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January 2013 playlist

A playlist of ten songs that I discovered this month that I want to share. Some new and some old. A more in-depth explanation may be forthcoming.

 

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Responses to Saxby Chambliss’ Retirement Announcement

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Note: This article was written for the Georgia Political Review.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced Friday morning that he would not be seeking reelection in 2014. He cited partisan gridlock as the reason for his disappointment with the United States Congress. His announcement sparked myriad responses from across the political spectrum.

Gov. Nathan Deal gave a pragmatic, straightforward comment in which he seemed most concerned with the procedural formalities of the situation. “I told him to make sure he served out his full term because I didn’t want to appoint someone,” Deal said to an Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporter.

Numerous partisans immediately saw the announcement in terms of the possibilities presented by the empty seat. Rep. Jack Kingston predicted that as many as 10 Republicans could compete for that seat in the primary. In addition to potential big-name contenders like Reps. Tom Price and Paul Broun, Rep. Kingston thinks the primary race could “probably have a self-funder in there, and you can have a mad scramble.”

With the most recent presidential primary still fresh in their memories, Democrats welcome the idea of such a wide and fragmented GOP primary with open arms. Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says “Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle. There are already several reports of the potential for a divisive primary that will push Republicans to the extreme right. Regardless, there’s no question that the demographics of the state have changed, and Democrats are gaining strength. This will be a top priority.”
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Jerry Moran thinks the Democrats are overestimating their advantage, however. In a statement following Sen. Chambliss’ announcement, Sen. Moran claimed “what doesn’t change with today’s announcement is the reality that the Democrats have a very uphill battle to try wrestling this seat from Republican hands. Georgia is a red state that rejected President Obama and his liberal agenda by almost 10 points last November. While we take no race for granted, I look forward to the debate between a Republican candidate who believes in reining-in wasteful Washington spending, growing jobs and protecting the Second Amendment, versus a liberal Democrat who will be a loyal rubber-stamp for President Obama in Washington.”

Some fellow Senators overlooked the very partisanship that Sen. Chambliss bemoaned. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolinaexpressed “great sadness and disappointment” over the retirement of his friend.

Likewise, fellow Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson said he would miss working with Sen. Chambliss in 2014, noting that “our state and our country are better because of Saxby Chambliss.”

In addition to criticizing the partisanship gridlock that ultimately drove him away from Washington, Chambliss began looking to the future. “I’m going to have a life after this,” Chambliss said, pondering his life post-politics. “Sitting on a back porch drinking whisky with some of y’all is exciting to think about.”

AIG: Audacity is Good, Acceptance is Good

AIG Logo

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prevents the federal government from taking private property without just compensation. In its most basic construction, this means that if the government  isgoing to take your family farm to build a highway, your property will be appraised and you will be compensated accordingly. It gets tricky when what’s being taken isn’t literal property such as real estate. What if the government were to take control of, say, 79% of your company’s equity? Not the most absurd idea to find its way into the American legal system.

Unless that “taking” was actually the government stepping in and saving your company, which happens to be the nation’s largest insurer, from going bankrupt and shattering an already suffering economy.

Last week American International Group’s board of directors had to consider whether or not it would join a lawsuit mounted by ex-CEO Hank Greenberg against the U.S. government for what he believes amounts to an unconstitutional taking.

So much for Thank You, America?

 

BACKGROUND

In 2008 the American financial system was falling apart right before everyone’s eyes. Banks began issuing credit, particularly mortgages, like it was going out of style. Running roughshod over the concepts of “creditworthiness” and “ability to repay,” these institutions created mountains of subprime loans on the idea that they could bundle them into muddled, confusing securities and eventually sell them off to unsuspecting investors.

Major investment banks bought into the profitability of these securities and began buying them up. To mitigate their risk, they then bought a type of insurance on these risky securities known as a credit default swap. When the original loans began to default, the securities tanked, and the insurers (namely AIG) were left to make payments to the holders of the credit default swaps.

