The Talking Dog

November 30, 2011, Fundamentals schmundamentals

Another day, another central banking gimmick (in this case, a proposal to puportedly ease central bank borrowing in U.S. dollars) and another central bank-induced goosing of markets, in this case, nearly a 500 point rise in the DJIA. Supposedly, this will "ease" the European banking crisis. Or, more likely, simply kick the inexorable financial disaster... to some time next year. And of course, when Europe goes... don't think we'll be unaffected.

But hey... this is what governments, and central banks, and Wall Street banks, all of whom work for the same team... the Wall Street banks... do. While the reality for we of "the 99%" (and the term remains in vogue, even as our internal military police crack down on the Occupy movement for having the audacity to call out the unholy alliance between financial power and brutal state power) involves scraping by, with no participation in "the markets" (save perhaps for money trapped in 401k plans, IRAs, etc.)... politicians, and central bankers, still believe that "the market" (specifically the Dow Jones Industrial Average) is a surrogate for "the economy"... and hence, the need to continue to juice it in order to justify their own existences, even as the "real economy" continues to go nowhere while it generates declining employment, increasing environmental damage, ever-higher debt all around, ever unhealthier people, and of course, record government deficits (notwithstanding continued record high corporate profits which cannot be taxed, lest, you know, we torment our beloved rich people in any way... they might, you know, make the magic stop or something...).

My advice to anyone considering "investing" in publicly traded assets right now is... "run for the hills". Or maybe, find some nice farmland (with access to water)... and buy that. The economy is being managed by morons, cretins, incompetents and crooks... and I'm not sure that the crooks are even the worst of that lot anymore.

But what we are seeing is not reflective of economic health... or any other kind of health. This has been... "fundamentals schmundamentals."

November 24, 2011, Happy Thanksgiving

Rationally, we should make today a day of national fasting and somber spiritual reflection... a recognition that our status, at least collectively (though less and less so as individuals) as the world's richest nation (and in resource depletion and waste, we are, to be sure, NUMBER ONE! AMERICA, FUCK YEAHHHHH!!!!)... has attached to it, some, you know, responsibility. As if.

And so, instead, the Thanksgiving Holiday now serves as an excuse for gluttony, in a country where something like the majority of our population is overweight, with huge numbers actually obese, and of course, today is the precursor-day to "Black Friday," an opportunity for a populace already drowning in cheap, low-quality consumer goods from China... to acquire some more (preferably using debt). And we have parades (usually sponsored by highly endangered enterprises known as "retailers"), football games (our national salute to the twin virtues of sport-featuring-military-style-body-armor-with-millitary-tactics-and-terminology and manliness in general... notwithstanding unfortunate allusions to the whole Penn State thing)... and of course, general self-satisfaction... even as the holiday itself takes its toll in killing us (not to mention destroying our spirits, of course).

But I come not to praise Caesar but to bury him... or something. Where was I? Oh yes... the Thanksgiving Holiday is just the perfect timing for an "out-of-nowhere" suggestion that the United States officially resume torturing our captive prisoners of war, sayeth young Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Ayotte has suddenly been touted as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney; no pandering to early-primary-state New Hampshire there, of course.

But doesn't it figure? Newt Gingrich has picked up support among Republicans for advocating child labor. Police officers now think nothing of billy-clubbing, kicking, or pepper spraying White people (tasers make for much less dramatic video footage... just saying). Wealth and income disparity are at Marie Antoinette levels... "The 99%" has finally been mobilized and actually has taken to the streets...
And so the most compelling issue facing America is, of course, human carbon emissions at record levels, pretty much assuring crazy weather, devastated agriculture, droughts, ocean rises and other horrors ... the fact that some foreign prisoner somewhere hasn't been tortured enough.

