(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘crime

“What I desire of a poem is a clear understanding of motive”*…

I’m not a Hollywood scriptwriter, but if I were, I know what screenplay I’d write. Imagine a violent murder at the epicenter of early Santa Clara Valley—soon to be renamed Silicon Valley in the popular imagination—and an innocent man sent to Death Row at San Quentin. But a famous literary critic emerges as the super sleuth who gets him freed, amid dark evocations of scandal involving corrupt politicians and murky underworld figures. 

You don’t need to imagine it, because it really happened. It’s like the movie Chinatown—in fact, it took place during the same era as that scrumptiously vintage film—but with intriguing literary twists and turns. And, like Chinatown, it possesses all the same overtones of a brutal California origin myth. It would make a riveting film. But in this case the story is true.

On Memorial Day in 1933, a woman’s [Allene Lamson’s] naked body was found, apparently bludgeoned to death, in her Stanford campus home. Within an hour of their arrival on the crime scene, the police had already decided that the husband [David Lamson]—always the prime suspect in a case of this sort—must be the murderer. 

The police never took any other explanation seriously. A student named John Venderlip had seen a suspicious character near the Lamson home the morning of the crime, as well as the night before. But no effort went into investigating this lead. The possibility of accidental death was ruled out, too, although it would later play a decisive role in the case.

This web of speculation and insinuation proved sufficient to get a conviction after a three-week trial that was front page news day after day. The jury only deliberated for eight hours before delivering a guilty verdict. The judge handed out the death penalty—a court-mandated hanging within 90 days. And David Lamson was sent off to San Quentin to await his imminent execution on Death Row. 

And that would seem to be the end of the story. But it wasn’t. And the main reason for this surprising turn into the biggest crime story of its day was a mild-mannered poet and literary critic named Yvor Winters…

In the 1930s, Yvor Winters legitimized literary studies at Stanford—but Hollywood should make a movie about his skills as an amateur detective. A remarkable story from the remarkable Ted Gioia (@tedgioia): “When a Famous Literary Critic Unraveled Silicon Valley’s Most Sensational Murder Case.”

And for further (entertaining, but wholly fictional) accounts of a literary critic’s sleuthing, see Edmund Crispin‘s Gervase Fen novels…

* Yvor Winters

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As we consider the clues, we might remind our selves that if the history of the universe was condensed into a year, the Milky Way would form on this date (May 15), life on earth would appear on September 21, and the dinosaurs would go extinct on December 30. Modern humans would evolve on December 31 at 11:52 PM and Columbus would discover America at 11:59:58 PM. (For more detail: the Cosmic Calendar)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 15, 2021 at 1:01 am

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning”*…

In the past few decades, the Gini coefficient—a standard measure of income distribution across population segments—increased within most high-income economies. The United States remains the most unequal high-income economy in the world. The disparity reflects a surge in incomes for the richest population segments, along with sluggish or even falling incomes for the poorest, especially during bad economic times.

At the same time, the middle class is shrinking. The percent of Americans in the middle class has dropped since the 1970s, from 61 percent in 1971 to 51 percent in 2019. Some have moved up the income ladder, but an increasing number are also moving down. The middle class has also shrunk considerably in countries like Germany, Canada, and Sweden, but other advanced economies have generally experienced more modest declines.

From the introduction to the Petersen Institute for International Economics report “How to Fix Economic Inequality?

Founded by Pete Petersen (Lehman Brothers Chair, Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce, and co-founder, with Trump supporter Stephen Scharzman, of investment giant Blackstone), and overseen by trustees who include Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan, and George Schultz, PIIE is hardly a “progressive” think tank. But they are worried: quite apart from its obvious humanitarian toll, inequality at the scales that have emerged is highly unlikely to be sustainable (even at the human cost that we’ve so far been willing to pay). Put more bluntly, it is ever more likely to torpedo the domestic (and large hunks of the global) economy and indeed to threaten the stability of democratic society.

Other sources suggest that they have very good reason for concern:

• Even as the stock market hits new highs, 26 million Americans are suffering food insecurity (See also: “The boom in US GDP does not match what’s happening to Americans’ wallets.”

• The distribution of assets in the US (and other developed economies, but most egregiously in the U.S.) is even more skewed than income: see data in the PIIE report and “The Asset Economy.”

• And lest we think that this issue is confined to the U.S., social democracies throughout the developed world are feeling the same pressures (albeit mostly less dramatically).

FWIW, your correspondent doesn’t have terrifically strong confidence in the remedies mooted in the PIIE report. Even as the authors recognize that the issues are deeply structural, they confine themselves to recommending (what seem to your correspondent) relatively timid and incremental steps– which, even if taken (and most require legislative or regulatory action) are more likely to slow the polarization underway than to reverse it.

But they are worth contemplating, if only to provoke us to more fundamental measures (e.g., here). And in any case, it’s telling– and one can only hope, encouraging– that determined champions of the very neoliberal economics that have gotten us here recognize, at least, that unless we change course, we’re speeding into a dead end.

* Warren Buffett

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As we agree that fair’s fair, we might recall that it was on this date in 2001 that Enron, once #7 in the Fortune 500, declared bankruptcy. Six months earlier, it’s stock had traded as high as $90; it closed November 30th at 26 cents, wiping out billions in wealth (a appreciable part of it disappearing from employees’ pension plans). At the time, Enron had $63.4 billion in assets, earning it the honor of being the nation’s largest bankruptcy to that date. (It would be surpassed by the WorldCom bankruptcy a year later.)

Jeff Skilling, Enron’s CEO served 11 years in prison on several counts of fraud; Andy Fastow, Enron’s CFO, would served about 5 years. Chairman Ken Lay was also found guilty, but died before his sentencing. Enron’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen (at the time a leader among the “Big 5”), which at least “missed” the egregious fraudulent practices in their audits of Enron, was effectively forced to dissolve after the scandal.

