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Daydream Believer | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Daydream Believer

We've got a new "Think Again" column here called, "FCC, Meet 'Change'" and a new Nation column called "Save the News, not the Newspaper," here.

They give awards for this? And this?  Here's some advice. Next time someone offers you the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism, given out at the National Press Foundation's annual dinner, ask for the cash instead.

Also, in case you weren't aware, I am working together with Hamas to threaten the lives of nice, quiet, polite, Jewish folk, here.

Danielle Ivory writes:

Before diving into any congressional hearing on the economic crisis, it would be a good idea to watch this interview with William Grieder. He discusses the "awkward straddle the Democrats have tried to manage" between moneyed-donors in the financial industry and working-class, labor-oriented constituents.

Keeping that (and this) in mind, I'm finding it difficult to say anything nice about yesterday's TARP hearing, featuring those eight lucky bank CEOs. I fail to see the point of inviting eight people to testify all at the same time--unless the point is to create a circus.  There wasn't enough time or focus.  A few talented cross-examiners (again, I give kudos to Alan Grayson, and also Maxine Waters) gave the panelists a run for their money, but the whole ordeal just seemed hopeless to me. I would have liked to see one or two CEOs parceled out to one hearing at a time, ala the solo act of Dick Fuld or the AIG men. I easily could have spent three or four hours listening to Vikram Pandit or Ken Lewis answer questions. But...alas, it was not to be.

 

In other hearing-related news, late last week, the leaders of three TARP oversight programs testified before the Senate Banking Committee about their progress thus far. 

It was fascinating, but I found myself thinking, Where's Ben Bernanke?

I don't have random daydreams about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, although I guess it might seem that way right now. He's the chair of the Financial Stability Oversight Board. FSOB. Pronounced Fin (like a shark) Sob (like weep). It is a real oversight entity, created when the bailout passed. It has a membership of five, including the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal System (duh), the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Anyone could have been voted into the chairmanship position except the Treasury Secretary. Because the purpose of the group is to, at least in part, oversee the actions of the Treasury Secretary.  You see how awkward that would be?

But quite seriously, few people understand what the board's purpose is.  Beverley Lumpkin, an investigator at the Project On Government Oversight, who has turned her attention toward the bailout, laughed when I asked her about it.  "It's a joke," she said, "It's not oversight." She recently wrote on the POGO blog: "We don't include the Financial Stability Oversight Board [as part of TARP oversight] since it comprises the top federal financial officials, so therefore is just a bunch a guys overseeing themselves."

That does generally appear to be the case. I spoke with Thomas J. McCool, who not only has the best name ever (second only to Chase Boston, with whom I attended high school), but also has been helping lead the GAO effort to examine TARP accountability (i.e. the wonderful reports that will emerge every 60 days forever, unless someone changes the law). Certainly the other oversight boards do think of FSOB as part of the, shall we say, "official" TARP oversight community and they keep in touch. The GAO, for instance, teleconferences with FSOB every two weeks. But, even so, McCool admitted, "Honestly, I don't know what they do." Which is strange since FSOB, the most opaque of all of the oversight teams, posts its meeting minutes online. (They reveal almost nothing, except that there were discussions with materials from various agencies about the economic situation that took place.)

I'm still on a mission to figure out exactly what FSOB does. If you have leads, shoot me an email.

Hmm...one last thought about yesterday's parade of CEOs. Is there a collective noun for CEOs?  I've heard of a bevy of beauties and, my personal favorite, a flutter of cardiologists. But how would you address a handful of CEOs? A parachute of CEOs? Maybe a talent of gamblers would be fitting? James Lipton, if you're out there, I am in need of your expert assistance...

Watch ANP's video, "William Greider on the Democrats' Money Dilemma," here.

Danielle Ivory is a reporter and producer for the American News Project.  She is currently covering the economic crisis in Washington, DC. 

This week on Moyers:

This week on Bill Moyers Journal, former chief economist of theInternational Monetary Fund (IMF), MIT Sloan School of Managementprofessor and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for InternationalEconomics, Simon Johnson examines President Obama's plan for economicrecovery.  Johnson discusses the roots of this crisis, dissects thefailures of the finance industry and the previous Troubled Asset ReliefProgram (TARP), and offers his insight into what will and won't work inthe latest attempt to fix the economy.  And, Bill Moyers sits down withrenowned poet Nikki Giovanni, whose twenty-seven books have spanned the themes of race, politics, sex and violence.  Nikki Giovanni is DistinguishedProfessor of English at Virginia Tech. 

