Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Could Henry Blodget Be an Anti-Semite and Not Know It?

I was shocked to read Henry Blodget's latest post on Businessinsider, which asks "Why do some people hate the Jews?"  He tried to soften the blow of this hurtful question by referring to the ridiculous question recently asked on a British religion exam and the hateful anti-Semitic comments posted on his site. Asking why there are anti-Semites only validates the flawed thinking of the haters. It implies that there is a rational reason for anti-Semitism. By using the word "some" instead of idiotic, bigoted weirdos, he has legitimized the haters as mainstream. 

Jewish tradition requires you to answer the question of even the stupid son, so I will attempt to give some reasons why bigoted idiots hate Jews. 

1. People often hate people that are different from them. Except for in the land of Israel, Jews have always been a minority wherever they have lived. 

2.For most of their history, Jews were only permitted to earn a living as moneylenders and banned from most other professions. Banking has always been a misunderstood, reviled occupation partially because no tangible product is produced. The general public has never understood the vital role that money markets play in the economy. To find proof of that, you need not look any further than the current demonization of Wall Street. 

3. There are many Jewish religious traditions, such as wearing a Jewish skullcap called the kippah, that 
have separated us from our fellow countrymen. The Kippah aroused the same hate as the Muslim burka does now.  

4. The Jewish community has remained tight-knit throughout the ages. This has alienated many that have tried to penetrate the group.

5. For much of their existence, Jews have been successful or seen as the aggressor in the case of the Palestinians. It is human nature to root for the underdog.  

6. While there have always been occasional Jewish sport heroes like Sandy Koufax, Jewish sports stars are rare. Sports, more than any other form of entertainment, unite communities. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Shame on Johnny Rockets For Their Fake Patriotism

On this Memorial Day weekend, I thought it was appropriate to mention the shoddy treatment that a serviceman received earlier this month at the Johnny Rockets at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The restaurant boasts of its all American menu. A picture of three soldiers in different uniforms with the slogan,"We Salute You" and the Johnny Rockets logo underneath is prominently displayed on the walls of the many of the chain's restaurants.

Seeing that picture, a soldier, who recently returned from Afghanistan, asked the waiter if Johnny Rockets offered a military discount with a valid military id. He told me that many restaurants offer a 10% and upwards discounts. The waiter answered that Johnny Rockets unfortunately does not offer a discount to serviceman.

Shame on Johnny Rockets for their fake patriotism. The picture should be taken down in all your restaurants unless you are going to offer the troops a discount. You are misleading the public about your support of the troops.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Former Secretary Gates:Iran Most Serious National Security Issue

At SkyBridge Capital's SALT conference, former Defense Secretary Gates was still angry more than a year later that the White House had revealed details about the capture of Bin Laden so quickly.

He said, "You are hitting on a hot button issue for me. When we were in the situation room on May 1, 2011,  I made everybody agree not to reveal the operational details. Everyone-The Justice Department, Homeland Security- promised like teenagers signing a vow in blood. That lasted 5 hours. Eventually all the details, except for the names of the Seals, were leaked. I understand the allure of the public to the blood and gore. Disclosure risks the lives of the men on the front line and hinders cooperation from other countries."

He considers the nuclear threat from Iran to be the most serious danger to national security in his 46 years of public service. He started his hunt for the elusive Iranian moderate when he was an assistant to Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

"The Israelis think that attacking Iran's nuclear program will be easy at the 1981 attack on Osrick reactor in 1981 or the Syrian reactor in 2007. The Iranians are smart. They have dispersed their nuclear program among many sites, most underground. I am not sure that we know where all the sites are."

He continued, "Where Israel and the US disagree on what the Iranian response will be. When they attacked in Iraq, Saddam Hussein did nothing. Syria also did nothing when their nuclear program was attacked. Israel thinks that Iran will send a few rockets and Hezbollah will lob some rockets. I am not sure that will be the response."

