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guaranteed rental schemes | The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer – review

guaranteed rental schemes | The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer – review

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George Packer does a fine job of charting US decline. But where’s the anger?

History of disassemblage': The US flag fades along with a wall in Calvert, Texas. Photograph: Jill Stephenson /Alamy guaranteed rental schemes

One of the odd things about American news programmes is how little American news they feature. Typhoons and hurricanes, crazies and lone gunmen, Barack Obama staging a press conference, 10 seconds about the Middle East, a famous actor doing something scandalous, back to the weather: all this giddy fragmentation is further punctuated by so many commercial breaks or mentions of what’s coming up after those breaks that it can be hard to tell the difference between reportage and retail. America itself – its landscapes, rhythms, textures – is more invoked than evoked. A mere brand or sign. A tool to manufacture a togetherness that doesn’t exist.

George Packer’s new book is about this missing America. Spanning three decades, it’s a history of disassemblage, a chronicle of a nation where the “structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape – the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools”. It’s also a threnody, a lamentation about the silence, at least in political circles, around those collapsing structures: “An old city can lose its industrial foundation and two-thirds of its people, while all its mainstays – churches, government, business, charities, unions – fall like building flats in a strong wind, hardly making a sound.”

Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker and author of The Assassins’ Gate, a 2005 study of the US war in Iraq, is also a novelist. The Unwinding is strongly influenced by the USA trilogy (1930-36) of John Dos Passos, a political radical in his early days and a literary modernist, who famously claimed that “Mostly USA is the speech of the people”.

Like him, Packer constructs his factual narrative from the stories of a broad range of characters: Madison-raised Dean Price is hauled out of his mixed high school by his racist father, weans himself on self-help books and opens up a slew of truck stops, convenience stores and burger joints before becoming an evangelist for biofuel. He is equal parts dreamer, indomitable entrepreneur, utopian Del Boy.

Then there’s Jeff Connaughton, an idealistic lobbyist, White House lawyer and former aide to Joe Biden who recalls in savage detail how his initial admiration for Obama’s vice-president turned to disgust, not just because of Biden’s foibles (cribbing from a Neil Kinnock speech, mistreating people close to him) but more importantly because of his absolute failure to push through legislation that would have broken up those national banks whose greed and corruption brought America to the brink of economic meltdown. Packer has a great deal of time for these men, and for Tammy Thomas, a black American woman from Ohio who grew up taking care of an alcoholic mother who was in and out of jail for drugs, fraud and robberies. Somehow, in spite of the steel mills in her home town closing down and having to raise her children in a gang-colonised neighbourhood, she becomes a community organiser. Less warmly – though by no means acerbically – portrayed is Peter Thiel, a billionaire venture capitalist and libertarian co-fou

nder of PayPal, who finances projects involving seasteading and reversing human ageing.guaranteed rental schemes

Like Dos Passos, Packer interlaces these stories, themselves recounted in small sections, with “newsreels” in which the mood of a particular year – or rather the hysterical sound-and-fury of its public discourse to which his own subsequent stories offer a more considered, infrasonic counterpoint – is jerry-built from newspaper headlines, tweets, television listings and pop lyrics. Also, again like Dos Passos, he includes potted and sometimes vinegary biographies of various American public figures including Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart and, a little puzzlingly, the writer Raymond Carver. These can be damning. Of Newt Gingrich, married to Jackie though widely known to be a philanderer, he writes: “He tried to keep it to oral sex so he could claim literal fidelity if anyone asked but within two years the marriage was over, another adoring woman about to become the next Mrs Gingrich, the advocate of civilisation standing at Jackie’s hospital bed as she lay recovering

from uterine cancer, a yellow legal pad with divorce terms in his hand.” Mostly, though, they feel like material worked up from magazine profiles or overambitious efforts to anatomise a nation through its celebrities.

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Packer isn’t too clear about when “The Unwinding” took place. At one point he asks if it began with the end of the Reagan recession in 1982 and the bubbles – bond, tech, stock, housing markets – that followed. Was it caused by the deindustrialisation of the 1970s? Many of the factories that disappeared for ever were “hot, filthy, body-and soul-crushing” but they offered decent wages and a sense of belonging – to a community, a class, a nation – since extirpated. Or were its seeds planted in the 1950s – a decade of unrivalled middle-class prosperity – with the rise in car ownership and shopping malls, developments that would contribute to the decline of Main Street as both a real and symbolic common space?

Packer sometimes channels and sometimes overlays the voices of his confidants to point the finger at various modern criminals: lobbyists, Wall Street bankers, cynical politicians. But though he talks about how Washington was “captured” and ventriloquises Connaughton’s growing disenchantment by talking about how “everything he had learned in law school… was bullshit”, he doesn’t name names and, like the sonorous and stylistically adept New Yorker writer he is, mostly keeps his anger in check.

