Sunday, July 31, 2016

Is there a serial killer on the prowl in Boston?

Below is my column as submitted to the editor of the Sturbridge Times Magazine for the July 2016 issue.  Please note, the title is different from the one published.

The young lady broken the story has done a lot of work.  If, after reading, by some miracle, someone has some information about what has happened, please leave a comment at the CryptidAntiquarian blog.  She has written a number of posts on the subject:

Post #1  Boston’s Mysterious Vanishing Men  February 20, 2016

Murder Most Foul?

It was more than two and a half decades ago that a horrible murder rocked Boston and everybody got it wrong. A devoted couple were driving home from childbirth classes at a Boston hospital when they were carjacked at a stop light. The husband was shot in the stomach and the pregnant wife's skull was pierced by a bullet.

The husband, Charles Stuart would recover. His wife, Carol DiMaiti Stuart would die at the hospital and the baby would perish 17 days later.

Following Charles' description, Willie Bennet, a local black man was arrested.

It was a heartbreaking story. A prosperous hard working couple suffering tragedy as the perfect life evaporated. No one could help but feel for the surviving husband.

Then it fell apart.

Charles' brother Matthew went to the police and admitted his part as accomplice in his brother's murder of Carol. Before he could be arrested, the murderer jumped off the Tobin Bridge.

There would be no end of recriminations. Innocent Willie Bennet was released and the authorities were pilloried for the rush to judgement.

I was one of the multitude who wrongly bought into the scam. I like to think I am no naif, but there was one big extenuating circumstance that convinced me a crime had been committed.

During wartime, it is not unknown for someone to fear being killed in combat, and shoot themselves such that they are not badly hurt but are unfit for action. Such an injury is known as “the million dollar wound.” Had Mr. Stuart pointed a gun at his leg and pulled the trigger, one likes to think we would have been a bit more skeptical.

Stuart did not do that. Putting a bullet in one's stomach is a dangerous thing to do, even if one had studied anatomy. In the annals of self-inflicted wounds to avoid combat or anything else, it is doubtful anyone has tried it. The man threw the police and the public off the track. What else could they've missed?

Or, be

Over the past thirteen years 11 men in Boston have gone missing and ended up found dead in water. The police and regular media have not noticed anything untoward, but someone has.

Blogger Elise Soper is the first person to see a pattern.

Elise is a young woman of wide ranging interests and is curious about much. In fact, she refers to her blog, CryptidAntiquarian, as a cabinet of curiosities. She is inquisitive where the authorities and the Fourth Estate see nothing.

Ms. Soper stumbled on a Reddit post and it led to learning about the work of a David Paulides. He was onto pattern recognition in cases of people who after disappearing are found dead in national parks. Her interest in what he wrote led to her being more aware of such cases.

Like the detective she was becoming, she noticed something in November of 2015,

After my obsession with unexplained missing persons cases was sparked by David Paulides (as chronicled in my last post) I couldn’t help but begin to notice them more, and then Dennis Njoroge went missing. I saw flyers posted all around Boston, his eyes following me daily, and my heart fell. I had a bad feeling in my gut as I began to connect him to other cases. I remember telling friends gravely that if the precedent was correct, he would be found dead in the Charles River.”

Sure enough, the young man was found in the river. The police suspected nothing un-toward and made little information public. Elise intimated she had made an effort to pry some loose.

She built the list of 11 and posted the pertinent information about the men and the circumstances, as far as is known.

The latest one was this past February. You probably heard about it as it was much in the news. Zachary Marr was celebrating his 22nd birthday with relatives at the Bell in Hand, the country's oldest tavern in the Government Center area of downtown Boston. It was during our warm winter this year on a Saturday evening. The district is usually lively on a weekend.

Around 1:30 a.m. Zachary went outside for a cigarette. He sent a snapchat to his cousin to tell her they would not let him back in. She agreed to come to him, but he was gone when the cousin came out with the others. The bouncer says Marr did not try to come back in and CCTV does not record an attempt. About a month later, he was noticed in the water by the Museum of Science. To quote Elise, “Why he left the Bell in Hand and walked a mile to the Charles is unknown.”

Elise also has a map with where the victims were last seen alive and where they were found. It is all more than curious and one has to wonder about the blithe attitude of the constabulary. Ms. Soper does.

