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May 20, 2011

maud newton on the end times

The only thing you should be reading concerning our impending doom this weekend is this piece by Maud Newton, who has a Secret Doctorate in Christian Eschatology.
A confession, one sure to enrage fervid atheists: though I don't expect the End of the World to be set in motion this Saturday night, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it were. Fatalism comes easy when you grew up bracing for the apocalypse, being told that that, sometime very soon, probably next year but possibly tomorrow morning, a fiery mountain would fall into the sea, the oceans would turn to blood and then the moon would, and soon after that a third of all living things on the earth would die. Never mind homework, forget the boy you had a crush on, it would be best to turn down the lead role in the school musical, for there was no time to waste. Jesus could return at any moment, that was the crucial thing, and it was our duty to spread the word. Also, to repent, because if you hadn't been forgiven for every sin you'd ever committed, no matter how tiny, even if you didn't know it was a sin, you'd be regrettably yet decisively Left Behind. Rapture Readiness is a hilarious cliche in the popular culture now, but it's no joke when you live it. I can’t tell you how many nights I lay awake, obsessively begging the Lord for forgiveness, at the age of eight.

Hey, I did that too!  Well, actually it was more like a state of perpetual dread as I would work out and rework the odds of all this stuff being actually true.  There were some particularly lurid tracts being handed out in the late 70s and the early 80s about how the planets would align and the moon would turn to blood and all that fun stuff.  And I was definitely a believer back then, but was starting to get pinged with the more outrageous possibilities (i.e., the magicky stuff) contemplated in the End Times hoo-ha.  But it all turned out for the best!

Back to Maud: her piece is about all kinds of things above and in addition to what may or may not happen this weekend, including Maud's own personal ancestry, which is always a fascinating read.  Maud has as firm an understanding of exactly whose shoulders she's standing on of anyone I know (and anyone I read).

The reason I say that this is the only thing you should read is that it's only a couple of hours until the end of the world and you probably only have time to read one.  So read Maud's.  I can vouch for it.  (Though if you find the time for one more, how about this one?, he said coyly.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:27 AM

the show is called repo games

There is a new piece by me up at The Awl as of yesterday that will be of interest to all of you who watch a lot of reality television.  Of course, the instinct is to assume that I'm being ironic, asserting something clearly untrue for the purposes of comedic dissonance.  This is not the case.  I know that some of you are fans of the format, just like my beautiful wife is.

Chances are you are not fans, however, of the particular show that I write about, which takes class issues, namely poverty, and makes a game show out of it.  For The Awl I try to be circumspect and grown-up and avoid cuss-word laden rants, so for the purpose of not stepping on my own feet I will not write down what I really think about the show in question.

I hope you are having an awesome Friday.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:18 AM

May 19, 2011

vikram pandit's very good day

I am concerned that we are becoming inured to the concept of scandalous compensation schemes.

Case in point: yesterday Citibank CEO Vikrim Pandit was awarded a "retention" compensation package that could range from $26 million to $42 million.  I put retention in quotes because that's the term of art used to indicate that this pile of lucre will be in addition to the compensation that Pandit would ordinarily earn (i.e., salary and bonuses).  So it's not just an awful lotta cabbage, it's an awful lotta cabbage in addition to the cabbage he's already getting.

But who in the executive suites on the Street is not getting that much?  And $26mm?  That's supposed to be a number that's scary?  Hedge fund managers get that for picking their nose.  So yes, our outrage may be a little worn down.  Maybe we're just tired of talking about it?  Maybe it's just a fight that we're giving up?

Well it's not a fight I'm giving up, so here is a useful analogy that may rekindle the hate you used to have in your heart for these megacapitalists that do nothing but extract all the useful wealth out there and keep it for their private planes and fourth mistresses.

Let's assume the lower range ($26mm), in the spirit of generosity.  Now take your everyday teacher, who is (no matter what the Gov. Scott Walkers of the world may say) the salt of the earth and what makes the future work.  Let's say they make $60,000 a year.  I think that's on the high end for a young teacher, and maybe a bit low for a 20-year teacher.  How long would it take for this teacher to earn Pandit's retention bonus?  433 years.

