Friday, June 05, 2009
Down & Out in Greenwich
You might not weep for the mergers-and-acquisition man maddened by the size of an even richer hedge fund manager's yacht, but his trauma is a symptom of a syndrome that has spread far beyond Greenwich, Connecticut. Above a certain level, wealth, and the status that flows from it, is more a matter of relatives than absolutes. The less dramatically affluent alphas that make up the core of Penn's professionals--lawyers, journalists, corporate types, academics, senior civil servants, and the like--suddenly found themselves over the last decade not just overshadowed by finance's new titans but actually priced out of many things they view as the perks of their position: private schools, second homes, and so on. I doubt they enjoyed the experience.
Well educated, articulate and, by any usual measure, successful, they had been reduced to betas--and thus, politically, to a glint in Obama's eye. The decades of prosperity had swollen their numbers, but shrunk their status and their security. Their privileges were mocked or dismantled and their "good" jobs were ever more vulnerable. Wives as well as husbands now had to work, and not just down at the church's charity store either, a change that is more resented than Stepford's children would generally like to admit. Even so, things they felt should have been theirs by rights were still out of reach or, perhaps worse, graspable only by heavily leveraged hands. In a boom-time (July 2006) piece for Vanity Fair, Nina Munk interviewed two women amongst "the worn carpet and faded chintz" of Greenwich's old guard Round Hill Club. They told her how everything had gone downhill, "no one can afford to live here--all our kids are moving to Darien or Rowayton because it's cheaper."
It's a mark of the pressure to keep up that, as Frank noted, in 2004, 20 percent of "Lower Richistanis," those 7.5 million households (the number would be lower now, but it then would have constituted roughly 6-7 percent of the U.S. total) struggling along on a net worth of $1 million to $10 million, spent more than they earned. These poor souls will have included the most prosperous of Penn's professionals, but in an age of "mass luxury" and almost unlimited credit, the compulsion to do whatever it took not to be trumped by the Joneses spread to their less affluent cohorts, with the devastating consequences that were finally visible to all by the middle of last year.
Here's my outlandish theory: that economic resentment at the bottom of the top 1% of America's income distribution is the new wild card in public life. Ordinary workers won't rise up against ultras because they take it as given that "the rich get richer." But the hopes and dreams of today's educated class are based on the idea that market capitalism is a meritocracy. The unreachable success of the superrich shreds those dreams.Not so out outlandish a theory after all. It's all-out war between the haves and have-mores -- and the average folks are left in the middle.
"I've seen it in my research," says pollster Doug Schoen, who counsels Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton, among others. "If you look at the lower part of the upper class or the upper part of the upper middle class, there's a great deal of frustration. These are people who assumed that their hard work and conventional 'success' would leave them with no worries. It's the type of rumbling that could lead to political volatility."
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Reid not reading
Senate Majority Leader Harry "Taxes are voluntary" Reid has this to say about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's:
I understand that during her career, she's written hundreds and hundreds of opinions. I haven't read a single one of them, and if I'm fortunate before we end this, I won't have to read one of them. But -- I'm not familiar with that opinion, but there will be plenty of time for people who are concerned about the Second Amendment -- and there are lots of people on the Judiciary Committee who are concerned about it -- they'll have lots of time to offer her questions and she'll proceed to answer them. But I don't know anything about that.Harry Reid hasn't read anything Sotomayor has written. Reid doesn't WANT to read anything she's written.
Coming from ANY legislator, that quote is indefensibly deplorable. Coming from a person whom all Democratic senators voted as their leader puts the entire Democratic side of the U.S. Senate in a very bad light.
Having said that, I will add that I doubt the Republican senators are any better about knowing what they are voting for or against.
Personally, I consider it a national disgrace that legislators can openly claim ignorance about knowledge of things for which their job, for which the American people have hired them, requires them to know.
Put this in perspective: If you were hired as a taxi driver, and you later told your boss, "I don't know how to drive, and I don't really want to know", how long do you think you would stay employed?
Yet we keep sending lazy buffoons like Harry Reid back to Washington again and again.
(hat tip to Newsbusters.org)
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
RAG Gets Results
Meanwhile, here is the complete text of the speech the judge gave with the controversial line that has some people -- including a certain former boss of mine -- calling Sotomayor a racist. Read the full speech yourself. It may not win any awards for eloquence, but I think the broader argument that she makes -- that it is impossible for a judge (or, arguably, anyone) to completely divorce one's experiences when making a decision -- is actually a fair one. Sotomayor concludes, however, that it is better to be aware of all of those biases -- or baggage, one might say -- when bringing them to the task at hand. And, yes, that means working within the law to come to correct decision.Anyway, that's how I read it. I wouldn't call her a racist, though her view on how much of a role experience might/would/should play in decision-making is a more than reasonable line of inquiry for a Republican -- or any -- senator to pursue in confirmation hearings. As for Newt, of all people, he should know better than to take one line out of a speech and make a complete assertion about someone's mindset. Remember, "wither on the vine," Newt? That was a line in a speech where he said that he thought the Health Care Financing Administration bureaucracy running Medicare needed to be gotten rid of.That, of course, ended up getting reported as Gingrich -- and, by extension, Republicans as a whole -- wanted Medicare to "wither on the vine." Funny how context matters.
My initial reaction was strong and direct -- perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor’s fitness to serve on the nation’s highest court have been critical of my word choice.With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word “racist” should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted).So it is to her words -- the ones quoted above and others -- to which we should turn, for they show that the issue here is not racial identity politics. Sotomayor’s words reveal a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system -- that everyone is equal before the law.
In fairness to the judge, many of her rulings as a court of appeals judge do not match the radicalism of her speeches and statements. She has shown more caution and moderation in her rulings than in her words.So the question we need to ask ourselves in considering Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation is this: Which judge will show up on the Supreme Court, the radical from her speeches or the convention liberal from her rulings?