Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- March 30-April 5, 2003

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This page includes posts from March 30-April 5, 2003 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

April 5, 2003
Press Briefing Follies

I’ve been watching a few of the recent press briefings held by Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the hapless Iraqi Information Minister.

For example, in one recent briefing he suggested we should not believe what our eyes are telling us:

…Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said U.S. forces had not entered the city and had been expelled from the city's international airport to the west.

"The film they broadcast to you is a lie," he said of television footage showing U.S. troops and armor on a highway with signs indicating the City Center and Baghdad airport.

As he continues his useless attempts to convince the international press and the Iraqi people that the Hussein regime is doing just fine, I’m just waiting for him to use a classic of the genre

"This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative."

Once the Information Minister tries his Ron Ziegler impression, a total coalition victory can’t be too far off.

April 4, 2003
Michael Kelly

I'm sorry Michael Kelly died while covering the fight to liberate Iraq from the Hussein regime. I often enjoyed his work, especially pieces such as his famous "I believe" column, written during a less serious time than the present.

He seemed to be a fellow member of the somewhat conservative wing of the Democratic Party. That breed needs preserving, and I hope another similarly oriented writer with his talent fills this unfortunate opening soon.

April 4, 2003
That'll teach the Canadian government

The state governments have no significant role in foreign affairs. That's a task left appropriately to the Federal government.

That constitutional arrangement doesn't stop some state legislators, however, from doing what they can to influence the relations among nations.

This week, for example, a major player in the Delaware House of Representatives, along with a few other influential legislators, introduced House Joint Resolution No. 7.

The bill notes the less-than-positive support Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and other Liberal Party members gave to the current fight by the coalition of the willing against Saddam Hussein's regime. It also notes with approval the support given by the Canadian opposition party to the United States and its fellow coalition members.

To underscore how the legislators feel, the bill would also block any state-funded travel to Canada until Operation Iraqi Freedom concludes.

On the other hand, there's no mention in the bill about prohibiting any expenditures by Canadians if they decide to visit Delaware.

It's nice to see that the Delaware General Assembly has a sense of the limits of its authority.

April 3, 2003
Waiting for word on where to protest

This past Wednesday the protest groups trying to override the constitutional rights to freedom of association held by the members of Augusta National spent a day in federal court in Atlanta, Georgia.

The hearing centered on where Martha Burk's gang (along with Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition contingent) will be allowed to stand and march during their upcoming protest of the Masters Tournament next week.

When I discussed this lawsuit on March 14, I predicted that the Court would not force the protesters to use an Augusta National-owned lot about a third of a mile from the club's main entrance. That was the solution offered by the local sheriff, and it looked like a closer location was possible, even if it wasn't directly in front of Magnolia Lane.

The Augusta Chronicle story predicted a decision by this Friday. If so, that could give the unhappy losers a chance to appeal the case up to the Eleventh Circuit well before the protest, now scheduled for the Saturday of the tournament.

With a week to go there is also the opportunity for cooler heads to prevail, but I'm not holding out much hope for that possibility. At this point, it looks like there is simply too much ego involved to allow a reasonable compromise to be achieved.

April 3, 2003

At some point during April 2 this site's 100,000th visitor found his or her way here.

Thanks very much for your patronage. I did not expect the kind of traffic that an eclectic collection of (mostly) one post per day on a variety of topics could generate.

It's still fun, and I hope you continue to enjoy it.

April 2, 2003
That money you thought you found might not be there after all.

Something about a Reuters story today about Philip Morris USA and tobacco lawsuit settlement money called to mind an old saying about when one should make chicken production estimates.

Late last month, a judge in Illinois hit the tobacco company with a $10.1 billion verdict in a lawsuit over its “light” cigarettes.

That’s billion, as in “thousand millions” for all those G. Gordon Liddy fans who love to hear him say that.

As one might expect, Philip Morris wants to appeal this ruling. The judge said fine with the appeal filing, but he also required the company to post a $12 billion bond in case its appeal fails.

