February 20, 2010

Seeking that perfect niche practice

Let me assure you, practicing law can be hard work. If I were to delve into the legal complexities of a case I handled recently concerning title insurance law, you would see what I mean. Hours and hours in the county law library. There's a reason the law is called "a jealous mistress" (sexist, I know, but the point is still the same - it's time consuming).

It's why I envy Gloria Allred. She didn't become a lawyer until she was about 34, by my calculation, but she really made up for lost time. If there is a high profile celebrity case (and there always is), and if the high profile celebrity case involves a woman who is tangentially involved, usually in some way where she has been publicly "dissed" or treated shabbily as the "other woman," by some guy who is trying to finagle his way out of the usual situation that guys so often find themselves in (namely, pretending to a kind of saintly aura of monogamy bordering on monasticism, when in fact they're carrying on like randy old goats), there's Gloria, the Righteous Avenger, to speak for the woman who cannot articulate her own anger in exactly the right way (that is, for maximum PR impact), and who senses, however inchoately (usually because she is somewhat inchoate, not to say incoherent, herself), there is Gloria, to level the playing field and to open the doors to that most valued of all American sinecures, The World of Celebrity.

What a client list! Paula Jones, in the Clinton BJ case, Nicole Brown Simpson's family in the O.J. murder trial, Amber Frey, in the Scott Peterson case. And now --fff

Gloria Allred, the prominent lawyer who has represented a range of high-profile clients, calledTiger Woods' Friday apology a "staged public relations stunt."

Allred has worked for at least two alleged Tiger Woods mistresses, including Rachel Uchitel (PHOTOS) and porn star Joslyn James (PHOTOS). She said today that Woods needs "lying rehab" and "betrayal rehab" in addition to sex addiction therapy.

Is there anyone in the country who would be more attuned to exactly what a "staged public relations stunt" is? Actually, aren't "staged," "public relations" and "stunt" actually all the same thing? And here's the thing about "betrayal rehab:" where would such a program be conducted for the men of America? In the Astrodome? In the new Yankee Stadium? (As for "lying rehab:" oh yeah, we're going to clean that up.)

It seems to me that Gloria will just not let a man grovel in peace. But more to the point, is she certain that she does not have a conflict of interest in simultaneously representing two of Tiger's dissed women? Are their interests possibly adverse? Suppose Rachel says, "Tiger promised me that he would leave Elin for me." What, then, if Joslyn James, the porn star, then says, "No, Tiger promised me that he would leave Elin for me" ? What if Tiger goes to Lying Rehab and clears up any ambiguity. ("It was the porn star all along," Tiger tearfully admitted. "In front of God, my country and Nike's Executive VP for Advertising, Joslyn's the one. The rest were just to cover my tracks.")

Or suppose both Rachel and Joslyn turn to Gloria and ask, as Amber Frey or Nicole Brown Simpson's Family might have asked, why the hell do we actually need a lawyer to represent us as peripheral actors on the stage of a major national drama in the first place? Do we actually have a legal problem? For that matter, does Tiger? Wasn't he just screwing around with women of adult age in consensual trysts? Why does he need "rehab" for anything, and what the hell are lawyers doing mixed up in this non-event?

Still, the envy remains. See, Gloria represented Nicole Brown Simpson's Family in the OJ murder trial. Remember how they were put on trial for the murder...okay, wait, I'm confused. I guess they weren't actually parties to the case. And in the civil case against OJ in which they were parties, Daniel Petrocelli was the lead counsel, a very able attorney who won the case whereas the DA in Los Angeles had lost the criminal case. Imagine all the work involved in that. Betcha he had his hours in the library. I must have been thinking of Amber Frey. No, that's not it. She wasn't a party either, just a witness.

Those are the cases I want. No jeopardy for my clients, they're not even parties, yet I represent them for...something. I guide them through the...process. I could have thought of that if I had had Gloria's intuitive sense for just how profoundly dumb a circus American public life has become. If your name is in the news, in some way connected to some tawdry episode where real lawyering is needed (or even where it isn't, as in Tiger's "case"), the spotlight itself means you need a lawyer, because becoming famous as a person who has become famous, can, in the right, skillful, cynical hands, become your new career.

