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On Dressing For Success, Part Two, Or, We Costume Palin…For 2/3 Off! October 27, 2008

When last we met, Gentle Reader, we were talking about more or less $150,000 in clothing and beauty services that had been purchased mostly for Sarah Palin’s use by the Republican National Committee.

Since then, we have learned that John McCain himself once tried to outlaw the very type of contribution that led to this situation, we’ve heard McCain’s campaign offer a very non-maverick-y denial…and we’ve learned that the highest paid member of the McCain campaign staff—the person who presumably has the magic touch needed to turn this thing around—will be working her magic with a makeup brush.

As we discussed yesterday, I think I could have dressed Palin for 1/3 of what the RNC paid. Yesterday we “purchased” five of the outfits I think she needs…and with half the shopping done, we’re $670 over budget.

Can she be dressed for a mere $43,000?
Let’s see if we can pull it off…

Just so you know…the McCain campaign claims most of the clothing in question has never left the campaign plane…and they want us to know the expensive clothes they just bought but never used will be eventually donated to charity… and they still claim they are the ones who can best manage the Federal budget.

If you missed Part One…here are the rules: we are trying to find for Sarah a total of ten outfits. Seven of these outfits will be for “business” use and three are intended for evening wear.

The business outfits are budgeted at $4000 each; the evening wear’s budgeted at $5000 per ensemble. The total cost for all of this: $43,000.

We have identified four of the business choices, and a gorgeous blue metallic evening dress so far; leaving three more business and two more evening costumes to assemble.

And with all that said…may I direct your attention to the runway, for today’s first selection…

This is a truly understated, but nonetheless truly elegant silver wool and cashmere design, the “Wrap Bust Chevron Dress” by Alexander McQueen ($1670, Saks). The banded Empire waist is virtually the only ornamentation on the dress…but that allows us to be a bit flashy with the accessories.

We can be flashy and still save a ton of money by “recycling” the black Jimmy Choo “Patent Pumps” and the silver “Python Original Clutch” by Jalda from yesterday…and with the money we save we can afford to finish the look by picking up the “Punjab Waist Belt”, also by Alexander McQueen, thereby trickling an additional $625 down to the coffers of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Total cost: $2295—and that’s $1705 under budget for this item, $1035 under budget for the entire exercise to this point.

Mr. Blackwell died at the age of 86 this week.
It turns out he really was caught dead in that outfit…

–Seth Meyers, on “Weekend Update”, October 26, 2008

This next selection is entirely taken from a single page at the Saks website…which is kind of cheating, but the combination could not be better.

From Akris Punto, we present the “Wool Jacket” (which, for my money, could use a less utilitarian name), the “Silk Jersey Boatneck Top”, and the “New Carla Wool Pants” ($1290, $295, and $395 each). The pumpkin colored three button cropped jacket and toffee pants (both made of Swiss wool) are comfortably accented by the chestnut colored boatneck top, which mixes silk and wool.

This is another relatively inexpensive set, so let’s splurge a bit on accoutrement.

Something we can’t afford for this story, but the RNC could: the Dior “Beaded Jacket & Duchess Satin Skirt”, an $8095 vision in peacock green satin.

We need a brown bag…and what could be nicer than Fendi’s “Vintage Leather Baguette” in chocolate brown with lots of detail stitching and interchangeable long and short shoulder straps. From Saks, once again…and considering what we saved on the Akris Punto set and the Alexander McQueen dress, the $1950 price is easily justified.

Shoes? How about these dark brown “Patent Leather Mary Janes” from Manolo Blahnik, courtesy of Neiman’s. Simple, elegant, and at $625, surprisingly affordable.

The total: $4555. We ran a bit over on this one…but for the entire project we are still $480 under budget.

Since we already have the brown accessories, let’s really put them to use: check out this spectacular “Brocade Jacket” by Piazza Sempione ($1400, Neiman’s) in cotton, linen, silk, and…polyester. It’s a cropped length, but it has a traditional blazer style with a notched collar and three button front—and it is the perfect match for the “Belted Pant” from Pringle of Scotland (cotton/linen blend, $595, Neiman’s) and Eskandar’s cotton “Revere Blouse” (Bergdorf-Goodman, $370).

The total: $2365…which is $1635 under for the outfit, and $2115 total under budget.

Another item we can’t afford: the amazing silk and viscose “Stained Glass Gown” by Christian Lacroix…$6760, at Neiman’s.

It is entirely possible that Sarah The Vice Presidential Candidate might find herself giving a speech on a warm and rainy day in New Orleans—so to protect that lovely brocade jacket, we need Proenza Schouler’s “Trench Dress”.

Try to picture a lightweight viscose and linen trench coat, cut just above the knee, and you have the idea exactly. We had $2115 available, the jacket is $1975, leaving us still $140 under budget.

“That whole thing is just, bad!
Oh, if people only knew how frugal we are.”

Sarah Palin

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

We are almost there, with only the final two evening ensembles remaining to select…and we will finish in fine style, I promise.

One of the most complicated mechanical processes I’m aware of is the weaving of jacquard fabrics; and we can observe the amazing results of that process in Caroline Herrera’s wool, silk, and polyester “Floral-Jacquard Jacket & Sheath Dress”. It is a simple bit of construction that uses its long, flat blue surfaces to perfectly show off the elaborate silver weaving.

