SPORTY NIGHT!

Almost as though we were living a double feature of A Day at the Races and Horsefeathers (minus the Marx Brothers and the mayhem), we followed an afternoon at Keeneland with some exciting SEC pigskin action at Commonwealth Stadium, where were saw the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs take on the Kentucky Wildcats. Both teams cam in at 3-4, but there was no doubt that State was superior on both sides of the ball. Kentucky’s quarterback Morgan Newton seemed to have no arm at all, and the line wasn’t doing much of a job opening holes for Kentucky’s serviceable runner CoShik Williams. Kentucky’s chances perked up in the second period, when Newton suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by freshman QB Maxwell Smith. He did much better, completing 26 of 33 passes and for 177 yards, and leading the team on a couple of strong drives. The game, of course, was irrelevant; what was fun was being in the rah-rah atmosphere, and seeing the bright lights, the marching band, the cheerleaders with the flaming batons, the dance team, and some pretty spectacular flag work by the Mississippi State spirit squad. (Top: Field goal, Kentucky! Above: Marching Band! Fiery Batons! Left: When in Lexington, Molly and I do as the Wildcats do. Below: Bulldog flag-wavers sure can spell.)

SPORTY DAY. . .

Molly and I went to Lexington this weekend to visit Cara, who seems to be doing brilliantly well at the midpoint of her first semester of her freshman year at the University of Kentucky. She’s working hard, fitting in, getting good grades, making friends and getting involved. I’m very happy for her, and pretty damned impressed (though not surprised.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a beautiful, sunstruck autumn Saturday afternoon, she took us to the famous Keeneland racetrack, which is a beautiful facility and a great place to watch horse races. Cara’s equine studies are turning her into a pretty good handicapper: out of the five races that we bet on, she picked four winners, and had she not succumbed to a fateful last second change of mind, would have run the slate. Ah, the benefits of a higher education! (Top, the pre-race parade in the paddock. Above, the scenes outside the track. Below, the Handicapper; my railbirds.)

THE FALL OF FORBES

In his very good new book The Fall of the House of Forbes: The Inside Story of the Collapse of a Media Empire, former Forbes editor Stewart Pinkerton describes the decline of the publication’s significance, and along the way champions the noble tradition of magazine journalism. “There’s an important distinction between one hundred people using their cell phones to record an event and real journalism, calcified as some of its traditions and procedures may be,’’ he says. “What’s missing from the raw footage . . . is the authoritative voice, the result of years of source cultivation, the building up of levels of trust that allow a reporter to put something into context. It’s something only established news outlets can do . . . .Most people need an expert to filter, prioritize, and context information. A fire hose of information without that is useless.’’ To rad my review of Pinkerton’s book in The Washington Monthly, click here.

IRONY AND THE TERRORIST

Nothing in John Brown’s life more became him than the way he took leave of it. One of the strangest and most challenging figures in American history, a combination of practical fiasco and undiminished confidence, Brown was a failed tanner, a failed farmer, and in narrow terms, a failed insurrectionist. As much as anybody, he put the blood in Bleeding Kansas; his activities there in the mid-1850s were crowned with the cold-blooded midnight murder and dismemberment at Pottawatomie Creek of four unarmed men who had the misfortune of having a different point of view than the country’s most driven abolitionist.

Brown was a terrorist in the cause of God’s will, no less than Mohammad Atta. Terror was the only thing he was good at, and murderous, bloody terror was what he intended to ignite when he and his platoon of twenty-one true believers seized the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, on October 16, 1859. The raid was a dismal botch, and within forty-eight hours, Brown and his men had been easily vanquished, ten of them killed in action. Brown himself was bludgeoned into unconsciousness in the final assault on his stronghold in the armory by a marine lieutenant named Israel Green, but only after had attempted to kill him with his sword. Hastily mustered the night before, Green had brought a light ceremonial sword instead of a battle sabre, and when he stabbed Brown, the blade bent in half. Had he successfully killed Brown, it is unlikely that the raid would have inflamed the country as it did, and the incident would eventually have become eclipsed in memory, overcome by other events.

Instead, Brown survived, and in ensuing six weeks, became a most eloquent champion of ending slavery. “I believe that to have interfered as I have done — as I have always freely admitted I have done — in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right,’’ said Brown at his trial. “ Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments– I submit; so let it be done!’’

