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A Week Off

Well, I'm off to Oregon for a visit with my parents and some time at the coast in Seaside, so there probably won't be a column next week. Struggle by without me, if you can!

Obama's Katrina Moment

There was a LOT of economic news this week; so much that I posted in here.

The key issue is not controlling executive compensation. The solution to this side issue is making sure shareholders can vote on levels directly rather than leaving compensation to a management controlled board.

The key issue, as previously noted by PSACOT, is restoring trust and confidence by restoring Glass-Steagall, eliminating CDS's and CDO's, active and informed and unconflicted regulation, closing the insolvent banks now. If they are concerned about how to deal with Citigroup, buy the portion of the company not currently owned by the government for another $12B or so and deal with the entire company in the national interest. Split it up, split off the bank from the brokerage, over time obtain what is possible from the assets currently underwater or substantially below face value or acquisition cost. Do not moan about an inability to deal with Citi or the need for new laws to do it. Same with the other big banks.

Obama should immediately fire those responsible (starting with Geithner and Summers). Call in Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz for a meeting and give real serious consideration to installing a team at Treasury that will follow their advice.

Frank Rich op-ed in NYT 3/22/09 where one finds two classic lines:

Quoting a stark warning delivered by Paulette Altmaier of Cupertino, Calif., in a letter to the editor published by The (New York) Times:

"President Obama may not realize it yet, but his Katrina moment has arrived."

"Summers is so tone-deaf that he makes Geithner seem like Bobby Kennedy."

key point intuitively obvious to the most casual observer:
". . . why has there been so little transparency and so much evasiveness so far? The answer, I fear, is that too many of the administration's officials are too marinated in the insiders' culture to police it, reform it or own up to their own past complicity with it."


  • Keep the new data in mind if someone tries to tell you nuclear energy is clean or a good way to deal with the need for energy in the U.S. or anywhere else.


3 stars out of 5

I liked it. The New Yorker liked it. The San Francisco Chronicle hated it. I am talking about the Julia Roberts/Clive Owens genre bender Duplicity, which is a combined caper film and romantic comedy. It is truly as confusing as hell. The plot runs forwards, backwards and sideways. And there is something to be said for the Chronicle's criticism that writer/directory Tony Gilroy did not play fair with the audience, withholding critical information and writing an unsatisfying conclusion. I'm certainly not going to spoil the film. I will say this: I like entertainment that does not spoon feed the viewer. In fact, I'll never forget the time I accidentally tuned in half-way through an hour-long police procedural TV show, thinking I had just missed the first few minutes. I was ready to write a letter to the network praising the brave screenwriter who assumed we could pick up the plot as things went along, rather than explaining it to us as if we were fifth-graders. Only when the show ended "a half hour early" did I realize that the only thing that had happened was that I had missed the spoon feeding. If you liked the backwards story telling of Memento, the witty banter of any 40s screwball comedy and the incredibly confusing yet satisfying plot of any John le Carré novel, you'll enjoy Duplicity. Or, if you just get a charge out of watching Clive Owen and Julia Roberts.

Neal Vitale Reviews: The Bazaar Restaurant in LA

[Ed. note: As a foodie, I am jealous...]

On Saturday night, March 21, six of us visited José Andrés’ latest restaurant, The Bazaar, on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. It was quite the treat! [Andrés trained under the renowned Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Catalonia, and has several Washington, DC, restaurants, including minibar, Cafe Atlantico, Oyamel, and Zaytinya. The Bazaar is his first West Coast venture.]

The restaurant is enormous, filling what was once the lobby of the Nikko Hotel. The lobby (of now the SLS Hotel, from hotelier and entrepreneur Sam Nazarian) is relocated around the corner from the old entrance, leaving an open space that is loosely divided into two main restaurants, Blanca and Rojo. [The image that kept coming to mind was the main floor of a chic retailer like Barney’s, strewn with lighted display cases.]  There is a central bar area, and a patisserie; there is also a Moss home furnishings store woven throughout. Typical of the modernist feel, there are flat panels with images of serious uniformed men…which slowly morph into animals (à la video artist Bill Viola). Visually, it is unlike any restaurant I’ve ever visited. We sat in Rojo, and had a table next to the kitchen. The tabletop itself was checkerboard patterned, with lines cut into the surface; illuminated from within with pink light, it gave the appearance of a  reverse checkerboard – dark squares, separated by glowing pink lines. Half of us watched the kitchen work (led by sous-chef Marcel Vigneron, runner up on Season 2 of “Top Chef”), while the others tracked the scene in the room.