I have known BPD detectives and one was a relative. Yes, a police officer is a government worker with all that entails good or bad. My acquaintances have not lacked for subtlety. One should hope, forlorn as that may be, their lack of interest is feigned and they are playing close to the vest to protect the investigation.

Despite little help from the authorities, Elise Soper has done an excellent bit of sleuthing. In fact, it is even bigger than Boston. I am going to pay attention to CryptidAntiquarian going forward.

I've never been a Doors fan, but a line from what is probably their most known song, Riders on the Storm popped into my mind as I read about the case, “There's a killer on the road, His brain is squirming like a toad.” Whoever or whatever is out their may not be “on the road”, but this is hauntingly disturbing.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Feeling the bern for Sanders' Education plan - My column in the April 2016 Sturbridge Times Magazine

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”

The words of H.L. Mencken must resonate with anyone paying attention this election season. Whether it's the open ended promise to “Make America Great Again” or the laundry list of Bernie Sanders.

At least Senator Sanders has also provided the electorate with a method of payment for his promises. His litany of programs each has a tax, tax increase or closed loophole that will do the trick. That is if, as the song goes, “the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars.”

Still, one should not get too excited about what is proffered during campaign season. If you've been around a bit, there is the perennial favorite, “middle class tax cut.” If everyone who made that pledge had fulfilled it, we would by now have negative tax rates.

The man from Vermont also wants to give the American worker a $15 an hour minimum wage. On the surface, that sounds like a winner. It does beg the question, why is $15 the magic number? Why not $20 or $50? I'll let the candidate's fans handle that one.

There is one of the Senator's proposals that does almost warm my heart. I say almost as I used to have a dog in the fight, but no longer. Several years ago, the looming tuition that was staring us in the face would have meant an eager embrace of one of the signature features of the man's campaign.

Bernie Sanders has proposed that public colleges and universities be tuition free. His rationale appears reasonable.

This is not a radical idea. Last year, Germany eliminated tuition because they believed that charging students $1,300 per year was discouraging Germans from going to college. Next year, Chile will do the same. Finland, Norway, Sweden and many other countries around the world also offer free college to all of their citizens. If other countries can take this action, so can the United States of America.

Well, if the Europe can do it, why not us? After all, does not public education benefit everyone?

So can it work? To look at the problem, we again turn to our official think tank, the Long Hill Institute of Educational Policy or LHIoEP for short. After their usual dillettantish investigation they were able to forthrightly come to the conclusion, maybe.

The countries that the Senator cites do have free tuition. How do they do it? In the case of Norway, there is a simple answer. Like most Scandinavian nations, there is a belief in equality so everyone can attain a post-secondary degree if they want it. It works maybe because not everyone wants it.

In spite of the near costless education, if your parents didn't attend college, you probably won't either. So why wouldn't people take advantage of it? One reason from an Hechinger Report article of last June notes that blue collar jobs pay well enough that everyone is more or less middle class. Kind of like when this country had no dearth of such work.

So if the whole country does not go, it is affordable. Of course, the Sanders plan claims that his system of paying for it will allow everyone to attend. His plan should appeal to all.

Whether or not the American people were saved by the bailout in 2008 is arguable. There was however one class that was, the bankers. The candidate wants to levy a fraction of a percent tax on “Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago.” Certainly, we all want to see them pay, but if periodically we have to bail them out, we may have to figure something else out.

There is another problem. In theory if you tax something you get less of it and if you subsidize it, you get more. Some young people might have done a cost benefit analysis and decided that the debt made it not worth it. They might not come to that conclusion if it is near free. Some may go through school and come out with a career and a life. Many will major in fields lacking rigor and prospects. It will have been a pleasant four years at winter camp, but for naught.

That this is already happening is evident from the lampooning of grads who can't get jobs in their field as is heard on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. His retinue will occasionally do a sketch about The Professional Organization of English Majors or P.O.E. M. The words, “Do you want fries with that” have been uttered.

Another consequence is the non-public colleges that will go out of business because competing with free is too much of a disadvantage. Places like Harvard, which is a hedge fund with courses, need not worry. Some small yet solid institutions may go to the wall.

Norway like the other Scandinavian countries is not huge. Even with its North Sea oil, it has to adjust means to ends realistically. In this country, reality rarely rears its ugly head in primary season.

the Long Hill Institute of Educational Policy has pinpointed one group that is passionately supporting Bernie 's plan. College administrators are audibly salivating.

