Thursday, August 25, 2016

The New Republican Party

From FB:  Bruce Bartlett and others are forecasting the demise of the Republican Party. In the sense intended, I think they are right but they might want to expand their imaginative universe.  I think we might well emerge with a new Republican Party and its de facto leader will be Hillary Clinton.

To clarify--I can't blame her for taking on board all the Republican castaways in the current storm.  But the more she does so, the more you can see that this is her comfort zone.  I'm not sure she understands this sea change herself.   But after four years, she and we may both have forgotten that this was not always what her leadership was all about.

There is the inconvenient question of what to do with "the base"--the army of ordinary Democrats still trying to persuade themselves that they have a chance of accomplishing some kind of progressive program.  But isn't that always the problem with major parties?  The toffs make the rules and set the agenda.  The residual issue is how much they have to give away to keep the rabble on board.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Head-Banging Through the Weeds

It's head-banging time.  I have at hand a book that makes me crazy because it is so full of promise and comes so close and--okay, let me explain.

The title is We Are Better Than This, subtitled "How the Government Should be Spending Our Money."  The author is Edward D. Kleinbard and so far as I can tell, it would be hard to find anyone better qualified for the job he tackles.  He is now a professor (USC) but he spent his prime as chief of staff for the US Congress'' joint committee on taxation, which has long enjoyed (and I think still enjoys) a rep as "the nonpartisan tax resource to Congress."  And he certainly gets off on the right foot with me.  "This book argues," he writes, "that the strand of contemporary American political thought that defines itself through the hatred of taxation is narcissistic, self-pleading, wrapped in a flimsy sheaf of economic lingo." He makes a subordinate point that is equally enticing: "instead of focusing on what government might usefully do ... we obsess over the taxing side of things and igloo;e the purposes to which those tax revenues are applied."

Oh, preach it, brother, even if you are preaching to the choir.  I can't wait to turn the page.

But but but.  But I wouldn't suggest for a moment that he goes nowhere with his promise.  In fact he goes quite away with some stuff you might expect him to be good at: in-the-weeds marshaling of data about US government spending.  More: he collects instructive comparisons with other "similar" countries.  I suppose a critic could say "you can Google all that stuff," and maybe you can, but there are still some codgers who enjoy seeing it pulled together and presented in a book.

But then--well; then the book tends to sprawl all over the map into a number of only loosely related topics, some of which he handles well, some not so.   He has a very good account of government-as-social-insurer, for example--a topic which which he seems to feel comfortable.  He's got some useful things to say about government as investor--the idea that (contra the popular conception) government dollars can produce more than private dollars.  But here, coverage is more patchy: okay on conventional infrastructure, so-so on the productive capacity of education spending.  Beyond that, surprisingly little: next to no attention to DARPA and the NIH and other government programs whose task seems to be to expend pubic dollars so others can reap private benefits.  

And branching out--further into a book that seemed intent on talking about spending, he offers long chapters on topics that come suspiciously close to tax policy-is government too big?  Are taxes too high  (perhaps you can guess the answer to those)? There is even a chapter headed "A Field Guide to False Fiscal Crises"--interesting enough in itself, but pretty far afield from what seemed to be his central topic.  And to top it off, he offers (tentatively and haltingly) an effort to present a big-picture justification for who might call left social-democratic pubic spending in general.

Maybe you can see what the trouble is.  I think he tried to do too much.  The dedicatory inscription goes "to my father, who delayed my entry into academia by 30 years--just long enough for me to have something useful to say."  Wryly clever and undoubtedly sincere, but it gives the game away.  At last liberated from the cares of his day job,  Kleinbard upended his briefcase (downloaded his cloud drive?) full of insights, fragments, talking points and undertook to weave them all together into a big-picture overview of the whole world of tax-and-spend.  It's a noble intention and as I say, the hell of it is, he is part way there.  I'm now recalling the old canard about how"I'm writing you a long letter because I didn't have time to write a shorter."  He would have done better for himself and us if he had written just half a book.


Fn.:  And while we are at it, where was his "editor"--I use the term loosely at the distinguished university-sounding press that published it?  Isn't it (or wasn't it?) precisely the job of editor to be the dutch uncle and to tell the author to cut it down to size?