Obviously there are going to be disparities in income amongst us all.  The professional athlete and the movie star are both a bit of a vexing problem, but why should they not participate robustly in the profits made off them?  Pandit runs a company that only exists today because it took $50 billion from taxpayers and had the government guarantee $300 billion worth of bad debts.  Where in that sordid story is anything worth rewarding an executive with what would take the rest of us 433 years to earn?

Even better: Pandit has waived his salary for the past two years as he "shepherded" Citi through the troubled waters of free fucking piles of money from the government.  It was a popular move; it happened back when there was still outrage, and it seemed a bit of a fall on the sword.  But with this "retention" package of 433 years worth of pay, it gives rise to the appearance that the fix was in, doesn't it?

Maybe we are a bit tired of this, but I'd expect that the shareholders of Citi would have reason not to be.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM

May 18, 2011

newt gingrich is too easy to write about

Here's the funny thing about the quote, "I don't care what the newspapers say about me, as long as they spell my name right." — nobody can figure out who said it.  It's been attributed to P.T. Barnum, Mae West, George Cohan and even Will Rogers.  Most like, all of them have said it at one point in time, and the first of them to say probably repeated it from someone else.

Someone who is not saying this is Newt Gingrich, who has decided that no amount of walking back is sufficient walking back for when last Sunday he called the Ryan Medicare plan "social engineering".  In fact, he has made the blanket assertion that, "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate."

Now being that the name of this blog is Titivil, I'm going to claim a passing familiarity with carelessly spoken words.  And if Gingrich's statement on Meet The Press was a slip of the tongue, then I am Humphrey Bogart.  Gingrich has been a politician for thirty years and has appeared on MTP thirty-five times.  In fact, Gingrich is so much the politician that nothing he says is ever inadvertent.

But even if it was, the hypocrisy of being the first person in a profession that habitually and exuberantly uses opponents words against them, whether careless or not, to claim a one-time exemption from this practice is nearly as brazen as trying to impeach a president for a blowjob while cheating on your (second) wife with a staffer.

In a way, it's a case of someone asserting that he is in fact entitled to his own facts.

True, Gingrich is an unserious, mendacious, walking punchline, but if he wants to make it at least to drop out after Iowa or South Carolina he needs to stop being so whiningly pathetic.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:46 AM

May 17, 2011

the banks: other shoe dropping?

I'm not sure if there is a causal relationship in this (but since when did the Zeitgeist ever care about anything like causal relationships), but here is the order of events of the past seven days.

Last week Rolling Stone runs the latest Matt Taibbi story, which leads with:

They weren't murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers, in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.

This is just the latest expression of outrage that the actions of the financial services industry (the subject of Taibbi's piece is Goldman Sachs), clearly sketchy and arguably illegal and resulting in a crisis that nearly sank the global economy, should be criminally prosecuted.  And Taibbi strengthens his case with this most recent piece.  I'm not even going to bother with the standard "Taibbi is a divisive figure" rigamarole; just read it.

And then last night the Huffington Post reports that Department of Housing and Urban Development audits that accuse five banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, of filing false claims with HUD concerning defective foreclosures — the robosigning and other fraudulent practices The Banks used to speed foreclosures.  These charges have been referred to the Department of Justice (where they will most likely wither and die without any public pressure).

And finally this morning the NYT runs an exclusive that the Attorney General of New York State, Eric Schneiderman, is actively investigating Goldman, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley concerning their practices leading up to the mortgage crisis.  This is no guarantee that there will be indictments — Andrew Cuomo investigated when he was AG and filed no charges — but at least someone is thinking about it.  Further, the AGs of numerous states are currently negotiating with The Banks concerning some sort of settlement over the the mortgage crisis, which settlement is now imperiled:

By opening a new inquiry into bank practices, Mr. Schneiderman has indicated his unwillingness to accept one of the settlement’s terms proposed by financial institutions — that is, a broad agreement by regulators not to conduct additional investigations into the banks’ activities during the mortgage crisis. Mr. Schneiderman has said in recent weeks that signing such a release was unacceptable.

This is a good thing IMO, as I vastly prefer prosecution to bought immunity.

