Categories
Criticism Financial Crisis Holy Cross

Profiling Holy Cross Grad Mark Walsh

Devin Leonard for the Times wrote this weekend about Mark Walsh, formerly of Lehman Brothers. The article portrays him as one of Wall Street’s top deal makers whose decisions were one of the major factors that led directly to the fall of the bank. Yet the article is also strangely positive in describing Walsh. 

What stood out for me most were the numerous connections Walsh has to me. As the article describes his brief biography:

Mr. Walsh grew up in Yonkers, the son of a lawyer who once served as chairman of the New York City Housing Authority. He attended Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle; the College of the Holy Cross, where he majored in economics; and, finally, the Fordham University School of Law.

And then a bit later:

He bankrolled Tishman Speyer in its purchase of the Chrysler Building in 1997.

I am a fellow alumnus of Holy Cross – a fact which by itself causes me to be irrationally positive about individuals, from Chris Matthews to Bob Cousy to Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau. He also went to Fordham Law – which is one of the schools I am considering. And I currently work in the Chrysler Building. All tenuous connections, but enough to make me root for the guy.

Of course, it’s hard to get around the damning nature of this reporting:

[I]t wasn’t long before Mr. Walsh found a way to do an even bigger deal with Mr. Speyer’s company. In May 2007, Lehman and Tishman Speyer offered to buy Archstone-Smith Trust, a $22 billion deal struck at the peak of an already dangerously frothy market. Tishman Speyer put up a mere $250 million of its own equity. Lehman, in a 50-50 partnership with Bank of America, put up $17.1 billion of debt and $4.6 billion in bridge equity financing.

The most enlightening aspect of the article were the way in which it spotlighted the oddness of what was going on. Leonard describes one of Walsh’s biggest clients pulling out his money saying that:

 [T]he real estate market — and, indeed, the entire financial system behind it — was becoming increasingly bizarre.

In an example of this from 1997 – well before this observation – Leonard describes one of Walsh’s coups – how he managed to steer Lehman clear of the financial crisis resulting from the failure of Long Term Capital Management that Nassim Nicholas Taleb had predicted at the time:

On the eve of the financial crisis brought by the near collapse of Long Term Capital Management in 1998, Lehman flushed $3.6 billion in commercial real estate loans through its securitization machine, avoiding some of the losses that crippled other firms, including Nomura and Credit Suisse.

I hate to say it – but I have no idea what that means. And that’s not unintional – at least according to a lecture given by Financial Times reporter Gillian Tett at the London School of Economics. (A lecture very much worth listening to – and which I will blog about later.)

But to demonstrate the oddly positive take on Walsh, here’s how Leonard concludes his piece:

His friends say they believe that Mr. Walsh will eventually emerge from the rubble of Lehman’s collapse and return to deal-making.

“Guys like this are very rare,” says Mr. Rosen, the developer. “He’ll be back. He picked up the phone and people listen. Nobody can take that away from him.”

Back in the game perhaps – but hopefully a bit wiser.

Categories
Election 2008 Obama

That Better Place Around the Bend


[Obama announcing his bid for the presidency in 2007.]

[digg-reddit-me]It’s funny to think of how much the pundits were complaining about how the convention speakers weren’t going after McCain before tonight. All that worrying. Yet, now, the plan is clear – all these other speakers were supposed to build Obama up – and then, Obama was supposed to tee off on McCain himself – at the moment of maximum publicity.

The Corner over at the National Review is sniping – nitpicking. They have pronounced the speech “LAME,” “Same old same old of the last two decades,” “pie-eyed utopianism,” “a September 10th convention,” and “This is not a great speech, and it is not a great delivery.” For the coup de grace, Kathryn Jean Lopez suggests “Maybe McCain shouldn’t speak next week and replay this instead?

With that type of response, it’s a wonder the Republicans haven’t been run out of town. Talk about out-of-touch. Or perhaps, these comments are better understood as the rationalizations of the captain of a sinking ship – trying to convince his crew to keep doing their jobs, and the band to keep playing.

Barack Obama gave, tonight, not his best speech – and not his best delivered speech – although it was delivered well and was a great speech. Because of it’s ambition, it could not be perfect. Instead of small perfection – like Obama’s keynote address in 2004 – it was a broad vision, with specific detail, responding to all of the charges thrown against him, and striking at the perceived strengths of his opponent while praising his past opponents and calling on the best in America. It was exactly the speech he needed – accomplishing so much without overstretching. It was truly remarkable.

