a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Issue #124 (November 16, 2011)

East of the Peaks, Snowy Range, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

From the London desk of Steve Beeho…

John Gray in the New Statesman on Sylvia Nasar’s book, "Grand Pursuit: the Story of Economic Genius".

“The contrast between the shambles at Versailles and the reconstruction of the world economy that came out of Bretton Woods in 1944 is at the heart of Grand Pursuit. The story Nasar tells of the passage from disaster to new world order is gripping and, at times -- as when she details the pivotal role played in the negotiations by Harry Dexter White, later accused of being a Soviet agent -- disturbing. It is also a story that undermines the inflated claims she makes in the epilogue for economics as a discipline that provides intellectual ‘instruments of mastery’, ideas that ‘could be used to foster societies characterised by individual freedom and abundance instead of moral and material collapse’. After the crisis of 2008-2009, she writes, the ‘world financial system did not collapse. There was no second great depression . . . Returning to the nightmare of the past seems increasingly impossible.’ Strikingly triumphal in tone, this assertion is sharply at odds with the rest of the book.”


Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday on Max Hastings’ book, All Hell Let Loose.

“It is our duty to imagine this event not as the buried past but as the blazing present, and to question all decisions which might take us back towards it, with all the intelligence and scepticism at our command. Yes, war is sometimes necessary. But the calculation of whether it is a fit price to pay should be made in the knowledge of what that price really is.”


Brad Cohen in the Village Voice interviews three former SST alumni about how, in Curt Kirkwood's words, “that circle [SST] is still really vibrant in a strange way”:

"Bob Mould".

“Throughout much of Hüsker Dü's lifeline, your bandmates [singer/drummer] Grant Hart and [bassist] Greg Norton took a back seat while you handled the bulk of the managerial side of things, basically acting as tour manager and you talk about that at length in the book. Had you not taken an active role of booking tours and such, would Hüsker Dü had endured?

It could have gone in a number of different ways. I never really thought about it, but the first thing that comes to mind is that SST [Records] probably would have run us into the ground. The second scenario is a big-time management company comes on and the band would have imploded instantly because I like to control things and Grant was pretty uncontrollable. That actually worked to our benefit that I could control it from within. Those were the first two outcomes I could see if I did a ‘what if?’ I'm sure there are other iterations but those are the two that come to mind right away. SST would have killed us -- or we would have killed ourselves quicker with a big manager trying to direct traffic.”

"Lou Barlow".

“So when you guys signed with Black Flag's label SST, needless to say, that must have been huge.

It was monumental, man. It was like the end. That was it [laughs]. When you think about it now, you think about like American Idol [laughs]... ‘If I only can reach the top five of American Idol.’ And that's their dream. Like our dream, that was if you could take that dream, with all of its intensity and everything you know and to then be on SST was like Where the fuck do you go from there? Nowhere else.”

"Curt Kirkwood".

“What about SST stuff?

I still keep up with those people. I played with [Chuck] Dukowski fairly recently. I played plenty of shows with Watt in the last number of years. Did a tour with Bob Mould a few years ago. I met Bob a long time ago. He's one of the people I met really early on my first tour in '82. He was at the show. It was the first time we played Minneapolis. I befriended Bob and Grant [Hart] the first time around. First show we ever did in New York City was at Folk City was with Sonic Youth and Rick Rubin's band Hose opened the show. It's pretty amazing that way, it still continues and the same people are still around [laughs]. We all had the fire to begin with. It was cultural and it seemed like a microcosmic way that like this is cultural change and we are involved in something here. Really what I thought it was was good music, it's good garage music and it could get a little attention. I actually thought in the early '80s, it'd get really big -- I was that enthusiastic about the whole thing. I thought Black Flag was great -- I figured they'd be what Nirvana was ten years later, ya know?”


Mark E Smith/The Fall profiled in the FT
(!) and the New Yorker (!!), although for entertainment value Robert Chalmers' Independent interview tops them both:

“‘How about you?’ Smith asks. ‘Any regrets?’ ‘I regret turning down an invitation to contribute to Perverted by Language, that [2007] book of fiction where they asked various writers to compose a short story based on a Fall title.’ ‘That book,’ says Smith, ‘was shite.’”


Jay Hinman recalls the vanished record shops of 80s LA at his Hedonist Jive blog.


Jon Savage's great playlist of garage/psych/punk from 1966/67, put together for Domino Radio.


Byron Coley's 1987-90 "Underground” Spin columns.


James Dean vs Ronald Reagan in The Dark, Dark Hours originally broadcast in 1954. Ironically Reagan is far more convincing than Dean's overwrought performance. Better hair, too.

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the DuPage desk of Joe Carducci…

Frederik Stjernfelt at Signandsight.com, "Nausea in Paris".

“Satire famously played an important role in the long process through which European societies emancipated themselves from religious dominance over centuries and finally forced Christianity to give in to enlightened principles and liberties. There is no reason to assume Islamists are not aware of this -- all the sweet-talking about ‘defamation’ and ‘offense’ by Islamists and their intellectual fellow travellers is but a thinly veiled demand for exemption from criticism. This combination of whimpering, death threats and arson has been employed by fundamentalists for years, and not without effect.”