As with the other outfits, the elegant design and rich fabrics of this jacket and dress make their own statements, which is actually allowing us to save money on jewelry—although, to be fair, that lack of external “bling” requires even more attention to hair styling than most of us often provide.

It is a bit pricey, ($4880, Neiman’s) but this set perfectly mates to the Python clutch from above…and the black Jimmy Choo Patent Pumps also work perfectly for this look…so we are still under budget, the total now being $260 below target.

Ombré is the process of weaving graduated color changes into a fabric, and this effect is presented spectacularly by Herve Leger’s “Allover Sequin Dress”: the navy bodice fades through purple and cranberry and fuscia and pastels, finally finishing in a silver band at the hem. The “allover sequins” make this the perfect dinner dress for a formal State dinner, a fundraising reception at the Washington Hilton…or any time Our Dear Sarah wants to remind Ann Coulter that she’s probably been…replaced…in the hearts of the Conservative community.

It’s $2800 at Saks…but if it gives her a chance to have a cocktail dress smackdown with Coulter, it might be well-spent money…especially if, somehow, they could be convinced to appear on ”The Jerry Springer Show” to fight it out, in evening wear, for our amusement.

Obviously the sparkling silver Python clutch is again going to be the perfect choice…and I even found the perfect shoes: from Miu Miu, the “Sequin Pump”. They’re purple, the shimmer like the afternoon sky at “Burning Man”…and at $650, they allow us to finish this project $1810 under budget—which we can use to bolster Palin’s “foreign policy experience” by picking up the tab at the Russian Tea Room.

And with all that said, we come to the end.

And what have we learned?

We have been reminded, once again, that fashion is indeed an art…we have seen the intersection of highly specialized manufacturing techniques and the products they create…but most importantly of all, we were reminded that it is possible to present a candidate in the finest of clothes and accoutrement for roughly $100,000 less than what McCain’s putative minions at the RNC spent—and we were also reminded that you and I are not the ones running around the countryside claiming we know how to balance a budget in our first term while simultaneously claiming most of the clothes were never used and will be donated at a loss.

Which means the biggest lesson we learned today might be this: if you can’t be counted on to handle the purchase of $150,000 worth of clothing, how are we supposed to trust you to manage the purchase of $150 billion worth of currently dead mortgage securities…or military equipment…or prescription drugs for Medicare?

If this big ol’ pile of fashion foolishness is any indication, I’d say we can’t.


On Dressing For Success, Part One, Or, How Much Is Armani, Anyway? October 24, 2008

Filed under: Fashion — fakeconsultant @ 10:56 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

So you’re the Governor of a State…but the next thing you know, you’re running for Vice President. The boss says you gotta bling up the ol’ Governor clothes—and the next thing you know, you’re having to explain how you can be the common “hockey mom” from Wasilla and how you can be clothed in more than enough money to buy Joe The Plumber’s house…both at the same time.

In the interests of telling the story fairly, I decided to conduct my own online shopping experiment.

Let’s head over to Saks and Neiman’s…and Bergdorf and Goodman’s to boot…and let’s just find out exactly what you would need to spend to look fabulous—and what you should probably be avoiding if you really want to project that whole “woman of the people” kind of thing.

That’s right folks, today, we play “Joe The Personal Shopper” for Sarah Palin.

Now I’m not one to deny a person a bit of bling when they get the chance (even though I think a $150,000 clothing allowance might make more sense for a “Vice Beyoncé” than a Vice President); so let’s be nice and buy our hockey mom a nice outfit for each of the seven days of the week…and just to be sure we’ve covered all the bases, let’s buy her three evening dresses.

Let’s be really nice and give a decent budget…I’m thinkin’ $4000 for each of the “daily outfits”, and, what the heck, let’s give her $5000 for each of the fancy dancin’ dresses. Total: $43,000.

That’s 66% off the “McCain” price.

I realize this will require sacrifice. For example, we will have to keep the cost of a pair of shoes to under $1000…and I realize that means she will have to cut back to Jimmy Choos and Dolce&Gabbanas…but these are tough times, and we must do what we must do.

Can it be done?

Can we stay within our budget…and still put lipstick on…the delicate flower of femininity that is Our Dear Sarah?

I say we can—and I’ll prove it.

You know what looks great on a candidate?
Timeless, elegant, stylish?

Saks has a fabulous outfit to get us started: from the Armani Collezioni, the “Rose Taffeta” Jacket—a vision in dusky bronze with a large rose pattern, three buttons at the carefully topstitched waist…and a delightful ruffled collar. Saks has combined the jacket with a basic black “Techno Cady Skirt” (which creates a “wrap” effect, despite the fact that it zips…). Now I know this is polyester…and not silk…but the two, together, are a bargain at $1950. Combine them with a basic black pair of Jimmy Choo “Patent Pumps” from Bergdorf-Goodman (at only $650) and we are on our way to getting a great look going.

We still have $1500 left in our budget for this outfit—so let’s buy Sarah a purse.

Bergdorf’s has the lovely “Arad Convertible Leather Clutch” by Jimmy Choo…and at $1575, we are only 75 bucks over our $4000 outfit budget.

If you are dressing “Caribou Barbie”, there’s nothing wrong with an animal motif…and who doesn’t love Prada…and Neiman’s has just the thing: the Prada “Animal Texture Jacket and Skirt”, combined with the Prada “Ribbed Sweater” ($1465, $560, and $595 each, respectively). The skirt is short enough to raise the temperature of even the coldest Conservative, and the jacket’s double-zip front and big “funnel” collar should keep even Rush Limbaugh’s eyes “up here…”

The jacket and skirt are Italian made, from polyamide…the sweater is also Italian, and made of wool and cashmere.