My review of Harvey Silverglate's Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent

Below is my review of Three Felonies A Day that appeared in the Sturbridge Times April 2016 issue.

Big Brother Is Watching and Ready to Pounce

Book Review by Richard Morchoe

When you get up this morning, you're in trouble. You don’t realize It, but you are a criminal. Yes my fellow average American, it may be true. By the time sleep comes over us, thrice we will have transgressed Federal Law.

That is the contention of Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Attorney Harvey Silverglate. Is it more than hyperbole?

Attorney Silverglate is not without qualifications. With a Harvard Law degree, he has been an advocate for civil liberties for over four decades. More recently, he has been concerned with free speech issues on campus. Along with Professor Alan Kors he authored The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses. Both men are in no sense conservatives so their critique of the tyranny of political correctness, as it holds sway in college, carries some weight.

The two men co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Attorney Silverglate is Chairman of the Board of Directors.

The book's argument is maybe best illustrated by two cases, that of Theodore Anzalone and that of Bradford Councilman. Though almost two decades apart, they bookend the descent of the American legal system in its willingness to ruin lives for little purpose.

In the early eighties, Theodore Anzalone was a fundraiser for Boston mayor Kevin White. The then U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, William Weld, wanted to take down White and the way to do it would be to get someone to testify against him. Getting something on Anzalone and making a deal for his testimony was the plan.

The Feds got a conviction on Anzalone for splitting up deposits and making them for under $10,000 so that the bank would not have to report them. Legal at the time, the judge decided on his own that it was still a crime and the jury agreed.

The appeals court saw through Weld's gimmicky prosecution and the judge's bad instructions and reversed the verdict. They did the right thing, but would they always?

Almost two decades later, the same court, but with a different makeup, did not. Bradford Councilman was Vice President of a company that provided an online listing service for rare and out of print books. His company also supplied email addresses and served in that capacity as an ISP or internet service provider.
Councilman was accused of backing up client messages in order to get an unfair advantage in pricing and violating the federal wiretap statute. The accused claimed he never read the messages, Was storing them a crime?

The appeals court went back and forth and finally under intense pressure reversed the district court judge's dismissal. We have come from the Anzalone case where the tribunal refused to see a crime where one wasn't to what is now the opposite. The judiciary increasingly is all too willing to cooperate almost as part of the prosecution.

Silverglate notes the result of this is many ruined lives and shattered civil relationships when things that should not be crimes are so interpreted. This is not to say there are not real criminals in the world doing evil, but the prosecutors need not seek to find everything a crime.
Can anything be done?

Alan Dershowitz, in his foreword, suggested that the attorney general should not be the appointee of the president and thus not political. The author does not think that would do much and it is hard to disagree.

Attorney Silverglate seems to suggest everybody behave better and who would not want that? Defenders should see themselves in this climate as civil liberties lawyers and the press should be far more skeptical. Good ideas but hardly enough.

The author notes that there are many vague laws that can be stretched to catch the citizen for crimes he was unaware of. Maybe we need to reduce the number of statutes and their size. As Cicero noted, “A corrupt state has many laws.” One should expect a long wait for that.

Silverglate has laid out a compelling case concerning prosecutorial overreach. Do we, out here in the exurbs, have to worry about three indictments du jour? Probably not for most of us if only because we are too low for the radar. That hardly means it is not a problem. It could happen even if it doesn't.

You might say, at least no one gets killed. Well, not exactly.

Last year Harvey Silverglate would be a featured speaker at a rally in memory of Aaron Swartz. Swartz had been involved in what could be called a case of electronic trespass and theft. The state had seemed to come to the conclusion that it had been much ado about not too much and were ending their involvement. At this point, Carmen Ortiz, US Attorney for Massachusetts grabbed it. According to Silverglate, "Tragedy intervened when Ortiz’s office took over the case to 'send a message'."

The squeeze on Swartz did send a message and Swartz, an internet freedom activist, would commit suicide.

That message was not just for Aaron.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Review-Burning Up the Air, Jerry Williams, Talk Radio and the Life In Between

Below is my review of Burning Up the Air, Jerry Williams, Talk Radio and the Life In Between by Steve Elman and Alan Tolz as it appeared in the April, 2008 issue of the Sturbridge Times Magazine.

