Monday, February 6th, 2012
17

Dick Joke

Oh dear, here we go again: “Wall Street is a meritocracy, for the most part,” an irate but of course unnamed onetime Citigroup executive confides to junior father confessor Gabriel Sherman in this week’s hallucinatory New York magazine cover story, “The Emasculation of Wall Street.” “If someone has a bonus, it’s because they’ve created value for their institution.”

In the jumpy, suggestible universe of Gabe Sherman, Wall Street sleuth, things really are that simple: The beleaguered financial overclass creates value, in a rationally ordered system of maximally awarded talent. And the clueless public sector, intoxicated on post-meltdown regulatory prerogative, meddles with the primal forces of nature, skews executive [...]

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6

What Can Confession Mean Now?

The determined forays of hallowed Western faith traditions into the digital-media world rarely produce a non-embarrassing outcome. There are your teen-themed “Bible-zine” translations. There are your evangelical trade shows. There are your media churches. But the recent news that the Catholic Church was launching a quasi-official confession app on the iPhone was something else again—and not just because it got snapped up in the related Maureen Dowd column-generating software.

To be fair, the app—the brainchild of a pair of entrepreneurial Indiana-based Catholic brothers, Patrick and Chip Leinen—is not designed to supplant the traditional rite of confession, spoken in anonymity to a real-life [...]

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20

How Sarah Palin Tortures the Bible

With her usual vacuous brio, Sarah Palin has seized another news cycle, using an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network to attack the Obama administration for failing to do, well, something she’d vaguely like to be done about the political crisis in Egypt. The half-term former Alaska governor assailed White House diplomacy hands for withholding reliable information about the nature of the protests and for their inability to clearly telegraph the next moves the United States will pursue in the suddenly unstable Middle East. The potential risks, she warned, are dire indeed. Washington urgently needs to determine just “who it will be that fills now the void in [...]

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12

Americans Get Hysterical: Oh No, a New Radical Muslim Egypt!

There are countless reasons that the makers of U.S. policy have been caught flatfooted by the uprising in Egypt. As is often the case in human affairs, the most compelling reason is also the basest: We spend $1.2 billion in Egypt to provide “security” and support for U.S. interests in the Middle East—and all that money buys both parties the privilege of looking the other way as the sclerotic Mubarak regime grew more unresponsive to a restive democratic oppostion.

In broader terms, however, American leaders are puzzled by the uprising because so far it has failed utterly to conform to the “Clash of Civilizations” playbook. That is to say, [...]

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12

For Your Own Good: Chipping Away at 'Roe'

The Supreme Court’s historic Roe v. Wade decision turned 38 last week, and regardless of one’s ultimate view of the issue, the legal right to abortion on demand is clearly in the throes an awkward middle age.

This year’s Roe anniversary coincides with the indictment of Philadelphia abortion provider Kermit Gosnell on eight counts of murder. Gosnell appears to have been the sort of unscrupulous abortion mill operator you’d find in a Jack Chick comic—an answer to the many fervid prayers of pro-life activists keen to make the public abortion understand as murder in the most brutal and forceful terms. When state inspectors suspended his license and closed [...]

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21

The Growth of a Pentecostal Congress

It’s hard to say in what, exactly, our elected representatives believe. Oh, this Congress got all sorts of attention for running, and winning, on a tea partyish platform of ideological purity, but when it comes to belief belief—in the cosmic stuff, last things and first scriptural principles—they’re a distinctly squishy bunch.

They are, like the country they represent, majority Protestant, according to a new study by the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life. But as is the case with the country’s broader Protestant profile, it’s hard to say what, beyond a general feel-good affinity for Jesus, that faith entails. Not surprisingly, the 112th Congress includes stronger [...]

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14

Long Distance Projection: Believers Making Sense of Jared Lee Loughner

Truly senseless acts make for poor sloganeering. Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman who killed six people at a Tucson congressional town meeting, while gravely wounding his apparent target, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, seems to have been not at all working from any traditional set of motivations. His now-infamous cache of YouTube videos throws around theories of a new currency and the illegitimate seizure of private property, together with a barely intelligible discussion of himself as a terrorist. He also announced plans to introduce a new number and letter to the alphabet, both represented as bursts of incoherent scribbling—a fair depiction, it seems, of the thought process involved in producing [...]