Yet the subtitle of The Unwinding – An Inner History of the New America – brings to mind JG Ballard’s notion of “inner space”. Deploying delirially anti-humanistic prose, Ballard drew on his fascination with America’s dark psycho-interiorities to produce extraordinarily prophetic publications such as Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan as early as 1968. Equally, The Unwinding could have learned from the roiling prose-fire of Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi who likened Goldman Sachs to “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

Packer’s book – so decent, meticulous, concerned – reads like both a shrine to and the embodiment of a form of civics that barely exists in America these days. Is lambent lamentation enough?

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guaranteed rent scheme | China second quarter GDP to test reformers’ stomach for weaker growth

guaranteed rent scheme | China second quarter GDP to test reformers’ stomach for weaker growth

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(Reuters) – China’s resolve to revamp its economy for the long-term good will be tested this month when a slew of data show growth is grinding towards a 23-year low, with no recovery in sight.

The median forecast of 21 economists polled by Reuters show China’s economy likely grew 7.5 percent between April and June from a year ago, slowing from the previous three months as weak demand dented factory output and investment growth.guaranteed rent scheme

Growth prospects for the rest of the year look even grimmer if last month’s unprecedented money market crunch, which saw short-term interest rates spike to record highs, eventually feeds into the real economy through higher lending rates.

Firms burdened by higher borrowing costs could shed jobs in coming months, analysts say, lifting unemployment that is a decisive factor in Chinese policymaking.

China’s new leaders, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, have flagged for some time that the rapid GDP growth of the past three decades needs to shift down a gear as the economy moves towards consumer-led expansion.

Beijing has consequently resisted so far taking policy action to boost the economy, opting instead for slower but better-quality growth not reliant on extravagant investment funded by debt.

But things could change, especially as China’s labour market betrays signs of its first crack.

“As China sticks to reform, the downward pressure on the economy will increase,” said Jianguang Shen, chief China economist with Mizuho Securities Asia in Hong Kong. “Rising unemployment and bad loans will be inevitable.”

The world’s No. 2 economy grew 7.7 percent in the first three months, and Beijing hopes 2013 growth could hit 7.5 percent – impressive by world standards but the slowest in 23 years for China.

The gross domestic product report, due on July 15, will be preceded by trade and inflation data, with the latter, on Tuesday, likely to show lacklustre demand capping price pressures.

Consumer inflation is expected to quicken to 2.5 percent in June, well below the central bank’s 3.5 percent target for 2013, and also below benchmark one-year deposit rates of 3 percent. Inflation had ran at 2.1 percent in May.

In a sign of the tough times ahead for firms, producer prices are forecast to drop for the 16th consecutive month, falling 2.7 percent in June, compared with May’s 2.9 percent drop.

China’s factories have been hammered in the past year by poor demand and excess capacity, especially among solar makers, ship builders and steel makers. Analysts say some have resorted to cutting prices to raise sales, but with little success.

Trade data, due on Wednesday, is forecast to show an improvement in both imports and exports compared with May, but in a feeble rebound not expected to herald a solid revival.

Exports are projected to have grown 4.0 percent in June from a year earlier, while imports are seen rising 8.0 percent.

JOB MARKET CRACKING

With the aftermath of Beijing’s last spending spree still making its way through the economy, China’s new leadership has seemed happy to let economic growth slide without taking drastic remedies.guaranteed rent scheme

Their predecessors unleashed 4 trillion yuan ($650 billion) of state spending during the 2008/09 global financial crisis, a bold move that shielded the economy but left it with trillions of yuan of debt now hurting its banks.

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But Beijing’s determination to abstain from policy action may founder.

At a time when widespread corruption and a ballooning wealth gap are inflaming Chinese social tensions, a faltering job market could threaten the rule of the Communist Party already wary of the political upheavals in the Middle East.

China’s largest private shipbuilder, China Rongsheng Heavy Industries Group Holdings, was reported this week to have cut 8,000 jobs in recent months.

A labour sub-index in a government survey of factories also showed employment contracted for the 13th straight month in June, although other official data showed job supply in cities still outstripped demand in the first quarter.

“Just a month ago, we were still expecting a mild recovery this year,” said Xu Gao, an economist with Everbright Securities in Beijing.

“But the key assumption that the government will increase investment to stabilise growth has proven to be wrong. Just where is the government’s tolerance for slower growth? We still need to watch for that.”

ABYSMAL JUNE

Initial predictions that China’s economy was set for a gentle recovery in 2013 have proven wildly optimistic. After slashing their forecasts, some analysts now believe China could miss its official growth target for the first time ever in 2013.

