Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Better Year.

Having spent every New Year's Eve for the last 10 years getting drunk in Bratislava or Prague with more or less the same group of people, I feel awefully nostalgic spending it in New York this year.  So here's to them, my Slovak friends.  I miss you all terribly.

That said, here are my 3 resolutions.  All ridiculously simple but each difficult in its own way.

1.  Pick up the phone whenever possible.
2.  Assume people are kidding unless proven otherwise.
3.  Go home more often.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Virgin Worship.

I flew Virgin Atlantic for the first time this holiday and I loved it.  And not because they give you fun free stuff and they are actually nice and friendly (they do and they are) but because of the selection of movies and music they have on board, which brings me to the motivation for this post - the 2 movies I saw on board.  

The first, Brideshead Revisited, turns out to be a remake of a 1980s mini series adaptation of a British Classic novel.  I had never heard about either and definitely have to investigate.  As for this movie, while the story is great and the talent is striking (Emma Thompson, amazing as always; Matthew Goode, the most under appreciated hottie in the English speaking world), what almost reduced me to tears on board of that flight was the music, 2 songs in particular.  Thanks to iTunes, you can find them here and here.  

The second movie, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, is particularly well timed as it is about a blind date taking place on New Years Eve.  Despite its simple premise - a couple meets on New Years and sorta falls in love - and execution - the camera follows them around LA all day as they are getting to know each other - it was one of the most interesting American movies I have seen in a while.  And not "interesting" in the Charlie Kaufman I will make you regret the day you were born sort of way.  

Go Netflix them both.


I just got an email from the big brother, I mean,, and I urge you to read it and act accordingly.
Hello Alexander,

We wanted to let you know that the first round of voting for the Ideas for Change in America competition will end this Wednesday, December 31 at midnight Pacific Time.

The idea you have voted for, "Equal Immigration Rights for same sex binational couples," is currently in 2nd place in the Immigration category. The top three ideas from each category will make it into the final round, so if this idea remains in 2nd place, it will qualify.

We expect a lot of last-minute voting, so you may want to consider making a final push on behalf of this idea to ensure it remains in the top three. The easiest way to increase the number of votes for this idea before the deadline is to email the following link to friends and encourage them to vote:

You may also want to try posting the link on Facebook or any blog you may write.

If you have any questions, please let us know. Also note that the final round of voting will begin next Monday and end just before the Presidential Inauguration in mid-January.

Best of luck!

- The Team

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Socialism, Christmas Edition.

While I'm waiting at the main train station in Bratislava, I figure I'd use the time productively and write up a short blurb about a fun law in Slovakia according to which all shops have to close at noon on the 24th of December. If you're one of those last minute shoppers - like me - tough shit. As I was running around Tesco - one of those fabulously gigantic shopping temples with cheap crap that sprung up everywhere in the last 5 years - attempting to find some decent vegetables (have they not heard of the beauty of importing produce from thousands of miles away?) - I came close to being forcefully removed from the premises. In case it's not clear - the law is meant to protect the shop workers from being forced to work on Christmas. And yes, it's annoying for someone from New York and generally ridiculous - but at the same time sort of precious.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Justin Bond Is My Personal Jesus.

The Pope is the worst kind of Tranny -a self-loathing one who is in denial. Take off the Vera Ellen dress and the Rosemary Clooney fur hat and what's left? It's no longer 'White Christmas" in glorious technicolor or even "The Greatest Story Ever Told", it's just another ridiculous power-hungry old man who doesn't know any more about God, family or how to love than the next person. We're all trying to make sense of things, trying to find a way to live in peace and maybe -if we're capable- reaching out for love in the darkness of a cold and unforgiving world. A world made all the more cold and unforgiving by people like that vicious Sorcerer who resides in Vatican Square.

Dobré ráno!

Turns out this city can be quite pretty early in the morning right before the sun comes out.  Good Christmas Eve morning, Slovak edition.

2008-12-24 07:33:58 +01002008-12-24 07:34:57 +01002008-12-24 08:38:01 +0100

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Greetings from Slovakia where I have spent the last 5 days shopping, drinking and eating.  Above, the latest accomplishment of my mom: caramel wafer torte.  Every bite shortens your life by at least 13 minutes.  Finally, she agreed to start compiling her recipes and photos and I need to teach her how to blog it all.  Until then, I will gladly serve as her proxy.

