Saturday, May 21, 2011

I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE, by Laura Lippman

I'd Know You AnywhereI'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

22 years ago, Eliza Benedict became briefly famous as the only one of serial killer Walter Bowman's victims to survive. Now, Bowman has contacted Eliza through an intermediary and says he wants to meet her. Laura Lippman deftly sets up this chilling premise within the first few pages, and the rest of the book is a steady, inexorable tightening of the tension towards Eliza's confrontation with the man who so irrevocably altered her life.

The premise of a serial killer manipulating someone from inside prison walls inevitably invites a comparison to Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter books. But quiet, apparently contrite Walter manages to be creepy in a much more subtle and ultimately more disturbing way that the more lurid fictional serial killers. I can put down Harris and breathe easy in the belief knowing a real criminal super-genius like Lecter doesn't exist outside of fiction; I know Walter Bowmans exist in the real world.

Which brings us to another great thing about this book, and about Laura Lippman's work in general: her mastery of the small, mundane details of modern American middle-class suburban life and how she juxtaposes the everyday with the horribly out-of-joint to make the evil seem even more unsettling. Stephen King does this a lot as well, but unlike King, you can always depend on Laura Lippman to bring things to a satisfying ending.

Superb craftsmanship, characters you can believe, steadily building suspense and a great ending...yep, it's a Laura Lippman book all right, and one of her best.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thugs and Ho's: The Oil Companies Fight For Their Tax Subsidies

Latest Newspaper Column: The Pilot

I think it’s safe to say that no one really likes big oil companies.

Certainly not the people who glumly watch the total on the gas pump go higher and higher as they fill their tanks, the numbers increasing so fast they seem to blur.

Certainly not the people of America’s Gulf Coast who are still suffering from the effects of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, a disaster of biblical proportions that was highlighted by a top oil executive whining that “he wanted his life back” and a Republican congressman from Texas apologizing to BP because he felt the government was being mean and hurting their delicate feelings.

So it’s always been a source of puzzlement to me that more people aren’t teed off at the massive tax subsidies our government gives to these corporate behemoths, especially in this deficit-obsessed era.

Even though the big five oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell — made a total profit of nearly $1 trillion over the past decade, oil companies continue to receive a variety of tax breaks for such arcane things as “intangible drilling costs,” “marginal well production” and “percentage depletion allowance.”

Some of these date back to 1916, when the government was trying to get the fledgling auto and oil industries off the ground and gain wide acceptance for the automobile as the primary mode of transport. I think we can safely say mission accomplished. But the tax subsidies remain.

President Obama has proposed, and Senate Democrats held hearings this past week on, proposals to eliminate $46.2 billion in oil and gas tax breaks over the next 10 years. Of course, the oil companies weren’t going to take that lying down. Spokesmen for the oil industry and the Republican caucus (as if there’s much difference) immediately claimed that repealing the tax breaks would lead to higher prices at the pump.

One of those making the claim, it should be noted, was a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, who’d previously claimed he was “open” to the idea of doing away with the tax breaks. An executive from ConocoPhillips (which reported $95.32 billion in profits in 2010) went further: He called ending the tax breaks “un-American.”

Well, from his perspective, he’s right. After all, in his America, there’s nothing more patriotic than giving a bloated multinational corporation anything they want anytime they stamp their feet and pout, as long as we can make up the difference by cutting aid to the poor and destroying Medicare. From where he sits, that’s as American as apple pie and baseball. To these people, America and its government exists to serve them.

Here’s another thing. I am sick to death of these bloated tycoons holding a gun to the economy’s head every time it looks like they’re going to have to pay their fair share or clean up their mess. “Nice gas price you got there, be a shame if anything happened to it.”

I mean, really. Is anyone really stupid enough to believe that oil companies are going to stop drilling if they don’t get a massive tax subsidy for doing so?

I suppose there is one group who actually likes the oil companies: the people who work for them. Unfortunately, that includes a sizable chunk of our Congress, including DINOS (Democrats in Name Only) from oil-producing states, such as Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu (who’s taken $3 million from oil and gas companies) and Alaska’s Mark Begich (who’s only prostituted himself to the tune of $140,000, but he’s still pretty new to the game).

They, too, are acting as if they expect us to believe that the oil companies will just take their multibillion-dollar ball and go home if they don’t get their tax subsidies. Of course, they may not actually like Big Oil; but they sure do smile pretty and say the things their oily “clients” like to hear.

Will the Republicans and a couple of turncoat DINOs manage to derail the president’s attempt to get the oil companies to pay a reasonable amount of taxes on hundred of billions of dollars in profits?

Sad to say, it’s entirely possible. Because to them, the deficit’s big enough to justify balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and the old, but there’s no deficit, ever, big enough to justify inconveniencing their corporate masters.