 

Alter-review: I saw a matinee of Becky Shaw yesterday afternoon, the new play by Gina Gionfriddo, who is a Law and & Order writer but obviously destined for much larger things. On the one hand it's a play about a bad date; on the other, it's a wonderfully pathological dissection of  the manner that altruism is often something other than what altruists like to think it is and that lying can frequently be a good idea, from both a practical and moral perspective. The cast is terrific, and struck me as quite unusual in their everyday appearances, giving their characters more room to roam, and give the audience more opportunity to think about the various points each was making. One point however Ms. Gionfriddo: Hillary Clinton did not lose the election because she forgave her husband; She became a senator because she did.  She lost the election because she voted for a stupid war and could not find a way to admit her mistake.  The cast is David Wilson Barnes (Max), Emily Bergl (Suzanna), Kelly Bishop (Susan), Annie Parisse (Becky) and Thomas Sadoski (Andrew). The play is at the intimate Second Stage Theater on West 43rd Street,

The mail:

Name:    Sam Nixon
Hometown:  Tempe, Arizona

  Dr. Alterman,

  As s a reader who's followed you since your MSNBC days, I'm surprised  by the negativity here, at The Nation.

  Anyway...

  Pierce's most recent comments about the Duggars made me wish that  PBS's This Is America with Dennis Wholey could have aired a dark,  misanthropic special about the family, hosted by, say, the late  George Carlin or a severely distempered John Malkovich. The Duggar  family's story seems like great prequel material for Cormac  McCarthy's The Road... 

Name:    Jackson Johnson
Hometown:  Studio City, CA

  Eric,

  For your information, Jackson Browne is a man and he is very  much alive.

Eric replies: "WTF?"

Name:    Mike
Hometown:  Silver Spring, MD

  Dear Dr. Alterman,

  In reference to the letter about "Late for the Sky" being about  suicide: I had no idea what you were talking about, but after  Googling it I can now report that "Late for the Sky" was the Jackson  Browne album that came out in 1974, but Mr. Browne's wife committed  suicide in 1976, and the album he released after that tragedy was  The Pretender in 1976.

Eric replies: oh, ok, that must be what the clever fellow above is addressing, somehow. Well, thanks for the correction. Apologies for the error. 

Name:    Steven Portela
Hometown:  Fresno, CA

  I don't wanna get nitpicky, but Late for the Sky came out in 1974,  and his wife died in 1976.

  And for the sake of clarification, my intended meaning was that the  album should be included on a list of those to get you through a  divorce/breakup. 

Eric replies: Ok, bub, but that's not what I meant.

Name:    Michael Bowen
Hometown:  Monroe, NY

  Eric, old buddy, you might think you know Richard Thompson, but if  you include "Shoot Out The Lights" in a divorce album list, you're  off base. There may have been some problems in the Richard & Linda  marriage beforehand, but the original version (produced by Gerry  "Baker Street" Rafferty) of SOTL was written and recorded over a year  before Thompson even met Nancy Covey, the woman he left Linda for.

 

Name:    K. Castro
Hometown:  The Left Coast

  Doc: Yes, the Boss was an embarrassment at the Super Bowl halftime  show. Way too much "ham", and too little rock and roll. I mean, Petty  showed how to do it last year--just get up there and play the music,  man. What was that with Clemons' wardrobe? Was he doing a Darth  Vader impression? Seriously, although we no longer have to sit  through such pablum as Up With People (1986), New Kids on the Block  (1991), Jessica Simpson & Kid Rock (2004), here's a tip: just play  the friggin' music. They made the Boss "disneyfied", all this glitter  and glam, when what Springsteen is known for is rock. I mean, what  was with that major league slide into the camera?? It's all over  YouTube.... I agree with Bob Thena's letter: "the fervor seemed  fake." Next year, let's just invite Phil, Bob, Mickey, Billy (and  whoever sits in for Jerry), and give it back to the music.

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