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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Gracchus: "What's Good for Halliburton is....?"

The proof's in the pudding

Thanks to Gracchus for his timely takedown of everyone's favorite irresponsible multinational - THANKS G!

Robert Redford's Quiz Show (1994) is one of those rare films that stands up to repeated viewing and stays fresh and relevant. No wonder, as one of its major themes is exploring the multifarious levels of corruption that riddled the supposedly golden and innocent age of 1950s America. The film is in large part about how corruption's enablers and even its opponents at almost every level are able to deny it or rationalise it -- most of all to themselves.

The film came to mind today, watching the reaction to Halliburton's corporate move to Dubai:

* From the extreme free-marketeers: of course they're going -- cost-cutting, min-max, low-tax don'tcha know?

* From the People's Heroes(tm) of the left: they're fleeing America like it's La Nuit de Varennes! We're winning!

* From mainstream Beltway Dems: hummph ... this demonstrates that we should no longer consider Halliburton an American company. Think of all the Americans this'll put out of work, the lost tax revenues...

* From the Know-Nothings: Halliburton? Last I heard from Rush, theyz're USA patriots. But I hear tell that Pat Buchanan don't like 'em so much. I's confused, and when I gets confused, I like to watch me some funny telebision.

* From the MSM business desks: They're an oil services company, so they're just going where the oil is. Nothing to see here ... move along.

* And from the neoCons: judicio us silence -- the PNAC faction because they're starting to see that they'll be left holding the bag in 2008, and the Oil-Bitch
faction because ...

Well, because they're happy no-one is talking about the real meaning and implications of this move. In that, they're following Halliburton's lead -- no surprise, given that they're either owners of or owned by the company -- one of several in the Oil Bitch arms-n-energy portfolio.

Now inside Halliburton, to middle management, the executives are probably justifying the move on two counts.

The first is to escape "a potentially hostile domestic regulatory environment" -- which is corporate-speak for "the jig is almost up on our lucrative racket, so
let's close shop and move on before they investigate." The forward-thinking tone is deliberate: despite the hopes of the hard left, these aren't incompetents like Louis XVI or Nicholas III. They're businessmen who understand "pro-active reduction of exposure" (MBA/HR Culture-speak for "CYA") -- at least for the next four
to six fiscal quarters.

And Dubai is all about reduction of risk for shady types with money. It has been since it aspired to be something more than a sleepy fishing village and minor trading port. It's the kind of place where ... well, say you're an individual (as opposed to a person) whose main source of income is large-scale international insurance fraud -- the sort of fraud which often results in people dying. No mere tax shelter like the Caymans or Jersey will do for incorporating a venture like that. And countries like Costa Rica or Thailand -- swinging and louche enough to permit Internet gambling operations or sex tours on their sovereign soil -- well, even they have their limits. Where to set up shop?

Ah, Dubai... If you define "gated community" as a grouping of man-made private islands ... if you define "private jet" as a 737 ... if you define "yacht" as displacing the gross tonnage of a cruise ship ... if you define "head office" as a brand-new skyscraper ... and (most importantly) if you define "tax" as a multi-million-dollar baksheesh payment to some sheik's numbered account ... well, then you can engage in all sorts of interesting enterprises (and personal peccadilloes) with the blessing of your new host nation.

Which brings us to the second motive. Inside Halliburton, they probably call it "opportunities in previously untapped markets." Which is to say, markets that U.S. law frowns upon; markets with lots of oil, but with an unfortunate tendency to promote violence against citizens of your home country, and which stand in opposition to the liberal free market capitalism your company claims to support and prosper from.

Y'know, markets which are points on the ol' Axis of Evil.

But move your HQ to a country that's more ... sympathetic to those markets and their (literal) owners, and suddenly those new opportunities just open up. Quite the bargain, in the grand scheme of things.

Especially if you're trying to firm up your secret contracts with Iran and Syria, especially if your executives are trying to avoid testifying at Congressional hearings. Especially if you're trying to avoid nasty things like lawsuits, collections and jails.

Oh, and none of those unionised janitors or uppity clerks. The MBAs probably come cheaper, too, and it's a good way to dump those expensive middle-aged American managers (unless they wanna move to Dubai!).

