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There are times when New York Times columnist William Safire makes my blood pressure rise. He first came to a kind of fame as the speechwriter who coined Spiro Agnewisms like “nattering nabobs of negativity” and “effete intellectual snobs” (I still have a button that proudly proclaims, “I’m an effete intellectual snob”). But Safire can also skewer his political friends.

In today’s column he lashes into the Bush team for concealing details about vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney’s health. “Cheney and the Bush staff need a new attitude toward full disclosure in crises lest their boss is made to look like a man too prone to believe what he hopes to be true.”

***Egg on their faces

Voice recognition company Lernout & Hauspie has been a poster child for the European technology industry. But relentless digging by investigative reporters, notably at The Wall Street Journal, turned up huge inconsistencies in the L&H accounts. Now L&H has filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the US bankruptcy code.

It seems clear that L&H were engaged in a dodgy — and probably desperate — accounting scam. Sales in Korea allegedly surged from $1.2 million to $127 million in the first six months of this year. Now it turns out that the $100 million cash on the books in Korea doesn’t exist. Virtually all of L&H’s growth came from Korean and Singaporean business (neither is among the world’s bigger markets for voice-recognition software). The Journal revealed that 25% of L&H’s 1999 revenues came from start-up companies it had created. (The latest Journal article is of course comprehensive, but a subscription is required.)

Can anyone have faith in audited accounts any more? If a company wants to be crooked, auditors don’t seem to be very good in penetrating their concealments and lies.

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