Archive for September 29th, 2008
Look at these posts:
And there’s this (and it’s important to keep in mind that the Democrats mostly voted for the bill and the Republicans mostly voted against the bill—actual figures: 60% of Democrats in the House and 33% of Republicans voted for this bill. ):
Glenn Greenwald has an exceptionally good column today, analyzing the process used to meet the current crisis—and how it matches how earlier crises have been met. He begins:
The word being used most frequently to describe the bailout package that is about to pass is “extraordinary.” That adjective may apply to the amounts of money being transferred from taxpayers to Wall Street, but the process by which this is all happening is anything but “extraordinary.” All of the “principles” that drive how our Government functions in general — what explain the last eight years at least — are perfectly evident in what has happened here:
(1) Incredibly complex and consequential new laws are negotiated in secret and then enacted immediately, with no hearings, no real debate, no transparency. Nancy Pelosi has praised herself for decreeing that the new law will be online for 24 hours before Congress votes on it — a full 24 hours for the American public to understand and assess a law that forces them to subsidize Wall St.’s losses in a way that may impact them for decades, if not generations. The most significant and consequential pieces of legislation over the last eight years — the Patriot Act, the various expanded surveillance laws, the Military Commissions Act — were the by-product of identical anti-democratic processes.
(2) Those who created the crisis, were wrong about everything, drive the process. Experts who dissent from the prevailing Washington orthodoxy, particularly ones who were presciently warning about what was happening, are simply ignored — systematically excluded from the process. Professor Nouriel Roubini:
It is pathetic that Congress did not consult any of the many professional economists that have presented — many on the RGE Monitor Finance blog forum — alternative plans that were more fair and efficient and less costly ways to resolve this crisis.
Last week, Hank Paulson — who bears responsibility for the crisis in numerous ways — demanded that $700 billion be transferred to him in order to purchase toxic assets from his Wall St. friends, and while there was much howling of outrage in many quarters, no other framework was ever considered.
(3) Public opinion is largely ignored, as always, and public anger is placated through illusory, symbolic and largely meaningless concessions. Much is being made over the allegedly strong oversight provisions to limit the Treasury Secretary’s power, accomplished through the creation of two oversight panels — one that is composed of 5 administration officials (including the Treasury Secretary himself, the Federal Reserve Chairman and the SEC Chairman — the definitive foxes guarding the hen house), and another that is appointed by Congress but which — as is true for everything Congress touches — has little real authority over what is done.Identically, executive compensation limits — used to bestow the plan with its populist bona fides — are minimal and extremely limited. Worse, the public is being told that the financial services industry must pay for any losses to the Treasury still outstanding after five years, but the bill requires nothing of the sort, simply requiring that the president “propose” a plan for recoupment, not that Congress enact any such plan.
And, most of all, while not as absolute as it was in the original Paulson proposal, the Congressional plan still vests extraordinarily vast and centralized power in the Treasury Secretary — just as Paulson demanded. As the NYT put it this morning: “During its weeklong deliberations, Congress made many changes to the Bush administration’s original proposal to bail out the financial industry, but one overarching aspect of the initial plan that remains is the vast discretion it gives to the Treasury secretary.”
(4) The Government begins …
From Dan Froomkin’s column today:
Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post about what a long way it is from Bush’s frequent bragging “about the government’s role in increasing homeownership rates and in decreasing government regulation of the housing market. . . .
“In 2004, for example, Bush told a group of carpenters in Phoenix that ‘the housing industry is booming, which means more people own their home. And that’s positive.’
“‘We want more people owning their own home. There’s nothing like saying this home is my home,’ Bush said, adding: ‘I’ve called on private-sector mortgage banks and banks to be more aggressive about lending money to first-time home buyers. And the response has been really good.’
“During an October 2004 speech to the National Association of Home Builders, Bush talked about his administration’s record on encouraging homeownership — including a proposal to allow first-time buyers to make no down payment. He cast the effort as part of an ‘ownership society’ that would also include health-care and retirement accounts.”
Added another 2 blocks to the route, and that seems to have done the trick: 1 hour 2 minutes 18.97 seconds. It feels good to get out for a walk—and especially good when I start back.
