Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fluffy Pink Peonies

The Shoreline Times, a newspaper in Connecticut, covered a book promo/signing by Martha Stewart in its June 12 edition:

Fashion sense abounded wherever Stewart, the leading lady of good taste, tread. Dressed in her signature, non-fussy style...she sported a fresh, neat linen top and crisp pants, sandals, and perfectly coiffed blonde hair. Looking trim and fashionable, she took a seat at a table that bookstore hosts seemingly arranged straight out of one of her interior design books. The greeting area was graced with a vase of fluffy pink peonies (that Stewart admired prior to the signing), bottles of trendy spring water, an array of pastel pens, and in the background, a colorful billboard of the book cover. A small entourage of her assistants stood nearby.

And her readers came out -- they came for cupcakes and they came for Martha.

Front page with two color photos, one of which took up half the page. Anyone not understand why newspapers are dying?

Or maybe I've got it wrong. Maybe newspapers haven't been running enough stories like this. The problem could be too much straight coverage, too many boring and confusing dispatches from faraway places ending in "an."

Separate issue: This is someone who did felony jail time, was barred by the SEC from running a public company, and was banned from entering the U.K. just last year. Her company's stock is down 92% from its high. She's part of an era defined by a lack of ethics on Wall Street and in corporate America. And we're still getting front page articles like the one above and seeing photos like this. Is there really enough pain and revulsion out there?

The question is actually an important one for the investment community, where there's a debate about whether the past few months represent a short-lived bounce or a new bull market. I think an important condition for the latter would be a new model of public conduct with attendant consequences and, most importantly, shame. I've long felt that we lost this sometime during the Clinton years. To the extent that's true, is it a coincidence that earlier this year the stock market was at the same level as it was in the mid-1990's?

Until a new paradigm of accountability governs public and particularly corporate affairs, with articles about cupcakes and fluffy pink peonies the first casualty, this country will continue to disappoint those who invest in it financially and spiritually.


Blogger DrDave said...

Until a new paradigm of accountability governs public and particularly corporate affairs, with articles about cupcakes and fluffy pink peonies the first casualty, this country will continue to disappoint those who invest in it financially and spiritually.

I don't know about the flowers and cupcakes but as for all the rest, don't hold your breath.

It seems to me that if we were going to see a new paradigm of accountability, it would be accompanied by the issuing of summonses and arrest warrants for those complicit in creating the current disaster. If you hear about the Feds heading to Wall Street to round up some suspects, that might be cause for hope. Until then, business as usual.

6/16/2009 7:05 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Maybe it's that she served her time, maybe it's that many thought the charges were trumped up, maybe it's that her crime of *just* six figure larceny is a pittance compared to the more recent frauds that have so far gone unpunished....

She's like Kenny Rogers* who merely doctored a baseball in the World Series, versus the Maguires, Bonds, Sosas, A-Roids, et al who destroyed the game.

* http://tinyurl.com/yhb7bh

6/16/2009 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Tony. She did not make her money running scams on Wall St. She got caught lying to the feds, for this she went to jail. She did her time, and has never whined about it.

Meanwhile we have AIG scam-artists bringing in $700k bonuses then whining that people are calling them bad names.

boo hoo


6/16/2009 8:22 AM  
Anonymous rapier said...

At least Martha did her time, did her penance and with that got some absolution. I don't actually believe that has anything to do with it for her fans but in the big picture it means a little something. Far too little admittedly.

Except for Maddoff and Lay there is not a single person who is worth plus $100 million who would not be ass kissed, fluffed and deferred to by 99% of Americans. Americans love the rich or at least will prostrate themselves before it every single time. In hopes of getting a piece of it themselves. Never forget that Capone was popular in Chicago. Rare was the public figure not to mention an average citizen who would not shake his hand and smile.

6/16/2009 9:20 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Is there really enough pain and revulsion out there?

Yes, but the investment community has been largely shielded from it.

6/16/2009 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To compare one bandit favorably with others ignores the point that our sense of outrage has vanished.

