Critiques & Commentary

5/7/17….

The new Kosciusko Bridge span is generating bigger delays than ever. Yesterday, an ordinary early spring Saturday, we drove out and back to lunch with friends on Long Island, a journey that usually takes around 45 minutes out, somewhat longer back. This time 40 min longer out, close to an hour longer back. Huge delays in either direction on the brand-new Kosciusko Bridge. There were no accidents, no construction, and the revised traffic pattern is anything special. The only answer must be that more cars are using this roadway. Why? I think a lot of people mistakenly believe the new bridge has more lanes than the old. Wrong.

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/04/411963624/why-cant-streaming-services-get-classical-music-right Larger  issue here. If the streaming services bastardize classical music, doesn’t that lower the chances of recruiting younger listeners to the cause?

In a post a while ago, I conveyed my impression that we have overempowered youth in this country. “Adulting” is the inevitable corollary. A very wise piece. https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-raise-an-american-adult-1493995064?tesla=y

The current issue of The Week has on its cover a caricature of Obama with the headline “Et Tu, Obama!” At issue is the last president’s decision to take Wall Street’s shekels for giving speeches. Inside the magazine, the expected critics  (The Hill, Guardian) and apologists (Slate Charlotte Observer) toot their horns. The hypocrisy and opportunism in Obama are noted early by the narrator of Fixers, who wouldn’t be in the least surprised at the former president’s conduct since leaving office.

Quite a good piece about the materialistic exhibitionism that is a core value on FB. One reason I quit was people’s (including a few I know personally) boasting about themselves. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/06/opinion/sunday/dont-let-facebook-make-you-miserable.html?ref=opinion

A MUST read from the indispensable Andrew Bacevich. Trump’s role as a straw man may be his most significant presidential accomplishment so far: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176277/

What we might call “Ben Tre Syndrome”, after the Vietnamese village that had to be destroyed in order to save it. The IMF used to call it “Structural Adjustment” (I once considered writing a novel with that title): http://therealnews.com/t2/story:19021:Greece-Passes-New-Austerity-for-New-Loans   

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-05-08/myth-rule-law  Squaring the “a government of laws not men” circle.

Utilitarian http://thecollegeinvestor.com/15601/the-best-investing-blogs/

Agreed: https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-has-been-lucky-in-his-enemies-1493331572?tesla=y

Further to my point of the overempowerment of youth. Young people today seem unable to be alone. When I was a kid, alone was all I dreamed of: http://www.newstatesman.com/2017/04/end-solitude-hyperconnected-world-are-we-losing-art-being-alone

Why does no one make the point that these are 20-ish kids earning $10 million a year. Ruled by their erections! What can we expect of them?  Animal House !!!!!! http://pagesix.com/2017/05/09/matt-harvey-sent-over-the-edge-by-gal-pals-reunion-with-ex/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5/6/17…

Miracles do happen. Yesterday I was eating lunch at the bar at Frankies 457 Spuntino, one of my two favorite restaurants (the other, my Manhattan go-to, is Le Veau d’Or on 60th St.), when my phone rang. A number I didn’t recognize. When I answered, a voice said “Who is this?” I gave my name, and then: “I just found your wallet in the street.” Now like most men, I suppose, I pack too much of my life into my wallet. The cash is the least of it. There’s the bank card, a couple of credit cards, my medical insurance stuff, my museum passes, my bus pass, my driver’s license. The thought that I might have to replace all these was cause sufficient to make me reach for the hemlock. I suppose what had happened was that in the course of the contortions involved in getting out of the green cab, my knees being stiff and the passenger space tight so that the driver can be comfortable as he blindly follows erroneous GPS directions while carrying on a long, animated conversation in Urdu, the wallet dropped and I hadn’t noticed. Anyway, it had been found by a nice man who worked not far away in a bank, so I settled up (I have my AmEx number by heart) and hustled to him. He refused to take a monetary reward, so I will send him a copy of Fixers, which just goes to show that no good deed goes unpunished.