Tom Nairn at Opendemocracy.net on Jeremy Paxman’s book, Empire: What ruling the world did to the British.

“Successful imperialism required an extensive elite, built up by an educational system distinct from (though allied to) the state — the 'public' school and 'Oxbridge' hierarchy. Hence the 'illogical' salience of social class in the land of the industrial revolution.

This led in turn to the over-theorization of social class. A stratification actually generated by empire was confused with one due to capitalist development itself, and then given philosophical shape by Marxism and other ideologies. Such was Anglo-Britain's principal 'legacy in the modern world' in Kwarteng's sense, now also described by Paxman. The greater part of Empire is taken up with how the legacy was acquired, through plunder, slaughter and theft, much of it 'made by Scots' (p.50). At the heart of the inheritance is an instinctive conspiracy to resist the return of England: that is, 'little England' as simply one nation amongst others: Greenfeld's 'First Born' reduced at last to identikit nationality.”


FT: "Brutalised protesters turn to subtler means".

“Strange things are happening on the streets of Damascus. In September, as Bashar al-Assad’s security forces continued their slaying of anti-regime protesters, fountains in the Syrian capital’s main squares began gushing blood. Then last month the green litterbins on the city’s streets suddenly blared out revolutionary songs, startling passers-by and panicking the armed guards of local government buildings.”


Peter Wonacott in WSJ, "Madagascar Tries -- Again -- for Democracy".

“African leaders who have bristled at recent Western involvement in the continent's troubles have dived into this island nation's two-year-old political crisis with the intent of showing how democracy can be restored without Western military firepower.
South African diplomats have been shuttling to and from the island that sits off the continent's southeast coast, meeting with Andry Rajoelina, a former nightclub disc jockey who now runs Madagascar, as well as with politicians that oppose him.”


John Kay in FT, "What Bob Diamond really tells us about the City".

“The changes implemented in and around 1986 involved a mixture of deregulation and reregulation. The conventions that had governed behaviour, largely tacit, were embedded in the English class system that governed recruitment. But now the informal, value-driven culture, whose ultimate sanction was famously described as the raised eyebrow of the governor of the Bank of England, was replaced by an extensive rulebook. The gates of the City were opened to comprehensive school boys, and girls, and to foreigners who might not even recognise the governor, far less appreciate the significance of his raised eyebrow.”


Economist: "Addio, Silvio".

“If, for example, Italians cannot find a dry cleaner’s open on a Saturday; if they have to pay thousands of euros to a dispensable public notary to buy a house; if they are forced to accept the service laid on by a single, erratic (and doubtless strike-prone) local bus company, then it is because Mr Berlusconi -- and the others who have led Italy over the past couple of decades -- have left in place a web of entrenched monopolies, vested interests and cartels that stifle competition and diminish competitiveness. Brave attempts have been made to reform pensions and education. The outgoing government has had considerable success in tackling organised crime. But Italy still suffers from deep-seated ills. Social convention keeps too many married women at home, limiting the size of its workforce. Its capitalism is opaque, typified by cronyism, government interference and shareholder pacts. The trade unions are skewed towards the public sector and the protection of mostly older workers in permanent employment. Italy’s cumbersome justice system, in which the average length of a civil suit is nine years, desperately needs an overhaul to reassure investors that contracts will be enforced and dodgy accounting punished.”


Rachel Donadio & Elisabetta Povoledo in NYT, "Magnetic and Divisive, A Man Whose Politics Were Always Personal".

“Mr. Berlusconi entered politics in the wake of a bribery scandal that had brought down Italy’s postwar political order, where for decades a centrist Catholic party was pitted against Westernized Communists. In a 1994 televised address, unprecedented in Italy’s staid political culture, he promised a new world, and invited Italians to join him. ‘I have decided to enter the playing field and to take up politics because I don’t want to live in country that is not free, governed by immature political forces and by men who are bound hand and foot to a past that was both a political and economic failure,’ he said. Alexander Stille, the author of a book on Mr. Berlusconi called ‘The Sack of Rome,’ said he represented something new. ‘The old political parties, the Christian Democratic Party and the Communist Party, represented broad ideologies and their leaders were comparatively unimportant,’ he said. ‘Berlusconi, already a celebrity, offered himself: no real ideology other than his own personal wealth.’ It was a brilliant strategy, and it catapulted him into power. But his first term lasted only eight months, crashing when he lost a coalition ally. Mr. Berlusconi led the opposition for the rest of the 1990s, when a series of technocratic and center-left governments brought Italy into the single European currency. He was elected again in 2001, after delivering a magazine-sized volume, ‘An Italian Story,’ to every doorstep in Italy. A masterpiece of self-branding, it depicted him as a self-made businessman, a family man and a ladies’ man.”


Stacy Meichtry & Deborah Ball in WSJ, "Culture Built on Family Firms Tests Italy’s Plan for Growth".