I really can't blame Stewart. Sure, she's a phony image. But she's just workin' it,at will stay at it as long as they keep lining up for more Martha at feeding time. She is more a mirror, however, than an image.

6/16/2009 10:38 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Someone brought up Capone. All these criminals acquire a popular culture persona, and Stewart is no different. Capone was revered for "stickin to the man" and many thought his crimes were victimless-- drugs and prostitution-- he only killed other criminals. Surely fellow Italians viewed his persona that way, and he gave fellow Italians jobs with income in an era when signs read "WOPS need not apply."

The same goes for Stewart... she beat the good ol' boys at their own game and they got mad and sent their up the river. And that is bow many view her.

6/16/2009 11:08 AM  
Anonymous KAIMU said...


This goes beyond Martha and even Wall Street. Was it NOT an even greater crime for 58,000 American kids to die in Vietnam when officially the US CONgress did not even have the balls to declare a WAR? When was the last time the US CONgress declared a WAR? Or even debated one?

Fast forward to Bush2, who himself was one notch above a DRAFT DODGER during Vietnam and Cheney who was totally 4F, yet these two send bunkerbusters into a sovereign nation, Iraq. Recall that at one time when it suited our agenda Saddam Hussein was our best buddy! So was Bin Laden ... We could not ship enough high tech weapons to these guys fast enough ... Jeez, wasn't Bin Laden and Reagan on the cover of TIME? Saddam was ... Although we Americans will swear up and down that a human life is priceless, it seems our Foreign Policy dictates the complete opposite. Water boarding anyone? To hear Bush and Cheney talk of this torture is practically a TV ad for "Slip N Slide"! So two DRAFT DODGERS approve water boarding ... And they get re-elected to boot and now OBAMA seems bent on pushing this "Democracy" into Pakistan, but they are no longer "terrorists" they are now the more PC term "peace challenged"! What's his new terminology for the WAR ON TERROR? The WAR ON PEOPLE WHO DON'T EAT AT MCDONALDS"? Oh my God ... when will the "hack" ever cease? Mr. George Orwell, I hope you can see all this from up there!

NO ... NO ... "The long train of abuses ..." That phrase comes from the US Declaration Of Independence. Google it and read the whole thing. That is our Right as Americans, only now the main Rights most Americans covet is the Right to watch American Idol. Luckily our Founding Fathers did not have to revolt against England now ... "Hey ... ENGLANDS GOT TALENT is on ... give it a rest TJ! Chill out and have another Heiney Tommy Boy!"

We have the CONSTITUTIONAL LAW on our side as WE THE PEOPLE, but unless we stand up to the "long train of abuses" we never will see Justice and quite frankly I believe our Freedoms will erode even further, until our only Right left will be our Right to pay taxes!

Look in the mirror if you want to see whose fault this all is ... If you VOTE "doormat" you get treated like one!

CHANGE ... that will come when the two party aristocracy are no longer a viable choice at the voting booth.


6/16/2009 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

Sorry if I offend TCR's conservative sensibilities with this...

...but I disagree that we lost the sense of national shame during the Clinton years. He's to blame for many things -- including things that are still biting us in the @$$ this very minute, such as Glass-Steagall repeal and Welfare "reform" -- but even in those cases, the Clinton administration merely took brazenness to a new level. The shame was already gone.

If I had to guess, I'd say Oliver North was the last and final victim of national public shame, and he's not even doing that badly today. Forget about Martha Stewart, remember that Ollie North was convicted of lying publicly to Congress yet today he's considered a highly paid "expert" by certain major media houses. If we had any sense of shame or accountability at all, nobody would trust anything that guy says. To say nothing of all his co-conspirators who were appointed to various high offices during Bush I and II.

It's just a personal opinion, but I would trace the death of shame and accountability to the way that Republicans continued to lionize Ronald Reagan as a national hero, after he admitted he was "out of the loop" on all kinds of enormously consequential foreign policy black ops, and he admitted he could barely remember who he met with or what he heard at those meetings. So much for "the buck stops here".