Read all the posts in this overall survey. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/special-reports/reviving-productivity?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term={date(%27yyMMdd%27)}&utm_campaign=sharetheview&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=170503&utm_campaign=sharetheview

I’m here and there, up and down, on Andrew Sullivan. But I’m thumbs up about this long essay. What troubles me most about Trump isn’t his unattractive personality, or his turns-about, but that he’s obviously supremely ego-driven, and egos can be stroked and led in strange and dangerous directions (think Iago with Othello, think Pere Joseph with Richelieu, think Machiavelli with the Medici, think Cheney with George W Bush), the most dangerous often being the seductions of the status quo (Wall Street) or crony capitalism (Medical Insurance) or this peculiar compulsion of cowards and draft-dodgers to make war. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/04/andrew-sullivan-why-the-reactionary-right-must-be-taken-seriously.html https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/opinion/climate-policy-ethanol.html?_r=0

It’s my understanding that the controversial new NYT op-ed columnist, Bret Stephens, writes online only on Thursdays and both in print and online on Saturday. In case you missed it, here’s last Thursday’s: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/opinion/climate-policy-ethanol.html?_r=0  The reaction to Stephens, as (I assume) the reaction to Sullivan (above) will no doubt fierce. But let’s see it for what it is. The most vituperative Tweeters and letters-to-editor probably don’t care as much about climate change as they do about how much they hate Trump. That’s a beast they like to feed with whatever fodder comes to hand, no matter how rational the other guy’s argument or position may be. I don’t like Trump, not at all; I think he’s wholly unqualified for the White House, has no regard for rules or custom, his word means nothing and he’s functionally and morally illiterate. BUT during the campaign it seemed to me that he asked many of the right questions, and that’s a start. And as gross as the sight of him in the White House may be, and as odd as his performance might seem,  I’m not sure it isn’t preferable to the prospect of having Bill Clinton arrive at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. after dark with large duffels into which to stuff the White House silver.

 

 

 

5/5/17…

In sixty-odd years of looking at works of art seriously, and with what I flatter myself is increasing insight, I cannot recall a time when so much sheer beauty, taken to the highest artistic level, created by great artists at the height of their powers, was on the walls of NYC museums and galleries. Three exhibitions stand out.

I have already written about the works from the Tessin Collection (now in Stockholm) on show at the Morgan Library and Museum and their absolutely astounding freshness and condition.  The show ends May 14. Get down there!

And here are two more.

Pride of place – a definitive MUST MUST MUST – has to go to Miro’s Constellations at the Acquavella Gallery (18 east 79 St. – until May 26). In 1940-41, over the space of a little more than a year in France and Mallorca, Miro created twenty-three small gouaches that to my practiced and yet innocent eye are among the most beautiful, sublime, seductive, sparkling  works made by any twentieth-century artist. This is the first time all twenty-three have been together and the effect is such that you go round the gallery in which they’re displayed, then go round it again, and then again, and then finally lie down and refuse to leave. You can see the development of these little works, which show that monumentality isn’t really a function of bigness but of talent and genius. Miro starts in 1940 with an idea, and you can see him working into it, but not quite reaching its fullness until the third and fourth of the series, in which he achieves the balance of color, calligraphy and solid forms that now enables his vivid imagination to run free but never wild. As I went round, I found myself thinking of – of all people – A.E.Housman, who wrote A Shropshire Lad over the course of a year in the 1890s in what he would declare to have been a kind of frenzy, and – of course -this, from Shakespeare: “The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name; such tricks hath strong imagination.” (A Midsummer Nights Dream 5, i) So it must have gone with Miro (I wonder if he knew Midsummer…). And it’s not just poetry these paintings evoke; they are the closest I think that painting can come to music, the equivalent in line, shape, color, style and energy to, say, Chopin’s Preludes or variations by Handel or Bach. An utmost delicacy of touch and yet as large-souled as any art I know. I guess you can tell I was pretty bowled over. Anyway: MUST MUST MUST.

Leaving Acquavella, on my way downtown, I looked in at the Frick, to see its current star exhibition Turner’s Modern and Ancient Ports: Passages through Time. A marvelous show it is,  Not just the big paintings, starring the Frick’s own Harbor of Dieppe (1825) and Cologne, The Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening (1826) – but a gallery displaying  two dozen of Turner’s watercolors. Coming on top of Miro,  these made almost too great a feast – but they are miraculous and have to be seen. This show ends May 14. Do not miss it. Also MUST MUST MUST.

