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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
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|Saturday, December 31st, 2011|
And, I'm sorry to say, to this blog. With the change in computers, the seeming inability to link that has taken much of the fun from this blog, my posting has essentially evaporated. Time to thank all of you who have read over the years, invite you to visit me at http://anglocatontheprowl.blogspot.com/, and wish you a Happy New Year. I'll still check out your blogs here, so this account will remain up. Feel free to message or e-mail to stay in touch.
|Saturday, September 10th, 2011|
|A Decade Ago
Everyone is, reasonably enough, looking back on September 11, 2001. Decades say something to us, in our desire to track events, and measure lives. My own experience was more opera bouffe
than anything else, but here it is.
I was working, at that time, at a small Long Island law firm, and we had a office in the WTC. Fortunately, there was a whole-office meeting out in Nassau County, so that nobody reported to our Trade Center offices that day. Everyone was at the Long Island office.
Except me. But I was not at the WTC either; I had just completed a two day meeting with clients in DC, in which we began laying the groundwork for the litigation in which we challenged the Communications Decency Act's application of "local community standards" to judge the content of material posted online, and, especially, the Government's then-extant strategy of having government employees access websites from conservative jurisdictions, and making the artist/authors stand trial in that jurisdiction, under its standards, a policy under which the most conservative community essentially set the limits for what was permissible throughout the United States.
So, I was at the then-relatively-newly renamed Reagan National Airport, about to fly home. Did you know that RNA is quite close to the Pentagon? Neither did I, then.
About to board my flight, I saw the first plane strike the Tower. I thought it was an accident--an unbelievable accident. I even called home, and left a message asking if I had actually seen that. Then, a woman in an airline uniform ran out from behind the baggage area waving her arms and yelling "GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!"
As far as I could tell, that was the evacuation protocol. Straightforward, at least.
I went to the main concourse. That's when I saw tape of the second plane, and realized this was big. And deliberate. Another guy, about my age now, maybe a few years older, said to me, "Damn. We'd better try to get a train before they get closed down, too." We walked back to the abandoned baggage area, got our bags, and began to head back to the concourse. All of the people in the airport were out on the tarmac, trying to work non-functioning cell phones. A low, dense black smoke rolled toward us--word of mouth had it that the airport had been bombed. And so, with no clear idea where we were headed, we walked across the grass, down a hill, across a highway, and then into the nearest town. My companion was taken ill on the way down-started feeling his chest tighten--so I helped with his bag. And a bunch of Americans streamed into an American town like refugees.
A nearby hotel (a Marriott) let us in, and started handing out water. My companion (forgot his name after all these years) was taken to a doctor, and I was on my own. I hate to admit it, but I immediately flashed on the Flashman novels, especially Flashy's dicta that if you look like you belong, people will assume you do
, and carry yourself with a high hand
. Rather than fold up my best suit for the trip home, I was wearing it. I closed my shirt collar, jacked up my tie, and hid my bag behind a chair. The, walking in a swift but unhurried manner into the manager's office, with a cool nod to the secretary, I closed the door behind me and made calls--I couldn't reach my parents, but I did reach my client's Executive Director, and she and her husband offered me a bed for as long as needed one.
From there, it became simple-- a short ride on the Metro--up again after only an hour or so, a walk from the station, and a refuge.
I had it incredibly easy.
My friends didn't all have it so easy. I knew several people, good friends, who had damned close calls that day, and one former work acquaintance who died. My silly little experience was nothing like that--yet I got a taste of something most Americans haven't--a loss of security at the most basic level. I understand the anger the attacks caused at a visceral level, because I experienced first hand the "this cannot be bloody happening" feeling that underlines it so often. Ten years ago, we learned what it was like to be vulnerable. We also learned that there were heroes among us--the passengers of Flight 93, the firefighters who ran in, the police officers who shepherded people to safety, or died trying. The clergy at St. Paul's and Trinity, and St. Peter's, who provided succor and hope. And we saw good in each other--the testy mayor rose to the occasion, and President Bush (not a favorite of mine, shall we say) gave a speech in which he refused the poisonous bait Bin Laden proffered, and rejected the framing of the attack as one done by Islam as a whole against the West, thus denying Bin Laden his dream of a clash of civilizations.
A lot went wrong after that, and history will bring its usual microscope. And so it should. But for today, tomorrow really, because I'm posting this the night before the anniversary, we should, I think focus, on not just our losses, all the losses worldwide from this terrible conflict, but on those who have chosen to strive to redeem the mess--those of all and no faith who have tried to bring peace, to, each in his or her own way, still the ancient brutal dream of Attila the Hun.