Then when Congress saw how half the nation ecstatically lauded Reagan for conducting his policy against their wishes and behind their backs, it was probably the beginning of the end for Congress's oversight role, and Congress became merely a blatant partisan instrument for whichever majority party's propaganda. _NOT_ that Congress was any great shakes before that; but I think that was a transformative moment for the country.

6/16/2009 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Daulton response above.

Out of all the crud on Wall Street and the other corruption, like Oliver North, this is what gets in your craw. I suppose I understand, I have a hard time even looking at the picture, not to mention read, Henry Blodget stuff at Huffingtonpost.com. I once contacted Nightingale-Conant why they were still promoting books and tapes by a convicted felon and they said they sell. This person is on late night infomercials today, surrounded by 4 blond women (one's a playboy bunny), selling something else. Icks. And, is a millionaire. At an investment event, I overheard a couple talk about the Beardstown Ladies and their books and tapes. They did nothing illegal, but none the less they were proven wrong, but the momentum kept going. This couple said that didn't change anything. Their message helped them change their own lives.

The mantra of the 80/90's was probably a version of 'greed is good, anything goes as long as you make money'. I think today it is, 'It is easier to apologize, than ask (or do right the first time).' There is one problem. Life goes on. This is America, where if we try harder we can do better, even if we make mistakes. Hopefully, it's an opportunity to do something positive and not become a career crook. Don't you think Stewart is doing something positive?

Newspapers are failing because they have become useless. Worse, cheerleaders. They forgot what business they were in and who their customers were. I want them to do better, but they have failed us. If they actually did their job we would not have had a bubble economy for the past 30 years, a political system wouldn't be so corrupt and broken, and we wouldn't have started a war in Iraq on lies.

In retrospect, Bette Milder said it seems like Johnny Carson was the last person everyone in the Nation didn't dislike. Maybe it's because we are so judgmental, that we have lost perspective. I'd say religion has a lot to do with that, but we've always had religion. They are much nastier today though. I've always considered myself an Independent, but it seems a lot of this stuff, divisive/mean/hyperbole, came out of the Republican party. They have become the ugly party, just to win. They will go bonkers if a Republican doesn't follow the party line. But worse, if a Republican does something, ignore it, but if a nonRepublican does it, jump all over it; call out all resources. Maybe it's the Right that can't point out the "bad", especially on themselves, because they are doing it or they want something. Reagan was right about one thing, "trickle down". But it's the ethics and morality that trickled.

6/16/2009 2:32 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Never forget that Capone was popular in Chicago.

Yeah, he handed out nickels to small children and sponsored a couple of soup kitchens here.

6/16/2009 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Goldhorder said...

Martha Stewart was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors. She wasn't even under oath at the time. She was trying to protect her stock broker. Her stock broker called and told her to sell all her imclone stock. She okd that trade. The stock broker was acting on insider info. He broke the law. Martha didn't. The only thing martha did wrong was to lie for her stock broker. She agreed to answer questions without a lawyer. If she would have brought a lawyer that day she wouldn't have spent a day in jail. Never answer questions without a good lawyer. Everybody thinks Martha was convicted on financial charges....totally false. She was only convicted on perjury charges. She was easy non-politically connected fruit for the pickings...to show all you brain dead losers who are too lazy to check the facts...how they really are tough regulators. Home many banksters have gone on trial yet?

6/16/2009 7:09 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

Just to amplify what I said, there are plenty of other reasons to loathe Martha Stewart besides the stock market stuff, so I am agnostic about whether she deserves to be signing books for adoring fans. Feel free to "roast" her, at 378 degrees for precisely 48.6 minutes. :)

But to carbon-date the exact moment of the loss of a national sense of shame and accountability, contrast the situation of Oliver North with that of G. Gordon Liddy. Both of them broke the law in the service of an Administration that was trying to subvert the Constitution. But a few decades later, Liddy is a small-time radio host that even many conservative Republicans consider a crank and a fringe character. Whereas Ollie North has what is undoubtedly a six-figure gig on a major media channel and millions of adoring fans. I've spoken to some.