Hviezdičky - marcipanovo-karamelovéŠuhajdy - orechovéŠuhajdy - kokosovéStromčeky - kokosovéLaskonkyMušle - hnedéKošíčky - karamelovéPusinky - kokosovéValčeky - čokoládovéBábovkyVčelie úlikyPodlesníčkyTyčinky - parížskePusinky - orieškovéPoľovnícke gombíčkyHviezdičkyHviezdičky - marcipánovéBábätka - karamelové

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just One Note On Warren.

Inspired by Wonkette, I have to say just one thing.  That Obama would make a shrewd, political and calculating move is entirely unsurprising to me.  Actually that aspect of picking Warren is not interesting in the least bit.  I mean, really - this is a guy who voted for FISA and who changed his mind about campaign financing, remember?  He is no naive idealist.  

The thing that is surprising to me is just how much he fucked up this particular calculation.  He didn't have to pick him, there was no explicit or implicit expectation that he would.  Social conservatives couldn't care less about social issues right about now and anyway I don't really see how this changes anyone's opinion of him meaningfully.  On the other hand, it was entirely predictable just how outraged progressives would be at this symbolic gesture.  So the math is - conservatives may like you a little more; progressives will be mortally pissed.  Something doesn't quite add up.

This can be viewed as troubling:  just how disconnected is he from the social liberals (and, yes, gays) not to appreciate the message it sends?  While some interpret this as politicking at its worst, I actually suspect it could be just the opposite: a really bad misunderstanding of the issues at hand and the symbolism attached to a guy like Warren.

But, to leave this one on a bright note, it can be viewed positively.  Hey, maybe he just likes the dude - for whatever weird reason - and he genuinely didn't feel like politicizing this decision.  Maybe he is a different kind of politician after all.  Convinced? 

And This Is Why I Love New York.

Yesterday was about movies, today is about theater.  Through a random concurrence of buying tickets way in advance as well as impulsively at the last minute, I somehow happened to see 4 live performances in the last week, all very different and delightful in their own way: a drag concert, dance performance, reading and a play.  Note to self: if and when I ever consider leaving New York, I have to remember that there aren't many places with a performing arts scene that is this rich and diverse.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Big Screen.

After a long hiatus - which is truly bizzare for me - I went to Sunshine Landmark to see one of the most unbearable, self-indulgent, ridiculous movies ever made - Synecdoche, New York.  Maybe I'm getting old and impatient, but when I spend 2 hours of my life in a movie theater, I expect more than a clever/cheeky concept and a few precious ideas sprinkled around.  

BUT the silver lining of that horrid experience was the preview of Waltz with Bashir, hat tip to VSL for reminding me of that today.  Looks really good.

While we're on the topic of movies, I was pleasantly surprised by the general quality of the Golden Globes nominations; like, I almost didn't realize what a good year it was in movies.   A few complaints though: (1) only 1 nomination for Milk - I think it deserved more (2) I can't decide if Vicky Christina Barcelona is supposed to have been a comedy or a musical, but the nominations committee clearly thinks it's one of the two (3) 24 is not a mini series (4) Meryl Streep - come on - 2 nods?  On a more constructive note, I definitely need to watch Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, The Reader, I've Love You So Long and, if the winter is very long, Revolutionary Road.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

10 Days.

The countdown starts: 10 trading days left in 2008, a crazy crazy year, which I can't wait to put to rest and reminisce about in retrospect.  Meanwhile, there is an explosion of stories which I'd like to revel in, if I only had more time.  So instead, my three greatest hits:

The shoe thing.  As an amateur political observer, I can never endorse such a primitive display of disagreement.  Immediately after the incident I would have only expressed amusement over the fact that it had happened.  But thinking about it now - after a few more days of reactions - I think there is more to it.  It is increasingly  clear to me that of all the protests and criticisms that had been raised against Bush and his presidency, this is the one that has the best chance of sticking in our collective consciousness.  So now, with the president on tour to define his legacy - I mean, rewrite history -  this will go down in books as a permanent reminder of the outrage and disgust felt by many about him and the war in Iraq.  As a side note, I had long wondered about the weird complicity of the mainstream media and their inability to subject Bush to much direct criticism.  I always explained this in three ways: (1) media culture in the US - obsessed with the illusion of objectivity - does not allow journalists to offer much sharp criticism of the President (on the other side of the Atlantic journalists make it their business to tear politicians to shreds at every occasion); (2) this presidency was such an utter failure that journalists want to avoid talking about the obvious, and (3) to protect their own egos in the face of major cognitive dissonance ("we elected this guy, after all..").  Now, finally, it seems like the videos of the shoe incident - and the related narrative of the journalist expressing his disagreement over the occupation - are lending the news reporters a rare chance to both make fun of and criticise their commander in chief - innocently.  And oh so many are.. over and over and over again.

