Sunday, January 20, 2008

How Not To Succeed

Red, White and Blue Tag Sale
Published: January 20, 2008

'Mediocrity is not a mortal sin.'

'I know blood is thicker than water, but Bud Frump is thicker than anything.'

-How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Maureen Dowd’s flu-filled trip with George Bush emboldened her to step on the toes of both Paul Krugman and book-leave absentee Thomas Friedman by delving into international finance and she is shocked, shocked to find foreigners at a firesale for financial institutions.
When President Bush finished doing his sword dances and Arabian stallion inspections, when he finished making a speech in Abu Dhabi on the importance of freedom that fell flat, when he finished lounging in his fur-lined George of Arabia robe in the Saudi king’s tent, he came home.

Or he came to what was left of home.

A Washington Post cartoon by Tom Toles summed it up best: “Great to be home,” W. enthuses on Air Force One, heading toward the East Coast. “Anything interesting happen while I was gone?” Hanging on the skyline of New York is a sign reading: “U.S.A. Now a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Foreign Investors.”

Today's Movie With Maureen® is about J. Pierrepont Finch, a window washer, climbing the corporate ladder. Finch’s rival is a toady who got his position through nepotism. On the international scene, Dowd sees W playing the lackey.
Wherever he went, W. seemed dazzled by the can-do spirit of the J. Pierrepont Finches of the new Middle East. “It’s important for the president to hear thoughts, hopes, dreams, aspirations, concerns from folks that are out making a living,” he told Saudi entrepreneurs.

In Dubai, he commended young Arab leaders, saying, “The entrepreneurial spirit is strong.”
The double use of the “e-word” recalls the apocryphal Bushism that the problem with the French is that they have no word for ‘entrepreneur.’

She also touches on the current international financial crisis brought out by the free fall of the dollar against the euro.
Two decades ago, we fretted that Japan was taking over America when Sony bought Columbia Pictures and Mitsubishi bought a chunk of Rockefeller Center. But they overpaid for everything.

Now, because of Wall Street’s overreaching, our economy depends on foreign oil and foreign loans to stay afloat.

China and Arab countries have a staggering amount of treasury securities. And the oil-rich countries are sitting on so many petrodollars that they are looking beyond prestige hotels and fashion labels and taking advantage of the fire sale to buy eye-popping stakes in our major financial institutions.
This echoes another old joke that goes like this: “I hear the Japanese are buying up America. I didn’t even know the Arabs were selling.” Not only are the Arabs not selling, they are doubling down and the Chinese are at the checkout line as well.

She quotes billionaire investor Warren Buffett about the long term consequences.
As Warren Buffett has said, we are giving ourselves a party to feed our appetite for oil and imported goods and paying for it by selling off the furniture, our most precious assets.
Interestingly, one of Berkshire Hathaway’s holdings is Cort, so Warren can rent us some furniture when we have sold it all off overseas.

In the contractual obligatory jab at Hillary, she has this to say about Bill Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary and current Hillary advisor:
(While the great sage Bob Rubin was advising Hillary Clinton on sound fiscal policy, he seemed to be asleep at the Citigroup switch.)
Rubin engineered a bailout of Mexico when its currency was bordering on collapse. It’s interesting to see him on the other side of the loan counter. But echoing a new book about Dubya’s Daddy Issues, Dowd wonder’s if Bush 43’s problems aren’t from his contrarian orneriness.
It is striking that the Bush scion, who has tried so hard to do the opposite of his father, also ends up facing the prospect of a recession in his final year in office.

Maybe if the president had spent the trillion he squandered on his Iraq odyssey on energy research, we might have broken the oil addiction.
You have a tag sale by slashing prices and we are financing our adventurism in the Middle East by selling off the family jewels.

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