He candidly admitted that he did not know what the government's response would be if Israel unilaterally attacked Iran.

"I am assuming that Israel will give us some notice," he said. "While I was in government, we could not decide the response. There was no way to decide what our response will be until we see what happens."

Although he resisted declaring that President Obama had been better to Israel than former President George W. Bush, he did say, "The last two presidents, compared to the six before them, have been the best friends of Israel."

"On a pragmatic security level, Obama has done more for Israel in the last three years than anyone else - helping with the Iron Dome, selling aircraft and missiles," he said.

It seems that the Middle East is always going to be a thorn in America's side. Gates predicts that the next trouble spot will be Pakistan.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Barnes Gala: Norah Jones, Brian Williams, & Pretty Women

Three's Company-Rita Rome, Sidney Kimmel aka John Ritter, and Caroline Kimmel
The 900 guests that paid $5000 a ticket were so eager for the new era of the Barnes to begin that most arrived far earlier than the scheduled 6 30 pm start of the cocktail party. The gala that marked the opening of the Barnes Collection on the Parkway was such a draw that New Yorkers like Ambassador Felix Rohatayn came and former Philadelphians such as Sidney Kimmel returned to be part of the Barnes' special night. Media came from as far away as Japan.

Jazz Guitarists greeted the guests as they entered the campus.

The guests included the architects, Tod Williams and Billy Tsien, and renowned sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, who created the Barnes Totem placed at the entrance of the property, and Governor Tom Corbett and his wife.

Billy Tsien had mixed feelings about attending the gala. Tsien and Williams competed with 24 other architects to get the Barnes commission. "We probably never going to get a commission like this again," said Tsien.

She was happy that I liked that the entrance was on 20th Street and not on the Parkway. "It was controversial to put the entrance on 20th Street. Many people thought the entrance should have been on the Parkway, which is what most museums would have done." she said."We wanted to create a sanctuary."

This picture of Suzanne Roberts displays the tranquility that  museum goers will  feel  upon entering
Having lived in Israel for 10 years, I was proud that part of the building was constructed with two different stones quarried in Israel- limestone from the Negev desert and the world famous Jerusalem stone. Williams said, "When we went to Israel, we knew immediately that we wanted the limestone and especially the Jerusalem stone because it was so warm."

The dinner portion of the evening was held in a specially constructed tent on the Parkway. Paintings from the Barnes collection initially flashed on the screens.While NBC anchor Brian Williams was the MC and Singer Norah Jones was the featured entertainment, the rollicking  Enon Tabernacle Mass Choir stole the show. The black gospel choir was included as a nod to Dr. Barnes. His mother used to take him to hear black gospel music as a child.

The Renoirs on the wall competed for attention with the beautifully dress women at the gala.

The President of Lincoln University Robert Jennings and his wife
Ann Hamilton sharing a secret.

For some like Brian Roberts, Shanin Specter, and Steve Burke, the gala was a place to do business. 
The nicest father-daughter duo in the city-Lindy and Ed Snider

David and Dorothy Binswanger 
Oscar winner Christina Lurie

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Barnes, Breathtaking Impressionist Collection, Reopens

The Barnes Foundation, one of the best art collections in the world, reopened in Philadelphia today. Dr. Alfred Barnes was a passionate collector of Impressionists such as Renoir, Modigliani, Soutine, and Picasso. His collection also including early American furniture and decorative art, ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman paintings, and African sculpture.

The eccentric Barnes bought a 12 acre arboretum in Merion, down the road from his estate Lauraston, to house the collection. Instead of grouping the paintings by artist or even time period as was the custom at the time, the iconoclast placed the 4323 items in the collection according to his own tastes. It was not surprising to tour his galleries and find a Renoir next to a piece of African sculpture. The juxtaposition was part of the appeal. As a kid, I remember thinking that I was helping a rebel get his revenge on Philadelphia society. 