That’s a whole lotta bond money. It’s so much, in fact, that Philip Morris is saying it has only two options right now:

  • Somehow find the money to put up the bond, which it doubts it can do; or

  • Pay the next $2.5 billion installment on that tobacco lawsuit settlement it owes to the participating states on April 15.

It can’t do both.

This is causing significant consternation among the states, some of which seem have been caught counting chickens prior to completion of the hatching process:

For Vermont, the loss of the Philip Morris payment would put a $13 million hole in the state's current budget, with just three months left in fiscal 2003, according to [Attorney General Bill] Sorrell…. "I think in a lot of states, like Vermont, that money is spent," he said.

Other states had taken advantage of the “sure thing” that the tobacco settlement money represented to issue special “tobacco bonds,” backed by the future proceeds of these scheduled payments.

Faced with the news of this judgment and the appeal bond troubles, however, the ratings agencies took appropriate steps:

Moody's Investors Service downgraded the ratings on $19 billion of tobacco bonds late on Monday…. Tobacco bonds are also under review by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, which said on Monday it would drop the bonds' rating to junk level if Philip Morris misses the April payment.

In addition, the investment community is reacting to the news:

John Hallacy, managing director of municipal research at Merrill Lynch & Co., said he did not think issuers would sell any more tobacco bonds until the appeal bond matter is resolved in Illinois. Existing tobacco bonds have tumbled in value since last week's ratings agency warnings.

According to the story, the officials in the National Association of Attorneys General are now weighing their options in dealing with the risk of non-payment.

The irony, of course, is that the tobacco settlement payments the states were counting on to help with their current revenue shortfalls are now jeopardized by a huge, unrelated anti-tobacco verdict.

Illinois law apparently permits a reduction in the appeal bond requirement, but the plaintiffs in that case might not be so keen on assuming any such risks in case Philip Morris loses its appeal. They certainly have no personal stake in protecting the interests of all of the states that participated in the prior settlement.

It looks like the prudent path for the states to take at this time is to stop thinking about how to spend this settlement cash, and begin thinking about how to find new money to replace it, at least until this one lawsuit runs its course.

They might also stop to think about not ever spending a dime of this cash until it’s really in the bank.

April 1, 2003
Cheney silent as Halliburton tax conviction upheld on appeal.

Here's a brand-new tax crime decision from the Circuit Courts, just in time for April 15.

William Halliburton began his short career as a criminal tax scam artist beginning in early 1995. Phony records produced outsized tax refunds and unemployment checks from city, state, and federal agencies. Over time, Halliburton decided to enlist others in his scheme.

The cheating included at least a few complex elements. For example, Halliburton created a company whose primary reason for existence was to cash the checks Halliburton conned the Feds and others into sending out. In addition, Halliburton generated a number of false tax returns and fake W-2s.

Richard Finkley joined in the fun, and was a valuable asset to the conspiracy. He worked at a collection agency, and had access to names, EINs, and social security numbers of debtors that the crew used to create the false tax returns. In addition, Halliburton convinced one of his nephews to help obtain one of these refunds.

By the time they were caught, the dollar value of the false claims exceeded a half-million dollars.

On appeal, Halliburton claimed there was no reason for the trial court to enhance his sentence by two levels because of his role as a supervisor or manager of the conspiracy.

The Sixth Circuit didn’t think much of this argument:

Although Halliburton tries to paint his role in a passive manner, the district court did not clearly err in finding that Halliburton had a supervisory or managerial role in the conspiracy.

As the Court pointed out, the factors noted in the sentencing guidelines for enhanced penalties under these circumstances include considering

the exercise of decision making authority, the nature of the participation in the commission of the offense, the recruitment of accomplices,

and several other common-sense elements.

Given this record, including the recruitment of Halliburton’s own nephew as well as Finkley, it was no big stretch to conclude there was no real merit to this part of the appeal.

And no, there is no connection between this particular Halliburton and the company by the same name.

It makes perfect sense, therefore, that Vice President Cheney has thus far remained silent about this case.

On the other hand, the fact that this particular opinion was issued on this particular day provided an opportunity to have some fun creating a headline for this post.

