Monday, December 24, 2018

Advent in Herod's Kingdom

Long before Christmas season was a consumer extravaganza starting just after Halloween, it was a period of solemn religious reflection starting four Sundays before Christmas. For some of us, it still is. In America that means it's both. I experience, and enjoy, the secular Christmas of eggnog, gift wrap, and Dean Martin, but I'm also mindful, maybe a bit more each winter, of Advent and its quieter demands. We're in the bleak midwinter, of the season and sometimes of the spirit. And midwinter's never seemed bleaker than when I watch the news.

Advent was originally a period of fasting, a shorter chillier Lent before the twelve days of Christmas feasting. Part of me still prefers that model to the current model of feasting until the 25th and then collapsing into post-holiday blues. I don’t diet in December, although maybe I should, but it’s worth a little sobriety and reflection. We are in the desert of short days.

Jesus of Nazareth was not really born in winter. But he came in the midst of a spiritual winter. He came into a dispirited world. And, as our parish priest recently reminded me, Jesus was born into a political winter: into an occupied country, whose local puppet rulers had grown corrupt and whose imperial masters had let their own republic die. It was a season for cynicism, a solstice of despair. And the faint gleam of hope that Jesus brought was a long way off. As I’ve blogged before, Christmas is Christianity’s second holiday. Easter celebrates the fulfillment of hope. Christmas only gives a far-off sign, a cold shimmer on a winter night, to keep hope alive. The promise will be kept, but not yet. Not for years yet. You need to hold onto your faith for decades more.

Jesus was born poor and naked in Herod’s kingdom. And Herod was no good king. The gospel of Matthew says that Herod sent soldiers to kill the infant Jesus, and to massacre hundreds of children hoping to get the one they’d been sent for. That story isn’t historical, but it is a lesson about power and fear and how monarchs lead.

Medieval and Renaissance England loved to stage King Herod. He was one of the great roles of English theater. He ranted. Long, insane rants about how great and powerful he was, how he was the greatest of the great. An incarnation of the Sin of Pride, made ridiculous by that sin. Hamlet is still using Herod as the example of over-the-top acting: to “out-Herod Herod” is to out-ham the hams.

So Shakespeare’s vision of the Christmas holidays involved a ranting, egomaniacal king, an absurd boaster who was actually a foreign puppet. But that vainglorious buffoon sends armed men to tear children from their mother’s arms. There’s such a thing as getting too close to the original meaning of Christmas.

It’s Advent, and we live in Herod’s kingdom. Children are taken from their mothers, and the king is angry with the wise men. Virtue and kindness are out of favor. Despair comes easy. But Advent’s promise is hope in the distance: a star on the horizon, an obscure birth in a village far from fame or power. Tomorrow may not be better. Tomorrow may be even darker than today. But a better day is coming, in its own time, and when it comes no earthly power will be able to delay it.

What to do in the cold dark days between the promise and the fulfillment? Stay faithful. Make ourselves ready. Remember that Herod will not last forever. And hold tight to the advice the angel gives the shepherds: “Be not afraid.”

Happy holidays and merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Harvard and David Hogg

Parkland survivor David Hogg, one of the most talented of that talented crop of activists, just got into Harvard. I’m happy for him. He was immediately attacked on social media by haters who called him unqualified. But he is a perfect example of Harvard’s long-standing admissions process, the “holistic” method they’re currently being sued over. That method is once again favoring a white kid. But it’s a reasonable and smart decision by Harvard.

The first thing to remember is that only about 10% of Harvard students are admitted strictly on academics. Most people assume it’s a hundred percent. It’s ten. (This figure is from Jerome Karabel’s excellent book, The Chosen. I should disclose that I do almuni interviews for Harvard, but am not using anything I’ve been told by Harvard itself for this post.)

Even that ten percent won’t necessarily have the best GPAs; Harvard turns down hundreds of valedictorians every year. A perfect GPA doesn’t hurt, but it’s not what Harvard’s looking for. Those ten percent are academically exceptional “in Harvard departmental terms,” meaning exceptional in a particular field of study. These are the students admitted to make the faculty happy. Some are strong in other areas as well. But some are “pointy, in admissions lingo, rather than “well-rounded.” Think of a physics prodigy who’s only a B+ student in English, or the future Pulitzer-winning historian who just gets by in calculus class. The ten percent of “scholars” are not the kids who always do everything they can to get a hundred on every piece of homework, but the kids who show some exceptional talent and might eventually help an academic field of study move forward.

Hogg’s application is private, and none of us know how it looks. But it’s not impossible that he’s in that ten percent. He intends to major in Government (what other schools usually call political science), and it may be that his hands-on experience in political organizing, and the skill with which he’s done it, is an asset that the Harvard Government Department wants in its classrooms. I am not saying that is the case; I have no idea.

Of course, the odds are nine out of ten that he’s in the rest of the admitted class. What are those people admitted for, beyond their grades? Things like “leadership” and “character,” which may sound like empty buzzwords but which schools like Harvard take deadly seriously. Harvard’s core business is producing future leaders. Business leaders. Political leaders. Leaders in the arts. Leaders of non-profits. Religious leaders, if they can. They are successful and rich because their alumni, as a group, are rich and successful. They are not joking about this. And they have spent a lot of time and money fine-tuning their strategies for finding kids who will be successful alumni some day.

They admit athletes in sports that will never make money, because they believe that leadership on the playing field prepares people for leadership in other fields. Does looking for future business leaders by recruiting the captains of prep-school fencing teams sounds crazy? Mark Zuckerberg was his prep school’s fencing captain. It sounds crazy, but it works.

Harvard admits kids who led a huge number of clubs at their high school; at various points their admissions office has referred to kids like this as “a wheel” or “Mr. School.” (Think “Mr. [Name of School].”) They’re not looking for kids who’ve just done a lot of extra-curriculars; they’re looking for kids who show the ability to engage and motivate others. They’re looking for people who are already showing leadership skills. They know it’s easier to develop students whose personalities incline them toward leadership roles than trying to teach “leadership” to students with very different personalities. Harvard has introverts, for sure, but there are a lot of extroverts on that campus.

Harvard also deliberately recruits students who’ve shown leadership in charity and volunteer work. There is, or used to be, a nickname for these applicants, too, taken from the building in Harvard Yard set aside for students’ charity work. Again, we’re not talking about the kids who participate in the annual blood drive, but about the kid who founded the annual blood drive.