Published a year before the scandal broke

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 2, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Simple pleasures are the last healthy refuge in a complex world”*…

“The bench was comfortable, big broad arms, the seat was a good height and had a subtle curve, a great base, a plaque and a wonderful view. It’s a a very solid 7/10.”

Everybody has a hobby. It can be anything as simple as collecting coins or stamps, partaking in certain sports, whether as a player or a spectator, or even cosplaying, but it can also be a bit more uncommon, like trainspotting, collecting pictures of doors, and rating benches.

Never heard of the last one? Well, then meet Samuel Wilmot, a 23-year-old recruiter from Bristol, England with an educational background in history studies who spends much of his time rating the various benches found around the UK on Instagram…

More at “This Guy Rates Benches All Around The UK And The Reviews Are Spot-On,” and at Samuel’s Instagram feed.

* Oscar Wilde

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As we lean back, we might recall that on this date in 2012 New York City recorded no incidents of murder, shooting, stabbing, or other violent crime through the entire (24 hour) day.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 28, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Money laundering is giving oxygen to organized crime”*…

The United States Treasury Department is putting art galleries and museums on notice over the high risks of financial crime in their trade, warning that various aspects of the art industry makes “it attractive to those engaged in illicit financial activity, including sanctions evasion.”

The advisory, published on Oct. 30, calls out the art industry’s heavy use of shell companies. Citing the “high degree of confidentiality and anonymity” in the art trade, the advisory cautions that art dealers may find themselves unwittingly working with criminals seeking to move illicit funds. It also notes that artwork’s often “subjective value” creates an additional attractive value to financial criminals — who are known to manipulate invoice prices to covertly shift money around the globe.

“The advisory serves as another reminder that the $28.3 billion American art market is the largest unregulated industry in the United States,” [said] Tess Davis, executive director of the Antiquities Coalition, which advocates the return of stolen relics to their home countries…

The U.S. Treasury urges new safeguards against financial crime, money laundering, and sanctions evasion: “Secretive high-end art world can be vehicle for dirty money.” From the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, part of their on-going investigation of international money laundering, FinCEN Files.

Turns out that a U.S. Senate investigation led to the same conclusions: “The art world has a money laundering problem.” So did a House investigation: “Art and Money Laundering.”

And for the curious, here is a look at how it’s done: “Laundering money through art, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

All-too-appropriately, Hasbro has released, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a fine-arts edition of its flagship game: “Monopoly: The Met Edition.”

* then-President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, June 2012. It’s alleged that he spoke with authority based on personal experience: in 2020, his successor as President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, asked Mexicans if they would like to see former Mexican presidents face trial against allegations of corruption (a move deemed constitutional by the Mexican court and laws); the people will vote to decide in a referendum in 2021. According by a survey by newspaper El Universal, 78% of Mexicans polled do indeed want the former presidents of Mexico to face trial– and Enrique Peña Nieto is the one they most want to be incarcerated.

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As we note that cleanliness isn’t always next to godliness, we might spare a thought for Jean-Baptiste Say; he died on this date in 1832. An economist and businessman, Say argued in favor of competition, free trade, and the lifting of restraints on business, and was among the was among the first economists to study entrepreneurship– and to valorize entrepreneurs as organizers and leaders of the economy.

He is probably best remembered for the assertion that supply creates its own demand– “Say’s Law“– a label first used by John Maynard Keynes, who went on to argue that it is wrong… the debate (e.g., as between Steven Kates and Paul Krugman) continues to this day.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Note, to-day, an instructive, curious spectacle and conflict”*…

States within the global political economy today face a twin insurgency, one from below, another from above. From below comes a series of interconnected criminal insurgencies in which the global disenfranchised resist, coopt, and route around states as they seek ways to empower and enrich themselves in the shadows of the global economy. Drug cartels, human traffickers, computer hackers, counterfeiters, arms dealers, and others exploit the loopholes, exceptions, and failures of governance institutions to build global commercial empires. These empires then deploy their resources to corrupt, coopt, or challenge incumbent political actors.

From above comes the plutocratic insurgency, in which globalized elites seek to disengage from traditional national obligations and responsibilities. From libertarian activists to tax-haven lawyers to currency speculators to mineral-extraction magnates, the new global super-rich and their hired help are waging a broad-based campaign to limit the reach and capacity of government tax-collectors and regulators, or to manipulate these functions as a tool in their own cut-throat business competition.

Unlike classic 20th-century insurgents, who sought control over the state apparatus in order to implement social reforms, criminal and plutocratic insurgents do not seek to take over the state. Nor do they wish to destroy the state, since they rely parasitically on it to provide the legacy goods of social welfare: health, education, infrastructure, and so on. Rather, their aim is simpler: to carve out de facto zones of autonomy for themselves by crippling the state’s ability to constrain their freedom of (economic) action…

From Nils Gilman (@nils_gilman), a sadly prophetic 2014 piece– the postmodern state is under siege from plutocrats and criminals who compound each other’s insidiousness: “The Twin Insurgency.”

For a more current– but altogether resonant– take (one that arrives at a similar conclusion from a different point of origin), see Harvard Law School professor and Berkman Center co-director Yochai Benkler‘s “The Real Reason the GOP Suppresses the Vote.

(This is being written the day before the election; sadly, the issues raised here will be with us regardless of the outcome…)

* Walt Whitman

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As we watch our flanks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1970 that Salvador Allende took office after being elected President of Chile. He was deposed in a military coup, actively supported by the U.S. CIA, in 1973.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 4, 2020 at 1:01 am

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