

Monday, September 9, 2002

Ten Reasons I Love Americans

I don't think one can ever be too grumpy, but I sense that I am getting exceedingly close to that asymptotic limit. I look over my writing here and find a fair amount of griping, which troubles me. Leftists are destroying the country, Norm Mineta makes travel miserable, men don't act enough like men, rant, rant, rant. Many of you dig the grumpiness, I know, because especially smackilicious (my new word) rants garner a good deal of extra email.

Well-aimed barbs are delicious to the educated, but let's face it, incessant grousing is a bit annoying. So, in order to make up for the fact that I've complained about them quite a bit lately, I've developed a list of things I love about my fellow Americans:

1. We are a nation of rabble-rousing entrepreneurs. Many of us are descended from people who picked up their rifles when taxes got too high. Many more of us have ancestors who came to America because it was a land free from oppressive government, a place where the individual can rise to greatness by dint of hard work and a good idea, the "Golden Mountain," as my Chinese friends call it. We've invented near everything worth having (e.g., planes and automobiles), or made it better and cheaper (e.g., food), and we've invented darn near everything not worth having as well (e.g., television, rap music, and stretch-pants).

2. We don't like bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is like the Mercedes, an overhyped expensive German product that at its best looks very impressive, but never quite lives up to the promises of its creators. Americans hate bureaucracy. Look around the next time you go through airport security. Watch how people bristle. They look at their watches, roll their eyes, stamp their feet, and seek out people with whom to commiserate. Sometimes the mood can almost be vocalized, as if everyone is thinking the same thing: "let's stuff all these pinheads in the x-ray machines and take care of security ourselves." If you are in a large airport, you may notice a clump of people who are not bristling. These are foreigners. Pity them.

3. We are disliked in the United Nations. This is obviously a good thing: the U.N. is an organization of twits who think that the solution to the world's problems is a diverse, multi-layered, unelected bureaucracy with the work ethic of Spanish customs clerks and the mentality of Gestapo security forces. To quote Dan Quayle, we wear their scorn like a badge of honor.

4. We fought a war to end slavery. Save all your carping, you merchants of racial grievance -- no other slave-trading country, with the exception of sister England, ever devoted the same thought, blood, or treasure to resolving this issue of right and conscience, because for nearly all the others it never was a matter of conscience.

5. We are heavily armed. We have more killing power per capita than any nation in history. That, my friends, is just plain cool, especially because we are not a warmongering totalitarian state, but instead a democratic republic. However:

6. When push comes to shove, we lay down the ever-loving slap. Just ask the Kaiser. Or the Nazis. Or the Imperial Japanese. Or the al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Oh, that's right, you can't ask them, because we ground them into powder -- biffed them, as the Brits used to say -- leaving their pathetic remnants to scurry back to the demon pits where they were spawned. If we ever decide to change our national motto from the Latin slogan that so beautifully tripped up Al Gore, I propose we adopt the following: "You want a piece of this?"

7. We don't like tattle-tales. Other countries have managed to turn their citizens into informants, but by and large we have resisted that tendency. Sure, we have our share of brown-nosers, but they usually receive a good dose of torment in school before taking a job with the IRS, ATF, or DEA. The snitch is a perpetual loser when portrayed in most of our movies, "narcs" are regularly taunted in high schools, and we jumped all over Linda Tripp's case for recording her friend's confession, even though it implicated a U.S. president in perjury and sexual harassment. Think about one of our favorite phrases: "mind your own business." It's the perfect marriage of anti-snoop sentiment and entrepreneurial fervor. Keep your nose out of my affairs, and get back to making money. That is so very American, don't you think?

8. We contract with our government. You have to love a country that started out by giving its government agents a list of things they're not allowed to do. Of course, we ceded authority over that document to a series of unprincipled, power-hungry politicians, who in turn put unprincipled, utopian-minded jurists on the bench who proceeded, working hand in hand with unelected bureaucrats, to distort and undermine the original limitations on the federal government. Still, the Constitution was a nice start. If only we could get back around to using it again.

9. Lots of us actually like God. Sure, the French have their cathedrals, and the Italians have the Pope. But you can drive for hundreds of miles in the Old World without ever seeing a big, tacky, well-lit cross stuck on some roadside hill. We have churches of all shapes and sizes that people of all shapes and sizes actually attend, outreach concerts where people go to get saved, revivals where -- if they are Baptists -- they can go to get re-saved, tent meetings, Bible studies, prison fellowships, Christian athlete fellowships, Christian businessman fellowships, Christian music (most of it bad, but they mean well), Christian books (ditto), and great big Christian mega-stores where you can satisfy all your Christian paraphernalia needs with the assistance of a faith-affirming ecumenical staff. Most of it is a gaudy, overemotional, sentimental mess, and about half of it consists of really bad theology, but the bottom line is that this is God's country, warts and all. We love Him, and He loves us back (in spite of us).

10. We like happy endings. I know, it makes for movies and books that are often less artistic and true to life, but really, would you rather be trapped on a deserted island with somebody who likes "You've Got Mail," or someone whose favorite director is Ingmar Bergman? We may be sappy, and optimistic, and totally insulated from the oppressiveness of existence or whatever, but nobody likes to hang out with the gloom and doom Nietzsche crowd anyway. If you question that analysis, think about it this way: who gets more opportunities to reproduce -- business majors, or philosophy majors? I think you get my point.

So there you have it, ten reasons I love my fellow Americans. What do you love about them?

posted by Woodlief | link | (18) comments

Justice Delayed

Reginald and Jonathan Carr go on trial in Wichita today for murdering five people, and nearly killing a sixth. They shot her execution style, along with four of her friends, and left them naked and bleeding in a frozen field. This was after raping the women, and terrorizing all of them for hours. As they sped away, they ran over some of the bodies. Once they were out of sight the woman crawled to her fiance', who was still breathing, and wrapped his bleeding head. He would die soon after. Then she stumbled and crawled for what must have seemed like an eternity in that icy cold, to a small house, where her screams and pounding on the door awoke the owners. They brought her inside, and she told them the details -- what the killers looked like, the license plate number of their vehicle, what they had done -- reciting all of it quickly, because she expected to die soon. She asked them to tell her mother that she loved her.

A few hours later, Reginald and Jonathan were captured, with the vehicles and the things they had stolen from their victims. That was nearly two years ago. Then came the attorneys, who have to date filed 140 motions delaying the trial. The argued for a change in venue, citing a survey of Wichita residents which showed that 75 percent believe the Carrs are guilty.

Prejudice, they cried, though good sense is probably a more apt description, given two living witnesses (the brothers stole one of the vehicles they used to commit their crimes from someone who they didn't kill) and a host of physical evidence placing them at the scenes of the crimes.

The brothers have separate attorneys because each, while denying involvement, has offered to implicate the other. Each faces the death penalty. There is a chance, as always, that they will be found not guilty, though a greater likelihood is that there will be years of appeals of the likely guilty verdict. Far worse is the possibility that they will be convicted, but by a jury without the willingness to execute them, which means they will spend years in a penitentiary, with the possibility of release always lurking in the possible future.

I say: kill them, or let them go. If the state won't afford the families justice in a timely manner, there are plenty of folks around these parts who will be glad to do it for them.

Kill them, or let them go. Soon.

posted by Woodlief | link | (6) comments