“Dell'Orco & Villani is the sort of small company that dominates the Italian economy and is essential to rejuvenating this crucial part of the euro zone. There's just one problem. ‘Our policy has always been not to grow,’ says Sergio Dell'Orco, the 64-year-old head of the recycling-machine maker from Tuscany. Among other issues holding the company back are strict labor laws and an inefficient legal system ‘that become difficult to work under if you're big,’ he says. The lack of growth at family businesses such as Dell'Orco is a huge obstacle to making the country more dynamic -- especially at a time when Italy urgently needs higher growth to pay down its €1.9 trillion ($2.6 trillion) national debt. On Sunday, Italy named a new leader, Italian economist Mario Monti, to tackle the country's economic woes. In his first speech as premier-designate, Mr. Monti said Italy needed to make a huge effort to reignite growth. ‘We owe it to our children. We need to give them a future of dignity and hope,’ Mr. Monti said.”


Paul Betts in FT, "Ill-judged smirks about Italy miss the deeper truth".

“There is a naïve tendency among foreigners to dismiss Italians as incompetents who are simply in need of a little outside discipline. Nothing could be further from the truth. The system, or myriad systems that govern Italian life at every level, are in fact highly organized and impervious to change. They are almost impossible for outsiders to comprehend.”


Victor Mallet in FT, "Spain’s party leaders indulge in navel-gazing as crisis rages".

“‘After seeing the debate, who do you think will run Spanish policy for the next few years?’ asks a Spaniard, turning off the television at the end of the pre-election confrontation between the two main candidates for prime minister. ‘Angela Merkel,’ replies his wife cheerfully. The humorous reference to the German chancellor in a cartoon in Tuesday’s El Mundo newspaper made an important point about Spain’s future that was largely absent from the actual debate between Mariano Rajoy, leader of the opposition Popular party, and Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, his Socialist rival.”


Economist: "The road to self-deception".

“Thankfully, the EU has not decided to censor The Economist. But a European Commission draft paper on credit-rating agencies does propose that, in some circumstances, they should be barred from changing their sovereign ratings. Let us be clear what that means. A credit rating is an opinion about the likelihood that a borrower will repay its debts. The issuers of these opinions are largely based in America, a land where free speech is constitutionally guaranteed. (Fitch has dual headquarters in New York and London, although its majority-owner is a French investor.) Even if the EU could get away with this censorship, what purpose would it really serve? At a crucial moment the agencies would have to declare that they were unable to provide a rating of the country, as clear a signal to the markets as a downgrade itself.”


Economist: "Beyond the fringe".

“What the EU lacks is not democracy but popular engagement. It always has and it always will. There is a small industry churning out suggestions for how to remedy this. How about directly electing the commission’s president? Or sending national MPs to sit part-time in the European Parliament? Or staging Europe-wide referendums, so that a single country cannot hold the other 26 to ransom? None of them would change the fact that the EU is remote, impenetrable and elitist. However hard it tries, the EU will not be loved by European citizens -- even those who are broadly pro-European. In the words of Anand Menon, a British academic, it is ‘structurally condemned to inspire apathy’.

‘Public opinion is a new actor in the EU,’ says Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform. ‘It limits what technocrats can do.’”


Hernando de Soto in FT, "The free-market secret of the Arab revolutions".

“A few weeks ago I met Salem, the younger brother of the brave Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor whose self-immolation triggered the Arab uprising. When I asked him what his brother in heaven would say if we asked him what his sacrifice would bring to the Arab World, Salem did not hesitate: ‘That the poor also have the right to buy and sell.’ It is worth remembering these words as experts debate the future of the Arab revolution, focusing on the crucial issues of democracy, fidelity to Islam, secularism and tribal power. What they may have missed is that a mighty consensus behind the uprising is the desire of a vast underclass to work in a legal market economy.”


Mario Vargas Llosa in WSJ, "Literature and the Search for Liberty".

“What is lost on the collectivists, on the other hand, is the prime importance of individual freedom for societies to flourish and economies to thrive. This is the core insight of true liberalism: All individual freedoms are part of an inseparable whole. Political and economic liberties cannot be bifurcated. Mankind has inherited this wisdom from millennia of experience, and our understanding has been enriched further by the great liberal thinkers, some of my favorities being Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.”


Peter Aspden in FT, "Enriched by poor art".

“Arte Povera, or ‘poor art’, was the name given to an artistic movement of the 1960s in Italy that disdained that country’s postwar economic ‘miracle’ and called for a more pragmatic and modest cultural response to its excesses. In sharp contrast to Pop Art, its ostentatious contemporary, Arte Povera sought to restore poetry and simplicity to art. There was nostalgia and humility in its ambitions. ‘In Italy,’ wrote designer Ettore Sottsass in 1964, ‘there is none of the hard sell that comes with Coca-Cola, no post-cowboy violence, little birth control, little use of deodorants and boules is still played.’ Notwithstanding their ironic tone, the distrust of affluent modernity is palpable in those words, as is the feeling that the poor life is also the purer life.”


James Mackintosh in FT on Jim Rickards’ book, Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis.

“Rickards examines the ongoing financial crisis through the same currency lens. On his view, quantitative easing -- the Federal Reserve’s creation of money to buy bonds -- was a ‘secret weapon’ to weaken the dollar, aimed mainly at China. The Arab spring was collateral damage, as the Fed’s flood of dollars drove food price inflation and so provided the spark for revolution.”