Often it’s difficult to quantify the value of a lesson learned, but rather easy in this case. I had 4 DVDs to return to Blockbuster. I go out to the car, open the garage door, and see that the recycling bins need to be moved from the curb to their rightful place. So I place the stack of DVDs on the trunk lid, put the recycling bins away (3 bins = 2 trips), return to the car, get in, and drive off. Halfway to Blockbusters, I suddenly realize…
Stop the car, look in back, look on trunk lid (pathetic), and see no DVDs. Return home, following same route. No DVDs. Go to Blockbuster, ask what it will cost if they’re not returned. Total: $60 = value of lesson.
My view of human nature is such that I estimate with 80% probability that the DVDs will be returned to Blockbusters in a week. We’ll see.
Very interesting article by David Chang in Esquire:
Recently I was chatting with one of my purveyors about meat, prices, and the food chain. Michael raises Tamworth pigs in upstate New York and rocks his John Deere cap without a trace of irony. He’s an honest, upright citizen, a real person, not some revolutionary or back-to-the-land type. So it really chilled me when he said, “America better prepare for some uncomfortable changes. Things might get really ugly.”
You’ve seen the articles, right there on the front page next to equally uplifting stories about oil, the economy, and the war: The cost of food–of producing and procuring it–is soaring. In the restaurant world, it’s all anyone can talk about. And the thing is, this is no temporary spike; it’s actually a massive correction. · Ever since my parents came to America in 1968, it has been meat and milk 24/7. They emigrated from war-ravaged Korea and, like Americans coming out of World War II, they couldn’t believe–and didn’t resist–the Crazy Eddie abundance of the American agricultural industry. As far as my parents are concerned, meat grows on trees.
But guess what? The machinery that’s pumped so much meat into our lives over the last half century was never built to last, and now it’s breaking down big-time. Feed is more expensive. Gasoline is more expensive. Milk, rice, butter, corn–it’s all going through the roof. And for the foreseeable future, it’s not coming back down.
Farmer Michael’s feed costs have risen 400 percent in the last twelve months. To make a profit on the beautiful turkeys his family is raising in time for Thanksgiving, he’ll have to charge a hundred bucks a bird. At Momofuku, I’m paying 150 percent more for humanely raised pork belly than I was paying at this time last year. And at the hyperglobal megachains that feed most of America, the only way they’ll be able to keep selling one-dollar hamburgers is to grow their “protein units” in petri dishes, add even more filler to their products, and outright enslave the workers whose backs they’re already breaking to keep costs artificially low.
It’s depressing, this state of affairs, and sometimes I let myself wallow in it. But then I think about the opportunity this situation presents. Let’s allow these harsh new realities to force us to do something that Alice Waters has been advocating for decades: Let’s finally embrace the truth that food is not something to be taken for granted. As a culture, we need to be more curious about where our food comes from. We need to buy from farmers who are trying to do things the right way. We need to think before we eat.
If we do, we’ll find that …
Very interesting article by Daniel Larison with good insights. For example:
… When faced with a challenging question, Palin seems to have a habit of taking the most severe position possible, as if to demonstrate her gravitas by saying that we might have to go to war with Russia or there could be another Depression. Whether or not she believes this or understands why this would be so, she handles challenging questions by overcompensating and saying more than she needs to say in order to make her point. This goes beyond a lack of experience handling members of the national media. Instead of seeing a challenging question as an attempt to elucidate something that is obscure, she treats it as if it were a trick, and she thinks that by her own sort of “straight talk” on war and depression she has avoided falling for the trick. Follow-ups and specific questions are where she gets tripped up worst of all. As her old rival Halcro seems to have noted correctly about her debate performances in Alaska, she has a habit of falling back on generalities and “happy talk.” Her interview with Couric was a glaring example of exactly that, but taken to a gruesome extreme as the cheerfulness and generalities seem to have overloaded all circuits and caused a system crash. …
Though this coming recession will not equal the depth of the Great Depression (25% of the work force thrown out of work), it may last longer. Bush has totally screwed the economy, the dollar, the safeguards, and anything else he could get his incompetent uncaring hands on.
At any rate, this story by Amy Wilson recounts some memories from the 30’s. It begins:
The worldwide economic depression that began on Oct. 29,1929, is still everywhere if we’d look. Our infrastructure got built, our population shifted forever, our national character was forged.
But for some reason, the lessons have been lost.