Here’s a poignant personal sidebar to the Miro show: I went to AMZ to see who’s written what about Miro, and the name Carolyn Lanchner popped out. She was a top curator at MoMA who died last year at 84. The sight of her name rolled back the years to the summers of 1957 and 1958, when I worked in the library of M.Knoedler, then still unbesmirched by Ann Freedman, in the firm’s noble premises on 57th St. The library was run by Helmut Ripperger, surely one of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever met, and Carolyn, then still Carolyn Van-Something or other (I’ve been unable to track down her maiden name), was, along with Godfrey Gaston, “Mr.Rip”‘s invaluable ADC. She was a lovely person: lovely to look at, lovely to talk to, lovely to be with generally. We had a world of fun, and I had a terrific unreciprocated crush on her. About ten years after I vanished into what would pass for my adult life, Carolyn moved to MoMA, where she was as indispensable to Bill Rubin as she had been to “Mr.Rip,” and in time she rose to be an important curator and compiled a record of exhibition-mounting and publication that beggars description. Proust would have loved her, and put her in his great book. It’s funny how valuable memories, rich in feeling, tend to go AWOL in one’s middle life only to return in old age, when they provoke reflection and provide great consolation.

 

And now back to life’s horrors: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/how-trump-became-an-establishment-stooge?mbid=nl_TH_590ba1c06231b140f4d5c302&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=10954601&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1160386020&spReportId=MTE2MDM4NjAyMAS2

Amen to the Nth Power. And I plan to read the Denninger link: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/paler-shade-gray/

I have read the Denninger post: https://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?post=231949 I need to read it once – possibly- twice more to be able to think about it.

Today’s literary musing: Was there ever a man more blatantly in love with money than Pepys?

Amen again: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/competing-world-jeff-immelt

Interesting: https://www.johnlaurits.com/2017/precariat-new-dangerous-class/

 

 

 

5/4/17…

Truth isn’t stranger than fiction. Not if fiction that works back from real-life events and provides a wholly new explanation of cause and result, turns out be truth. That’s what has happened to my novel Fixers, which was inspired by the leak of the Geithner-Summers appointments. I simply let imagination ask “what if…” https://newrepublic.com/article/137798/important-wikileaks-revelation-isnt-hillary-clinton 

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-04/toppling-the-idol-of-shareholder-value Amen! No – make that Amen! squared.

 

5/3/17…

To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers…The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it. – Adam Smith. And so: http://rooseveltinstitute.org/fifty-shades-green/ Here’s a tidbit that should catch your attention: Now studies published by the Roosevelt Institute have put realistic price tags on corporate “overcharges” by two industries that would surely rank near the top of any list of suspected pirates: finance and telecommunications. Jerry Epstein and Juan Antonio Montecino (2016) conservatively suggest that, between 1990 and 2005, U.S. finance cost the American people “between $12.9 trillion and $22.7 trillion,” an amount that “represents between two-thirds (66 percent) and 133 percent of a year’s aggregate income in the U.S. (GDP).” Put another way, finance cost “between $40,000 and $70,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. or between $105,000 and $184,000 for the typical American family”  And the consequence? Check this out: https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2017/05/02/2188125/gmos-grantham-on-whats-driving-abnormal-profit-margins/?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=51416429&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–XCC_3bCv5l9_JG-rZ3O0vcdGivk7UaUpt8uSDMvPRR6pw5MyE0_VR_brh2ifz73inGEMe4XPhwh-NIj33efGiCx8EmA&_hsmi=51416429

The above suggests that finance isn’t really productive, which is the issue of the day. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-03/searching-for-the-easy-ways-to-raise-productivity I do think I was on to something when I suggested some time ago that a principal component of US economic activity is the manufacture and dissemination of distraction, which is ipso facto the opposite of productivity. I doubt there’s ever been a fountainhead of wasted time and focus more effective than social media: checking emails, FB, playing online games, texting, making selfies. Take the latter. “Selfieing” – I’ve been there, done this, seen this – seems to be the main point of visiting museums nowadays. No more postcards. The visit no longer about the art.

A review by someone I admire, the thoughtful, passionate and commonsensical Michael Hudson, of a book by Steve Keen, another economist who pierces the veil of bullshit complexity that Wall Street, considered globally, has woven to conceal its heedless, mindless rapacity. I’m typing this and then heading straight to AMZ. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/05/michael-hudson-review-steve-keens-can-void-another-financial-crisis.html Here’s an amuse-geule: “This book enables the non-mathematician to pierce the shell of mathiness in which today’s economic mainstream wraps its lobbying effort for the big banks and their product, debt. The needed escape from the debt deflation they have caused is a debt writedown.” I was also struck by Keen’s solution:  “As a transition from todays debt stagnation, he suggests that the central banks create a lump sum to put into everyone’s account. Debtors would be required to use their gift to pay down the debt. Non-debtors would keep the transfer payment – so as not to let demagogic political opponents accuse this plan of rewarding the profligate.” I’m hopeless at WordPress, so here are key excerpts from a 2009 column on this subject that I wrote for The New York Observer:

 

Midas Watch 03-09-09 – 

A trillion here, a trillion there.