Harvard also looks for kids with special artistic talents. If they took Matt Damon over someone with slightly better grades, that wasn’t a mistake. They did that on purpose. Did Yo-Yo Ma have the best GPA in his high school class? It could not possibly matter. Admitting Yo-Yo Ma was the right move and it has worked out beautifully.

(If you’re a role-playing nerd, or a recovering role-playing nerd, let me break it down for you: Harvard doesn’t just look for intelligence, or even for intelligence and wisdom. It looks for charisma.)

If a university obsessed with looking for signs of leadership gets an application from David Hogg, who has already shown enormous poise and leadership on a national stage, the outcome should involve exactly zero surprise. Harvard searches high and low for kids who might someday show the kind of leadership that David Hogg has been showing in public every day now for months. He is the closest thing to a sure bet that the Harvard Admissions Office will ever see. If you’re screening for leadership, that kid is a slam dunk, the surest bet the Harvard Admissions Office could have.

Politics has nothing to do with this. Harvard wants to produce leaders from every party. There are plenty of conservative senators who went to Harvard. And frankly, as a Harvard alum who wishes the school well, I couldn’t be happier about this choice. That kid has far too much potential to let Yale have him. I want him to be one of us. So, bravo, Harvard. And David: welcome to the family.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My First Short Story in a While

As previously mentioned, I have a new short story out this month: my first in 21 years. I am very happy about this. And, as promised, here's a taste and a link to the full piece. I hope you enjoy it.
The thing that broke your heart was, he could still fly. Nothing else to call it. There he was in those silly clothes, going wherever he pleased and not falling, as if gravity were just some tired social pretense and he’d grown too old to bother. But it wasn’t the same.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Writing Short Stories, Then and Now

I used to write short stories. Then, for many reasons, I stopped writing fiction. Today I had my first story published in more than twenty years. (It will be posted on the web in two weeks, and I will link to it then. If you can't wait, the issue's for sale here.) More stories may be along; we'll see. If it takes another twenty-one years, I'll have something to look forward to in 2039.

It's a little strange returning to an art form after two decades away. One of the things it means is that in my old stories, no one has e-mail. Most people didn't. Or cell phones. Any temptation to dredge up old pieces is held at bay by the fact that they've become historical fiction.

So what else has changed?

Electronic submissions have made the business of sending out stories easier, and vastly sped up response times for science fiction markets. I loved the ritual of going to the post office, and I enjoy an occasional return to that, but in the old days after stories went in the mail you had to put them out of your mind for at least a couple of months. Now you sometimes get a response in less than a week. Sometimes it's still months, of course, but things are more efficient.

(Literary magazines are still as slow to respond as always, or slower. Budget six months for a reply and be happily surprised if you hear back within three.)

The small cool science fiction magazines I used to love, with their tiny press runs, have largely been replaced by cool online science fiction magazines. That's a useful change, especially in terms of how many people potentially read a story. I didn't have many links to share in the old days. I'm back to being a fiction rookie again, trying to break in just as I did when I was younger, except that rookies today get to play for bigger crowds.

I am now older than my characters. In my twenties, my typical science-fiction narrator was about 45 years old. I had real storytelling reasons for that: one way to write about the future is to use a character who's old enough to have lived through the key social or technological change, and who remembers how things were before. On the other hand, I used a middle-aged protagonist at least once in a straight-realist story, so I don't know what I was thinking. My go-to protagonists are still middle-aged, but now I don't have to imagine what that's like. A 45-year-old narrator might just be me with marginally better knees. And maybe some of the emotional tone I was reaching for as a younger writer, the rueful complexity I associated with my elders, is nearer to my midlife grasp. At least I'd like to think so.

Fiction writing is no longer my vocation. I've learned there's something else I'm better at. I will never know how well I write either scholarship or fiction, because that's something you can never know about yourself. But I know which one I write better. The best thing I have ever written is a scholarly article about Shakespeare, and so is the second-best thing. Ten years from now, that will still be true. If I had been asked twenty-five years ago whether I'd prefer to be a better fiction writer or a better Shakespeare scholar, I wouldn't necessarily have chosen the way it's turned out. But no one gets asked. It's great luck to feel any vocation as a writer, and I'm grateful. It feels like ludicrous good fortune to discover I can still publish in a second field, years after leaving it behind.

Knowing that fiction won't get me anywhere means I don't have to worry about getting anywhere with my fiction. I can write short stories because I don't have to make a living from them. It's no longer possible to make a living writing short stories. Even commercial markets (and I should say Apex Magazine has been both fair and generous) won't pay a month's rent or mortgage in America, and no one can sell a story every month. But my stories don't have to pay my rent. Neither do I need to use stories to get attention for my novel, or worse yet my unfinished novel, or get myself an agent. If I write a novel, I'll try to get it attention, and probably an agent too. But right now the point of my stories is to be the best stories I can make them. If I end up writing a novel, the point will be to create the best novel I can. There don't need to be other reasons.

I suppose this is all to say that my ambition is to write fiction with "a professional's skills but an amateur's goals." But I lifted that phrase from the scholarly article I have coming out next month. I'm better at some things than others.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

Monday, November 12, 2018

Where Is Donald? Veterans Day Edition

Today, Veterans Day 2018, the President of the United States stayed in the White House. He did not go to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath. He did nothing to commemorate Veterans Day. The excuse was a forecast of rain. This makes no sense.

Two days ago, in France, Trump cancelled a trip to the Aisne Marne American military cemetery near Bellau Wood, about 50 miles outside Paris, with the excuse that Marine One has trouble flying in the rain. That's not a great excuse, but it's just barely plausible enough to get away with. And Trump took immediate blowback for skipping that ceremony. But Arlington is two miles from the White House, and it wasn't even raining. Rain was forecast for later. This is political malpractice, at best. Every President commemorates Veterans Day. It's easy. It costs you nothing. It looks awful if you skip it, let alone with combat troops in the field. And it's the right thing to do. (This is especially weird when Trump makes such a point of glorifying, or even fetishizing, the military.)

I don't believe this was about the rain.

The White House press corps was notified at 10 am that the President would have no more public events or movements for the day. So Trump's day ended early. Why?

Theory #1: Trump has taken ill. Trump is 72 years old. He eats poorly. His general health is probably not great. And he just flew back from Europe.

