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February 26th, 2003:

The torture never ends

I don’t know how they’re going to do it – I’m afraid to even think about it – but Fox is preparing another Joe Millionaire. Not that I’ll watch anyway, but I confess the speculation interests me.

One of NBC’s top priorities for this summer and next year is to develop a successful relationship-based reality series along the lines of Joe Millionaire and The Bachelor, he said.

Meanwhile, ABC announced Thursday it was preparing a fourth edition of The Bachelor that “has the heir to a well-known family, a Dynasty-like family,” ABC executive Susan Lyne said.

Fox is about to debut Married by America, a series based on the idea that it can marry off two longing-for-love people who had never met, In April, Fox presents Mr. Personality, a series that “explores how looks effect love,” said entertainment President Gail Berman.

Obviously, our interest in disposable celebrities has not yet peaked. Jason Alexander’s quote about fame comes to mind:

I once went to speak at a school, and there was a 16-year-old girl… And the girl says to me, ‘You know what? I don’t care what I do, I just want to be famous.’ And I thought, you know, I should really just shoot her in the head because it would serve two things: It would make her famous as the girl that Jason Alexander shot in the head, and it would, you know, spare the world of the banality of the rest of her life.

Indeed.

Strange Bedfellows Dept.

It’s an anti-abortion/pro-tort reform smackdown!

Historically, social conservatives have stood beside business interests pushing what proponents call tort reform — damage caps and other limitations on lawsuits.

Tort reform advocates say ambulance-chasing lawyers have fed a growth in frivolous lawsuits, which have raised the cost of doing business in Texas.

But now, as legislators debate proposals to cap damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, some abortion opponents argue that the caps proposed could result in a higher number of abortion providers. They worry that physicians who don’t perform abortions now because of malpractice liability might consider the procedure profitable if potential damages were limited.

A bill proposed by state Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, and state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Addison, would put a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, such as those sometimes awarded for pain and suffering. Quantifiable economic damages, such as medical expenses and lost earnings, would not be capped.

While proponents of the bill argue that it won’t hurt the family values issues dear to social conservatives, some who want Christian values in government promise a holy war to amend the bill. A vote for this brand of tort reform, they warn, is an unintended vote for more abortions in Texas.

“This isn’t going to go away,” said Houston attorney Mark Lanier, who is leading an effort among social conservatives to have the legislation changed to exempt abortion malpractice cases from the caps, among other amendments. “This bill undervalues human life.”

I love a useful idiot. If it takes a bad argument by bad people to beat a bad bill, then so be it.

I should note that this particular bill is unlikely to pass the Senate as is, since Senator Bill Ratliff (R, Mount Pleasant) is the chair of the Senate Affairs Committee, and he opposes a hard cap on non-economic damages. A compromise bill could get through, but these are the kind of opponents who don’t believe in compromise.

At the heart of Lanier’s argument is the concern that capping damage awards would result in lower insurance rates, which could make abortions more profitable for doctors who provide them.

The great irony, of course, is that now even the insurance industry says that “tort reform” has not lowered rates. Not that he’d let an inconvenient fact slay his logic, mind you.

Anyway, have at it, fellas. We’ll be on the sidelines egging you on.

Ten years ago

Ten years ago today the World Trade Center was bombed by terrorists who hoped to bring the Towers down. Looking back on it, we never really realized it for what it was: a declaration of war. Pretty easy to see now, unfortunately.

Among the many things that were lost on 9/11 was the memorial to the six people who were killed on February 26, 1993. The artist who designed that memorial writes about it here. I must say, for all of the stories that are supposed to commemorate those six people, the only article I could find that actually mentioned their names is this one, written during the trial of bomber Ramzi Yousef. That’s just wrong. Let us never forget Monica Smith, Wilfredo Mercado, Steven Knapp, William Macko, Robert Kirkpatrick, and John DiGiovanni. May they rest in peace.

And it’s 1,2,3, what are we debating anti-war resolutions for?

Looks like the two proposed anti-war resolutions before the Houston City Council will meet the same fate as the slavery reparations resolution did. Though I thought the whole thing was a waste of the Council’s time, I do want to thank them for providing me with one shining moment of high comedy:

Most council members who are against the resolutions argue that council should not be discussing issues of international importance.

While the argument has been little used, most of them also support the direction President Bush is taking.

On Monday, the executive committee of the Harris County Republican Party passed a resolution in support of Bush and called for council to “reject any efforts to have a municipal government weigh in on international diplomacy.”

The executive committee is made up of Republican precinct chairs.

“Rarely do 400 members speak with one voice,” Jared Woodfill, the party chairman, said of those in attendance for the vote.

Umm, Jared, how many Republican precinct chairs would you normally expect to oppose a resolution in support of a Republican president? I’m just asking.

“There are more pressing city issues the council needs to deal with. It’s anti-American and inappropriate for them to debate a resolution and it’s not within the province of council charter and purpose.”

You’re wrong, Jared. Dissent, no matter how misguided or grandstanding, is not anti-American. Suppressing dissent is anti-American. Shame on you.

Telemarketers gain upper hand in technology

Uh oh, telemarketers now have a way to defeat privacy tools like the TeleZapper and SBC’s Privacy Manager.

