1/10-13/17 Running Commentary ….

1/9/17

You may think Twitter is ridiculous, or find it intellectually or stylistically incompatible (as I don’t), but Trump didn’t get where he is by limiting his projections to people who read The Atlantic. And it would seem that a good number of people who read or write for The Atlantic (I use the magazine as a synecdoche for the media as a whole), or in a few cases do both, are heavily into Twitter.

 

People who look at this website know how much I admire Andrew Bacevich. So does Yves Smith, progenitor-proprietor of “naked Capitalism”: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/andrew-bacevich-us-blew-post-cold-war-era.html

“Lest we forget” department: worth a reread: http://www.institutionalinvestor.com/Article/1020662/How-Harvard-lost-Russia.html#/.WHPR0bYrKDt Where are they now? http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/02/convicted-fraudster-jonathan-hay-harvards-man-who-wrecked-russia-resurfaces-in-ukraine.html

I like this guy a lot, too. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/08/blaming-fake-news-not-the-answer-democracy-crisis  Here’s the money quote: “The big threat facing western societies today is not so much the emergence of illiberal democracy abroad as the persistence of immature democracy at home. This immaturity, exhibited almost daily by the elites, manifests itself in two types of denial: the denial of the economic origins of most of today’s problems; and the denial of the profound corruption of professional expertise.”

1/10/17

The sad news comes that Chris Byron has died at the young age of 72. He and I were colleagues at The New York Observer during 1995-2000, the paper’s halcyon days. We were joined at the soul by a mutual contempt for Wall Street and its ways – particularly its ways! – and often commiserated with each other. He was a good guy; one of the few in media worth listening to. Godspeed, old boy.

I went to bed early so missed the denouement of Clemson’s big win over ‘Bama. But I am delighted to see the Crimson Tide’s dour $6 million/year Belichick clone of a coach take it in the chops. U of Alabama’s football budget is unspeakable. I wonder how much spills over into the humanities or science curricula? I’m assuming there are science and humanities curricula. But that’s the way it is.  Alabama is in effect two states: Birmingham is the capital of one, Tuscaloosa of the other. And I must confess a certain frisson of pleasure at how ‘Bama’s loss must play in the mind of Jeff Sessions as he doffs hood and sheets and goes forth to seek confirmation as guardian and enforcer of the nation’s laws.

Cornel West gets even: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency

I put this up a couple of days ago, and I’m pleased to see that “Naked Capitalism” has followed my lead. It’s so worth reading, especially considering its source, that I don’t hesitate to repost it: https://nplusonemag.com/issue-27/politics/decolonizing-obama/

I’m always boasting how I disdain Twitter, but yesterday I couldn’t resist. Trump tweeted: “Rupert Murdoch is a great guy who likes me much better as a very successful candidate than he ever did as a very successful developer!” So I tweeted back: “maybe because like many people he expects to make more $$$ off you as POTUS than off your deals.” I was hoping for a reply. After all, I had a lot of fun with DJT , who was known to readers of my Observer  column as “the Prince of Swine”, back in the day, and I rather relished the prospect, being 80 and not giving a shit, of a brisk tweet-to-tweet with this bumptious ignoramus. Alas, no luck so far.

Duh: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2017/01/10/Obama-s-Legacy-Corporate-Criminals-Too-Little-Too-Late Some of us started saying this on Inauguration Day, 2009. Actually some of us even earlier, November 21,2008, when the Summers-Geithner news was leaked. With a 1000-point jump in the stock market, Wall Street signaled that this was all it needed to know. Of course a plausible theory as to the whys and wherefores is in my novel FIXERS. 

One way we might start to get this country back on track would be to relearn to make certain distinctions. This is a lesson Elizabeth Warren might take to heart. I admire the Senator, but she talks tripe a good deal of the time. She speaks of Trump’s Cabinet nominations as if they’re a bunch of crooks. A couple might be (Mnuchin’s accomplishments at One West probably need closer scrutiny), but most aren’t. One reason: these people care about their reputations. There’s a difference between reputation and image. Having none of the former, Trump is understandably fixated on the latter. Not so people like Tillerson and Ross (I don’t know the first, but I’ve known Wilbur for thirty-plus years, and while I have no doubt he’s a tough, objective businessman, I’ve never heard a word against him ethically). To them, reputation – how the world sees them, how history will rate them – matters.

“avoid Amazon’s brutal and predatory practices” – from an online pitch from OR Books. Here’s the problem. Despite its Neanderthal character, and unlike OR Books, AMZ offers books that someone living in the real world might actually want to read.

Certain museums are proposing to close on Inauguration Day in protest. This is why Trump won the election. Buildings don’t close themselves, nor is the decision to close made by guards. It’s made by curators and administrators of whom a majority, it seems reasonable to assume, belong to the coteries of weepers and whiners unable to deal with the fact that people unlike (and culturally inferior to) themselves could actually deliver the White House to someone so ny kulturny.