 We decided to do the top tier tasting menu ($95/head), and started with some Sangria made with cava, Hennessey, orange liqueur, and fruits and herbs. Lovely. [NOTE- what follows is my best recollection of the meal, but I may have some dishes out of sequence – shoot me!] We had a dip of Greek yogurt with tamarind and star anise, served with sweet potato chips. Good, but underseasoned. This was followed by skewered cubes of watermelon and tomato (unexceptional), little one-bite puff balls topped with caviar, jamón ibérico on grilled bread that had been spread with finely chopped tomatoes, and cotton candy foie gras – lollipops of foie gras surrounded by a small nest of spun sugar. Incredibly good. [We had moved on from the Sangria by now to a Naides 2006 Verdejo.]

 Next came so-called tortilla de patatas “new way” – served in a hollowed egg shell standing (glued) to a piece of slate, a potato foam mixed with caramelized onions and egg (fabulous). Fingerling potatoes that had been boiled in highly salted water, so they come out dry-skinned and salt-patched, were served with a soothing, rich salsa verde (among the best single dishes I have ever eaten). Olives two way – “real” ones skewered and stuffed with anchovies, accompanied by spoons which held a small orb of manufactured “olive essence.” Shrimp skewered on a pipette of cocktail sauce that you squeeze into your mouth as you bite the shrimp. Boneless chicken wings served with a green olive puree. To celebrate Spain's tradition of fine canned goods, servings (in small tins) of mussels in oil, vinegar, and pimentón, and King crab with raspberries and raspberry vinegar (however weird it sounds, it was brilliant). [By now, we had moved on to a Crianza Pesquera 2005 (Tempernillo) from the Duero.]

 The hits just kept coming with “not your everyday Caprese” – tomatoes with liquid mozzarella balls (we ordered a second helping), braised veal cheeks with oranges, oven-roasted cippolini onions with celementines, passion fruit, and pumpkin seed oil. “Philly cheesesteak” was made with Wagyu beef. [We ended with a Chateau Montelana Cabernet 1992, from one of our friends.]

 Dessert was hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline, apples “Carlota” (warm apple tart with saffron sauce and milk ice cream) – my least favorite dish of the night – and nitro coconut floating island. This last dish was supposed to showcase the flashy “molecular gastronomy” of the restaurant and chef but, while the dish was good, its liquid nitrogen “smoke” dissipated between the kitchen and our table – the perils of a place that serves 200. An assortment of equally inventive and exotic candies ended the meal.

 It was a terrific, unique evening, and a meal that lasted well over three hours. [Even if you’ve tried Andrés’ cooking in DC - even the 31-course tasting at minibar that features some similar dishes - this spot is an entirely new and different experience.] I’m ready to go back as soon as possible!

Marjorie Wolfe on Schvartze, Dalton finds Great Letterman Video, Dern notes WSJ Memo, Dan Grobstein File

Regular contributor Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe has a few words to say to Jackie Mason and others who use the (not so) fine old Yiddish word for African Americans.

Richard Dalton likes David Letterman's Farewell Tribute to Great Moments in Presidential Speeches

Daniel Dern passes on a story about a nasty memo from the new owners of the Wall Street Journal. Thank you, Rupert Murdoch!

Dan Grobstein File

  • | March 21, 2009
    Talking Business: The Problem With Flogging A.I.G.
    The anger and drama over the bonuses at A.I.G. may be undermining efforts to shore up the economy.

  • Not guilty as charged by Paul Krugman

    Um. Several of the comments on my AIG post run along these lines:

    Where were all of you so-called experts when Bush was running the economy in the ground via obscene spending on Iraq and the most massive redistribution of wealth in our history, the "Trickle Down" theory of tax cuts for the richest 2% of the population?

    isn't it easy to blame the new cooks for stuff that happened over the last 8 years? Where were you then? No complaints from your site because everything was run so smoothly?