The lazy investor thing.  I'm not talking about the scandal that is Madoff - rather, I am talking about people who invested in him.  While I can appreciate the lure to a wealthy individual (greed, whatever), what baffles me and makes me outraged is people who had no business investing in a hedge fund - no matter how lucrative it seemed - like charities and foundations who put the majority of their funds into a black box with no accountability or risk controls - and who are now having to close.  Seriously, that is criminal.  Madoff himself was just riding a wave of stupidity and incompetence.

The weird Latin American bankrupcy (even though it has no real reason to) thing. Delicious, like a true latino soap opera - including some cross border drama.  Go read about it here.  

Lastly, on a lighter note, a fun (actually not really fun, and not really light, depending on your point of view) article about drinking in NYC.   I say it's pretty off purely because of the author's own sobriety and age.  But the whole premise of the "Proof" blog is .. pretty interesting, if quite schizofrenic (consider this vs this).

Good night.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Powell Asks But Doesn't Tell.

Fareed Zakaria had Powell on yesterday and among other things, Zakaria asked him about "don't ask don't tell," and Powell said it should be reviewed but he goes out of his way to avoid the impression that he is advocating its repeal.  Weirdly cowardly, in my opinion.  Anyway, the interview covers a bunch of issues and is worth checking out - transcript here, video on iTunes here, segment on gays on HuPo here.  
ZAKARIA: Let me ask about one social issue that you were associated with, which was "don't ask, don't tell," the policy toward gay people being in the military openly. Do you feel like the country has moved to a place where we could reevaluate "don't ask, don't tell"?

POWELL: We definitely should reevaluate it. It's been 15 years since we put in "don't ask, don't tell," which was a policy that became a law. I didn't want it to become a law, but it became a law. Congress felt that strongly about it.

But it's been 15 years, and attitudes have changed. And so, I think it is time for the Congress, since it is their law, to have a full review of it. And I'm quite sure that's what President-elect Obama will want to do.

But people have said to me, well, then, what do you think? I said, well, what I think is, let's review it, but I'm not going to make a judgment as to whether it should be overturned or not until I hear from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commanders who are responsible for our armed forces in a time of war.

And so, I have to hear what they think and what the secretary of defense thinks before I would come down on one side or the other.

Because I've always felt that the military is a unique institution. It is not like any other institution in our system. You are told who you will live with. You are told who you will share your most intimate accommodations with. You are told whether you will live or die.

And for that reason, the courts have always upheld the ability of the armed forces of the United States to put in procedures and rules that would not be acceptable in any other institution.

So, the Congress, I think, has an obligation to review the law, and I hope that it's a very spirited review. And I hope that President-elect Obama, in one of his first actions, will ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take a look at the policy and the law and to get their recommendations before he makes a judgment with respect to the administration position.

But times have changed. This is not 1993. It is 2008. And we should review the law.

ZAKARIA: Do you think we should consider the fact that other countries -- the Israeli army, for instance, the British army -- has gays serving openly, and it does not seem to have produced any negative effects to their morale and effectiveness?

POWELL: I certainly think we should look at all the examples of countries where this is the case, and see if it is relevant to the armed forces of the United States. We are unique not only as a country, but as an armed forces. And so, yes, I would look at all of that. But that doesn't necessarily drive the decision.

I think the president will have a view on this, many people will have a view on it. But one view that we should not ignore is the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff representing not just themselves, not just a bunch of generals and admirals, but representing a very large, complex organization.

When we went through this in 1993, it wasn't just the generals, it was the chaplains, it was family members. You have issues of domicile. You have issues of marriage. And, you know, look at the debate we're having now with respect to same-sex marriage.

All of that comes in to the military, if you change the law. That may be fine. But let's study it carefully as we examine this 15- year-old law.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Country We Are Considering You For.