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Our Generosity and the Second Louis Conn Fight

We gave a few bucks to a favorite nonprofit a while back; I filed the receipt with every intention to forget about it until tax time. But a couple of days ago, among the usual welter of unsolicited catalogs, the mail brought an envelope with the donee logo. I figured it was another solicitation but no; it turned out to be a thank you note for our princely munificence in the recent past--and just to show their sincerity, a small gift. And sure enough, a shake and a tumble and out came--
Hey wait, what is this, a coaster? A coaster a sphere of cork with the donee logo? This is a thank-you?
I mean don't misunderstand: I certainly wasn't expecting a Porsch 911, Really, I wasn't expecting any gift at all but--well, put it this way. I'm not particularly good at the ordinary cues and clues of social intercourse but isn't there a point at which the "gift" is so trifling that it moves the index over to "insult?" Am I to be grateful for a token that probably cost about one fortieth of the price of a first-class stamp? Would't a greater show of gratitude have been no gift at all?
Small memory, in 1946, my dad sold some advertising linked to the second Louis-Conn fight. I've just about totally forgotten the fight itself. But somebody in my dad's operation must have been giving gifts also because I have vivid memories from my childhood of Louis-Conn coasters. Same size and shape, even the same material. Except not just one. We had dozens of them, and they hung around for years--I assume he got to carry home the leftovers, I hope not in lieu of a commission. Come to think of it, if I scratched around in the storage shed, I might find a Louis-Conn coaster out there still. Good: I could match it with the new acquisition and the Missus and I could share the enjoyment of a delicious beverage, basking in self-congratulation at our well-rewarded generosity.

Mad Men and the Donut Hole

Clive James, in his continuing self-proclaimed farewell tour to life and art, says farewell to Mad Men. And as it happened, so, just this week, did we. I'll let Clive speak for himself (some kind of confusing paywall but persist) For me: yeh, well, the last few episodes seemed to run out of steam, as almost always happens with this sort of thing. They repeated themselves; they picked up possible plot lines you knew they were going to have to abandon. And then, the finale, everybody (not just Clive James) has to have a finale.

I won't get tedious with a lot of stuff that others have probably said before and better, but here is a glaring difficulty that I don't think has received much attention so far. Don Draper, the center of the action. Pleasant, affable, cold eyed dissembler, thief of the life of another, one who inflicts casual collateral damage on almost any within range.
But we forgive him because he's Michelangelo, he's Balzac, Svengali, he's a cool quiet 'Enry 'Iggins, the one who can be depended upon to make lemonade out of moldy old peach pits.
The whole show hangs on this premise and you have to believe if you want it to make any sense at all and sure, I pretty much signed on. But I kept recalling that nothing--nothing--in the script actually showed me that Don was a genius, advertising or otherwise. I just had to count on the fact that everyone kept telling me so--that, and his capacity for casual mayhem. In the end, he's to the Svengali, he's the hole in the donut. But rest assured Give him 20 minutes of silence around a boardroom table while everyone else is tearing their hair out, he'll come up with a way to market donut holes, too. Now go read Clive, he never lets us down.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Real Hillary Scandal

From FB, on which see infra.

You want accountability? Okay, I'll give you accountability. It's been twenty years--/twenty years/, give or take, that the dragon lady, aka next President of the United States, has been under the telescope, periscope, microscope of her predators for, oh, I'm not sure I can remember--Whitewater, troopergate, something about commodities trading, up through emailgate and Benghazibenghazibenghazi. 
And what have they come up with? The answer is nothing. Nada. Zero. Bubkas. Zilch. Zilch unless you count the see of afflatus about "countless crimes," or unless you consider the guy under the Trump hat back on my home turf who denies that he said she should be assassinated when what he really said was that she should be courttmartialed and executed.
People, really! Is this the best you can do? There are people eligible to vote who weren't even alive when the first little anti-Hill magpie popped out of his shell.Has anybody totted up how much money has been poured down this particular rathole? Honestly, they just don't make witch hunts like the used to. 
[I said "twenty years." I have no idea what went on in Arkansas back before they came onto the national scene. And for all I know, she pinched her roommate's Mars bar back at Wellesley. No statute of limitations on that one, is there?]
Irony watch: I speak as one who was never that enthusiastic about Hillary in the first place.

Fn.: one of my Facebook commentators apparently missed the irony here--thought I was really mad that she  wasn't in prison.  That's not my point at all.  I do think the charges are mostly bogus.  I also think she is a mediocre politician and part of the mediocrity is that she has never learned how to defang her critics.  I'm told it is because she is a women and the knuckedraggers are unfair to her.  Both those statements are true but irrelevant.  The real successes are the ones that are good at defanging critics.  Which includes (a) ones you like where the charges are bogus (Roosevelt); (b) the ones you dislike where the charges are bogus (Nixon--the slush fund was a phony and he defanged it magnificently); the ones you dislike where the charges are true or mostly true (Reagan and Thatcher).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The FBI Caves

So the FBI caves.   I think this is a big deal with implications far beyond the immediate kerfuffle.  Back in the Pleistocene when I went to law school, I was taught that the one non reviewable decision was the decision not to prosecute.  It's a rule that his never been completely immune to criticism: we can all think of cases where a prosecutor seems to have buried a contentious case without any obligation to explain himself to the world or anybody.  But mostly I'd say it has worked pretty well.  The thinking seems to be that prosecutors must have some freedom of motion, and that in general, a mistake in deciding not to prosecute is just nowhere near as harmful or invasive than a mistake in deciding to go forward.