Talk show icon Jerry Williams wasn’t a bad guy

The year was either 1957 or 1958. The volume on my radio was low enough so that my parents could not hear it downstairs. I was listening to early rock and roll when I should have been sleeping. Usually, I tired quickly, turned off the red motorola set and fell asleep. One night, not being sleepy after the 10:00 p.m. news, I heard the promo for the next show. Thinking it might be more music, I kept listening.

It wasn’t song, it was a force of nature. It was Jerry Williams, the man who was pioneering talk radio in the Boston area. He can claim as much as anyone to have invented the genre. From the mid-fifties to the new millennium he was on Boston Radio with a few breaks for a mid-life crisis here and there. For much of the time,Williams was the dominant radio personality in the market.

Two of his many producers have collected everything that could be found about the man and have talked to everyone they could to put together a biography that is a page turner. Burning Up the Air, Jerry Williams, Talk Radio and the Life In Between reads as if it were a labor of love. Not that the authors, Steve Elman and Alan Tolz, were likely to be above wanting to throttle the man on occasion. From their tales, it is obvious Williams could try the patience of a saint.

It’s all in the book. How he probed callers to get a story or an answer. Occasionally, when he found himself battling with a particularly, unreasonable caller, he would shoot out a familiar line:“They’re out there tonight!” Later, as he aged, and even though you knew he would do nothing else but radio, he would vent his frustration by shouting, “I’m getting out of the business.”

A high school drop-out, actually, a high school flunk-out, Jerry still had an expert knowledge of many issues. But it was not only mere knowledge, it was what he knew how to position that information that set him apart. The authors make the point about how he “knew how to select the hottest topics for discussion, how to set things up in an hour, how to strike sparks in an interview, how to smoke out and shape good calls, how to keep the momentum going.” Today’s crop of talkers don’t really seem to be as skillful as Williams.

There is another aspect of his popularity that I had never thought about before reading this book. While one may not call his voice operatic, it was pleasant and in no way grating as are many on the radio today. Elman and Tolz discussed his training under a mentor. Jerry had a voice described as a “high baritone.” His acting coach, Bob Breyer, told him how to use the voice and through training in radio plays,Williams must have learned something.

Through the book, one can recognize the political changes in Massachusetts and the nation such that Jerry, uber liberal through the first part of his career, was by the end considered a conservative by many. He never thought he went through a metamorphosis from one political view to another. The authors describe his outlook,“Jerry had always presented himself on and of the air as his own man. Since the late sixties, he’d been uncomfortable with labels of all sorts. When forced to choose from conventional terms, he might opt for “liberal,” even when he felt that what had come to be known as “liberalism” had moved toward something completely alien to his feeling about the role of government.” He was uncomfortable with Dukakis in power as he had been with Nixon. He probably gagged at the description by a Boston Globe writer, Clea Simon, that he had purveyed “conservative chat.”

The structure of the book is chronological except for the last chapter. The authors intersperse a timeline of the major national and world events that are happening contemporaneously so one is never lost for the era. Event follows event in sequence and the reader will be through it in no time. He was not a perfect man and the authors present him, in the words of Oliver Cromwell, “warts and all.” I’m not sure how it will resonate with anyone who has never heard of him. After all, his show, no matter the issue and the impact, was personal. The authors have a website ( with a lot of audio clips that might give a small flavor for the man.

Many folks in this area got to experience Jerry during the campaign to stop the New Braintree prison. There was a big Saturday on the New Braintree Common. Williams was there as more or less MC. Next to him was a mock up of Michael Dukakis. During a lull, Jerry all of a sudden, with perfect delivery, said,“and now a word from Kitty (Dukakis). Pause. MEOW.” The crowd convulsed in laughter. It should have been in the book.

One other item that should have been in the book was that he was the only supporter of busing who ever admitted that it had all been a mistake. He always seemed to be full of himself, but I’ve never heard anyone else admit it. As Jerry used to say of people he felt okay about, he was “not a bad guy.”

Of course, Elman and Tolz couldn’t include every minute of his life. No matter, there is a lot covering an interesting man and his times. He did not engender neutrality in people.You either loved or hated him. I don’t know what was written as the cause of death on his certificate, but I’m sure it was not a dearth of personality.

Please note, the website appears to have disappeared.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The boys who brought us the Cold War

Below is the review of The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer as submitted to the editor of the Sturbridge Times Magazine.  It ran in the March, 2016 issue.