Throughout the north, and in Europe as well, Brown’s noble attitude elevated him to the status of martyr, and stirred the anti-slavery feelings that in most of the population had been largely latent. Emerson and Thoreau applauded him, John Greenleaf Whittier celebrated him in poetry, and Victor Hugo honored him from abroad. “Living, he made life beautiful,” Louisa May Alcott wrote on the day he died, “Dying, made death divine.” Feelings were stirred in the South, too; the whites of the South were rightly alarmed that a blow had been struck, however ineptly, at their slaveocracy, and were entirely shocked that their northern cousins were far more sympathetic than outraged. Brown may have failed to incite a rebellion, but he had polarized the country, and made the continuation of a country half-slave and half-free an impossibility.

In his excellent new book Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, Tony Horwitz has done a terrific job in explaining the raid and its effects. More than anything, he has restored Brown’s humanity. Long portrayed as a fiery-eyed zealot, Brown here is portrayed as a man defined by a willingness to act on his convictions. If slavery was immoral, then acting to end it could not be. Prior to his capture, Brown could be defined by all the things that he wasn’t—a successful farmer, a successful businessman, a shrewd strategist. After his capture, he became the thing he was at his core: a man who saw evil and could not countenance its continuation. Not two years after his execution, as his countrymen took arms against the slaveholder, they went into battle singing that his truth was marching on.

COUSIN, COUSINES

In a happy coincidence, a visit to my sister Rose last week took place on the same day that my cousin Marge and her husband Bob were having a dinner party, and they invited me to join the party. It was a lot of fun, with a lively conversation centering on czarnina and Bob’s squirrel training program, plus I had the agreeable distinction, for the first time in years, of being the youngest person in the room! From Left to right, my cousin Dot, Dave Powell (husband of my cousin Chris), Marge, me, Rose, and Chris.

LIQUIDATE, LIQUIDATE, LIQUIDATE!


In an interview with the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Mitt Romney said that he doesn’t support foreclosure relief for the millions of Americans struggling with underwater mortgages, untold numbers of which have been the victims of fraudulent lending or foreclosure practices. “Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process,” said Romney. “Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up. The Obama administration has slow walked the foreclosure process … that has long existed and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhang.”

Here we have the classic response, probably word-for-word the way his professors at the Harvard Business School taught it. But with this heartless statement, uttered in the heart of America’s foreclosure capital, Romney evokes the memory of Andrew Mellon, the Secretary of the Treasury during the Great Depression, who famously advised Herbert Hoover to “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate… it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people.” Classic capitalism, of course, but wrong, unimaginative, and hostile to the interests of people who are suffering.I know Obama has been ineffective, but is this mechanistic money mouthpiece what America really wants? I would call him the Tin Man, but even the Tin Man knew he had no heart.

Romney, who ardently argued the position that Corporations are People a few weeks ago, is perhaps the only man in the country who views It’s A Wonderful Life and thinks, “Yeah, Pottersville–that’s the ticket!”

THE METAPHOR AMERICA NEEDS

More than two months ago, Drew Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University, wrote a piece for the Times in which he criticized President Obama‘s failure to seize the narrative of the political issues of our times. Well, the president has made a lot of appearances in that time, but he still has yet to give the “here’s where we are, here’s where we want to be, and here’s how we’re going to get there” speech that charts a course on which he stakes his claim to lead the country. He can’t lower himself to a partisan slugfest, which is where he seems to be heading, because that isn’t going to end the Congressional paralysis which has so far wrecked his administration. Instead, he has to define a course of action, and take that plan to the electorate; if he wins, he can demand action from Congress. Which means he has to run on a plan to enact an economic stimulus, a trillion dollar infrastructure stimulus of the kind that Nouriel Roubini et al have recommended.

Obviously, given the temper of the electorate, this won’t be easy. People think it’s insane to add debt to the deficit, and it’s hard to argue that this instinct, to apply the brakes to spending, is illogical. But there is a metaphor for this predicament that the president could use, and which everyone would grasp.

The country needs to turn into the skid.

Every driver who has gone through driver’s ed has been taught that when you’re on an icy road and you start skidding, you need to turn into the skid. And every driver who had ever found himself skidding on an icy highway has had to fight the visceral instinct to slam on the brakes and turn away from the big ditch or tree or tractor trailer that is rapidly filling your windshield. Turning into a skid sounds about as sensible as advising a fighter to lean into his opponent’s left hook. But it’s physics–weight, traction, momentum–and anyone who has been able to keep a clear head knows that this is how to restore control.

