Kwame v. Everybody

The prosecution of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has, as I’ve predicted in the past, kept on turning up yet more and more of his transgressions.  He’s done serving the time for his perjury conviction (but not yet paid the city the full restitution amount, which he likely never will) and he faces a whole new lineup of charges against him.

This time, it’s the Feds that are going after him.  Usually, when the Feds come after you, the game’s up.  It’s usually better to cut a deal with them than just try and fight it, as it’s rare that they lose a case, and when they do, it’s usually due to factors well beyond anyone’s control, least of all the defendant.  So, if you cut a deal, you’re much more likely to be able to see your family from time to time again at some point in your life as a free man.  This, however, seems to be a lesson that’s utterly lost on Kwame Kilpatrick.

Which is unfortunate for him, as the prosecution has revealed in a court filing this week that they have over 500 witnesses to testify agains him, and about 370,000 damning text messages which clearly document his misdeeds.  As evidence goes, this is a lot.  Usually, with evidence, quality counts over quantity.  But when the quantity approaches these levels, it’s easy to dispel the perception that, somehow, despite the evidence, he’d somehow be innocent.

So, there’s more time for yet more twists to the drama that is Kwame Kilpatrick to unfold.  This being Kilpatrick, I’m sure that there’s going to be something else that’ll surface.  Kilpatrick’s the kind of character that seems to elude predictability.  Whatever he does, it’s big, dramatic and utterly tawdry. Which makes following his saga all the more interesting.

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New York: Where the Sun Rises and Sets

People who live on the East Coast have a tendency to think that the sun rises and sets there as well.  Where sometimes that’s meant to indicate that New Yorkers (sometimes correctly) think that their city is the center of the universe, sometimes that assessment is actually literal, as it will be tonight at 8:16 p.m.

New York is unique in that it is only one of a few cities that’s built on a very strict grid that’s relatively level.  That means that there are a few times throughout the course of the year that offers a startling image of the sun seeming to set in near total alignment with certain streets, such as 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 57th.  The effect is called Manhattanhenge, and it makes for a striking visual effect.  Writing about it doesn’t convey the visual impact that is has, so check out the link to see the pictures posted.

The French in London

I’ve heard people remark that Chicago is the second largest Polish city in the world, what with all the Polish Americans that live there.  This article points out that London, incidentally, is ‘France’s’ sixth largest city, with a French population of between 300,000 and 400,000.  The only cities in France that are larger are as follows: Paris, Marseilles, Lyon, Toulouse and Nice.

So why the deluge of French onto the shores of England?  Simple: jobs and opportunity.  Many young French workers, particularly in the technology and creative industries find it easier to find jobs in England than in France.  They find it easier to locate the jobs, and the UK offers them more flexibility than France otherwise would.  The sectors in which they compete are also more established in London than they are in say, Paris, and it’s a better bet, overall, for the young creative class.

And there’s also a racial component to it.  French nationals of foreign backgrounds find themselves curiously unable to get jobs in France from time to time.  Occasionally, they end up changing an Arab first name to something more French sounding, and all of a sudden, they begin getting requests for interviews.  That’s not the case in the UK.  London, at least for the past 250 years, has been much more of a global and cosmopolitan city than has Paris, or anywhere else in France.  And, as a result, they’re much more comfortable with people who have last names that sound funny to English ears.

This French brain drain to England is probably what best illustrates the economic conundrums France faces.  France has never gotten over the idea that they are not the center of the universe.  It actually has parallels to what happened in Michigan.  Prosperity breeds arrogance, which breeds complacency, which leads to a decline.  In today’s world, you can rest on your laurels for about as long as it takes for the new guy to start nipping at your heels, which these days, isn’t very long.  The antidote: constant innovation and lots and lots of very hard work.