AIG, in turn, didn’t have the liquidity to be able to make these kind of payouts and faced imminent bankruptcy. This is when the federal government stepped in. Claiming the “systemic risk” that AIG held and the damage that its bankruptcy would cause the U.S. economy, the government bought out a majority stake in AIG for $182.3 billion.

By 2012, the government sold out all its shares of AIG, recovering its $182.3 billion in full, and then some. American taxpayers ended up making a $22.7 billion profit on its “investment” (bailout) of AIG.

 

THE LAWSUIT

Mr. Greenberg, the former CEO of AIG now leads a group of AIG shareholders called Starr International. It is Mr. Greenberg, through Starr, who purports to sue the federal government for an unconstitutional taking.

Last week, he went to AIG’s board and presented them with the opportunity to join the lawsuit on behalf of all its shareholders not represented by Starr. The board eventually produced a statement in which they formally distanced themselves from Starr’s lawsuit and forbade Starr from pursuing any claims in AIG’s name.

 

BITING THE HAND

Despite their ultimate disapproval, the very idea of the lawsuit drew severe criticism on AIG’s behalf.

“It shows that some of the former masters of the universe — those who were bringing this idea forward — have no shame,” said Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, of Oregon.

Thank You, America messages seem to carry little weight when AIG is contemplating thanking Americans in person, in court. Some critics, still bitter about AIG’s role in the financial crisis, expect them to accept the bailout with a sense of humble gratitude.

Others speculate on the potential future implications of the suit. Will the government be more hesitant to step in and rescue a “too-big-to-fail” firm with this knowledge in mind? “You’re not going to have a bailout story that doesn’t have AIG in it,” says corporate reputation adviser Bill Haynes.

 

TAKING A STAND

So does Mr. Greenberg just have one of the most twisted senses of humor in the United States? Surely there must be some underlying reason behind this lawsuit. In fact, Mr. Greenberg may in fact have a legitimate claim with AIG shareholders’ best interests at heart.

By providing AIG with the liquidity it needed to make all its payouts, the U.S. government eliminated a lot of the losses that could have resulted from the risky lending and mortgage-backed securities. Mr. Greenberg alleges that the bailout of AIG was a “covert, inequitable backdoor bailout for Goldman Sachs and AIG’s other bank counterparties.” This, he claims, is the real reason that the government forced the AIG board to allow the fed’s supermajority stake in the company without just compensation for the equity.

Where those counterparties were able to benefit from the bailout, Mr. Greenberg claims that AIG’s shareholders may in fact have benefited more from a more traditional Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That’s not easy to say, but given the chance to litigate, the judicial system could certainly reach an agreement on that issue.

 

CONCLUSION

This issue, like most others revolving around the 2008 financial crisis, is quite convoluted. At this point, it really is hard to tell who is in the right here. As seen by the public’s reaction to the suit, AIG probably made the right decision by staying out. Joining the suit would have really undermined their Thank You, America campaign and would have been a big setback in attempting to gain favor with lawmakers and regulators. The public relations claims just might eke out the legal claims here.

However, none of that is to say that the suit is without merit. Starr International should by all means carry on with the suit and force judgement on whether or not the federal government really had AIG and the American peoples’ best interests in mind. This suit provides an opportunity for the courts to seriously explore questions about the authority the federal government exercised in response to the financial crisis. While it is certain that AIG would have lost in the court of public opinion, the same can’t be said for certain about the court of law. There’s more than one side to this story and its important to consider all of them before forming an opinion.

Blogging as a Means to an End: A Unique Approach to Social Media PR

Note: This piece had the honor of being featured as a guest post on Well Begun is Half Done.