Funny/sad/hopefully about to change:
It was late 2005, and this three-time ambassador had just been interviewed for a top post at the Department of State.

Her interviewer was part of a large corps of 20-somethings — some were in their early 30s — who ran the Office of Presidential Personnel. Many of them were sons or daughters of supporters of President George W. Bush. Others had connections through congressmen. With few exceptions, they had one thing in common: very little experience and a very big attitude.

Another top foreign service officer called me after his interview to be ambassador to a volatile African country. “The problem was,” he told me, “the kid interviewing me could not pronounce the name of the country I was being interviewed for. It made for an awkward interview until he just started saying ‘the country we are considering you for.’”

And This Is Why I Love My Mother.

Or: Why I was an obese child.

And this is just the beginning.  Every year, she makes roughly 30 different varieties of cookies and cakes.  Last year I dodged the Christmas bullet by avoiding dairy and eggs.  This year I am considerably more lax and - more importantly - she has figured out the wonders of vegan baking.  Between that and my dad's wine-tasting plans, the only thing I can do is bring my running shoes and pray that it doesn't snow.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Calling In.. Whatever.

365 Gay asks "Was 'Calling in Gay' a bust?"  It is referring to Day Without a Gay which was supposed to take place yesterday.  I am saying "supposed to" because I don't know anyone who took it seriously.  It could be that people aren't willing to put their jobs on the line because unemployment is already spreading around like a virus.  However, it got some coverage in the media which by itself is not bad.  This interview, for example, is kind of cute.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


It's not that there isn't a lot of good stuff to write about - corruption scandals, zero-rate government debt, auto bailout, Huckabee on the Daily Show - it's just that there is no time for writing.  However, I cannot complain - I still have a job.  That statement is increasingly less facetious and more serious by the day.  The number of people around me getting restructured is growing - not yet rapidly but quite steadily.  This week another friend lost his job.  I am confident that this will be a blessing in disguise for all of them, but in the meantime it must suck.

How do I cope?  Chocolate crumb cake from BabyCakes.  It's what heaven is made out of.

Good night.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The New Bubble: US Government Debt.

This just came accross my email: TREASURY THREE-MONTH BILLS TRADE AT NEGATIVE RATE OF 0.01%.  Things are so bad that people are willing to pay the government to lend it money.  Imagine if a bank paid you for your credit card balance.  This even though there is no entity in the world with so many unfunded liabilities and future debt.  Crazy crazy world.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Scary. And Funny. And a Random/Spontaneous Discussion of Bankers' Pay.

I had to dash out this morning and fly to Columbus, OH, for meetings but I did manage to capture the scariness above.  Dipping into the teens is when I officially go into hibernation, so I guess I will see you all on the other side of the winter.

The truly amusing piece of news today was that the CEO of Merrill - an institution I thought was practically non-existent - proposed a $10 million bonus for himself.  I had long been annoyed that while banks received bailout money without hardly any light being shed on their compensation practices, there has been considerable discussion of how the US auto workers get paid so much more than any other workers, and whether we should be supporting such an inefficient industry.  And for the CEO of a virtually extinct institution to ask for this kind of bonus was quite amusing.  So I am happy to see that by the end of the day he was forced to give up the hopes of getting anything - and I am not terribly worried about him.

PS.  Just to be sure, I don't think there is a clear case to be made for bankers to get paid less (that is if we suddenly decide that the government has the power to regulate their pay.. which it potentially could since it, you know, owns them).  Felix Salmon has suggested that here and he's not alone.  Even as an ex-banker that thought has crossed my mind.  Truth is, finance dudes may seem overpaid, but - unlike auto workers - are running a significantly higher risk of getting culled when times turn sour.  And it doesn't take a whole lot for that to happen.  For the most part, they are employed "at will" which means they can be fired at any time with no reason whatsoever.  This is not a lament; far from it.  This is how banks deals with fluctuations in business: when times go bad, they cut, fire, and lay off until they return a positive bottom line; when times are good or a new business opportunity opens up they hire aggressively - and to attract talent quickly without many specific guarantees for longetivity - they pay up.  In other words, generous pay is the tool that banks use as a headcount control tool.  

Friday, December 5, 2008

Follow Ups.

