Day: February 6, 2017

Crispus Attucks and Black Lives Matter

For day 6 of black history month, I’ve been thinking about Crispus Attucks, one of the few (maybe the only?) African Americans that white Americans learn about outside of black history month. No matter how white-focused you are, he is not someone who can be edited out of the story of American history. He was, it’s possible to say, the beginning of American history.

Thinking about him in 2017, it’s hard to avoid making parallels with Black Lives Matter. Attucks was a sailor and skilled rope maker in Boston; he’d escaped slavery as a young man and had been living free for about 20 years. (He was probably the son of an enslaved African and a Natick Indian, living in Framingham, Mass.) He was likely not enthusiastic about the possibility that British sailors might impress him into service (echoes of slavery right there), a sense of outrage which other colonists shared. After a fight between some ropemakers and soldiers on March 2, everybody was on edge. Three days later, there was a bar fight, and then a highly disputed incident in front of the Customs House which ended with five American colonists shot dead by British troops – Attucks one of them.

You can’t remember any of the other names. I can’t either. That’s partly because of an immediate media furor over whether the black guy was a violence-inciting ringleader or an innocent bystander who would never have hurt anyone. If that sounds familiar, you will not be surprised to hear that the soldiers’ lawyer, one John Adams, got six of them acquitted (and argued the last two down to misdemeanor charges with no jail time, just a mark in their permanent records by which I mean brands on their hands) by making a big deal of how these poor lawmen feared for their lives, although some depositions gave evidence of a policing culture looking for an excuse to crack down, and all the civilians who had supposedly attacked the soldiers were acquitted.

As for Attucks, his body was displayed in state in Faneuil Hall (at the time a meeting place and theatre, mere feet away from the Boston Massacre site) for a few days, and then buried with the other Massacre victims in the Old Granary Burial Ground even though he was black (which took a special waiver from city leaders).

(If you’ve wondered why I’m suddenly mentioning a bunch of place names it’s because I spend a lot of time in Boston so the geographical relationships between these places have resonance, and I think you might enjoy doing your own self-guided Crispus Attucks tour of Boston. Which could also include a Sam Adams brewery visit because…)

Sam Adams and other members of the Sons of Liberty talked a lot about how Attucks was innocent but ALSO implied that he was an active associate of the Sons of Liberty fighting for independence and the rights of man by whatever means neccessary, so it’s hard to know when to trust them – but it’s also possible these things were both true. There is no perfect victim, and there is no perfect patriot. Attucks’ death is often referred to as the event that kicked off the American Revolution, and out of respect we traditionally color one of the faces in Paul Revere’s famous commemorative engraving brown (although of course the original engraving, being an engraving, is just lines, which people at the time could and did color however, usually without a brown face).

Black lives matter. They matter so, so much to the freedom of every one of us.

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Mor Stars Plz

Rooting for Puerto Rico to become a state, but I’d also back a move toward independence. Their referendum is nonbinding because it’s up to the US congress what happens in Puerto Rico – they are an unincorporated territory full of US citizens without full representation, like DC residents times a thousand. They deserve a chance to exercise their American right of self-governance, one way or the other. (I personally like the way where we change the stars on the flag! Let’s add lots of states! Including DC! Stars are great!)

Puerto Rico governor approves referendum in quest for statehood” in The Review

C.S. says: I wish adding stars meant that Battle of the Network Stars was coming back and we could see Topher Grace beat the crap out of Jim Parsons are some ridiculous acrobatics challenge. In the name of being the star added to the Flag.

Romie: I like it! Maybe we could do something like a miss america but only with the talent contest and only entertainment professionals, and it’s all the states versus all the states – so I guess a cross between Eurovision and America’s Got Talent. And the winner state gets to turn one of the flag stars of their choice the color of their choice for a year, and, I don’t know, have to agree to build a flashy infrastructure project.

C.S.: YOU HAD ME AT EUROVISION AND INFRASTRUCTURE.