Castel, a maker of automated dialing technology, boasts that its DirectQuest software is immune to the TeleZapper, a $40 gadget designed to thwart sales calls by faking the tones of a disconnected number.

Beverly, Mass.-based Castel has been mailing brochures to telemarketers and other prospective customers touting the software, which also includes a feature that lets salesmen transmit any phone number or text message to caller ID displays.

That second component allows DirectQuest to dodge such phone company privacy services as SBC’s Privacy Manager and Sprint’s Privacy ID, both of which reject calls that don’t provide caller ID information.

Castel’s software is built for the high-volume “predictive dialers” that use multiple lines to phone residential numbers.

Remember this the next time you hear a flack for the DMA or some other telemarketing organization solemnly swear that they only want to reach people who want to hear from them. And as a public service to you, my faithful readers, if you happen to be one of those people who loves to hear from telemarketers, here’s a handy letter you can send to your Congressfolk that tells them to back off on that nasty federal no-call legislation.

(For the rest of you, until said federal legislation kicks in, the DMA is kind enough to provide this list of state no-call-list info. Tough luck if you live in the wrong state and all that.)

Blood and oil

I haven’t seen anyone blog about this Salon article, which rather surprises me. The article discusses why Big Oil really doesn’t want war with Iraq, at least not now. A lot of the points this article makes are quite sensible when you think about it: We don’t need to go to war to free up Iraqi oil, we could simply drop our sanctions against Iraq instead. Given that the US is easily the biggest consumer of oil, it hurts Iraq a lot more than it hurts us for their oil to be unavailable to us. Most critically from the point of view of US oil producers, once Iraqi oil is freely available on the world market, the price will go down as the supply has increased.

This doesn’t mean that the United States doesn’t have a vested interest in securing Iraq’s oil. There’s a whole lot of oil in Iraq, and it’s certainly in our long term economic interests to have that oil be under the control of a government that’s not as loony and despotic as the current one. One could say the same about oil in Iran and Saudi Arabia as well, two other countries that the Perle/Wolfowitz crowd is surely thinking about. And it’s absolutely in George W. Bush’s political interest to bring about a more stable oil supply; if that in turn leads to lower prices at the pump, a happenstance that will surely boost his reelection prospects, so much the better. The point is simply that the long term economic interests of the United States and the short term political interests of President Bush are not necessarily the best interests of ChevronTexaco or ExxonMobil.

Another reason why Big Oil is queasy about invading Iraq is the fact that none of the US-based oil companies have any contracts to drill in Iraq. Guess which country stands to gain the most from opened-up Iraqi oil fields?

The U.S. lost a three-quarter share of Iraq’s oil production in 1972, when Iraq nationalized its oil fields. The oil company with the most — and best — contracts to extract Iraqi oil is France’s TotalFinaElf. Russia’s LUKoil runs a close second. Chevron’s bluntspoken CEO, Kenneth Derr, supported sanctions against Iraq in 1988 because, he said in a 1998 speech to San Francisco’s tony Commonwealth Club, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas I’d love Chevron to have access to.” Sanctions offered a chance to pressure Saddam into making room for the American companies.

But sanctions are different from war. Some analysts say that removing Saddam will make it harder for American oil companies to gain the foothold Chevron covets, rather than easier. France and Russia, recalcitrant Bush allies, may be holding out for promises that the U.S. will require a post-Saddam government to honor the preferential contracts their oil companies enjoy — starting with commissioning French and Russian oilmen for billions of dollars of restoration work. Ironically, as a political price for winning French and Russian support for war in the U.N. Security Council, American oil companies could be frozen out of postwar Iraq.

“There’s absolutely no guarantee that U.S. Big Oil will participate” in post-Saddam Iraq, says Kyle Cooper, an oil-industry analyst at the brokerage Salomon Smith Barney in Houston.

Yes, the one country which will undoubtedly profit from an invasion of Iraq is none other than France, that beacon of Old European obstinacy. One can only wonder if their stubbornness and threatened Security Council veto isn’t actually part of an elaborate scheme to strengthen Bush’s resolve and possibly whip up American support for an invasion. Since everyone knows that anything the French oppose must be good for America, the best way for them to facilitate an invasion and thus reap the eventual rewards is to appear to be blocking our every step. It’s a rope-a-dope strategy that’s as brilliant in its audacity as it is in its subtlety. I can’t believe Stephen den Beste hasn’t already written 50,000 words on it.

While the article goes on to discuss how an influx of Iraqi oil will be bad for several other oil-based economies, especially Russia, it doesn’t talk about some of the other costs that US-based oil companies will incur with an invasion. War in Iraq will threaten the security of many American and European expats who are currently based at large drilling sites in Africa and the Middle East. You can be sure that their companies are prepared to evacuate most if not all of their staff in places like Kuwait should the US invade Iraq. Not only is that a large expense for them, it also means their production capacity is reduced. (It’s also not just Americans and not just oil workers, too.) I think it’s pretty clear why that’s bad for business.

The bottom line is that while oil is certainly a component of the rationale for invading Iraq, it’s a lot more complicated than “blood for oil”.