February 18, 2010

On reading Matt Taiibi's latest RS piece on Wall Street and the Texas suicide note in the same day

At one level, we can reassure ourselves that Joe Stack, the pilot who crashed his small plane into the Austin IRS offices, was a whack-job who overreacted to a series of business and personal reversals, generalized these personal problems into "societal issues" (sort of the way bloggers do, come to think of it), and went over the edge.

Then you read Matt Taiibi's latest essay in Rolling Stone (reproduced by Zerohedge at this link,
http://www.zerohedge.com/article/taibbi-goldman-raped-taxpayer-and-raped-their-clients, and you're not so sure anymore. Taiibi likens Wall Street's record "bonuses" and banner profit years to the take of con artists, and details the different grifter techniques which Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, BofA, et al. have used to make boatloads of money in America's eviscerated economy. The essential point he makes is pretty simple, and it's the one that Eliot Spitzer and William Black have made elsewhere with greater legal precision: it is not a coincidence that these "Too Big to Fail" counting houses are about the only successful companies in America's shitty business environment. In effect, GS, JPMorgan and the rest have profited because they are the direct beneficiaries of most of the "money" the Federal Reserve has conjured out of thin air to "deal" with the financial crisis. This notional money (part of Quantitative Easing, or the money printing operation) has found its way into the hands of the Too Big to Fails. The enormous sums made available to the Big Banks, coupled with the super-low interest rates charged to the banks to borrow it, mean that GS & the Boyz can print money with almost the same alacrity as the Federal Reserve.

It is highly telling, as Taiibi points out, that outfits like Goldman and JPMorgan are making most of their money in "prop trading:" that is, proprietary trading or trading for their own account. They're not making money for "clients," as in the bygone days when there used to be "stock brokers." No, Goldman Sachs is now a freshly-chartered "bank holding company" (its membership application fast-tracked by its friends in Washington), and it exists to make money for itself. All of which is enabled and potentiated by Washington, because if GS Failed, well...well, we're never going to find out what would happen if it failed, because Obama assures us that the financial system has been brought back from "the Brink," and it's because of Washington's intervention in favor of Wall Street that we avoided another Great Depression, when even the greatest banks crashed. No, this time it's different: the American people have again been sacrificed, but the banks were saved with the dwindling resources of the federal government.

As Taiibi lucidly explains, the easiest, virtually guaranteed way to make a gigaton of money is by playing a simple spread game, borrowing cheap from the Federal Reserve through such windows as the Primary Dealer Lending Facility and buying something as basic as a 10-year Treasury yielding 3%, in effect recycling the money the Fed just gave you and forcing the Treasury to pay the vig. If the spread is 2%, and the amount borrowed (or raised by selling the Fed your crap portfolios of shitty mortgage-backed securities at par value when they might actually be worth 22% of that), is large enough (and we're talking about huge amounts), it is enough to make enough money to fund all those obscene bonuses. Add to this the infamous back-door bailouts paid through AIG by the New York Fed (facilitated by Tim Geithner) which added another $14 billion or so to Goldman's bottom line (on claims that were essentially worthless), and you start to wonder: when President Zero says that Lloyd Blankfein (of GS) and Jamie Dimon (of JPMorgan) are "savvy businessmen" and just like Alex Rodriguez or someone, is it that Obama is just kind of clueless or just kind of corrupt? I mean, how do you miss something like this? Who can't make money borrowing $1 billion at 1/2 percent and investing it in guaranteed returns of 3%? How would you not make $25 million? How savvy do you have to be? And why are we helping them do it? Don't they own enough islands in the Bahamas already?

These things take some time to understand, but they are not that arcane or abstruse. In an economic environment where the common man can derive virtually no yield from stock market investments, or money market or savings accounts, or from investments in housing, how is that the Fat Cats of Wall Street are making an absolute killing? Record profits? I mean, come on. This isn't savvy business; this is playing a rigged and corrupt game, a con, as Taiibi says. And the con is on the American people. These "banks" (or casino operators who play their own craps table with loaded dice) aren't lending to the American people. Commercial and residential lending is way down. Yes, it's true this is also because of a dearth of qualified borrowers, because the economy sucks. But then what is the point of making all this money available to the Too Big to Fails? Why are their prosperity, and their obscene profits, such a matter of import to the Obama Administration and the Democratic leadership of the Banking Committees, et al?

