Welcome to Part IV of our eleven-part breakdown of the books of the financial crisis. Having trouble keeping up? Then check out this page for all previous and future posts in the series.
On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System
by Henry Paulson 2010
The unifying element of the first four books was pessimism: Whether it was Ritholtz’s scorn for those in power, Morgenson’s search for someone to blame, Lewis’s tragic tale, or Sorkin’s narrative of disaster, all four books had decidedly bleak outlooks on the events. Since there is only so much despair one person can read about, I wanted to read the account of someone who would be sympathetic to the policy-makers and CEOs who everyone else blamed.
Henry Paulson was perfect. If the financial panic of 2008 has a face, it’s Paulson’s. As Treasury Secretary during the collapse, he was the one who told Congress of the dangers of Fannie and Freddie (in his infamous squirt gun analogy), who proposed TARP, and who ultimately dispensed the bailouts. And unlike the other figures prominently involved—Geithner, Bernanke—he faded from public view almost immediately after the disaster passed.
Reading Paulson’s book, though, it is hard to dislike him. His prose is straightforward and he comes across as an upstanding, diligent worker with integrity. He’s honest, but polite and gracious to a fault—despite presiding over what many would describe as a complete disaster, he has nothing but kind words for almost everyone involved.* He worked for Presidents Nixon and Bush—two of the least popular Presidents of the last 50 years, if not ever—but says nothing negative about either. He clashed with another prominent public figure, Jon Corzine, for the top spot at Goldman Sachs, but all he says about that is “frankly, the pairing was never right.” Continue reading
What we read while going undrafted yet again…
With the ten year anniversary of the Iraq War coming up this month, I’ve been thinking some about the war’s legacy and specifically asking one question: Given the sizable opposition to the war, why were there no real notable protest songs about Iraq?
Of course, there were some protest songs, mainly from the traditionally political acts you’d expect to release antiwar songs: Neil Young, Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys, etc. But all these acts were long passed the peak of their relevance, and the songs were so predictable that they were greeted with little more than a shrug. There were some attempts by mainstream acts, like “Mosh” by Eminem, but nothing commensurate with controversy the war generated. Sadly, the most substantial political moment of the last decade in pop music probably involved the Dixie Chicks…
There are certainly a lot of reasons for this: the political apathy of the post-Baby Boomer generations, the corporatization of the music industry, the blandness of pop music in general, etc. But it’s also worth pointing out a simpler explanation: It’s hard to write a good protest song. Continue reading
You seriously want to vote for one of these guys?
It’s time for my biennial plea for you to abstain from voting. I’ve got my work cut out for me: As election season (mercifully) draws to an end, we’ve reached the time of year when everyone and their mother takes time to urge you to vote, no matter who you vote for, as if the mere act of casting a vote is somehow worthwhile.
What goes conspicuously unmentioned in all these pleas to vote is the simple fact that your vote is extremely unlikely to make a difference. This is nothing but a statement of mathematical fact: The odds of an election in which millions of votes are cast being decided by one vote* are essentially zero. Even in smaller, more local races, or elections that are extremely close, the odds of your vote being decisive are still incredibly small. The only elections that have been decided by one vote were races in which fewer than 10,000 votes were cast. Continue reading
Two of a Kind
With Mitt Romney’s nomination by the Republican Party all but inevitable now, many pundits have started to point out how this year’s election bears an uncanny resemblance to the 2004 election. Most of them, though, focus on Romney’s resemblance to the ’04 Democratic nominee, John Kerry. And those resemblances are obvious: Kerry and Romney are both wealthy patricians from Massachusetts; both come with a reputation for flip-flopping and have a problem connecting with the common voter; both had a relatively easy primary season, despite not being particularly well-liked by their party’s base; both ascended largely by virtue of “electability”; Kerry was, just as Romney is, the least objectionable alternative to the incumbent president.
The similarities are eerie, but enough has been said about them that I won’t add more.* What’s more interesting to me is how the similarities hold true on the other side of the aisle. In other words, I expect President Obama’s reelection campaign to look a lot like George W. Bush’s.