A trillion for TARP, a trillion for TALF.

Throw in what’s in the “stimulus” package and you’re probably at close to $3 trillion. So why not simply distribute $25,000 tax free to every U.S. taxpayer? There are 100 million of us, in round figures, so we’re talking about $2.5 trillion, give or take. This is what two friends and I asked each other over lunch at Three Guys last week. After we got through the usual preliminaries, such as where can one buy hemlock these days, given that our actuarial matchup (two of us are over 70) with our resources leaves us as upside-down as the most strapped Corona del Mar mortgage victim, we started talking about the economy and how to rescue it.

Clearly, these institutional rescue plans are going nowhere. The pricing dichotomy – Uncle Sam either pays too little or too much – seems intractable and the recipients are surely undeserving. Even though there have been two big distress sales of toxic assets – by Merrill Lynch last fall and Legg Mason last week – at around 20 cents on the dollar, which might represent a pricing benchmark, I just don’t think the taxpayer should be put in the business of writing a “make whole” for either pigs or vultures, who in many cases may now be one ad the same. That is capitalism’s tragic paradox, unseen by Adam Smith, probably understood by Marx: the people who cause crashes frequently profit from them. ….

(Hence my) “Three Guys” scheme, as history will doubtless christen it. At $2.5 trillion, the money’s about the same as Washington plans to spend. Any way you cut it, relief is going to be funded in the people’s money, so why not let the people decide how to spend it? To some taxpayers, $25,000 will be a lot of money and will be spent on life’s necessities or to ease household financial crises: to pay off debts, to pay tuition, to catch up on mortgages. Others may use a sum like this as a down payment on a house. Businesses can be launched on $25K. To some, $25K won’t be that big a deal, so they’ll invest it or put it into a bank. Along the way, as it passes from hand to hand, as one person’s expenditure becomes another’s revenue and profit, it will become taxable, and Uncle will start to recapture his investment. It really doesn’t matter how and where it gets spent and saved, because never forget, children, that every dollar spent is somewhere saved. The key is to keep that money hopping. To keep breaking it up into pieces, and moving those pieces along. If it coagulates in financial companies anxious to build up capital to support their CDO/CDS garbage, the main if not the entire purpose of the exercise is defeated. And this is exactly what is happening now. It has got to stop. Parents of my generation were raised to understand that children are not to be rewarded for bad behaviors. Sadly, that view has faded. It’s time to turn back the clock and give the money to the 99,000,000 of us that had nothing to do with this mess!

Very good, very specific, very apposite. http://www.splicetoday.com/writing/soho-s-not-so-grand?platform=hootsuite

Want to know why parts of NYC have become unnavigable? Here’s one big reason: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/nyregion/new-york-has-280-miles-of-scaffolding-and-a-map-to-navigate-it.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fnyregion&action=click&contentCollection=nyregion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=1

I suppose this is considered extreme, but it is worth thinking about: http://davidstockmanscontracorner.com/say-it-aint-so-freddie/

My son Michael forwarded this very astute reading of Trump’s political economy. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/05/03/trump-sees-government-as-a-series-of-deals-thats-because-hes-an-oligarch/?utm_term=.dbf949175886 I would add that it may be because he’s an oligarch, but it’s also very much in keeping with real-estate development.

This is excellent. Douthat is at the top of my “don’t miss” list. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/03/opinion/european-populist-marine-le-pen.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-2&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&pgtype=article

This makes sense to me. It’s like my idea for a “Value Destroyed Tax”: http://www.businessinsider.com/san-francisco-considers-robot-tax-jane-kim-2017-4

Happier and happier that I quit FB: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/02/facebook-executive-advertising-data-comment

 

 

 

 

 

5/2/17…

I couldn’t resist. When we got home, I turned on the E! channel, where I’d recorded the “red carpet” goings-on at the Met. Just look at these clothes, and what some of those present wore to the press interview. http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/guest-diary/2017/jill-krementz-covers-rei-kawakubo-at-the-met Stopped watching when the coarse features and butt-heavy figure of one of the Kardashians showed up.