There's a long American tradition of not telling the public the full truth about the sitting President's health. Routine health problems get concealed, and sometimes major health problems that the public really might want to know about do, too. American presidents are always navigating middle or advanced age in the midst of an incredibly stressful job which takes a real physical toll on them. It's considered better for the country if we don't hear about every health setback.

So one explanation is that the septuagenarian President is feeling too physically exhausted after returning from Paris to have any public events and needs the day off the recuperate. That's not great, because it suggests the President has even less energy or stamina than I feared, but it's less consequential than the other possible theories.

Trump did tweet four times after 10 am (from 11:30 to a little before 2:30), but that's not strenuous. Maybe he could do that while taking a sick day.

Theory #2: Dealing with a Crisis. When a president of the United States suddenly and unexpectedly clears out the daily schedule, it sometimes means a crisis has arisen and the president can't spare time for anything else. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, was sent out to tell the press that all events had been canceled because President Kennedy had a cold. Most recent presidents would still have found an hour to get to Arlington, lay a Veteran's Day wreath, and motorcade back, but it all depends on how serious Trump perceives the (hypothetical) emergency to be.

He could be holed up with his advisers trying to cope with a crisis of some description: maybe a military or other national-security crisis, maybe a political crisis, and maybe a legal crisis. All are possibilities for this Administration right now.

If there were suddenly some national-security emergency, the public wouldn't necessarily know about it right away. The Cuban Missile Crisis, which was kept secret for days, is an obvious example. So was the terrorist threat against LAX back in the Clinton Administration, which had Bill Clinton demanding status updates every hour but which the public didn't hear about until the plot was disrupted. So it could be that Trump has been in the Situation Room all day, getting briefed by generals.

But Trump is also facing a number of political and legal challenges, some of which overlap. His party has just lost the House, meaning subpoenas and investigations by Democrats. His appointment of Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General may not take, with even some conservatives calling it unconstitutional, so the Whitaker Gambit to shut down Special Counsel Muller's investigation is looking less plausible.

And there is the Mueller investigation itself, and related investigations, which may be progressing in ways that aren't yet public. There are a number of rumors about imminent indictments, so Trump may feel the investigation getting uncomfortably close.

What was bothering another president of the United States would be a mystery, but Trump kept tweeting throughout the day, so we have a sense of what was foremost on his mind. It wasn't national security.

He begins his online day at 8 am with three tweets basically threatening to pull the US out of its military alliances, which is a hell of a way to start Veterans Day but not something you do when you're trying to deal with a pressing security problem. At 8:44 he demands an end to vote-counting in the Florida elections, basically calling vote-counting fraudulent. At 10 am the press is told his schedule for the day is over.

At 11:34 he tweets that the stock market will somehow tank if the House Democrats investigate him:

At 12:31 he tweets good wishes to the firefighters and first responders fighting the California fires, an attempt to make up for some unhelpful things he said about those fires over the last week. At 2:13 he tweets an attack on Comcast, the parent company of NBC. At 2:21 he tweets that Saudi Arabia and OPEC should not cut oil production (after Saudi Arabia announced that it would cut oil production) and that oil prices should be lower. That tweet seems especially useless, but they all read like reactions to whatever news Trump found unwelcome.

Overall, Trump seems upset and a little besieged: still upset enough by his party's election losses to try intervening in the Florida vote-count, anxious that about a stock-market downturn (as evidenced by both the stock-market tweet and the OPEC tweet), and angry at the media. The Comcast tweet may suggest that he's particularly upset at NBC or MSNBC at the moment. I read a president who's fearful about a number of developments. But my money is on the "Presidential Harassment" tweet revealing the core anxiety: the President is about to be under a lot more investigative scrutiny and he experiences that as a real threat.

Theory #3: The President Is Freaking Out

But the President may not be holding strategy meetings on his political and legal woes. He may just be melting down. Maybe he's too upset and overwrought to go out to Arlington, even briefly, and canceled his daily schedule in a giant tantrum. Or maybe his handlers are scared of what he'd say today if he were in front of the press for even a minute. He's been noticeably unraveling since the day after the election. There's a real possibility that he hasn't gotten better, but worse. He may be cracking under the political and legal strain.

I don't know what's going on. But I feel like we may eventually find out. Mark your calendars: Monday, November 12, when things got so bad that Trump couldn't celebrate Veterans Day.

cross-posted from Dagblog. All comments welcome there, not here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Death of Whitey Bulger

I never thought I would be upset to see Whitey Bulger die. But somehow that happened. Because Bulger's death, like Bulger's life, promoted organized crime.

I'm seeing a lot of the usual nonsense about the man, filled with praise he never deserved, from people who should know better. I blogged about the Whitey myth, and the way he the press builds him up into a folk hero, back when he was first arrested:
Bulger is the last Irish-American mob leader who's likely to control even a slice of the underworld in a major American city. He is ethnically similar to many of the journalists and editors covering him, and they obviously love writing about him. He's the last gangster who looks like Jimmy Cagney, so even very good coverage of him gets tinged with sympathy and sentimentality that Bulger has never come close to deserving. It's a nostalgia trip. Reporters call Bulger "colorful," but it's only because he's so very pale.
But I'm also seeing various tough-guy iterations of "he had it coming." But Whitey Bulger died because the Mafia (the Italian-American Mafia, which still persists in the Northeast) orchestrated a revenge killing inside a high-security federal prison.

The Mafia being able to murder snitches in a federal prison is a very, very bad thing. Don't celebrate that because you didn't like that particular snitch. I loathed and despised Bulger, but I'm not happy about La Cosa Nostra having an 89-year-old man beaten to death in his cell.

Bulger was killed because he crossed the Patriarca crime family, the New England mob, and therefore by extension their godless Genovese-Family patrons in New York. And to hell with Whitey, but to hell with those guys even more.

Those of who've still bought into the whole colorful-gangster bullshit about Whitey are invited to check out my post here. Those of you whooping it up over his brutal death (some of whom are the same people), just remember: Whitey Bulger died to make other criminals safer from punishment. Safer to rob you and safer to kill you. Pardon me if I don't applaud.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at Dagblog

Friday, October 26, 2018

Talk Like Crazy People Are Listening

Dear politicians: talk like crazy people are listening to you. Because they are. We're a big country, with hundreds of millions of people and no guaranteed health care. That means there are a lot of Americans who are mentally ill, and a lot of those people can't get proper treatment. Every time you speak in public, remember that there are some disturbed people who will take what you say, whatever you say, seriously, and that they might act on it.