It's turning out to be a rich day on a variety of fronts, for many issues that I have written about in the past, so why not simply round it all up in one post?

Immigration:  How timely that there is a new study out from NCPA about the $52 trillion in government program liabilities from Medicare and Social Security.  Their conclusion?  "Social Security and Medicare can be reformed so that each worker saves and invests funds for his own post-retirement pension and health care benefits. The burden for the current generation of workers would be substantial: saving for their own benefits while at the same time paying taxes to fund the benefits of current retirees. However, over time Social Security and Medicare would be transformed from pay-as-you-go programs in which each generation is dependent on the next generation of workers/taxpayers into funded programs in which each generation pays its own way."  Or, as I suggested, you could also expand the pool of young bright attractive (kidding) workers by importing them.  

Gay right and useless NY democrats:  Via JMG, we're hearing that we will be, after all, shafted by the Democrats in NY state senate.  "And thus ends our hope for marriage equality in New York in the near future. In 2010 there will be a redistricting in New York state, a process that the Democrats will at least now be able to control. Therein may lie our hope for marriage equality in 2011."  Really, no comment at all except to say that I pray every night for the Republicans to magically transform into a decent party and kill the Democrats in the next election.  

Healthcare: Ezra Klein and Andrew Sullivan have spent the last 2 days exchanging jabs on the topic, and it's delightfully full of clashes: progressive vs libertarian, personal vs theoretical, American vs British.  One of the ironies in the exchange is that Klein, an American, defends the UK system of healthcare, while Sullivan, a Brit, likes it Americana style.  It started with this post by Klein about rationing, and it quickly got personal when Sullivan responded: "I prefer freedom and the market to rationalism and the collective. That's why I live here."  Klein comes back saying the Brits are more satisfied with their system than Americans are with theirs, ergo it must be better, to which Sullivan goes all metaphysical: "there is a cultural aspect here - Brits simply believe suffering is an important part of life, especially through ill health. Going to the doctor is often viewed as a moral failure, a sign of weakness.. It was one of my first epiphanies about most Americans: they believe in demanding and expecting the best from healthcare, not enduring and surviving the worst, because it is their collective obligation. Ah, I thought. This is how free people think and act. Which, for much of the left, is, of course, the problem." Of course it doesn't stop there and it goes on and on.  The beauty is that while Klein tries to argue with data, Sullivan operates with ideology, personal anecdote and cultural relativism - and yet Klein continues to humor him - with reason and data - for which he deserves some props.

Veganism:  OK that one has been completely neglected here for a long time, but there's a nice article over at the American Prospect about the environmental benefits of eating less meat - and the unpalatability of the argument: "Why are environmental groups and even politicians willing to tell Americans to drive smaller cars or take the bus to work but unwilling to tell them to eat less meat?

Give Me Your iPod.

Nothing like a mugging to get the day started.  

When I woke up this morning, I realized that the only way to shake off the effects of the incredibly yumy concoction of prosecco/vodka/God-only-knows-what-else from last night's friend's birthday party was to go running.  Pressed for time, running to work seemed like a good idea, so I grabbed my stuff, put on my running shoes and headed up to Manhattan bridge.  As I was approaching the stairs, I saw a young guy running towards me.  It struck me as odd that he would go running in jeans and a jacket but that was about all the attention I gave him.. at least until he caught up with me on the stairs and asked me something.  Unable to hear him through the music coming from my iPhone, I asked him a polite "Excuse me?" before I noticed he was holding a knife and what he was asking - or demanding, really - was for me to give him my iPod.  Oh, that's what this is, I finally realized.  In my hungover state, I almost corrected him that it's an iPhone, not an iPod.  Then I hesitated: am I seriously in any way capable to judge how dangerous this dude can potentially be?  Looking at his knife - which was large but much less threatening than the Wusthof set I have at home - I decided to take my chances and keep running.  I am nowhere near as fast a runner as I once was but I convinced myself that I could probably outrun this little dipshit.  "Let me go!" I said, before pulling myself away from his grip - yes, during my little brainstorming session he grabbed me by my pants - my pants, of all things!  Luckily for me, he started running away as I headed accross Manhattan bridge, completely weak in my knees, my heart pounding like crazy.  

So yes, that's good morning, Brooklyn style.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Homeland, Part 3, Where I Get All Wonkish.