Bret Stephens responds: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/opinion/answering-your-climate-questions.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=2 And now this: http://observer.com/2017/05/climate-scientist-bret-stephens-new-york-times/?utm_content=observer+business+&utm_campaign=social+flow&utm_source=twitter+&utm_medium=social

It is interesting to compare this review of David Garrow’s new Obama biography https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2017/05/02/before-michelle-barack-obama-asked-another-woman-to-marry-him-then-politics-got-in-the-way/?utm_term=.848d830b02c7 with Michiko Kakutani’s evisceration in today’s NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/books/review-rising-star-making-of-barack-obama-david-garrow.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Farts&action=click&contentCollection=arts&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0  I personally find it hard to believe that a writer like Garrow would produce the terrible, biased book that Kakutani describes. It would appear that Obama is a household god at NYT, at least in the Books section, a conclusion based on the total pass the paper gave my novel Fixers, a book that also takes a measured view of Obama, and got rave reviews in The Washington Post  and WSJ. 

Hmmm. http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-american-airlines-20170428-story.html

Your scribe makes a guest appearance: http://www.institutionalinvestor.com/Article.aspx?ArticleId=3713840&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Organic+Social&utm_term=Editorial&utm_campaign=Editorial#.WQkilYnyuIY

And today’s lesson, from Adam Smith: People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices…. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies, much less to render them necessary.

Buona Sera

 

5/1/17…May Day…

Pimp Day at the Metropolitan Museum: the annual Anna Wintour gala. I wish the Met would move “The Anna Wintour Costume Institute” to the Breuer. Only one significant alteration would be required. The construction in the Breuer’s basement of a dungeon to which MS. Wintour would be consigned, to dwell forever in durance chic, existing on a diet of croissants and Evian.

From Politico: BRET STEPHENS’ DRAMATIC NYT DEBUT – It’s almost as if the recent Wall Street Journal defector was trying to make Times readers’ blood boil when they opened up Saturday’s opinion section. Stephens, a Pulitzer winner who spent 16 years at the Journal before the Times poached him last month in an effort to diversify its opinion pages, has gained prominence over the past year as one of the loudest anti-Trump voices in the conservative commentariat, which the average Times reader likes. But he also has a repertoire of opinions that are anathema to the average Times reader, such as his skeptical views on climate change, which were on full display in his inaugural column. (“[H]istory is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.”) Some irate readers are reportedly pulling their subscriptions, to which Times reporter Nick Confessore says : “If u cancel @nytimes b/c of a columnist’s views on climate change, you r cancelling on the finest team of climate reporters in the country.”  I don’t know how many read Stephens’s column, but it was the soul of reasonable skepticism. Naturally it provoked the usual knee-jerk (accent aigu on “jerk“) Twitterstorm of furious condemnation along with threats to cancel subscriptions (most of these intellectually and literarily well below the similar threats received every year by Sports Illustrated in the wake of its swimsuit issue).  Incidentally, “climate change” is one bad thing, but “air pollution” is quite another.  There may be a meaningful correlation, but they are also different. The former may drown the Miami waterfront fifty years from now, the latter kills people today.  The science explicating the former undoubtedly will profit from further investigation, the latter seems scientifically unarguable.  Open-mind Footnote: I think this is about as articulate an anti-Stephens screed as you’ll find: http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/bret-stephens-doesn-t-bring-diversity-to-the-times#.WQdPxk2pHEQ.twitter Here, courtesy of Jesse Kornbluth, is a more convincing, granular rebuttal by a genuine expert: https://thinkprogress.org/the-ny-times-promised-to-fact-check-their-new-climate-denier-columnist-they-lied-72ad9bdf6019 I must say that inaccuracy with respect to certain details, however small,  takes a lot of air out of Stephens’s trial balloon.

 

If it’s Monday, it must be Kunstler (also on Friday): http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/sound-one-wing-flapping/