We've been having a lot of public debates about "responsibility," 'unity," "civility," and other complicated, nuanced words that are easy to twist around to mean different things. So I'm going to keep it simple. Every public figure speaking in public has got to remember that some crazy people are listening. Don't say anything that those people will understand as a call to violence.

But won't mentally ill people misunderstand things, and hear calls to violence that weren't intended that way? Yes. Exactly. They may well hear you calling for blood when you thought you were carefully staying on the right side of the line. That's why you should get nowhere near the line, at all, ever.

This rule is not hard. Don't act like it's not simple.

There are troubled people watching TV and listening to the radio and reading the internet all day, and they have trouble sorting out what's real. Don't scare those people into using bombs or guns.

But what if the talk-like-crazy-people-are-listening rule cramps my style? What if it takes away my big rally lines that excite the crowd, or the new spike in my ratings? What then?

Then you're risking people's lives for personal gain. What good do you think is going to come of that?

cross-posted from Dagblog; all comments welcome there, rather than here

Thursday, September 13, 2018

What Just Happened in Northeast Massachusetts [UPDATED]

Dozens of fires and explosions broke out in three small Massachusetts cities tonight. Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover have been evacuated, and power has been cut off to prevent more houses from blowing up. People are injured. Many have lost their homes. And at least one man is dead, because his chimney fell onto his car.

The news isn't talking about causes except to say it was an overpressurized gas line. How did the gas line get overpressurized? How did it get so overpressurized that dozens of separate buildings, across three separate municipalities, actually exploded? No one is willing to say yet, because the obvious culprit is an energy company and speaking too soon might get a paper or TV station sued. The Governor of Massachusetts has gone on TV to say that we can talk about causes after people are back in their homes, which is fair enough as far as it goes. But there's still no timeline for getting people back in their homes.

But it's hard to see a whole lot of other explanations here. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was planning to do some upgrades in the area today, and now all three cities are a disaster area. And the company's enjoying a whole lot of public deference, considering those facts.

I still have friends in that area, because I went to high school in Lawrence. I was actually planning a visit for next week.

For those of you who aren't from the area, Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, with a heavy minority and immigrant population. It's squeezed right up against the very affluent Andover and the more economically mixed North Andover. Lawrence has three times the population of the other two cities, squeezed into a smaller area. It was basically carved out as a separate city for factory workers back when the Merrimack River was a booming industrial belt. The point was that those workers would not share a town with their more affluent neighbors.

Lawrence is more than three-quarters Latinx. It has the lowest per-capita income in Massachusetts. Andover is more than ninety percent white, with a median household income over a hundred and ten thousand a year. And it's the home to an extremely wealthy prep school, Phillips Andover Academy. Phillips Andover is the boarding school where the Bushes went. So somehow this disaster managed to set both a poor city and a rich one on fire.

I'm not going to exaggerate Lawrence's poverty. It's not some fearmongering cable-news fantasy of The Ghetto. It has some perfectly nice middle-class neighborhoods. The school I went to, a regional Catholic school, has a good share of affluent students. But Lawrence definitely did not need this, and it won't be easy for a lot of the people affected to recover. This is a major disaster, and Columbia Gas needs to explain.

[UPDATE: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is now officially the villain here, just because their disaster response has been so un-responsive. The Governor, Republican Charlie Baker, has declared the region a disaster area so he can take cleanup away from Columbia Gas and hand it over to another, more functional, gas company. This happened after Baker and Elizabeth Warren got a tour of Lawrence 1. filled with catastrophic damage and 2. empty of Columbia Gas repair crews. The Mayor of Lawrence denounced Columbia at length, in damning detail, on live TV. So the most likely suspects behind the disaster have been conspicuously unhelpful in fixing their damned mess.]

cross-posted from Dagblog. All comments welcome there, not here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside King Lear's Court

King Lear is facing a test to his monarchy unlike any other faced by a fictitious British monarch. It is not just that he parceled out his kingdom and left himself nothing. Or that the country is bitterly divided between his scheming, ungrateful daughters. Or even that the kingdom may soon be overwhelmed by French invaders.
The tragedy – which he does not fully grasp – is that many of his own followers are working diligently from within to frustrate his goals.
I would know. I am one of them.
To be clear, ours is not the mealy-mouthed “resistance” of Cordelia and her sore-loser followers. We strongly believe in the division of this kingdom into unstable warring duchies. But we believe our first duty is to unchecked, unreasoning monarchical authority, and the King’s continued ravings bring autocratic one-man rule into disrepute. That is why many of his followers have vowed to do what we can to preserve tyrannical feudalism while thwarting King Lear’s more misguided impulses until his o’erburdened heart cracks and can bear no more.
The root of the problem is that the King is outdoors, yelling at clouds. We are not even sure if he knows it’s raining. But whatever he is shouting for us to do, we’re not doing it. We could be hit by lightning out there. If he asks later, we’ll just pretend we don’t understand iambic pentamenter.
Don’t get me wrong.  There are bright spots. Both Regan and Goneril are pretty hot – like, at least eights. We’re all much bigger deals at court than we were before everyone got banished. And seeing the old Earl of Gloucester’s eyes put out was, face it, pretty hilarious.
But these good things have come despite – not because of – King Lear’s leadership, which is impetuous, petty, and obsessed with setting up obscure punch lines for his Fool.
He veers off into long, ranting monologues that force us to check our footnotes. He shows up to important meetings dressed mostly in wildflowers. And he can angrily berate the furniture under the impression that it is part of his family.
This erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes like us. Some of his courtiers have been cast as villains. But in private, we have gone to great lengths to keep his demented soliloquies out on the storm-tossed heath where they belong.
It may be cold comfort as Britain descends into bloody civil war, but you should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to keep King Lear from messing it up for us.
So when King Lear say orders us to execute a stool for the crime of being an ungrateful child, we definitely don’t do that. And we don’t go bothering Goneril or Regan. We just take away the stool. Problem solved! And also, more office furniture for us.
Also, whenever Lear has one of his crazypants "character-growth" insights about doing more for the poor naked wretches or whatever, we don’t do that either. I mean, that money could go for something useful. We just say, “Ooooh, Your Majesty, how profound! It’s like the mad have really been the sane ones all along! Who’s really blind here, and who’s, like, symbolically blind?” Then he forgets and moves on to something else.
This isn’t vulgar flattery. This is artful, steady flattery. Thou. Art. Welcome.
Given the instability many have witnessed, there were early whispers of crowning some capable, legitimate successor in King Lear’s place to guide our country back to peace and sanity.. But no one really wanted to precipitate a dynastic crisis, especially when basically we already have one. So we will do what we can to steer this monarchy until -- one way or another -- it’s all over. Really, how much worse could it get?

cross-posted from Dagblog; all comments welcome there, not here

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Some Bodies Matter More Than Others: The Judith Butler Thing

This week I started an online petition calling for Judith Butler to resign as president-elect of the Modern Language Association. If you're a member or past member of MLA, I'd invite you to sign it and to share it as widely as you are comfortable doing. Here is a letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education making a similar case.