Jamie Bartlett & Jeff Howard in Prospect, "Talking right".

“Because several of these parties have historic roots in extreme right politics, many progressive politicians and thinkers view such rights-talk as a disingenuous veneer, a cover for bigots who couldn’t care less about liberalism. This is a mistake. To see just how dangerous the populist threat is, we should recognise the sincerity -- and the grain of hard truth -- in their words. The latest study from Demos, ‘The New Face of Digital Populism,’ which was released this week, shows why. Based on a survey of over 10,000 supporters of these parties across Europe, it dispels some myths about the current crop of European populists. They are disillusioned with out-of-touch political elites, but not with democracy, which they cite as a top personal value, along with the rule of law and human rights. They overwhelmingly reject violence. One of the most significant drivers of support is a perceived threat to national identity and culture posed by immigrants, other minorities, and increasingly the European Union. These findings undercut the myth that the populist right is no more than a petulant manifestation of economic angst, an attempt to pin the blame for hard times on immigrants. Only four per cent of respondents cited economic issues as reasons to join their organisation.”


Michael Spence interview in Hoover Digest, "The Next Convergence".

“Spence: The colonial empires fell apart, and they arguably had built-in asymmetries in them. One would have guessed, I think incorrectly, that there were cultural differences holding these countries back -- some inherent defect. I don’t think that has turned out to be true. Colonialism fell apart. We had a bunch of new countries that were finding their identity, finding a government structure that worked. It was chaotic and a mess, and then came two other key ingredients. One, very wise people, led by Americans, decided not to repeat the aftermath of World War I, not to crush the vanquished and create a situation that led to another war. Instead, we built up the vanquished. We worked through the Marshall Plan on rebuilding Europe. We worked on restoring Japan. We opened the global economies so that these economies became permanently interconnected. And when we did that, Peter, we probably didn’t know that the long-run beneficiaries were going to be these poor countries whose future we didn’t really know…. But once they figure out a way to connect to the global economy, they are not held down. You have an opening into the global economy through a set of policies that turn out through the benefit of hindsight to be A, generous, and B, really farsighted. And the third ingredient is technology. The costs of transportation went down, communication costs went down, and the tools that you use to integrate a global economy were being built and then used.

Robinson: So there is a distinctively American piece of that story, which is to say that after the Second World War, the United States, measured as a proportion of world domestic output, has a position of dominance that constantly recedes, but the United States lets it happen and seems to welcome the growth of other countries. Americans ought to be proud of that, right?

Spence: Absolutely.”


Ian Bremmer & Nouriel Roubini in WSJ, "Whose Economy Has It Worst?".

“The campaign season will only exacerbate petty partisanship and political gridlock, which means that the structural problems of the U.S. economy are likely to persist.

But the longer-term future appears much brighter for the U.S. than for either Europe or China. America is still the leader in the kind of cutting-edge technology that expands a nation's long-term economic potential, from renewable energy and medical devices to nanotechnology and cloud computing. Over time, these advantages will yield more robust economic growth. The U.S. also has a demographic advantage. In Europe, declining birthrates and rising sentiment against immigration point toward a population that will shrink by as much as 100 million people by 2050. In China, thanks in part to its one-child policy, the working population has already begun to contract. By 2030, nearly 250 million Chinese will have passed the age of 65, and providing them with pensions and health care will be very costly. Despite debate over illegal immigration, the U.S. population will likely rise from 310 million to about 420 million by midcentury. Between 2000 and 2050, according to Mark Schill of Praxis Strategy Group, the U.S. workforce is expected to grow by 37%. China's will shrink by 10%. Europe's will contract by 21%. Finally, despite the rising exasperation of the American public, the U.S. is significantly more likely than Europe or China to quit kicking the can down the road.”


Rahul Jacob in FT, "Chinese look overseas in move to cut costs".

“The pressure to move is clear and growing. Labour costs in China have risen 15-20 per cent annually over the past couple of years, squeezing margins and creating increasingly testing times for Guangdong, the engine room of Chinese manufacturing. The rising costs – along with the rise in the renminbi – have forced Mr Leung to reduce headcount in Dongguan from 8,000 three years ago to 3,000 today. The wages in Bangladesh, he reports, are about 20 to 30 per cent of those in China. Workers also work 48 hour weeks against the legislated norm of 40 hours in China. The government is offering a 10 year tax holiday. But instead of sounding ebullient, Mr Leung is shell-shocked. ‘They have crazy traffic congestion and everyone uses a generator in factories (because the power supply is erratic),’ he says. ‘The logistics make it very hard to work efficiently’. A couple of weeks after his trip to Dhaka, Mr Leung flew to Addis Ababa. Wages were even lower than those in Bangladesh but he could not find the supporting industries, such as manufacturers of shoe soles and cardboard. ‘Ethiopia has less congestion but it is in the middle of nowhere,’ he says. India’s oppressive poverty put him off altogether after a visit to Chennai. Now Mr Leung is uncertain whether he will move production from China after all.”


