Sunday, December 14, 2008

My wife made me do it!

Judy, my wife and co-publisher at The Permanent Press, has been after me for months to start a blog--something I have always resisted doing. My reasons? With a million blogs out there, why would anyone be interested in reading the millionth and first?

"You could talk about our books," she says. "Okay," I answer," but The Permanent Press already has a website." "Then talk about politics." My answer: "Why bother: Frank Rich at The New York Times does that better than I can."

So far, so good in avoidance techiques. But then she trumped my objections by declaring: "Here's what I want for Christmas: paint the front of the silverware drawer in the kitchen, which looks too shabby, and start your blog," following which she called our son, Caleb, who lives next door -- and who is most knowledgeable about setting up these things. Half-an-hour later he was here, so there were no excuses left.

To find a title, I phoned Daniel Klein, who co-authored the Best Seller Plato and Platypus walked Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. We're publishing his novel The History of Now in March. He came up with The Book Stops Here for a header, and when that was unavailable for a URL, Chris Knopf, who has written the acclaimed Sam Acquillo/Hampton mysteries (his fourth in this series, Hard Stop, comes out in May) came up with TheCockeyedPessimist. Which brings me to the "Book Part" of this initial blog: sharing a series of coincidences that reads like the beginning of a Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode:

On Monday, December 8th, Publishers Weekly reviewed both Danny's novel and our February novel, Efrem Sigel's The Disappearance to excellent reviews, which you can view on The Permanent Press website, . It also turns out that both Danny and Efrem went to Harvard, both live in Great Barrington, both novels are set in Great Barrington, and both have wives named Frederica... and neither had ever known or heard of one another. Of course, if the stars are so much in line, might both books also gain wide readership? Who is to say in The Twilight Zone, though I can tell you that both are eminently deserving.

One last book comment before going on to politics: I plan on asking individual authors to write columns on future postings.

And now on the the surreal aspects of politics, brought on by reading the Sunday, December 14 issue of The New York Times. The first page alone would warm the heart of Will Rogers or Lenny Bruce. If you haven't seen it, here's the essence of it all: Chuck Schumer, a member of the Senate Banking and Finance Committes, a so-called "populist" Senator from New York has clearly been the front man for Wall Street interests going back for 13 years, pushing for less regulation, lower taxes, less oversight, preventing limits on executive pay, blocking the policing of the credit rating agencies that overestimated the strength of corporations and banks, and has worked his magic in ten major bills over this period of time. "A Champion of Wall Street Reaps the Benefits" was the headline. And, in the text, it reported that Schumer reaped more money in donations than any other Senator, with the exception of, surprise, surprise, another "populist," John Kerry. The further irony is that members of the George Bush's Securities and Exchange Commission were pushing for regulation as they attempted to protect investors and the public from potential fallout.

What does it all look like from here? Take nothing for granted! The Democrats, supposedly that party of Main Street, protected Wall Street while some Republican appointees, from the party of Wall Street, were trying to protect the public. So here's another question to ponder. Who is more venal, Governor Rob Blagojevich with his penny-ante, crude attempts to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars with his personal "pay for play" demands, or Senator Schumer's raising hundreds of millions of dollars from Wall Street for his own campaigns and those of Democratic Senatorial candidates? While Schumer has not, as far as we know, pocketed this money for his own personal nest egg, he far outranks the Illinois Governor on the damage done to this economy and the costs to tax-payers for his support of Wall Street deregulation and bail-outs.

It seems to me that Schumer is part of a grander "Pay to Play" system, and that the major differences between him and Blagojevich have more to do with style than substance.

Marty Shepard


  1. Cracking title and cracking content. More, please.

  2. Okay, Marty, I agree with you: the result counts, not the intention.

    That said, I’m stimulated to be the devil’s advocate on this one, because I believe there is a substantial difference between defenders of Wall Street, such as Shumer, and the Blagojevich’s of the political world.

    As far as I can tell Shumer is a tough cookie who operates by the rules of our political system, which have been the fundamental rules of democratic societies since the Greeks invented democracy 2,500 years ago. These rules are based on the willingness of conflicting interests in a society to arbitrate their positions in public discourse and to compromise their interests so that all the interests in society can coexist with a minimum of friction. In other words, ya fight for what ya want, but ya don’t commit suicide.

    I won’t defend Shumer’s particular actions (he is in New York, I am in Seattle) but I will say that in general I don’t think it egregious that he is willing to let the Wall Street bunch, or any other constituency, sit at the table, nor that Wall Streeters do all they can to advance their interests (we all do that), nor that Shumer also protects their interests—hopefully without sacrificing the interests of the rest of us—because Wall Streeters are part of the New York constituencies, and Shumer is their senator.

    Perhaps the more important question is, did Shumer (and other Wall Street defenders) cross the line between the ethical and unethical in support of that Wall Street constituency? I don’t know the answer to that, but by all appearances, no, he did not cross that line. Did he use horribly bad judgment in supporting their demands for less regulation? Possibly—and if he did he is guilty of misfeasance, which is “performing a legal action in an improper way. This term is frequently used when a professional or public official does his job in a way that is not technically illegal, but is nevertheless mistaken or wrong.” [From]

    Did Blogojevich cross the line between ethical and unethical conduct? By any reasonable standard, yes. He broke a law, and is probably (it remains to be proved) guilty of malfeasance, which is “doing something that is illegal. This term is often used when a professional or public official commits an illegal act that interferes with the performance of his or her duties. For example, an elected official who accepts a bribe in exchange for political favors has committed malfeasance.” [From]

    Lincoln was a master politician who worked the politics of his time for all he was worth, and in the end, successfully, to deliver for his constituencies, like any successful politician does, but in the process he never crossed that line. Some have argued that he committed misfeasance numerous times (the suspension of habeas corpus, to cite one example, the suppression of the draft riots, to cite another), but never malfeasance. I believe that is the case with many—probably most—politicians. We revile them, but all too often for doing what we elected them to do: look out for our interests, which is a dirty business.

    So maybe the question should be, “Do we want live in a political system that permits the Shumers to represent the interests of Wall Streeters (the privileged) at the expense of the rest of us?” I don’t have an answer to that, except to remember the famous words of Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

    If you unelect Shumer in the next election cycle, you will not have fixed the “problem”, because the “problem” is systemic. You will have removed a politician who does not represent your interests, and this is a good thing to do now and then, just for the hell of it. But for me the important point is that I know of no other system that I would trust more than the democratic system we now have—messy as it is.



  4. No need for me to add my two cents on this as Bill got it exactly right.

    As a elected official I too often find myself in a room fool of people talking about "them".

    "They" the politicians as Bill writes Mr Shumer or Mr. Blagojevich may or may not be guilty of misfeasance but the issue is more systemic than that.

    I would dare not accuse anyone reading this blog of being apathetic - Marty's readers I'm sure are too engaged for that. That being said I believe that (to my perception) most people have no idea the debate and concession that is made in order to get "good" legislation passed. (good being a temporal and highly subjective measure of course)

    Additionally (back to Mr Blagojevich) the amount of money needed to mount a serious campaign is in the millions of dollars in my district and at least two candidates I know personally have tried and failed to gain the nessesary support to unseat the GOP incumbent.

    If I'm making any point it simply as Bill suggests a more systemic problem that does not have any easy solution.

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