*Although here’s one more: They each have weird middle names. “Mitt” and “Forbes”? Really? What the hell is that?
Imagine, for a second, that you are a political operative working for Obama, and that your main goal is to get Obama reelected. What would you do? Well, I’m not an expert (obviously), but it seems like you’d do three things. First, you’d desperately try to avoid talking about the economy. Second, you’d try to focus on foreign policy and social issues. And, lastly, you’d try to make your opponent look out of touch. Continue reading
Cardinals vs. Rangers
Well, just like Tim and John S always predicted (don’t bother looking it up), the 2011 season comes down to the Rangers and Cardinals. Will Tony La Russa prove his genius? Will a starting pitcher reach the seventh inning? Will Joe Buck emote? All that and predictions are discussed….
John S: Man, can you believe Jonathan Lucroy didn’t win NLCS MVP?! And can you believe someone almost as unlikely–David Freese–DID? You know, I usually hate the discussions that media outlets have every year that the Yankees/Phillies/Red Sox miss the World Series, where they make jokes about how angry FOX must be. But this World Series DOES seem conspicuously lacking in star power. At least last year the Rangers had Cliff Lee–the closest this year’s team has to such a star is Josh Hamilton, who had a disappointing season. The Cardinals, of course, have Albert Pujols, but after him their biggest star is Tony La Russa, who seems to wear out his welcome more and more every year. But while my instinct is to say that these two teams are mediocre, the evidence doesn’t really support me. The Rangers were better this year than they were in 2010, and even the Cards won 90 games, which is more the 2006 championship team won. Perhaps I should be more excited for this World Series… Am I off base about the lack of compelling personalities in this matchup?
TIM: No, I cannot believe Jonathan Lucroy didn’t win NLCS MVP. His .294 average in the six games was bested by only four Brewers, and like the four best Brewers in Randy Wolf, Jerry Hairston, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Ryan Braun. It was practically half of what Freese hit! I hate these traditionalist writers who always vote for the guy with the ..500+ average on the winning team. Continue reading
Yesterday was Election Day, meaning a lot of people spent a lot of time talking about how important voting is. Voting is the cornerstone of democracy—it’s a cliché, but it’s true. And, as most of the Western world lives in a democracy, we hear a lot about the importance of voting. When President Obama went on The Daily Show last week, he made sure to remind viewers to vote in yesterday’s elections, and you can assuredly find countless celebrity videos and PSAs telling people to vote every November, or risk their corporeal demise.
It’s true that voting plays a significant role in our society, but that doesn’t make it good. There are plenty of things that are important but terrible: the Iraq War, cancer, the Tea Party, religion, the imperial conquests of the British Empire, terrorism, Dr. Luke’s contributions to pop music, infanticide, etc. Like all of these things, voting’s negative consequences so overwhelmingly exceed its positives that voting in democratic elections ought to be considered an immoral act. Continue reading
They don’t come much more finger-pointing-y than “Masters of War.” Just a little over a year after The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released, Bob Dylan would tell The New Yorker’s Nat Hentoff that his next album (Another Side of Bob Dylan) wouldn’t have any “finger-pointing songs”:
“Those records I’ve already made, I’ll stand behind them, but some of that was jumping into the scene to be heard and a lot of it was because I didn’t see that anybody else was doing that kind of thing. Now a lot of people are doing finger-pointing songs. You know—pointing to all the things that are wrong. Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore. You know, be a spokesman…. From now on, I want to write from inside me.”
And yet what makes “Masters of War” so effective as a protest song is that it is so intensely personal. If you look at protest songs of the last few years (and George W. Bush spawned practically a whole genre of them), they are full of vitriolic plays on words (“Texas führer,” “this Weapon of Mass Destruction that we call our President,” “you and Saddam should kick it like back in the day,” etc.) and clichés (“Fuck Bush,” “No blood for oil,” “Does he ever smell his own bullshit?”). Basically, they pick an easy target and toss schoolyard insults at it. In other words, they suck. Continue reading