Michigan Film Credits: Fart in the Wind

As a way to diversify Michigan’s ailing economy, the state government decided to fund a series to tax credits that would reduce the expense of filming in Michigan on a commercial scale.  This was basically a state subsidy that would draw jobs in the movie and television business from the traditional media centers in New York and Los Angeles.  As a result, Michigan began to develop somewhat of a media industry here.  The tax credits were, essentially, a subsidy that would help the industry develop here until such a point when the industry would be fully established and able to turn a healthy profit on its own.

Gov. Rick Snyder reduced the program when he took office, saying that the expenditure of nearly $100 million annually in foregone tax revenue was not necessarily producing the necessary economic return.  He reduced the amount downwards to about $25 million, and the result was a corresponding reduction in the number of film projects that took place in Michigan.  The state government is now set to increase, for one time only, the size of the film credits, bringing next fiscal year’s total to $50 million.

Now, on principle, I’m not opposed to governments promoting and championing certain industries that would develop a strategic advantage on home turf.  It’s basically a form of investment.  It’s a slow process, and we’ve had lots of examples of it in American history.  Up until the 1990s, America had erected high tariffs on manufactured products until it entered into the North American Free Trade Agreement, a prospect that was held off of for as long as possible until the benefits of a free trade deal couldn’t be forestalled.  But for centuries, the federal government had basically given a subsidy in the form of an import tariff to manufacturing in the United States.  And given its record, I’d say that was a pretty smart bet.

But with the film credits being increased for only one year, I doubt the long term effect that such a measure would have.  If governments want to strategically promote certain industries, you have to be prepared to do so for the long haul, and to do so consistently.  Developers in the film industry are not going to place Michigan high on their list of where to do business if the tax climate here is constantly shifting every couple of years.  In order for this to succeed, the support has to be deep, it has to be consistent, and it has to be for the long term.  Otherwise, this one time increase of $25 million dollars won’t amount to a hill of beans, economically speaking, and is money that could be well utilized in other places in order to foster innovation and entrepreneurship within the state.

Politically and economically, it’s like a fart in the wind.  There for a second, and then gone.

Rome In Turmoil and the New Reformation

As the largest religious organization and denomination in the world, the Catholic Church is going to attract controversy, rightly or wrongly.  Conservative positions that are espoused by the Church regarding the role of women in the church, birth control, gays and the ongoing child sexual abuse cases have rocked the Church to its core, leading to massive defections from its pews.  Up until n0w, the Church has looked as if it would be able to weather all of these crises, however fierce the fights that they engender may be.  Until now, that is.

This week, the butler to Pope Benedict XVI was arrested in the Vatican on charges that he had stolen sensitive documents from the Pope’s desk, and turned them over to reporters.  Included in these documents was information relating to money laundering and kickbacks at the Vatican Bank, one the largest, not to mention, most secretive, banks in the world, memos outlining corruption within the administration of the church, and other information relating to the factional strifes that apparently have engulfed the Church hierarchy within the Vatican.

Some Vatican observers contend that the butler in question, Paolo Gabriele, lacked the sense of intrigue to orchestrate such a massive leak of such damning evidence to the Italian media, and that he is acting in concert with others, perhaps even being directed by a cardinal intent on overturning the authority of Benedict.  Whatever the case, the leak has massive implications for the Vatican, both internally and globally.

At its core, the Catholic Church is a medieval institution that’s dominated entirely by men, which, in my ever so humble opinion, is never healthy for any organization.  In its current form, it’s not capable of the systemic and fundamental change that’s needed to address the issues that have come to the surface in the documents, and also with respect to the ongoing controversies regarding doctrine.  The hierarchy of the church is just not capable, either operationally or constitutionally, of embracing the changes that are going to be necessary to right a listing ship, particularly when the scope and scale of the challenges that it faces are rapidly escalating, both in seriousness and in terms of the damage that they’re going to inflict on the flock of Rome.

The problem is that it’s no longer possible to just ignore the theological issues with which some in the flock may take issue, but that the entire institution, from the top on down to the bottom, may be rotten to its very core.  If the information in the leaked documents is true, this could lead to arrest of even cardinals, a prospect that would previously have been utterly unthinkable.