As for us, who benefitted from their services, or from luck, or both? We're still here. Peace be upon us all.
|Tuesday, August 16th, 2011|
|In Which I Rant a Little
All right, folks, I'm not in the business of advising the GOP--and really, they'd be fools to listen to me--but at some point the spectacle just becomes--well, dispiriting. I mean, seriously, this is the best you can do? Let's see if I get this right:
1. The least crazy of the GOP frontrunners is the guy who thought it was a plan to strap his dog on the family van's roof and drive down the highway at 70 mph, until the dog managed to let him know he was not down with the whole experience by letting loose on the windshield. And then thought in his last presidential campaign that this was a good story to tell the press, to demonstrate how unflappable and calm he is?
Not calm enough, or unflappable enough, to hold a position against any opposition--"Multiple Choice Mitt" as he's known is basically campaigning against his signature achievement as Governor of Massachusetts, because Barack Obama borrowed from it. Therefore it is now pernicious socialism, and must be denounced. So instead Romney is running on his record of slashing jobs and wrecking companies for short term profit. Aye, that's an achievement we need now. (OK, this one's a bit obscure, so a link: thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/04/12/173892/romney-job-killer/
2. But then there's Michelle. You know, the woman who's husband "made her" become a tax attorney, because it's a wife's duty to obey, and, apparently, praying away the gay doesn't bring in the steady income. And, frankly, this is the most normal thing about Bachmann. Remember her suggestion that we have a return to the happy days of McCarthyism? (No? You can see it here: minnesotaindependent.com/13637/new-mccarthyism-bachmann-calls-for-investigation-of-anti-american-congress-members
). And, of course, Bachmann was among those who advocated not raising the debt ceiling and defaulting, thus contributing (as Standard & Poors said in its analysis) to the decision to downgrade the US's rating. (OK, S&P explanation is here: www.outsidethebeltway.com/standard-poors-cites-tea-party-resistance-to-debt-ceiling-increase-as-factor-in-downgrade/
Suddenly, Mittens looks kinda good, right?
3. But now it gets even worse. Rick Perry. I mean, really? This isn't some elaborate practical joke? Guy who (1) Suggests that in his home state the Fed Chair (who is, did you know, guilty of "almost treason") would be treated to proper payback; (2) suggests we need predator drones to kill some folks on the Mexican border; and (3) revives the old "iron my shirt" nonsense? He is, of course, met with a proper level of derision? Of course not. Kathleen Parker is drooling over his "regular guyness that everyday Americans relate to." Well, unless you're Todd Cameron Willingham of course.
I mean, come on, this jackaroo is a bad pompadour away from being Greg Stillson, and the DC "Village" is welcoming him as if he was the second incarnation of W--and as if hat's a good thing.
Now, in fairness, these aren't the best Republicans running--just the leaders in the horse race. Ron Paul seems to have been cut out for being crotchety, and Huntsman's lack of enthusiasm as he tries to portray the Mirror Universe's version of Paul McCartney is palpable. (I find this inability to lie convincingly to be a sign that Huntsman may have a soul left; McCain's pandering always came off a bit insincere, too--not for these guys the chipper, easily programmed reversals of Romneybot
2012). But the notion that any of these top three could seriously be President is, frankly, embarrassing. C'mon GOP. Go large. Draft Harry Saxon.
(Sorry for olde tyme linkage; me link-fu is FAIL).
|Sunday, June 19th, 2011|
Every year, holiday's give us a chance to tell the people in our lives how much they mean to us, and, speaking only for myself, that's a chance I usually whiff. My father, as those of you who have met him will confirm, is a quiet, friendly guy who seems to be just regular guy--golfs, bowled for many years. You know the drill.
Except, y'know, not quite.
Only my Dad would, on taking his kids out to build a snowman, create a towering Snow Dinosaur with blood dripping from its fangs. Or, another time, a massive Snow Bear.
Or, in "helping" his son with an Olympic Day project, build a perfect to-scale model of the Pantheon. From a single shot of it in Compton's Encyclopedia.
Or, for the sheer hell of it, build a lapidary machine from scrap metal, left over plywood and formica, and use it to cut stones for a gift for my mother.
Or (last one, I promise!) educate a bunch of yahoos (me included) on a Boy Scout camping trip to what can be achieved in the woods by cooking up meals Nero Wolfe wouldn't have sniffed at while the rest of us, having lost the frickin' can opener, are re-enacting the ape montage from 2001 with a jumbo can of Chef Boyardee. (Not to mention the Dad's telling a horror story at the campfire, and casually throwing in a piece of some highly flammable material to get a nice bang at j-u-s-t the right moment--Mark Twain would've loved that bit).
