Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quondam et Futurus

In last Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat portrayed Mitt Romney as the “inevitable nominee”. Though lacking any startling insights, the column was nevertheless a workmanlike treatise by a seasoned political observer positing Romney as virtually Brobdingnagian when compared to the field of wannabe and has-been Lilliputians in opposition.

Douthat has gone out on a limb with his prediction, but absent the arrival of a well-funded national figure as a dark horse in the race (if such a creature exists), I’d have to agree with him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reaganomics Redux

We read (in "The Hill") that the GOP members of the House Ways & Means committee are working on a plan whereby American corporations would not be taxed on the profits they make overseas. Leave it to the Republicans to come up with a massive tax cut as a kick start for the economy; haven't they heard that Reagan's "voodoo economics" [Bush 41's locution, not mine] create, in the long run, not prosperity but ruinous debt? Hello!?

In the heady days of the legislative takeover by the Republicans in 2004, Congress gave the corporations just such a holiday from their overseas earnings, anticipating that the savings would be invested in jobs and plants. Instead, the money somehow morphed into dividends, flowing directly into the pockets of the shareholders (quelle surprise!). To be sure, many of the recipients did indeed pay a personal income tax on their earnings, so there was some offsetting benefit, but the net loss to the Treasury amounted to $3.3B, hardly the economic liftoff we were promised.

Lord knows, the tax code needs an overhaul (even to include some relief for corporations) but this ain't the place to start, not in this economy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dangerous Class Warfare?

The Occupy Wall Street crowd may lack focus or consensus, and have its share of eccentrics in its motley ranks (as does all such street theater), but surely it doesn't represent the "dangerous class warfare" that Mitt Romney makes it out to be.

One would think that a politico as savvy as Mr. Romney would know that "predator" and "victim" are not social-class denominators, but economic ones, and that those are the two forces we currently see arrayed against each other on "Wall Street".

Americans have always easily tolerated the fact that one's neighbor may be richer than oneself. That's life. Material gain is a readily accepted driver of republican society – morally, politically, and economically – as long as it is achieved honestly. But when financial institutions are egregiously manipulated for the personal financial gain of (far too many) predatory individuals within, to the detriment of the institution, the economy, and society, that's when the victims start howling and – if ticked off enough -- even take to the streets to do a Howard Beale: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore".

Occupy Wall Street may just fade away or may actually become a popular movement if it can get its act together, but, meanwhile, let our politicians refrain from tossing off – in a fever of electioneering – inflammatory sound bites that divide us even further.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Opportunities Available to the Very Rich That You & I Don’t Even Know About

So there's David Letterman interviewing the actor, activist, and now AARP eligible, George Clooney, last night, when the questioning gets around (no doubt pre-conditionally) to Clooney's genuinely admirable charitable activities in the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. Clooney replies [and I paraphrase] that, at the moment, he is primarily involved in leasing a satellite to monitor potentially intrusive military activity along the fragile Republic's border by the unfriendly regime to its north.

BING! goes my old newsman's ¿que tal? alert, as I await what has to be Letterman's next question: "do you mean to tell us that private citizens can actually rent spy satellites?" Well, the question didn't get asked (maybe Dave already knew the answer) so your intrepid correspondent was all over the web this morning seeking the answer which, in fact, turns out to be: yes, we can.

Thanks to Congress's passage of the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992, private companies such as DigitalGlobe in Longmont, Colorado can indeed operate such satellites under license from the Department of Commerce and lease them to whomever, including Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), an outgrowth of the advocacy group, Not on Our Watch, founded by Clooney and his fellow global activists, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt.

One of DigitalGlobe's biggest customers is, as I should have realized, Google, with its virtually galactic reach; but I'd always thought Google simply bought last year's non-real-time, non-sensitive, imagery from the DoD since the pictures on Google Earth don't actually have to move (although, I guess, neither do SSP's).

Which puts me in mind -- however irrelevantly -- of Galileo's supposed sotto voce comment, when he abjured the heresy of Heliocentrism before his inquisitors: "eppur si muove" (but still, it moves).

Anyway, if you have lotsa bucks, and want to surreptitiously observe what's going on behind your neighbor's fence, you now know where to turn.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tell Me a Story

This is a rave for PBS's "Prohibition".

I've borrowed the title of Don Hewitt's autobiography as the headline for this post, because Don always used the expression to explain the concept behind the singular success of his "60 Minutes", the longest running primetime series in TV network history. Of course, all documentaries have a story to tell and/or a message to convey, but too often the latter aim overwhelms the former, leaving us with a worthy, but not overly engaging, viewing experience; especially one that demands our close attention for a cumulative five and a half hours.

Producers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have managed to deliver both story and message as adroitly as any documentary I have ever seen, and I say this as an alumnus of the so-called "Tiffany network" era at CBS News. "Prohibition" is not – nor does it aspire to be – of as cosmically important subject matter as some classics of the documentary genre, but it more than admirably fulfils its promise and, not so incidentally, is more fun than a barrel of schnapps.

Watch it; you'll enjoy it, while painlessly learning a lot about 20th century American history, the Constitution, the astonishing power of popular movements, and how to become a home brewer without attracting undue attention from the ATF.