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Enough about me, what do you think about my new book?

Gore Vidal died.  I read Lincoln a long time ago.  It was pretty good, as historical fiction goes.  Might have even happened like that.

Other than Lincoln, and the fact that he and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy were steprelatives of some sort, I don’t really know much about him.  There are a couple other novels that he wrote that sound interesting to me.  Julian is about the Roman emperor who tried to deconvert the empire from Christianity to paganism, which must have been a rewarding endeavor. Or not.

Anyway, I’m interested in defining moments.  Vidal went seriously off his crackers in the last couple of decades, trying to get into the head of Tim McVeigh.  Good luck with that.  I don’t think Vidal could pull off a Lincolnesque mind meld with McVeigh in any way that I would find compelling enough to read.

However, here’s a juicy encounter Vidal had with Norman Mailer on the Dick Cavett show.  I don’t know who the lady is in this video but I adore her gloves, as if anyone needs to wear gloves on a TV set.  Come to think of it, maybe she was on to something.  Vidal and Mailer exchange insults in a way one doesn’t see on TV anymore as Mailer’s train starts to derail.  And Cavett keeps his cool and composure and then delivers a devastating coup de grace.  He makes Bill Maher look like an amateur.


Diving into a Necker Island pool

And if you have an extra $34,000 sitting around not doing anything useful, you could spend it on a single night on Necker Island, Richard Branson’s private island in the British Virgin Islands.  The Great House burned to a cinder last year after it was struck by lightening during Hurricane Irene.  Not to worry, there are 6 Bali style pavilions and Richard’s private house that he lets out when he’s doing some other fantastic thing billionaires do.  And if your house party spills over, there’s a luxury catamaran called the Necker Belle that can handle the extras.  He also has a 3 seat open sea sub.  Passengers wear SCUBA gear while they glide over the reefs.  It’s an additional $2500 and you must book in advance.

Of course, if you are a personal friend of Richard’s, you can stay for free.  Kate Winslet was there when the house burned down and carried Branson’s 90 year old mother to safety so I’m assuming she’s got her own key now.  The rule is: the more famous you are, the more likely Richard will lend you the island free of charge.  It is now my goal to be the most famous blogger in the world.  I’m sure that I would appreciate the island more than any fee paying rich persons.  *They* only have money.  I have that certain je ne sais quoi and can hold my own at any torch lit dinner party at the beach pavilion.

Friday: I know, I know, you should have voted for Hillary

C’mon, you holdouts, admit it.  You guys are like the damned in Life of Brian that are about to be crucified who keep insisting that it “Could have been worse”.  Really?  It could have been worse or the same with Hillary?  How do continue to believe that and still manage to function in your daily activities?  Oh, sure, Obama keeps hiring former Clinton officials but note that they’re the ones that Hillary avoided during her campaign.  In other words, her husband tried them out and found them wanting.


On with the news:

The mainstream press has finally discovered-  The General Public!  OMG!  We’re like a new species.  Whoa, where did we come from?  And we don’t like the idea of cutting back on entitlements.  Why didn’t someone tell the press about this before??  Because they were, like, totally unaware of this.  THEY’D been operating on the assumption that whatever was going on in the Hamptons was like the very heartland in America.  I mean, doesn’t everyone just helicopter in or get Fabio to blow out their hair in the limo on that long, arduous journey from midtown to Long Island?  Wow, what they’ve been missing.

As President Obama and Congress brace to battle over how to reduce chronic annual budget deficits, Americans overwhelmingly say that in general they prefer cutting government spending to paying higher taxes, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Yet their preference for spending cuts, even in programs that benefit them, dissolves when they are presented with specific options related to Medicareand Social Security, the programs that directly touch the most people and also are the biggest drivers of the government’s projected long-term debt.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans choose higher payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security over reduced benefits in either program. And asked to choose among cuts to Medicare, Social Security or the nation’s third-largest spending program — the military — a majority by a large margin said cut the Pentagon

Well, there you have it, sports fans.  The American people want the pointless and expensive wars to stop.  And they choose cuts to the pentagon by a large margin.  Barry, are you listening?  Because Bush got us into these stupid wars and destabilized parts of the world it seems in a deliberate manner that makes it really tricky to get out of lest the neighbors start fighting with each other and lob nukes over the fences.

I can almost hear Chris Hedges and his Puritan posse winding up to blame Hillary for this.  Wait for it.  You know it’s coming.  Yes, they’ll say, Obama has been a disaster and a disappointment to them, but if the war doesn’t end, it’s all Hillary’s fault.

But in any case, the Democrats can’t say they didn’t know that cutting entitlements was not what the voters wanted.  And while it is above my pay grade to give math lessons, it should be noted that there are significantly more regular, average, everyday Americans who vote than bankers.  I know, the bankers resent this inequity in numbers and try to make up for it in cash but unless the Dems are planning to rig the voting machines, (and who would put it passed them given the way they ran the primaries in 2008?), the voters will have their say.  Some independent candidate could make a KILLING in 2012.  All those votes, just laying their on the table, unclaimed by either party…

This poll renews my faith in the American public.  After several years of the most intense propaganda, bad economic news and unemployment, they’ve managed to see through the smoke and now are fully aware that the rich and well connected are about to rob them blind.  It takes a Democratic president screwing around with social security to finally wake them up.  For this, we can be grateful that Obama is the unsentimental, opportunistic, banker ass kissing schmoozer we said he was.