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and Their Secret World War
By Stephen Kinzer
St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition, 2014
Paperback, 416 pages

Book review by Richard Morchoe

Stephen Kinzer begins his book, the The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, with the funeral of John Foster Dulles. Having died in office, the author avers that “a bereft nation mourned more intensely than it had sense the death of Franklin Roosevelt fourteen years before.”

Kinzer was right. I was nine years old and remember it on television, ending with the widow being presented the flag. It was the most moving civic ceremony I had witnessed up until that time. The funeral of President Kennedy would be more memorable, but that could not be otherwise.

My mother explained to me who the man was and what it was that made him so important. He had been a great man and had well served the nation's foreign policy. No controversy there.

As time went on, more would be revealed to me about world politics and our nations interactions with states that were not part of what we called the “Free World.” Mostly we were competing with them in a “Cold War.” We did not fight directly, but there was an ongoing struggle.

Less than two years after Dulles' death, our policy went a bit off the rails. An armed group landed on Cuba with the intent of overthrowing the regime. The little invasion was a horrible botch and the men, who were considered “Freedom Fighters,” captured. The American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been responsible for the planning and execution of the debacle and its leader lost his job. That man was the Late Secretary of State's brother, Allen Dulles.

Not long after that, our war would be a lot less cold in Viet Nam and we would leave with nothing to show for it.

We were shy of major effort after South East Asia until Bush père fought Gulf War I and the Soviet Union imploded. After that and 911, we thought we could run the table. In this the last year of the Obama continuation of the younger Bush's foreign policy, it's not working.

This is why reading a book by veteran journalist Stephen Kinzer is not a bad idea. I became aware of the man while reading a column of his from the December 15, 2015 Boston Globe. The article was a well reasoned analysis of a”conservative” foreign policy that George McGovern could have lived with. With the rise of Sanders and Trump, a public might be open to it as well.

His tome about the Dulles team does a wonderful job of describing their domination of intel and foreign policy during the Eisenhower administration.

The brothers were descended from Scotch-Irish calvinists and that ancestry would not be without influence in how they viewed the world. Each would express it differently. Though not a family of plutocrats on the level of a Morgan or Rockefeller, they were well connected and influential people who went to the right schools and knew and were related to the right people.

John Foster was the older of the two and was always referred to as Foster. He was steady and paid attention to detail. That made him an excellent functionary and he would become the head of what was arguably the nation's most influential law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell.

Allen, had more of a fun personality and probably thought himself as a bit of a swashbuckler. He was never going to be the office drudge, but he would make his mark as well.

Foster, through a family connection would serve as US legal counsel at the Versailles Peace Conference after World War I. He would also act ably on the War Reparations Committee and as ably expanded his contacts that would be of use when he returned to Sullivan & Cromwell.

Allen pursued a diplomatic career. In 1917, upon being assigned to Bern, Switzerland at the beginning of American involvement in war, he was called on to take charge of intelligence. It was a task he took to with gusto.

The brothers would continue on a trajectory of power and influence. Allen would have essentially the same role in World War II, but on a grander scale. Though always active, Foster was not a direct participant in the war. He did end as a major foreign policy figure in the Republican party.

In the Eisenhower administration, they would rise to the top of their respective fields. Allen would become the head of the CIA and Foster would helm State. The 50s looked to become their decade.

They had a couple of major successes. The CIA would remove the secular prime minister in Iran to further national interest, or at least Big Oil's. In Guatemala, the elected president was toppled as a suspected communist not necessarily to the detriment of the US held United Fruit Company.

Then there were the non-successes, most glaringly the abovementioned Bay of Pigs invasion that ended in complete failure for the agency and triumph for Castro. This happened after Foster's passing, but on Allen's watch and made his directorship untenable. The 50s were over and so was the Dulles era.

The legacy of the successes did not even last. That Iranian coup left a bad taste and when the Ayatollahs arrived, we were out and so was secularism.

Foster and Allen were intelligent men who had studied with great minds but at the end of the day, the record is tarnished. They were sure they were in a death struggle with the forces of evil and that if the war of good and evil were not won, all would be lost.

After a short respite with the end of the Soviet Union, that low temp war is back and threatening to warm up in Syria. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt were part of engineering a coup to remove an elected government in Ukraine. Not much has been learned.

A lot of folks at Foggy Bottom need to read Mr. Kinzer's book.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Celebrating Black History Month on Long Hill

Below is my column, as submitted to the editor, that appeared in the February 2016 Sturbridge Times Magazine.