This means China’s mild economic pick-up in the last quarter of 2012 was transient and that growth is likely to reverse into another cooldown in coming months after deteriorating from April through to June.

A Reuters poll showed growth in factory output probably slipped to 9.1 percent in June from May’s 9.2 percent, while fixed-asset investment slowed to 20.2 percent in the first half of the year, from a rise of 20.4 percent in the first five months.

“Despite recent signs of bottoming out in domestic activity, the growth outlook remains fragile,” said UBS chief China economist Wang Tao in a note to clients.

Worse, monetary conditions may be tightening. A Reuters poll showed M2 money supply growth retreated to 15.2 percent from May’s 15.8 percent.

Banks are forecast to have lent 800 billion yuan in June, up from May’s 667 billion yuan but below a reported surge to 1 trillion yuan of new loans in the first few days of last month – which probably hardened Beijing’s resolve to let interest rates spike.

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guaranteed rental properties | Look away Prince Charles, Goldfinger’s Tower is wonderful

guaranteed rental properties | Look away Prince Charles, Goldfinger’s Tower is wonderful

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Ernö Goldfinger’s Alexander Fleming House, now called Metro Central Heights, has been listed by English Heritage and, although Prince Charles might find fault, the buildings is an idealistic statement about what thoughtful architecture could bring to public life.

The Japanese have a word for it. Wabi-sabi is the mystical property that time, weather and human contact confer on materials. Leonard Koren, California’s fabled Zen master of the subject, says things wabi-sabi “often appear odd, misshapen, awkward, or what many people would consider ugly”.guaranteed rental properties
To be aware of wabi-sabi is to be aware of the language, even the poetry, that mute buildings and dumb things speak. Until recently, few people thought fine Zen thoughts while passing through the grimly urban and diesel toxic Elephant and Castle in south London. Now we all can. Indeed, will.

The English Heritage listing of Ernö Goldfinger’s Alexander Fleming House this week recognises several important things. For example: the fragility of prejudice, the permanence of concrete (which if we are honest, weathers very beautifully) and the way the solemn gravity of great architecture transcends the spiky little fits and pricks of temporary taste. It also recognises that “modern” has become a period style-label, joining Gothic and Baroque.
Now re-branded Metro Central Heights, Alexander Fleming House has been creatively re-used. The discoverer of penicillin has given way as nomenklatura to an address for first-time buyers who pay a premium to live in a great building. Once thought confrontational and aggressive, the Goldfinger design has mellowed into its locale’s texture. The Elephant and Castle would be unrecognisable without it. Adaptability and endurance are two tests of good architecture.

Officially adding Ernö Goldfinger to a list of admired architects that includes Wren and Vanbrugh, not to mention Pugin and Scott, makes this a remarkable moment in the history of taste. It is a moment that I dare say has made Prince Charles cross. It is a fair guess that Goldfinger is regularly anathematised during lively group therapy sessions in bosky and chintzy Highgrove.

Why? Because this noble building is the distillate of all that the heir so contumaciously detests: urban, cosmopolitan, right-angled and, most loathsome of all, concrete and flat-roofed. Never mind that it is meticulously designed and a potent statement of artistic purpose: it seems, if this is the way you see things, to represent all that is hateful in “modern” life. Not that it looks like a wireless – for some reason a favoured term of abuse in the Royal critical vocabulary; it looks like a Khruschev-era secret police academy (another one of the same).
But I think it looks rather wonderful. And one day Prince Charles will agree. This is because the one thing certain about taste is that it changes: what is reviled in one generation is revered in the next. This is as inevitable as night following day. Virginia Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, once rather grandly said that no one would ever want to revive the nineteenth century. A few years later, in 1918, Lytton Strachey published his best-selling Eminent Victorians and eight years after that Kenneth Clark confirmed the trend with his The Gothic Revival. It was a small step to Laura Ashley: history is a wave of revivals and survivals. Modern has survived and is being revived.

Yet buildings are complex and subtle things and there is much more to understanding them than to glance momentarily at their carapace with dismay or delight. Too much architectural commentary, including the Prince’s, has been based on superficial judgments about surface effects. Turrets and fiddly bits? Good! Flat roofs and metal glazing-bars? Bad!
True, Alexander Fleming House is confrontational, exactly as its architect intended it to be. But it was designed as a manifesto, an idealistic statement about what thoughtful architecture could bring to public life. Eventually, Prince Charles will look upon it with wistful affection and a wet eye.