Andrew Jacobs & Adam Century in NYT, "In China, Buick’s for the Chic".

“Take, for example, Mercedes-Benz, a brand that in much of the world suggests moneyed respectability. In China, many people think Mercedes-Benz is the domain of the retiree. The Buick, long associated in the United States with drivers who have a soft spot for the early-bird special, is by contrast one of the hottest luxury cars in China. But no vehicle in China has developed as ironclad a reputation as the Audi A6, the semiofficial choice of Chinese bureaucrats. From the country’s southern reaches to its northern capital, the A6’s slick frame and invariably tinted windows exude an aura of state privilege, authority and, to many ordinary citizens, a whiff of corruption. ‘Audi is still the de facto car for government officials,’ said Wang Zhi, a Beijing taxi driver who has been plying the capital’s gridlocked streets for 18 years. ‘It’s always best to yield to an Audi — you never know who you’re messing with, but chances are it’s someone self-important.’”


WSJ: "Japan’s Third Opening".

“Last year, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan proposed Japan pursue trade liberalization with a ‘third opening’ to the world -- the first two being the arrival of Commodore Perry in the 19th century and the post-World War II American occupation. The difference is that this time Japan has to make the decision on its own. But opponents are portraying joining the talks as a favor to the U.S., rather than a move that will benefit Japanese. That doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Take the two industries that would be affected -- agriculture and medicine. Japanese economists have long argued that deregulation would make them more efficient, but regulators favor the existing players. Opening to international competition can help to break the political logjam and force reforms. Imported rice faces a 778% tariff, which has shielded farmers from market pressure to consolidate their small plots. The average farm is less than two hectares worked by a 66-year-old farmer.”


Michael Auslin in WSJ, "Is South Korea Headed for Trouble?".

“‘Korea has another decade of growth, and then we'll start down Japan's path.’ So declares a prominent Korean economist to an American visitor. President Lee Myung-bak, who is in the last months of his administration, may be President Barack Obama's favorite Asian leader. But his 30% approval rating at home reflects frustration with rising inflation, his cozy ties to business groups, and public fears of a growing wealth gap. The likelihood that a left-wing candidate will capture the presidency next year portends a turbulent future for U.S.-Korea relations as well as the Korean economy.”


Paul Kane in NYT, "To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan".

“There are dozens of initiatives President Obama could undertake to strengthen our economic security. Here is one: He should enter into closed-door negotiations with Chinese leaders to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt currently held by China in exchange for a deal to end American military assistance and arms sales to Taiwan and terminate the current United States-Taiwan defense arrangement by 2015. This would be a most precious prize to the cautious men in Beijing, one they would give dearly to achieve. After all, our relationship with Taiwan, as revised in 1979, is a vestige of the cold war. Today, America has little strategic interest in Taiwan, which is gradually integrating with China economically by investing in and forming joint ventures with mainland Chinese firms. The island’s absorption into mainland China is inevitable.”


Bradley Gardner in Reason, "China’s Black Market City".

“Wenzhou was one of the first cities to develop methods to work around the financial sector’s aversion to private enterprise. According to local entrepreneurs, it was this secondary banking system that made the biggest contribution to Wenzhou’s early development. ‘While northern people kept the money they made, Wenzhou people immediately lent it to their friends to help get ventures off the ground,’ says Weng Yuwen, a Wenzhou native now running a clothing design company out of nearby Hangzhou. Dozens of financing options are available, and although most of them intrude on the jurisdiction of the state-controlled banking system, they are not all illegal. Or at least not completely illegal. The different levels of legality that Wenzhounese perceive are a bit of a puzzle to an outside observer. Weng quickly disavows any knowledge of ‘underground banking’; like every other Wenzhou entrepreneur I speak to, he has ‘friends’ who have dealt with gray-market lenders but declares he would never do so himself. A more standard form of getting a loan, he explains, is borrowing from a contact…who also happens to be lending to a large number of other entrepreneurs at interest. Weng contemplates this arrangement, then admits that the whole thing might be ‘somewhat illegal.’”


Laura Meckler in WSJ, "U.S. to Build Up Military in Australia".

“The agreement will lead to an increase in U.S. naval operations off the coast of Australia and give American troops and ships ‘permanent and constant’ access to Australian facilities, the people said. While no new American bases will be built under the plan, the arrangement will allow U.S. forces to place equipment in Australia and set up more joint exercises, they said. The move could help the U.S. military, now concentrated in Japan and South Korea in Northeast Asia, to spread its influence west and south across the region, including the strategically and economically important South China Sea, which China considers as its sovereign territory.”


Matt Welch in Reason, "The Simpletons: David Brooks, Thomas L. Friedman, and the banal authoritarianism of do-something punditry".

“Do something. Is there a two-word phrase in politics more loaded with disguised ideological content? Embedded within is both an urgent call for powerful government action and an up-front declaration that the policy details don’t matter. The bigger the crisis, the more the urgency, the sparser the detail.”


Lawrence Lessig interview in Boston Review, "Reclaiming the Republic".

“DJ: You’ve really tried to make this a bipartisan effort. One thing I’ve noticed with regard to the Tea Party protests and Occupy Wall Street is that each tends to dismiss the other, even though both sides might find a lot of agreement in their anger.