The collection was moved from Merion to Philadelphia, near the Philadelphia Art Museum, so that more people would be able to see it. The controversial move was chronicled in the wonderful documentary, "Art of the Steal". 

The new galleries faithfully replicate the way the pictures were originally hung by Barnes in Merion. My breath was literally taken away by the beauty of the paintings. I lost track of time wandering through the galleries, something I never do. All the paintings looked like they had been cleaned and restored but they hadn't. The new lighting system made the paintings look fresh. 

My main complaint was that the portrait of Dr. Barnes was not given a place of honor at the entrance of the building. I was somewhat disappointed that the architects were not faithful to Barnes vision. Barnes bought an arboretum to house the collection. Yet the outside of the building is dominated not by trees, but a reflecting pool. Ellsworth Kelly's "Barnes Totem" seemed out of place in the home of the man that loved Renoirs.  

Dr. Barnes, the great man himself

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told me that "he was blown away" when seeing the collection in the new building. The building, which cost $200 million dollars, is a wonderful example of a public-private partnership. Only 25% of the funds came from the government. $150 million was raised privately. It was wonderful to see the whole business community support the move to Philadelphia with their checkbooks. 

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts far right, Attorney Steve Harmelin, ARA CEO Joe Neubauer far left

Roberts' wife, Aileen was the Barnes trustee that coordinated the construction of the building. She said,"Everyone, including the construction crew, had a sense that they were building something bigger than themselves." 

In the parlance of Wall Street, I recommend going long the Barnes. During a tour of the galleries, you will feel like you have flown on a magic carpet to Paris. The beauty of the art can't help but transform you.

I have included some of the highlights of the galleries. If you do not see them here, go to http://nakedphiladelphian.blogspot.com/

Ellsworth Kelly's Barnes Totem at the property's entrance
The reflecting pools on the property

Building entrance
The gift shop is loaded with gifts for the person that has everything

A Picasso from the Rose Period
Matisse's "Joy of Life"
One of the new galleries
The dancing figures are on the opposite side of the room
Barnes Trustee Aileen Roberts, the wife of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts

A Henri Rousseau

The Hersha Hospitality Shah Brothers, Charisse Lillie, philanthropist Lynne Honickman

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sarah Palin: This Liberal's New BFF

When I had to chance to interact with former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin at SkyBridge Capital's SALT conference, I was surprised to discover that she is intelligent, nice, knows the name of the newspapers that she reads, and has an elaborate tattoo on her ankle.When I asked if I could take a picture of Palin, she graciously asked if I wanted to take a picture with her knowing I was part of the "lamestream" media.

On the way home from the SALT conference, I ran into her at the airport. She was walking behind me and called out to me. Since airport security was escorting her, she did not have to say hello. Even though, they wanted to help her with her bag, she insisted on rolling it on her own. She offered to take another picture at the airport with me. She was the opposite of the prima donna that she has been portrayed to be. When I was walking to my seat in coach, I saw her talking to her seat mate.

Palin is even more beautiful in person. There is never a hair out of place. She is always perfectly dressed for the occasion. She was dressed in all black -leather jacket, shirt, skirt- but tan 6 inch sandals that showed off her tattoo. At the airport, she looked smoking hot in a short dress and Bristol's cowboy boots.

While I do not agree with her positions on the Affordable Care Act and abortion, it is pretty clear that she has been unfairly maligned by the press. I have to wonder if some of the reaction is because she is a pretty woman.

It was easy to unlock the mystery of Palin's newspaper reading habits. When I told Palin that I had written for the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and Globes in Israel, she responded without hesitation, "I get the headlines from the Jerusalem Post delivered to my inbox daily. I also look at the Times of Israel."

The Times of Israel is a fairly new site, financed by billionaire Seth Klarman and edited by David Horowitz formerly of the Jerusalem Post, with a right of center viewpoint. Many Jews are not yet familiar with the Times of Israel yet, so that she named it tells me that Palin is looking for reliable news from the Middle East and regularly reads newspapers.