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5

The Roberts Court: Five Easy Pro-Business Terms

In the passing convulsions of partisan government, it’s easy for our corporate lieges to depict themselves as victims. There’s always some legislative push, or Congressional leader, to bedeck with alarmist rhetoric about the “tax-and-spend” set in Washington—even as these same clever professional victims harness the supine Congress to tamp down the estate tax, extend regressive tax cuts and ensure that the regulatory state keeps weighing the financial industry’s various roulette wheels in the house’s favor.

But behind the all the public inveighing over the wild-eyed excesses of our Jacobin Congress and (more laughably still) an "anti-business" White House, our business chieftains are, true to management form, pursuing [...]

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8

The Secretive Men of ICE

Apart from the sinister specter of socialism, the most common complaint raised against increased federal oversight of our financial markets is that it empowers aloof bureaucrats to “pick winners and losers” on Wall Street, and therefore defiles the essence of free-market competition.

But as Louise Story makes clear in a New York Times dispatch from the arcane battles over disclosures in the derivatives market, the real reason that investment banks resent government intrusion is that is too much, rather than too little, competition. They believe that picking winners and losers is clearly their job. Storey gamely tries to report on the doings of a nine-member conclave of New [...]

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6

The Privatization of Water

Who says wealth doesn’t trickle down? As the nation’s redundant masses tremble, Oliver-Twist-style, before the spectacle of a Democratic-run Congress deciding whether merely to reward quarter-millionaires or the full-scale kind with lavish tax cuts, they might do well to consult the sobering tale of billionaire enclosure of central California’s water supply. It’s hard to see just how the nation’s owning classes will produce additional helpings of gruel (or at least low-wage service-sector jobs) if they’re so deeply averse to spreading around something as essential to agriculture, health and sanitation as water.

This saga, retailed in dogged and gruesome detail by Alternet’s John Gibler, concerns the enterprising private [...]

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0

Germans Are Making Brand-Slaves of Your Children

It’s that magical time of the year when brand preferences are being lodged in the consumer psyche by any means necessary, be it free online shipping offers or conventional “doorbuster” style shopper stampedes. (Plus, in an admirable show of advance conditioning, there are those sidebar Four Loko-fueled parking lot brawls.)

But the romance of the brand is a notoriously ephemeral thing, as any casual survey of thrift-store Tickle-Me Elmo and Tamagotchi displays will promptly demonstrate. To do the job right, in this as in so many other realms, we would do well to heed the example of the Germans. As Bloomberg’s Chris Reiter reports, Deutschland’s [...]

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19

Our Rich Culture Heroes Are Shilling Perma-Adolescence

The great social prophet in consumer society is the bearer of taste refinement. This is a figure who can assuage our innermost disquiet over the dizzying rounds of having, holding and re-leveraging that make up our economic lives. Sure, we might, from time to time, inspect the great storehouse of disposable junk and value-free financial instruments that sustain the fictions of our pecuniary well-being, and find a still small voice offering variations of the great existential questions “what does it all mean?” or “why bother?” But tastemakers can briskly smooth over our worry-ravaged brows; they realign the often brutal prerogatives of the market with the heaving tremors of the [...]

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16

When They Say "Everyone" Must Sacrifice, They Mean Poor People

There is no spectacle quite so stirring as the pundit swaggering to the bar of public opinion to deliver a good and shrill scolding. So let us tend to the chastisements of Washington Post columnist David Broder—recently heard hailing an invasion of Iran as an economic stimulus measure—as he now urges the stiff medicine of the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction plan on a feckless American public. Broder is, after all, the dean of American political journalists (though I’ve always found this locution puzzling, since so few political journalists actually seem to graduate—and perhaps more to the point, when was the last time anyone reported an actual dean saying anything [...]

