Aug 4, 2018

I'm recycling here non-personal parts of a  letter to a life-long friend. He's recently retired as a philosophy professor and has just agreed to reactivate himself to teach a course in Western
civilization.  The first part is a comment on American schooling, sometimes referred to as "education."  The second answers a question he asked me, basically about how guys like Paul Manafort get so damned rich.

 For whatever it may be worth.


You're going to teach Western Civ?  Wow. Just like (a semi-goofy old college instructor of ours) :)

I agree it should be fun. The bonus will be a fresh and intimate glimpse of how well your k-12 schools are doing in creating culturally literate high school graduates before they decree them ready for college. I really look forward to hearing your take on that subject.

(Good morning, Class. I'd like to begin with a brief discussion of John Locke and his place in the Enlightenment. {You privately judge the number and intensity of dead-blank stares and adjust your pedagogical approach accordingly.}).


I wish I were more confident in the generality of my fellow citizens' propensity to follow and at least hazily understand the Manafort trial. I'm sure I crossed paths with him in the Reagan years, though I have no specific memory of it.  He would have been one of hundreds of young, smart, attractive, personable hustlers with democracy on his lips and and a lust for personal riches and power in his heart. He found his glory until he broke the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall not get caught.

These guys follow a step-by-step process. Ingratiate yourself with politicians and their staff, beginning with the low (congressmen, e.g.) and proceeding to the high (senior senators, cabinet departments, White House aspirants, e.g.). Prove you can raise money and win elections for your clients, primarily by deft manipulation of public opinion.

At the maturity of your career you will have actual influence in the highest places. Ka-ching.  You may be involved in the movement of trillions (yes, "T") of dollars around the world. It's in trade deals, military aid, economic assistance laws and executive decisions. By diverting only the tiniest fractions of 1 per cent to yourself in fees and purported expenses, you are wallowing in millions of personal wealth.

Note that last week the prosecution alleged that Manafort garnered about $60 million from Ukraine lobbying deals. He's in trouble so far not for the actual work, but for income tax questions. (Personal belief: Sure he cheated. I'd  amazed if he didn't.) Now, a few-year  income of $60 million to most of us is a number beyond belief, but to governments and the "capitalist" firms who depend on them it is pocket change.

Consider a small example. I am making it up, but it is wholly realistic:  A  large Ukrainian ocean-shipping firm is seeking more favorable treatment in its use of ports and harbor facilities in the United States. The concessions hinge on decisions by U.S. federal agencies, perhaps the Department of Commerce. The company forecasts an extra $10 million annual income if it gets the breaks. To pay Manafort $2 million for trying to pressure Commerce and $5 million more as a success bonus could be quite a reasonable business decision. And that's just one comparatively minor deal.

It's a golden cess pool. It grows in parallel with the amount of money and power we -- little guys like you and me -- meekly cede to government.

Jul 22, 2018

The Marble Urinal Conspiracies

I don't remember peeing in the actual White House. Besides,  any relief I sought there would have been mundanely in the servants' wing, the press room facilities, during the AP days when I  (rarely)  attended Ron Nessen's briefings.

A different story existed across the alley in the garish old rococo Executive Office Building, built by an architectural Timothy Leary in the 1870s and 80s.  I did a bit of business there as a low-rank political operative in the Reagan years. We swilled coffee during  business hours, and fancy beer and wine flowed freely enough late in the day.

A man's bladder has its requirements, and the American taxpayers of the late 19th Century ensured his need would be met in grand and glorious style. Those flamboyantly grained marble pissoirs were two feet wide and tall enough to make a coffin for a short man. No where else in my life have I actually giggled shaking out the last drops.

I almost always made up little fantasies about my pissing predecessors. Did Teddy Roosevelt dangle his big stick there while conferring quietly with an adjacent William McKinley about which Cuban hill to immortalize? Did his cousin  Franklin sidle up next to Cordell Hull and, sotto voice,  plot ways to goad Tojo into attacking Pearl Harbor?

They certainly could have, validating a life-long suspicion that our masters will  always find ways to to secretly scheme to piss away our fortunes and our lives. And how better than companionably unzipped, shoulder to shoulder, at the upper end of the Washington, D.C. sewer system? No secretary with her shorthand pad. No recorders. No snoopy little aides with pals in the press corps.

All this comes to mind as we open another chapter in our largely aspirational quest for the oxymoronical "open government."

The internet apps wizards say they have found a way to make official government email both private and self-destroying. They mean they have at long last emulated Mr. Orwell's memory hole. It is now the libertarian Winston Smith clandestinely battling the Inner Party. Of course people like you and I root for Winston, but probably to little avail.

For instance, if you see Presidents Trump and Putin heading for the same Helsinki privy, rest assured that they can privately plot to organize your world according to their own  secret designs. There will be no leaks.

Feb 26, 2018

Flash! The Official 99 Best Greasy Spoons

I had just about recovered from the hideous Michelle Obama drive to turn my digestive tract over to the federal government. Some of her influence remains, particularly in the school lunch industry, but in general I believed that the clamor  had died down for federal cops to inspect our food-processing innards.

Quite a few serious studies concluded that her drive for whole grain and seasoning-free entrees had resulted primarily in overflowing garbage cans at the end of the lunch line. The American citizenry decided it was unnecessary to evade a Big Mac Attack or decline a slice of Pizza Supreme just because Michelle said so.

Little did I think that my beloved Iowa bureaucrats would take up the cause.

This one is not in the name of nutrition, but of money. The state tourist bureau lady is quoted:

“We looked at places that served a unique dish or had a unique atmosphere, maybe they’d won an award for the best burger or best tenderloin,” she says. “Also, we travel and find restaurants we enjoy. We also looked to Yelp for some positive reviews there.”

So, the sovereign state of Iowa (Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain) has dubbed one restaurant in each of the 99 counties as the best places to stuff our gullets. At least it is done not in the name eternal youth through macrobiotics but in pursuit of greater tax revenue.

Couple of things here: What in the name of holy hell qualifies her and her associates to choose the eateries which will tickle your tongue? Some money was spent on this, including, one infers, 
reimbursed travel to find the juiciest burgers.

(Heard in the tourist bureau office?   Hey, gang, let all go find some really good eats. Might as well. We can collect milage and bill the goodies to the taxpayers. Research, doncha know?) 

Reviewing pertinent constitutions and statutes. I find  no mandate for my Leaders and Regulators to pose as Duncan Hines.

Not to mention the thousands of other restaurants helping pay for the boondoggle which informs the world that they are second best. At best.

Feb 19, 2018


By now most people should have seen the Washington Post refutation of the widely circulated statistic reporting 18 school shootings so far this year. The number comes from Michael Bloomberg's "Every town for GunSafety," and it is false.
Carrying it a little further, the Post reports that since the 1999 Columbine massacre about 150,000 kids have been present in a K-12 school when a shooting took place. With about 50 million K-12 kids in the country, that means 49,850,000 were not exposed to school gun fire. The percentage is thus about three one-thousandths one per cent over some 19 years.
One more boring statistic, not nearly as flammable as marches on Washington or frantic street demonstrations: There are roughly 98,270 high schools and elementary schools in our country. About 170 of them, according the the solidly liberal and anti-gun Post, have experienced shootings while, therefore, 98,100 of them have not. That percentage is 18 ten-thousandths of one per cent. 
Feel free to fact-check.
Nothing here is meant to minimize the horror of any murder; it is meant to attenuate the mindless drama.

(Just blowing the dust from my blog wth this little item I first posted to Facebook.  How y'all doing out there?)