I don’t agree with much of what the Church has done in the recent past, but I take no pleasure in watching this institution twist in the wind.  There is much that is very good about the Church, and, having grown up in it, it has a special place in my heart.  But in order to correct those problems that threaten its very existence, it’s going to have to embrace changes that the misogynist genrontocracy will never be able to swallow.  The changes, much like the Reformation that rocked the Church in the 1500s, is going to have to come from below, and force the hand of those that hold the power.

It’ll likely take the form of a protracted ideological struggle that’ll split the Church, at least initially.  Its outcome is far from known, and the amount of time it’ll take is anyone’s guess.  But the status quo ante (to appropriately work at least some Latin into this post), if pursued to its logical conclusion, will relegate what would otherwise be a highly viable and constructive institution, to the dustbin of moral, political and theological obsolescence.  And that would be a shame.

Unforced Errors and the GOP

This week, the punditocracy started realizing that this race was going to be closer than previously anticipated.  Up to now, President Obama has looked positively Churchillian compared to the gaggle that was the GOP contenders.  Since Romney has managed to seal the deal, however, given the absence of shenanigans coming out of the right, Romney has managed to get his favorable ratings over 50% for the first time.  To unseat an incumbent, this is crucial.

However, to use a sports euphemism, the GOP has begun making a series of unforced errors in anticipation of  the general election.  Sen. Richard Lugar lost his primary to Indiana state treasurer and tea party favorite Richard Mourdock, thus putting the race, previously a safe Republican seat, into play.  Same thing in Nebraska, where the tea party favorite bested the establishment candidate.  Now, Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) has somehow, failed to qualify for the fall ballot.  McCotter, whose district includes the suburbs of Detroit and earlier flirted with a presidential bid, did not gather the necessary 2,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

Whoops.  What had previously been a Republican safe seat, yet again, is put into play.  The old adage about Democrats was that we had a tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Time and again, from the 1960s through the 1980s, Democrats managed to shoot themselves in the foot, time and time again, serving up wins to the Republicans on a silver platter.  And it was usually because of shenanigans like this: sloppiness and Democrats opting for the candidates that didn’t stand a chance in hell of winning.

And so it goes with the Republicans these days.  The party is no longer a bastion of conservative, but rather, reactionary principles that reflect a yearning for a bygone era, rather than offering constructive solutions for today.  The reflexive reaction Republicans have to any policy proposal Democrats advance is an immediate no.  It’s not good for the GOP in the long term, but what’s best for the country may well be what’s worst for the GOP.  Alas.

Facebook: Shooting the Messenger

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re doing so via Facebook, and that’s super.  Facebook has become about as ubiquitous as stoplights in our life.  It’s something that’s, well, simply everywhere.  And it went public, as we’re all aware, and it was a big flop.  If, by ‘flop,’ you mean that it raised tens of billions of dollars, it just wasn’t as much as Mark Zuckerberg would have liked.

Well, Morgan Stanley has come under fire for allegedly badmouthing the offering when they were selling it to investors, and now their top technology banker is becoming the scapegoat for all of the fallout that’s come about as a result of Facebook’s disappointing debut.  There’s a lot of factors that impact the share price of any company, but the most important factor is how much money it makes.  That, more than anything, determines the value of the shares in the eyes of the markets.  At that, Facebook simply comes in lower than could be expected, given its stratospheric valuation.

Facebook can cite as many technical glitches, shoddy bankers and ignorant investors as they like, but the bottom line is that, as a company that earns about $3.4 billion a year, valuing it at over $100 billion isn’t sustainable in markets.  It’s not Morgan Stanley’s fault that the stock price has declined by about 20% since its debut.  It’s the fact that the hype surrounding the IPO jacked up a price to levels that never justified the price.  Such is the beauty of markets.  They work far more often than they don’t.  And when they do work, they do so quietly, quickly and with ruthless efficiency, much as they are now, busy at whittling away shareholder value that never exited to begin with at those unjustified prices.