Long Hill Road celebrates Black History Month

by Richard Morchoe

It is February and time again for Black History Month. We have decided to observe it up on Long Hill, but not in the usual manner. All the civil rights pioneers and cultural icons are feted, most now post mortem, again and again. Who has not been honored in the second month celebration?

Up here on our hill, we consider ourselves an outpost of high culture. In consideration of that, we have decided to profile three men who were not merely artists, but exemplars of European civilization. Yet all three, had they been living in the American South at a certain time, would have been subject to Jim Crow laws.

It must also be observed that none of the enforcers of such statutes ever produced anything to compare with our subjects.

The work of the first name is known to everyone, or at least anyone who has gone to the movies. The Three Musketeers has been put on the big screen over 25 times and has had several animated versions. It is a novel that just cried for translation to film.

Set around the first quarter of the 17th Century, there is little lacking in the portrayal of France and Europe in the era. There are of course, the Musketeers themselves who swashbuckle around the realm constantly crossing swords with all who serve what passed in those days for the Dark Side.

That Dark Side is represented by Cardinal Richelieu. The Cardinal was arguably the most able statesman of the age. He was also a subtle intriguer, and thus a man easy to portray as evil incarnate.

The Musketeers and their protege, d'Artagnan wish to protect the queen against the machinations of the prelate

How did it happen that the grandson of a slave came to write the quintessential French novel?

Alexandre Dumas' father had been born a slave,. The nobleman dad took his slave son to France. Since the Middle Ages, slavery had been abolished on French soil. The minute the young man stepped on Gallic ground he was free.

Dumas' dad had him educated and enlisted in the French Army. He eventually became the highest ranking black general ever in any European military. Thus the son had been born into some privilege. This is not to say he had any love for the Ancien Regime. Dad, after all, had been part of Napoleon's army.

The Three Musketeers is not pro-monarchy.

His other work, about as famous, The Count of Monte Cristo, may not have as many sword fights, but it does not lack for adventure. It begins as Napoleon is about make his last throw of the dice. A young sailor, Edmond Dantes is framed and imprisoned in a French Alcatraz, The Chateau d'If. His escape and adventures lead to fame and fortune. The tone of this novel is also anti-monarchy. No matter the politics, it's a great tale. Few writers have produced anything more French than this descendant of Africa.

When we think of Russia, maybe Putin comes to mind, or Stalin or the Gulag Archipelago. Few Americans learn too much about that nation, and my knowledge is hardly exhaustive.

So it came as a shock when I learned that the man who many consider the greatest poet in that great white north was a black man and also a descendant of slaves.

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born into the nobility, but his great grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, had been taken into slavery. If you are going to be in bondage, there are worse fates than being raised as part of the Tsar's household. The young man was well liked by the sovereign who stood as godfather at his baptism.

Alexander was thus, despite ancestry that would be crippling in much of the world, a nobleman.

He was also a literary giant. Pushkin's influence was most recently found in a film that featured beautiful music and a story of intrigue. The movie, Amadeus, was based on his drama Mozart and Salieri.

Pushkin was no stranger to drama in his own life. The last bit of it would be a duel in which he lost his life at the age of 37. His death would lead to more literature as many Russian writers would take up the subject.

Our last personality was not famous as a writer. In fact, he is not too famous at all. Unlike Dumas he did not write about men of action, but was himself a swashbuckler.

Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges  was the son of a rich planter and his slave wife. Brought to France and well educated, he was a prodigy as a swordsman and musician. Le Chevalier conducted orchestras, commanded troops and ran a fencing school.

All these accomplishments pale in comparison to one part of his life. The man is also known as the Black Mozart. He composed operas, concertos and a symphony, all while following other pursuits as well. For the skeptical, his music is available on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube..

Up on Long Hill Road, we hope we have broadened some horizons. There is nothing wrong with putting on an Ellington CD or reciting a poem by Hughes. Still, there can be more to life.

Monday, March 14, 2016

My Review of Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy by Michael Hudson

Below is my review of Michael Hudson's Killing the Host as submitted to the editor for the February, 2016 issue of the Sturbridge Times Magazine.  I don't completely agree with the author, but his analysis is better than much I've read.

If you grew up in this country before the 1970s, you experienced a world that is nothing like today. Back in that other reality, there were factories in abundance employing full complements of workers, sometimes in multiple shifts.