Here’s where we get some money back. The same Jimmy Choos that she can wear with the Rose Taffeta Jacket are perfect for this outfit as well.

And since we saved on the shoes…we can afford to splurge for a nice bag…so how about the Jimmy Choo “Patent Tote”? It is nice, featuring a black iridescent finish, a very bling-y gold shoulder chain—and of course, that Jimmy Choo nameplate. At $1795 it’s a bit expensive (the ensemble’s total is $4415), so for the next outfit, we’ll need to save a bit of cash.

We are, just for the record, $490 over budget to this point.

Now here’s where we save some money….and we do it on evening wear. Sarah is wearing her hair down these days, suggesting a bare shoulder look will be perfect for her. Bergdorf’s has, for only $995, the “Metallic Tweed Dress” by Lela Rose. Lapis metallic thread, bare shoulders, a black belt creating an Empire waist, and a length that comes to just above the knee…the look is simple and exceptionally elegant.

Mated to the dress: the “Patent Trim Coat”, also by Lela Rose: it’s navy and black tweed, with a big fur collar that lays mostly flat. The coat falls to the same “just above the knee” length as the dress…and it’s, again, a bargain at $1495.

I found the best shoes, ever, for this outfit. Neiman’s has a delicious pair of Manolo Blahniks, the “Something Blue Satin Pump”. Cobalt in color, 4 ¼” heel…and there’s a crystal brooch on the front that exactly makes up for the lack of accessorizing on the rest of the ensemble. $945…and absolutely to die for.

The perfect bag? The Christian Louboutin “Patent Square Bow Clutch” at $875.
Just go see it and you’ll see I’m right.

Our total for this first of our three evening outfits?
$4410…which is $590 under our $5000 budget.

We were $490 over, we saved $590 here…so as of now, we’re $100 under budget with 1/3 of our shopping done.

“There is no one left to dress”

Attributed to Cristóbal Balenciaga

The next outfit mixes Dolce&Gabbana with Armani to great effect. We start with the D&G “Tartan Check Jacket” from Neiman’s ($2450). It’s a classic, with black on black tartan pattern, suit jacket style, and wool and nylon construction for a appropriately “close” fit…and perfect to mate with the D&G “Metallic Tank Top” in shimmery silver ($595, at Saks). Complete the look with Armani’s “Classic Flannel Pants” (from the Collezioni). They’re made of Angora, Italian wool, and Spandex…again for the great fit…and Saks is practically giving them away at $615.

Finish the look with D&G’s “Erin Wide Slingback” with its 4” heel, in black, imported from Italy…and only $395.

The Jimmy Choo Patent Tote is perfect for this outfit, which means we save big by not needing another bag.

The total? $4275…which means we are again $175 over budget.

This next outfit, from Neiman’s, is the best of all.

You could not look better showing up for your first day being in charge of the Senate than if you were wearing Oscar de la Renta; and this combination of the “Caribbean Ombré Cardigan” and “Silk Shantung Pants” is absolutely fall-tastic. ($2150 and $1190, each, at Saks.)

The cardigan mixes blue, gold, green and brown Italian cotton and silk, the slacks are Italian silk of shimmering gold; and a $250 Cognac “Skinny Leather Belt” (again, Saks…), also by Oscar de la Renta, finishes the look.

This outfit is perfectly suited for the blue-green D&G “Carla Leather Pump” (Neiman’s, $415)…and if you’re a woman with a…reputation…the perfect purse might be the Jalda “Python Original Clutch” (again, a steal from Saks at only $490).

At first glance, this purse seems to be an odd choice—but after a bit of reflection (pardon the pun), it’s easy to see how the metallic silver snakeskin finish (with an interior that perfectly matches the shoes) is the perfect “non-match match” to the shimmering gold silk slacks.

The total of all this is $4495…which means we are now $670 over budget, with half the shopping done.

So at this point, let’s recap where we are, and set up for part two:

The Republicans paid $150,000 to dress Caribou Barbie while at the same time McCain is telling us that he knows how to cut wasteful Government spending.

I think they could have been much smarter about how they spend their money, I think 7 outfits for daily wear, each valued at $4000, and three “evening wear” ensembles, each valued at $5000, would have done the job–and done it for less than 1/3 of what has been spent…so far.

We are halfway through the process of choosing those outfits, and we are $670 over budget.

With that money we have shopped for Prada, D&G, Oscar de la Renta, Jimmy Choo and Armani, Manolo Blahnik…even Christian Louboutin and that crazy Jalda Python Clutch—and so far, we’ve found fairly good value for the money.

We have three more $4000 and two more $5000 outfits remaining to buy, which means if we can come in an average of $140 under budget on each one we can meet the goal.

I have a lot of research to do to get ready for tomorrow, so if anybody needs me I’ll be having a look at some of the most impressive clothing available from an American atelier today.

Wish me luck…I’ll need it.


On Grasping At Straws, Or, We’ve Got Biden Right Where We Want Him October 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 8:54 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

John McCain is all excited today, because, in his mind, Joe Biden has really Screwed It Up This Time by claiming that Obama will be tested by a foreign policy challenge, that Obama will act in a way we might not immediately trust, and that we should stand by him if it happens.

