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January 2010

Curing Vice and Folly: Matt Taibbi versus David Brooks

Matt Taibbi, who exposed the outrageous behavior of Goldman execs inside and outside government, responds to David Brooks of the NY Times who takes the corruption in stride, as a necessary evil in this the best of all possible worlds. Here is Matt on his relationship with wealth and power, not one of resentment:

I don’t hate these guys because they’re rich and went to fancy private schools. Hell, I’m rich and went to a fancy private school. I look at these people as my cultural peers and what angers me about them is that, with many coming from backgrounds similar to mine, these guys chose to go into a life of crime and did so in a way that is going to fuck things up for everyone, rich and poor, for a generation.

The right approach, though, is to out-Brooks Brooks and write a Modest Defense of Wealth Bondage in all Ages. The winners and losers we must remember enjoy and embrace their unequal status. The lower pay dearly for the privileges of the higher, but love it all the same. Brooks could not be happier stroking the boot on which he is dandled. He gets pleasure from serving, and identities strongly with those he serves, happy and proud, like a little boy among grownups, to be included on terms however demeaning. Only The Praise of Folly taken to the point of evident absurdity could counter the moral complacency of Brooks and the Paper of Record. To praise folly when it is endemic sounds balanced and reasonable; that is its power. Brooks sounds as reasonable as Erasmus's head Fool praising Folly to a roomful of admiring Fools. We should embrace and extend that Foolishness until we all laugh out loud. Laughter might be the best cure for vice as well as folly. We want to be centrist. Folly and Vice to the left of us, Vice and Folly to the right of us. And here we are stuck in the middle again, with nothing but good things to say in our own bipartisan way.

Green Jobs on our Nation's Coastlines?

Club Orlov:
In a world where rising seas are already putting millions of people at risk of losing their homes, their lives, or both, a programme of building large numbers of inexpensive, practical, utilitarian and versatile sailing craft is a direct way to provide flood-proof, earthquake-proof and storm-proof habitation, to build communities, to create local resilience, and to provide hope for a survivable future.

AKMA Eight Years On


Eight years of blogging have brought wonderful benefits, but I’m beginning to think I can see the end of it. Not immediately, but eventually I can envision putting more time into focused, larger-scale online writing, and leaving the dailyness to microblog vehicles. I dislike microblogging for a number of reasons, but the community into which I started out blogging has largely faded to inactivity (blogwise — I’m not accusing anyone of laziness). With less tightly-woven sense of writing to people and hearing from them, I feel less sense of obligation to put anything here at all. And I’m certainly busy enough, even busy relaxing, that I can imagine a time when I’m not inclined to bother at all anymore.

The idea of AKMA leaving reminds me of the last time I saw him. We had been blogging about whether an Episcopalian minister can actually bless a person who has not joined the church, whether a blessing might even leak beneath a church door puddling at the feet of one not within the covenanted congregation. AKMA held not. Yet on the way out the door, he called out, not looking at me exactly, "God bless." It has made all the difference, judging from my recent posts. Does God listen to such oblique or rogue blessings? I might yet sneak into salvation if I cultivate a friend like AKMA and bootleg a blessing.

Making a Social Investment in Politicized Media


If progressives ever seriously want to challenge conservatism, they would do well to heed his <fomer head of Air America's> advice: fund progressive media. That assumes there are wealthy progressives who actually want to do that, but if there are, this is how it's done. With corporate America prepared to unleash unlimited cash, wealthy individuals are going to have to step up and figure where they can best put their money to counteract it and the right wingers that serve them. Progressive media is going to be vital.

The Padre on the Frontlines of Finance

The Padre accompanies troops into battle. Why should a Padre not accompany the financial services professional in doing estate plans for high net worth clients? If the Padre can bless the soldier, he could bless the attorney. No soul is beyond saving. No act is so heinous that we couldn't find some Padre to bless it. And it would be great for morale.

Faith and Money, a Service of....(Whom?)

Clearly it is absurd to think that a Rabbi would work for a Private Bank doing the values piece of values-based planning for Jewish clients. It is equally absurd to imagine that a Private Banker would be employed within a Temple, reporting to the Rabbi, to assist with legacy plans. Yet, we assume that the wealthy Jewish client will somehow negotiate all this for himself or herself. We and our clients are compartmentalized, faith in one part of the brain or life, money-planning in another. The Last Will and Testament, read the day after our death, shows how well we managed to bring both together. Since the legal docs are done by a para-legal with document creation software you can be fairly certain that they do not fully represent a life under the aspect of eternity. Yet the impact of a will might outlast the marble monument erected with the client's name and dates. That we entrust the work of eternity to attorneys working without Rabbinical supervision beats the heck out of me.

God or Mammon in Philanthropic Advisory Services?

The wealthy person walks into The Private Bank of Wealth Bondage. The receptionist says, "You are here for your legacy plan, Sir?"  Client nods. "Would that be a secular only, Sir? Or would you like some ethics with that?" The client says, ethics would be fine. The receptionist hits the buzzer. Out come the Ethics Experts dressed in appropriate regalia. A Rabbi, a Catholic Priest, an Evangelical Preacher, an Episcopalian Minister, a Unitarian Facilitator, a Mullah, a New Age Guru, a teacher of Classics. They client according to his taste that day picks one.

There are certainly staffing issues here, but clergy earn squat. So the real issue is process. When the client chooses the Rabbi, say, how will that conversation about mortality, love, justice, and community go? How much the of the client's net worth and income will that conversation govern? How and when will the Rabbi hand off to the attorneys and financial advisors? What will be the process to make sure the Rabbinical wisdom governs, at the client's behest, all the money? Not just a tiny gift, not a major gift, not a trust, but all the money?

If the Rabbinical wisdom for the faithful Jew only governs a tad of the money does Mammon, or Wealth Bondage, govern the rest, and if so has The Private Bank of Wealth Bondage failed in its Brand Promise - to help all wealthy clients do a good values-based plan to pass on their values along with the valuables?