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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres








"The idea of Scottish independence has moved from the implausible to the very possible. Whether or not it actually happens, the idea that the union of England and Scotland, which has existed for more than 300 years, could be dissolved has enormous implications in its own right, and significant implications for Europe and even for global stability. The United Kingdom was the center of gravity of the international system from the end of the Napoleonic Wars until World War II. It crafted an imperial structure that shaped not only the international system but also the internal political order of countries as diverse as the United States and India. The United Kingdom devised and drove the Industrial Revolution. In many ways, this union was a pivot of world history. To realize it might be dissolved is startling and reveals important things about the direction of the world.Scotland and England are historical enemies. Their sense of competing nationhoods stretches back centuries, and their occupation of the same island has caused them to fight many wars. Historically they have distrusted each other, and each has given the other good reason for the distrust. The national question was intertwined with dynastic struggles and attempts at union imposed either through conquest or dynastic intrigue. The British were deeply concerned that foreign powers, particularly France, would use Scotland as a base for attacking England. The Scots were afraid that the English desire to prevent this would result in the exploitation of Scotland by England, and perhaps the extinction of the Scottish nation. The Union of 1707 was the result of acts of parliaments on both sides and led to the creation of the Parliament of Great Britain. England's motive was its old geopolitical fears. Scotland was driven more by financial problems it was unable to solve by itself. What was created was a united island, acting as a single nation. From an outsider's perspective, Scotland and England were charming variations on a single national theme -- the British -- and it was not necessary to consider them as two nations. If there was ever a national distinction that one would have expected to be extinguished in other than cultural terms, it was this one. Now we learn that it is intact. We need a deeper intellectual framework for understanding why Scottish nationalism has persisted ...
The possibility of Scottish independence must be understood in this context. Nationalism, the remembrance and love of history and culture, is not a trivial thing. It has driven Europe and even the world for more than two centuries in ever-increasing waves. The upcoming Scottish election, whichever way it goes, demonstrates the enormous power of the desire for national self-determination. If it can corrode the British union, it can corrode anything. There are those who argue that Scottish independence could lead to economic problems or complicate the management of national defense. These are not trivial questions, but they are not what is at stake here. From an economic point of view, it makes no sense for Scotland to undergo this sort of turmoil. At best, the economic benefits are uncertain. But this is why any theory of human behavior that assumes that the singular purpose of humans is to maximize economic benefits is wrong. Humans have other motivations that are incomprehensible to the economic model but can be empirically demonstrated to be powerful. If this referendum succeeds, it will still show that after more than 300 years, almost half of Scots prefer economic uncertainty to union with a foreign nation. This is something that must be considered carefully in a continent that is prone to extreme conflicts and still full of borders that do not map to nations as they are understood historically. Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona, the second-largest and most vibrant city in Spain, has a significant independence movement. The Treaty of Trianon divided Hungary so that some Hungarians live in Romania, while others live in Slovakia. Belgium consists of French and Dutch groups (Walloons and Fleming), and it is not too extreme to say they detest each other. The eastern half of Poland was seized by the Soviet Union and is now part of Ukraine and Belarus. Many Chechens and Dagestanis want to secede from Russia, as do Karelians, who see themselves as Finns. There is a movement in northern Italy to separate its wealthy cities from the rest of Italy. The war between Azerbaijan and Armenia is far from settled. Myriad other examples can be found in Europe alone." (STRATFOR)


Scott Browns Path Back to D.C. Widens


"Former Sen. Scott P. Brown’s path to victory in the New Hampshire Senate race has widened.
Once a second-tier race that seemed unlikely to impact control of the Senate, a trio of recent polls show the race between Brown and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has tightened.A CNN/ORC poll released Monday had the race tied at 48 percent. A WMUR/UNH poll from early August put Shaheen ahead, 46 percent to 44 percent. A CBS/New York Times/YouGov poll conducted in the final weeks of August and early September had Shaheen with 47 percent to Brown’s 41 percent.
Shaheen remains the front-runner, but even Democrats acknowledge the race has moved to a single-digit contest — and Republicans are more bullish about Brown’s chances than ever. 'Everyone is more optimistic, almost without exception, than they were two months ago,' New Hampshire Republican political operative Charlie Arlinghaus said of Republicans. 'Part of it is that it just feels more Republican on the ground than it did, it feels like the mood leans more right than it did.'Republicans say Brown has impressed with his campaigning and suggest voters have largely moved past the idea that the former Massachusetts senator is a carpetbagger. 'He’s a bear on retail politicking, and I think that’s a big thing here,' said New Hampshire Republican operative Tom Rath. 'He’s been at every pub and diner in the state, and he seems to just relish that.'As for the carpetbagging, Rath said people have sort of gotten over it. 'We know he’s a Red Sox fan,' Rath said.
Democrats acknowledge the race is competitive, but say they believe it will break in Shaheen’s favor by single digits. 'I think Jeanne Shaheen will win,' said Kathy Sullivan, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. 'It could be six points; it could be seven or eight.'" (RollCall)









