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Monday, July 11, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"'They should have let Bear Stearns fail,' Sheila Bair said. It was midmorning on a crisp June day, and Bair, the 57-year-old outgoing chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — the federal agency that insures bank deposits and winds down failing banks — was sitting on a couch, sipping a Starbucks latte. We were in the first hour of several lengthy on-the-record interviews. She seemed ever-so-slightly nervous ... Not long ago, I approached her with the idea of doing an extended exit interview. I thought it was important to get her perspective on the last five years. I also thought, to be honest, that her impending retirement might loosen her tongue a little. After thinking it over, she agreed to talk to me, with the stipulation that nothing be published until she left office. And so there we were, talking about Bear Stearns, the investment bank whose near failure marked the beginning of the crisis. Even knowing that her views of the financial crisis were at odds with many of the others who were involved, I was taken aback: I had never heard anyone involved in the crisis criticize the government’s decision to help Bear Stearns avoid certain bankruptcy. For a moment, Bair seemed a little surprised, too, by the words that had tumbled out. She took a sip of her latte and looked straight ahead, deep in thought. 'Do you really think they should have let Bear fail?' I asked. When she put her drink down, her hesitation was gone. 'Let’s face it,' she said. 'Bear Stearns was a second-tier investment bank, with — what? — around $400 billion in assets? I’m a traditionalist. Banks and bank-holding companies are in the safety net. That’s why they have deposit insurance. Investment banks take higher risks, and they are supposed to be outside the safety net. If they make enough mistakes, they are supposed to fail. So, yes, I was amazed when they saved it. I couldn’t believe it. When they told me about it, I said: ‘Guess what: Investment banks fail.’" (Joe Nocera)


"I’m thinking about Franklin D. Roosevelt. For two reasons. The first is because last week JH and I visited the FDR Four Freedoms Park that is being constructed by Frank Sciame, the real estate developer and contractor, on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in the East River. The second reason I’ve been thinking about Mr. Roosevelt is because of an article I read on the front page of the Times last week that President Obama may be considering once again the possibility of some cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Social Security, you should know, was the creation of Franklin Roosevelt in the midst of the Depression and for the past seventy-odd years it has kept many Americans on subsistence that is at least respectable. Social Security, as I understand, is money paid in by the recipient. It was not money just handed over to the American citizen at a certain age. I realize that the financial circumstances our government, our world, our peoples are in right now are very dangerous and so solutions must be found. It occurred to me that with Social Security, if we recipients are going to have to take a 'cut,' then wouldn’t it be fair if all Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen, Vice President, President and government employees also take a commensurate cut in their salaries? I think the list of those who might take on the stress of it, like the rest of us, could get a bit longer without even ruffling the feathers of the bankers and hedge fund owners. If we, as a people, are going to learn to downsize for the sake of stability, shouldn’t we all participate?" (NYSocialDiary)


"Here at Les Recontres Economiques d'Aix-en-Provence we are ostensibly discussing 'The States of the World' but in reality the buzz around the event is about the global economic ugly pageant. Although much of the conversation among delegates --whether at the venerable conference sites like the law school of the Universite Paul Cezanne or the local outpost of Sciences Po -- focuses on the harrowing state of the Eurozone, one can regularly hear concern expressed for the other contestants in the current perverse competition among the world's economies. To understand the competition, you just have to understand the old joke about the group of friends whose picnic is disturbed by a hungry grizzly bear. As the friends bolt from their campsite, one stops to put on his sneakers. The others ask what he is doing, worried that he will never be able to outrun the bear if he stops. The one in the sneakers observes as he starts sprinting away, 'I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun the rest of you.' So it is now with the global economic ugly pageant. While most of the major economies of the world are spluttering and the possibility of an unprecedented geoeconomic disaster remains palpably real, what money there is does have to go somewhere. That place is likely to be the least ugly of the world's economies. In other words, absent a true safe haven, capital will seek the safest haven of those available. It's one reason the dollar has done fairly well recently, for example. While the U.S. government seems to do everything in its power to screw things up economically, investors buy dollars because the managers of the world's other big currencies, the Europeans and the Japanese, are screwing things up worse." (David Rothkopf)