Why Care About Goldman Sachs?

A note on Goldman Sachs alumni in the Trump administration: “Goldman Sachs” was thrown around enough as an insult during the presidential campaign that it’s perhaps lost its meaning, or become flavorless as anything but a rally flag. So it’s worth taking a second to remember exactly why so many of us on both sides of the aisle are skeptical of the motives of Goldman Sachs ex-employees – including Gary Cohn (chair of National Economic Council), Steve Mnuchin (Treasury Secretary), Steve Bannon (chief strategist), and perhipheral figures like Jay Clayton, Anthony Scaramucci, and Dina Powell (and Bush treasury secretary Hank Paulson).

Goldman Sachs was very involved in the banking crisis of 2008 (the lead-up to which started in 1997). Particularly from 2005-2007, Goldman benefited inordinately from risky investments that collapsed the housing market, at a point when there were ample warning signs that they were unstable. A lot of people who worked there could have raised the alarm. They didn’t. They chuckled and got the money while they could.

Rather than suffering when those bets tanked (the way those of us with mortgages do), they got bailed out to “save” the structurally important banking system. Their leadership never faced criminal charges, even though a lot of really ugly e-mails came out during the SEC investigation that painted a picture of a corporate culture that cared a lot more about making fees for the bank than taking care of clients (acting as fiduciaries) in ways that were dubiously legal and definitely not ethical.

Thanks to the bailout, not only didn’t they lose their money – the top guys used the bailout money to give themselves bonuses. And the guys who didn’t get bonuses whined about it.

That’s the corporate culture we’re talking about. It’s a culture of already wealthy people who think they deserve lots more money no matter whether they do a good job, and don’t care much about anybody else except as marks. (The bank, though not the individuals, finally admitted to as much in a legal settlement last year.)

I want you to watch this video of Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein testifying in 2010 in front of congress about how he didn’t do anything wrong and deserved that bonus. It’s three hours long. But you don’t have to watch much of it to see that this is a man with no regrets other than annoyance that anybody would question him.

Sure, it’s possible Trump’s Goldman appointees are nothing like that. I do have a friend that works as a midlevel manager in a peripheral Goldman joint venture (a business that was taken over in a merger) in a totally different state from the main headquarters, doing a totally different thing than the main investment business, and, well, she wouldn’t be my friend if I didn’t think she was a good and honest person.

But what are the odds you could work long hours at Goldman headquarters for years, rise to the very top ranks, make lots of money there, and not internalize this cancerous model of rapacious profit-taking as normal? Has that been your experience as an employee, that it’s easy to build a successful career someplace you fundamentally disagree with, and that your work doesn’t reshape how you view the world? I’m not so comfortable handing over the keys. It went really badly last time.


Details of the recent settlement: “Goldman Sachs Finally Admits it Defrauded Investors During the Financial Crisis,” by Lucinda Shen, Fortune


A summary I wrote of Lloyd Blankfein’s testimony back in 2010 if you don’t feel like watching all of it –

Lloyd Blankfein's Testimony

They are the market makers
who sell what you buy and buy what you sell
indifferent as a weather system.

They are smart money, well trained
with models and degrees and degrees of modeling.
They work with investment banks, 

with other investment banks, with companies
and countries. Not you.
Someone else holds your credit card.

Someone else runs the bank on the corner.
Retail, you're called, They don't take your money.
You'd know if you knew them

which you don't. They have been

invisible

deliberately

except for the bonus.

They never reached out. When the rain hit you
you looked at the clouds.
But clouds are just fog and these are just smart men

who could be more personal. That was their failure
not taking you out. Not buying you coffee.
We should have talked sooner.

The problem is not derivatives. The problem is not
day trading. The problem is not gloating, not greed
not computers or liquidity

or mortages. There is no problem you'd understand
just people. Smart people who did well because.
And were not hurt because.

Would I lie to you
and can you graph a poker face?