Geneva Spickard draws a long line to represent a bunch of celery and divides it into thirds. She laments that her daughter only uses the middle third.
“You can put the the leafy part into your salads and the stem into your soups. This is such a wasteful generation.”
The nation’s lawmakers stare down a $700 billion bailout that promises to save the economy from ruin. Ruin is not a relative term.
For those who lived it, the Great Depression has been seared into them like a scar or worn like a talisman they can touch any time they want.
We visited a few who lived it. They remembered.
At the depths of the Depression, over one-quarter of the American workforce was out of work.
A certain teenage boy faction of Geneva Spickard’s family were, she says, “natural born thieves.” They were the ones who took clothes off the line, cooling pies out of windows and, once, a whole box of rock candy off a loading dock.
The loading dock was just off Rat Road near Sistruck’s storage house, near where Rupp Arena is now. It was the ’30s and Wallace, Willoughby and Walter, the natural born thieves, meant no real harm.
As for herself, Geneva Spickard would “bum but never steal,” regularly going to Sistruck’s to find the discarded kale and cabbage leaves that her family used to make a vegetable soup. Sometimes rotted apples could be salvaged. “A half an apple is better than none.”
She would regularly walk to the dump to find discarded office paper to use in school.
Her family, who lived on Chair Avenue, were evicted when she was, perhaps 2, and her father sent his small family to his wife’s parents’ home in the mountains for a few months because they could better feed his children.
She cannot recall her mother ever crying during those hard times. Neither can she remember her mother ever kissing her. That was Daddy’s job.
“But she kept the wheels grinding.”
The family never went hungry. They never had dirty clothes. …
Today I received the first of my emails to FutureMe.org, sent 29 September 2007. Interesting. I included a “state of the family” report, and it’s interesting how things have moved ahead over the year. Example: The Younger Daughter wanted to find a position where she could teach Greek as well as Latin—and she’s now doing it.
Some goals are still goals, of course: exercise, though I’m doing well currently. Debt reduction.
Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving was then at sales rank 993. Today it’s around 410. (It dipped below 400 briefly, then other books moved ahead.)
It’s an interesting exercise, and now I’ll be receiving as well as writing one of these every month.
Via Liz, an article on how one trader enduring the Lehman collapse. It begins:
The ’97 Barbaresco was not supposed to be opened for this. Stashed under a desk on the third floor of Lehman Brothers’ Seventh Avenue headquarters, the bottle awaited an appropriate victory. Like food, wine pairs well with vast sums of money.
But on Friday, September 12, as Lehman’s stock flatlined at $3.65 per share, the Trader knew it was time to uncork the Santo Stefano. He was in his late thirties, at the prime of his earning potential, a standout in one of Lehman’s profitable trading divisions. When the stock price had fallen below $20 a share in July, the Trader knew things were bad but took solace in the prospect of one more bonus cycle. Things are bad; things will be bad for a while. We’ll hunker down and survive, he had thought then.
But the fact that the Trader’s desk met its targets in August meant nothing at Lehman, where cascading losses from a few epic bets on commercial real estate triggered a firmwide meltdown. As one recently laid-off Lehman staffer said, in characteristic Wall Street vernacular, “These assholes on another floor completely dropped our pants.”
Around 5:30 p.m. on Friday, as the reality sank in, the Trader assembled his staff. With the weekend looming, this would likely be the last time they would gather at Lehman as a team. The eight colleagues, friends really, stood around glowing Bloomberg terminals as the $700 Barbaresco was poured into paper cups. A crowd formed. Champagne was brought out. What they didn’t know was that upstairs, Lehman lawyers and bankers were negotiating with counterparts at Barclays, Bank of America, and the Fed, piecing together a deal. After a few minutes, the Trader was called over to open the books for the counterparties. He brushed his teeth, scrubbing the scent of wine from his breath. Leaving work at nine that evening, the Trader knew that Lehman Brothers, as he’d known it, was at an end. The culture would change, inevitably. But at that moment, he couldn’t conceive of the firm’s actually going bankrupt.
The Trader had come to Lehman only a year ago, after …
Eric Lichtblau and Sharon Otterman report in the NY Times about the firing of the US Attorneys, Monica Goodling’s defining hour.
Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey appointed a special prosecutor on Monday to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other officials in connection with the firings of nine of United States attorneys in 2006.