Not that Halliburton's giving up the perquisites of being a flag-wavin' 'Murkin company, mind you (at least not until they sell off KBR to Know-Nothing suckers and don't need to push that tiresome patriotic angle). Like any degenerate confidence artist, Halliburton wants to have its cake and eat it too for as long as possible, even as it reduces risk and exposure. And they still have enough friends in
government that they won't be arrested like the far more sinful gambling execs. But in the end, Halliburton's executives understand the nature of corporate personhood in America: the one thing the U.S. doesn't really expect of it -- despite caterwaulings like we're hearing from the Dems -- is actual good citizenship.

Which brings us back to Quiz Show. As the film progresses, the ambitious government investigator Dick Goodwin (played by Rob Morrow) believes he's closing in on the real villain -- the television industry. And here he is, trying (despite his superiors' instructions) to strong=arm the show's sponsor (played by Martin Scorcese) to turn on NBC:

Dick Goodwin: The questions are to take no longer than five minutes. You're to receive the questions in advance, and I'm to thank you for the courtesy of attending this hearing.

Martin Rittenhome [sarcastic]: Mercy. What a grueling line of inquiry.

Dick Goodwin: Must have a familiar ring, the questions in advance.

Martin Rittenhome [to his attorney]: Would you excuse us for a moment, please? And take this, please. Thank you. Young man...

Dick Goodwin: The ratings went up if the same contestant came back week after week. There was only one way for that to happen. You had to know that.

Martin Rittenhome: Young man, I sell over $14 million a year worth of Geritol. That's the kind of
businessman I am. That show, Twenty-One cost me $3-1/2 million year in, year out. Sales went up 50% when Van Doren was on. Fifty percent. So the very idea that I was unaware of every detail or aspect of that show's operation...well, frankly, it's, it's very insulting.

Dick Goodwin: So you knew.

Martin Rittenhome [grinning]: That's even more insulting.

Dick Goodwin: You had to know. That's what you just said.

Martin Rittenhome: It's not about what I know. It's about what you know.

Dick Goodwin: You don't know what I know.

Martin Rittenhome: You know that Dan Enright ran a crooked quiz show.

Dick Goodwin: Oh, he never informed you?

Martin Rittenhome [grinning]: Did he?

Dick Goodwin: Let's see what he says.

Martin Rittenhome: Dan? Look, Dan Enright wants a future in television. Okay? What you have to understand is that the public has a very short memory. But corporations, they never forget.

Dick Goodwin: He's not that stupid. He knows he's through.

Martin Rittenhome: Oh, no. He'll be back. NBC's gonna go on. Geritol's gonna go on. It makes me wonder what you hope to accomplish with all this.

Dick Goodwin: Don't worry. I'm just gettin' started.

Martin Rittenhome: But even the quiz shows'll be back. Why fix them? Think about it, will ya? You could do exactly the same thing by just making the questions easier. See, the audience didn't tune in to watch some amazing display of intellectual ability. They just wanted to watch the money.

Dick Goodwin: Imagine if they could watch you.

Martin Rittenhome: You're a bright young kid with a bright future. Watch yourself out there.

And here's the thing: Rittenhome is correct in his prescience. He's smug throughout that dialogue, and in a certain sense he has a right to be. He is that kind of businessman -- selling a glorified patent medicine that "cures tired blood." He knows the score, just like the slimy executives of Halliburton do. And like the head of NBC in the movie, Rittenhome has "reduced exposure" and "expanded opportunities" by cultivating the right politicians.

But Dick Goodwin is correct in his last line above, too -- even if he's still too narrowly focused on "21" and the cheater Van Doren rather than the larger picture. Imagine if the American public could watch how these large corporations work -- in the same cynical way the executives themselves view it (something Steve used to do with his "How To Read a 10-Q" posts). Assuming they wanted to.

But all we can do is imagine, because all we get in reaction to news like today's is the kind of half-baked and romanticised posturing mentioned at the top of this post. And while it may give one a nice warm feeling inside, until this nonsense stops all
we'll be left with the feeling Dick Goodwin has in Quiz Show when he confronts Robert Kintner, the head of NBC:

Dick Goodwin: 21 is rigged and I can prove it ... I have Enright cold and that means I have you.

Kintner: Really?

Dick Goodwin: Really.

Kintner: Then how come you're the one who's sweating?

Are you sweating at this news? And do you know why you should be?

- posted by Tiberus Gracchus