In the meantime, the rich and well connected are continuing to try to relieve themselves of their obligations in the states, where state employees and teachers, negotiating in good faith for decades, have deferred part of their compensation to pay for their retirements.

Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.

Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.

But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government’s aid.

Declaring bankruptcy is the ONLY way?  What we got here is a failure to imaginate.  How about we tax the people in the state who are making a whole lot of money?  Well, California screwed itself with its silly proposition 13 instead of hiking the income tax on rich people.  I mean, increasing taxes on the wealthy would be the right thing to do since to deprive the employees of their benefits after they’ve been paying into the system for years would be tantamount to breaking a promise to them and sanctioning fraud.  Would YOU want to worf for California and do a good job after that?  You get what you pay for.

And by the way, when did defined benefit plans become so “gold plated” and Unusual?  (Oh, around 1994)  It seems fashionable these days to point to these state employees as some kind of parasites when they’re really just getting what the rest of us used to have as a standard benefits package before that damn 401K got rolled out to everyone as an alternative.  Whose bright idea was that 401K anyway?  I still contend that if you want to save the economy and jobs, cut off the bankers gambling addiction and move back to a social safety net that we can all live with, the powers that be should phase out the 401K.

Speaking of “pension envy”, the public in this recession seems to not be rallying around labor like it did during the Great Depression as this piece in the New Yorker, State of the Unions, explains.

Still, the advantages that union workers enjoy when it comes to pay and benefits are nothing new, while the resentment about these things is. There are a couple of reasons for this. In the past, a sizable percentage of American workers belonged to unions, or had family members who did. Then, too, even people who didn’t belong to unions often reaped some benefit from them, because of what economists call the “threat effect”: in heavily unionized industries, non-union employers had to pay their workers better in order to fend off unionization. Finally, benefits that union members won for themselves—like the eight-hour day, or weekends off—often ended up percolating down to other workers. These days, none of those things are true. Organized labor has been on the wane for decades, to the point where just seven per cent of private-sector workers belong to a union. The benefits that union members still get—like defined-contribution pensions or Cadillac health plans—are out of reach of most workers. And the disappearance of unions from the private sector has radically diminished the threat effect, meaning that unions don’t raise the wages of non-union workers.

Unions have a bad reputation.  But they gave us the weekend.  It looks like this is another battle we have to fight all over again and who knows what regulations Obama is going to want to put on the table to satisfy business?  As Nucky Thomson said in Boardwalk Empire, “You have to decide how much sin you’re willing to live with”  Is a little overreach by the unions worth it if it trickles down to the rest of us non-union people?  What would happen if the newly awakened public had another soylent green moment and showed up at public meetings supporting state employees and teacher’s unions?  How much time would it take to roll back the excesses of movement conservatism?

Following up on the Giffords’ shooting, Hendrik Herzberg has a post in the New Yorker about the connection between Words and Deeds.  He expresses what I have been trying to say beautifully, until the last third of the article where he goes seriously off the rails with effusive and undeserved praise for Obama’s speech in Tucson.  Come on, Hendrik, really?  Let’s compare a couple of presidential speeches that commemorate similar tragedies.

First, the excerpt from Obama’s speech that Hendrik quotes:

I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved life here—they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.

And now, Lincoln at Gettysburg:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The dude just gave the USA Today version of the Gettysburg address at Tucson.  He used a lot more words and a lot less sensibility for the principles of the people he claims to represent.  He didn’t write it on the back of an envelope.  No, some professional speech writer like Jon Favreau wrote that piece of drivel for him.  See the difference?  Ok.  Good.  Can we stop making Obama out to be the reincarnation of a great orator now?

On a positive note, Gabrielle Giffords is making slow but steady recovery and is now using an iPad.  Her next milestone: conquering level 19 of the Angry Birds Christmas Seasonal edition.  Seriously, Gabby, we’re pulling for you.

Filler post: Countdown to 10,000,000!

While we’re waiting for the news…

We’re about 11,000 hits away from 10,000,000, Conflucians!  We should have a party.  Got any ideas?  Post them below.  Mine include: a radio show, cocktail party, fundraiser thingy.

I heard a very interesting podcast from the BBC History magazine for the month of November.  The first part had to do with Lincoln and the issue of slavery that lead to the Civil War.  It will give you a new perspective on Republicans, Democrats, Whigs, and a couple of other parties that were viable at the time, as well as a different take on which party was the one supporting entrepreneurial expansion in the west.  The second part is about the origins of Mischief Night, which, by the way, roughly corresponds to The Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear that Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert are throwing on the National Mall on October 30, 2010.  Coincidence?  Hmmm, I wonder.  Are they planning to soap the windows at the White House and festoon the cherry trees on the mall?  Sounds like fun!  I want to be there.

In case you hadn’t heard, Benoit Mandelbrot, mathematician estraordinaire discoverer of Chaos theory, the Mandelbrot Set and Fractal fame, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer.  Think of him the next time you see a butterfly, a feather or pick up a cauliflower in your produce department.

Here’s a musical tribute to Mandelbrot courtesy of Jonathan Coulton.  Yep, that was one badass f^&(ing fractal.

And here’s a piece on Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, and Benoit Mandelbrot on the financial crisis of 2008.  Short take: They were scared $@!^less.