American Optical, with beginnings in 1833, was a powerhouse, with its great factory complex in Southbridge. Once dominant in its field, it is now defunct, brought out by others.

Driving along the Quaboag River on Route 67 in Warren, you can see the Wright's Mill Complex. It seemed like everyone knew someone who worked there. Since 2008, no more.

There are still factories, but they are all too often, sans workers. How could our region, let alone country go from having workshops everywhere, all highly productive, to the point where they have almost died out?

One man has an answer, debt.

Michael Hudson is a research professor of economics at the University of Missouri Kansas City. Your reviewer discovered him accidentally. As a history nerd, I came across his writing and was surprised to find out that his research found the builders of the pyramids were not slaves but well paid, skilled workers. It's too bad Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner are no longer with us, as some corrections need to be made to their movie, the Ten Commandments.

Mr. Hudson avers that the debts owed to the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) sector were causing labor and industry to suffer. American labor, squeezed by debt becomes over priced as do American products. Debt is taking a greater and greater share of revenues from non-financial businesses, and workers have to pay more in interest such that they are on the way to debt peonage.

According to Professor Hudson, we are headed to the day when the parasite of a financialized economy will kill the host, or the debts will have to be reduced or even forgiven. Your average free-marketer might be scandalized by the idea, but it is no more unfair than the bailing out of the banks in 2008.

The concept is one that raised its head with the phenomenon of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Mr. Hudson, among others, noted that student loans exceed credit card debt. Paying that debt takes a toll on graduates whose salary prospects may be less than what they can afford to service the loan.

As Michael Hudson states many times in his book, “Debts that can't be paid, won't be.” The FIRE Sector would want it to be for the debtors to sell off assets. As there are less and less assets with enough equity, that is not going to be too popular and one day it will be impossible. A reduction of debt or even forgiveness would be inevitable as an alternative to national ruin.

Many consider Hudson a bit of a commie as he participates in Marxist conferences and has good words to say about Karl. To be fair, he has some nice things to say about Adam Smith and Classical Economics.

He has, however a special dislike for free market economists. He sees them as champions of the FIRE sector. Free market advocates would disagree with that characterization. They would be adamantly against the existence of a central bank and would claim the crony capitalist shenanigans were only possible because there is a Federal Reserve. That discussion is for another day. If there must be a central bank, the author's points are well taken.

In his last chapter, he offers Reforms to Restore Industrial Prosperity. Will they bring economic nirvana? Some make common sense, such as writing down debts that can't be paid and letting people stay in their homes rather than protect the second homes of Goldman and Morgan execs.

His suggestion to tax economic rent to save it from being capitalized in interest payments has merit in that we should have a tax structure that promotes production over financialization. Is his emphasis on land taxes as the way to do it the right idea?

Revoking the tax deductibility of interest has some good arguments, but will not go over too well with every home buyer.
The public banking option, similar to the Japanese Post Office banks is not a bad idea, but my local savings bank provides most of those services. The Japanese system had low interest on savings, but they had been tax free. Bring that on any old time.

Funding government deficits by central bank, and not by taxes, is, for a true believer in that system, reasonable. Of course, if you are going to create money to cover the shortfall, hey, why not fund the whole budget in the same manner. No IRS or Form 1040 would make a lot of people happy this time of year.

Paying Social Security and Medicare out of the general budget has some appeal as there are demographic problems and the last deal raided SS for $150 million for the Disability Trust Fund.

Keeping natural monopolies out of the public domain is okay. Privatizers have taken over some water departments and gouged the public. No, one, however, is remotely thinking of trying to take the MBTA away from the government.

As most capital gains are in real estate, taxing them at progressive rates should dampen speculation.
Hudson's desire to deter irresponsible lending by making the creditor bear the cost of any loan that could be considered a fraudulent conveyance is worthwhile. Many loans have been made that there was no way that they could be paid without looting assets. That should be stopped.

One question about his reforms is why he did not propose a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act separating retail deposit banking from investment banking. It would seem if you are not going to hang investment bankers from the lamp posts, you would want to restore that law.

One might grant a federal reserve run by Mr. Hudson or someone like him would establish policies that would better serve the economy as a whole. It is hard to believe it could be anything more than an interregnum as capture by interests is what happens to bureaucracies.

Still, it should be given a try. It would be hard to do worse. If it fails, we can bring in Ron Paul to shut down the Fed.