Archive for the ‘Aubade’ Category

Endless Harmony
Friday, 29 July 2011

Friday, July 29th, 2011

¶ Censors are having a very hard time keeping the lid on Chinese outrage — the angry outpouring flooding the weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, by middle-class Chinese who might well patronize the nation’s not-quite-safe high-speed rail system — not so much to the disaster at Wenzhou as to the clumsy and ill-considered official response to it. What were railway executives thinking when they ordered a railway crew to bury one of the passenger cars? And how about this for dumb and dumber:

Last weekend, Wenzhou bureaucrats ordered local lawyers not to accept cases from families of victims without their permission. After weibos exposed them, they withdrew the order and apologized.

Oops! Like middle-class people everywhere, abstract rights are not terribly important to prosperous Chinese. This makes it difficult for them to grasp the connection between authoritarian government — which, again like middle-class people everywhere, they prefer to the alternative — and pervasive corruption. As the train crash shows, it’s easy for the authoritarian to cease to be authoritative.

“Unthinkable No More”
Thursday, 28 July 2011

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

¶ In an amazing development, and without any hindrance from free and unfettered markets, investors are expressing doubts about bigness in banking in the most eloquent manner possible. At Dealbook, Jesse Eisinger  indirectly quotes Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil: “Bank of America trades at half of its book value (the stated value of its assets minus its liabilities), an indication that investors view its asset quality and prospects just a notch below abominable, as Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg News pointed out last week.”

Future Past
Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

¶ Is India the land of the future? The lengthy report on the business empire of Gautam Adani, by Jim Yardley and Vikas Bajaj, that begins on today’s front page chimes in with many other stories that we’ve been hearing about India — such as a recent account of the disorderly growth of Gurgaon, outside Delhi. What these stories have in common is a direct advance from pre-industrial rural economy to roaring industrial and post-industrial development sprouting in all directions, paid for entirely out of private pockets and unhampered by existing infrastructure. Governments at all levels either mute their criticism and respond with studied inaction to the inevitable nastiness that piles up at the margins of these boomtowns, or, like the Gujarat of Narendra Modi, they accommodate and applaud the big entrepreneurs, embracing their Gilded Age contempt for the little people and for the democratic processes that serve them so poorly. (Mr Modi described his most recent election victory, in 2007, as a “referendum” on his leadership. In our view, referendum stands at just a hair’s-breadth distance from acclamation, the one and only tool at the disposal of mobs.) An India composed of billionaires’ fiefdoms is a frighteningly medieval prospect, but political India appears to be mesmerized by it.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

¶ Being monomaniacs, we’re going to blame the Rentier Economy for the nightmare that Seemona Sumasar underwent when we former boyfriend, anxious for her to drop a rape charge, set her up so intricately that she spent seven months in jail before she was vindicated. Paranoid as a matter of course, rentiers see potential criminals everywhere and sometimes can’t be bothered to wait for the potential to be realized. They infect everyone who works for them — and this gradually comes to be everyone (see Alan Blinder if you don’t believe us) — with their mistrust, to which is added a big dollop of job-security anxieties. Where better for worry and panic to flower into professional madness than in the security business, public or private. A fabulist like Jerry Ramrattan, Ms Sumasar’s ex, didn’t have to be a genius con-man to convince police and prosecutors that his accuser was holding up pedestrians at gunpoint, notwithstanding her resume of Wall Street jobs climaxing in the ownership of a restaurant franchise (which she lost, along with custody of her daughter), not to mention her cellphone alibis. He just had to make it plausible, casually rehearsing his crew of bogus victims. Once he had wrapped Ms Sumasar in an aura of suspicion, the innocent things that she did (such as driving a car to Florida and registering it in her sister’s name) made her look guilty. Presumption of innocence? Don’t be daft!

Don’t Pretend
Monday, 25 July 2011

Monday, July 25th, 2011

¶ Ross Douthat wraps up his column today, about the right-wing American “pedigree” of Anders Breivik’s thinking, with a vital observation: “But extremists only grow stronger when a political system pretends that problems don’t exist.” During the decades in which the Democratic Party enjoyed the majority in the House of Representatives, opponents of its liberal views were demonized and discredited, particularly with respect to the extension of full civil rights to African-Americans. Over time, racial bigotry did indeed decline, but the withdrawal of conservatives from civic society, into gated communities and “Christian academies,” has proven to be a grievous wound that shows no sign of healing.

As we congratulate our fellow citizens who have availed themselves of the long-sought right to marry partners of the same sex, we remain mindful of other fellow citizens who regard gay marriage as an abomination. We are not going to pretend that they have been permanently vanquished by a piece of legislation. The battle for the hearts and minds of all New Yorkers has begun in earnest.

