Movies

Anthony Lane reviews ‘Tower Heist’ and ‘Melancholia,’ but he also has an instructive rant on Video On Demand.

“There’s only one problem with home cinema: it doesn’t exist. The very phrase is an oxymoron. As you pause your film to answer the door or fetch a Coke, the experience ceases to be cinema. Even the act of choosing when to watch means you are no longer at the movies. Choice—preferably an exhaustive menu of it—pretty much defines our status as consumers, and has long been an unquestioned tenet of the capitalist feast, but in fact carte blanche is no way to run a cultural life (or any kind of life, for that matter), and one thing that has nourished the theatrical experience, from the Athens of Aeschylus to the multiplex, is the element of compulsion. Someone else decides when the show will start; we may decide whether to attend, but, once we take our seats, we join the ride and surrender our will. The same goes for the folks around us, whom we do not know, and whom we resemble only in our private desire to know more of what will unfold in public, on the stage or screen. We are strangers in communion, and, once that pact of the intimate and the populous is snapped, the charm is gone. Our revels now are ended.”

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2011/11/07/111107crci_cinema_lane

Music

A very nice profile of French classical pianist Hélène Grimaud.

“Yet, at a moment when vast catalogues of classical recordings are moving onto the digital cloud, Grimaud is at an advantage. Her albums aren’t merely proficient tours through the repertoire; they are highly personal explorations that can stand out among dozens of rival performances. And in the concert hall Grimaud can offer surprises, something rarely provided by players who have been processed by the conservatory machine.”

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/11/07/111107fa_fact_max

Sports

“By the way, I don’t think Manning is coming back. Three neck surgeries in two years? Stem cell treatments in Europe? This seems insane. He won a Super Bowl, set some records and made more than enough money. Why risk it? What’s the point? You don’t mess around with heads, necks and backs. My personal take: I think Indy knows he’s probably not coming back; that’s just one of the 27 reasons they haven’t fired Jim Caldwell yet. They need Andrew Luck as much as Miami does.”

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7160762/nfl-quarterback-power-rankings

Economics / Business

WSJ’s Amity Shlaes argues for further capital gains tax reductions, in her article ‘Three Policies That Gave Us the Jobs Economy;’ “Capital gains tax cuts, deregulation to allow easier investment in growth companies, and the protection of intellectual property created a boom.”

“Many wealthy people did indeed make more money as a result, including some of those less-lovable billionaires on Wall Street. But they then invested in companies like Apple.”

But Apple was an exception. Most venture capital went into small start-up companies who were designed to be bought later. The payoff for VCs wasn’t the continued growth of that particular company – it was that company being bought out by a larger fish. Most VCs pocketed their profits and walked away to find the next startup. They were nowhere to be found when companies like Lucent, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and Dell started going south.

“A second policy change came in pension law. In 1974, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, known as Erisa, codified the common law prudent-man principle by warning pension investors that they might be neglecting their fiduciary responsibilities if they invested in risky projects like Apple. The pension funds and portfolio investors duly stayed away. That changed when the definitions were relaxed later in the 1970s, as Josh Lerner and Paul Alan Gompers have noted in “The Money of Invention.” Pension funds could again tell themselves and their clients that they were acting responsibly when they invested in start-ups. The funds began to put more cash into venture capital.”

But not just venture capital – that’s a bit disingenuous. The funds began to put more cash into hedge funds. Pension funds rarely invested in single companies – their brokers traditionally mixed mutual funds with bonds and treasuries, but they got home run fever just like everyone else. How are G.E.’s pension obligations doing these days? Or Weyerhauser’s? Were the warnings about pensions investing heavily in derivatives overstated?

Otherwise, I think this is a pretty good article – pro-corporate without being condescending. And she manages to point out regulations that turned out to be onerous without drinking the absolutist kool-aid, i.e. All Regulations Are Bad, Fully Unfettered Is Good. Despite making lawyers happy (which the GOP is generally loath to do), and the gluttony of companies like Monsanto and ADM, she’s right about intellectual property rights overall.

“When it comes to taxes, the 1970s takeaway is that taxes on capital should always be lowered, and dramatically. Cutting a rich man’s tax can serve the lowliest citizens.”

A good prescription in the seventies. What she’s missing now is that corporations are no longer interested in allocating that money to either R&D or their American labor force. It didn’t make a lot of sense to ship labor overseas in the seventies. Now companies just hoard cash and buy back stock; conditions didn’t favor that in the seventies. Then came Reagan. Then came Gingrich. Then came Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203914304576628900383779840.html

Healthcare / Politics

“The Obama Administration is pulling the plug on CLASS, the long-term insurance program within the Affordable Care Act.
“…making long-term care insurance a mandatory part of the Affordable Care Act would have made the health care reform bill even more complicated and, potentially, controversial. So the law’s sponsors decided to make the program voluntary — and called it the Community Living Assistance Service and Supports (CLASS) Act.
“…skeptical administration officials took solace in the fact that, thanks to a provision inserted by Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the Secretary of Health and Human Services had discretion to modify the program if, upon further consideration, it appeared unlikely to remain stable. It’s precisely that authority that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius exercised last week.
“…the estimates on long-term care always involved unusually high uncertainty, because the evidence on how such policies work is relatively thin and the insurance product itself was unusual. There’s just wasn’t that much experience on which to base actuarial models.

