Ben Stein's Diary

From Hyatt to Hyatt

So many roads lead back to Nixon.

By 10.4.13

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Tuesday
San Diego. It is a perfect, magnificent Southern California afternoon. Sunny, ’70s, breezy, no humidity. A driver named Derek Kelley from CLS has driven me down to a shopping center near La Jolla where I am meeting a close friend named Joe for sushi. This man, whom I think of as a brother, worked for decades helping his brother, whom I also think of as a brother, in the financial planning business.

Then, through circumstances I cannot fathom, the SEC came after the brother who was the financial planner. They accused him of all kinds of misconduct. He fought the case with high priced lawyers, and I was called to a deposition. I told the SEC that I thought that overall, the advice given by my “brother” was overwhelmingly helpful. I fact, as I told the SEC attorney who took my depo, I learned some life saving basic investment sense from my “brother.”

The SEC pursued the case anyway, and my “brother” lost. He was barred from the financial planning and advising business for life -- and I still cannot figure out what he did wrong.

However, as Conrad Black so aptly said, when you take on the federal government, you’re taking on the most powerful force in the world. So, my “brother” is appealing, but meanwhile he is barred from plying his trade.

It is a damned shame, a cruel shame, because, first of all, my “brother” didn’t do anything bad, or at least seriously bad. Second, his advice was superb and people need superb financial advice. They can still get it from Phil DeMuth, who is as pure as driven snow and a genius. But it takes a cool million to be a client of Phil’s and not everyone has a cool million. For the middle class guy or doll, my “brother’s” advice -- stay liquid, diversify, and match assets against liabilities -- is still great advice.

Anyway, it was a major downer as a dinner. My two “brothers” are not rich and have lots of legal fees and other debts, and I have no idea what they are going to do. It is scary. I do not want to wind up broke. I really dread it, yet I see it happening to people all around me. It’s just amazing how many friends I have who are broke or close to broke. And the friends I have who are breathtakingly rich -- well, they don’t seem any smarter than the ones who are poor. “Time and chance happeneth to all men,” as they say.

I paid the tab, and then my driver, Derek, a good Republican cloth driver, drove me to the Manchester Hyatt in San Diego. It is a huge hotel and I have a huge suite. It was still early so I took out a stack of huge bills and started writing huge checks.

Not a good idea. I had one bill just for the water at our house in Beverly Hills -- just for the water -- of almost two thousand dollars. Can that be right? For one month. It could be. Our gardener hates me and could easily be doing this on purpose, just letting the sprinklers run all night to torment me.

I don’t like it at all. I don’t want to be broke because I had immense water bills.

Well, nothing to do but sleep, so I did.

I was asleep by 10 PM, which is probably a record for me as an adult.

Wednesday
Up at 6 AM for a breakfast with a wonderfully pleasant group of insurance executives. Smart, polite, good-looking people. One of them was Hank Haldeman, “Bob” Haldeman’s son. I was extremely moved recalling what a great White House Chief of Staff to Mr. Nixon he was. If we live in a world at peace because of Nixon, it was Haldeman who cleared the tracks for the Peace Express. I raved about Bob to the group at the breakfast and again at 9.30 at my speech.

People think of Nixon and have no idea of what he did wrong. They just know it must have been something. But it wasn’t anything. He was just a peacemaker and peacemakers get crucified and sometimes the apostles who walked with them get crucified, too.

I loved my insurance people. The salt of the earth.

Then, a drive back to L.A. with another fine driver, that rare bird, a middle-aged Jewish driver. He told me he had figured out what the Iranians are doing. They will promise to give up their weapons program if Israel disarms itself of nukes. Then they can all swarm Israel and have another Holocaust. I have the sick feeling that he’s right. And Obama will be the cat’s paw to do the dirty work.

Very worrisome. Terrifying. (That word again!)

In L.A., I visited my shrink, then rushed over to tape the Craig Ferguson show. We talked about the budget impasse. I said it was nonsense on the part of the GOP who were spearheading the fight. It would harm the military, punish innocent government workers, and make voters hate the GOP. I just don’t get it. Obamacare is the law now. It passed the Congress and the Supreme Court. It’s the law. Why are we fighting it still? It is much, much more important to have a strong defense. Much more important to work to curtail abortion. Why are we making this losing fight on a losing issue?

Craig was his usual funny self and the audience cheered and cheered. I like that. I have such fear that an enthusiastic audience helps me buck up.

Then, off to a party to launch a new immense (that word again!) website for U.S.-China trade. The party was at the HQ of Creative Artists’ Agency in Century City. How time flies. I was an early client of that agency thirty-six years ago when it was starting. Mike Ovitz, the founder, was my agent. He got me a LOT of screenwriting work.

Then CAA grew like Topsy and I was handed off to much lower grade agents and I left the agency. I recall Ovitz calling me up to ask me to change my mind. I was a fool. I should have stayed with him, but I didn’t. Maybe it was a good idea because I am not really a screenwriter. I am more of a diarist.

The party was fun, mostly because of one or two extremely smart Chinese economists who discussed economics in China with me. They said China is shifting little by little from an investment-driven economy to a consumer-driven economy. One of the economists was so excited to learn that my Pop was Herbert Stein that he was jumping  up and down. “I have my students read Herbert’s work,” he said over and over. “He great man.”

All of the Steins are suckers for praise, so I ate it up. If my father could see it, he would like it, too.

Then, back home for a midnight swim with Julie and then to bed.

Thursday
A full day at a conference at the Hyatt in Century City on trade with China. Lots of speeches, including one from me.

Mine was mostly about how none of this Chinese miracle would have happened without free market capitalism, the greatest anti-poverty machine in history. The system most in harmony with the human heart.

Many adorable Chinese girls flirted with me after my speech. I love them. They are soooo cute and remind me of the girl in “Lust: Caution.” Two of them hugged me and said, “You so wise. You be my mentor.”

Alas for us all, I am already taken by my dog, Julie, who is the perfect girlfriend.

As I stood in the room where I spoke, I realized it was the same room where we had the dedication for the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace and Nixon spoke of how the Chinese were the most talented people on earth. Oh, Nixon, how we need you now.

Now, more than ever, as we used to say.

Then home for swimming, sushi, and sleep, the home of angels.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.