Oh My God You Have To Vote For Me, is the McCain response, because we can’t afford someone who will be tested in office.

As it turns out, Joe Biden is the smarter guy in this argument, a few calm words are in order…and I’m here today to offer a response that will set McCain’s foolishness right back on its heels.

So let’s get to it.

Let’s begin with the basics: what, exactly, did Biden say?

“Mark my words,” the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. “It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

“I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate,” Biden said to Emerald City supporters, mentioning the Middle East and Russia as possibilities. “And he’s gonna need help. And the kind of help he’s gonna need is, he’s gonna need you – not financially to help him – we’re gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right.”

Biden goes on to suggest Obama’s “steel spine” will come through, to America’s advantage, as the challenge plays out.

These words, as we mentioned above, have set the Palin-McCain ticket into a momentary frenzy

“Just last night, Senator Biden guaranteed that if Senator Obama is elected, we will have an international crisis to test America’s new president,” reads a memo from the McCain campaign. “We don’t want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars. …

“Senator Obama wont have the right response, and we know that because we’ve seen the wrong response from him over and over during this campaign. … We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: hoping for our luck to change at home and abroad. We have to act. We need a new direction, and we have to fight for it,” the statement said.

The background having been set, let’s offer a bit of recent history.

In the run up to the end of the Democratic primaries and just around the time of the Republican convention there was a great clamor, in Democratic circles, for Obama to become more confrontational…to toss a lot more “red meat” to the electorate

Many may recall that Pat Buchanan was an especially aggressive proponent of this point of view—and with all due respect to Buchanan, Hillary is not the nominee…and McCain is playing from well behind.

Many will also recall that the pages of “Daily Kos” were full of the same advice…and many will recall that Democrats were among the toughest on Obama in this regard.

I would suggest Obama did not choose the red meat approach, on the one hand, because he sees that the voting public is looking for a different, less “Rovian” form of politics…and on the other hand, because he is positioning himself not just to win the election—but to govern afterwards.

As it turns out, Obama is, at the moment, ahead…and it is starting to look as though his decision to be less aggressive was the right one—even though many of his own supporters did not think it was at the time.

And that’s what Biden is trying to tell us: Obama will make decisions that will seem unusual compared to what we have been used to these past several years, those who are still used to doing things as they have been recently will think the new approach is strange…and maybe even dangerous…we need to take the lessons of the Presidential elections and apply them to how Obama would govern…and we need to actively support smart thinking, even if it is unexpected, coming from a President.

Obama seems to rely upon Lincoln’s model of winning elections (the “out of nowhere” choice competing against far more likely choices, lots of organization, lots of “intelligence”, a restrained personal approach, and assertive surrogates); and I would encourage observers to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” for insight on how Obama might actually solve problems, should he take office.

Should Obama face such a test, by the way, he has Joe Biden right there, who personally knows the leaders of Pakistan, and Russia…and Palestine and Iran, to boot.

And who thinks McCain won’t also be tested early in his Administration?

Should McCain face such a test, Sarah Palin will have to move to India…because that way, she can see Pakistan from her house.

So let’s wrap all this up for today: Biden has uttered Truth, the McCain folks are again acting tactically by creating the “Outrage Du Jour”, an Obama Administration will act in ways that are unusual—especially compared to Mr. Bush’s—we should look to the primaries and this Presidential campaign for an example of how unusual thinking makes good sense…and we may have to actively remind voters of all these facts.

And of course, if McCain wins, we have to ask ourselves: in a time where we need to control Government spending, can we really afford a Vice Presidential residence in Kashmir?


On Giant Loads Of Hooey, Or, You Should See My Inbox October 17, 2008

The McCain campaign is beyond desperate, at this point, and as you might expect, the emails are full of things McCain supporters would like us to know.

I had one of those emails cross my inbox yesterday morning…and I thought to myself:
“Self…since the author of this email asked me to look up her facts, maybe I should.”

So I did.

Next thing I knew, I realized I was looking at a giant load of hooey.
Follow along, and I’ll show you what I mean.

There’s a lot of talk about Obama and Tony Rezko in this email.
That Rezko made some sort of special deal when Obama purchased his home.

Here’s Obama’s side of the story:

Barack Obama bought his home the same way everyone buys a home, by making the best offer the sellers had. The details are that of a normal, boring real estate transaction by a young family buying the house they expect to raise children in. A couple named the Wondisford’s had two properties on the market, a house and an adjacent lot. Barack and Michelle Obama made the best offer on the house, which had been on the market for 8 months. Before the purchase, Obama asked Rezko, a local real estate developer, and for some advice on the purchase. While there, Rezko noticed the adjacent lot and decided to buy it. Neither got a break on the price, as confirmed by the Wondisford’s. The Wondisford’s requested to close on the same day to minimize their hassle. You can download the PDF where the Wondisford’s confirm all of this here:

Later, Obama purchased a strip of the Rezko’s property to give his kids more room to play, and he paid more than double the assessed value to avoid any claims of impropriety. The Rezko’s later sold the lot to another couple who are building a house on it. And that’s it. The whole thing is remarkable only for its utter lack of any drama or scandal…

This is what the “Chicago Tribune” was reporting, back in January of 2008:

JAN. — Between Jan. 15 and Jan. 23, Obama submits three bids: $1.3 million on Jan. 15; $1.5 million on Jan. 21; and $1.65 million on Jan. 23. He told the Tribune that he does not recall when he learned that Rezko was interested in buying the side lot, or how Rezko learned of the sale. But Obama raised the possibility that he was the first to bring the lot to Rezko’s attention. The senator’s campaign provided a copy of a previously released e-mail from the sellers. In response to questions from the Obama campaign, the sellers agreed that they “did not offer or give the Obamas a ‘discount’ on the house price” because Rezko paid their asking price for the yard.