Lately I think we've heard more criticism of the no-prosecute rule, particularly in the realm of "sex cases"--rape or abuse
.  I suspect that most prosecutors think that cases of this sort are just rough to prosecute, too easy to lose--and that losses may defeat the whole purpose of the enterprise.  And I haven't any doubt that there are some prosecutors who think these cases just aren't that-all important anyway.

Whatever.  What's sure is that we are hearing a progressively louder chorus of complaint from victims and their advocates that their concerns just aren't being taken seriously enough--and that one path to reform would be to compel the prosecutor to explain or justify his no-prosecute decision.

If I were a lawyer likely to get embroiled in this kind of controversy, I'd be opening a new file on the FBI decision to turn over.  Either yea or nay, I'll be needing to bone up on all the arguments so I will be ready as the issue evolves.

Only Hurts when I Laugh

On the street leading over to the gym I pass (from memory): renal care, dialysis, prompt care, convalescent hospital, veterans' mental health and outpatient services, children's  health, pain therapy, clinical lab, allergist, internist, cancer care.  

I think I may have missed some.  Lester Thurow the economist used to say we can't get rich taking out each others' appendix.  His attitude strikes me as a failure of imagination.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Chancellor

Okay, so that's over.


I'm in the peanut gallery, so no more than a malign observer, but here's s lightly edited version of  an email I sent to a friend back east.

Oh, it's been a running sore for a couple of years, ever since that pepper spray business.    Of course the chancellor didn't personally pull the lever on the canister but she never seemed to get on top of the story, never came across as understanding that it was real (my stars, was it really five years ago?).  At long last, it has turned  into a war of the press releases.  The University President says:
... numerous instances where Chancellor Katehi was not candid, either with me, the press, or the public, that she exercised poor judgment, and violated multiple University policies...
And the Chancellor (or, her  highly skilled lawyer) gets to say: 

 CLEARED OF ALLEGATIONS OF NEPOTISM, CONFLICTS, FINANCIAL 
MISMANAGEMENT OR PERSONAL GAIN IN UC INVESTIGATION, 

You could say it is a Hillary problem.  The chancellor apparently not guilty of any felony but she has a colossally tin ear and she's greedy.  I mean, board of directors of a text book company?  Why wasn't that prohibited?  And paying to scrub Google?  How rookie is that?

OTOH, at least some of the opposition to her came from people who just thought it would be fun to destroy a chancellor.

I think she is unmarketable outside Davis now so Davis is stuck with her (i.e., as a faculty member .  Also her husband and her son and her DiL--four nice paycheck with bennies).

FWIW I think the president winds up with a bit of mud on her shirtwaist too.  I believe she had/has been hoping to join the Clinton administration .  She is probably not completely out of the running, but good managers don't let this kind of problem happen in the first place.    




Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Ex Cons, Nutso Right Wingers, Partakers of Crystal Meth

[Repurposed from FB.]

I note the existence of a literary or cultural genre.  Probably been around for a while, I'm just late getting to the party.  The subject is the bleak and disordered life of those in the vast interior heartland.  High desert is probably best, Vegas best of all.  Cast of characters heavy on ex cons, nutso right wingers, partakers of crystal meth.  I'm thinking of movies like 'Melvin and Howard,' TV shows like 'Fargo,' or 'Reno 911!' (now that one was funny).  The topic lends itself to lo-o-ong form journalism, where dreary shapelessness  is almost a virtue--this one is a particularly noteworthy  exemplar, effective precisely because it isn't very good (Hanna Rosin's 'Murder by Craigslist,' by contrast, was top notch).  I read (or watch) this stuff.  I'm not certain what the appeal is but I suppose it is a kind of porn for aging academics who live in their head (guilty, your honor).  I do, however, believe I can identify the inaugural artifact--patient A on the blasted-waste circuit.  That would be 'The Executioner's Song,' Norman Mailer's nonfiction novel about the Utah murderer Gary Gilmore,  i never actually finished 'Executioner's Song,' but that's okay: I suspect maybe it never does end but just wanders on and on and on...  Life's like that.