The president needs to explain that right now we need to turn into the skid, that the government needs to restore demand, and that out of that investment, unemployment will drop, demand will rise, production will increase, government deficits will recede, and balance will be restored. For a long time we lived under the theory of trickle down economics, and what we’ve seen is that not very much has trickled down. It’s time to try some flow out economics.

A PLATFORM EMERGES

In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi recommends five demands that the Occupy Wall Street protesters ought to set as their agenda:

“1. Break up the monopolies. The so-called “Too Big to Fail” financial companies – now sometimes called by the more accurate term “Systemically Dangerous Institutions” – are a direct threat to national security. They are above the law and above market consequence, making them more dangerous and unaccountable than a thousand mafias combined. There are about 20 such firms in America, and they need to be dismantled; a good start would be to repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and mandate the separation of insurance companies, investment banks and commercial banks.

“2. Pay for your own bailouts. A tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about. It would also deter the endless chase for instant profits through computerized insider-trading schemes like High Frequency Trading, and force Wall Street to go back to the job it’s supposed to be doing, i.e., making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow.

“3. No public money for private lobbying. A company that receives a public bailout should not be allowed to use the taxpayer’s own money to lobby against him. You can either suck on the public teat or influence the next presidential race, but you can’t do both. Butt out for once and let the people choose the next president and Congress.

“4. Tax hedge-fund gamblers. For starters, we need an immediate repeal of the preposterous and indefensible carried-interest tax break, which allows hedge-fund titans like Stevie Cohen and John Paulson to pay taxes of only 15 percent on their billions in gambling income, while ordinary Americans pay twice that for teaching kids and putting out fires. I defy any politician to stand up and defend that loophole during an election year.

“5. Change the way bankers get paid. We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later. It should be: You make a deal today, you get company stock you can redeem two or three years from now. That forces everyone to be invested in his own company’s long-term health – no more Joe Cassanos pocketing multimillion-dollar bonuses for destroying the AIGs of the world.”

Put me down in favor, especially points 1,2 and 5. Throw in the recommendations that Nouriel Roubini, Daniel Alpert and Robert Hockett have prescribed in The Way Forward, their paper for the New America Foundation, and there’s a platform I wish some candidate would get behind for 2012.

ZUCCOTTI PARK, LOWER MANHATTAN, NOON, OCTOBER 13TH

This is the Occupy Wall Street encampment on its 26th day. The usually sensible Mayor Bloomberg has announced his intentions to perform a wholly unnecessary removal of the “creature comforts” of these peaceful protestors–sleeping bags, tarps, etc.–in what is obviously an effort to break up the protest and cause the participants to lose “unit cohesiveness” as they say in the military. It’s a shame: speaking from the fringe, these disaffected Americans have begun to change the terms of the debate. What is Bloomberg’s problem? Is his twitchy inner bourgois businessman taking control of his usually more sophisticated cool? Or is he, at last, revealed as tool of the money regime?
Writing on CNN.com, Douglas Rushkoff has offered a most incisive observation. “We are witnessing America’s first true Internet-era movement, which — unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign — does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint. Yes, there are a wide array of complaints, demands, and goals from the Wall Street protesters: the collapsing environment, labor standards, housing policy, government corruption, World Bank lending practices, unemployment, increasing wealth disparity and so on. Different people have been affected by different aspects of the same system — and they believe they are symptoms of the same core problem. . . .Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful. Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher.”
In The New Yorker, Rick Hertzberg feels a stirring: “[The protestors’] implicit grievances are plain enough: the mass pain of mass unemployment, underemployment, and economic insecurity; the corrupting, pervasive political influence of big money; the outrageous, rapidly growing inequality of wealth and income; the impunity of the financial-industry scammers whose greed and fraud precipitated the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; a broken political system hobbled by a Republican right willing and usually able to block any measures, however timid and partial, that might relieve the suffering. If Occupy Wall Street can continue to behave with nonviolent restraint, if it can avoid hijack by a flaky fringe, if it can shake the center-left out of its funk, if it can embolden Democratic politicians (very much including President Obama, who, lately and belatedly, has begun to show signs of fight), then preoccupied Main Street will truly owe OWES. Big ifs all. It’s too early to tell, but not too late to hope.” (Below, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (at far right, in a cap, with a guitar), leads the crowd in chanting: “I know in my heart, all hell can’t stop us now.”)