“[Quoting Obama:] Tony asked me during the course of one of these conversations why I might not be interested in buying the lot and keep the property intact. And I said that, you know, it wasn’t worth it to us to spend an extra $600,000 or so on a lot next door when Michelle and I were really interested in the house. So, he said, ‘Well, I might be interested in purchasing the lot.’ And my response was, ‘That would be fine.’

“And my thinking at the time, and this is just to sort of flag this, this is an area where I can see sort of a lapse in judgment. Where I could have said, ‘You know, I’m not sure that’s a great idea.’ But my view at the time when he expressed an interest was that he was a developer in this area that owned lots, that he thought it was going to be a good investment. And my interest, or my motivation was here’s somebody that I knew who, if this lot was being developed, it’d be better to have somebody who knew, who I knew, who you know would give me schedules, keep me apprised of what was taking place and so forth. So I didn’t object.”

The email then goes on to make implications that because Valerie Jarrett, who might be Obama’s number one advisor (after Michelle) was born in Iraq, she is somehow a threat to National Security, and, presumably, that Obama is either a terrorist for knowing her…or, somehow, under terrorist control…

Vogue” Magazine disagrees:

Jarrett’s unlikely, unusual, unsumupable childhood began in Iran, where she was born in 1956. Not unlike Obama’s being “from” Hawaii or “from” Indonesia, that fact in and of itself is more misleading than it is illuminating. Her parents, both of whom are in their 80s and still working and writing and who live a block away from Michelle and Barack, are academics. Her father, James Bowman, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and an internationally recognized geneticist and pathologist, is from Washington, D.C.; her mother, Barbara, an expert on early childhood development, has deep roots and a big extended family in Chicago’s Hyde Park. In 1955, the couple moved to Shiraz, Iran, where they stayed for six years as part of a program that sent American doctors to developing nations. When Valerie, their only child, was five, they moved to London for a year and then resettled back in Hyde Park, a neighborhood that has historically been a bit hoity-toity and one to which the Obamas have now brought a whole new level of cachet and bragging rights.

More about Jarret’s “terrorist” past:

She comes from a long line of “firsts”: Her maternal great-grandfather Robert Robinson Taylor was the first black person to graduate from M.I.T.; he became an architect and the vice principal of the Tuskegee Institute. Her mother’s father, Robert Rochon Taylor, was a pioneer in public housing who was the first black man to head the Chicago Housing Authority, in the forties. Her father not only was the first black person to be given a residency at St. Luke’s Hospital but also was the first to be tenured in his department at the University of Chicago. “Every summer my father did research in population genetics, which required him to study diversities of genetic-based diseases across the world, and so we would spend summer vacations traipsing across Africa,” she says, as one of her two BlackBerrys vibrates on the granite-topped table we are sitting at with a delivered deli lunch. “One summer we went from Ghana to Nigeria to Ethiopia to Uganda to Egypt and then back to Iran. We would be out in the countryside visiting different tribes, and my father would draw blood and I would help get the syringes together. We spent a lot of time in Mexico, and then we’d go back to England. So it required me to be able to straddle a bunch of different cultures and worlds. It made me comfortable talking to anybody at a very young age, and because I was an only child I spent a lot of time with adults.”

The email goes on to claim that “The Times” reported Obama advisor Robert Malley was “fired” because of his contacts with Hamas.

That story seems to be entirely wrong.
The actual facts?

Here’s what “The Washington Post” had to say back in May of 2008:

An informal Middle East adviser to Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign resigned Friday after a newspaper reported on his regular meetings with members of the Hamas militant group.

Rob Malley said he wanted to stop being a distraction for the campaign after facing attacks from the blogosphere for months for allegedly being anti-Israel, a charge he denies. Malley is a former National Security Council aide to President Bill Clinton who is now with the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan conflict-resolution think tank.

Malley’s departure comes at a sensitive time for Obama, who appears to be nearing the Democratic nomination but has struggled to win the support of Jewish and pro-Israel voters. Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, refuses to recognize Israel and is dedicated to its destruction.

In reporting analytic reports he wrote for ICG, Malley would interview Hamas officials, as well as Israeli, American, European and other Palestinian officials. The reports, which made clear he had met with Hamas, feature recommendations for key players in the peace process. Malley said he informed the State Department before he met with Hamas and then briefed State afterwards on what he had learned.

“To do my job, I have to meet with savory and unsavory people,” he said.

But Malley said that after he fielded a call this morning from the Times of London, which asked about the Hamas meetings, he decided he had had enough. “This was a distraction for me; this was a distraction for them,” he said Friday night. “It is absurd, but that is what this campaign is about.” (The links were added to the story.)

Yes, folks, you heard that correctly.

In order to learn about Hamas, so that he could inform the State Department about how to develop smart policy to deal with Hamas, which was his job, Malley actually took the time and trouble to talk to people involved with Hamas…and then Obama actually asked him to tell him what he knows, from time to time, so that Obama would, you know, know what he’s talking about; and all of that is, apparently, frightening to the McCain campaign.