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Marketing and Public Relations are two subjects that aren’t usually a very high priority at most law firms. Some firms are fortunate enough to have a sterling reputation that does the talking for them while others are left to plaster their smiling faces on billboards, bus benches and daytime TV. Social media is hardly used in its traditional sense, as very few people demand constant updates on firm news and happenings.
However, the folks at Ford & Harrison found the solution to this dilemma in one of the most innovative corporate PR blogs I’ve ever seen. The firm specializes in employment and labor law. The blog, “That’s What She Said,” (http://blogs.hrhero.com/thatswhatshesaid/) follows NBC’s The Office, analyzing episodes in terms of employment law mishaps and “estimating how much the politically incorrect behavior of Michael Scott and Dunder Mifflin would cost real-life companies to defend.”
Accordingly, the blog educates the public about the nuances of employment law, but in a way that’s funny, entertaining and steeped in pop culture. More importantly, framing these issues through such a popular TV show makes them exponentially more accessible to the public. Most importantly of all, all of this comes to you attached to the name of one of the nation’s leading firms in this field of law. It’s brilliant, really.
The lesson to be learned here is that there’s always a way to relate you or your company to the public, but you might have to think outside the box to find it. Would many people read a straightforward blog about employment and labor law? Other than human resources professionals, probably not. However, the Ford & Harrison lawyers didn’t have to look very hard to find the issues they deal with manifested to the extreme on The Office, and that was something that more people would be willing to read about.
The blog isn’t about the firm, the blog is by the firm. The blog is unique, entertaining, and culturally relevant. The blog isn’t the end goal for Ford & Harrison; Dunder Mifflin isn’t real, there’s not a very promising future in pursuing employment litigation there. Rather, the blog serves as a means to the firm’s end goal of attracting more clients. First and foremost, it entertains. But then it educates. And then it ties back to the firm as an expert in the field, and a pretty cool and relatable one at that (my attorney wins cases AND still finds the time to watch TV!).

2012 Tracks of the Year

HolyOther2

Honorable Mentions

Patterson Hood – (untold pretties)

Wild Nothing – Through The Grass

Chris’ Top 10 Tracks of 2012

10. Holy Other – Nothing Here

9. Grizzly Bear – Speak In Rounds

8. The xx – Angels

7. Grimes – Genesis

6. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Who

5. Frank Ocean – Pyramids

4. Beach House – Myth

3. The Shins – Simple Song

2. How To Dress Well – Cold Nites

1. Kendrick Lamar – The Art of Peer Pressure

The whole Spotify playlist:

2012 Albums of the Year: 5-1

5. The Shins – Port Of Morrow

5

Pitchfork: 8.4/10

Metacritic: 72/100

Port of Morrow was one of the first albums that really clicked for me this year. For some reason, not a whole lot early on seemed too memorable to me, so maybe that had something to do with this albums staying power with me this year, but here it is starting out the top 5 list. The album brings out the high points from the Shin’s back discography: catchy hooks treated with the glossiest of pop production. Just an all around enjoyable album and one to which very few would be opposed to listening.

4. Grizzly Bear – Shields

4

Pitchfork: 9.1/10

Metacritic: 86/100

I haven’t been a huge Grizzly Bear fan in the past, but maybe because of this year’s generally weaker crop of albums (in my opinion at least), I figured I would give this one a more serious chance. And sure enough, it really sat well. Having learned to appreciate the band’s complexity and attention to detail, I’m definitely excited to go back through their discography, particularly 2009’s Veckitamest, which I listened to but later deemed not worthy of staying on my iPod.

3. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

3

Pitchfork: 8.8/10

Metacritic: 80/100

I can’t say that I haven’t been aware of The Dirty Projectors’ existence before this year, but I’ve never been moved to listen to any of their music. This seems to be an emerging trend of this year’s music for me. As previously mentioned, not as many albums jumped out at me so I had to extend myself to listen to albums that I otherwise wouldn’t. And it has by and large payed off. The lyricism on this album is great and the sounds are interesting and really unlike anything I’ve heard before. I’ll definitely be making a point to check out their back discography as well.

2. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

2

Pitchfork: 9.5/10

Metacritic: 91/100

Hip hop music about overcoming adversity in the violent, poverty-stricken streets? Reconciling faith and family with guns and drugs? It’s been done before. A lot. But the execution of such an overwrought concept on good kid, m.A.A.d city is fantastic. I’m not a big enough hip hop fan to appreciate all the skits that litter just about every album in the genre, but never have I been so tolerant of them as I was with Kendrick’s parents’ voicemails on this album. The storytelling here is fresh and unique. Not only is each song great on its own accord, but each one serves a purpose in advancing the plot of this “short film by Kendrick Lamar.”

 

1. Passion Pit – Gossamer

1

Pitchfork: 8.4/10

Metacritic: 76/100

Passion Pit will forever hold a special place with me as 2009’s Manners was my unofficial introduction to the world of “indie rock.” I approached listening to and seeking out music differently after hearing something so similar yet so unlike the music I listened to at the time. That’s why Gossamer was my favorite release of 2012, despite other albums (like GKMC) still being actually better in my opinion. Still, despite the nostalgia, I just thought Gossamer was a great follow-up album as well. Similar enough to remind me why I liked their previous album yet different enough to keep things fresh and interesting. Gossamer, like Manners, is incredibly consistent with the quality of its tracks which in turn leads to an album that remains just as enjoyable as the first time I heard it.

 

Analysis

Average Pitchfork Score: 8.8/10

Average Metacritic Score: 81/100

2012 Albums of the Year: 15-6

15. Memory Tapes – Grace/Confusion

15

Pitchfork: 6.2/10

Metacritic: 72/100

14. Max Richter – Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons

14

Pitchfork: –

Metacritic: –

13. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

13

Pitchfork: 9.5/10

Metacritic: 92/100

12. Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital EP

12

Pitchfork: 6.1/10

Metacritic: 75/100

11. How To Dress Well – Total Loss

11

Ptichfork: 8.4/10

Metacritic: 77/100

10. Beach House – Bloom

10

Pitchfork: 9.1/10

Metacritic: 78/100

9. Wild Nothing – Nocturne

9

Pitchfork: 8.3/10

Metacritic: 75/100

8. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

8

Pitchfork: 7.1/10

Metacritic: 72/100

7. Purity Ring – Shrines

7

Pitchfork: 8.4/10

Metacritic: 76/100

6. The xx – Coexist

6

Pitchfork: 7.5/10

Metacritic: 79/100

Analyisis

Average Pitchfork Score: 7.8/10

Average Metacritic Score: 77/100

Some really great albums starting to surface here as we break the top ten.

This is where Channel Orange landed for me, despite consistently being a list-topper, or at least very close, elsewhere. I guess R&B really isn’t my thing, but I did enjoy this a good bit.

Grace/Confusion is an interesting appearance this high on the list, as I admittedly first listened to it just last week. It instantly clicked and made a rapid ascent up the list. Maybe its the drop-off in chillwave-esque albums this year that made this one really stand out, but I’ve enjoyed listening to it a lot recently.

Recomposed by Max Richter provided something of a challenge for me on its inclusion. It’s incredible, but is it incredible because of the recomposition or is it incredible because its the Four Seasons. Is it fair to pit one of the greatest and most recognizable pieces in music history against this year’s other releases? It’s certainly been one of the most enjoyable albums to listen to so I’m including it.

CoexistThere’s No Leaving Now, and Bloom are all great albums. Unfortunately, they all suffered from the unavoidable flaw of being released after XXWild Hunt, and Teen Dream, respectively. It’s not really fair, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable to compare a release to the artist’s stellar previous release. That’s just the burden of setting a high bar, I suppose.

Finally, State Hospital is up this high because I will love everything Frightened Rabbit releases, forever and always. The band puts out such simultaneously brutal and poignant expressions of ache and pain that it creates the paradox: man, I sure hope things get better for Scott Hutchinson soon, but do I really?

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New music reviews and interviews from a music nerd, finding, reviewing and interviewing the best new and undiscovered music that Earth has to offer.

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