MSNBC made some headlines for it’s on and off-air catfights recently, but Chris Matthews summarized the highlights and the genius of the speech well in the immediate aftermath:

Keith Olberman: I’d love to find something to criticize about it. Got anything?

Chris Matthews: No. I’ll be criticized for saying he inspires me, but to hell with my critics…I think what he said was about us; and that’s why we care about what he said. It was not about an ego – it was about a country. And when he said it at the end, he really challenged the country to make a decision. He said our strength is not in our money or our military or even our culture – he said it’s the American spirit, the American promise that pushes us forward even when the  path is uncertain. It binds us together in spite our differences; it makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but in what is unseen – that better place around the bend. That is America. And I think that is the challenge. It is an open challenge to the hearts and minds of the country. They can choose him or the other guy. It’s an open election.

But what he was saying is choosing the unknown is what we did when we picked Roosevelt; it’s what happened the country chose Reagan; it’s what they chose when they chose Clinton; oftentimes you have to take the unknowable and move away from the unacceptable. And in this case he’s saying: ‘Place your bets on the 90% not the 10%’ where McCain disagrees with Bush.

I thought it was an amazing..but…I’ve written speeches all my life, of course nothing like this. Let me tell you what was great about it. What he did was – and it’s a military practice – it’s called attacking from a defensive position. It’s how Henry won in Agincourt; it’s how Alexander won; it’s how Reagan kicked the butt of Jimmy Carter. And what you do is this: you take your opponent’s best shot and throw it back at him.

Are we a nation of whiners? If this is an ownership society, you own your failure. Was my upbringing a celebrity’s upbringing? If you’re going to follow Bin Laden to the gates of hell, how about going to his cave and getting him? And how dare you say this election is a test of patriotism when we’re all in this together? It was a great way of throwing back the other side’s best shot and saying it’s full of crap.

Politically, it was a remarkable performance. Now we see if the McCain campaign and the Republican noise machine can match him – or at least neutralize him and his message. “Class warfare!” they will say, because he spoke of how the tax code penalizes work; “Tax and spend” they will say because he want to fix our nation’s failing infrastructure. They will paint him as weak on national security – despite his pledge to build up our military and defend our nation’s interests. They will call the same plays as they have for the past three decade.

I pray that enough of us will choose something better – will choose the unknown over the unacceptable – will choose to find that better place around the bend.

Categories
Criticism Holy Cross Humor Obama Politics The Media

Chris Matthews: Entertaining Bloviation

Mark Leibovich has a long piece in this weekend’s New York Times profiling Chris Matthews, bloviator extraordinaire and Holy Cross grad. This last fact is especially relevant because I tend to have a slightly irrational affection for prominent Holy Cross grad. 1 Chris Matthews is no exception. Despite the attacks on him from various liberal sources including Media Matters and despite the fact that a number of liberal thinkers I admire point to Chris Matthews as exemplifying what is worst and most destructive in today’s media, I still like the guy. Of course – I don’t quite buy the premise – let’s call it the Glenn Greenwald premise – the blames the media more than any other source for our dysfunctional politics. I’ll be writing more about that as time goes on.

I’m a big fan of Mr. Greenwald – and even as I agree with most of the individual points he makes, and with his overall view of the larger political dysfunction, I disagree with the central thesis – of his blog and apparently his new book. I plan on reading his book in the next few weeks and posting my thoughts.

But for the moment, let’s appreciate one of the more entertaining characters in cable news, Chris Matthews, with a few excerpts from the Times piece:

There is a level of solipsism about Matthews that is oddly endearing in its self-conscious extreme, even by the standards of television vanity…

Sometimes during commercial breaks, Matthews will boast to Olbermann of having restrained himself during the prior segment. “And I reward him with a grape,” Olbermann says…

“I remember we were out hitchhiking once,” O’Regan told me. Matthews started arguing about Nixon and Vietnam. “It was just like watching his show today. Chris would ask a question, then he would answer it himself and then the person was invited to comment on Chris’s answer to his own question…”

By contrast, Matthews has called Obama “bigger than Kennedy” and compared the success of his campaign to “the New Testament.” His reviews of Obama’s speeches have been comically effusive at times, as when he described “this thrill going up my leg” after an Obama victory speech. (“Steady,” Olbermann cautioned him on the air.)

  1. For those unaware, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA is my alma mater. []