And yet what did McCain tell David Letterman just last evening? That part of what he would do to catch Osama Bin-Laden would be to improve our human intelligence capabilities in Middle Eastern countries.

My friends, I could go on and on about this for another 2000 words; but instead, I’ll offer you an allegorical story that makes the point for me.

Imagine that you are diagnosed with cancer.

Would you prefer an oncologist who is so offended at any scientist who looks into a microscope at cancer cells that he refuses to even associate with such an individual…or would you prefer an oncologist who calls up a researcher over at the National Cancer Institute to ask that world-renowned expert, who has offered advice to this oncologist before, what to do about your case?

I know who I would pick…and I bet a lot of you would make the same choice.


On Associations, Or, I’ll See Your Ayers, And Raise You A Saddam October 15, 2008

Barack Obama is a Threat To America, we are told, because he served on a board of directors and had other contacts with William Ayers, who, in the 1960s, was, or was not, involved in terrorist acts for which he was never convicted of any crimes.

So imagine how serious of a Threat To America we would have if, last month, one of the two candidates hired someone to lead their transition team—the person who would recommend who should be selected for every appointed office of the new Administration—who, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, actually worked for Saddam Hussein…and who ended up working for him for five years.

Well, one of the candidates did, and I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Obama.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to meet William E. Timmons, Sr.

Before we go further, the reason we’re talking about this today is because of a story posted by Murray Waas, over at the Huffington Post—but it’s a story that is, to some degree, independently verifiable, some of which I’ll do here.

Here’s the deal:

Samir Vincent, according to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, began illegal work as an unregistered lobbyist for the Government of Iraq in 1992, just after the First Gulf War, work he continued until 2003, just before the Second Gulf War.

His goal was to assist Saddam in either getting the sanctions the UN had placed on Iraq modified or removed. He planned on doing this by working with both US and UN officials at the highest levels.

The sanctions had resulted in the creation of the “Oil-For-Food” Program, which was being used by Saddam as a source of kickbacks (“I’ll sell you oil at below-market prices, you resell it…kick me back some as a bribe” is the way the scam worked)…and he was being personally given oil to resell (illegally, as it turns out) for his services.

The US Attorney’s charging sheet shows that Vincent’s company was allowed to purchase 9 million barrels of oil from 1997 to 2003 in violation of the UN sanctions by the Iraqi Government.

Murray Waas tells us that Vincent was able to get this job because, believe it or not, he was a “boyhood friend” of Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s Deputy Prime Minister (and the “eight of spades”), and Nizar Hamdoon, Saddam’s Foreign Minister.

Despite his influence back in Iraq, he needed someone who could reach up into the US and UN Administrations.

His business partner at the time, William E. Timmons, Sr. (you knew I would get to him eventually…), knew a guy. To be completely accurate, Timmons apparently knows everybody, which is why he was involved in this deal in the first place…and why he has been such a successful lobbyist for so long.

Tongsun Park, who was already famous from the “Koreagate” scandal, was enlisted to “gain access”, if you will, to those high-ranking officials.

In February of 1996, according to the Sealed Complaint the US Attorney (again, Southern District of New York) prepared in March of 2005 regarding Park’s criminal charges, Vincent made a trip to Baghdad to sign a deal to collect $15 million if they could get the sanctions removed. He returned with a $450,000 “down payment”, according to the US Attorney.

That money was to be divided between Vincent, Park…and Timmons.

Lots of money was also supposed to be used to bribe the US and UN officials; and the questions of exactly who did and did not bribe who is one of many elements of the abuse of the Oil-For-Food Program explored in exquisite detail by the UN’s Independent Inquiry Committee (the “Volker Report”).

For at least the next five years this pattern continued—trips to Iraq, deals to end sanctions that never bore fruit…notes passed between Timmons and Vincent and Tariq Aziz…and eventually, criminal prosecutions for serving as unregistered foreign representatives.

We need to have a full and complete cooperation on the part of the U.N. about this whole oil-for-food program, which stinks to high heaven. We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars here that were diverted for many wrong purposes. And this is an example of corruption.

And by the way, it’s an argument, maybe a small one, but maybe an argument that justifies our action in Iraq. Because clearly the sanctions and the framework of those sanctions was completely eroded.

John McCain on ‘FOX News Sunday’, December 05, 2004

Vincent made a deal and became a “Cooperating Witness”, Park’s sentence was reduced to 37 months—and they made him pay back half of the $2.5 million he personally made (most of it in $100 bills).


Ummmm…he sort of walked away from all of this to continue a fabulous lobbying career that includes clients such as Freddie Mac, who paid him $180,000 in 2005, $190,000 in 2006, $200,000 in 2007 (inflation?), and, just this year, even as they slid below the waves, $100,000—and now, of course, he will be recommending to McCain who McCain should hire for that shiny new Administration he’s planning.

So when McCain tells you that serving on a board with a man who was never convicted of any crime is a Threat To America, keep in mind that the guy he is hopes will give him good advice on his Cabinet appointments used to work for Saddam Hussein–for half a decade or so.

And in the world of Debate ThreatDowns, just to keep things straight, from bottom to top, it’s: Chupacubra, Bears!, and Guy Who Used To Work For Saddam Hussein For Five Years Who Now Runs Your Transition Effort.

I hope that helped.


On Economic Recovery, Or, They Got The Bailout, So Why Aren’t Things Better? October 14, 2008

Filed under: Asset Valuation,Treasury — fakeconsultant @ 12:38 am
Tags: , , , ,

Every morning lately, we have turned anxiously to the news to see if financial markets are in freefall…and some days, they actually are.