“We know conservatives don’t like universal health insurance if it means government coverage. We know conservatives don’t like universal health insurance if it means a private coverage with a mandate. And, based on their reaction to CLASS, we know conservatives don’t like universal health insurance if it means a private coverage without a mandate.
“But if they don’t like any of those options, what’s left? Could it be that conservatives just don’t like universal health insurance at all? That they simply don’t believe it’s possible or worthwhile to make sure everybody can pay their medical bills, the way every other developed country does?”

http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-cohn/96332/class-act-obamacare-long-term-care-mandate-cost-foster

Food / Socioculture

In eight months, selling foie gras will be illegal in California.

“…for seven hours on Friday night, at a restaurant appropriately known as Animal, three chefs presented an eight-course meal that was nothing short of a glorification of this soon-to-be outlawed delicacy. There was smoked foie gras, roasted foie gras, steamed foie gras and liquefied foie gras, injected into agnolotti. It was served with veal tongue, yogurt, prosciutto, mustard ice cream and truffles. There was even a foie gras dessert: a brownie sundae with foie gras Chantilly.

“Good for them,” John L. Burton, the former state legislator who sponsored the bill, said when told about the dinner-as-political-protest. “If you give me the address of the restaurant, I’ll be outside selling Lipitor so they don’t all get heart attacks. This is like what they did before Prohibition: Everyone was giving away the booze. Whatever makes them happy.”

“What’s being regulated here?” she asked. “You are denying people the food that people in some countries have been eating for generations. They don’t believe the process of fattening up the ducks or geese is painful to the ducks or geese. I’ve seen the videos, and everyone says the same thing: they all seem to run up to be fed.”
“She continued: “The question is whether you believe that the killing of animals for food for people is acceptable. It’s a moral judgment. You have an ethical slippery slope here.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/us/in-california-going-all-out-to-bid-adieu-to-foie-gras.html?hp

Economics / Socioculture

True-pro journalist Chris Hedges appeared on Canadian television, and brooked no nonsense:

Fill-in for Lang : Well Kevin made this point that nobody knows what they want. What do you say to that? We know that this is a very diverse group, there are many different agendas at play … what is the sense you have of what this movement would like to see happen?
Hedges : They know precisely what they want ; they want to reverse the corporate coup that’s taken place in the US and rendered the citizenry impotent and they won’t stop until that happens and frankly if we don’t break the back of corporations, we’re all finished anyway since we’re rapidly trashing the ecosystem on which the human species depends for survival. This is literally a fight for life – it’s that grave, it’s that serious. Corporations, unfettered capitalism, as Karl Marx understood, is a revolutionary force – it commodifies everything – human beings, the natural world which it exploits for profit until exhaustion and collapse. The bottom line is we don’t have much time left – we are on the cusp of perhaps another major banking crisis in Europe, defaults in Greece, followed by Spain, Portugal. There’s been no restrictions, no regulations on Wall Street – they’ve looted the US Treasury, they’ve played all the games that they were playing before and we’re about to pay for it all over again.

Hedges : I would say that those who are protesting the rise of the corporate state are in fact on the political spectrum the true conservatives because they’re calling for the restoration of the rule of law. The radicals have seized power and they have trashed all regulations and legal impediments to a corporate reconfiguration of American society into a form of neo-feudalism. And that’s what we’re really asking for – is the restoration of the rule of law.
O’Leary : Ok, but you don’t see any value in the banking system providing a financial infrastructure …
Hedges : That’s not what I said.
O’Leary : I’m asking you.
Hedges : A banking system that functions as a banking system should. And in Canada you do not have a banking crisis because you did not tear down the walls between commercial and investment banks and turn all of your banks into hedge funds. If, instead of handing massive sums of money to CitiBank, Wells Fargo – which are basically zombie banks that still hold tremendous toxic assets – we had created ten regional banks with $10 billion each and leveraged them 10 to 1, people could have been saved. Six million people have been pushed out of their homes because of foreclosures and mortgages. We could have reinvested in communities, small businesses which cannot get credit would have gotten credit. Instead they’re just sitting on the capital and not lending it.
O’Leary : So we’re certainly giving you an opportunity to speak your mind. Just so we can come full circle, what do you suggest should be done with Goldman Sachs specifically?
Hedges : They should be prosecuted. When you shove sub-prime mortgages on families that you know can’t repay it and then you dice up those mortgages as assets and sell them and bet against them through AIG, that’s fraudulent activity.

http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/scarce/journalist-chris-hedges-goes-canada-ends-fo