The Hedge Fund Scam Is Unraveling








"CALPERS is America's largest pension fund, with $300 billion in assets. It just announced that it is pulling all of its money out of hedge funds. Why? Because everyone knows that hedge funds are a ripoff. CALPERS had about $4 billion invested in hedge funds. They paid $135 million in fees on those investments last year. They are pulling all that money out of hedge funds, citing both their complexity and their expense. Hedge funds operate by convincing investors to pay extremely high fees to hedge fund managers (whether the hedge fund makes money for investors or not) because hedge fund managers are presumably magical geniuses. Sadly, time has shown that hedge funds as an asset class are not worth the price. There seems to be a distinct shortage of actual magical geniuses.
Honest finance experts have long known that the idea that investing in hedge funds will earn you better returns than investing in other, plainer, cheaper things like stocks and bonds is "a demonstrably wrong perception." In CALPERS's decision, we have a large-scale acknowledgment of that fact.
The people who will continue to defend hedge funds are either A) People who have something to gain, such as hedge fund employees; B) People who have themselves invested in hedge funds, and are holding out hope that they will be the ones to beat the odds and strike it rich, much like lottery players hold out hope of finding the unlikely winning ticket; or C) People who do not know what they're talking about. "  (HamiltonNolan/Gawker)













"There was a book party last night. Celia and Henry McGee and Geraldine Baum and Michael Oreskes gave a party for their friend Mark Whitaker and his new book 'Cosby: His Life and Times' (Simon & Schuster, publishers). I haven’t read it yet, haven’t even seen it yet, but it’s had a lot of attention because Cosby is the biggest laidback version of a Big Star that there is out there. I mean, there’s no ballyhoo about the guy — he lives a very quiet life (last I knew he was living for years with his wife in a major limestone mansion on the Upper East Side). I don’t think I’ve ever seen him around the nabe (which doesn’t mean he doesn’t go out), and aside from the tabloidal scandals which include a terrible family tragedy, you never hear much about him. But he’s a big star, has had a successful career for a half century, still goes out there and plays to large sold out houses doing his monologues a hundred times a year, and even allegedly had a major influence in the consumer culture that even the Kardashians can’t complete with. I’m talking about the 'sneaker' story. I say allegedly because I was told the story years ago by someone in the television production business who’d worked on or with the Cosby show. The story is this (and I’ve told it on these pages before): Back when Cosby was doing the show, and taping in Los Angeles, one day the star came onto the set wearing what we used to call sneakers. They were a major name: Adidas or Nike, something like that. This doesn’t sound remarkable today, but until that moment people — stars — didn’t wear 'sneakers' (which is what they were called for decades before) to the set. By that time, however, the athletic shoe and the aforementioned labels among them, had begun to build their market — although .... After a couple of weeks, the directors and the writers and other actors started following the Star’s fashion choice, and wearing sneakers to the set. And after a couple of months maybe, everyone on the set was wearing them. And a few months after that, everyone in the business was wearing them.It was a trend at the time, a change of costume. Nothing new about that — from the late '60s on, Americans have been trending in their costume, all in a 'more relaxed' direction. Within a year or so, the world  was wearing sneakers as everyday footwear. Cosby did that; no credit needed. Probably never saw a dime from it.  In other words, the man’s influence is quiet and wide, and profoundly cultural. There is an article in last week’s New Yorker by Kelefa Sanneh which you can get online that covers the story at some length." (NYSD)











"You don’t need psychic powers to know that September has been rough on astrologer to the stars Susan Miller: Her monthly report arrived late Friday night, nearly halfway into the month. With each passing day, Miller made allusions to the chronic illness (intestinal ulcers, injections, Humira, lowered immunity, side-effect drowsiness) slowing her normally heroic output via Facebook and Twitter. And, as usual, Miller gave all 48,000 words (the equivalent of Slaughterhouse-Five) away for free. But that wasn’t enough to appease the Susanistas — the anti-Miller faction formed last time her reports ran late, in July — from griping on Miller’s Facebook page. They are accusing the astrologer of abandoning them, lying about her illness, unprofessionalism, and generally jerking them around. The Cut talked to Miller about the brewing backlash." (TheCut)






"
'An electorate reshaped by a growing presence of liberal millennials, minorities, and a secular, unmarried and educated white voting bloc will most likely force Republicans to recalibrate. … When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, white voters without a college degree made up 65 percent of the electorate; by 2012, that number had dropped to 36 percent.'
The latter statistic is more complicated than it seems, in large part because more people than ever are getting college degrees—33.5 percent of people between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-nine had a bachelor's degree in 2012, versus 24.7 percent in 1995 versus 21.9 percent in 1975, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Given that the rise has benefitted minorities and, in particular, women, while the share of people from low-income families attaining those degrees has "remained relatively flat over the last several decades," what's been eroded, in part, is the bastion of white men who were able to skip college and attain a middle-classish existence, leaving the remaining uneducated whites exposed and isolated, economically and, increasingly, socially—making them angrier and louder and, unfortunately for them, their views ever more toxic to the nationally minded politicians who once clamored for their votes. If Democrats can win today on issues of reproductive rights and gay marriage in the South—if only occasionally, for now—who will be left representing the poor, conservative white man in a decade? " (TheAwl)

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