So the man is, in his own quiet way, a genius. And this is just a few examples. I mean, his car & home repairs make McGuyver look like a stooge, and he paints, and can play the piano--have I mentioned that I can do none of these bloody things? Still, I can hang the great pictures, have listened to him play (Beethoven and Joplin!), and learned the great lesson from him: Follow your own talents, and enjoy where they lead. Do what you love, and make time for it.
The best part of it is coming to realize that, in my own way, I've actually been applying his lessons in my own life, and just abut everything that has enriched my life has come from following that model.
Happy Father's Day, all of you who have or are fathers--but especially you, Padrone.
So, for those reading this on LJ, sorry I've been away so long. Having moved to a Mac has deprived me of Semagic and blogging without the usual links, etc., is quite a drag. I have, however, come to think that it might be fun to try my hand at something lighter--fiction--and will see if serializing it here is a good use of the space.
We;ll see. I'll put a chapter up in approximately the next week, feel free to offer thoughts. I promise it'll be worth exactly what you pay for it,
|Sunday, March 27th, 2011|
I really have to commend Edmund Morris's Colonel Roosevelt
(the linked review, by the way, is by Geoffrey C. Ward, hislef the author of two of the best biographies of FDR written to date, Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt
and A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt
, which ave partially done for FDR what Morris has now completed for TR; reconstructed his life in engaging narrative form, with scrupulous accuracy and an awareness of his subject's gifts and deficits).Colonel Roosevelt
is great reading, as each part of Morris's triptych of TR's life is. I confess that to me the best volume remains the first--The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
. Tht volume had the advantage of covering a broader swath of time, and of focusing on the personal life and development of TR, in the context of his family. Although David McCulloch's excellent Mornings On Horseback
covers much the same ground, I always felt that Morris grasped TR's essence more profoundly. Colonel Roosevelt
, like its immediate predecessor Theodore Rex
, has lost that context--TR's family and friends move in and out as supporting cast, and are not as integral as they were in Rise
. But the story is superbly told, TR comes alive in Morris's depiction as well as ever, and the occasional startling insight from our author strikes a spark (as River Song would caution me here, "Spoi-lers"). Qnd teh depth of Roosevelt's interests and learning, often masked behind his bluff facade, here shows through.
TR's progressivism is especially well delineated here, as is his fiery impatience with the Old Guad Republicans who just could not understand that creating a "Square Deal" for labor, for women, for minorities, was the wave of the political future, as welll as a moral imperative. Even clever soundrels, he thought, could grasp that. (He was right; after the Triangle Factory Fire, Tammany Hall reached out to organized labor, and reaped a large reward of votes
). TR believed in doing right, regardless, but here doing right and political opportunism urged in the same direction.
I'll leave you to draw the obviousl parallel; TR would certainly not be at home in today's Republican Party, or even welcome. Indeed, even the Democrats would be (as Wilson was for him) too pro-business, too relucatnt to use the big stick on corporate interests. One day, perhaps, we'll catch up with him.
|Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011|
Some folks who ought to know better
are suggesting that President Obama's actions in aiding the rebels in Libya amount to grounds for impeachment. Please. If I may pirate from my own comment over at Balloon Juice
Aye, that’d make for an interesting impeachment trial:
HOUSE MANAGER BARBOUR: Isn’t it true, Mr. President, that you are guilty of High Crimes and Misdemeanors, in that you did flout the Constitution’s express requirement that Congress declare war before military action is undertaken?
OBAMA: No, I followed the procedures laid out by Congress in the War Powers Resolution for use of military force in the absence of a declaration of war, intended to cover short term contingencies.
HOUSE MANAGER: But that statute is unconstitutional!
OBAMA: Sez you. But the Constitution doesn’t expressly say that the military can’t act in the short term in the absence of a Declaration of War—and the precedent to the contrary goes to the First Barbary War, in which Thomas Jefferson, my illustrious predecessor, sent a group of frigates to defend American shipping in 1801, informing Congress, in advance of a resolution authorizing longer-term military action, which issued the next year.
HOUSE MANAGER BARBOUR: But the Constitution—
OBAMA: Supreme Law of the Land. Yep. But the text is ambiguous, and Congress itself, precedent dating back to the Founders’ generation say I’m within my executive power, and nothing—not a single judicial decision, or anything you’ve pointed to says I’m so obviously in error, that I’m guilty of a High Crime and Misdemeanor. Even if I’m wrong, it’s clearly a good faith error—or should Jefferson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and a host of my predecessors have been impeached?