Somewhere between Liddy's crime and North's crime, the nation lost its sense of shame. It happened much earlier than the 90's.

6/16/2009 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Ed said...

I see this as more evidence for an emerging national consensus to pretend that 2008 didn't happen.

6/16/2009 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Inthon said...

Tony nailed it... she was a high-profile failure

Honestly, TCR, let's hear you speak some more about TALF/CPFF and all the rest.

THOSE asset "managers" (hah!) are the real welfare queens. They did no DD and then they are bailed out when their losses catch up to them.

6/16/2009 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On about Martha again, are you? She at least provides a good product. Her magazine is first class and her old shows are classics.

Shame? Michael Milliken and Ivan Boesky may have kept a low profile after getting out of prison but they weren't ostracized in business community, were they? If anything, their success encouraged a twenty-year crime spree on Wall Street.

But not everyone is waking up to fluffy pink stories about Martha.

Newsday published the first of a series of stories about the heroin epidemic on Long Island last Sunday.

I personally know of a lovely, fairly wealthy family who is suffering dearly because their 19-year old daughter got hooked on heroin in high school.

Afghanistan, anyone?

6/17/2009 12:23 AM  
Blogger The Prudent Investor said...

Who else got jailed for such peanut size insider trading? Please name 3 men.

6/17/2009 2:38 PM  
Anonymous gypsy howell said...

Sorry to say it happened earlier than the 1980s. You can trace the moment when we lost all shame and honor to September 8, 1974, when Ford pardoned Nixon for his crimes against the Constitution. All republican malfeasance and lawbreaking in the ensuing decades emanates from that moment. Funny how the same nefarious cast of characters is still around, surviving through Reagan, Bush I and Bush II.

Reagan's anti-government, anti-regulation crusade made the world safe for the Wall Street criminals today, of which Martha is the smallest of small potatoes in the world of offenders. She did her time, and she actually produces something nice for the world (maybe not terribly useful, but nice). More than I can say for the rest of them.

6/17/2009 3:13 PM  
Anonymous judyo said...

Gypsy nailed it.
However, if you've read "Family of Secrets", you'll have been introduced to some convincing arguments that Nixon was "had".

6/17/2009 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, is this really important? Who cares about Martha Stewart? There are much bigger fish that the SEC just ignores or is paid to look the other way for. Don't hear anything about that? Just stupid Martha.

6/17/2009 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish we'd hold these types accountable too. It is really amazing whether financial or environmental how we treat others and other things. Like the ending of the movie Sahara, these executives should be required to live, eat, breath, and drink in the very environment they created.

EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana

"EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared a public health emergency in the town of Libby, Montana, where hundreds of people have died from asbestos contamination. It is the first time such a declaration has been made by the EPA. For decades, W.R. Grace and Co. mined asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in Libby. Last month, executives from W.R. Grace were acquitted on charges of knowingly allowing Libby residents to be exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. The EPA said it will funnel $6 million to provide medical care for people sickened by asbestos from the mine."

6/18/2009 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Chad said...

Most of the time I'm on the Realist's side, but I don't see the problem with Stewart. She served her time and is now back selling doillies and such.

If she had and was currently working for Goldman, Citi, etc. or had gotten away with it, then I would agree there might be some merit to the Realist's arguement.

I wouldn't buy a stock or mutual fund off of her, but a cookbook doesn't seem foolish. If she had poisoned someone I might think twice about the cookbook.

Plus, are all law breakes supposed to be homeless and destitute after they serve their time? Or, should we just send them all to NYC and let Snake Plissken rescue the president when the envitable airplane crash occurs?

Snake Plissken: [radioing a pullout request] All right, get your machine ready, I'm coming out.
Bob Hauk: 18 hours, Plissken!
Snake Plissken: Listen to me, Hauk. The President is dead, you got that? Somebody's had him for dinner!

6/18/2009 12:32 PM  

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