Somewhere I read high praise for a New Yorker article on Uncle Sam’s prosecution of Steve Cohen for insider trading. The writer, whose name I can’t spell was a former overlap with me on the Observer, I believe. Sadly, this is a non-story, going nowhere, worth not an iota of sound and fury, although you can see how various elements provide an exact template for the cable series Billions. There is one interesting Freudian sidebar – also in Billions – that the writer doesn’t make much of (although she may in what I infer will be a non-book deriving from this non-story: by “non-story,” incidentally, I mean “so what?) The virtuous, intensely competitive second chair on the Federal prosecution team was Richard Zabel, son of William Zabel, described as “a founder of Schulte, Roth & Zabel, an immensely successful law firm that served hedge-fund clients.” Actually,  William Zabel is something more than that. He ranks right at the very top of the 0.001’s speedidal list. He negotiated a $9 billion Madoff settlement and his name appears on one side or another of many of the sort of divorce actions of which the settlement involves  the signing over of entire states.

Interesting: http://nypost.com/2017/01/10/politicians-have-left-the-city-one-crisis-away-from-financial-ruin/ Ignorant, however, to claim that Boston trails NY as a culture center. The conditions under which our bastions of high culture operate, thanks to 60 million tourists for openers, more than evens out the differences.

New York has a long article on Jared Kushner that is a must. It begins with a private gathering of big hitters at which Kushner is introduced  by Steve Schwarzman, who has the same nose for opportunism that another species of pig has for truffles. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/01/jared-kushner-trump-administration-power.html

1/11/17

Here’s a interesting Trump scenario a la FIXERS, where you take a set of known facts or outcomes and string an imaginary yet plausible narrative between them. Start with the assumption that our president-elect is as startled, surprised and not wholly happy with his election as well over half of this country’s voters (including those who didn’t vote but now wish they had). Since no one does self-confident, good-offense-is-the-best-defense bluster than he, we don’t see this. But he has big problems, the greatest of which are divestment issues, considered practically and technically to be sure, and in some cases perhaps ethically and legally. Settled law requires that he divest himself of holdings representing potential conflicts of interest, and that goes for members of his family, notably his son-in-law, whom he proposes to appoint as a senior counselor who’ll presumably have access to the nation’s biggest affairs.

Now nothing need be done, apart from lip service, until Trump is inaugurated on January 20. At that point, however, divestment takes on powerful if not quite Constitutional urgency. And I doubt that the matter can be solved by simple strokes of a pen, no matter what law professors consulted by NPR claim. For example, there may be instances where if Trump takes his name off a project, there are heavy penalties. Trump can stall; no one’s a greater master of that art – he can claim the complexity of his business affairs takes time – but with as many well-placed enemies as he has, pressure will build. This is fine with him, because he sees this as a way out. He can simply throw up his hands, say “can’t do it,” and either resign or face impeachment. A lot of people will be glad to see him go. Those who voted for him will be chagrined, in some cases violently so, but only briefly (“Moving On” should replace “E pluribus unum” as the national motto). I mean, hey, what could the guy do? He leaves with a curious sheen of honor; he’s put on the table issues that now have to be faced; once unleashed, elephants in rooms don’t just fade away.

And what then? Pence? I’m working on that.

 

I didn’t watch the president’s farewell speech. I’m sure it was eloquent and graceful; with lots of, as his successor famously puts it, “good words.” He and his family are enormously likable and admirable. But a fine family life doesn’t guarantee a great presidency. I voted twice for Obama, and as he leaves office, I have a sense of having been cheated. That in 2009, there had been a great opportunity to claw back the country from the greedheads and banksters who had run its economy into the ground, an opportunity that I had to a great degree voted for when I cast my vote for the man, but which had been squandered – to the point that we are worse off today, oligarchically speaking, than when Obama took office. I had my concerns in 2008, but I neglected that fundamental existential precept enunciated by Chico Marx: “Who you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?”  Like the narrator in FIXERS, I wondered if Obama might not be too perfect. The model minority candidate for Student Council president. Ah well, life goes on. I suppose.

1/12/17

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/donald-trumps-plan-to-keep-his-businesses-is-a-national-embarrassment?mbid=nl_TH_5876b4f8a57f7203699c9310&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=10212462&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1080934320&spReportId=MTA4MDkzNDMyMAS2 So – impeach the SOB. Serve him as he leaves the platform on Inauguration Day or at the end of Week 1 in White House. I watched about ten minutes of the press conference. It went about as I expected. Confronted with a bully, civil behavior will lose every time, especially in a setting that encourages the sycophantic instinct to kick in. We cannot have a president who openly, contemptuously flouts the law. Is there any kind of :”citizen’s arrest” that might apply here?