Ernö Goldfinger was responsible for the design of many subsequently demonised buildings. People forget his gorgeous and luxurious Art Deco French Tourist Office in Piccadilly, but his Trellick Tower in Notting Hill and its twin sister Balfron Tower in Poplar (already listed) are hatefully remembered icons of infamy for those who lazily condemn all modern architecture as heartless and inhumane. Yet a thoughtful appraisal reveals as rich a variety of historical sources in their design as you would find in Vanbrugh: the bravura Futurism of Antonio Sant’Elia, the bold shape-making of Auguste Perret and the structural theories of Le Corbusier, for example. More importantly, the internal plans are subtle and intelligent.
Withal, any Ernö Goldfinger building is, for those willing to see and think, satisfyingly complex. Proportions are fine, details careful, the effects measured (even if that measurement is often on the bombastic scale) and the results enduring. These are buildings designed with care and forethought; Goldfinger’s visually challenging tower blocks have, apart from height, nothing in common with their thin, stupid, cynical, cheap and mean equivalents in Liverpool or Glasgow.

Designed by Ernö Goldfinger, Chelsea’s Brutalist Trellick Tower was built in 1966 and listed in 1998.
And if you want another telling contrast, a mile away from Alexander Fleming House there is The Shard and beyond it, the grotesque laboratory of yah-boo, look-at-me, brain-dead architectural gestures that is the City of London. To his client and the first tenant, the Ministry of Health, Goldfinger brought notions of pride and civic utility. Up the road, architects such as Rafael Vinoly or the American hyper-practice Kohn Pedersen Fox pander to the egos of developers and inflate tiny architectural ideas to bursting point and beyond.

Their triviality is indicated by their nursery names; Walkie-Talkie and Cheesegrater are notably wince-making. As for The Shard, it is a new building, but an old-fashioned idea. Its inflexibility, thermally inefficient glass skin and flatfooted intrusion are archaic and insulting. One day we will marvel how we let such mediocrity corrupt a great city.guaranteed rental properties
The City’s architectural playpen makes the once derided Goldfinger seem positively polite in comparison. He made buildings designed to dignify and delight the occupants; celebrity architects today prefer to ignore people in the cause of bigging-up corporate swagger.

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Until this week, Goldfinger’s reputation was effected by two things. First, his personality. He was a flamboyant Hungarian Jew, not plagued by any lack of personal confidence nor hobbled by English reticence nor much interested in mediocrity. His personal sense of self-worth was practically enhanced by marrying the heiress to the Crosse & Blackwell soup fortune.
As an awe-struck youth, I met him and was suitably impressed by his mane of hair, loud shirts, bow ties, Astrakhan hat, cigars and rakishly parked big Rover. These same swaggering qualities made the Old Etonian Ian Fleming cringe, which is how the name Goldfinger joined Blofeld in the Bond universe of caricature villains. Certainly, Goldfinger had a reputation for being difficult, but the day after we met, I received a book inscribed, “To my dear friend, Stephen, with affection EG”. I liked him a lot.

Second, his association with Brutalism. Some may think that the word was coined by an adviser to the Prince of Wales, keen to add a new term of condemnation to a vocabulary stuck on the wireless metaphor. Its origins are different: we owe the term to the architectural historian Reyner Banham whose The New Brutalism picked up the French expression “béton brut”. This simply means raw concrete and was not intended as condemnation.
Banham explained Brutalism as an architectural ideology intended “to make the whole conception of a building plain and comprehensible. No mystery, no romanticism, no obscurities about function and circulation”. This is what you get in Goldfinger: clarity and intelligence, but now overlaid with a lot of wabi-sabi.

Goldfinger would have ruefully enjoyed being listed by English Heritage. A few years ago his shade ruefully enjoyed having his own 1939 masterpiece house at Willow Road in Hampstead acquired by The National Trust. He might have regretted that English Heritage was not more even-handed in its respect for antique raw concrete and would have argued for Brutalist buildings in Gateshead (Trinity Square, whose car park starred in the film Get Carter) and Portsmouth (the Tricorn Centre) to be saved from the wrecking-ball, but I think he would, puffing on a cheroot and sitting back in his Marcel Breuer tubular steel armchair, have felt a Mittel-Europa rush of intellectual pride at having his work safely accommodated into respectable British culture.
Listing Goldfinger’s Alexander Fleming House is a timely reminder about important principles in architecture. Buildings are not good because they are old. Nor are they bad because they are new. Instead, great architecture across the ages is connected by the same timeless principles. A good building is related to its site. Its function should be suggested by its form. Its spaces and materials are carefully arranged and specified so as to cause surprise and delight to the people who use it. And good buildings soon come to occupy a place in the popular imagination.

On this last point there can be no debate. Look away now, Prince Charles: Goldfinger is classic.

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