Monday, December 20, 2010


If you Google Joseph A. Smith Jr., you will find scant mention of the North Carolina Commissioner on Banks, which is ironic because he has been appointed by the Obama Administration to help decide what to do about the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac crises beginning in January.

While the media ponders such noble questions like whether the Republican Majority leader cries publicly too much or not, Mr. Smith will be tackling a problem of such magnitude that it is foolish to think his decisions will not affect our children and grandchildren. The government mortgage guarantee system has been in place one way or another since Franklin Roosevelt. Both Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson made changes to the system that still ripple down to us fifty years later. The overhaul of this system, one could argue, has more far reaching consequences in the everyday lives of Americans than the war now going on, but try to prove that based on media coverage!

By Sam DelPresto

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Internets

This is why the internet was invented, isn’t it? According to The Belfast Telegraph, an Irishman has found a clip in Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 black and white movie, “The Circus”, that pretty clearly shows a woman passing in the background of a scene talking on a cell phone. The obvious and immediate conclusion drawn from this piece of film is that she is, in fact, some sort of time traveler. While that was not my first reaction to the film, I admit that to the modern viewer, the woman could be doing little else. The fact that within a few hours, the “hypothesis” had been refuted, will have little to do with the “legs” of the story. In our modern age, it is the story that matters, not whether the story is true or not. Trying to find out what is happening in the world using the internet, however, is like trying to find out what time it is by watching the second hand on a clock.

By Sam DelPresto

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize

It seems to me that the best thing the Nobel Peace Prize can do is to promote peace. That sounds simplistic, I’m sure, but the recent award to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident, fills that criteria. By shining a light on the imprisonment of this fifty-four year old dissident who has made it his life’s work to promote personal freedoms in China, the Nobel committee has drawn much needed attention to his plight. In a statement that reeks of walking-on-eggs diplomacy, President Obama called for more personal freedom in China where reforms have not kept pace with its economic growth. China, for its part, has implored the world to look at them as the leaders who have lifted millions from poverty – the absence of personal freedoms a trifling by-product. Time will tell if the prize helps or hurts Xiaobo’s personal plight. It is unlikely that he even knows he won the prize, and his wife has been made “unavailable for comment”. But, I think the Nobel committee was right on with this one.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Aiming for the Center

I applaud New York’s Mayor Bloomberg for the announcement of his intention to help bolster the political center. With the angry and divisive tea party and Sarah Palin garnering so much media attention, it is refreshing to see someone of Bloomberg’s stature trying to be a voice of sanity and moderation. The mayor’s announcement coincides with former President Bill Clinton’s statement that “the Republican party is far enough right to make George W Bush appear liberal.” It is a time of perilously antagonistic politics. I like that Bloomberg is openly supporting both Republicans and Democrats. That type of position can only get the focus back on the issues and not just the ideology. I would really like to think that Bloomberg’s motivation is purely altruistic, and not, as his detractors say, merely a ploy to position himself for a run at the presidency in the next election. But for the time being, at least, he has my support.

By Sam DelPresto

Monday, September 20, 2010


Prepare yourself for the second coming of Prohibition. Not the actual feeble government attempt of the 1920’s, but an onslaught of shows and books about it. On top of the list is the recently released “Last Call,The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” by Daniel Okrent, . This book is the basis for much of the forthcoming Ken Burns’s PBS series on Prohibition. The book is a fascinating read about not just the criminal response to Prohibition that has become so much a part of the American historical tapestry, but also of the well intentioned people who managed to get a constitutional amendment passed in the first place to initiate it. For those who love politics for the sake of politics, it is a must read. Just as a teaser, let me tell you Carl Rove did not invent anything new. And if you can’t get enough of the “lore,” HBO will present a new series, “Boardwalk Empire” that will be digging in once again to that fertile narrative source. For whatever reason, Hollywood can’t get enough of this stuff, and apparently, neither can we.

By Sam DelPresto

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Strange Bedfellows

Here in New Jersey, the governor has announced his intention of taking over the Atlantic City casino and entertainment district. Not since the end of Prohibition has a government eyed more greedily income from sources they once considered unsavory. I’m skeptical that the state government can do a better job than the pros., and it just doesn’t sit well with me. It’s too close on the heels of the revelations that exposed many on Wall Street as little more than gamblers who bet on derivatives using other people’s money. It brings to mind an Ambrose Bierce quote, “The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.”

By Sam DelPresto

Monday, July 19, 2010


It’s over. Lebron has signed with the Miami Heat. I tried a self imposed media blackout to see how long it would take before the news reached me. My sources tell me that Lebron was instrumental in capping the gushing BP oil well in the gulf coast. Also, according to a source that must remain nameless, the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas, has announced that it will resume talks with Israel now that the uncertainty of Lebron’s free agency is over. With his trusty sidekicks, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, he is on his way to Pakistan to calm the rebel leaders before heading over to Afghanistan to meet with Taliban officials suddenly eager for peace now that the NBA situation is more stable. So, I can understand all the hype.

I can only hope that Bret Farvre can lend a hand.