HOUSE MANAGER BARBOUR: [mutters something “’bout them Duke boys”].
That about says it for me.
|Monday, January 10th, 2011|
|BBVD at BB King's
Just want to take a moment to rave about the wonderful show Big Bad Voodoo Daddy gave tonight. Their sound is retro but fresh, their enthusiasm for their own music and that of their inspirations (from Cab Calloway to Rankin-Bass!) infectious, and the sight of a full dance floor of couples executing swing moves amid a crowd, while the audience claps--ah, I've got to say, it was fun.
Since I came from work, and the weather was cold, I could have passed for someone much more versed in the scene--three piece suit, hat and all. But I knew better than to try my luck on the dance floor; these folks know what they're doing.
|Monday, January 3rd, 2011|
|Original Intent Fail
So, Antonin Scalia has given an interview
, which is drawing some attention, especially for this bit:
In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
Sounds almost reasonable, right?
is the actual text of section 1 of the 14th amendment:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Scalia's position shines a helpful light on the fundamental error of originalism, and helps explain why it is an intellectually bankrupt approach to the Constitution. First, note what Scalia's first rhetorical move is--he discards the plain meaning of the text, that "no state shall . . .deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law." But isn't the text the key? Just ask Justice Scalia, concurring in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca (1987):
"Judges interpret laws rather than reconstruct legislators' intentions. Where the language of those laws is clear, we are not free to replace it with an unenacted legislative intent." Indeed, in almost every form of legal reasoning--as Justice Scalia himself has been noted to assert
--the delving into the intent of the drafters is warranted only when the text of the statutory or constitutional provision being construed is ambiguous. But even the Victorians understood women to be comprehended as "persons." Indeed, as my old professor Walter Kendrick noted
, when materials alleged to be obscene were being evaluated for its tendency to deprave "young persons" under the then-current standard, the young person in question generally was a she.
So Scalia changes the subject. He doesn't ask if women fall within that definition--and thus are free from arbitrary and unequal application of laws at all. Nor does he address a context which Victorian lawyers would have familiarity (and concomitant contempt) with. For example, he does not ask about the continuing viability of, for example, a criminal statute which would subject the drafters' wives to public and physically humiliating punishment because of conduct which they themselves were free to engage in, such as the crime of being a "common scold."
. Rather, he applies the principle to a specific issue the drafters of the 14th Amendment mght be presumed to find shocking, and uses that specific application to denude the text of its meaning. Scalia privileges his hypothesis over the text, applying what he believes some unknown and unasked portion of the drafters (or ratifiers) or both of the Amendments as to the specific issue to be decided in 2011, an an issue which they did not consider or opine on. He is also assuming unanimity, and ascertainability of that intent. None of these assumptions is backed up. Moreover, Scalia is ignoring the fact that people often draft legal instruments more broadly than they intend--and the omissions are enforceable. As the Court explained in Seminole Tribe v. Florida (1996)
(in an opinion Scalia joined), "Nor are we free to rewrite the statutory scheme in order to approximate what we think Congress might have wanted." Except, that is, when Nino disapproves of the text in question. Then, blue-penciling is justified.
Scalia uses the same interview to defend Bush v. Gore
. He suggests the Court had no option but to take the case (ignoring, once again, the constitutional text, which entrusts tie-breaking to the House of Representatives
), and ignores all critiques of the decisions, including the most damning--that of Richard Posner
, who cheerfully admitted that the Court's reasoning was unconvincing, but deemed that the Court should settle the matter to confer more legitimacy. Constitutional text be damned.
|Friday, December 31st, 2010|
|"Here's to the New Year--"
may it be a damn sight better than the last."
--Col. Sherman T. Potter
Actually, my year personally was pretty good--new apartment, new article under way, other developments which are fraught with interest. Mustn't grumble.
But the state of things is not, shall we say, good all round.
The play la Bete
(which I saw last night) spoke to me in a way I didn't expect (I really saw it for la Lumley, whose work I've admired since AbFab). But its central point, that nonsense can drive out sense all too easily, and that our society can, in its quest for novelty, prefer nonsense to sense, is one that caught me on the raw. Ever since I read and vehemently disagreed with the policy prescriptions of Collins & Skover's The Death of Discourse
, I've shared their concern with the drowning out of thought by noise. La Bete
addresses a part of the same syndrome, but places it in a more personal, small-group struggle for place. Brilliantly acted, and terribly timely.