Fall of the Inland Empire
Friday, 22 July 2011

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

¶ Crimes against farm property, as well as produce, are increasing in California’s Central Valley, the state’s agricultural “powerhouse” and the heart of the nation’s non-grain, non-livestock farming. The principal cause of the rural crime wave may be the precipitous decline in law-enforcement funding. Jesse McKinley inflects his report with mild humor, but armed and vigilant self-defense is not a posture that we want to encourage in private citizens, farmers or otherwise. Let’s hope that surveillance cameras will soon be assisted by nifty but nasty little robots.

Nobody Knows
Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

¶ As August 2 approaches, and, with it, the prospect of making the nation’s creditworthiness walk the plank (see related story, almost anywhere you look), Wall Street “prepares.” Louise Story and Julie Cresswell talk to fund managers around town (and even in Philadelphia), and learn that, for the most part, managers are going to argue for whistlin Dixie. Timothy Sloan, CFO at Wells Fargo, pulls the rug out from under the story with his laconic candor. “Because nobody knows what is going to happen, nobody knows how to prepare,” he said.” Now, if the reporters had only opened with this quote, we’d have known where we were going!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

¶ In her column about the populist downfall of the Murdochs, Maureen Dowd says something more astute than she might know. Testifying before a Parliamentary Committee, she writes, News Corp executives “stuck to a hoary formula for scandals, claiming the cognitive advantage that being on top of the world left them out of touch.” Down in the dumps on the 90th Floor? Not bloody likely! That’s what the intervening 89 floors are for: insulation. The exercise of power at a distance without consequence is what the modern large corporate organization has been designed to accommodate. It never works for very long without significant breakdowns, but with luck you’ve snatched and grabbed your sky’s-the-limit take-home by then. When the headlines are sensational, who can be bothered to translate that “hoary formula” into plain English: “We’re so powerful that we don’t have to know what we’re doing.” Would you give these people your car keys?

Sinking Feeling
Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

¶ Marcus Stephen, the president of Nauru, a very small island in the South Pacific with an anything-but-idyllic recent past, contemplates the similiar futures that larger, better-known polities may be in for as a result of the same man-made processes that are sweeping Nauru’s ocean tides higher and ever higher. He will address the United Nations Security Council today, and urge them to make it impossible to say, as he does in the Times, “Yet the international community has not begun to prepare for the strain they will put on humanitarian organizations or their implications for political stability around the world.”

Monday, 18 July 2011

Monday, July 18th, 2011

¶ News that President Obama will nominate Rick Cordray and not Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which Ms Warren more or less invented, is the latest example of White House expertise at pleasing nobody. The Senate is apparently no more likely to confirm Mr Cordray, an activist former attorney general of Ohio who has worked well with Ms Warren, who, for her part, gallantly supports her colleague. What’s the difference? Binyamin Appelbaum writes that Ms Warren’s “independent streak and her outspokenness … put her at odds with the administration.” Maybe that’s another way of saying that, like the President, Mr Cordray is a Midwesterner, if you know what we mean by that.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Friday, July 15th, 2011

¶ Now that the resignation of Rebekah Brooks has been accepted by Rupert Murdoch (finally!), we’re trying to figure what’s next. Will the outrage over hacking the phones of ordinary people work itself out in a determination by the British government that Mr Murdoch is not “fit and proper” to run his media empire? Or will attention shift, more problematically, to an investigation into collusion by the police? When the history books are written, will the wreck of News Corp International make up the opening chapter, or constitute the entire story? Will the arrest of Neil Wallis, an editor/publicist who “appears to have unusually close ties to top officers at the Metropolitan Police Service,” come at the end or the beginning?

Bastille Day 2011

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

¶ The assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, one of Hamid Karzai’s six brothers, has dealt the Afghan president a body blow at a very inconvenient time, to say the least.  Alissa Rubin writes, “Without his brother, who gave the president the assurance that he could count on the political and economic backing of at least a quarter of the country — the south — Mr. Karzai’s government appears increasingly adrift.” Her report goes on to catalogue the very serious problems — a blizzard of election fraud and impeachment charges fluryying between the president and Parliament, and the corruption-induced failure of the major banks — that make Taliban-style austerity look functional, however undesirable.

Above Politics
Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

¶ We have been thinking about Zahi Hawass lately. He has been Egypt’s peppery and grandstand-prone minister of antiquities for some time now — meaning, during the Mubarak régime — and we’re not surprised to see that he remains tenaciously in office. (What we didn’t know is that he has licensed a line of clothing that features his ageing Indiana Jones style.) Will guilt by association put an end to his autocracy? Or will — much the same thing — public weariness force his retirement? Mr Hawass claims that, because he is appointed, not elected, “the question of public support is not relevant to my position.” Perhaps he has been breathing too much of the bad air in the pharoahs’ tombs.