Some of the SkyBridge conference attendees were going to boycott her speech. To me, they are just as ignorant as they claim her to be. The conference organizer, Anthony Scaramucci, had the right answer for protesters -"Get over it."

She did make a foreign policy mistake during her prepared remarks. Palin wrongly criticized the Obama administration for military interference in Egypt and Libya but not Iran and Syria. Obama only utilized his bully pulpit at all. The protesters in Tahrir Square achieved the downfall of former President Mubarak all by themselves without any outside interference. Clearly, Palin's expertise is not foreign affairs.

Palin spends a lot of time hunting and fishing. While I know my Arab states, I could not hook bait on a fishing rod. We can not label as unintelligent  those that do not share our interests.

Having grown up hearing in the financial industry's mantra of "what did you do for me today," I was a little bored listening to recite 3 year old tales of her gubernatorial fiscal restraint. I did perk up when described the $47000 killer shrub. If she is going to continue to be relevant, she will need to come up with new material. Jokes about the GSA will only take you so far.

Her calling of the 1 percenters in the room "unsung heroes" made me queasy, but all Republicans worship the rich. Embattled Harbinger Capital's Phil Falcone, whose major investment is bankrupt LightSquared, is not my idea of a hero.

She is still defensive about the bad press. At one point, she said, "I can really see Russia from my house."

She reminded the audience, "I had four days to prepare to go on the international stage." Even though I am in the news business, I do not always have time to read newspapers and watch newscasts. Sarah Palin is a busy mother of five that likes to spend her free time hunting and fishing not watching television. That does not mean she is not intelligent. It just may mean that she is not as well informed as news junkies are.

When Scarmucci of SkyBridge Capital threw her the softball question of what is your greatest accomplishment to date, Sarah froze and could not come up with an answer. On the other hand, she gave a beautiful answer to her three guests at a dinner party. She would catch and cook beer battered halibut on Mother's day for her son, who would be home from Afghanistan; Abraham Lincoln, whose Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from Russia; and author C. S. Lewis.

Palin is clearly intelligent. She is just not glib. John Edwards is glib, but I think that can all agree not very smart. We as a society have to decide which is the more important attribute for a politician to possess-glib or smart.

My prediction is that Palin will be a major force in the Republican Party for years to come. She has a good grasp of the issues that she cares about and knows how to frame them in a way that Middle America understands.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Maroon 5 Live from the SALT Conference

Adam Levine performing on stage at the SALT Conference at the Bellagio Hotel

Before Maroon 5 took the stage, SkyBridge's Scaramucci asked for everyone's attention for 4 minutes so he could show a film highlighting the featured charities of the new charitable foundation that Skybridge Capital created. The charities were Charity:Water (www.charitywater.org), Network for teaching entrepreneurship, and Warrior Gateway (www.warriorgateway.org). 100% of the money raised last night goes directly to benefit the charities.

He called the film "our penance" for spending the rest of the night rocking out. Third Point's Dan Loeb, Starwood's Barry Sternlicht,Alexandra Lebenthal from the old bond firm of the same name, andTodd Thomson, late of Citigroup, were among those that were boogying late into the night.

SALT Conference: Rove and Gibbs Almost Come to Blows

Being a little hung over from last night's terrific Maroon 5 concert, you can forgive me for thinking that I walked into the Roman Coliseum instead of a discussion between Republican mastermind Karl Rove and long time Obama advisor Robert Gibbs at the SkyBridge Capital's SALT Conference. Rove kept hitting Gibbs over the head with the demand that President Obama make a public statement that attacks on Romney's Mormon religion are off limits. Obama has already made a similar statement about the families of candidates.

He said, "The president should tell his followers to stop talking about his weird beliefs and underwear."

