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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"In my opinion, the Obama administration is turning to sanctions because the hope is that at some point the Iranians will decide that they are sufficiently isolated and the impact of the sanctions is severe enough for them to come back to negotiations. So, I think that the attempt to impose tougher sanctions is going to be the right one, but I fear that some of the key countries that will have to implement those sanctions will not do so with significant energy. I am thinking here of China and Russia, who, when push comes to shove, oftentimes do not implement sanctions in a tough-minded way. The problem is that at the same time that we are trying to impose sanctions, China has become a leading trading partner with Iran and, in fact, has increased its investment and trade, and Russia remains the leading supplier of arms to Iran. Therefore, the potential for impact of these sanctions is undercut by the actions of these two countries—others as well, but those two in particular—because they are so significant to the Iranians and they are members of the P5+1 negotiation group at the same time." (Nicholas Burns/FletcherForum)



"Ideas about government intervention have changed quickly. Ayn Rand was an articulate, powerful voice for libertarianism, the notion that each of us individually deserves to own what he or she creates, and that the role of government must be minimized. For 30 years a libertarian ideology dominated leadership circles, beginning politically with President Reagan, who led a fundamental transformation in our political discourse—about the government’s role in everything from marginal tax rates to regulation. Many people think that Reagan was brilliant, and that his policies were necessary. Whether or not you agree with that assessment, you have to acknowledge that the Reagan agenda dominated our discourse until the fall of 2008, when the entire economic world appeared to collapse. A year later we have Ken Feinberg, appointed by the president to determine how much CEOs will be paid. We’ve gone from finding government intervention anathema to accepting that a bureaucrat determines how much someone gets in stock options. But angry populism—180 degrees from libertarianism—is no better a guide than Rand. We understand the public anger, we sympathize with it, we all feel it. When the very people responsible for the cataclysm are reaping its rewards, we know something is wrong. But angry populism doesn’t direct us in figuring out what a government should do. So we need to talk instead about when government should intervene: where, why, and with what limits. I will articulate three rules (and one footnote) in this effort." (Eliot Spitzer/BostonReview)



"Eric Idle had returned from Tunisia, where Monty Python were shooting Life of Brian [1979]. And he brought over what I believe he called 'Tunisian Table-Cleaner,' which was a beverage. Well, Harrison came over and the Rolling Stones came over, and I think we stayed up most of the night. So when we arrived at Cloud City, we were very happy." (Carrie Fisher on shooting The Empire Strikes Back, Starpulse via EW)



"Given the glut of books on the financial crisis, we’re often asked for recommendations. Here are five of our favorites so far this year. 13 Bankers by Simon Johnson and James Kwak. Published by Pantheon. When it comes to megabanks, Alan Greenspan has begun to sound more like Teddy Roosevelt than the Maestro. 'If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big,' the former Federal Reserve chairman told a New York audience in October, entertaining what he called a radical solution. 'You know, break them up,' he said. 'In 1911, we broke up Standard Oil. So what happened? The individual parts became more valuable than the whole.' ... The Big Short by Michael Lewis. Published by Norton in the U.S. and Allen Lane in the U.K ... Twenty years after Liar’s Poker, Lewis brings his flair for comedy and sense of wonder to the events leading up to 2008, when 'reality finally overwhelmed perceptions,' he writes. 'A crowded theater burned down with a lot of people still in their seats. Every major firm on Wall Street was either bankrupt or fatally entwined with a bankrupt system' ... The End of Wall Street by Roger Lowenstein. Published by Penguin Press. Trapdoors, saloons and a hall of mirrors: These unexpected images emerge in this portrait of how the financial system became warped during the housing boom and bust. Lowenstein, who chronicled the hubris of Long-Term Capital Management LP in When Genius Failed, has now weighed in on what he calls 'the mother of all bubbles.' Few emerge from this even-handed and thorough account unblemished. The Quants by Scott Patterson. Published by Crown Business in the U.S. and Random House Business in the U.K. On Aug. 7, 2007, Matthew Rothman of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. got off a red-eye flight in San Francisco and went to see a potential client. 'Oh my God, Matthew,' the trader said, pulling Rothman toward his office. 'Have you seen what’s going on?' His portfolio was plunging, and the Lehman strategist was baffled, Patterson says in this sometimes overheated yet valuable book on how quants hastened the meltdown. 'Events that models only predicted would happen once in 10,000 years happened every day for three days,' Rothman said. On the Brink by Henry M. Paulson Jr. Published by Business Plus. Shortly before the credit bubble burst in 2007, Paulson had dinner with some of Wall Street’s top bankers. All voiced concerns about excessive risk taking, yet all felt competitive pressure to make loans they didn’t like, the former U.S. Treasury secretary writes in his insightful memoir." (Bloomberg)



"Ever since George W. Bush massively cut taxes back in 2001, squandering much of the $5.6 trillion, ten-year surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton, liberals have assumed that the fiscal game was rigged. Conservatives had been explicit about their starve-the-beast strategy—the practice of creating large deficits through tax cuts in order to force future spending cuts. By playing along, the thinking went, Democrats would only further enable irresponsible behavior—a bit like negotiating with terrorists. Why kill yourself balancing the budget, as Bill Clinton did, if the next Republican is just going to slash taxes again? The fear of conservative high jinks persists to this day, which is one reason liberals have responded coolly to President Obama’s deficit-cutting commission. In fact, many suspect the right is up to something even more sinister—a 'doubling down on starve-the-beast,' as Paul Krugman put it recently. 'Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state,' Krugman wrote. 'So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe.' Krugman is almost certainly onto something." (TNR)



"I went down to the Plaza where the American Academy in Rome which was holding its Annual Tribute Dinner and this year honoring Larry Gagosian and Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art, with keynote speaker John Richardson as well as Chuck Close presenting Mr. Storr with his award ... Society is a word open to criticism and ridicule in these times where the glitz is on the proletarian and off the noen. However, because of the long term trends of American life, the up-from-nowhere bootstraps mentality that made this country the dynamic force it has been in the past century of the world, Society remains at the forefront of cultural as well as political leadership. I know that’s hard to take and even annoying to many of us, but it is, in my humble opinion, nevertheless true. The evening was chaired by Mr. and Mrs. Sid Bass ... The Keynote speaker last night, John Richardson, is the great art historian and biographer of Picasso, as well as anecdotalist of immense proportions. The social hostesses of the world who have access to him, for example, love him. He is a wealth of fascinating, intriguing, often scandalous stories about the rich, the chic and the shameless who have come and gone in his now long lifetime." (NYSocialDiary)



"If one was making 160,000 pounds per week—that’s more than a quarter of a million dollars every seven days—it would be safe to assume that one’s father would not choose to deal in cocaine for a living. Not necessarily, it seems, at least not in the John Terry family. The man who had to stand down as captain of the England football squad for having screwed a teammate’s girl is a hell of a fellow. His mother and mother-in-law were cautioned last year for shoplifting. Now his old man is charged with dealing the wrong kind of coke. What in hell’s name is going on here? Modern England, that’s what." (Taki Theodoracopulos/ Takimag)



"Howard (Stern) took a call from Irish John who said he heard that (porn star Jesse Jane) and Tommy Lee started banging in a VIP area at some club. She said that did happen. They were seeing each other at the time and she had a dress on with no panties so she just lifted her leg up and Tommy went at it. She said that they didn't stop them at all and they were all right there." (Marksfriggin)

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