The move came as the Justice Department released a report by its inspector general severely criticizing the process that led to the firings.
The inspector general has been trying since last year to determine who in the Bush administration ordered the firings, whether the dismissals were intended to thwart investigations, and whether anyone had broken the law in carrying out the firings or in testifying about them. Critics have said the firings were politically motivated.
The 392-page report released on Monday was blistering in its assessment .
“The report makes plain that, at a minimum, the process by which nine U.S. attorneys were removed in 2006 was haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional, and the way in which the Justice Department handled those removals and the resulting public controversy was profoundly lacking,” Mr. Mukasey said in a statement. The report called for further investigation to determine whether prosecutable offenses were committed either in the firings or in subsequent testimony about them.
Nora Dannehy, acting United States Attorney in Connecticut, will lead the investigation, Mr. Mukasey said.
Mr. Gonzales, who resigned last year after coming under criticism because of the firings, has been the main focus of interest, in part because several members of Congress charged that he may have perjured himself in his testimony through his memory lapses and misstatements about the firings.
The report found that primary blame for the “serious failures” in the firing process lay with Attorney General Gonzalez and his deputy, Paul McNulty, “who abdicated their responsibility to adequately oversee the process and ensure that the reasons for removal of each U.S. Attorney were supportable and not improper.”
It also singled out for blame Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, who supervised the firings. The report said he did not review formal evaluations of the attorneys’ performance, nor did he consult department officials who were most knowledgeable about their performance.
Mr. Sampson, the report states, “also bears significant responsibility for the flawed and arbitrary removal process.” …
Continue reading. There’s more of significance.
I got a late start blogging—well, a late start in general. I slept until 8:00 this morning. All that walking, I imagine. And then I wanted to get the boneless pork shoulder in the oven (recipe below), and then I had to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen.
The recipe (from Laurie Winer in the LA Times of 9 March 2005, an article titled “A slow celebration of pork”:
Begin with the pot uncovered at 450 degrees; after half an hour, cover it, and turn the heat down to 250. Eight hours, 10 hours — you and your fork will be the judge. This produces the moistest, most pudding-like results. As for the bone-in/bone-out question: both are equally good. But bone-out is easier to find. If you opt for bone-in, add an hour of cooking time.
This, we feel, is the perfect porchetta. Even if it really isn’t porchetta.
Slow-roasted shoulder of pork
Total time: 20 minutes plus 8 1/2 to 10 1/2 hours roasting time
Servings: 8 to 10
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup fennel seeds
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 to 6 small dried red chiles, crumbled, with seeds
1 boneless pork shoulder butt (about 6 to 7 pounds) [mine is half that - LG]
1/2 cup hot water
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic and fennel seeds and mix them together. Add the salt, pepper and chiles and combine.
2. Cut 1-inch wide slits all over the surface including top and bottom of meat. Rub the garlic-seed mixture into the slits.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven. Sear the meat on all sides over medium-low heat for about 10 to 12 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to burn.
4. Remove the roast from the pot, add the hot water, stirring and scraping the bottom to deglaze the pan. Place a rack in the bottom of the pan, add the meat, fatty side up, and roast in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes.
5. Pour the lemon juice and the chicken broth over the meat. Brush with the remaining olive oil.
6. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees [in the intro, she reduces heat after 30 minutes, only then covering the pan - LG], cover the pan and roast the meat 8 to 10 hours, occasionally basting with pan juices. The roast will be done when the meat is falls apart when barely touched with a fork.
7. Remove the roast from the pot and place it on a serving platter. Skim the fat from the pan drippings. Serve pan drippings on the side or drizzled over the meat.
Each of 10 servings: 377 calories; 36 grams protein; 6 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 23 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 121 mg. cholesterol; 588 mg. sodium.
UPDATE: Delicious! I’ll make it again. One warning: because I used a 3 lb pork shoulder, mine was done in 6 1/2 hours rather than 8 1/2 hours—the longer times are clearly for the bigger cuts of meat.
This morning I used the Erasmic shave stick (from the UK) and the Simpsons Chubby 2 Best brush to get a good lather, then pickd the Slant Bar with an Iridium Super blade. Extremely smooth and easy shave—two passes were enough save for a few spots. Aftershave was Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet, and I’m good to go.