Friday, January 16, 2009

Mankiw on stimulus

I missed this, Mankiw on the stimulus, in the NYT on January 10.

Reich on TARP and Obama's team on stimulus

Robert Reich has a post at TPM discussing TARP:
It's difficult to make the case that the first $350 billion bailout of Wall Street -- so-called "TARP I" -- fulfilled its goals, unless one argues that the Street would have imploded without it, which is pretty much what Hank Paulson is saying these days. And since it's impossible to prove a counter-factual, especially when the Treasury was never clear about TARP I's goals to begin with, Paulson may have a point. But the easier and probably more correct argument is that American taxpayers wasted $350 billion.

He then goes on to recommend some prudent restrictions on the TARP II money. Two of his suggestions:
1) Don't buy stock in the banks. This one surprised me because I had believed that buying stock in the banks (so we have something to show for our "investment") was better than just handing them money, but Reich makes the case that such money simply disappears.

2) Limit compensation to execs to 50% of recent years since they've already been over-compensated for performance that was based on false premises and fraudulent assertions.

I'm trying to ignore the TARP and stimulus fiascoes because if I look directly at them, I get ill.

Here is a report from Obama's team on the predicted impact of the stimulus on jobs. The report contains this graph that compares predicted results to what would happen in the absence of Obama's stimulus plan:
At peak, that's a 1% difference. That doesn't seem like much to me. The endnotes point out that some estimates show the unemployment rate, sans stimulus, to be as high as 11%, so the peak difference might be more. Maybe the way to look at it is that over the period they show (we won't be back to 5% rates until 2013, stimulus or no), that difference affects a lot of lives and has a big economic impact. Tim Fernholz at Tapped has coherent thoughts about this jobs report and provides the link to the report.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The pitch...

Heaven knows I've had my disagreements, especially in the second term, but this is the image I'll remember. From Ace.

What a difference 27 years makes?

The Hudson today v. January 13, 1982.


A different kind of song displaying Kelly's singing skills:

For LJ: she won Season 1.


Sure, just like succeeding in the entertainment industry, popularity is a component of the voting in Idol. But no one has won who can't sing. Tell me Kelly Clarkson can't sing (from the big band night in Season 1):

And sure some of the whacky ones are looking for 15 minutes. But some of these sad souls really do not know they can't sing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mental illness

I've become convinced there is a particular form of mental illness in which its victim suffers from the delusion that he/she is a competent singer. Yes, I'm catching bits of Idol auditions tonight.

These economic times

Just a couple months ago, our firm was thinking about adding a secretary/paralegal. Since then, our biggest client, a Fortune 100 company, has demanded a rate freeze and a 20% discount for all of 2009. Our second biggest client has commanded that all our work cease for at least one month. So when we met this week, we decided we will not hire anyone after all and we will freeze our rates for all clients. In addition, we made a brutal decision about the 2008 bonus for our one current secretary/paralegal: we're giving her $0, nothing, nada, instead of our customary $10,000, based solely on economic conditions (not performance). (Let me just say in my own defense that I voted for well more than $0, but I was outvoted.)

The Wrestler

My Oscar movie Festival continued a day earlier as planned as yesterday I caught “The Wrestler”. I was a big Mickey Rourke fan starting with his small but impressive role in one of my all time favorite movies, “Body Heat”. In fact, I famously (in my circle of friends) predicted after seeing “Body Heat” that he would become a big star. He followed that up with great performances in “Diner”, “Rumble Fish”, “The Pope of Greenwich Village”, “9 ½ Weeks”, and “Angel Heart”. Then, his career and life began a long, downward spiral.

The story of how “The Wrestler” came to be a movie at all mirrors how Rourke came to play the lead. He really is as good as advertised in this. You can feel his aches and pains, you can feel his pride in what he does, you can feel his desire for wanting to get back into his daughters life, but knowing that he would find some way to mess that up as well. The film has a low budget feel about it, either by design or because the filmmakers had almost no money. It’s gritty, it’s grimy, it’s seedy – just as his life is. And the speech Rourke makes near the end of the film as he speaks to a wrestling event audience could very easily have been a speech about his personal life and career. There were also a couple of other incredible scenes that stayed with me – one with Rourke playing an old Nintendo game with a neighborhood kid and the other, Rourke sitting at a table at a wrestling legends signing event. This is not a feel-good movie and you knew, pretty early on, how the 3 major plot lines would end. But the journey getting there was enthralling.