So Joe Stack blew his stack, finally, and voiced many resentments about all of these things, echoing many of the complaints one hears from Tea Party people, and from Americans in general. I couldn't follow Stack's argument, really, about his specific grievances concerning the tax code and certain amendments affecting his work as a software engineer. The Mainstream Media have been quick not to label him a terrorist because that's a term that is applied to Muslims with grievances against the United States, not to Americans with grievances against the United States. An American flying a plane into a building for "political" reasons is a nut; a Muslim doing so is an "enemy combatant." If the two major parties start calling all the Tea Party people "terrorists," their monopolistic hold on national politics might become more tenuous than it already is. So official hypocrisy will be maintained, even though Stack sounds more or less like the manifesto of every Tea Party rally I've read about, an amalgam of Left, Right, Libertarian, Aryan Nation, NASCAR, Toby Keith ideas all mooshed into an incoherent rant -- yet taken as a whole, as coherent as the Obama Administration's fawning admiration for Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon.

Yet the MSM must be careful not to treat Stack with kid gloves too soft for the occasion. They can't let him become a modern-day John Brown, because his resentments are really too pervasive. So he will be gradually isolated, personalized, differentiated, and "background checks" will reveal his fundamental instability, and the MSM may, in time, even reach for the Terrorist label to deal with him. It's a lot easier, and more profitable, than calling Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon con men.

February 17, 2010

Zero - Palin in Oh Twelve

Valentine's Day has come and gone, and my guess is that the Republican leadership in Congress did not send President Zero a heart-shaped box of chocolates. (I'm thinking that Zero might be the sobriquet to use for a while; "Prez O," "O Man," etc., are not bad, but Zero seems to nail our current President's incredible lightness of being, his amazing freedom from any sense of principle or passionate conviction. Truly, he is our first post-ideological President, one to whom even the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are relevant only if there is a "bipartisan consensus" on the issue in question.)

The Republicans are doing the nation a major disservice by withholding their love, for it is their love which Zero most craves. Republicans are the Daddy Party; George Lakoff, the Berkeley "framing" guru, has so pronounced. Democrats are Mommy, the party which loves you even when you screw up. Republicans, by contrast, do not offer unconditional love: you have to earn it, preferably by having the good judgment to be born into economically advantaged circumstances.

If Republicans would simply tell Obama that they love him, would applaud his speeches at joint sessions, stop rebuffing his endless overtures, and desist from voting against absolutely everything he proposes with 100% bloc solidarity, we might begin to get somewhere. But they won't. Dads can be so rigid sometimes. Mommy never behaves like that; she's too soft inside, too compassionate, which is why the Democrats do not interest Obama. He has them wrapped around his little finger.

What does Zero have to do, for crying out loud? Yesterday he extolled the virtues of building nuclear power plants. I saw him behind a lectern framed by a couple of guys in hard hats at the new site in Maryland where the first nuclear plant in the USA in 30 years will be built. Obama introduced his Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, and said something to the effect that Chu could have saved all that PhD tuition by simply taking tutorials from the electrical engineers at the plant. You know, because they're so smart, unlike Chu, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in physics. Someone should probably tell Zero that Chu is not in the electricians' union, actually, and that he might be capable of instructing the techs at the Maryland facility in the finer points of nuclear fission. I note, with dismay, that Obama is gradually moving toward a pronunciation of nuclear along the lines of "nukular." It must be something in the cuisine at the White House, I think, unless this is yet another subtle cry for love from the Republicans, as was Obama's list of "clean energy" alternatives in his speech yesterday, which included offshore drilling for oil and gas, and coal-fired power plants.

Anyway, one nuke plant is not going to do it, so if we're going all in, let's go France about it and build a hundred. France, by the way, doesn't know what to do with all the spent reactor fuel either, or the tons of plutonium that get produced. I guess we can either stash it in Yucca Mountain (what else does Nevada want to do with all that desert?) or sell the Pu to Iran, which will save them a lot of trouble.