Gibbs weakly insisted, "The President never talks about Romney religion."

As a seasoned political observer, the amount of time that Rove spent on the weird Mormonism theme tells me two things. Their polling indicates that Romney is losing lost of votes due to his religion. Even though everyone says the election is about the economy and the room was filled with financial experts, the Republicans really do not have an economic message, except the tired old one of tax cuts.

Rove also wanted to know why the President has not returned the $1 million check of Bill Maher, who has been accused of misogynistic comments.

Gibbs, trying to skirt the issue, answered, "The President condemns those comments." He further asserted that a candidate can not be responsible for all the comments of his supporters.

At the beginning of the session, the two political pros discussed Obama's decision this week to openly support gay marriage.

Gibbs said, "The President has been thinking about this for a long time."

Rove immediately shot down that theory. "The President came out earlier on this issue than he wanted because Biden screwed up, like he always does. He wanted to drag this out for another 18 months for political advantage. This could hurt him among the Catholics, whom are a large part of the swing vote. If he was going to come out, why did he come out the day after the North Carolina vote against gay marriage. The gay marriage advocates there must be asking where was he yesterday."

Both political strategists agree that it will be close election. 7-8% of the voters in 11 swing states will decide the election. Putting it other way,  hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on advertising to change the minds of a few voters.

Rove surprised me by asking why the American taxpayer should pay for the healthcare of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. If a Democratic had asked the same question, it would have been called class warfare. His comment indicates the Republicans might be open to having the rich pay their fair share, the four letter word of this campaign.

Gibbs also acknowledged that entitlements will have to be cut.

This round of the "Hunger Games" went to the feisty Karl Rove. The Democrats have to learn to fight with their elbows. Although he had been Obama's press secretary, Gibbs was not effective at delivering the president's message.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SALT Conference: Maroon 5, Sarah Palin, and Much More

After last year's SALT conference's speaker roster included former President George W. Bush, Colin Powell, former Senator Chris Dodd, Obama advisor David Axelrod,  and hedge fund managers Steve Cohen, Citadel's Ken Griffith, and Dan Loeb, I did not think that Skybridge Capital's Anthony Scaramucci would be able to present as dynamic a conference. I was wrong.

Some of this year's speakers are Sarah Palin; Nobel Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore; the irascible T. Boone Pickens; former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Harbinger 's Phil Falcone and Third Point's Dan Loeb, two hedge funders that have been grabbing headlines this week. The SEC is giving an off the record session about regulation. Maroon 5 will be giving a private concert headlining Wednesday's night of philanthropy.

A night of philanthropy is part of Scaramucci's holistic approach to conferences. Like a good Jewish mother, he tried to remind those in the audience, who have been fortunate, that they should give back to their community.

Some of the conference attendees include legendary investor Leon Cooper, who called me sweetie; and Emanuel Friedman, the former head of Friedman Billings and Ramsay; and president of ASA Gold, David Christensen. Apparently no one can refuse Scaramucci.

Friedman, who now runs a $2 billion hedge fund, told me, " I could not say no to Anthony, Skybridge has $100 million with me."

Some highlights from the speakers:

Morgan Stanley Chief Investment Strategist David Darst: Politicians are going to have to make tough decisions. He praise the job that current Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu did as finance minister because he slashed welfare and government employee pension benefits. He recommended "Start Up Nation," a book about the Israeli hi tech scene. He also described visiting Occupy Wall Street in his three piece suits on the way to his CNBC appearances

Star economist Nouriel Roubini: AA ratings are the new size 6

Wharton Professor Jeremy Siegel: It is the 1950's all over again.

Phil Falcone, who is more thoughtful and low key than press accounts would lead you to believe:
is very concerned about liquidity. He is looking to raise permanent capital. Regulation is hurting the markets. He would recommend the quasi public stocks that he holds in his portfolio.

In general. the speakers, so far, think that Obama is going to win reelection and gold is going up.