Two other observations: (1) the movie is only showing at 1 theater here in DFW, an artsy-type theater near SMU. I went to the earliest showing (1:30) and it was packed. Old, young, men, women, but no kids and no talking even before the movie began. And when the lights came up, the common word or phrase you heard as….”intense”…”wow, that was pretty intense”….etc. (2) Marisa Tomei has also gotten a lot of hype and buzz with her role as a quasi love-interest. I’m not saying she wasn’t good, but I was wondering if the buzz had more to do with how great she looks. You know this because for the vast majority of her scenes, she isn’t wearing much. For a 40-something actress, doing numerous topless and almost nude dance scenes might have more to do with her buzz.

All-in-all a tremendous performance by Rourke. A must-see for any fan of his or if you enjoy seeing an actor redeeming himself after years of being at the bottom of the heap, both personally and professionally. Be prepared for violence and blood, much of which is rumored to be actually Rourke.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


As part of the extensive traveling I must endure as an attorney, Thursday takes me to the metropolis of Corsicana, Texas. Home of the Collin Street Bakery, maker of the world famous DeLuxe Fruitcake. If you’ve had a fruitcake, it likely came from CSB.

Next Tuesday a Mountaintop Moment

William Bennett and John Cribb at Culture11:

The election of Barack Obama confirms a new self-evident truth: that there is no ceiling to achievement in America based on race. Yes, of course, there is still racism in America. But there are no more viable excuses based simply on race. A black man or woman can become President in America — or anything else he or she wants to be. The recipe, as it largely was for Barack Obama, is to take a serious education seriously, to work hard, and to maintain a strong family ethic. The message to non-black America is that the Huxtables are not just a fictional drama or sitcom of the past; a version of the Huxtables is now about to run Washington with the paterfamilias leading the free world. A successful, upper-middle-class black family now serves as a role model for the success of the rest of black America and the rest of non-black America, too.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in Time Magazine, "the most famous black man in America isn't dribbling a ball or clutching a microphone. He has no prison record. He has not built a career on four-letter words." Indeed. And, now we can all clearly see what we may have been blind to in the past: qualifications or demerits based on skin color, and not character, are the new fiction in America. Racial prejudice should die in the rest of America as it died at the ballot boxes across America last year — as should an ethic of non- or low-achievement based on excuses and low expectations.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My annual Oscar nominated movie festival

Every year, I try to make sure I see every movie nominated for Best Picture. I'm starting a little early this year, as the nominations haven't been released yet. Yesterday, C and I went to see "Slumdog Millionaire". I had heard about this movie months ago and due to all of our travels around the holidays, this past weekend was the first chance we've had to go to the movies. The premise of this movie is pretty cool - a young boy from the slums (and an American vision of slum doesn't do justice to what a slum in India is) of Mumbai is a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire". The movie cuts back and forth between present time as he is asked questions and the past as he uses his life experiences in order to answer the questions. The authorities (and host of the program) believe he is cheating and he has to explain how he knew the answers. I found his explanations very plausible, except for one concerning a Hindu God. And his reason for being on the program isn't for the money, but to find the girl he loves, who he believes will be watching the program. The movie was filmed in India and the poverty and daily life struggle of the people who live in the slums is mind-boggling. There are some very uncomfortable scenes from his childhood, one in particular that was difficult to watch.
And perhaps it's because I'm a movie buff, but I knew how the last question would work itself out and in fact, what the last question would be.

The acting was great (each of the 3 main characters had 3 different aged people playing them), the photography captured present day India as well as I thought "Ghandi" captured India of that time and as a big fan of the music of Bollywood (India's Hollywood that produces vastly more movies per year as Hollywood does), the score was fantastic. This is a feel-good movie that most of the time doesn't have a feel-good vibe to it.

UPDATE: "Slumdog Millionaire" won 3 Golden Globes last night for Best Score, Best Screenplay and Best Drama. It is the odds-on favorite now to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Next on my list is "The Wrestler", which I plan to see on Wednesday. It stars Mickey Rourke, who from all I've read and heard is brilliant in this. Also stars Marisa Tomei who is also supposed to be excellent. Again, not a feel-good movie, but the buzz for this film is off-the-charts.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How cool/embarrassing is that II or Funnier Coincidence

Minutes after waking me up, Fred Burton wrote to me to assuage my suspicions of an imposter commenter on Scooter's post.

Funny coincidence

I just woke up to Fred Burton's voice. NPR was interviewing him about kidnappings in Mexico, so my radio alarm made him the first thing I heard this morning.