March 31, 2003
A slight twist on a car rental company slogan

The folks at Enterprise Rent-A-Car are justifiably proud of the continued marketing success of their famous slogan:

"Pick Enterprise. We’ll pick you up."

When Yatisha Sturdivant rented a car from Enterprise, she and her boyfriend Eugene Haywood probably didn’t realize that the Peoria, Illinois Police Department might try using their own version of the same catchphrase.

Haywood's own little enterprise was doing quite nicely, driving to Chicago from Peoria to buy crack cocaine. He and his business partner would then hide their stash in a towel under the car hood, and return to Peoria to sell their inventory.

In February 2001, Haywood borrowed the Oldsmobile Alero his girlfriend rented from Enterprise, and used it for one of his drug pick-ups in Chicago. When he returned to Peoria this time, however, the police were waiting for him. They stopped him and asked Haywood for his driver’s license. He admitted his license wasn’t valid, which led to his arrest for driving while revoked.


The police then searched the car. They discovered not only over 250 grams of crack cocaine, but also a copy of the car rental agreement.

It just so happened that the agreement noted that only Haywood’s girlfriend had the legal authority to drive the car.

Double whoops.

After his eventual conviction in Federal court, Haywood tried once again for a court ruling that the police could not have searched the rental car and found the crack without violating his Fourth Amendment rights. He claimed he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car that should have been respected.

A unanimous Seventh Circuit panel disagreed:

In [a prior case], we held that an authorized driver of a rental car has standing to challenge a search of the car, but we have not addressed the question with respect to an unauthorized driver.

Haywood was not simply an unauthorized driver, he was also an unlicensed one. Haywood should not have been driving any car, much less a rental car that Enterprise never would have given him permission to drive. As a result, Haywood’s expectation of privacy was not reasonable…. Therefore, Haywood lacked standing to challenge the search.

Over and above the basic criminal law principles described in this case, I suppose the real lesson of this story is that sometimes you really should leave the driving to someone else.

March 30, 2003
A Brilliant Ploy?

Frankly, I was a bit surprised to tune into FoxNews this afternoon and hear the announcer tell the audience what Peter Arnett said in a broadcast on Iraqi TV.

At first, I was angry. Then it occurred to me that this was a truly brilliant ploy.

Who better to misdirect the Iraqi military still supporting Hussein, with a b.s. story line sure to be convincing because of the identity of the messenger?

After all, even Arnett recalled what happened during the Gulf War:

"Whenever I gave a report (in 1991) of civilian casualties or civilian installations destroyed and casualties created, the Pentagon and Bush administration got very angry and called me traitor," he said on Iraqi Television.

And now? Arnett, clearly rehabilitated, is simply doing a great job of giving the Iraqis what they want to hear, regardless of the real truth staring them in the face only 50 miles from Baghdad:

Of the current conflict, Arnett also said the current U.S. invasion plan had failed and that American military strategists are now "trying to write another war plan."

Imagine the Iraqis' dismay when they learn that Arnett led them down a primrose path.

I can't wait to hear his next report on MSNBC. If what I think is true, I believe Lester Holt's next questions to Arnett will be along these lines:

  • Peter, what are the Iraqis saying?

  • Where are their leaders?

  • Did the Iraqis tell you the location of their WMDs?

On the other hand, if Holt or the other news folks at MSNBC try to obtain any information about the coalition's actions from Arnett, I might be inclined to think that perhaps Arnett's stripes haven't actually changed since the first Gulf War.

For Arnett's sake, I hope I'm right.

Note: Link to Yahoo report from Susanna Cornett. Thanks, Susanna!

UPDATE: I guess it wasn’t a brilliant ploy after all.

My bad.

March 30, 2003
Peeps--lots of peeps

Last evening we left the house to do a little shopping. As we stood on the front steps, the familiar late March sound of thousands of spring peepers called out from the wooded wetlands about a half-mile from the house.

The tiny tree frogs sure are loud little buggers.

Even so, it's a sure sign of the new season, and a welcome one.

The wooded wetlands near our home host a small intimate gathering of several hundred thousand spring peepers each March.

At least, that 's what it sounds like.


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Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2003