Governments across the world have responded over the past two weeks–including a massive commitment by the United States Treasury that is, to say the least, highly controversial to the American voter.

As this is being written markets are opening in Asia. At the moment things are somewhat stable, and except for Shanghai and Taiwan, they’re heading upward. During the writing process, Europe has opened, and there are gains there today as well.

The US credit markets did not open today (although the stock markets did) because of the Columbus Day holiday—but anyone who recalls Mr. Dow’s Wild Ride last Friday is quite nervous ahead of the Tuesday opening.

Despite all that bailout stuff we’re hearing about, confidence doesn’t seem to be returning to the markets. Why?

Excellent question, Gentle Reader, and I have a few helpful answers.

So for those of you who want to avoid reading today’s entire story, here’s the extremely short and sweet (and overly simplistic) answer: asset holders are still having to sell into the market at historically low prices to meet their customer’s needs, virtually everyone who is managing assets is engaged in a “flight to safety”, and the Treasury, who has now been authorized by Congress to begin the bailout, has not yet made any actual asset purchases or capital injections.

“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

Groucho Marx

“Counterparty Risk” is a phrase you may be hearing bandied about lately…and it’s a fancy way of saying: “I don’t want to do business with you because I’m afraid you’ll go broke and leave me hanging”.

The idea behind Treasury purchasing assets is to remove “risky” securities from the system, so that banks and other investors, who will no longer be holding the riskiest assets, can trust each other again (“counterparty risk is reduced” would be the fancy way to say it), and, hopefully, commercial lending can begin returning to a more “normal” state.

The thing is, this does not happen overnight. The US Treasury must first hire asset managers and a “custodial banker”.

Asset managers might advise Treasury on how to value individual assets they seek to purchase, they might advise on the purchase process itself, and in situations where case-by-case decisions need to be made, they’ll likely be the one working those problems. Treasury’s role here is likely to be a policy-setting and supervisory one, leaving the asset manager to…well, manage the assets.

Custodial bankers provide the “clearing” and “custodial” tasks associated with these types of purchases. They physically hold the securities certificates in a vault somewhere, they provide the services associated with receiving new assets and transferring sold assets to new buyers, and they provide information about the assets and their income streams.

How soon will all this happen? The Treasury wants us to know that…

Due to the paramount need for expeditious implementation of the Secretary’s authorities under the Act, Treasury anticipates that a number of contracts will be awarded through other than full and open competition…

In other words, this is moving ahead at high speed…and the estimates I hear suggest the first asset purchases might occur as soon as November 1st.

This could be done in a couple of ways: buying the assets directly from the asset holders, or “reverse auctions” where Treasury buys assets at the lowest price offered, then keeps paying more until they reach the limit of what is to be spent in that auction.

Repeat the process over and over (buy $100 billion today, the same next week, and on and on) and pretty soon taxpayers own the assets, and, hopefully, things get better.

Another way to reduce counterparty risk: guarantee interbank lending. If JP Morgan lends $500,000,000 to Bank of America overnight, and either goes broke, Treasury would pay the other party. This is not likely to cost the taxpayer much—in fact, I can’t recall a situation ever where payment on these guarantees would have been required.

The goal of these guarantees is not to have to cover losses…instead, the goal is to make both parties more confident in each other, which would, hopefully, lower the all-important LIBOR rate that controls not just lending between banks, but also the rates you pay for your credit cards, adjustable rate mortgages, and personal and commercial lines of credit (which are all based on “LIBOR plus something”).

The Treasury is also authorized to buy stock in banks, and it looks as if they are preparing to do that as well. The reason they would do this is to provide immediate cash to banks that are today, essentially, broke. The US version of this program, for the moment, appears to be voluntary, and would presumably involve purchases of preferred stock, which may give Treasury a better position to get our money back if the banks fails—or it might not, particularly if a bank fails because they had a “run” on deposits (a “run” means everyone wants their money back all at once. Think “Miracle on 34th Street”).

This offer would come with some sort of restrictions on “executive compensation” and some degree of political risk—for example, how will Congress and the American public (of whom most are taxpayers, and a few are actually voters) feel about Treasury directly owning companies?

Greek philosophy seems to have met with something with which a good tragedy is not supposed to meet, namely, a dull ending.

Karl Marx

The enormous unknown in all of this is what prices will be paid for these various assets. This could be a series of prudent investments that generate taxpayers a decent return over time…or it could become a giant process of rewarding friends and punishing enemies that does the taxpayer more harm than good.

Public vigilance is going to be mandatory going forward…and the willingness of Treasury, in the next Administration, to be open and transparent about this process will be crucial.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is authorized to raise the insurance limits on US bank deposits from $100,000 to $250,000…which means those of you with $100,001 to $249,999 in the bank will be sleeping better tonight. (This should actually help small businesses, to be fair, and it should be at very little cost to the taxpayer, as banks—up until today—have rarely failed without someone else taking over the deposit accounts.)

Next, a few words on forced asset sales. If you have a 401-K or other money market asset, you may have chosen to take your money out rather than chance losing it. Lots of others have made the same choice, all at once. These are companies that tend to have less cash and more “assets at work”. As a result, many of the companies in this business are being forced to sell some of those assets to pay you back your money.

