Let’s play “Name That Leader!” 

April 3, 2017

The President of the United States recently met a foreign leader. To leader of which country did he say the following?

“We agree on so many things. I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind [you]. [You’ve] done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind [your country] and the people of [your country]. The United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing.”

Is it: 

A) England, our longest, strongest ally?

B) Germany, the economic power of Europe and a bulwark against Russian intervention and actively leading in humanitarian aid in the Syrian refugee crisis?

C) Egypt, a country ruled by a tyrant who has actively repressed its people?

D) Myanmar, ditto?

The very depressing answer is C. 

Not only did he not say anything like this to England or Germany, he refused to shake German Chancellor Merkel’s hand and, said that wasn’t insulting enough, handed her an invoice for $374 billion, marking the amount of Germany’s NATO shortfall. Nice guy. Classy guy. Our guy. 

Lawrence Kudlow, dreamer

December 28, 2016

Kudlow, a non-economist media pundit with a memory short enough to not remember Enron, WorldCom, Countrywide, Kozlowski (Tyco), Phar-Mor, Parmalat, Adelphia, Global Crossing, the LIBOR scandal, the mortgage frauds…thinks the rich don’t steal. How quaint.


Taiwan Weekend

December 5, 2016

First came Friday and word that PEOTUS Trump had phoned the leader of Taiwan, in contravention of four decades of U.S. policy. My initial reaction was something short of shock and dismay. I braced for the inevitable adverse reaction from old foreign policy hands both here and overseas. It was the kind of thing I had feared might happen.

The more I thought about it, though, the more comfortable I became with it–up to a point. I was not unhappy that the Chinese had been tweaked, for they’ve been tweaking the West with increasing frequency and seriousness over the last few years. Building islands as naval bases in the South China Sea, among other things, is not the act of a docile partner. As I have very little comfort with his decision-making process, finding it impulsive and prone to the advice of the last person he speaks with, I feared that the call had come without real understanding of the prior policy he’d just breached and the implications of his action. Did he even know he’d tweaked Beijing? If such behavior were to be continually repeated, the potential chaos in its wake would create a level of instability that may make it hard for the world to function (the business world and the governing world).

That was Friday and into Saturday. As Sunday dawned and newspaper consumption started, I actually felt much better. The NYT reported that the returned call was no accident, and that the PEOTUS was aware of the novelty of his actions. The desire to disrupt isn’t limited to domestic issues, and that’s not by definition bad. It’s just different. So long as it’s been thought through (which is where my concerns about the incoming Administration really start), I’m fine with different. While there will likely be plenty of things I disagree with this Administration about, this is not one of them, based on what we know about the episode.

Thursday Observations

December 1, 2016

The Trump Administration will be for Ethics lawyers what Dodd-Frank was for compliance departments in banks. Full employment opportunities await.

In a short time, Consititutional lawyers will feel exactly like the guys I knew who got their graduate degrees in tax in 1985, just before the Tax Reform Act of 1986 was passed, negated vast sections of their knowledge. The constitutional principles they’ve spent their lives studying will be quaint and historical and mostly worthless.

The quadrennial Harvard forum featuring the managers from both presidential campaigns tonight served to highlight not just the ugly bitterness of those on the Clinton side, but the unattractive smugitude of Trump’s team. Read about it here.

I’ve worked in an environment that was totally disrupted–the mortgage finance business in 2005-6. My boss at the time told me that there were about 10 things that would always be true about the business. As the financial crisis unfolded, one by one, the rules that he told me to count on fell away, leaving behind complete uncertainty as to what would happen next. It was as if the Law of Gravity had been repealed. It took a while to adjust to, but once you started asking yourself, “Why can’t that happen?,” it became easier to handle. The mental linkage to the old rules proved the biggest obstacle to navigating the disrupted environment. Once you got your head wrapped around the fact that those rules no longer applied, it was much easier to let your mind wander to what might happen next and how to prepare and protect yourself (or the firm) from it. I’ve got the same feeling right now as I did then, as we watch the Trump Administration form and communicate with the public. The old rules don’t apply. Up is down; we’re in a zero G environment. For example: Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes said yesterday on WAMU’s Diane Rehm Show “Facts no longer exist.” I tried to listen to this three separate times, unable to continue the first two time, becoming sickened by the implications of the statement and the fervor of believe from its speaker.