    I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. But failing to complain over the last 8 years wasn't one of them.

  • For those with $350 to spare, there's the New Yorker Summit
  • quote:

    Here is what I don't understand about twitter. When blogs came out and started to rise in popularity, lots of folks in the MSM and elsewhere said "Great. Just what we need. The undigested, unedited thoughts of the rabble." If blogs are the undigested thoughts, tweets are the orts.

    And I say this as a guy who fires off numerous posts a day without properly thinking through most of them, usually in a fit of pique, later having to come back and apologize and correct the record or both. I had a twitter account for approximately an hour and thought to myself "No good can come from this."

    And not only that, the few times I have attempted to read "tweets," I can never figure out who is saying what and why, and they all read like cell phone text messages between 12 year olds.



    I like blogs. I think twitter is stupid. (Though there are some stupid blogs and I don't read them).
  • Where it all came from department, via Tom Tomorrow:

    BUSINESS | November 05, 1999
    Congress approved landmark legislation today that opens the door for a new era on Wall Street in which commercial banks, securities houses and insurers will find it easier and cheaper to enter one another's businesses. The measure, considered by many the most important banking legislation in 66 years, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and in the House tonight by 362 to 57. The bill will now be sent to the president, who is expected to sign it, aides said. It would become one of the most significant achievements this year by the White House and the Republicans leading the 106th Congress.


Remember last week, when I wrote about being happy? It stemmed from a conversation with my wife, who had been at a seminar where it was discussed.

I just took a class in Positive Psych. at Cal. One of the keys to happiness is using your strengths. They recommended taking the free test on strengths at - and even doing a "family tree" of strengths for all members of the family.

Saying Goodbye

The only constant is change, as I've often been reminded.

I listened to the final podcast of NPR's mid-day news program, Day To Day, and its series of "good bye" essays. They remind me of the people, jobs and careers I've said goodbye to over the years. Eventually, we say goodbye to everything. If we're lucky, its at a time of our choosing, clean, friendly, and as abrupt as we're comfortable with. If we're not lucky (and usually we're not), the activity, relationship, person or organization simply ceases to exist, quickly if we prefer that it end slowly, slowly if we prefer it to end quickly.

I've had a black thumb in this regard. My first four adult jobs were at the Oregon Journal, the Associated Press, United Press International and Bank of America. The Journal is gone, and the BofA lives on in name only--it is no longer the San Francisco-based bank of A.P. Gianinni for which I worked. UPI is no longer a real wire service. I miss all of them. There were great institutions, launched in the early years of the 20th Century that didn't live to see the 21st in any recognizable form. Much younger was CMP, the journalism company which employed me for two decades. It, too, has disappeared, along with nearly every magazine, newspaper and web site to which I contributed.

One of the saddest things about good-byes is that we don't get much say about them. THE saddest thing about a goodbye is when you don't know it's a goodbye. That's mostly the way it is with people--rarely do we know we're seeing someone for the last time. In the best case, you'd said most of what you needed to say and the person knew how you felt. In the worst case, there were unexpressed sentiments that stick in your throat forever. My own experience in this area has led me to make certain that the people I care about know how I feel. I remind them, frequently. Some of them would say too frequently, but I don't like to take chances. I don't ever want someone I love or respect to die without knowing how I feel about them.

Some of my good-byes saddened me, some made me happy. All of them changed me, some for the better, some for the worse. I hope to live long enough to say many more, until the good-byes said to me mark the end of the process.

Politics: The AIG Bonuses are a Sideshow

The AIG Bonuses are a Sideshow

This article from Rolling Stone is the single best (and most explanatory
in plain English - slight family language alert) piece on the whole
financial/economic situation: The Big Takeover:The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution

AIG knew it would have to reveal the counterparties. So they chummed the water with the bonuses story for the NYT front page on Sunday (a paltry $165M) and then released the counterparty story which revealed Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson making Goldman Sachs (just coincidentally the company he ran until leaving to work at raid the Treasury) the global leader in taxpayer gifts funneled through AIG ($12.6B, that's about 72 times greater than total AIG bonuses). Most of the evening coverage on Monday, March 16, focused on the bonuses and not Henry's gift to Goldman Sachs of $12.9B of your money.