You can catch a glimpse here:
|Sunday, December 26th, 2010|
|Merry Christmastide & Spies Like Us
Since I failed to post on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I can only wish you all a Merry Christmas-tide. Between work, a new article I'm writing (which I hope may be the beginning of a new book), I've been incredibly busy, and politics has moved to the back burner. Also, I find myself less interested in today's outrage and more interested in long term projects.
So I've been a bit preoccupied. But one point I should have made. There's been some talk (here for example
) that Wikileaks can and/or should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917
. Now, the Espionage Act of 1917 is a very broad statute that was used by the Justice Department in the wake of World War I to try to suppress criticism of the war, and was the statute under which Eugene Debs was sent to jail. The cases upholding the Espionage Act under the First Amendment were overturned in Dennis v. United States
(itself a dreadful, speech restrictive decision; there's a whole chapter in my First Amendment, First Principles
on the history leading up to and away from the Espionage Act cases through the present).
In other words, if the only statute which can be plausibly read to support a prosecution of Wikileaks is the Espionage Act, then it's a fairly safe bet that its conduct is constitutionally protected. I hope the Attorney General has the sense not to go down that road. If Julian Assange is guilty of a crime under a valid US statute, that's one thing (I have insufficient data to have an opinion on the allegations he's facing extradition on). But the Espionage Act appears to be redundant to the extent is not invalid.
|Tuesday, December 7th, 2010|
|Where Do We Go From Here?
The battle's done,
and we kind of won,
So we sound our victory cheer. How about this
And at any given juncture there're gonna be times where my preferred option, what I'm absolutely positive is right, I can't get done. And so then my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way, or tack a little bit that way, because I'm keeping my eye on the long term, and the long fight, not my day to day news cycle, but where am I going over the long term?
And I don't think there's a single Democrat out there, who if they looked at where we started when I came into office and look at where we are now, would say that somehow we have not moved in the direction that I promised. Take a tally, look at what I promised during the campaign. There's not a single thing that I said that I would do that I have not either done or tried to do. And if I have not gotten it done yet, I'm still trying to do it.
And so, to my Democratic friends, what I'd suggest is, let's make sure that we understand this is a long game, this is not a short game.
And to my Republican friends, I would suggest, I think this is a good agreement, because I know they're swallowing some things that they don't like as well, and I'm looking forward to seeing them on the field of competition over the next two years.
|Tuesday, November 9th, 2010|
|A Visit to an Elder Statesman
It's been one of those weeks, months actually (yes, I know it's November, but it feels like October just keeps going), so I decided that I needed a holiday. With time short, I decided to visit family in my favorite imaginary country, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. I hadn't visited in some time, and, for a whirlwind stopover, there would just be a chance to birdwatch with Dr. Kokintz, have some of the Duchy's fine cheese, drop in on the Prime Minister--La Caterina's grandfather, whether Labour or the Tories are in office, since the children of the heads of their respective parties married, and nobody likes to suggest to either the Count of Mountjoy or David Bentner that he should contemplate retirement. Still, for now, whoever is Prime Minister, we have the entree.
Of course, pretty much anybody else does, too. Grand Fenwickians are always happy to welcome outsiders, and although my connection is indirect, I received a smile from the Duchess herself as she opened the door at the Count of Mountjoy's chambers.
"Oh how nice, Bobo," she informed the Count, "the children are here for tea."
As Gloriana XII (still looking like her youthful Victory Portrait, painted shortly after Grand Fenwick defeated the United States in the Battle of New York), poured tea, the Count ushered us in. After the social niceties, which can take a while with the Count, who is very particular about tea), we fell to discussing politics--American politics, as the Count had just finished his advance copy of Decision Points
, the memoir of former President George W. Bush.
The Count mentioned that it was sad to see a politician write a memoir as if it was an exit interview. "A statesman's memoirs," he explained, "are a first draft of history. Written for the ages, with a sense of the importance of the days past. Churchill's memoirs, for example, succeed in opening a vista on the course of events. Or, at any rate," he added with a slightly slantedicular smile, "on some of them. As a great man once said, suppresio veri
is a very good servant, while suggestio falsi
is a poor master."
"Isn't the quotation 'a damn poor master,' Gramps?" La Caterina asked.
"Not before ladies, my dear," replied her grandfather.