In a State
Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

¶ William Yardley writes about the closing of the Washington State tourism office, and explains that the state’s name has been a problem ever since 1853, when lawmakers were concerned that Columbia would cause confusion with the federal capital. You can’t make this stuff up! ¶ Michael Powell writes about politics in New Jersey, which we already knew to be screwed up, but still. He uses the term “purely medieval“ in a sense different from the one in which we apply it to American politics; we see the Middle Ages as a time of weak central power and the corresponding proliferation of small but obstinate jurisdictions; to Mr Powell, it means — well, we think that the word that he wants is “Renaissance.”

War on Murdoch
Monday, 11 July 2011

Monday, July 11th, 2011

¶ We’re cheered to read that Labour Party leader Ed Milliband has “declared war on Rupert Murdoch.” The easy winner of any right-minded person’s Most Loathsome Human prize, Mr Murdoch is all that holds us back from full-throated opposition to the death penalty.

Mr Murdoch is of course not responsible for the expansion of his evil media empire. That is the doing of dozens cowed politicians and regulators and millions of heedless “consumers.” That’s why he will embody, long after he is gone, a failure of democracy nearly as malignant as Germany’s Nazi misadventure.

Birth of a Nation
Friday, 8 July 2011

Friday, July 8th, 2011

¶ Jeffrey Gettleman writes about the inauguration of Africa’s 54th country, South Sudan, from its capital city, Juba. One can only wish that South Sudan’s sovereign chances were better: the new nation, facing serious internal divisions as well as the long-standing enmity of the North, must spend more on security than on social services. Even the bright side — lots of oil — is not, given oil’s history elsewhere, very bright. We freely admit that this would be just another news story to us were it not for the indelible impact of Dave Eggers’s novelization of the experience of Valentino Achak Deng, What Is the What. That book made South Sudan an intensely distinct part of our world. (Another book that did the same for another, hitherto off-the-map part of the world is Thomas Goltz’s riveting Azerbaijan Diary.) 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

¶ Although the story is ongoing and long from over, the embarrassment of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire by further discoveries of News of the the World phone hacking — more disgusting than the first round in that celebrities and royals have been replaced by the victims of violent crimes and their families — appears to be reaching a possibly critical turn. The real issue for Murdoch & Co is full ownership of Sky Broadcasting, which may be blocked by Parliamentary outrage. (It ought to be blocked for any number of better reasons.) The Conservative-led coalition may be at risk as well, because Prime Minister David Cameron is a personal friend of Rebekah Brooks, the former NotW who may be forced to fall on her sword. Mr Cameron is also a beneficiary of Murdoch support for all things (w)r(o)i(n)ght. The irony is that Murdoch’s print publications contribute very little to his empire’s bottom line.

Attention Deficits
Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

¶ David Leonhardt examines the annoying habit that business groups have of calling for deficit reduction while espousing tax policies that would continue the bloat. Abundant supplies of (virtual) earwax must be helpful: “When I ask roundtable officials and other lobbyists about this contradiction, they show an impressive ability to avoid specifics and stick to their talking points.” ¶ Steven Davidoff defends Silver Lake — the private equity outfit that Felix Salmon has branded as “evil” — and insists that former Skype employee Yee Lee ought to have been more diligent about nailing down the specifics of his options. We’d like to see a deficit reduction program that nullified private equity’s appeal.

Budget Gaps and Gap Years
Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

¶ The budget problems of Wilmington, North Carolina, according to a discouraging story by Kevin Sack in this morning’s paper, are slow-mo rather than catastrophic, so perhaps city leaders and others will have the leisure to reflect on how affairs might be managed differently, specifically by channeling the currently dissipated reserves of post-adolescent labor — superfluous to the private sector — into temporary public service. Mr Sack is to be commended for articulating the relationship between this story’s many moving parts.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Friday, July 1st, 2011

¶ If we were inclined to entertain conspiracy theories, we would find it velly intellesting that the prosecution of Daniel Strauss-Kahn “collapsed” within a day or so of Christine Lagarde’s installation as his successor at the IMF. But we’re delighted that she’s got the job, so we’re taking no further notice of odd coinkidinks. We attribute the delay in annoucning that the allegedly assaulted housekeeper’s credibility has all but evaporated to the understandable difficulty of calculating just how how many cubic feet her incarcerated colleague’s 400 pounds of marijuana would fill without accidentally-on-purpose striking a match and succumbing to morbid petrifaction.