There's a certain... immaturity in what passes for the national discourse. I say what passes, because the Gingrich thing above has convinced me that we are no longer in an era of mere "engineered consent"... but that the entire "process" of discourse has been captured. In other words, there is now almost a perfect feedback loop between what our betters who own the media outlets tell us that we think... and our seeing it duly repeated back to us (often in the form of "man in the street interviews") on those very same media outlets..., without any unfortunate "thinking" going on in between. In other words, the perfecting of the so-called "human microphone" of the OWS movement on its mass-media globalized scale. In my present example, this means that actual people (even most actual Republicans) think Newt "orphanages and child labor" Gingrich is what he is: articulate perhaps, but nonetheless a monster, and probably clinically insane at that. But there's no way to know it from the media accounts, because "the people" the media shows us, if they really exist in some unpaid form, which they do not, tell us otherwise. Lather, rinse, repeat... and the needle just keeps getting pushed further and further into "insane," until, of course, the real people in the street really do actually believe the crazy shit they are told to believe (enough times) by the powerful.

Just one more thing to be thankful about.

November 19, 2011, Perspective

What Michael Berube said. Michael, of course, as the Paterno Family Chair holder in English at Penn State, has a unique perspective on the unfolding tragedy.

Perhaps the gravest crisis we as members of a society are now in is the utter collapse of trust in just about everything, particularly because of the integrity-failure of otherwise long-trusted institutions, be they things like faith in the integrity of the commodities/futures industry, now probably forever shattered by loathsome scumbag Jon Corzine and the MF Global fiasco, the breakdown of trust in virtually all other financial and governmental institutions now energizing the "Occupy" movements (around the world), or now, even a breakdown in trust of the most venerated institution in American sport (until this month, that is), Joe Paterno, the winningest football coach in college football history, an icon of academic integrity, and all that is right with American college sport... and, alas, evidently, a facilitator for a serial pederast.

I would quickly juxtapose all of this with some brilliant observations by Charles Hugh Smith on how endless official lies to hide just how bad things economic/financial are... make them worse and inevitably, disastrous, and by Dmitry Orlov, noting similar tricks to keep the game going. Given the predilections of the powerful to "make our own reality"... none of this is terribly surprising anymore.

A lot of this is some fascinating "meta-engineering" going on: we have been "trained" to doubt things of which we should be certain (such as, oh, that tax cuts will decrease government revenue and increase deficits and probably ultimately be bad for everyone not themselves receiving most of the tax cuts, or that industrial civilization has led directly to global warming and climate change with dangerous consequences, or even that cigarette smoking causes cancer), but nonetheless, are trained to believe in nonsense (such as the justness of our nation's military adventures, the virtuousness of our super-rich predator class or that it is sensible to acquire six figures of non-dischargeable educational debt to obtain a managerial class career in a society no longer capable of generating such positions). Still... we had bedrock faith in some things. We did.

Like Joe Paterno, of course. And so, the unbelievably horrible revelations coming out of that direction, coming as they do in a seemingly "revolutionary" moment (my classmate Barack after all promised to be a "change" agent... not necessarily by implementing more draconian policies than his Republican counterparts)... just magnifies the point: there is simply no reason to have blind faith in ANY of the underlying "foundation" institutions underlying our (apparent) social order.

Maybe we'll come out of this with a healthier, more grounded sense of "reality"... based on the sort of demonstrable facts that I, as a lawyer, am obliged to come up with to "prove my point" in a courtroom... maybe, for a change, that's not such a terrible paradigm for everything... "trust but verify"... every belief will be, as it should, in some sense, "provisional"... kind of like "what Michael Berube said"... back when I interviewed him on this blog.

As Candace always reminds me... "hope dies last."

November 18, 2011, Go figure

It seems that Lord Mayor Mike Bloomberg's girlfriend Diana L. Taylor just happens to sit on the Board of Directors of Brookfield Properties, the "owner" of Liberty Plaza Zuccotti Park. Amusingly, the original date for "eviction" of October 14th was before thirty days of occupancy and, you know, the requirement for actual judicial process would have attached.

Funny all that.

November 17, 2011, Another day in the big city

The OWS movement marked two months today with an impressive array of protests, including over 200 arrests in New York City alone. For a fascinating "gestalt" view, Sandy Krolick hits it out of the park, by observing among quite a few other things that the genius of the movement to date has been its utter refusal to express banal demands of any kind, and its refusal to even negotiate with a dehumanizing system... Efforts to pin an agenda on the movement have thus far at least, failed. May they continue to do so.