I started this petition because Butler and a bunch of other leading scholars sent a letter to NYU to intervene in a Title IX investigation in which a professor had been found responsible for sexually harassing a graduate student. [NOTE: Link opens Word document.] The case had already been adjudicated, and the verdict was in. Butler and various other big-shots were trying to lean on NYU to minimize the harasser's punishment. They should all know better. But what sets Butler's action apart is not just she was the first signature on the letter but that she explicitly signed as:

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor, Department of Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley, President-Elect, Modern Language Association (2020)

The last part is the biggest problem for me. Because the point of including that title is to add more clout to Butler's signature. That letter is about marshaling clout on the abuser's behalf. And it is beyond outrageous to use the Modern Language Association's collective authority to try to protect a senior scholar who's abused a junior one.

The other signatories of that letter have embarrassed themselves, maybe disgraced themselves. But they were not explicitly speaking as the leader of a major scholarly organization. Butler was. And that makes it impossible for her to lead that organization effectively after this.

I have no particular connection to this case. I don't know the victim, or the harasser, or Butler. I am an obscure scholar, rather than a star like Butler and her co-signatories. I am just a concerned bystander: a member of the MLA who has grown tired of the endless excuses made for sexual harassment in our profession. I heard too many of those excuses when I was a graduate student and couldn't speak up without ending my own career. Now I'm far enough along to have tenure and be safe from reprisal, but perhaps not so far along that I've completely forgotten how this looks from the bottom. If you're another scholar who's tired of the excuse-making and wagon-circling, please sign.

Most of the attention this case has gotten has been about the role-reversal angle, because in the accused harasser is a woman and the harassed student is a man. That's extremely rare. The vast majority of academic sexual harassment cases involve male professors harassing female students. There's also an unhealthy share of male students being harassed by other men and female students being harassed by other women. (For what it's worth, the victim in the NYU case is a gay man, a traditional target of harassment.) Female professors harassing men is not something that never happens, but it's very unusual, because that particular abuse of power turns out to be harder to get away with than the others.

But the gender switch didn't affect Butler et al.'s letter in the slightest. It slavishly follows the establishment playbook used to get male harassers off the hook. It talks about how brilliant and important the harasser is, it talks about what a great person the harasser is socially, threatens the university with blowback if they dare to punish the offender, and personally attacks the harasser's victim. It's the familiar structural problem of professors abusing doctoral students (who are extremely professionally dependent upon their dissertation director, and therefore extremely vulnerable to harassment) and then trying to use their pull to escape consequences. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Many people have various beefs with Butler that I don't. Some people are hostile to feminism, and want to use this incident to discredit feminism. Some people are hostile to literary theory, and want to discredit theory. Some people are hostile to Butler over the boycott-Israel movement, and would like to see her discredited ... you get the idea. I don't share any of those agendas.

Judith Butler is very smart. Her work is useful. I've taught it to students, and would teach it again, this instance of bad behavior notwithstanding. Literary theory is useful and valuable. Feminism is great. And I have no position on the boycott and anti-boycott movements; I am much more interested in the fight against sexual harassment in the academy. The MLA should fight to protect its junior members. If it won't, it doesn't matter to me what resolutions the organization does or doesn't pass.

Nor do I think for a second that feminism itself is discredited by this incident. Butler, and the other high-powered feminists who signed that letter, are not the only smart feminists in the world, and you can find lots of feminists fiercely objecting to their behavior.

Men harassing female students is by far the biggest problem here. But you can't end that problem while giving the rare women who harass men a pass. Yes, women have much less power in the academy than men, and still face enormous misogyny. And that is exactly why letting an occasional powerful woman off the hook will make it impossible to stop men's abuses.

It will never be the case that women in the academy are allowed a set of privileges that men are not. Men will always get away with at least as much as women, and almost always more. There is no achievable future in which women can still harass students but men cannot. Social privilege doesn't work that way. (By the same principle, there is no achievable future in which queer faculty can get away with sexual harassment but straight faculty can't.) If you preserve the old excuses and dodges for a handful of abusive women, abusive men will keep running wild.

Precisely because the number of female abusers is so small compared to the number of female victims, gender-neutral enforcement of Title IX rules still represents an enormous win for women. Holding a small number or powerful women accountable is a small price to pay for protecting thousands, and it is literally thousands, of less powerful women.

Remember, abusers can't do it alone. They rely on enablers, and in academia the enablers have been extremely reliable. We talk about the abusers themselves and the administrators trying to make problems go away quietly. But the real infrastructure of abuse is provided by colleagues. Sexual harassment flourishes in our profession because the rest of us run interference. We look the other way. We hope the rumors aren't true. We give colleagues the benefit of the doubt, but give their victims only doubt. We write letters of support. We have a friendly word with the Dean. Or we just keep our head down and stay out of it, as if staying out were an act of neutrality. Abusers flourish in our field because of our collective connivance, because of what we do but most of all what we fail to do. As a dearly-missed professor once said to me about a case of sexual abuse in my old graduate department, "These are supposed to be enlightened guys, but they stick together like the fucking mafia." It's not any one criminal act that's the problem. It's the ongoing structure of conspiracy. And women, as well as men, have helped to protect the abusers.