As a follow up to the previous posts (1, 2) about Homeland Security, it may be helpful to explain why I care so much about immigration reform in the US, or more precisely, why Americans should care more about immigration reform in the US.

To put it bluntly:  because this country needs more young people to survive.  Yes, seriously.  Bear with me.

Medicare, the health care program for people over 65, is a good case in point.  The vast majority of the funding for the benefit that covers hospitalization (known as Part A), comes from payroll taxes.  You may know know this, but every month a small percentage of your paycheck goes to the Medicare trust fund.  As a rational prudent person you may live happily thinking that all the money you're putting aside for Medicare is sitting somewhere - in that Trust - waiting for you to turn 65.  Except that is not the case at all.  The money you're paying now is being used to pay for Medicare expenses of your grandparents (which makes sense if you think about the fact that when the program was established they didn't want to wait around for a generation of people to earn their Medicare bucks before turning 65, but I digress).  That wouldn't necessarily be a problem, if it wasn't for the baby boomers - the massive generation born after WW2, which is about to go all senile on us any minute now and in the process planning to deplete the Medicare Trust fund by 2019.  In short:  forget about ever seeing any of that money back and be prepared to pay for hospital bills on your own!  Or, in the slightly more sophisticated language of the KFF:
Over the longer term, an aging population, a decline in the number of workers per beneficiary, and increasing life expectancy will present fiscal challenges for Medicare. From 2010 to 2030, the number of people on Medicare is projected to rise from 46 million to 78 million, while the number of workers to support beneficiaries is projected to decline from 3.7 workers per beneficiary to 2.4 workers per beneficiary.
And Medicare is just one example.  Social security is another headache or, in government budget speak, unfunded liability.  Combined and rounded up, all these babies add up to about $57 trillion, a figure so large that the only thing you can do about it is pray that you never have to worry about it, or that you die before you do.  

Or, as I suggest, start taking steps to systematically replenish what one might euphemistically call the deteriorating demographic profile of the country, ie, import young smart labor (alternatively we could start adopting massive quantities of babies from around the world, but seriously, how many Brangelinas are there out there?).  

I hope that helps put a slightly less self-serving spin on my interest in immigration reform.  This country needs it, desparately.


Because one mortgage-related bubble per decade is clearly not enough, why not create another one?

That seems to be the thinking behind the recent proposal to guarantee low 4.5% rates on all new mortgages.

The strange logic of encouraging the creation of another asset bubble aside, where does the government get the dough?  The taxpayer (or actually China).  And here's the real kicker: as WaPo explains, the government could actually make a buck or two:

"One possibility is for the Treasury to raise money by issuing bonds to the public at 3 percent interest. This could allow the government to turn a profit because it would be buying securities that pay 4.5 percent."

OMG, brilliant.  Finance for dummies:  borrow at 3%, lend at 4.5%, earn 1.5%.  Love it!

Except, wait a minute!  Why not borrow at 3%, lend at 28%, earn 25% - and buy everyone a home, no mortgage mess necessary?  Because anyone with half a brain knows that leanding at 28% (to Argentina, in case you were wondering where you can earn that kind of rate)  has enormous risks associated with it, so the math doesn't exactly work that way.  

I'm not saying I know what to do with this mess, but this sort of misleading pseudo finance isn't doing anyone any good.  That WaPo doesn't quite get it is not terribly shocking; I just hope that the folks at the Treasury do.

Orange Keffiyeh..

.. is actually color code for "there's nothing I love more than someone taking pictures of random people and liberally putting them on their blog"

But "free Djibouti" is pretty funny.

Boker Tov!

Psychedelic angels by the Rock.  Oh, holidays and kitchy public art, how I missed you.  Good morning, Hebrew edition.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sources of the Crisis, Part a Million.

Two good articles emerged recently about the mortgage crisis and Wall Street. First one by Michael Lewis - the author of a Wall Street classic Liar's Poker; the second one by Henry Blodget - one of the co-authors of the internet bubble.  They are both incredible reads, but the one thing they agree on - one which is unlikely to see much change in the fallout from this crisis - is the extent to which the Wall Street banks' insane risk-taking was enabled by their public ownership structure.   