Of course, in pondering the "eviction" from Liberty Plaza Zuccotti Park the other night, I asked myself, "Hey, TD... doesn't New York have a law that if someone is in possession of real estate for more than 30-days, they may only be removed by lawful JUDICIAL PROCESS?" What about New York City Administrative Code 26-521, providing that someone in your place (even without paying rent, or without being wanted) for more than 30-days can only be evicted by judicial process, and not be force or threat of force? What about New York's Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law Section 853, providing triple damages to those wrongfully evicted? Yes, arguably these provisions only apply to "dwelling units"... but it seems to me that some of the OWSers were "dwelling" in their comfy tents for more than 30-days... and yet, no legal process was even sought... we may be in wrongful eviction land, and a certain billionaire might be personally responsible for triple damages (such as trashed books, computers, camping equipment, etc.) Just saying. [BTW... I happen to know some of the counsel who argued on behalf of OWS... it's a small world, after all...] I won't even talk about ridiculous concepts like 1st Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly or 5th and 14th Amendment DUE PROCESS OF LAW... I mean, wtf, right?

One of the major [thankfully unstated, but we know it to be so] grievances of the OWSers is the absurd unfairness of our multi-tiered justice system, where the powerful (and especially the rich) aren't bound by "procedural" requirements... but everyone else is... and harshly! And hence, when we see the Mighty City, acting at the service of its most powerful industry, blithely violating "procedural" requirements itself... well, you see my point. This is one of the things I've always found so galling about the whole GTMO thing (besides, you know, the arbitrary imprisonment and torture of overwhelmingly innocent human beings for no God damned good reason)... it's that, people like me always believed that there were rules, and that those rules were NOT OPTIONAL. But now, of course, we have a President [my own college classmate no less] that, aside from making GTMO [and the Bush tax cuts] PERMANENT, sees fit to order hits on citizen and "terrorist" alike... but tells us that banking sector figures technically violated no laws, and hence, are untouchable. Certainly not by a "Justice Department" led by Eric "Harpo" Holder, who has never apparently seen a financial crime he could prosecute. Really? Seems to me like something else entirely is going on... maybe if OBL or al-Awlaki had gotten themselves hedge funds or jobs at Goldman Sachs... they'd be treated, you know, differently.

And finally, it seems, I'm not the only one who seems to feel this way... and that something is fundamentally rotten about all of this... not merely the income and wealth distribution that is among the most egregiously skewed toward the top in the world... but something... fundamentally unjust... It's not the harshness with which the bottom is treated that gets Americans' goats... it's the existence of the "above-the-law" class [and then their rubbing their status in our faces]... like the dandies who bought themselves out of Civil War Service in the 1860's... the ability of the rich and powerufl to buy themselves out of civic responsibility... is about as galling as it gets to Americans' [vestigial] sense of fair play.

And so it seems... the awakening might be on. MAYBE this one will be different... and people won't go back to sleep... even as World War III, or this season's realithy t.v. schedule, or some other diversion is planned to get the rubes back in line. Maybe this time they won't go quietly. Candace, channeling Studs, would tell me, "Hope dies last."

November 15, 2011, The stuff that police state dreams are made on

All hail the conquering hero, Mike Bloomberg and his now-deployed-as-mercenaries-for-the-banking-sector New York Police Department, for their daring middle-of-the-night-raid to roust and evict Occupy Wall Street from Liberty Plaza Zuccotti Park. I confess that amidst my seasonal-never-ending-cold induced insomnia, I was actually thinking about heading over to my office (yes, it's across the street from OWS, conveniently located at the center of everything between the NY Stock Exchange, NY Fed, and WTC construction site) to look at (and maybe even participate in) the mirth and merriment that a middle of the night Move On.Org e-mail advised me was underway... in this case, fatigue made cowards of us all...

Well then. One in the morning. To minimize press coverage and images "neighborhood disruption." This is how genuinely ashamed of themselves autocratic regimes operate; Assad's Syria would be much more transparent in its overreaching and brutality. Of course, it faces off with protestors hell-bent on regime change, as opposed to the demand-less, meditative OWS, which seemed to be about consciousness... but as I've said before, money won't even tolerate being shamed.