The abuser in the NYU case is one person who harmed another. The letter trying to get that abuser out of punishment is an institutionalized response aimed at enabling future abuses. Protesting against one instance of punishment is only a means to the larger end of preserving senior faculty's privilege of impunity. That is what needs to end. No more letters to the deans pleading for harassers. No more lending our reputations to wrongdoers' cause. Judith Butler wasn't just standing up for one colleague in trouble. She was standing up for an old, corrupt, and long-standing way of doing business. The time for doing business that way is over. We should never look back.

cross-posted from Dagblog. All comments welcome there, not here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The International League of Dark Money

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are bent on destroying the peaceful international order that the United States built after World War II. They're hostile to the World Trade Organization, NATO, you name it. But Trump is not the only complicit American here. Because Trump and Putin are champions are a very different, more lawless international order, which many wealthy Americans participate in and derive benefit from: the international league of dark money.

Whatever else does or doesn't bind Trump and Putin, they're united by their dependence upon international money laundering, which moves large amounts of cash across borders in disguised transactions. Putin's oligarchs routinely move their dirty money into the West through shady means, and Trump's real estate business has become heavily dependent on Russian customers whose money should not be examined too closely. The Trump Organization may not actually launder money, but they accept a lot of well-fluffed money straight out of the laundry room. Both Trump and Putin have strong vested interests in keeping the dark money flowing and keeping it out of sight.

They're not alone. There is a robust international infrastructure of shell companies, off-shore banks, and shady middlemen devoted to moving money around while disguising where it comes from. This is especially convenient for people who can't admit where how they got that money or even that they have it. Money laundering allows corrupt government officials in Russia or Nigeria to spend their graft in the West. It allows organized criminals to spend their profits from drugs, gun-running, and human trafficking. And it allows international terrorists to fund operations overseas. So there are strong reasons for the world community, working through the post-WWII international order, to close the flow of laundered money down.

Without access to money laundering, big-time criminals would not be able to use most of their ill-gotten money, because to spend it they would need to explain where they got it. Without access to money laundering, money stolen by corrupt officials could only be spent in the same country those officials help to impoverish. Without money laundering, terrorists could not support sleeper cells in foreign countries or fly volunteers to battle areas. A world where every bank transaction was transparent and on the level would be a better and safer place.

But the money-laundering infrastructure also enables tax evasion. (I mean, no one launders money so they can pay taxes on it.) And many wealthy and prominent people in America and the rest of the developed West use their legal resources to evade taxes. They use shelters and shell companies and foundations to avoid paying their full share of the tax burden, to pass on multi-million-dollar inheritances tax free, and to disguise some of the ways they spend their money. Take a look at the Panama Papers some time, which opens to a window on a single law firm's efforts to get around tax laws for its clients. You see both Russian oligarchs and Western celebrities and politicians, including a former British Prime Minister, in those pages. Lots of nominally law-abiding people rely on offshore accounts and tax havens and largely fictitious legal entities to keep from paying taxes like the rest of us. Closing down the money-laundering system on criminals and terrorists would also close down the tax-evasion system on otherwise legitimate rich people. After all, they're the same system.

Trump and Putin want a world where legal and financial accountability stops at every border, where moving money overseas moves it out of the authorities' sight forever. The existing maze of international loopholes, which already allows tens of billions of secret dollars to flow through anonymous bank accounts, is still too transparent for them. So they want to destroy any lawful international agencies which might have the tools to close down the dark money. They want a world without effective international institutions, because only international institutions can effectively fight money laundering.

But you will find plenty of well-placed Americans and Europeans who don't want international financial controls, either. They want their shell companies and make-believe charitable foundations and secret accounts in the Caymans. They might not care much for Putin. They might detest the jihadists or the Mafia or the Crips. But they won't support the steps necessary to close down Putin or the Crips, because that would mean closing down other businesses that they actually own. It is just one of the many ways that elements of our ruling class are complicit in Russia's attacks on this country.

cross-posted from Dagblog; please comment there, not here

On the

Sunday, June 10, 2018

What Kim Jong-Un Wants

What does Kim Jong-Un want from this week's summit from President Trump? More than anything else, he wants what he has always wanted, like his father and grandfather before him: to split the U.S. off from its allies South Korea and Japan. The worst part is, he is already getting what he wants.

Now, I am not in any way an expert on Korea. But no Korea experts are involved, or apparently allowed to participate, in Trump's North Korea summit. Trump himself has openly refused to prepare for this summit, raving about how his first impression of Kim's body language will tell him everything he needs. [Pro tip: if you are planning to make a crucial strategic decision based on an adversary's body language, do not let the adversary know that. Too late, I understand.] That I know more about Kim Jong-Un's goals than the President of the United States is a scandal. I'm just a random person who tends to remember what he reads in the newspaper.

One of North Korea's longstanding diplomatic goals, maybe on a tactical level their most important goal, has been bilateral peace talks with the United States, meaning two-way talks, just us and them. The United States has refused, insisting since the George W. Bush administration on six-way talks instead. And for many years, we did participate in those six-way talks, refusing North Korea's requests for one-on-one sidebars. Our official reason for demanding six-way talks has been that if the North Koreans are building nuclear weapons, all of North Korea's neighbors need a seat at the table. I mean, that's true enough.

The six-party talks from 2003 to 2009 involved the U.S., North Korea, Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan. Why would we insist on the presence on Russia and China, who aren't always particularly helpful to us? Because we refused to be in a room with North Korea without South Korea and Japan there. The North Koreans could bring their friends, because we weren't showing up without ours. If North Korea wanted to talk to us, they have to talk to our regional allies, too. Because we were never hanging Japan and South Korea out to dry. That was our longstanding, bipartisan position.

Trump's two-way summit gives the North Koreans what they have long wanted: a chance to deal with us separately from the South Koreans. Just giving them that is a major concession. A lot of people have focused on the fact that giving them a presidential-level meeting is also a massive gift, and that the normal plan would be for Kim to have to earn a face-to-face with POTUS by giving concessions and having a deal almost done. But any meeting with the North Koreans that doesn't involve the South Koreans is an even bigger concession, maybe the biggest.

Kim Jong-Un wants, more than anything, to get the United States out of his potential sphere of influence. Because what he ultimately wants is South Korea. He doesn't want to negotiate peaceful reunification. He wants to unify Korea by taking the rest of it over, and the thousands of American troops in South Korea make that impossible. If he could do that without a shooting war, negotiating reunification on his terms by using the threat of military force, I think he would. But he may also like his chances in a straight military rematch with South Korea. But he knows he can't fight us. He wants us to leave, so he can use his military muscle on South Korea (and, secondarily, to intimidate Japan). This is why there was a flare-up a few weeks ago after regularly scheduled joint drills between the U.S. and South Korean military. Kim hates that most of all.