By Sam DelPresto

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


As a white male of European descent, it is not often that I find myself in the minority anywhere I might wander. But I did this past weekend. Oddly enough, it was not in a place I expected to be a minority. Many of you are picturing a lot of stereotypical situations where I might have strayed. But it was not where you think. I was at a college graduation at a highly regarded university on the east coast of the United States. The disparity between us “whites” and the Asian and Middle Eastern “majority” was more pronounced during the portion of the Commencement where they conferred post graduate degrees. There was about a three to one ratio of “non-whites” to whites in both the Masters degree and Doctorate degree portions of the program. The undergraduate mix was a little more even. This apparently, was not an aberration To paraphrase an old quote, “I have seen the future, baby, and the future is now.”

Monday, May 17, 2010


It is an inarguable fact that someone, somewhere makes money on every disaster. But the story in a recent New York Times article about the windfall profits being made by bankruptcy attorneys is setting new heights (or depths depending on your point of view) to test this adage. According to that article, “The lawyers, accountants and restructuring experts have already racked up $730 million in fees and expenses, with no end in sight.” for the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy alone. Fees include hotel fees, as much as $864 a night, $364 dry cleaning bills, and $500 a day limo fees for the people called in to “rescue” these assets. There seems to be no limits to fees and expenses that can be charged against the carcass of this or any other major company in bankruptcy. If there was anything left at Lehman, the cure is certain to eat it alive.

By Sam DelPresto

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Joys of Travel

I don’t travel as much as I’d like to, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to keep up with what is hot in travel. So I was delighted to find a Hilary Travel website ( devoted to just that. Apparently Hilary is a woman’s magazine, but finding its web site seems to negate the queasiness I might normally have intruding on travel secrets from “the other side”.

Hilary covers the important issues of our times. Who doesn’t need to know where to go to find a snowmobile valet? (The Fairmount Hotel at the Fairmont Le Manor Richelieu in Quebec). And how many times have you found yourself wondering which vacation spot to bring your dog for the best gourmet pet food. (The Grove Isle Club in Miami.) These are not issues I need to tackle when I’m home! I’m in a better mood already, and I’m not even going anywhere.

By Sam DelPresto

Monday, February 22, 2010


The Winter Olympic games began in Vancouver . ( It is hard to remember an Olympics with less buzz going in. Perhaps it was the lateness of the Super Bowl this year, perhaps it is just that Americans have never warmed up to many of the winter sports. Other than figure skating and hockey, NBC scrambles to create interest in many of the other cold weather sports.

I heard an interesting theory as to why the Olympics don’t capture the imagination as they once did. It was said that the Olympic broadcasts, unless the viewer is an aficionado of a particular sport, are in effect, reality TV, a collection of unscripted, human interest stories; “up close and personal” in the words of the late Howard Cosell. And the one thing Americans do not need more of is reality TV.

By Sam DelPresto

Friday, January 15, 2010

Better to be Small

President Barack Obama’s proposal to tax bonuses given by banks who received government bailout money may have an unintended bonus. The proposal would have huge popular support in the midst of all the anger being targeted toward Wall Street ( The proposed tax would apply to bank, thrift and insurance companies with more than $50 billion in assets. It would not apply to certain holdings, like customers’ insured savings, but to assets in risk-taking operations. The silver lining in all this may be found as the banks attempt to circumvent the tax, which of course, they certainly will. One solution to avoiding this tax would be to keep assets under the threshold of $50 billion. Companies could splinter off “subsidiaries” in a reversal of the way they consolidated during the late stages of the 20th century. The result would be fewer companies “too big to fail”.

By Sam DelPresto

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bah Humbug

I recently heard about the Spanish Christmas lottery, El Gordo, or “The Fat One, that takes place later this week. It is the oldest lottery in the world, dating back to 1812, and also the largest. Last year’s prize was nearly two billion euros. Tickets are expensive, 200 euros each, but you can buy “pieces” of a ticket for twenty euros. People often give tickets as Christmas gifts.

As for me, I’ll never buy a lottery ticket as a gift for someone. If they won, I’d be sick about it. I might even have to consider suicide. Imagine buying a winning lottery ticket for once in your life and handing it over to someone who you don’t care enough about to buy them a real gift. No thanks. I don’t need that kind of aggravation in my life. If I’m looking for a little gift in the one dollar range, I’ll stick to a McDonald’s gift card. Bah humbug! In the words of Ogden Nash, “Merry Christmas to almost everyone.”

By Sam DelPresto


Sports television ratings are through the roof. All sports. All networks. The NBA on TNT is up 25% to the highest levels in 26 years. NFL ratings are hitting 20 year highs. The MLB Game 1 of the World Series hit five a year high. I can safely predict, with little trepidation that Tiger Wood’s next TV tournament will set new records for golf viewership, if not for sports ratings in general. We are either in the midst of or coming out of, depending on who you read, the second worst financial recession of the past 100 years. You don’t need a PHD in anthropology to see the connection. Escape, baby, escape. In a decade where the evening news has become an assault weapon, sports remain one of the great, inexpensive escapes. Unlike the war in Afghanistan or medical insurance reform, the intricacies of NFL playoffs can be mastered in a few short hours. Whether or not this is healthy for our society or not, I could not say. Or certainly I couldn’t say with the NFL about to kick off.

By Sam DelPresto