Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category
By John Feehery
I wonder if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has an early copy of Bob Woodward’s new book.
The bearded one has been on a successful public relations tour before his United Nations speech tomorrow. Before leaving for the Big Apple, he released one of the American hikers that his government has been holding hostage, and hosted NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in Tehran for an interview last week. He starred in hilarious home-erotic tribute from comedian Adam Samberg on Saturday Night Live over the weekend, and chided the United States for moving forward on the execution of a female murderer. He got Esquire magazine to run an article entitled “5 Reasons Ahmadinejad Might Just Be Good for the World.” And he has done a bunch of other interviews, trying to put himself in a more positive light.
This, my friends, is called strategic communications.
Mr. Obama and his team could learn something from the guy we like to call “crazy”.
Ahmandinejad reportedly is in tough shape back home. The Iranian people are getting sick and tired of being sick and tired. Their economy is a mess. A bunch of Iranians are still sore about how their President stole the last election (in fact, two high-ranking diplomats just defected to show their displeasure). They are tired of being isolated. And none of Mahmoud’s campaign promises have been kept. So, coming to New York is a welcome reprieve for the Holocaust denier extraordinaire.
Obama’s public relations team set up a town hall meeting with CNBC, which made a star out of an African-American businesswoman and Obama voter who said that defending this President exhausts her. The event may have been packed with folks who voted for Obama two years ago, but they aren’t going to vote for him again.
Obama’s team also fell victim to the charm of Bob Woodward. The President and his squad, according to the excerpts I read, look divided, distracted, and disappointing.
Woodward quotes Obama as saying, “we can survive a terrorist attack,” a statement, while it may be true, is not something that voters want to hear 40 some days before an election. Woodward also claims that Obama’s strategic vision in Afghanistan is much different than his top military experts. Where the generals want to win the war, Obama wants to win re-election. The Post writes, “Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end,” he said.
But according to the New York Times, he later said: “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.” So, while he won’t think of the war in terms of winning or losing, he does think that way when it comes to his own political future.
The book is chock full of other tidbits. David Axelrod doesn’t trust Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden thinks that Richard Holbrooke is “the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met,” apparently confirming that Biden has never met himself. David Petraeus has minimal high regard for David Axelrod, a “complete spin doctor”, according to the book.
In the good news department (unless you are a left-winger) Obama has kept in place or expanded 14 intelligence orders issued by President Bush, which provides the legal basis for the CIA worldwide covert operations. Maybe Bush wasn’t that dumb after all.
The striking thing about this book is how dysfunctional the Obama team looks from the inside. History will give them a lot of credit for running a top-notch Presidential campaign in 2008, but campaigning is much different than governing.
Their failures aren’t just about public relations. Their policies are bad too. But on the PR front, they can learn something from Tehran’s bearded wonder. He may be crazy, but at least Mr. Ahmadinejad can execute a strategic communications plan.
By John Feehery
One of the great things about going on a vacation is that you get the chance to catch up on some reading. For some reason, I picked Michael Lewis’s book, “The Big Short”, and Hank Paulson’s “On the Brink” for my light reading.
Lewis, of course, is an easy read, but not a light read. If you want to get your blood pressure sky-rocketing, read this book.
It basically a story about how Wall Street screwed America.
The villains, in order of calumny:
- The ratings agencies and their second-class employees. If you really want to know why we had this huge problem with sub-prime loans, you can find the chief antagonists in those agencies, like Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, who decided, somehow, that it was smart policy to give a AAA rating (the strongest rating) to a bunch of bonds that weren’t worth the paper they were written on. The theory used by these second-rate financial analysts was that most people were going to pay back their mortgage loans. And that might be true in most cases. But in the case of subprime loans, when most of those loans were given to people who didn’t have much of a track-record or the ability to pay them back, that was not the case. The ratings agencies refused to distinguish between the two and now we are all paying the price.
- Goldman-Sachs: Lewis doesn’t like Goldman-Sachs, and he makes the case that Goldman was probably behind much of the speculation behind the market run-up, and then was double-dealing when it became clear that the market was going to tank.
- Wall Street: Lewis believes that Wall Street is populated by a bunch of sharks who would sell their grandmother if it helped their bottom-line.
- Loan originators: While he doesn’t go into too many details, he mentions some great stories about the quality of people who got loans (a Mexican migrant worker who got a loan for close to $800,000; a stripper who was able to get 5 mortgages, etc).
- The political leadership, especially at the Fed: Lewis is not kind to either Greenspan or Bernanke, who he blames for not stopping the madness before it was too late).
In the Lewis account, the heroes are short-sellers who uncovered the stunning stupidity of the American financial system, and sought to make a buck in uncovering it. Steve Eisman, Michael Burry, Greg Lippmann were three unique characters who saw the financial acopolypse coming, and sought to do everything they could to make some money off of it.
The irony, of course, is that was when the meltdown happened, the government did everything it could to stop the short-sellers from making their money. Nobody likes a short-seller. They bet that the market is not going to go up. They bet that the market is going to go down. They aren’t optimists. They are pessimists. They are the ones who are betting that the dice are going to crap out in craps. They are a buzz-kill. But without them, irrational exuberance rules the market-place.
Lewis’s book is unique because it makes the buzz-killer the hero.
I supported TARP because I didn’t want the whole financial marketplace to completely collapse. But that doesn’t mean that I have any great faith in the essential honesty of Wall Street or of the Bond Market, for that matter.
Republicans should read this book. If they don’t think they need that Wall Street needs more regulation, they are crazy. As Lewis points out, this story is not about how the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. This is a story about how the rich got richer, the poor had some fun for a while, and the middle-class got whacked with a financial crisis that will hit them for a long time to come.
Next, comes Hank Paulson’s side of the story. Should be interesting…