Now a normal president of the United States roped into two-way talks with the North Koreans would still not sell the South Koreans out, or the Japanese. Obama and Bush refused to hold two-way talks with Kim's government, but if they had they would have kept America's commitments to its allies clearly in mind. But those commitments have never fully entered Trump's mind. He does not value America's international commitments and instinctively dislikes them. Jis recent misbehavior at and after the G-7 summit makes that all too clear. And Trump is, unfortunately, stupid. He is more than capable of giving away Japan and South Korea's security without thinking.

In fact, he is stupid enough that he's eager to do that. He's already mouthed off about pulling all US troops out of South Korea, which would be Kim Jong-Un's geopolitical wet dream, and Trump is not smart enough to make Kim trade for that. He's talked about that as something he wants. It's like holding a summit with Fidel Castro in 1964 and suggesting, during the run-up to the meeting, that it might be easier just to get rid of Miami.

Can Trump be trusted to protect South Korea's interests? Two years into his administration, he has not appointed an ambassador to South Korea. I don't mean hasn't gotten one through the Senate. I mean, hasn't given the Senate a name. Any name. And Japan is one of the G-7 countries at which he was venting his intemperate toddler fury this week. You tell me: can a man who gets into a fight with our closest ally over milk be trusted to protect the security of our Asian allies?

Kim Jong-Un has already won. This week, he gets to find out how much he's won.

cross-posted from Dagblog. All comments welcome there, rather than here.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Zero-Sum Trump and the Chumps

I used to be close to a pair of senior citizens who'd retired from long, prosperous careers as bookies. And after a while I began to realize that, although they were both still extremely sharp, they were not especially good with money. They weren't catastrophes. They didn't go broke with bad investments. They just never did as well as they should have, almost never got the full value from a deal. They had both done very well in an illegal business, but they seemed weirdly unable to make an honest buck.

My friends saw business as a strictly zero-sum game, where they could only gain if someone else lost. The way they saw it, there was a fixed amount of money floating around the world, and you had to grab as much of other people's as you could. This is a perfectly accurate approach to betting on the third race. Gambling is a zero-sum proposition. One party loses, the other wins, and absolutely nothing of value is created. A fixed amount of money just gets redistributed. There is no such thing as a deal where everyone comes out ahead. You get ahead because someone else screws up. Every transaction is ultimately somebody's mistake.

What my older friends could not get their heads around, or on some level couldn't believe, is that there are deals that can make everyone involved richer, bargains that are wins for both sides because they create value. Plenty of perfectly honest people have trouble with this idea, too, and subscribe to the fixed-amount-of-dollars-in-the-universe idea. You can run a decent small business from basically that perspective. But our entire economy is based on the fact that new wealth continues to be created. The country as a whole gets richer. There is more money than there used to be, because there are more things for money to buy. (What people who get freaked out by the fact that money changes value don't understand is that it's about the relationship between the amount of money and the amount of things available to purchase with your money.)

Most business people who succeed on a large scale do so by looking for deals where everyone can profit, not because they're altruists but because those are deals that other people want to make. You can make money off deals where the other side also makes money, and everybody's happy, and then maybe you can use some of the profits to make more mutually-profitable bargains! Success! Capitalism! Whoo hoo! My friends had trouble seeing those deals, because, I think, they kept asking themselves which party was the sucker here, and assuming that it might be them.

The current President of the United States also subscribes to the zero-sum, fixed-amount-of-money view of business. This is really strange considering he put his name on a book called The Art of the Deal, but it's clearly true. Trump does not believe in win/win propositions. He sees the world as win/lose. It explains a lot of his business behavior, and a lot of his business setbacks. It explains, most of all, why most large New York banks will no longer lend him money. Donald Trump does not actually think about business like a businessman. He thinks about business like a con man.

His obsession with trade deficits is pure zero-sum. If you think of there being a fixed amount of trade in the world, a fixed amount of value to pass back and forth, then deficits and surpluses are all that matter. More money is going out than is coming in! Disaster! But if you think of trade as a pie that continues to grow, letting America keep taking more slices even if it runs a deficit with this country or that, then trade deficits aren't the whole story. You want there to be more international trade, not less, because you want that pie to keep growing. Trump imagines a pie whose size is fixed by immutable law, which can never get larger (wrong) or smaller (dangerously wrong), and he's fixated on trying to get a bigger slice than the next guy. And the next guy turns out to be Canada.

(Now, free trade has its problems, because it isn't just about both countries doing well. You need to take care of displaced workers inside your own country, and we haven't. But Trump is never going to fix that, because his zero-sum attitude applies to the working class, too. For the poor to do better, Trump assumes, the rich would have to do worse, in exactly the same amount, and he has no interest in that at all.)

So, Trump is going to the G-7 summit with our six most important economic allies (and not just economic allies) enraged with him. This, to a reasonable businessman, would seem bad for business. To Trump, it's good. Because in Trump's zero-sum, you-can-only-win-what-others lose world view, there are no actual allies. How could there be? If everything you gain comes out of their pocket, and everything they gain comes out of your pocket, no one can actually ever be your friend. This is stupid and short-sighted, but well. There we are.

Trump is incapable of understanding that our trade relationship with, say, France, could ever be good for both the US and France. That our trade relationship with France actually has been good for both the US and France, for more than seventy years, does not matter in this calculation. It doesn't matter to Trump that something is obviously true, because he doesn't see how it could be true, so it must not be. Are you trying to play him for a sucker?

Multiply this mistake by six, then by a hundred. Trump misunderstands every single one of our trade alliances. All of them. He sees all of our long, mutually-profitable relationships as just so many people with their hands in our pockets, which is why he hates our allies and lavishes praise on our enemies. We don't have trade deal with our enemies, so they're not taking advantage of us like, say, Canada. Trump is on the road to a pointless destructive trade war because he doesn't actually believe in capitalism. He doesn't believe in economic growth. He thinks all of that is a cover story, a scam. He does not view the world in capitalist terms. He views the world like one of the small-time mill-town bookies of my youth.