A report from a farflung correspondent(my wife – calling from from Greenpoint.) Today was the first day on the new East River ferry service. Operations transferred to a new company with 5 new boats dedicated to the route on which she usually travels. Tamara has taken the ferry for three years now; because she works at the UN, on the far East Side, the route, from DUMBO to 34th St., suits her. She arrived at the DUMBO dock in plenty of time for the scheduled 9:15. It did not come. Nor did the next scheduled departure. Finally a boat arrived – and promptly broke down. The next ferry, by now filled to the gunwales with passengers, sailed blithely by. Finally a ferry arrived that she could board, and it got as far as Greenpoint – and then it broke down. Her mood, when she just called from Greenpoint, was not of the brightest – as the Greenpoint dock is about as distant from alternative transportation as can be imagined. She found little consolation in my observation that at least she’s had a sighting all 5 ferries that ply the route. Accordingly, I didn’t hit her with the second jest that came to mind: that obviously the ferry service is being operated by the same people who put together the FyreFest two weekends ago. Naturally today’s NYT has a picture of the grinning incompetent jackass who is our mayor cutting the ribbon, as it were, at a ferry station. I figured DeBlasio for a second Pataki, another worthless politician who thought that photo ops were the same as governing, and he has proven me prescient. What this country badly needs now is a series of carefully conceived high-level assassinations, Byng-style stuff, “pour encourager les autres.”  On yes, in case you’re wondering, my wife rejects the very idea of Uber etc, so I didn’t even offer that alternative.

If you want to see what absolute bullshit looks like, it’s hard to beat Alan Murray’s CEO letter. Murray’s a decent guy – but for an addiction to Davos-style get-togethers, symposia, “initiatives,” panel discussions etc. This sort of crap has been shoveled at the public for several decades now, and things only seem to get worse.

MAY 1, 2017
Good morning.

President Trump passed his 100 day mark this weekend, and reviews are pouring in, including his own. For business leaders, the new administration has turned out to be mostly a pleasant surprise: open to their entreaties, focused on growth, determined to reduce regulation and government excess—and far less focused on anti-trade, anti-immigration, and anti-big-business measures than might have been expected from campaign rhetoric.

Less clear, however, is whether this administration can successfully address the truly big issues facing American society: our broken health care system, the failing education system, or the swelling angst of a huge strata of citizens in danger of being left behind by a tidal wave of new business technologies. Underlying all of these is a badly broken political system, which seems more broken today than ever, incapable of putting aside partisan goals for the greater good.

That’s why, at Fortune, we’ve turned our attention to the power of the private sector to address some of society’s most challenging problems. We were heartened by the work of the 100 CEOs who gathered at the Vatican last December to deliberate on actions they could take to address pressing social problems. Today, it’s clear, a growing number of enlightened CEOs understand that the purpose of business has to extend beyond making profits for shareholders. Their employees, their customers, and the public at large are demanding more of them. And they are rising to the challenge.

To encourage that trend, Fortune and Time are partnering to create The CEO Initiative—which will convene business leaders to exchange best practices and leadership techniques, develop solutions, track tangible results, and shine a spotlight on those making progress in addressing important social goals. This isn’t intended to be an exercise in charity or traditional corporate social responsibility. Rather, it is designed for businesses that want to put a broader purpose at the core of their profit-making activities.

The CEO Initiative will hold its first meeting in New York on September 25. Salesforce has signed on as Founding Partner. Allstate also will be a sponsor. Among the participants will be members of our steering committee, including Tom Wilson of Allstate, Ajay Banga of Mastercard, Joe Kaesar of Siemens, Dom Barton of McKinsey, Hugh Grant of Monsanto , Carlos Gomes da Silva of Galp Energia, Erik Fyrwald of Syngenta, Dan Schulman of Paypal, Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani, Chip Bergh of Levi Strauss, Marc Lautenbach of Pitney Bowes, Greg Becker of Silicon Valley Bank, Dan Glaser of Marsh & McLennan, Roger Crandall of MassMutual and and Tom Quinlan of LSC Communications.

You will be hearing more about this initiative in the months ahead, and about Fortune’s related Change the World list for 2017. This one is important; the future of capitalism—and the world—is at stake.

 

I suspect inequality may not always be an issue, depending on what’s unequal. Gross wealth inequality seems to foster inequality of opportunity (ie.. what you can pay for determines where you go to college etc.) But I suspect it in some way bothers a mature adult fighting from paycheck to paycheck reading about the billions “earned” by some kid for thinking up a way for people to waste time.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/inequality-isnt-the-real-issue-1493385246?tesla=y

This is so sad. Jean Stein was the daughter of Jules Stein, the founder of MCA. I knew her reasonably well long ago, but life being what it is, a series of Venn diagrams that break apart and then fall into new overlaps, we lost touch years ago. She was the sister of Katrina van den Heuvel, editor and proprietor of The Nation and of the late Susan Shivahttp://nypost.com/2017/05/01/woman-who-killed-herself-was-elite-author-jean-stein/

Dept. of Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy: http://dealbreaker.com/2017/05/john-paulson-hug-also-billion-dollars/?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=51391416&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–FoRbla2mJhCGcxJ4-aEuFNSoS5EDsCGdX_7EfHkg3ep6GEstlZqZR8o7WW0NKCnk9trumy-z94oDc2hp3w8-j7nzicA&_hsmi=51391416

 

 

 

 

4/30/17….