LL: There is this bizarre blindness. I think we all need to carry around two hats. One of those hats should say, ‘I’m working for our side.’ The other hat should say, ‘I’m working for the U.S.’ And what that means is not ‘I have to give up my commitment to leftist values or to right-wing values,’ but it means that I need to try to figure out if there’s a way, despite our differences, for us to find a unity. If we can’t get beyond the architecture of polarization, we are doomed.”


WSJ: "About That ‘Christmas Tree Tax’".

“But rather than another zany liberal's plan to tax a few of his favorite things -- which sometimes seems to include everything -- the real story here is about collusion between business and government. Under the plan, the USDA would have required Christmas tree growers to pay 15 cents per fresh-cut tree to fund an advertising board to ‘enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States.’ But the idea didn't belong to the USDA—it was the Christmas tree lobby's. (Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing.) The National Christmas Tree Association, a trade group, requested this ‘check off’ tax in 2009, much like the 18 other generic agricultural programs that the government backs under the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996. Think ‘Got Milk?’ or ‘Beef: It's What's for Dinner.’ Usually on the menu in these cases are the smaller producers that don't want to chip in for marketing and would rather promote their products themselves. The bigger companies then gang up and appeal to the government.”


William McGurn in WSJ, "Crony Capitalism, Chicago-Style".

“Soon the Illinois state legislature will meet in special session to consider the Chicago machine's latest favor: legislation designed to deliver tax relief to three of the state's largest companies. These tax breaks for the lucky few come just 10 months after the Illinois legislature approved what has been described as the largest tax increase in the state's history. It's no coincidence that both have been supported by Gov. Pat Quinn and other top leaders of the state’s Democratic Party. In so doing, Chicago is giving America a window into the logic of crony capitalism: Raise taxes on everyone -- and then cut side deals with those big enough to lobby for special relief.”


Tyler Cowen in NYT, "Whatever Happened To Discipline and Hard Work?".

“The United States has always had a culture with a high regard for those able to rise from poverty to riches. It has had a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit and has attracted ambitious immigrants, many of whom were drawn here by the possibility of acquiring wealth. Furthermore, the best approach for fighting poverty is often precisely not to make fighting poverty the highest priority. Instead, it’s better to stress achievement and the pursuit of excellence, like a hero from an Ayn Rand novel. These are still at least the ideals of many conservatives and libertarians. The egalitarian ideals of the left, which were manifest in a wide variety of 20th-century movements, have been wonderful for driving social and civil rights advances, and in these areas liberals have often made much greater contributions than conservatives have. Still, the left-wing vision does not sufficiently appreciate the power — both as reality and useful mythology — of the meritocratic, virtuous production of wealth through business. Rather, academics on the left, like the Columbia University economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Jeffrey D. Sachs among many others, seem more comfortable focusing on the very real offenses of plutocrats and selfish elites.”


Philip Howard in WSJ, "The Public-Union Albatross".

“The indictment of seven Long Island Rail Road workers for disability fraud last week cast a spotlight on a troubled government agency. Until recently, over 90% of LIRR workers retired with a disability -- even those who worked desk jobs -- adding about $36,000 to their annual pensions. The cost to New York taxpayers over the past decade was $300 million. As one investigator put it, fraud of this kind ‘became a culture of sorts among the LIRR workers, who took to gathering in doctor's waiting rooms bragging to each [other] about their disabilities while simultaneously talking about their golf game.’ How could almost every employee think fraud was the right thing to do? The LIRR disability epidemic is hardly unique -- 82% of senior California state troopers are ‘disabled’ in their last year before retirement. Pension abuses are so common -- for example, ‘spiking’ pensions with excess overtime in the last year of employment -- that they’re taken for granted.”


WSJ: "The EPA’s Reliability Cover-Up".

“Congressional and industry investigators have combed the EPA's rule-making docket that contains hundreds of thousands pages of electronic documents. Many of these files are for some reason not ‘smart’ PDFs (i.e., they're unsearchable). But lo and behold, they uncovered one 934-page EPA draft that was circulated within the Administration sometime before the utility rule was formally proposed. In a ‘What are the energy impacts?’ section, the EPA concedes that it ‘is aware that concerns have been expressed by some, even in advance of this proposed rule, that this regulation may detrimentally impact the reliability of the electric grid.’ The agency admits that what it calls ‘sources integral to reliable operation’ may be forced to shut down -- those would be the coal-fired plants the EPA is targeting -- and that these retirements ‘could result in localized reliability problems.’ The EPA insists that it knows how to balance ‘both clean air and electric reliability,’ but all along in public it has denied that reliability is in any way at risk.”


WSJ: "Student Body Left".

“It gets even more expensive for taxpayers when student borrowers take a ‘public service’ job after graduation, thanks to a program that began in 2007. ‘Public servants’ can get all of their remaining federal student-loan debt forgiven after only 10 years. This applies to government employees such as teachers and to workers at nonprofits. It’s too early to know for sure how this will affect student-borrower behavior, but you can guess. Here we have the federal government offering significant financial incentives to encourage young people to choose what the late Irving Kristol called the politically active ‘helping professions’ over wealth-creating businesses. Go to Georgetown, borrow $100,000 from Uncle Sam, join the Sierra Club, wait a decade and the loan becomes a free lunch.”