Sad to say, my retired bookie friends, much as I loved them, would probably have screwed up the G-7, too. They just could not think big enough. But to give them their due, they would never have lost money running a casino.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Don Corleone's Guide to Attorney-Client Privilege

So the President of the United States is very concerned, and very confused, about attorney-client privilege. Let me try to explain, using the example of Tom Hagen from The Godfather. Why The Godfather? Two reasons. First, I want to. Second, I have a terrible suspicion that some of Trump's misunderstanding comes from watching the Godfather movies. (He does love TV.) Trump reportedly believes any meeting that has a lawyer in the room is protected by attorney-client privilege, and oh my sweet God is that not true.

Tom Hagen, as you know, is the Corleone family's unofficially-adopted son, a lawyer who doubles as the Corleone Family's chief lawyer and its consigliere, or criminal adviser-in-chief. No real Mafia organization has ever used an attorney as consigliere. It's just a pun (consigliere means "counselor," which Americans use to address lawyers), and a bit of narrative efficiency. Puzo uses one character to do two or three different jobs (Puzo's consiglieres also do the job of Mafia underbosses) so that he has one well-developed character instead of three sketchier minor characters. But Mafia consiglieres are most definitely not attorneys.

That said, how much of what Hagen does in The Godfather would be covered by attorney-client privilege?

None of it. Basically, not a damn thing.

Now, I am not a lawyer. I am also not a racketeer. But I think I've got a basic layman's grasp of the principle involved here, which is: You are not allowed to use your law degree to commit crimes. Get real.

Criminals are allowed to have lawyers. But lawyers are not allowed to be criminals. The Crips can have an attorney. But attorneys cannot join the Crips.

What this means, in practice, is that if you are accused a crime, even if it's something you actually did, you can hire a lawyer to defend you. And that lawyer cannot tell the authorities about things you reveal while preparing your defense. Attorney-client privilege protects your conversations with your attorney because otherwise you couldn't use an attorney. (A defense lawyer who tells the prosecution incriminating things about you is worse than no lawyer at all.)

On the other hand, if you are planning a crime and you ask your lawyer to help you plan it so it will work better, that is not attorney-client privilege. That is, what's the phrase, a criminal conspiracy. In the same way, if you're committing an ongoing crime and you involve your lawyer in it, there's no privilege involved. That's not an attorney. It's an accomplice.

So, let's say hypothetically that Don Corleone, the Godfather, is accused late in his life of a murder he committed in his youth, in which case he can retain Tom Hagen to defend him. Hagen would not be conspiring with him; he would be defending him in exactly the way the law envisions, and they would enjoy attorney-client privilege. This would allow Don Corleone to admit, privately to Hagen, that he actually did shoot Don Fanucci to death back in the day; he wouldn't have to lie to his lawyer and pretend to be innocent. Then Hagen and Corleone could effectively strategize about what case the prosecutors might have and what evidence there might be. Hagen could ask the Don what he did with the murder weapon, and Don Corleone could tell him, so Hagen could decide how likely it was that the police had found it. (Answer: probably not.) He could ask if the Don had used accomplices who might rat him out. (Answer: no. Tessio and Clemenza suspected, but weren't involved and didn't know anything.) This isn't pretty, but it allows the accused criminal to defend himself in court. And the prosecutors could not then haul Hagen into court and force him to tell them what Corleone said about the gun. That's how attorney-client privilege works.

If on the other hand, Hagen and Don Corleone have a conversation about beheading a horse in order to intimidate a Hollywood producer, that is not an attorney serving a client. That's two gangsters conspiring to commit a crime. Hagen can't play the attorney-client privilege card.

Hagen and Don Corleone actually know this, which is why they behave like criminal conspirators rather than attorney and client. Corleone carefully gives his instructions to Hagen in private, with no witnesses and nothing written down, so there is no evidence. (The horse-beheading is presented as a kind of gangster magic trick, where we can't see either man give the order or even see when Hagen had time to communicate any instructions to confederates. "Could you have your car take me to the airport?" is the construction of an alibi.)

Later on, when Don Corleone is incapacitated, Hagen sits in on a five-person strategy meeting where at least three murders are ordered. Hagen can't claim attorney-client privilege for any of that. Passing the bar is not a license to kill. Hagen is sitting there when his foster-brother Sonny orders a disloyal subordinate named Paulie Gatto killed. If the Gatto murder ever went to trial, Hagen would not be a lawyer but a defendant. Then Hagen is part of a more involved discussion about whether and how to kill a rival mobster and his pet police captain. Hagen is not only party to that decision but party to a detailed discussion of methods. He cannot pretend attorney-client privilege here either, for a simple reason: he is committing multiple felonies.

If you're trying to solve the Sollozzo-McCluskey murders, you probably need to flip one of the five guys who were in the room when the plan happened. But a fictional detective might have some luck looking at some of the paperwork. Someone arranged for the trigger man (Michael Corleone) to go directly from the scene of the crime to a ship bound for Europe with a false passport. That means someone acquired the passport, and the boat ticket, before the murder. That's a conspiratorial act; it's done with foreknowledge of the crime, in order to abet it. It is part of the murder scheme. If Hagen purchased the passage, or the passport, through his firm, the police could raid his firm for that evidence. Attorney-client privilege would not apply.

Also, the Corleone Family clearly does a lot of boring, paperwork-based crime to run their operation. They pay off large numbers of judges and politicians. (Don Corleone is described as extraordinarily good at bribing and corrupting public officials.) They launder their illegal profits into seemingly legitimate enterprises. They evade taxes, for the inevitable reason that they cannot declare their annual income from gambling, loan-sharking, and extortion. To the extent that they do any of this through Hagen and his firm, those activities are not protected from law enforcement. They're crimes, and if the authorities in The Godfather got wind of them, Hagen's Manhatttan law office would be vulnerable to a raid by the FBI, directed by, well, by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the same US Attorney's office that raided the real Michael Cohen's home and office yesterday.

Which brings us to where we are today. The FBI and Department of Justice are especially cautious about piercing attorney-client communications, and err on the side of assuming they're privileged. But attorneys whom they investigate don't have much cause to complain. Being a lawyer does not mean you're allowed to help your clients evade the law. You don't have a license to launder money. You don't get to violate tax laws for your clients, or election laws. In fact, slow down with me for this one here, you don't get to violate the law at all. Because first, it's the law, and second, you're a lawyer. You know, an officer of the court. You are even more bound to obey the law than the rest of us. But then again, what do I know? I'm not an attorney. I'm not even a crook.

cross-posted from Dagblog; please comment there, not here