Friday, December 19, 2008


Via the New York Crank, I see that Tina Brown is shocked, shocked, at certain events (the Madoff fraud and so on) that have just come to light:

Did We All Go Mad?

Remember the great Y2K crisis, when all the computers were supposed to go haywire because all four digits of the date turned over at once? Well, maybe it happened after all, only it wasn’t our computers that went nuts. It was us.

Something went wrong on or about the dawn of the millennium, that's for sure -- and it keeps on going wrong. Did the 2000 election and 9/11 and Iraq and now maybe Great Depression II -- in short, the Bush years -- unhinge us into some strange collective suicide spree of self-indulgence, self-delusion, and blind pursuit of money money money till we drowned in it? Or did the planet just spin on its axis when all those nines became zeroes and tip us upside down and shake out all our values?...

This is, by the way, the same Tina Brown who in 2004, as host of an episode of CNBC's Topic A that focused on Enron, Sarbanes-Oxley, and "the imperial CEO," asked:

BROWN: I guess what my--my concern, though, about shareholder activism is--I mean, how c--CEOs at the moment, they've got so much vision and so much oversight, so much kind of toxic press atmosphere and then, in a way, they're going to feel so threatened about making big, adventurous decisions. I mean...

Mr. HOLSTEIN: The heart of the issue is...

BROWN: ...could somebody like a--could someone like a Jack Welch made all the big, enormous, difficult decisions that he made at the beginning which really weren't...

Mr. HOLSTEIN: The heart of the issue is...

BROWN: ...popular?

Yes, Tina, you were so right. That was the real concern in the wake of Enron: How will stinking-rich superstar CEOs ever manage to perform their heroic labors now that they're so darn unpopular?


In her Daily Beast essay, Brown writes:

One crucial psychosociological question still unanswered is this: When did Madoff decide to become a crook? Or had he always been one? Was this low-key, softly smiling gonif who inhabited the private comfort zone of the super-rich a lifelong charlatan who escaped detection until late in his career? Or (my theory) did the accelerating madness of the last decade or two entice him slowly but surely into an entirely new playing field where every moral boundary fell when it was pushed?

Interesting that she should talk about "the accelerating madness of the last decade or two" -- this is, after all, the same Tina Brown who wrote this a couple of years ago about the patron saint of "the accelerating madness of the last decade or two":

Dancing Into Hearts and History

One of Ronald Reagan's unsung achievements is that he saved Vanity Fair. By March 1985, I had been editor in chief for a year, but the glossy monthly that had been launched in a blaze of hype a year before and then belly-flopped under its first two editors was still in the throes of a severe identity crisis. We needed something big and we needed it fast, since Conde Nast Chairman S.I. Newhouse had just made it plain that we had only six more months to fool around before he kissed this money-losing turkey goodbye.

Hoping for a deus ex machina, we got a president ex machina. VF's resourceful picture editor, James Danziger, traded on his friendship with Doug Wick, son of Reagan pal Charles Z. Wick, to score a cover shoot with Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

... At 6:45 p.m. we heard the familiar mellow burr of the approaching commander in chief accompanied by the light social laughter of Nancy Reagan. They entered the Map Room dressed in their elegant best for the black-tie function: Nancy in a slinky jet-beaded Galanos gown, her husband in a Fred Astaire-fit tux, with patent crenellated hair and cordial, crinkly blue eyes. Benson immediately hit the switch of the boombox and flooded the room with the old Sinatra classic "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)." Reagan paused for a moment looking first at us and then at his wife with one raised eyebrow, Clark Gable style.

"I love this song, honey," she said. "Let's dance." Her co-star replied with a line that might have been written for any number of vintage B movies: "We can't keep the president of Argentina waiting, Nancy."

"Oh, Ronnie," teased the first lady, grabbing him by his broad shoulders, "Let him wait!" She kicked back her leg (click-whirr click-whirr click-whirr went Harry Benson's camera), and, perhaps in a paradigm of their easeful marriage, the president quit resisting and took his wife in his arms. For the next 15 minutes they fox-trotted blithely around the Map Room to more Sinatra oldies on Benson's cassette, exchanging the gossip of the day as if no one else were there.

"A kiss!" shouted a now-ecstatic Benson, juggling three cameras. "Mr. President, give your wife a kiss!" Cheeky, perhaps, for other presidents, but for them it was easy. They moved closer. Their eyes closed. Their lips came together....

The Reagans' moment of gaiety on the cover was a kiss of life for Vanity Fair. Coming when America was emerging from a long recession, the dancing presidential couple seemed to epitomize the buoyancy of American expectation. Reagan's theatricality always resonated that way. It was an instinctive collusion between imagery and national mood....

Now she calls it "the accelerating madness of the last decade or two." Then she called it the "national mood." I believe it was summed up in two sentences: It's good to be the king, and Greed is good.


The New York Crank notes that "the most heart-rending story [Brown] could think to publish concerning Madoff [at the Daily Beast] comes from a former editor -- tellingly of a magazine called 'Self' -- who complains that now she may have to give up her maid and ride the New York subway. (link)." Yeah, it's a bitch:

... I wear a classic clean white shirt every day of the week. I have about 40 white shirts. They make me feel fresh and ready to face whatever battles I may be fighting in the studio to get the best out of my work.

How am I going to iron those shirts so I can still feel like a poor civilized person? Even the no iron ones need touching up.

Yolanda makes my life work. She comes in three mornings a week, whirlwinds around, and voila! The shirts are ironed, the sheets are changed, the floors are vacuumed. She's worked with me for seven years and is a big part of my life. She needs money. She sends it to her family in Colombia. I have more than affection for Yolanda, I love her as part of my family.

On Friday, I tell her I have had a disastrous thing happen to me, but I don't have the guts to tell her I cannot keep her with me any longer. I'll wait till Wednesday.

... I’ve lived a great and interesting life. I love beautiful things: high thread count sheets, old china, watches, jewelry, Hermes purses, and Louboutin shoes. I like expensive French milled soap, good wines, and white truffles. I have given extravagant gifts like diamond earrings. I traveled a lot. In this last year, I've been Laos, Cambodia, India, Russia, and Berlin for my first solo art show. Will I ever be able to explore exotic places again?

...Yesterday, I took my first subway ride in 30 years. Dennis came with me to show me how to get a MetroCard. The world looks very different from a crowded Lexington Avenue No. 6 train.

Welcome to our world, hon. Now, imagine the far more typical victims of the recent financial sickness -- the many, many people who had far less and have lost what little financial footing they had. It would have been better if Tina Brown had commissioned an essay from your maid.

The Crank advocates life in prison without parole for perpetrators of massive white-collar crimes. That works for me. Short sentences and country-club prisons constitute moral hazard all by themselves.

And, hey, where's the Joe Arpaio for white-collar criminals? You know him -- the showboating Arizona sheriff who

is proud to be called "America's Toughest Sheriff". Elected in 1992, Arpaio oversees the jail in Maricopa County, Arizona. In 1993 Sheriff Joe created Tent City Jail, an immense outdoor facility housing 2,000 inmates near Phoenix. Worked them in chain gangs (both men and women). Dressed them all in striped uniforms and pink underwear. His website brags:

Arpaio doesn't believe in coddling criminals, frequently saying that jails should not be country clubs. He banned smoking, coffee, pornographic magazines, movies and unrestricted television in all jails. He has the cheapest meals in the country too. The average inmate meal costs under 20 cents.

Why do we treat "common" criminals this way and never even dream of doing the same to white-collar crooks?

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