Lest we forget. Useful in this time of an all-deceiving (himself as well as the rest of us) president: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/leadup-iraq-war-timeline

Like Ian Welsh, I have never bought the “Trump is Hitler” line. http://www.ianwelsh.net/was-all-the-trump-is-hitler-rhetoric-right/ And I find Orwell a helpful complement to the “non-Hitler” line: http://lithub.com/george-orwells-1940-review-of-mein-kampf/

One of the shows I like a lot is Amazon’s “Bosch”, based on the Michael Connelly LA. noir novels.  Having watched the just-released third series, I thought I’d revisit the first two. I’m halfway into Season Two, and an offhand remark by one of the characters, about the hookup between Russian gangsters and Mexican cartels, made me wonder: am I deaf, or has Trump made no mention of Russia as source of “bad guys” immigrating into the USA? Muslims are for the visa chop, and a wall is talked about to keep Mexicans and other Central American nasties out while getting rid of the ones already here, but what about the gangster Russkies in Brighton Beach and elsewhere? Just asking. Is this oversight simply carelessness on the part of whoever concocts Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, or is there a more sinister interpretation? Perhaps if we knew more about the Trump family’s Russian financing sources…

Hmmmm. http://fair.org/home/david-ignatius-15-years-of-running-spin-for-saudi-regime/

 

4/29/18…

Tell me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, AI – Artificial Intelligence – in the minds of its promoters and proponents goes conceptually beyond mere process automation – online matters, even chess, stuff like Silicon Valley‘s “Pied Piper” – and advances to a state where algorithms of some kind can replace thinking.  I suppose AI will prove a boon to those who possess little or none of what I think “intelligence” is: insights and reasoning that have a moral or imaginative dimension, an interest in “Why?” as much as “What?”. After all, won’t AI be to a great extent be circumscribed by the intelligence of those who write/code the algorithms? Anyway, yadayada, blahblahblah: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/04/understand-impact-artificial-intelligence-employment.html#comment-2808220

I spent much of the past night utterly absorbed in James Stourton’s new biography of Kenneth Clark (Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation). Written with great subtlety and style, it is very rich in so many ways: the subtle depiction of Clark’s family and marriage; British society over a lifetime that almost exactly matches the time span of A Dance to the Music of Time. It led me to certain of my own bookshelves to follow up on implications and references, and confirmed my pride and pleasure in my own library and the delight and utility it furnishes (“Books do furnish a room,” as they say). A personal library is more than a mere aggregation of books, but it isn’t really a collection, either.  The objective is narrower and more close-focused than the former, but broader and more diffuse than the latter. Here’s something I recently wrote on the subject: https://issuu.com/questmag/docs/qt0317_issuu/84

Further to the post on AI, I urge everyone – but especially those over 50 – to read Farhad Manjoo’s piece on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in the current NYT Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/25/magazine/can-facebook-fix-its-own-worst-bug.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fmagazine&action=click&contentCollection=magazine&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0 It really demonstrates something that has bothered me for quite a while now: the way in which technology has overempowered young people and in the process disenfranchised wisdom. Wisdom, as I define it, has three principal components: knowledge, intelligence and experience. All three must be present. Young people notably lack the last – a selfie taken beside the Parthenon may be an experience in its way, and as millennials define it – but I’m looking for something longer in the tooth, and on the basis of what I’ve seen, data doesn’t really add up to knowledge, although over time it can add to it. The ability to write code doesn’t in and of itself constitute wisdom. Manjoo’s article confirms what I have thought and said for quite a while now: the problem with the Internet is that it gives people with nothing to say a place to say it. Also interesting in the article is the degree to which Silicon Valley was traumatized by Trump’s election. One has to wonder what percentage – minuscule, I wot – of Trump’s constituencies can write code.

 

4/27/17-4/28/17….