James Taranto at WSJ.com, "Be Certain With Cert".

“Because the question they raise is novel, the ObamaCare cases will not turn back the tide of New Deal jurisprudence. But if the court strikes down the forced insurance provision, it will finally, after more than 70 years, stop its advance. On the other hand, if the court upholds ObamaCare, it will mark yet another expansion of federal power. Although the justices will not acknowledge it in their opinions, today's court operates in a very different political environment than did their New Deal-era predecessors. Back then, the country was in crisis and an expanded federal government seemed to be the solution. New Deal programs were popular and enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress (not that they needed it, so dominant were the Democrats in those days). Today America is also in crisis, but this time an enormous, sclerotic government is a cause rather than a solution.”


Motoko Rich in NYT, "Future Farmers Look Ahead".

“Although the nation has shifted ever further from its agrarian roots, the organization is thriving. Begun 83 years ago and now known simply as the F.F.A., it is the largest vocational student group in the country, with more than half a million members and still growing. Although farm employment accounts for less than 1 percent of all jobs in the United States, the Agriculture Department says that one in 12 jobs is agriculture-related. And during the deep downturn and rocky recovery, these workers have actually fared better than most. That gives the F.F.A. a calling card as an organization that actually prepares students for viable careers. About 70 percent of its members live in rural areas, and 19 percent live in small towns. The fastest growing segment, however, is in urban and suburban areas, now making up 10 percent of the membership.”


CT: "Sink the Badger (proposal)".

“Every day from May to October, the SS Badger, the last coal-powered steamship on the Great Lakes, ferries cars and tourists across Lake Michigan on a picturesque four-hour journey from Manitowoc, Wis. to Ludington, Mich. Along the way, it leaves a souvenir in the lake: a total of about 509 tons of toxic coal ash, laced with arsenic, lead and mercury over a 134-day operating schedule. That's far more pollution than all the other 125 freighters plying the Great Lakes collectively leave in a full year, according to Coast Guard records. In 2008, the U.S. EPA set a four-year deadline for the Badger's owners to sharply limit its pollution, the Tribune's Michael Hawthorne recently reported. Didn't happen. Instead, the Badger now is one step away from being protected — in all its polluting glory — as a National Historic Landmark.”


Eliot Cohen in WSJ, "America’s Distinctive Way of War".

“America has participated in every global conflict since the end of the 17th century. What European colonists in North America called King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War, and the French and Indian War went by other names in Europe (the War of the Spanish Succession, for example), but they were parts of the same conflict. America’s War for Independence turned into a global war, and France’s revolution and imperial wars also came to these shores in 1812. The American way of war originated not in the 20th century, and not even in our own Civil War, but rather in a protracted contest with our most enduring and effective enemy of all: Canada.”


Sharon LaFraniere in NYT, "Chinese Flock to U.S. Envoy, but Leaders Are Ruffled".

“Some news organizations have even suggested in commentaries that his man-of-the-people style is an act, an American plot to stir citizens’ resentment of their own leaders.

Two Chinese journalists covering Mr. Locke’s visit last week to Guangzhou and his ancestral village said propaganda officials had issued a directive not to ‘hype’ the trip. That meant that they would write straightforward articles of about 1,000 Chinese characters and that their work would be kept off newspaper front pages. ‘They don’t like him,’ one reporter, who insisted on anonymity, said of the propaganda authorities. ‘They think he is too high-profile and he is embarrassing Chinese leaders.’ But somehow, the word has not gotten to ordinary Chinese. As Mr. Locke traveled on Nov. 4 to his ancestral village, Jilong, a cluster of gray-brick homes two and a half hours from this provincial capital, hundreds of people gathered on the streets of the city of Taishan, to watch as he stopped at a local kindergarten and — if they were lucky — to have their picture taken with him. Mr. Locke was typically obliging about posing for snapshots. ‘He likes to be with common people,’ said Wu Qiang, a 35-year-old factory worker, as he waited patiently for the ambassador’s motorcade. ‘He has Chinese blood, but American characteristics.’”


Ben Austen in Bloomberg Businessweek, "The End of Borders and the Future of Books".

“Edwards says that by the time he became CEO in 2010, Borders had already lost ‘the founders’ DNA, why the company was successful in the first place.’ He blames the 1992 acquisition by Kmart -- which he feels ran Borders like a general merchandising company -- and a three-year stock buyback that began in 2005 and cost the company $600 million. (Kmart spun off the bookseller in 1995, when Borders went public.) No contacted analysts thought there was anything improper in the stock buyback -- online sales had seemed to plateau at the time, and the company had generated more money than it did in each of the preceding five years. But the book industry runs on an ancient credit system, with booksellers at any moment indebted to publishers for more than the value of the books on their shelves. (At the time of its bankruptcy, Borders owed Hachette $36.9 million, Simon & Schuster $33.8 million, Random House $33.5 million, and HarperCollins $25.8 million, to name just a few of its publishing creditors.) In arrears and undercapitalized even in good times, Borders lost with the stock buyback the slim buffer it had. Edwards says the company was too saddled with debt to navigate properly. It had no capital to invest in online retailing or to separate its good stores from its bad ones.