The Trump Kleptocracy

November 29, 2016

Can those of us worried about the direction that the PEOTUS is leading us with his appointments, his choice of family members invited into diplomatic meetings, and his obvious lack of concern for conflicts and corruption keep the volume on the Outrage Meter at 11 for each and every event that provokes such emotion? Won’t the clapper on the Alarm Bell of Injustice simply wear out at some point? Won’t people simply stop hearing it?

Conservative writer Ben Shapiro thinks so. He recently appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources and said as much. Conservative writer and Twitter must-follow David Frum has repeatedly said that the little outrages are all a plot to distract people from the gigantic outrage of Trump’s use of the office to enrich himself. Keep your eyes off @realdonaldtrump and on the money.

We’re still just learning how to deal with this. It’s all new, but it’s going to get old very quickly.

There’s much to be concerned about, but the most egregious thing isn’t the railing against the cast of Hamilton. It’s the blatant shaking down of foreign governments, both where Trump has properties and where he doesn’t. It’s already been made quite clear to foreign leaders that Trump’s Washington and New York hotels are the places to stay when visiting the Administration. They do so for the same reason that I make sure I drink MillerCoors products when I’m out with their distributors, why I rented from Hertz when calling on Ford, and why I pick the hotel I do when calling on my hotelier clients. The fact that we know that the PEOTUS has already asked Argentina and Scotland for favors for his properties, and the Indian owners of a Trump-affiliated property are making much of their connection to Trump only make this worse.

Those Trump supporters concerned before the election about the potential for corruption with the Clinton Foundation remain strangely silent about these troubling facts.

At this point, all I’ve heard from my Trump-supporting friends is that I should, “Calm down. The Dow is up 3% and your taxes are going to be cut and companies will be repatriating billions in cash and everything’s going to be fine. Besides, he hasn’t done anything yet!” They offer no substantive defense of the (grossly inexperienced) nominees, his thin-skinned disposition, the social media distractions, the shakedowns, or the personal benefits being lined up.

On the plus side, I’ve learned the name of the clause in the Constitution relating to the personal enrichment of federal employees. It’s called the “Emoluments Clause.” Expect to hear more about this over the next little while.

I wonder if Trump’s strategy is the lay the ground rules now while still technically a private citizen so that everyone knows how to play the game, so that he doesn’t have to do anything shaking down after he takes the oath at Noon on January 20. Accrue all the benefits now, and harvest the rewards later. The damage is done. I doubt he’s thought it through that thoroughly. Based on his decision making pattern thus far, I’m expecting President Trump will govern by the “Seat of His Pants Doctrine.”

The League of Ordinary Nations has a new member. The Trump Kleptocracy reigns.

Fade to Black; The End (?) of the Great Facebook Experiment

November 21, 2016

Having recently been accused on my Facebook page of not caring about the shooting of a police officer, I think I’ve reached the end of the road on the site.

I don’t think I have the energy to sustain the level of outrage required by the times, while at the same time fighting those who think that the threats are made up or exaggerated. I’ll just say this: It must be quite comforting for some to think that their team will never find themselves in the crosshairs of these groups. I think when one American is attacked or threatened, we are all at risk.

I don’t want to be *that guy,* the one whose only song is the Alarm Bell of Justice, clanging incessantly about the outrage of the day. My heroes, Churchill and Orwell, aren’t pleased with me tonight. I’ll have to live with that.

I have always worked at balancing a strong viewpoint on the day’s issues with the other things that I find entertaining and that make my life whole. (Sadly for some, none of this involves cats, so much of the internet is useless to me.) Finding things that make me laugh has always been my life’s work. Bringing others along on that ride has been an added bonus.

At the same time, I know I can’t ignore what’s happening around me and blithely post only about distractions. It’s increasingly hard for me to figure out how to fit these pieces together and to use this space in a way that is meaningful to me (i.e., to amuse myself and perhaps you; to enlighten the discussion and to perhaps prod you to think about something you’ve not yet considered) without falling into either trap (perhaps I already have). I don’t want to set people up to be hectored, nor do I want to be hectored and spend my day shooting down theories or having to defend myself from people who don’t really know me or my views, and whom I haven’t seen in several years and then only at cocktail parties. If only the site could have named “Acquaintences.”

So, off I go to try to figure out how to balance these things in a way that I can tolerate. Shoot me a note and I’ll give you my Twitter handle. This blog site has fallen into disuse, although that will likely change going forward. Being able to moderate comments is an under appreciated resource these days.

I’ve appreciated all the comments–well, most of them anyway–and positive reinforcement I’ve received about my Facebook posts. I’ve enjoyed finding my writing voice and where it’s led me.

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