"I felt rather sorry for him," commented Gloriana, rather unexpectedly, "All that effort to be a rawboned, manly Westerner, when he was really a third generation aristocrat," which was rather rich coming from Gloriana, whose ancestors had ruled Grand Fenwick since the 14th Century. "I think it was all rather--forced," she mused, "a reaction to all Texas bravado."
"After all, who brings their son a fetus in a jar?
" I put in, getting a smile from La Caterina, and a clucking sound from Gloriana. The Count moved to fill in the conversational lull.
"This is where our American friends make their gravest error," he said. "Sincerity has its place," he continued, "and that place is among intimates. The place for such grotesquerie is the confessional, not a morning talk show. The American politician cannot be a statesman, because he--or she--wants too desperately to be liked. To be your friend."
"A leader should not aspire to be the central figure in a group hug, but should focus on the needs of his Nation. Look at your invasion of Iraq. Why was it done? Weapons of mass destruction? Fiddlesticks! It was done for emotional catharsis
. And that's no way to wage a war. Churchill, the greatest war leader of our day, was perfectly willing to sink the French fleet, in case they should go over to the Germans. Not a decision governed by sentimentality--or pique."
The Duchess passed around some rather delicious currant buns.
"But American politicians all have this terrible need to be liked," the Count resumed. "Remember President Clinton? His need for liking was almost his undoing. Fortunately, he had a mind like a maze, and managed to restore stability. All while the American media--left and right--focused on trivia. He had some of the spirit of the statesman. Bush the Younger? More like Richard the Lion-Hearted. All ready for a Glorious Combat--even if it's with the wrong adversary."
"What about President Obama?" I asked.
"Too soon to tell. He's prevented a collapse, but at what cost? Still, at least he's thinking
. The other side seems to be only feeling. I see the surging American Tea Partiers whipping up a very sincere frenzy, but to do what? To cut taxes, and let the Nation's needs go hang? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to restore a decayed road system? And how hard to motivate the people to care about the issue? Why, in Grand Fenwick, I had to fight the worker's champion (your other grandfather, my dear) to fix the roads and save the backs and legs of the workers. All so they could save a few pence each, which they would spend at the Crooked Arrow. It is painfully easy to get the people to oppose all expenditure, even in their own interests."
"Bobo," interrupted the Duchess.
"Yes, Your Grace?" He asked.
"Isn't the decline of the Bushes rather your fault?"
"I absolutely deny it, Your Grace," the old man answered spiritedly. "I answered his father's question in 1987: 'What will bring them to their feet at the Convention Dinner," he asked."
"What did you answer?" I asked.
"Give them quail," the Count replied. "Unfortunately, I had a touch of bursitis, and old Herrick the archivist took down my message. Poor man used the Elizabethan spelling. Shame, really. More tea cake, anyone?"
|Sunday, November 7th, 2010|
|The New Feudalism
According to Citibank in 2005
, the United States is a "plutonomy"--a derivation from "plutocracy," meaning rule by the wealthy for the wealthy:
We will posit that:
1) the world is dividing into two blocs - the plutonomies, where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few, and the rest. Plutonomies have occurred before in sixteenth century Spain, in seventeenth century Holland, the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties in the U.S. What are the common drivers of Plutonomy? Disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments, an international dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law, and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity, exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.
2) We project that the plutonomies (the U.S., UK, and Canada) will likely see even more income inequality, disproportionately feeding off a further rise in the profit share in their economies, capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity, andglobaliz ation.
3) Most “Global Imbalances” (high current account deficits and low savings rates, high consumer debt levels in the Anglo-Saxon world, etc) that continue to (unprofitably) preoccupy the world’s intelligentsia look a lot less threatening when examined through the prism of plutonomy. The risk premium on equities that might derive from the dyspeptic “global imbalance” school is unwarranted - the earth is not going to be shaken off its axis, and sucked into the cosmos by these “imbalances”. The earth is being held up bythe muscular arms of its entrepreneur-plutocrats, like it, or not.
Wow. All hail our Galtian Overloords. Whom we bailed out a bare three years after they crashed the whole thing. Atlas sure did shug, hey?
The more I read of this sickening drivel, the more I think Mark Twain was right about the plutocrats. Here's another taste:
Society and governments need to be amenable to disproportionately allow/encourage the few to retain that fatter profit share. The Managerial Aristocracy, like in the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties, and the thriving nineties, needs to commandeer a vast chunk of that rising profit share, either through capital income, or simply paying itself a lot. We think that despite the post-bubble angst against celebrity CEOs, the trend of cost-cutting
balance sheet-improving CEOs might just give way to risk-seeking CEOs, re-leveraging, going for growth and expecting disproportionate compensation for it. It sounds quite unlikely, but that’s why we think it is quite possible. Meanwhile Private Equity and LBO funds are filling the risk-seeking and re-leveraging void, expecting and realizing disproportionate remuneration for their skills.