The "retention" gifts do not work - 11 of the donees (each of whom received more than $1,000,000 and one of whom received $4,600,000) have left the company (note Andy's comment on the job the lawyers did).

If they are paying this kind of money there should have been a provision either that the gift was returnable if the donee left before the end of the retention period or that it would be paid at the end of the retention period. Unless, of course, everyone had a reasonable expectation of bankruptcy or losses in which case the donees would want to get the money as soon as possible.

Q: What's the difference between an AIG Financial Products executive and a mobster?
A: The mobster carries a gun.

AIG in perspective: A bulldog just ripped off your face, and you’re whining about a parking ticket!

AIG: Bad policy, bad politics

Letters: Some Links from Reynolds, Carroll on Banking, Vaccine Database, Dan Grobstein File

Craig Reynolds isn't coming back with Technobriefs any time soon, but he found some good links this week:

My conservative friend Chuck Carroll has some ideas on banking he's proposed to the president.

A friend writes...

  • [her relatives whose daughter just died are] advocating for improvement of the VAERS database (vaccine adverse event reporting system). They are working to get an op-ed article into the NY Times, pointing out the weaknesses in the VAERS database and the importance of improving it.

    A group of Stanford MBAs created a short youtube video to encourage people to sign an online petition and to search for comparables. If you are so inclined, check out the site, the video, sign the petition, and send on the info.

    This is a very sad case. Perhaps we can help the next child.

Dan Grobstein File

A report from the field:

Last night I went to "A Tribute to John Updike" at the NY Public Library presented by Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker. The link on the website no longer has it under upcoming programs and it hasn't moved to past programs yet. His editors and friends and brother all spoke about him or read from his works.

ZZ Packer, the author of "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" told of meeting him in the green room while waiting to go on the Today Show. Two interesting bits:

They were being made up and she saw him there and thought that he looks like a pumpkin from all the makeup. Should she tell him? He's John Updike after all. She went up to him and said "I'm ZZ Packer." He said "Hello, I'm orange."

When she was being interviewed by Katie Couric, she was asked what magazines and newspapers she read. That question didn't really resonate with her until she heard Couric ask the exact same question of Sarah Palin.

Dan (and others) on multitasking:

Your typical Republican can't. But Obama can.

The Republicans say that the president should concentrate on the economy and not do anything else. Obama says that Lincoln did lots of stuff during the Civil War besides prosecuting the war. JFK did civil rights and started the moon program.

Matt Yglesias says:


The Lincoln business, meanwhile, is one of congress’ great untold stories. People generally don’t think about this very much, but one important consequence of secession was to radically shift the balance of power in Congress since almost every southern member was gone. Suddenly, the super-empowered northern-based Republican majority could pass all sorts of legislation on all sorts of topics. And legislate they did—Homestead Act, all kinds of trade protections, railroad schemes, etc. Just imagine would happen in congress today if the South seceded? It would change everything! And, obviously, it’s not as if there was less regional polarization back then. Conversely, what if Southern Democrats hadn’t seceded back in 1860-61 and had just instead decided to mount a ton of filibusters of all Lincoln’s key legislative priorities? Of course back then we didn’t have the present-day understanding that routine filibusters are okay. But just for fun, project today’s alleged supermajority requirement back to the election of 1860 and a Southern decision that obstructionism was a better path to the preservation of slavery than secession.


I'm reading "A. Lincoln" by Ronald C. White (which I'm sure I've mentioned before). It is fascinating. I haven't read a Lincoln biography in years. I've just discovered that he's speaking at the NY Historical Society in May. I already have a ticket. I just didn't realize that he was going to speak. (I bought the ticket before I bought the book). I can't wait.

Back to Yglesias, I never thought of it that way. Also, remember that the UN was able to fight the Korean War because the Russians had walked out of the UN so there was no veto to stop the fight against the North Korean invasion in June 1950.