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10

The Devaluing of London's Marital Bond Market

While other overclass miscalculations spark bailout after bailout, dissolving alpha-grade marital bonds is a far trickier business. There is, for instance, the matter of shielding your liquid assets from a grasping ex, to say nothing of the messy personal details that tend to come out in bitterly contested divorce proceedings.

Most of all, though, there’s the great preoccupation of the wealthy in every unpleasant public scrape: the question of one’s legacy. That’s the gist of an epic dispatch from the Financial Times’ Jane Croft and Michael Peel, explaining how the once-swinging precincts of elite London have found themselves in a sort of legal limbo, so [...]

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15

Democracy’s Rich Pageant

Happy Election eve, everyone! We’ve already been solemnly instructed on how tomorrow’s vote is a referendum on a poncey New Elitism, the hardy, head-stomping virtues of the Tea Party, and our ever-precarious national sanity. But the 2010 midterms are really the coming-out party for the political bagman class, fortified by the Supreme Court’s 2009 Citizens United decision knocking down the last anemic remnants of campaign finance regulation. With a final infusion of GOP money down the homestretch, this year’s midterms are the most expensive history, clocking in at around $4 billion, outpacing the $3.1 billion price tag for the 2000 presidential cycle, and possibly inching toward [...]

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20

The Fraudulent Case for the Benefits of Wealth Inequality

Americans, having seen the fruits of their productive lives waste away over the past decade in a free-market fantasia, have evidently resorted to the most efficient psychic adjustment on offer. They steadfastly refuse to believe that we live in conditions of dire wealth inequality—while also persisting in the belief that the comparatively level social order of their fond imagining needs to be more equal still. The sheer scale of this fancy calls to mind the epitaph that William Holden delivers for Gloria Swanson’s character in Billy Wilder’s classic study in Hollywood delusion, Sunset Boulevard: “Life, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Norma Desmond. The dream [...]

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3

The Last Mortgage Robo-Barons

For people saddled with unsustainable mortgage payments, foreclosure proceedings come with a heavy emphasis on the "closure" part-since they mean eviction, devastated credit and near-permanent status as a financial pariah. But the purveyors of the fraudulent debt instruments behind the nation's present foreclosure tsunami play, as always, by a different set of rules. For even in managing the wind-down of home loans poisoned by their own special brand of recklessly securitized debt, American banks continue hewing to the same fee-seeking, asset-stripping mode of enterprise that originally jeopardized the U.S. housing market, and much of the broader economy along with it. Now, as then, they've distorted the housing market with [...]

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15

After Goldman Sachs, the Value of Greece, Isle by Isle

The Greek island known variously as Holy Ghost, The Island of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, Holy Trinity, or just plain Trinity, owes its greatest renown, despite its lavish New Testamentish nomenclature, to the cameo role it played in the pagan classical age. This 12-acre slip of an atoll was a staging ground for the Persian armies laying siege to Thermopylae, the famed last stand of those hot, well-oiled Spartan souls hymned by our own latter-day Thucydides, Frank Miller. Now, however, Greek government officials are straining to find a way to convert Holy Ghost, and the nation's 6000 or so other island outcroppings into [...]

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23

The Gold ATM Comes to America

It is, perhaps, the logical sequel to a decade in which Americans were encouraged to use their homes as ATMs: the recent announcement that next month will see the debut of the first gold-dispensing ATMs in the United States. As any casual Glenn Beck viewer will tell you, the gold market is booming; the metal eclipsed the $1,300-an-ounce threshold recently, the highest price it's reached in history. That's nearly double the price it fetched in 2008, and nearly four times its price when the current gold craze took off in the early aughts.

And the appearance of machines dispensing shiny yellow little bars and Krugerrands is, [...]

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7

Reality Television

The eternal, baffling conceit of all television is that it's showing you something real, when, more often than not, it's telling you how to think. This is especially the case now that producers have deranged the very notion of reality into a genre convention all its own. Viewers of the reality genre are expected to double down on the myth of televisual exposure, since reality TV purports to dig deeper into the human drama than mere entertainment fare does.

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