Zero has moved ahead with his deficit reduction commission, in the face of opposition from both Mom & Dad. Obstinately (and with great determination), he has named Alan Simpson, the most tiresome of cornball retreads from Republican glory days, as the head of the commission, which will have no actual power, authority or relevance. To ensure bipartisanship, Erskine Bowles, or Erskine Caldwell, or whoever will serve as co-chair. Simpson's appointment should toll an ominous bell for the vast legions of trailer-dwelling retirees in Bullhead City and Riverside, CA. He served on a Senate subcommittee concerned with Social Security "reform" during his chuckleheaded reign as a solon from Wyoming. It's no secret that Zero does not like Social Security, and the Prez has a lot of company in Dad's party. What a tremendous waste of tax money it is. All that off-the-top FICA swag spiraling down the drain of Big Government, when it could be used on Wall Street or by the Defense Department. And Medicare! Don't get them started. They hate the "Entitlements," and Zero is seeking bipartisan cover for getting rid of them.

In truth, Zero likes all of W's good ideas. Waterboarding, detention-forever-without-trial, no-habeas Bagram, the surge in Afghanistan, warrantless wiretapping, "reform" of Social Security by sending all the dough to the Banker Boyz, forbidding Medicare from volume discounts, hiding torture photos, you name it. Then why oh why won't the Republicans love him? It can't be his ethnicity. Michael Steele is the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Is it Obama's name? Are they that shallow? What else could O do to prove that he shares every last one of their values, and none of the so-called Democratic "values?" (I know, I know - I can't think of one, either.)

It's bound to happen, so I hope Obama does it soon: appear at a Tea Party rally. Just go for it, man. Pull out all the stops. A guy with your persistence will always win Dad's heart. I mean, really: how can he resist?

February 15, 2010

In my life

A few years ago I gave away my 1990 BMW 325i 4-door sedan to a young Irish fellow from County Cork. I hated to see the car go. I had owned it for 12 years and put 160,000 miles on it. It never needed major mechanical work, I had babied it with oil changes and my own tendency toward conservative driving. Still, it had 230,000 miles (I was its second owner) and I was loath to drop another $1600 on a timing belt change-out, and young Sean, handy fellow that he is, could do that sort of thing himself. So I gave him the car, which for all that did not change his itinerant lifestyle all that much (car mechanic, carpenter, inventor, guitar player, Shabbos goy [that last I leave for the cognoscenti]).

And in return he gave me a book, about the size of a trade paperback, that has all the chords and lyrics to every Beatles tune.

I think I may have gotten the better end of the deal. The car eventually died. The complete works of the Beatles never will.

I am of the mind that it takes time, decades at least, for musicians, composers, performers to take their rightful place in the hierarchy of the all-time greats. You can't tell right away what will hold up as the years pass. I would say, without question, that Johann Sebastian Bach belongs there near the top, but he died in 1750. Just the Brandenburg Concertos alone ought to qualify him, but I'm partial (as a string man) to his lute suites, minor masterpieces of contrapuntal art. But what I was thinking, as I thumbed through that Beatles book, something that I had never tumbled to before: the Beatles, and specifically John Lennon & Paul McCartney, were the greatest song writing duo in the history of the Western world.

That one had sort of slipped past me. Now I'm the kind of cornball enthusiast who regularly extols the virtues of such contributors to the Great American Songbook as George & Ira Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington, Cole Porter and of course those two guys who wrote all the songs when you can't remember who wrote those songs: Irving Berlin and Harry Warren. But for sheer range, diversity, lyricism, beauty, inventiveness, tunefulness and just simply overwhelming output and consistency of excellence - those two British kids, neither of them formally trained in music theory (or even musical notation), who just heard sounds in their heads, beautiful poetry and unforgettable melodies, over and over again. They were the best.

Why should it not be so? Just because they came of age at the same time I did? Well, so be it. It's my birthday and I shall indulge myself in such subjectivity. Besides: it's true.