"The great cliffhanger of the Rupert Murdoch phone-hacking/bribery affair is whether this time, as always in the past, the man can once more come out a winner, however tarnished. Will the revolt to dislodge his power turn out like Egypt, where Mubarak fell, or Libya, where the tyrant has turned out to be far harder to dispatch? Is Murdoch still the Great and Powerful Oz, or just the Aussie behind the curtain? The photographs of his arrival in London on Saturday—his gnarled, thoughtful face under a Panama hat, headed to take over crisis management from his beleaguered son James (described to me by an executive who knows him well as 'always decisive, often wrong')—will have struck fear into the hearts of students of Rupert’s dark arts. They know that he has what his critics and opponents never seem to have: a ruthless focus on the endgame—in this case, full control of British Sky Broadcasting, the lucrative satellite-TV service... It doesn't look good for Murdoch. He may decide to push the pause button on his bid and regroup. But those who are betting he will be found unfit to take sole control of such an important segment of British media in addition to all of his other powerful holdings should not forget how he acquired his current stake in BSkyB after he suffered a reverse. He was one of seven bidders for the license from the government in 1990. He lost because the law said no national newspaper could own more than 20 percent of a TV network. Did he give up? Uh, no. He started beaming TV into British homes from his own Luxembourg-based pan-European satellite service. Did the government act? Uh, no. Murdoch had a nice private chat with Margaret Thatcher. Two days later, the hapless home secretary, David Waddington, got up in the House of Commons to say that while, yes, Murdoch might have technically broken the law, that was OK because it was a commercial matter unworthy of official concern." (Tina Brown)


"Hordes of people moved through the lobby of the 92nd Street Y last night asking, 'Anybody got an extra ticket?' They were there for a screening of the eighth season premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm that included a panel discussion with the cast. The Observer contemplated the $100.00 someone was offering then thought it wasn’t worth it.The zeal at last night’s event is usually reserved for championship basketball games or stadium rock concerts. A board of trustees member actually introduced the night by saying 'several weeks ago we had Bono and The Edge here. Tonight, we topped it.' To which the room exploded into rapturous applause. In fact, every time there was a change in the room’s lighting, the audience gleefully cheered. As for the episode, The Observer was sworn to secrecy. All we can say is that with a live audience, never has Curb Your Enthusiasm more resembled Seinfeld. When the show ended, the night’s MC, NBC news anchor Brian Williams, walked out from behind a curtain. Above the stage were the words, 'DAVID MOSES ISAIAH.' 'Good evening and welcome to ‘Let’s Find a Catholic to Moderate,’ Mr. Williams said in his best anchorman voice. 'I’m Brian Williams and I’m the house goy.' Suzy Essman, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin and Larry David—dressed exactly how he is in every episode—all took a seat on the stage." (Observer)

"Who knew Ice-T was a role model? Ice Loves Coco, E!'s new reality show about the rapper/actor and his model/fashion designer wife, makes them look like such a perfect couple that you almost expect them to turn into anime characters and see little cartoon hearts popping above their heads as they kiss. Even more surprisingly, it shows Ice—you know, 'Cop Killer' Ice—as a benevolent influence on those around him. He tells a friend that he shouldn't lie to the woman he's dating, helps his wife calm down at a photo shoot by expressing his confidence in her, and, in the most recent episode, rescues his ill-trained bulldog Spartacus from bombing at his own photo shoot. (The shoot is for a dog calendar; Spartacus is wearing a devil's cape and red horns; and, if anything, the scene is somehow even more adorable than this description might suggest.) How did we get here? Ice's whole career has cast him as a kind of cultural antihero, from Original Gangster to 'Cop Killer' and beyond. Sure, he's had the role on Law and Order: SVU, but that was an acting gig, and there's no reason he couldn't still be real underneath the detective costume. Ice Loves Coco is Ice-T IRL, though, and it turns out he's aged into basically the dad from That '70s Show—gruff but lovable, a softy underneath his hard exterior. Nor is he alone, what with fellow OGs Ice Cube and Snoop displaying their own variations of this persona. It's not that it's soft, but it's not really hard, either. It's more like a fundamental grumpiness, a sense of perpetual but mild annoyance at the world in general." (VillageVoice)

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