But there is something to fear:
At the heart of plutonomy, is income inequality. Societies that are willing to tolerate/endorse income inequality, are willing to tolerate/endorse plutonomy.
Earlier, we postulated a number of key tenets for the creation of plutonomy.. . .We make the assumption that the technology revolution, and financial innovation, are likely to continue. So an examination of what might disrupt Plutonomy - or worse, reverse it - falls to societal analysis: will electorates continue to endorse it, or will they end it, and why.
Organized societies have two ways of expropriating wealth - through the revocation of property rights or through the tax system.
Capital markets, like human beings, generally strive for certainty and stability. The pricing of assets is easier, projections more comfortable, etc. For this reason, in developed capital markets, governments have learnt the lessons of level playing fields,regulatory certainty, and the sanctity of property rights. However this does not mean that governments are incapable of revoking property rights. While this tends to be something more often seen in countries with a shorter history of capitalist democracy, such as the Ukraine (attempts to undo prior privatizations), or
Russia (where some of our clients believe events surrounding Mikhail Khodorovsky tobe a form of nationalization), it can happen in the strangest of places. For example, in 2001, UK government withdrawal of financial support bankrupted Railtrack, the UK rail operator, effectively re-nationalizing railway assets on the cheap.
But these moves are exceptional and generally counter-productive as they raise the risk premium, in theory, for future transactions with that power. If the government is willing to be a contestant and simultaneously set and change the rules of the game to theiradvantage, the rewards of the game must rise to attract other participants.
The more likely means of expropriation is through the tax system. Corporate tax rates could rise, choking off returns to the private sector, and personal taxation rates could rise - dividend, capital-gains, and inheritance tax rises would hurt the plutonomy.
There is a third way to change things though not necessarily by expropriation, and that is to slow down the rate of wealth creation or accumulation by the rich - generally through a reduction in the profit share of GDP. This could occur through a change in rules thataffect the balance of power between labor and capital. Classic examples of this tend to fall under one of two buckets - the regulation of the domestic labor markets through minimum wages, regulating the number of hours worked, deciding who can and cannot work etc, or by dictating where goods and services can be imported from (protectionism).
However, even if the profit share is rising, the fruits of those profits could be taxed before ending up in the pockets of the rich. In other words, dividend, capital gains and estate taxes could all rise. However, we struggle to find examples of this happening. Indeed, in the U.S., the current administration’s attempts to change the estate tax code and make permanent dividend tax cuts, plays directly into the hands of the plutonomy. While such Pluto-friendly policies are not widely being copied around the world, we have not found examples of the opposite occurring elsewhere.
Protectionism or regulation. Here, we believe lies a cornerstone of the current wave of plutonomy, and with it, the potential for capitalists around the world to profit. The wave of globalization that the world is currently surfing, is clearly to the benefit of global capitalists, as we have highlighted. But it is also to the disadvantage of developed market labor, especially at the lower end of the food-chain.
There are periodic attempts by countries to redress this balance - Jospin’s introduction of the 35 hour working week in France to the anticipated benefit of labor being one example. But in general, on-going globalization is making it easier for companies to either outsource manufacturing (source from cheap emerging markets like China and India) or “offshore” manufacturing (move production to lower cost countries).
Id. at 22-23 (emphasis added).
The point of plutonomy is to structure an entire economy around the super-rich--there is no average consumer, the paper says more than once; rather:
we hear so often about 'the consumer”. But when we examine the data, there is no such thing as “the consumer” in the U.S. or UK, or other plutonomy countries. There are rich consumers, and there are the rest. The rich are getting richer, we have contended, and they dominate consumption.
The conclusion: Invest in companies tackling the fancies of the Fancy.
The statistics about wealth and income inequality throughot the paper are mind-boggling, as is the gee-whiz enthusiasm brought by the analysts. The explicit acceptance of the notion that we--because you and I, dear reader, are most assuredly comprehended within "the rest," are and should be a subject class whose entire purpose is to enrich our betters--should have you thinking.
Note what the GOP has committed to in the 2010 campaign: deregulation and tax cuts. Keeping the plutocracy and the rest of us in our places.
Hat Tip: Balloon Juice
|Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010|
|Wednesday, October 27th, 2010|
|Thursday, October 21st, 2010|
|Truth or Consequences?