Here’s a rule of markets: when you’re selling into a falling market, or you must sell today, no matter what the asset, you will get less than you wanted—and probably less than you need. Both have applied to many companies these past few weeks; and as they sell assets at bargain-basement prices, it drags down the Dow and the NASDAQ averages…along with averages all over the world.

Part of the idea of injecting assets onto the books of asset holders is to stop this forced selling (which may stop the Dow from falling 600 points daily)…but keep in mined that “injecting assets” means “buying stuff”; and all the cautions regarding pricing we talked about a few paragraphs ago directly apply to this conversation as well.

The “Money Market Guarantee Program” is also intended to help resolve this problem by providing temporary Federal insurance on those deposits.

Short selling, which allows you to make money off future declines in stock prices, has been blamed for exacerbating the problems of rapid price declines (rightly or wrongly, we don’t yet know), and is currently under restrictions in the US. Those restrictions, at some point, will end…and the effect on future prices is, today, unknown.

“Mark to market” rules require companies that are trading assets to mark them at some “fair value”—and in a time of frozen markets, those asset values might turn to zero. This has caused great pain for asset holders, who are trying as hard as they can to end the fair value requirements.

Those with a sense of history will recall that these rules were established because of abuses that led to the last Savings and Loan Scandal…and there will be a great fight over this issue, in this Congress and the next, as well as enormous lobbyist pressure on the next Administration.

So that’s where we are: the Dow is moving wildly according to how much risk is perceived to be out there, the credit markets, even more so.

Coordinated efforts over the weekend and over the next few weeks may have stabilized the situation…or at least that’s what today’s markets are telling us.

There will be asset purchases and direct investments made over the next few weeks—and the prices paid will determine whether this is a “taxpayer positive” deal or a giant taxpayer hustle.

When someone on CNBC or Bloomberg says “Treasury has to overpay for assets for this plan to work”…watch your wallet. If that same someone wants us to pay “hold to maturity” values? Well, that is a virtual guarantee the taxpayer will not make money—and it probably means we won’t break even.

There will be efforts to change regulations. My personal opinion: short selling gets more abuse than it deserves, and mark to market the same. Keep ‘em both, but since they can both be abused, regulate ‘em carefully.

Finally, the most important question of all: will the credit markets begin to thaw?

Credit markets in the US open tomorrow, but today’s activity in the European and Asian markets (and the US equity market) suggests good news—and from a LIBOR perspective, things have been worse—but we’re a long way from the easy money of 2004…and that’s probably a good thing.

UPDATE: A quick thanks to pragprogress, who reminds me that the short selling ban was lifted last Thursday; which has had a currently unknown effect.


On Political Robots, Again, Or, Let’s Visit Uncanny Valley October 9, 2008

So the second debate is in the books, my friends, and it seems that McCain is not getting out the message as well as he might wish.

I have no doubt that some of the problem is related to McCain’s policies as he presents them…but to be completely honest, there may be an additional factor.

To put it as bluntly as possible: McCain looks a little…creepy.

And it’s not just me: The Girlfriend was mentioning how creepy he looked in the debate as we talked about it this morning. Ask around, and someone might describe him that way to you.

Why is that so, how is this observation going to affect McCain going forward; and most important of all…how does this connect to the Burger King and the design of video game characters?

To help answer the question, let me introduce you to Dr. Masahiro Mori.

In the 1970s, Dr. Mori, a Japanese roboticist, used psychological research to develop a theory that has become known as the “Uncanny Valley”.

To make a long story short, Dr. Mori compared human emotional reactions to various human and cartoon characters…and corpses…and created charts to display the various intensities of reactions to the movement and appearance of the characters and the corpses.

As it turns out, Mori’s research suggests humans react in a similar emotional manner to near-realistic human representations and corpses. In both cases, the emotional response seems to be revulsion.

This research has practical applications: it is reported that ASIMO, the humanoid robot developed by Honda, is intentionally designed with a blank face in order to avoid the Uncanny Valley problem. The design of artificial limbs is also impacted by this phenomenon.

(Additional research published in 2007 in MIT’s journal “Presence” seems to confirm Mori’s conclusions.)

There are some who seek to break through the Uncanny Valley barrier, most notably Hanson Robotics, with their Eva, Jules, and Joey Chaos devices.

Sure enough, video game designers use this information in their work…and now that you think about it, hasn’t the Burger King always creeped you out?

Now you know why.

Which bring us to John McCain.

Last night’s debate seemed to demonstrate a challenge McCain faces that transcends the words he says: his physical movement. He does indeed move stiffly, and he had odd gestures that detract from what he says.

But beyond that, he seems to have that weird laugh that he deploys for his own jokes…and having spent time talking to an audience—successfully and unsuccessfully—I can tell you that if you are laughing at your own jokes, you better not be the only one in the room doing the laughing.

He (and Palin) also add an odd “breathiness” to their voices when they are trying to emphasize a point, that, at least in my house, seems to be unnatural and offputting.

There’s also that smile: it appears forced. He never seems to be so much smiling as grimacing…and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him appear genuinely happy.

And, my friends, when he gets nervous, my friends, he seems to say “my freinds” way too much–to the point where it’s kind of…well, creepy.

So for today, a short story: McCain seems to be suffering from the same problem as the Burger King, and it’s not all his fault—but that having been said, it does seem to affect his ability to connect to a larger audience…and it may explain why Sarah Palin gets much better reactions—and larger crowds—when she goes out and delivers the same message to the same audiences.