Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

Ambassadors astray, the Federal Reserve Board’s minutes, and conflict recusals in the Valley

By Steven Brill
March 4, 2014

 

1. Ambassadors without portfolios?

What happens when you’re an ambassador whose government has been overthrown?

With the Ukrainian government being deposed last week, I’m wondering about the fate of the country’s envoys and their families. As key appointees of President — now fugitive — Viktor Yanukovich, have they been replaced and evicted from their embassies in Washington, New York (the United Nations ambassador), London or Paris? Or are they all professional foreign service officers, able to roll with the punches?

Who at the new regime in Kiev would assert to whom in the host country that the incumbent ambassador no longer represents Ukraine and should be evicted from the embassy, if that is to be their fate? Where would they and their families go? What about the staffs and their families?

In the particular case of Ukraine, is the fate of its ambassador in Moscow different from that of his colleague in Washington because Russia still supports Yanukovich?

This ought to be a compelling story, a mix of protocol, geopolitics and family dynamics. For context, a reporter could start by finding out what happened after the revolutions in Libya or Egypt. Egypt might be particularly intriguing: Did Hosni Mubarak’s man in Washington get thrown out by the Muslim Brotherhood government, only to make his way back when the Muslim Brotherhood was deposed?

2. Why the five-year delay in Federal Reserve Board minutes?

In Gretchen Morgenson’s February 22 column analyzing transcripts of meetings of the powerful Federal Reserve Board Open Market Committee during 2008, the savvy New York Times finance reporter writes, “they paint a disturbing picture of a central bank that was in the dark about each looming disaster throughout 2008.”

Among those whose comments make them seem clueless, according to Morgenson, was Timothy Geithner, who would soon become President Barack Obama’s first Treasury secretary.

Other Times reporters picking through the transcripts opined that then-board member Janet Yellen seemed to have sensed the severity of the crisis more clearly than her colleagues.

All interesting. But why are we only finding this out in 2014?

Apparently the Federal Reserve has its own rule delaying release of the transcripts until five years after the end of the calendar year of the meetings.

To encourage spontaneity and candor, it might make sense not to release the transcripts immediately, just as it probably makes sense not to televise the meetings on C-Span. But five years?

Yellen’s credentials were debated last year when she was nominated to be the Fed chairwoman. Whether the Times reporters’ assessments are right or wrong, wouldn’t it have been valuable to have this information during that debate? Wouldn’t something like a two-year release (which would have still kept us in the dark about Geithner’s purported failure to see the approaching storm when his Treasury nomination was pending) strike a better balance?

I’d like to see a story examining the origins of the rule and the merits of shortening the blackout period.

3. Checking out conflict recusals in the Valley:

Activist investor Carl Icahn, who is trying to get eBay to change strategy, has been making allegations that eBay board members who don’t agree with him — particularly venture capitalist Marc Andreessen — are part of a Silicon Valley culture that is rife with conflicts because they regularly invest in companies that compete against each other and then sit on the companies’ boards. Andreessen, the co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen, Horowitz responded last week that he always recuses himself from board discussions when such conflicts arise.

Icahn had attacked Andreessen because Icahn wants eBay to sell its PayPal division and Andreessen has investments that compete with PayPal. Icahn also has noted that Andreessen’s firm was, according to the Wall Street Journal, “part of an investor group that bought Skype from eBay.”

There’s no reason to doubt that the highly-regarded Andreessen does recuse himself. But why can’t a reporter get hold of eBay’s minutes and find out for sure? Better yet, why not pick the 10 Silicon Valley board members with the most apparent conflicts and nail down the extent to which they recuse themselves?

The list of the board members and their conflicts will be interesting no matter what. In fact, it could be that some have had to recuse themselves so often on important deliberations that, assuming they step aside, their input as board members is significantly marginalized.

PHOTOS: A local resident watches a TV broadcast of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s news conference, in Kiev February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Alex Kuzmin 

Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, speaks at the Iab Mixx Conference and Expo in New York, October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar 

 

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