This is of course a bigger topic than can be covered by a blog post (or even a long and occasional series of blog posts), but The Banks blithely played both sides against the middle, which would be fine but for the fact that one of the sides were their clients, knowing all along that their political influence would not only protect them from prosecution but also fill their coffers with billions of dollars ultimately paid for by the US public.  They deserve to be brought to ground and prosecuted for every law they broke in the commission of this, be it lying to Congress or petty fraudulent generation of fake mortgage documents to lubricate the foreclosure machine.

This is not a class issue; this is not rich v. poor.  This is a small group of bad actors called The Banks that have hoarded capital that could be financing manufacturing or spent on infrastructure and used it to see how many zeros they could put behind their names.

Investigate them.  If they are innocent, then there is nothing to prosecute, is there?

Posted by mrbrent at 12:20 PM

good morning 5.17.11

Many interesting things happened yesterday!

Unfortunately for me, the most interesting thing was the derailment of a work train on the B tracks of the Manhattan Bridge overnight, which made the morning commute into Monster Island one big noodly mess for all of South Brooklyn.  A hundred and five minutes?  Yes, it was a hundred and five minutes.  I coulda watched a whole bad Hollywood movie in that time.

But to keep in perspective, a MTA work car (unknown which make/model is the culprit, but the MTA's work cars/locomotives currently in use were built from 1961 to 1991),riding along the B line, formerly the Brighton Beach line and dating back to the 1910s, derailed while tooling across a bridge first opened to traffic in 1909.

I'm not sure if it's fair to add up the age of all the elements just to make a point, but we're looking at an aggregate of 220 to 270 years of use.  Maybe we should be grateful that these systemic break-downs don't happen more often.

Thankfully, our nation's highway system was just completed last year and is in pristine condition.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:52 AM

May 16, 2011

fraud ny!

There is this radio ad that I heard that is possibly the worst bit of public awareness that I've ever heard.  I've only heard it one, so I'm paraphrasing from memory.

The narrative is that there is the mother of a family who allegedly did not think that the wrong thing that she did was that wrong (whatever the wrong thing is — not specified).  Then we go to the voice of the teenage daughter, telling of all the kids at school are telling her that her mom did a bad thing.  Why did you do it, Mom, the anguished girl asks, does this make her a bad person too?  Finally we get to the reveal, which is an announcer informing us that insurance fraud is a crime, and that the ad was sponsored by the NYAAIF, which can be found, the announcer says, at www.fraudny.com.  (There are other examples of this campaign here, but the spot I heard is not included.)

It's an incredibly shitty ad, premised on the idea that the citizens of NY State can be persuaded not to commit insurance fraud if you appeal to their parenting skills, which is like, say what?  It's difficult to imagine how the kid working in the public relations mail room would greenlight this ad, let alone a presumable executive.

The answer is this — if you check the "What is the NYAAIF?" page, you see this explanation:

The New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud (NYAAIF) was founded in 1999 to assist insurers in complying with New York State Regulation 95, which requires insurance companies to sponsor public awareness programs on insurance fraud.Click here to read the provisions of the regulation that require public outreach.

This Regulation 95 was enacted in the late 90s and covers, as you would guess, insurance fraud, namely obligating insurance policy writers to report suspected fraud, submit to the authority of the NYS Insurance Fraud Bureau and take part in fraud prevention outreach (like the NYAAIF).

So basically, the reason that the commercial is of a quality that insults intelligence is because it's a campaign that is mandated rather than undertaken.  It's community service, but more in the sense of cleaning highway shoulders for twenty consecutive weekends, if you know what I mean.

But as long as it's keeping radio stations afloat (and it's not another debt reduction service spot — fuck that noise), then I'm all for it.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:47 AM

May 15, 2011

a little about me

True story: I was the editor of the high school yearbook, after having absolutely no experience working on the yearbook.  Here's how I did it: I was friends with the majority of the yearbook staff the previous year, when I was a junior.  They opened up applications for the next year, and towards the deadline my friends told me that no one had applied to be editor-in-chief.  Hey, wouldn't it be funny if I applied, just in case no one else does?  It was very funny indeed, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.  We made a good one, though noses were put out of joint, and prior restraint happened once or twice.

All of which is to say, this might be a good time to think about running for president on the Republican ticket.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:23 AM