No investment bank owned by its employees would have levered itself 35 to 1 or bought and held $50 billion in mezzanine C.D.O.’s. I doubt any partnership would have sought to game the rating agencies or leap into bed with loan sharks or even allow mezzanine C.D.O.’s to be sold to its customers. The hoped-for short-term gain would not have justified the long-term hit.
Wall Street never has been—and likely never will be—paid primarily for capital preservation. However, in the days when Wall Street firms were funded primarily by capital contributed by individual partners, preserving that capital in the long run was understandably a higher priority than it is today. Now Wall Street firms are primarily owned not by partners with personal capital at risk but by demanding institutional shareholders examining short-term results.
When it comes to our life or our property, we do not like taking chances, no matter how small.  Would you take a 20% chance of losing everything you have in return for an 80% chance of winning ten million dollars?  It sounds tempting but most of us can't afford to take the risk.  10% chance?  Probably not, still.  Not even 5%.  The likelihood of losing everything is something we cannot accept, no matter how small, when it comes to our own money, even though that bet makes perfect economic sense.  Would you do it with your neighbor's money?  Most probably.  Suddenly the concept of expected return (it is $8 million) feels much less personal and much more relevant; betting the bank, so to speak, is no longer an unacceptable idea; in fact, it is perfectly rational.

God capitalism sucks ass sometimes.

Argument for Federal Marriage Equality Legislation..

.. if anyone ever needed one:
"Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) favor either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples."
That's it, done.  Thanks GLAAD.

Homeland, part 2.

It turns out that the ultra psychedelic left is also worried about Napolitano, or that seems to be the bottom line of this highly contrived and confusing report from Democracy Now!  The only person that seems to like her is McCain, which leaves me a bit confused about what she means for immigration reform, and by immigration reform, I mean my greencard prospects.


Lou Dobbs contrarian indicator alert: he doesn't like the Napolitano pick for homeland security, which means there's hope for immigration reform. I actually think she's more of a hawk than he gives her credit for, but whatever.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Via Sullivan, an interesting quote from James Richardson, the RNC online communications manager:
My support for gay adoption will surely be met with hostility and, no doubt, charges of RHINO’ism by many of my colleagues, but the Grand Old Party is at a crossroads and now is not the time for an echo chamber. Homosexual demagoguery is not the answer to the Party’s woes, particularly when gay men and women represent the only demographic in which John McCain bested President Bush (27% to 19% based on exit polling). And as Daniel Blatt notes, gay-hostile rhetoric no longer resonates in suburban areas with soccer moms, many of whom have gay friends or family members, and plays even worse with young voters, 61% of which voted against stripping gay couples of the right to marry.
I have a strategic idea for the Republican Party, as they are soul searching right now, trying to figure out a new direction for the Party in the new millenium: go gay.  And I don't mean literally, of course, I mean: make gay rights one of your top priorities.  

Weird, I know.  The reality is that the party needs a game changer and it needs it fast.  Given current demographic trends (eg, old conservative people are.. um.. dying), if the party stays on the same path, it could completely implode.  They need to pick an issue to completely redefine the landscape.  Remember how the party came to prominence over anti-slavery?  

Could gay be the new black?

OR could someone else come in and fill the void?  Why isn't someone - I don't know, the libertarians maybe - thinking about this?  Remember that there used to be another party before Republicans?  Couldn't fiscal conservatism combined with social liberalism be the unbeatable force of the new millenium?

Monday, December 1, 2008


Not a single blog I read failed to mention today the passing of Tanta, a blogger from Calculated Risk.  I only caught the tail-end of her writing career, so I have not developed the same level of familiarity as many others have, but the reactions from around the blogosphere are very emotional.  

Yes, Backlash.

This rhetoric from Andrew Sullivan is starting to piss me off.  First, after Prop 8 passed, he said it was a small loss we need to accept on our way towards winning a greater war.  He said we shouldn't be angry about Prop 8; with time and education, a majority will emerge that will institute gay marriage.  He said, we shouldn't oppose it in courts because that would be somehow illegitimate (even though Prop 8 is precisely the kind of issue that the supreme court is meant to address in the US construct of constitutional democracy).  Then, he saw the wave of protests that ensued and finally embraced that as a creative force, something that will propel us towards equal rights.  To those us who don't live in California, that entailed a greater sense of urgency to address equal rights in our own respective corners of the US as well as on the Federal level - hence the anger over what appear to be sign of the exact opposite effect in the NY state legislature, which I wrote about the previous entry.  But Mr. Sullivan tells us not to worry.  Backlash against gay marriage, he says, has inspired its own backlash in its defense.  The implication seems to be that letting NY go is also a good thing, because it is a small loss in a greater war.  However, as he is complacently watching our hopes slip, I have to ask: when do small losses start adding up to a momentum that becomes too hard to stop?  At what point does political strategism suffocate the goodwill of those minorities that seek equal rights?  Exactly how many poster children of oppression do we need?  