Maybe most stunning is how Borders proved incapable of upgrading the systems and processes it had pioneered.”


Laura Winer at L.A. Review of Books, "Zell to L.A. Times: Drop Dead".

“Even in the negotiation stage, the Tribune deal enabled Zell to measure himself by a flattering new yardstick: He was no longer simply the ‘grave dancer,’ an investor who took risks on troubled companies; he was now in competition with Rupert Murdoch who was in the process of buying the Wall Street Journal from the Bancroft family (which had controlled that paper since 1902.) In November 2007, Zell told Connie Bruck of The New Yorker: ‘Rupert is paying a huge price [$5 billion]. In our case, we’re paying what we think is a very attractive price — so our point of entry in this transaction is such that we have a lot of optionality.’ If ‘optionality’ means having options, the opposite was true. Zell’s deal was freighted with debt; Murdoch’s was not. More crucially, Murdoch had a vision for his media empire.”


“KUSF in Exile weekly "Archie Patterson Radio Show".

Listen LIVE Friday's 7PM

After producing several radio specials this past year I was asked by KUSF in
Exile in San Francisco to host a weekly program every Friday night at 7PM
Pacific time. The first show aired on OCT 28. The programs focus will be
highly eclectic with music played ranging the spectrum of sound and styles.
I began Eurock as an FM radio program in California in 1971. Now after 40
years I have come full circle to begin again a new musical adventure.

Archived programs:

Program 3 featuring 60 minutes of music taken from the 4 albums by legendary French rock band Lard Free!

Program 1 UK Psychedelic Rock & Acid Folk 1968-1970 featuring The Nice, Tomorrow, Deviants, Pretty Things, Twink, Kaleidoscope, Tyrannosaurus Rex & the Incredible String Band.

Program 2 German Transcendental Music featuring Embryo, Between, Peter Michael Hamel & Camera Obscura.


Nathaniel Friedman in WSJ on Scott Raab’s book, The Whore of Akron.

“At the time, Mr. Raab was working on a book he hoped would be a chronicle of Cleveland's first title in more than four decades. Stung and confounded by Mr. James's perfidy, he wrote ‘The Whore of Akron’ instead. While Mr. Raab repeatedly brands Mr. James a coward and a fraud, LeBron's cardinal sin is walking out on Cleveland when, more than anyone else, Mr. James should have understood what that meant. Mr. Raab can't shake the city, nor does he want to; Mr. James has no such qualms or demons. The two-time MVP doesn't get it: In Mr. Raab's mind, since Cleveland made LeBron, just as it made him, he owes this crumbling city loyalty. Over lunch, Chris Rock, one of the several celebrities whose cameos remind us of Mr. Raab's day job as a glossy-magazine feature writer, tries to convince him that any sane person would choose Miami over Cleveland. Mr. Raab doesn't buy it.”


Obituaries of the Week

• Robert Scalapino (1919 - 2011)

“The author of 39 books on Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan, Professor Scalapino was also editor of Asian Survey, a scholarly publication, from 1962 to 1996 and advised the State Department and other government agencies. In 1965, he wound up arguing the Johnson administration’s case for escalating the war at what was billed as a national teach-in on Vietnam policy. The event was a debate by a panel before an audience of 5,000 in Washington and more than 100,000 people at more than 100 campuses who had gathered to hear the debate by radio hookups. McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson, had been scheduled to attend, and many participants had hoped to hear his pro-war views and confront him. When he canceled at the last minute, it fell to Professor Scalapino, who had also been invited to join the panel, to take the lead in defending the White House’s policy.”

Rex Benson (1925 - 2011)

“Rex Benson, who appeared in more than 300 productions, including films and television, died Friday at the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw. He was 86.
Benson, a native of Chicago, moved in 2002 to Frankenmuth to live near his son, John, a certified public accountant. He lived in Reese as well. It wasn’t long before he stopped by Fischer Hall to join the Cass River Players. ‘He stepped right in and we had a good time. He sure knew his stuff, and he was always willing to do anything that needed to be done,’ said John Matuzak, who worked with the group. Long before he played the community theater circuit in the Great Lakes Bay Region, often taking his one-man-shows to wherever he found an audience that appreciated his corny jokes, Benson was writing for ‘Sanford and Son,’ doing skits with Johnny Carson on ‘The Tonight Show,’ and playing roles in shows and films such as, ‘CHiPS,’ ‘All in the Family,’ ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ and ‘Shades of Red.’ He also was a professional photographer, and his son said that’s what paid the bills while he was waiting for another acting role. But among all his pursuits, John Benson said, Rex Benson called the years he served in World War II his favorite days. As a decorated U.S. Navy aviation radioman, he flew from the carrier USS Ticonderoga as a rear seat aerial gunner, running the first bombing raid on Tokyo and sinking a Japanese cruiser, his son said.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Andy Schwartz.

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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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