While the still fat and self-delusional "get-off-my-lawn" (and you young people continue your serfdom so that I can play golf on MY social security) crowd applauds the eviction of the dirty hippies, sensible people point out that any overreaction thus far has only led to the movement's building... and building... In this case, possibly many times over, quite possibly to a venue much larger and better located toward the actual Wall Street captains of finance (that would be in Mid-town).

The plutocracy might be careful what it wishes for; it might find "shaming" just a little less draconian than some of its alternatives.

November 7, 2011, Keep it simple, students

I'm pretty much at a loss for words viz. world events, legal events, economic events, or pretty much anything macro in nature. We are already at the front end of the effects of man-made climate change (snowstorms in October from which thousands are still without power coming less than two months after Hurricane Irene did the same thing, up against God knows what's coming this winter... Texas and Oklahoma suffering insane droughts of dust-bowl magnitude), deficits galore but both "revenue increases" and "entitlement reform" both utterly unthinkable (my headline: "super-committee succumbs to super-rich and super-annuated"), the usually more sensible Europeans (certainly in how they live their lives) facing monetary chaos from Grecian Formula Financial Apocalypse, and back here, my Columbia '83 college classmate, Barack Obama, the glib and articulate, but otherwise-nothing-to-recommend-him "Democrat"... governs from well to the right of Reagan (and in many cases, to the right of George W. Bush). And hence, the poor bastards at GTMO ain't gettin' out, the economy remains moribund, and "occupy" has taken hold of far more places than just the non-descript privately owned public square across the street from my office (a co-worker reported an Occupy Poughkeepsie movement) and we all know about Oakland, etc., etc....

Oh... and Jon "Such a Scumbag that even Goldman Sachs Got Rid of Him and New Jersey voted for a fat Republican instead of him" Corzine left the aptly named "MF Global" under, ahem, a cloud. Naturally, Corzine was being touted as the next Treasury Secretary. One suspects that he, like the rest of the financial class, is simply above the law, and even if investigations were to show that he-- HE PERSONALLY-- committed the outrageous theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in customer money-- Eric "I never met a banker I could prosecute" Holder would still likely do... nothing.

It's times like these, we need to reach inside for inner strength, or in my case... run another marathon, in this case, my eleventh consecutive ING New York City Marathon. Starting with a fleeter-than-I co-worker (who was celebrating her 34th birthday), the first 10-K or so was handled at an 11-minute pace, after which she dropped me to finish 51 minutes ahead of me. After that, the incessant crowds (a record 47,000+ runners), a pleasant but still chilly day, and most importantly, the effect of no long runs since Yonkers (in mid-September) took their toll, and I finished in just over 6 hours (including 5 or 6 miles in Manhattan and the Bronx balancing a Gatorade bottle on my head... and I discovered that I wasn't moving any slower with the bottle there than I was just carrying it... and then a "joggler" (running while juggling) and a man in a chicken suit ran by....)

Anyway, other than suffering from an interminable cold (or is it allergies)... I feel great... I look forward to the 26.2 mile mardi gras that the NYC has become every year, and, year in, year out, I use it as my main excuse to remain active (though I could use to be even more active... as could most of you!)

OK... I confess: blogging has become difficult if one can't, or in my case, don't want to, pontificate with either complaints or policy prescriptives about the macro... especially of the left/right kabuki narrative constructed to keep us occupied (as it were!) But I think it's going to be more productive to confine ourselves to the micro... set about developing crucial survival skills (basic carpentry, cooking, perhaps growing or gathering (hunting and fishing could be helpful), bicycle repair, sewing... and of course, making friends). And of course, keeping our physical and mental health as sound as possible... God knows our countrymen are hellbent on not doing that... but I think you'll be happier if you did. Maybe reconcile with long-lost loved ones of all kinds... because, to quote George W. Bush about our whole gestalt-- the economy, our garrison state, possibly our social order-- "this sucker's going down."

Best be prepared-- even if the laws of nature and the universe can be suspended indefinitely, and somehow our society of SUVs and McMansions and student loans and jumbo mortgages and outsourced everything can go on forever-- learning those sorts of "useful skills" is still fun and rewarding, and indeed, will help fill the missing voids that an everything-is-about-money-system, based as it is on impersonal transactions, just never can. (Just in case you were wondering why our modern life seems so much less rich and satisfying than the lives of your grandparents, even if their lives lacked i-phones.)