Grounds for hope: http://news.efinancialcareers.com/us-en/281579/all-the-best-people-left-banking-years-ago/?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=51259012&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9XFd77CuUAWpzJGj6OOrjsVn_kmchgZpHjgI9kCDu8uXCJ88d141ShbvdNm6EYuysOqIqYS4N8EX4uQKGCye5sM248_A&_hsmi=51259012 In my view the departure of the best people” is a good thing, since it’s “the best people” who dreamt up the fun and games that brought on the crash and other calamities. Of course, they were grossly overpaid for work that was socially and industrially useless, but my pleas for a retroactive “Gross Overpayment Levy” have gone nowhere.

This is pretty interesting. Four years for the WSJ  to catch on! http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/04/wall-street-journal-reports-on-appearance-of-private-equity-self-dealing-at-blackstone-and-other-firms-nearly-four-years-after-we-broke-the-story.html

General world-weariness shut me down yesterday, but after a day spent mainly in the company of (and talking to) myself and our cats, I feel refreshed. And here’s a good place to start. Paul Craig Roberts used to write the most irritating right-wing stuff anywhere, but in the past decade he’s undergone as radical a Damascene conversion as I know of. This is a solid piece on how corruption eliminates not only fairness and decency but also common sense from capitalism. Rereading it I think it’s a MUST MUST MUST: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/26/the-looting-machine-called-capitalism/  Here’s a good sample (and a strong argument for my notion of a Value Destroyed Tax): Now consider the external costs of offshoring the production of goods and services that US corporations, such as Apple and Nike, market to Americans. When production facilities in the US are closed and the jobs are moved to China, for example, the American workers lose their jobs, medical coverage, careers, pension provision, and often their self-respect when they are unable to find comparable employment or any employment. Some fall behind in their mortgage and car payments and lose their homes and cars. The cities, states, and federal governments lose the tax base as personal income and sales taxes decline and as depressed housing and commercial real estate prices in the abandoned communities depress property taxes. Social security and Medicare funding is harmed as payroll tax deposits fall. State and local infrastructure declines. Possibly crime rises. Safety net needs rise, but expenditures are cut as tax revenues decline. Municipal and state workers find their pensions at risk. Education suffers. All of these costs greatly exceed Apple’s and Nike’s profits from substituting cheaper foreign labor for American labor. Contradicting the neoliberal claims, Apple’s and Nike’s prices do not drop despite the collapse in labor costs that the corporations experience.

Pot takes a hard look at Kettle (got this off Politico’s Morning Money): http://larrysummers.com/2017/04/28/trump-is-undermining-his-own-treasury-secretary/

This is the view of Obama taken by the narrator of Fixers. In my judgement the main if not the only reason my novel wasn’t reviewed by NYT. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/04/gaius-publius-obama-harvests-presidency.html Here’s the nut of the case: Bottom line — Wall Street invested millions in Barack Obama’s career in 2008 and 2012. That investment paid off over the eight years of his presidency to the tune of billions upon billions in profit and millions upon millions per year in executive compensation and bonuses.  Exactly as in Fixers. 

No comment needed. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/04/28/white-house-death-match-plutocrats-vs-racists?via=newsletter&source=DDMorning

I’ve been thinking about the theory put forward by the luxury real estate lobby that the mooted Queens-Brooklyn trolley line can be paid for by real estate taxes on the increased value of their properties resulting from improved transportation access. At first, I pooh-poohed the idea, but thinking it over, I’ve decided there’s a rationale there, provided that the taxes are levied against assessed values equal to true market values. 

This strikes me as a reasonable tour d’horizon. http://www.politico.com/story/2017/04/27/the-education-of-donald-trump-237669

Let’s wrap the week up here. Even though this column takes a shot at my friend Bill Cohan, he and I have agreed to disagree about some form of separation of banking powers a la Glass-Steagall. For Andrew Ross Sorkin, there is no excuse. A vintage bootlicker. http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/04/breaking-up-the-big-wall-street-banks-is-back-in-the-headlines/

Can’t think of a better curtain-dropper: http://gothamist.com/2017/04/28/fyre_festival.php?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Gothamist%20Daily%20Winter%20Storm%20Warning%20In%20Effect%20As%20NYC%20May%20See%206-12%20Of%20Snow%20Possibly%20More&utm_content=Daily%20Gothamist%20Daily%20Winter%20Storm%20Warning%20In%20Effect%20As%20NYC%20May%20See%206-12%20Of%20Snow%20Possibly%20More+CID_9caa9b81efccea5d7a0e06a553a0f0b9&utm_source=CM&utm_term=Luxury%20Bahamas%20Fyre%20Festival%20Turns%20Into%20Exciting%20Survivalist%20Cosplay%20Experience And read the reactions.