Mr. Sullivan says "Winning illegitimately or prematurely could be worse."  I am confused: since when is legislation by simple majority of the populace the only legitimate way to pass a law?  What exactly is the legislature for?  And premature by what measure and whose judgement?  He concludes by saying "It is the fitful, messy process of moving forward in a democracy where everybody gets a say. I'd rather lose and live in such a democracy than win by violating it."  Makes sense, but I hate to inform him that to live in such a democracy, he needs to do one simple thing: move.  The US is a constitutional democracy, not a direct democracy.  

Can NY Dems Ever Grow Some Balls?

“I think the California proposition and the recognition that entities with large amounts of money who oppose same-sex marriage have decided to be large players in this have a lot of people going back to the drawing board.”
Wait, really?  I do not know if I should be pissed off by the logic of dropping a gay rights issue because of large amounts of money behind groups opposing it, or give the Senator props for her blunt honesty.  I can appreciate the tension between policy and politics but I fail to understand why in two years reelection will no longer be a concern?  Can the Democrats ever grow some balls and pass the legislation as fast as possible - not despite the reelection risks, but exactly because of them?  The sooner they do it, the more time will pass - and passage of time is a good thing when it comes to gay marriage, as its opponents are no longer able to exploit the threat of the unknown and the issue becomes dull.  On the contrary, postponing the vote promises to both keep the issue controversial during the next election and lose at least some of the democrats the gay vote.  

World AIDS Day.

Nothing much to add here except a recommendation for a great book I started reading recently that chronicles the epidemic in the most detailed and gripping fashion - And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts.  The book does a great job of placing the disease in a broader political context, which makes it a must-read for anyone interested in the political aspect of gay rights today.  

Monday Morning Kristolism.

But if terror groups are to be defeated, it is national governments that will have to do so. In nations like India (and the United States), governments will have to call on the patriotism of citizens to fight the terrorists. In a nation like Pakistan, the government will have to be persuaded to deal with those in their midst who are complicit. This can happen if those nations’ citizens decide they don’t want their own country to be dishonored by allegiances with terror groups. Otherwise, other nations may have to act.

Patriotism is an indispensable weapon in the defense of civilization against barbarism. That was brought home over the weekend in an article in The Times of India on Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a major in India’s National Security Guards who died fighting the terrorists at the Taj hotel. The reporter spoke with the young man’s parents as they mourned their son: “His father, dignified in the face of such a personal tragedy, was stoic, saying he was proud of his son who sacrificed his life for the country: ‘He died for the nation.’ ”
Such is Kristol's response in his oped today to Jim Leach who posted some thoughts on the terrorist attack on Politico over the weekend.  The short entry is worth reading, if only to allow for a full understanding of what it is that Kristol is taking an issue with.  This bit I thought was particularly noteworthy:
.. a response that is the least nationalistic is likely to be the most effective. Accordingly, the civilized world should announce a oneness with the citizens of Mumbai and all the innocent victims of this unconscionable act. The challenge will be to hold accountable those responsible without escalating vengeful violence against innocents anywhere.  If the goal of a hateful few is to precipitate a wider conflict, isn't it self-evident that the best way to debase their efforts is to insure that a response is comprehensive as to individual accountability but does not itself spark a war on the Indian subcontinent?
Kristol's response, seemingly triggered by the first sentence about nationalism, suffers from the casual substitution of the words nationalism, national and patriotic, which is somewhat of a hallmark of the post-9/11 neocon worldview.  Beyond that, I can only imagine Kristol stopped reading, distracted by crafting a punchy response in his head.  Or else are we really to believe that the appropriate response is to infuse the problem with even more nationalistic overtones when the two countries most directly involved both possess nuclear weapons?

Sobh Beh'khayr!

50 degrees in December, that's recipe for awesome.  Good morning, farsi edition.