From Yves Smith:
New York state courts will require lawyers in residential foreclosure actions to certify they have taken “reasonable” steps to verify the accuracy of documents submitted to the court.The new rule, released in a statement by the New York state Unified Court System, is effective immediately.
[Yves' update, courtesy of the Wirenius Report's very own ]La Caterina:
Here the form of affirmation the new rule REQUIRES to be filed in all new and pending foreclosures. I particularly like the little preamble:
N.B.: During and after August 2010, numerous and widespread insufficiencies in foreclosure filings in various courts around the nation were reported by major mortgage lenders and other authorities. These insufficiencies include: failure of plaintiffs and their counsel to review documents and files to establish standing and other foreclosure requisites; filing of notarized affidavits which falsely attest to such review and to other critical facts in the foreclosure process; and “robosignature” of documents by parties and counsel. The wrongful filing and prosecution of foreclosure proceedings which are discovered to suffer from these defects may be cause for disciplinary and other sanctions upon participating counsel.
Translation, for those who are not avidly following this confusing, but critical legal story. First, there are a few forcelosure "mills" who are representing loan servicers, many of whom do not have the ability to show that they, and not some now defunct entity--or worse, some entirely different entity, own the security interest, and have the right to either receive payments and/or foreclose. Rather than try to straighten out the chaos caused by their own carelessness, and the securitization of home mortgages, they and their lawyers have, essentially en masse
decided to fake up documents to create a seeming chain of ownership. In other words, nobody knows who has the right to receive payment or foreclose, and many servicers who would think they may have that right have decided to lie.
(I hate to sound paranoid, but remember, this is just the loans which have defaulted we're hearing about. What's the status of the loans in good standing--are borrowers paying the right entity? And if not, what does that mean?]
Meanwhile, the counterattack has begun, on the theory that borrowers are deadbeats. Debatable, in fact; many unsophisticated borrowers were told what their payments would be by servicers who, er, lied. Why? To close the deal, sell the mortgage to someone else, get the quick profit and pass on the loss. Man of these so-called "deadbeats" are in fact people who have worked hard their whole lives, and are cutting out monies for medical care, balanced diet, and other necessaries as they struggle to keep up.
In New York, at least, Chief Judge Lippman is trying to end the systemic fraud which has gone on throughout the United States. It's a sit down, you're rocking the boat
|Tuesday, October 19th, 2010|
|Mustard Gas and Roses
In Slaughterhouse Five
, Kurt Vonnegut made a confession:
I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses. And then, speaking gravely and elegantly into the telephone, I ask the telephone operators to connect me with this friend or that one, from whom I have not heard in years.
Apparently, Ginny Thomas is a fellow-sufferer from this disease:
In a voice mail message left at 7:31 a.m. on Oct. 9, a Saturday, Virginia Thomas asked her husband’s former aide-turned-adversary to make amends. Ms. Hill played the recording, from her voice mail at Brandeis University, for The New York Times. </p>
“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas,” it said. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”
Ms. Thomas went on: “So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. O.K., have a good day.”
Yeah. Have a good day, right?
Interestingly, when contacted by the Times, Ms. Thomas presented the call rather differently from the message itself, saying:
“I did place a call to Ms. Hill at her office extending an olive branch to her after all these years, in hopes that we could ultimately get past what happened so long ago,” she said. “That offer still stands. I would be very happy to meet and talk with her if she would be willing to do the same. Certainly no offense was ever intended.”
I've never heard a request for an apology termed an "olive branch" before.
All I can say is, this is damn peculiar.
|Saturday, October 9th, 2010|
|One More GOP Poster Boy
I know, I know, I keep pointing these out
The Atlantic's Josh Green reports that millionaire businessman Rich Iott, the Republican nominee challenging Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) in Ohio's Ninth District, has an unusual hobby: He likes to pretend he's a Nazi.
Iott, a tea party-backed candidate, spent time fighting another battle before he hit the campaign trail against Kaptur as a member of the 5th SS Wiking Panzer Division, a group of Ohio World War II reenactors.
According to their website, the Wikings strive to "salute" the "idealists" from occupied northern Europe who saw the Third Reich as "the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life" and signed up to fight for the Wermacht and "gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free."
Oh, and Iott? Until the Atlantic
broke the story? He was a "Contender" on the GOP's "Young Guns" site.
Yeah. Let's not vote, fellow progressives. The GOP is just the same as the Dems, right?
|Sunday, October 3rd, 2010|