Especially good on Friedman: http://gothamist.com/2017/01/11/matt_taibbi_trump_clowns.php?utm_source=Gothamist+Daily&utm_campaign=bf4e70b865-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73240544d8-bf4e70b865-238061 Here’s an interesting quote from Taibbi:

Beyond the usual suspects, what respectable-ish pundits or writers should we be chucking into the garbage can?

God, I don’t know. There’s a lot of people who have been consistently wrong about everything going back 20 years or so. There’s literally no accountability for people in our profession. We can be wrong over and over and over again and it seems like nobody really cares. Think about the people who made predictions about the Iraq War and were completely wrong for years and years and years on end and are still somehow respected in Washington.

What has yours truly being saying for years and years about licensing pundits the way we license drivers: dock them points for egregious errors of interpretation and forecasting, and when they accumulate X points, take away their licenses: no Sunday AM talk shows, no Op-Ed access, no Charlie Rose etc etc.

Apropos of my “impeachment or quit” scenario, Ladbrokes is now making Trump even money to resign or be impeached during his first term.

But as the latest furore surrounding the President-elect gathers pace, punters have piled into the odds that Trump fails to see out his four-year term. And it’s now just Evens – from 5/4 – the real estate mogul resigns or is impeached. Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes said: “Fake news or real news, it hasn’t deterred punters from putting their money on the line that Trump is impeached before the end of his first term.”

 

1/13/17

Today’s posts will conclude this week. I’ll start a fresh Commentary tomorrow – run it through the week day by day, and close it out Friday evening.

Last night I struggled with what seems a paradox. I find Obama to be thoroughly admirable in so many ways. Smart, decent, empathetic, eloquent. He has a lovely family and a wonderful family life. He’s a keen golfer. It was the persistence of these qualities that induced me to vote for him a second time (in 2008, I really did believe he bring change, where required, and retribution, where politically essential; four years later, those scales were off my eyes). But in today’s troglodytic political contexts, I can’t give his presidency much better than a C+ grade. His single great accomplishment, pushing through the Affordable Care Act, achieved one noble and notable goal – giving hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured people coverage – but for it to be as vulnerable politically as it appears to be, it must have grave defects. In the present moral dispensation, public-private partnerships simply do not seem to work. They are a license to steal, whether we’re talking Obamacare and insurance company profits, or Fannie and Freddy and the legion of blood-suckers they attracted, with the final solution being for Uncle Sam to confiscate profits to which the private sector and Wall Street, with some justice might lay claim. The flaw in Obama’s approach, as I see it, is that he tried to override the famous distinction made by Mario Cuomo and to govern in poetry. He needed from the outset to fight fire with fire. He lacked shrewdness. Ask yourself: suppose I was sent “up country” in Iraq or Afghanistan and asked to serve in a platoon commanded by Obama. How would I feel about that?

Now look where we are. The country has elected one of the most repellent people anywhere: bumptious, ignorant, boastful, you name it. A walking, thumping example of vulgarity made flesh. All the bad qualities of the industry in which he has prospered – often if not usually at the expense of others. But shrewd. With a capital S. And there is some chance that his presidency, as long as it may last,  will be at least as effective, and very possibly more so, than his predecessor’s.

Speaking of Healthcare: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/debate-health-care-yet-omits-elephants-room-excessive-costs-due-terrible-incentives-pricing-administrative-costs-pharma-looting.html I too feel like screaming.

I proposed this thirty years ago: http://www.golfwrx.com/422132/missouri-course-to-try-pay-by-the-hour-greens-fees/ And that caddies be paid by the hour. That’s the thing about American culture. Foresight has to stand in line. We are slow to change.

 

This is what turned me off about Obama vis-a-vis Wall Street. These numbers should have been reversed: http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/01/financial-crash-analysis-22-6-billion-in-homeowner-relief-7-8-trillion-to-four-wall-street-banks/ To which can be added this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/12/democrats-cant-win-until-they-recognize-how-bad-obamas-financial-policies-were/?utm_term=.e34c5fb79548 Interestingly, Trump essentially sidestepped this issue in his call-out to Main St.  He talked about immigration, about manufacturing, about trade and tariffs – but he never set up Wall Street, home of usurers, foreclosers, lobbyists and lawyers, as the bad guy. Spoken, you might say, like a man who owed a lot of money. I recall years ago, on the tee, fulminating on some aspect of capital-gains taxation. “Spoken,” said a member of our foursome, CEO of a major investment bank, “like a man with no capital gains.”

I can’t help wondering what our politics would look like today if back in 2000, HRC had run for the Senate from Arkansas instead of New York.

 

 

 

 

 

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